Mark T. Mitchell, writing for First Principles Journal, discusses sustainable farming in an article "The Rediscovery of Agriculture?"
Is there any farm in Genesee County like Polyface Farms in Staunton, Virginia?
Although he sells beef, chickens, eggs, turkeys, pork, and rabbits, Salatin calls himself a grass farmer. That is, he is in the business of raising meat and eggs for sale, but he realizes that the quality of his products, and ultimately the success of his farm, depends on the quality of the grass in his pastures. Unlike the vast majority of meat products in the U.S. today, Salatin’s cows are raised and finished on grass; his chickens are pastured; his hogs are happy, and his turkeys, well, they seem friendly. The Polyface website affirms their belief that the natural world is the model they seek to emulate: “Believing that the Creator’s design is still the best pattern for the biological world, the Salatin family invites like-minded folks to join in the farm’s mission.”
Salatin has developed innovated methods of enhancing his grass farm and thereby providing a good place for his animals. For example, his cows are moved to new pasture almost daily, and these docile beasts are anxious to move, for each fresh pasture represents, in the cow’s mind, what Salatin calls “cow ice-cream.” As in nature, once the herbivores (in this instance, cows) have moved to another field, the birds (in this case, chickens) come next. Portable chicken coops make it possible to move the chickens through a recently grazed pasture. The chickens flourish on the cropped grass, and they pick through the cow dung, eating bugs and parasites, and in the process spread the manure over the field, while depositing plenty of their own. The symbiosis of this relationship between cows and chickens replenishes the pastures even as it sustains the animals living there. This is just one example of how the people at Polyface seek to work with the natural world to raise healthy animals while simultaneously sustaining and even improving the land on which they farm.
Mitchell then goes on to talk about the work of economist John E. Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri.
Ikerd admits that his views are not typical of economists, but
[B]eing an economist is no excuse for ignoring ecological and social reality. How can agriculture meet the food and fiber needs of a growing world population if we destroy the natural productivity and regenerative capacity of the land? Economists generally assume that we will find substitutes for anything we use up and will fix any ecological or social problems we create, but these are simply beliefs with no logical, scientific support in fact.
Furthermore, although it is true that, at least in the short term, industrial agriculture can produce an incredible amount of food, there are trade-offs, and we are remiss to ignore what is inevitably sacrificed.
What is the net benefit of an agriculture that meets the physical needs of people but separates families, destroys communities, and diminishes the overall quality of life within society? How can it possibly be good to defile the earth, even if it is profitable to do so? Economists simply don’t consider the social, psychological, or ethical consequences of the things people do to make money. Economics treats such things as social or ecological externalities, which may impose irrational limits or constraints on the legitimate pursuit of wealth.
Mitchell then lists three reasons why centralized farming is bad for the nation.
- Industrialized food doesn't taste as good and isn't as healthy;
- Centralized agriculture is less secure against terrorist attacks;
- Industrial farming is not sustainable.
This is an agricultural community. I would be interested in two reactions to Mitchell's piece -- is it realistic based on what you know about local farming, and are there any farms in Genesee County implementing sustainable agricultural tactics?