Living Soils for Resilience and Health
When we started Three Sisters Community Farm we were faced with an issue that many hoping to get into sustainable agriculture face: finding affordable land. When agricultural land within reasonable driving distance from an urban center goes on the market it is usually subdivided and developed which puts the value far out of reach for anyone hoping to have a viable agricultural business. We were able to buy a small homestead, but the land base wasn’t enough.
Some forward thinking people were in the process of transitioning land at the headwaters of big cedar lake from years of conventional chemical intensive mono-cropping to organic agriculture. In chemical intensive agriculture a farmer growing crops visits 3-4 times over the course of the season in very large machinery to spray herbicide, plant seeds, apply a nitrogen fertilizer, and harvest the crop.
This new land provided an opportunity to expand onto a new larger piece of land that we had been looking for. When we took over the management it was clear that the previous management practices had devastated the overall life and vitality on that piece of land. There was no longer any organic material in the soil. The soil instead resembled a dry non-aggregating powder. Even when the soil was moist, there were no earthworms to be found.
A plant left to its one devices on this soil would fall extremely short of reaching its potential. It would be stunted, weak, and discolored. These weaknesses in a plant attract pest and make it subject to disease.
Once a soil has been degraded to this state it no longer supports the growth of plants and instead it creates a system of dependency on cheap fossil fuel derived inputs such as high nitrogen fertilizer and also pesticides or pesticide producing gmo crops in order to grow. I recently met with a young man whose family farmed 2,000 acres in Iowa using these methods. He said that it is not the farmers that benefit economically from this system, but instead the companies that produce these agricultural products and sell them to farmers appear to be the ones benefitting. Farming in this paradigm takes on the Walmart model. The only farmers able to make a living on the low profit margins paid for their crops are the ones that reach a massive scale. This young man also thought that most farmers realize the chemicals they are using are harmful, but continue using them because they feel locked into this system. He said that as a child his dad never let him get near the chemicals because he realized how harmful they were.
The more I learn about soil and compost the more I understand that the health of the soil and the health of my own body are inextricably linked. It has been my personal experience that eating food grown on living soils leads to optimal health. ....continued below
We'd like to show our gratitude for your support by offering a %5 discount off of 2017 share prices if you sign up for a CSA share with our farm by December 15th. Use coupon code 'earlybird' at checkout.
We've packed our last share for the season! While we do welcome a much slower pace of life over the next couple months, there is plenty of work to keep us working year round. We will spend December, & January getting things cleaned up and ready for winter at the farm. We will also finalize our financial statements, file taxes, set our budget, plan for next season, order seeds and try to spend some quality time with friends, family and pets. Once mid-February comes around we hit the ground running. By March things are pretty much in full swing again outdoors. Your financial support during these months allows us to focus our energy on planning for next season and also to revitalize ourselves after the intensity of the harvest months when we have been known to work 80+ hours/week.
left. a handful of compost right. compost going out on the field
...continued from above Living Soils for Resilience and Health
In my early twenties I went through a health crisis in my body similar to the one that the soil on our new piece of land was experiencing. A series of events led to the overuse of anti-biotics which left my digestive system completely devastated. Processes of nutrient assimilation that used to happen in the living ecosystem of my gut were no longer taking place and my health began to decline rapidly. I saw many doctors over the course of several years who continued to run expensive and inconclusive tests and prescribe anti-biotics as a solution to my health problems. Instead of improving, my health got worse, culminating in some sort of idiopathic kidney disease. The doctors I was seeing wanted me to feel better and kept prescribing different pharmaceuticals. I didn’t just want to feel better, I actually wanted to be better. I wanted a state of health and well-being that wasn’t dependent on drugs. I began to take my health into my own hands. It has been a slow process, but I’m feeling better now than I ever have and I am happy to be drug free. Eating fresh foods from our living soils has been an important part of my recovery.
I am thankful for my health crisis for inspiring me to pursue life, health, resilience, diversity and independence instead of death, disease, fragility, homogeneity, and dependency. I have seen my own health and the health of our soil slowly but surely be rehabilitated to a living and resilient state which has the ability to assimilate nutrients and impart the intelligence to grow and fight disease to another living organism. This gives me hope.
There is a continuum of agricultural practices that fall between the two extremes I have described here. Its complicated. Its not just organic vs. conventional. There are certified organic farms that fall on the side of death, disease, fragility, homogeneity and dependency and there are conventional farms that fall closer to the side of life, health, resilience, diversity, and independence. I think this is why it is important to have a direct connection to a farm and farmer in order to begin to understand what motivates them. Next time you visit the farm be sure to ask to take a look at the compost piles or dig in the soil in search of some worms.
farmer Kelly thanks you for reading.
If you participate in our CSA program and are interested in providing your perspective as a part of a regional research project about Community Supported Agriculture in the Milwaukee area you can take this survey put together by the Fairshare Coalition until November 30th.