Organic Gardening (The Real Deal)

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 a day.
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.
- Bill Salatin
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