Friday, November 16, 2012

Meet Your Farmers

Meet Your Farmers...

I, your humble blogger and farmer Sara Figgins, have been farming off and on the past 5 years, on 3 different farms across the Front Range of Colorado. I studied Organic Horticulture at Colorado State University for 3 years, and earned my degree in English. My partner, Donald Fahler, attended Colorado State University as well and earned a degree in History. After graduating and finding himself still at his call-center job for Tivo, he was more than willing to make the leap with me back to the land. Not your typical farmers, but these are atypical times.
After 2 years together and my own experience managing a small vegetable and egg farm in Longmont, CO, we decided that we were deeply frustrated with the landless, consumptive apartment life. Tired of not being able to compost our kitchen scraps, feed our stale and unwanted leftovers to a pig who’d gladly turn that waste into delicious bacon, tired of looking at a hill and thinking, ‘what a great spot that’d make for a root cellar…or a hobbit hole.’ Essentially, we were tired of all the waste. As Wendell Berry in The Unsettling of America wrote:
"There is no group of the extra-intelligent or extra-concerned or extra-virtuous that is exempt. I cannot think of any American whom I know or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to destruction. The reason is simple: to live undestructively in an economy that is overwhelmingly destructive would require of any one of us, or of any small group of us, a great deal more work than we have yet been able to do. How could we divorce ourselves completely and yet responsibly from the technologies and powers that are destroying our planet? The answer is not yet thinkable, and it will not be thinkable for some time—even though there are now groups and families and persons everywhere in the country who have begun the labor of thinking it" (18).
As frustrated as we were by these daily reminders of the destructiveness of our economy, there are few ways for the landless to compensate. As yet, our economy does not provide a way for us to live “undestructively”; in some way not producing waste for the landfill, or participating through our pocket book in agricultural, corporate, and energy-related practices that are destructive to our environment, our health, and others.
This is an experiment in another economy. I remember at Fountain Valley, my high school, good ol’ terrifying Mr. Kim with his deadpan monotone saying in Freshman history class that the word 'economy' was Latin, and prior to the 1600s meant “household management” or stewardship. The average landholding household prior to the 1600s included both crops and animals, often many types of each, rather than the separate monocultures that populate our countryside. Household management circa 1600, a world pre-plumbing, was about usefulness and waste. You could throw the cow shit and the piss pot in the street, but until the rain came, you’d be stuck with the stench. Pre-industrial households were more concerned with the utilization rather than disposal of waste. Kitchen scraps, leftovers, food that’d gone bad, manure, and other animal byproducts? The answer was responsible management. 
On such a diverse farm, multiple systems are in place that can relate to and benefit each other, and doing so reduces waste while promoting fertility. For instance, pigs can drink the leftover whey from cheese making for protein, rather than relying, as we do, on soybean and corn. Pigs and chickens gladly eat leftovers, scraps and ugly, unsellable produce, turning it into meat, eggs, and manure. Cows turn solar energy from plants into meat, dairy and manure. All of these produce high in nitrogen manure, which can be used to fertilize our crops and fields, rather then paying for these nutrients in synthetic chemical fertilizers. Rather than "waste" these by-products are seen as "fertilizer."All of these can supplement their diet with the easiest and most visually pleasing thing on the planet: pasture. Pigs, cows, poultry; all benefit from pasture in their diet and environment. But this quintessential piece of what most consider a farm is now absent from most farms. Alfalfa and clover are spoken of as weeds, instead of the Nitrogen fixing cover crops our predecessors relied on to replenish the Nitrogen availability in our soil. Manure is now “waste”, collecting in lagoons festooning factory farms, choking our neighborhoods and our ozone. In the household-sized economy, “waste” is manageable, compostable, recyclable; it can return nutrients to the soil precluding the need for outside inputs such as synthetic fertilizer. Almost a closed system.
These are not pre-1600 practices. These are pre-WWII and the adoption of agrochemicals; the “Green Revolution" practices. The adoption of these practices, while saving many from famine, also started us on a path to near-total agrochemical dependence and the loss of the family and small scale farm.
We believe that a combination of modern technology and traditional farm practices and wisdom can again change our understanding of economy and our food system; we can reduce its scope and size to a more manageable size by living more locally. One which we can see and understand in its entirety. Where do my dollars go? Where does my trash go? Where does my food come from? We hope that someday, when the farm is near the romantic, idealistic vision in our hippie heads, we can answer this more simply: Back to the land, back to local, to bring them back to life.

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