Food and Farming #2

After my previous post which covered my old family home and a rant on corporate farming practices, I feel inspired to share more of the fallacy of cheap food and the hidden costs on our society’s health.

I’ll begin talking about our soil and what I discovered first hand some thirty years ago. In 1990 my wife and I purchased 14 acres of central Iowa farmland, complete with an old homestead consisting of a decent barn and several out buildings. The house had burned down some years before. The farmstead occupied maybe three to four acres, the rest of the acres having been intensively farmed with corn and bean crops.

It was spring of 1991 when we started to put in fence for our llamas we were raising at the time. Digging the post holes, about three feet deep, I found not one living organism or, what we called soil tilth. A good soil with good tilth is full of earthworms and other soil type creatures, the soil would be filled with organic matter and would crumble in your hands which allowed for good percolation of the rain water. This soil was nothing but thick heavy muck that lacked any nutritious life whatsoever. The only way anything would grow would be by the application of copious amounts of fertilizer such as anhydrous ammonia. Any organisms had been eradicated by heavy use of pesticides.

That spring we planted a pasture grass seed which took hold and gave us our first hay crop later that summer. Needless to say, we did not use fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. I spent many hours walking that new grass chopping out weeds and thistles. We built a new house and moved there permanently later that year.

That first spring, when warmer weather came and it was time for flowers and such, we noticed that there were no flowers which were a main staple around farmsteads. Peonies were especially hardy, but there were none because, we guessed, by herbicide drift from the fields. The other thing we noticed was that there were no land critters so common in Iowa. We had a lot of big old trees, but no squirrels that would normally hang out in such trees. Also, there was the absence of songbirds. 

Over the years we continued to avoid using anything but organic methods to raise our grass and hay crops. Every year they flourished more. We grazed the llamas, alternating their pastures. While the grazed one, another would regain growth.

It was maybe five years later when I was relocating a fence and was again digging postholes that I noticed how the earth had changed over that time, how healthy the soil had become, now filled with earthworms and other rather ugly little underground critters. This soil crumbled in my hands. I was amazed at how that ground had recovered. I will also note, we had birds of all sorts, a few squirrels and some rabbits who now lived there. All in all the land had recovered.

Next, more about farming methods.

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