Sunday, January 30, 2011

Organically Sustainable

There have been many articles and discussions in magazines and on the internet about “sustainable agriculture”. Along with that the word “organic” mixes into the discussion like bacon bits on a salad. When the two are put together a feast is had for the people that do not understand agriculture.
During my lifetime growing up on a farm, I have yet to see any type of food come off of our fields or out of our barns that wasn’t organic. From wheat, lentils, peas, and barley being grown, to the pigs, cows, and milk raised, each item has been able to be consumed in one form or another.
After butchering, the waste from the carcass and innards would be hauled down to the “dump” for scavengers to feast on. These scavengers would be yodel dogs (coyotes to non country folk), badgers, and raccoons to name a few. Even endangered species like bald and golden eagles would help the process of decomposition. The remains are organic, just like the protein that we kept to eat ourselves.
As for sustainable, we have been farming in Idaho for over 100 years. Now that doesn’t seem like a long time compared to farms on the eastern seaboard or in places in the old Northwest, but it is something for Idaho. It is a testament for the hardships that my ancestors encountered and overcame along the way.
They farmed during the Great Depression and survived. Not long after, they produced food for the troops in WWII. How do I know this last tidbit? I have hanging on my office wall a certificate from the United States Department of Agriculture that certifies our farm was producing food for the war effort. "V" for Victory!
Our farm prospered and grew a little before the reigns were handed over to my parents. I remember moving into our big, brick house and celebrating our first Christmas there in 1973. Dad put on a new roof, put in a new well, added grain bins, a metal machine shed and built our shop in a span of 10 years. He also updated equipment during that time. It seems like the farm was sustainable through that transition.
The farm also survived President Jimmy Carter’s grain embargo on the Soviet Union and the recession and inflation that followed in the 1980’s. Through this time I was learning the business end of a shovel in the barn. I remember shoveling organic cow waste out of the barn on Sunday mornings before church while listening to Casey Kasem’s top 40. The shoveling usually happened after I milked two cows, a Holstein and a Guernsey.
I would bring the milk to the house for it to be separated for the cream. We kept what milk was needed and the cream was saved to take to the creamery in Lewiston. The excess milk was fed to the pigs in the form of “slop”, a mixture of hammer milled wheat and barley with milk poured on top. The problem with feeding organic feedstuff to organic mammals is the organic waste that follows. More business end of a shovel was to be had.
On Saturday we would travel the 45 minutes it took to Lewiston and drop off the cream and pick up our cleaned cream cans. I would buy an orange and vanilla ice cream cup for my sister and I, pocketing the rest of the money. We would visit my grandfather and then go roller skating. Mom and dad would visit more with my grandparents and pick us up.
After skating we would go to the grocery store to purchase food for the coming week's meals. The first thing my sister and I would do is grab our free chocolate chip cookie from the bakery. While mom and dad shopped I would be in the comic book section looking for that week’s new ones. I still have the cream receipts and I still have the comics. I turned into an investor before I knew what the word meant.
The lessons I learned as a kid growing up on the farm were fabulous. If you work hard you can have fun when the work is done. Also, if you enjoy your work, it is never work. I learned how to keep a checkbook, how to budget my money, and how to save money. I was learning the lessons of the real sustainability of agriculture.
Because of the attacks from groups wanting change, there is no longer a creamery in our area. My two boys will not learn the fun of trying to keep a cow’s foot out of the bucket or how to give cats, lined up and meowing, a treat while milking. The same type of people that brought about the demise of that agriculture system are working again to bring about more regulations and chaos. Why does it seem that everything I want to do is either wrong or illegal? My crops are not “organic” enough and my farming operation is not really “sustainable” according to “them.”
I do know something about “organic” farming systems in the sense of the people that are crying for it. It is located in most of Africa and other parts of the world. No chemicals, no fertilizer, and … no yields. We see the commercials on TV asking us to give money to these impoverished people that are relying on their country’s “sustainable,” “organic” agriculture.
I am curious to know what these “sustainably organic” people think. What is their plan for doubling today’s world agriculture output by the year 2050? Do they believe not using pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizer, or biotechnology will solve the problem? Wake up people and smell the anhydrous ammonia in the morning; it will definitely clear your head.
Please visit my farm or the farm of someone in your area. Get to learn what actually takes place on these small family businesses that are the backbone and foundation of America. If you look back at history, every civilization grew and became prosperous because of good agriculture.
The reigns were handed over to me in 2001. That was a big year in my life. The World Trade Center was attacked, my dad passed away, and I joined an ag group. I have learned much from ag organizations and my eyes opened to a bigger world. I have learned that we in agriculture have great knowledge and passion.
It is time for farmers and agriculture organizations to take that knowledge and passion and speak out loud and clear. We need to come together as one voice because we are all facing the same issues. Those in our government need to quit pandering to the “kumbaya” mentality of idealism and face the real issue, strong agriculture is needed in the U.S. and every country to ensure stability and prosperity. I have yet to see a hungry person question where his food came from. To achieve that would definitely be a "V" for Victory and agriculture!

1 comment:

  1. From a fellow farmer in Nebraska - thanks for this post. Although we grow different crops (corn and soybeans rule out here), we have a lot in common. Our family has been here for 150 years. If that's not sustainable, I don't know what is. A friend asked me if organic farming is feasible. My answer - who decides what's organic? You nailed it with this one. You're always an interesting read. Hope all is well for you and yours.