If one studies the history of agriculture prior to industrialization, you’re quick to find a system that hinged on livestock. The humble herbivore was valued at the highest level for its ability to maintain open space by converting plant material otherwise unusable to humans into satiating food loaded with nutrients needed to power human survival in an era before HelloFresh.
Equally valuable (perhaps more so) was the collective animals’ waste, for manure from the roaming beasts acted as the perfect fertilizer to feed subsequent cereal crops. Entire productive farms focused attention first on the management of precious stock and their dung, recognizing the graze – manure – cultivate cycle to be the key that made cropping function. Farmers of old knew a thing or two about poop.
Ownership of livestock kept these abodes independent. Never did a higher power arrive to deliver fertility on a truck, and, therefore, even in the worst of times a farmer could hold together his operation because bills from external services didn’t pile up after a whiff of trouble. Economies of scale only became necessary when farm business began buying in bulk every bit of ‘fertility’ in the form of chemical fertilizer (as many farms still do today). Maintaining multiple aggregated enterprises on a single, human scale farm ensured the system remained self-sustaining while at the same time providing enough work to occupy multiple generations at a time. By extension, the security provided by animals extended over the townspeople who depended on surplus from surrounding farms.
Herbivores are the living, breathing connection that exists between vegetation and soil nutrients. As polite society continues to demonize the creatures, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, for a cropping system without perennial grasses and manure fertility stops cycling of nutrients and starts the mining of nutrients. Soils currently are exhausted and washing down every stream and river in the country, and most people recognize the dead zones as a problem, yet a future free of herbivores is still widely propounded. In place of animals, people are asking for phony foodstuffs that are created from annual crops grown by machinery, inadvertently sustaining the plague of soil disruption.
An article in the Asheville Citizens Times newspaper comparing pseudo burgers to real beef couldn’t help but add a caveat at the end: “Beef is considered taxing on the environment because of the resources it takes to grow crops to feed cows.” It goes on to quote Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, stating “…pork and chicken have a much smaller environmental footprint than beef.” Pay attention: this collective mindset is demonizing beef because of crops while promoting fake meat made entirely from crops and sympathizing with pork and poultry that, being the products of omnivores, require crops. Confinement pigs and chickens are reared entirely on grain, and even pastured options consume vast quantities of the stuff. In fact, the only subject discussed in the critique that can be raised completely without crops is beef, but it seems everyone conveniently failed to mention that reality, so beef remains the whipping boy.
Ironically, if we would manage our national beef herd differently, cattle could become a natural basis of the very resources required to grow the crops to make the fake protein sandwich. Suggesting a change to our rearing methods, though, is met with such fearsome opposition from national organized beef conglomerates – the only adequately funded cheerleader for beef - that any viable solution to beef’s PR problem is short-circuited each time they speak up in defense of the status quo. This is sufficiently ridiculous to make me belly laugh if it wasn’t so infuriating.
It’s the brazen ignorance of everything mainstream that fuels my fire. No longer am I content to simply sell beef, I’m consumed by the prospect of proving incorrect every elitist spending time behind a desk throwing stones into a field he’s never walked in. My goal is to replicate the systems of old, creating a hub of interconnected farming practices that each compliment the other, thus eliminating the raw risk of single crop marketing while buffering us from the turmoil that spawns misinformed debates about beef cattle. It requires bovines to harvest the forage and fertilize the soil. The dream will become reality on this farm, and I hope to see this place serve as a pillar of logic against the current of irrationality swollen by shills holding prestigious positions and spewing vitriol.
Maybe someday we can submit an article to the Asheville Times so people can hear the other side of the story.I bet they don’t want to hear it.