Now if you'll all open your hymnals to page 126
""Grass," so understood, is the foundation of the intricate food chain
(Joel) Salatin ( a self described "Christian-conservative-libertarian
-environmentalist-lunatic farmer") has assembled at Polyface, where a
half dozen different animal species are raised together in an intensive
rotational dance on the theme of symbiosis. Salatin is the choreographer
and the grasses are his verdurous stage; the dance has made Polyface one
of the most productive and influential alternative farms in America.
Though it was only the third week of June, the pasture beneath me had
already seen several rotational turns. Before being cut earlier in the
week for the hay that would feed the farm's animals through the winter,
it had been grazed twice by beef cattle, which after each day-long stay
had been succeeded by several hundred laying hens. They'd arrived by
Eggmobile, a ramshackle portable henhouse designed and built by Salatin.
Why chickens? "Because that's how it works in nature," Salatinexplained.
"Birds follow and clean up after herbivores." And so during their turn
in the pasture, the hens had performed several ecological services for
the cattle as well as the grass: They'd picked the tasty grubs andfly
larvae out of the cowpats, in the process spreading the manure and
eliminating parasites. (This is what Joel has in mind when he says the
animals do the work around here; the hens are his "sanitation crew," the
reason his cattle have no need of chemical parasiticides.) And while
they were at it, nibbling on the short cattle-clipped grasses they like
best, the chickens applied a few thousand pounds of nitrogen to the
pasture-and produced several thousand uncommonly rich and tasty eggs.
After a few week's rest, the pasture will be grazed again, each steer
turning these lush grasses into beef at the rate of two or three pounds
By the end of the season Salatin's grasses will have been transformed by
his animals into some 40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork,
10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs.
This is an astounding cornucopia of food to draw from a hundred acres of
pasture, yet what is perhaps still more astonishing is the fact that
this pasture will be in no way diminished by the process-in fact, it
will be the better for it, lusher, more fertile, even springier
underfoot (this thanks to the increased earthworm traffic). Salatin's
audacious bet is that feeding ourselves from nature need not be a
zero-sum proposition, one in which if there is more for us at the end of
the season then there must be less for nature-less topsoil, less
fertility, less life. He's betting, in other words, on a very different
proposition, one that looks an awful lot like the proverbially
unattainable free lunch.
And none of it happens without the grass. In fact, the first time I met
Salatin he'd insisted that even before I-met any of his animals, I get
down on my belly in this very pasture to make the acquaintance of the
less charismatic species his farm was nurturing that, in turn,
were nurturing his farm. Taking the ant's-eye view, he ticked off the
census of a single square foot of pasture: orchard grass, foxtail, a
couple of different fescues, bluegrass, and timothy. Then he cataloged
the legumes-red clover and white, plus lupines-and finally the forbs,
broad-leaved species like plantain, dandelion, and Queen Anne's Lace.
And those were just the plants, the species occupying the surface along
with a handful of itinerant insects; belowdecks and out of sight
tunneled earthworms (knowable by their castled mounds of rich castings),
pocket gophers, woodchucks, and burrowing insects, all making their dim
way through an unseen wilderness of bacteria, phages, eelish nematodes,
shrimpy rotifers, and miles upon miles of mycelium, the underground
filaments of fungi. We think of the grasses as the basis of this food
chain, yet behind, or beneath, the grassland stands the soil, that
inconceivably complex community of the living and the dead. Because a
healthy soil digests the dead to nourish the living, Salatin calls it
the earth's stomach.
But it is upon the grass, mediator of soil and sun, that the human gaze
has always tended to settle, and not just our gaze, either. A great many
animals, too, are drawn to grass, which partly accounts for our own deep
attraction to it: We come here to eat the animals that ate the grass
that we (lacking rumens) can't eat ourselves. "All flesh is grass." The
Old Testament's earthy equation reflects a pastoral culture's
appreciation of the food chain that sustained it, though the
hunter-gatherers living on the African savanna thousands of years
earlier would have understood the flesh-grass connection just as well.
It's only in our own time, after we began raising our food animals on
grain in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (following the dubious new
equation, All flesh is corn), that our ancient engagement with grass
could be overlooked. "
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollard
The book then branches out in to the "organic" food factories that
closely resemble regular industrial food factories.
I can't believe that I've never heard of Polyface Farms or Joel Salatin
but then I was 50 before I discovered grilled red bell peppers and, 55
before I found that wet hickory chips wrapped in aluminum foil, tossed
on the charcoal would perfume the meat so wonderfully. Dang, this life
really ought to come with a manuel or something.
Anyway, as you were.