One of us is seventy years old. The other is fast approaching that age. As many people in this age bracket, both of us sometimes question our relevance. Indeed, just two days ago I was asked a question by a millennial regarding the sustainability of livestock agriculture because of our dwindling supply of water. It was more of a challenge than a question.
Translated, he was saying, not asking, “How could you be so selfish as to raise animals on grass, allowing them to drink from or totally contaminate the aquifer, thus depleting the Earth of its water resource”???!!!
Thoughts flashed through my head. He went to college for a year, can he be that stupid? Is he just an over educated jagoff who has to wear slip-ons because he doesn’t have the common sense to tie his own shoes. Does he think it’s more sustainable to feed animals in feedlots, knowing that the feed grains, GMO or not, have been raised at the peril of millions of tons of lost topsoil and possibly millions of gallons of diverted irrigation water? Or…. that the animals in the feedlots have to be fed low level anti-biotics to just live through the stress of confinement. He’s either clueless or both clueless and dangerous or Sukey and I are irrelevant and wrong.
We utilize Intensive Rotational Grazing. Reducing a system that had been used for hundreds of years to a workable art and science, Andre Voisin’s 1957 book, Productivite’ de l’herbe or Grass Productivity, released a generation of livestock producers to improve the sustainability of Livestock Production while securing the ecological permanence of the topsoil. Though not describing a specific grazing schedule as did Voisin, Louis Bromfield’s Malabar Farm contains the chapter, “Grass, The Great Healer” which describes the ability of grass production to heal the scars of over - plowed soils.
This fall, it seems like we finally got it right as we were named the 2017 Conservation Farmers of the Year. In this Tribune article, Greg Phillips, conservation district manager, stresses the importance of these practices: “It is the grass and climate here, plus their best practices, that allows them to raise these fantastic animals,” said Greg Phillips, conservation district manager and CEO. “The Jamison Farm may produce the least sedimentation of any working farm of its size in the county.”
Recently we read in the November 23, 2017 edition of The Washington Post an article entitled “A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm.”
When we were in our thirties, we started farming part time. In our early forties, we began farming full time. We were both English Majors; I was a corporate wonk. According to The Washington Post, I guess we were ahead of our time.
Here’s how it went…..
“This is really stupid!” she said. Sukey was laying supine on the floor of the hay wagon, holding on for dear life to our five year old daughter who had just landed in her arms after having been catapulted off a hay bale. I was driving our 1940’s Case WD tractor trailing an old International Harvester Square Baler which worked about 50% of the time. The hay wagon was hitched behind the baler so the crew could stack the bales as they came out of the machine. As we creeped down the hill, a train of tractor, baler, wagon, with wife and daughter on board as baling crew, we were moving ok without any of the usual interruption from the baler until the left front wheel of the tractor was swallowed by a two foot deep groundhog hole. My daughter, sitting happily on a hay bale, was suddenly launched like a “Hail Mary” pass. Sukey, playing Lynn Swann, did an over the shoulder catch with both receiver and received ending up safely on the floor.
This event started a serious discussion about the advantages of fence. Sukey graduated Magna Cum Laude as an English Major from
Washington and . While she became famous as the
first female graduate, as honor students received diplomas before the rest of
the class, it didn’t mean much in the world of agronomy. The logic incorporated
in a Liberal Arts’ College English graduate is often questionable, if not
nonexistent. She must have, however, retained some farmer logic from her Pa.
German ancestors. Jefferson College
If I remember, her conversation after she and Eliza got on terra firma, began like this, “That was the third trip you made over this field. You mowed, then you raked, and now you baled. If you were like these other idiots, you would have sprayed or even plowed, that’s five trips. No wonder they can’t make any money. Look at the price of gas. Are they crazy? And then you haven’t even put those stupid square bails in the barn. If you hire some high school kid, who won’t work anyway, he’ll probably load wet bales that’ll heat up and then the barn will burn down.”
She continued, no breath yet, “Then, if the barn is still standing, you have to unload the bales by hand. Who’s going to do that?” Before I can answer,,, “You and I, that’s who. And then, we have to load them up in the tractor or the truck, take them out to the sheep where we tear up the field with the machinery.”
Not finished yet. “Hay is grass, and grass is hay. Why not put up fence and let the sheep eat it themselves. Why should we harvest it for them when they can harvest it themselves? Put up the fence, depreciate it and don’t use fuel going over the same field five times a year. What a concept!”
And to this honor, Sukey says,
"What a surprise and great honor to be named Conservation Farmers of the year 2017! Our many years of learning about farming and nature has become our way of life and conservation has always been a part of our routine without our even thinking about it. A famous food writer once mentioned to us that we were prescient to have followed grass farming (raising lambs on grass) In reality, it was our inexperience in farming, our English degrees in college and our under funding in business that led us to building our own fencing and rotating our animals on smaller pastures instead farming in the traditional way of feeding animals in the barn and making hay on all of our pastures with big noisy equipment that we couldn't afford. Today "grass farming" is all the rage, healthier for animal and for the consumer and at the top of the conservationists' list. We are honored to be recognized! This award is very meaningful to us and we really appreciate the recognition. We wanted to share our news and thank all of you, our longtime friends and customers for being so loyal over the years. Without you, we would not have gotten to where we are today!"