SSF - Food for Thought

Had these been more precedented times, today I would be sailing the Hudson, bringing the joys of eel petting, estuarine ecology and environmental history to students up and down the river. Alas, as healthcare workers fight to keep us healthy and essential workers struggle for fair compensation and protection while keeping us fed, we all must do our part for society by practicing social distancing. Closing schools, refraining from gathering in large groups and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance in public all preclude typical Clearwater programming, so come March I found myself quarantining in Vermont with some, shall we say, unanticipated professional freedom.

The saying goes though that ya gotta make hay while the sun shines – and though Vermont in March can't rival the dry-season Panama from where I came in terms of insolation, the state is full of opportunity for those with vision and moxie. I have a passion for natural history, and skill in communicating that to diverse groups. All I was missing while the world stayed at home was an audience.

When I came out of post-travel quarantine I began helping my friends at Scuttleship Farm. Between herding cattle, seeding pastures and caring for newborn lambs I was blown away by the depth of ecological knowledge of the farmers. They intensive rotational grazing, where groups of livestock move to fresh pasture daily. This approach focuses on building soil through mimicry of natural grasslands where disturbance adapted grasses and the ungulates that eat them coevolved. To do so, the farmers rely on knowledge of botany, hydrology, chemistry and animal behavior. This is low input agriculture. Absent are synthetic fertilizers and the equipment and fossil fuels necessary to bring food to and waste away from restrained animals in industrial agricultural operations. Instead resources are invested in knowledge and regenerative practices that contribute to ecosystem services.

I can see Scuttleship sequestering carbon in soil. I can see how their practices protect water quality and provide wildlife habitat while ethically producing food. I value these practices. The consumer however does not have the privilege of casually interviewing the shepherd son how their practices mimic and protect natural systems. At local distributors, Scuttleship meat might be sold next to beef from cows who never left a barnyard, cows who were fed corn grown on soil that was supplemented with synthetic nitrogen before being allowed to wash away, uncovered, in spring rains. That nitrogen doped soil is then entering Lake Champlain, where it contributes to beach closings and even threats to drinking water. Industrial agriculture produces artificially cheap food while the public pays for both subsidies and environmental degradation. Though Scuttleship meat carries the "Grassfed" label, that only does so much to elucidate the ecosystem services regenerative practices provide.

For the first time in my professional life I find myself working for a for-profit enterprise, and with that comes a default audience – customers. As education specialist at Scuttleship Farm I'm leveraging experience in education with familiarity with the natural, agricultural and cultural context of Vermont to translate technical farming practices to a general audience. If I succeed, you can expect content to be similar in voice to that I'd prepare for students on the Hudson: deeply informative, hopeful, and committed to our mission. While Scuttleship is for-profit, their work embodies the same devotion to principles I've seen at explicitly mission-driven nonprofits. We keep the agrarian dream that a revolutionary shift in our food system can produce food in a manner that ethically serves farmers, eaters, workers, livestock and the environment.

I'll be writing about ecology in action at Scuttleship – from frost seeding to the hydrologic benefits of dung beetles – on their monthly newsletter. The farmers have fenced off for me a whole section called "Food for Thought". These posts will eventually be hosted, with context lending landing pages, on their website. For now though there are fences to build and paddocks to rotate. I won't keep you waiting though. I'll post articles here as I write them, tagged with "SSF" in the title. Some mornings on the farm the three of us will get entirely carried away by how well ruminants and grasslands work together – I hope some of you here can get carried away with us.

Posted on 25 de maio de 2020, 11:09 PM by pkm pkm


Huzzah! I'm looking forward to learning more!

Publicado por wkonwent cerca de 4 anos antes

I love it Pete! Glad you've found something in Vermont that enables you to do what you do best. Like Wika, I'm also looking forward to learning more.

Publicado por rileyfortierii cerca de 4 anos antes

@rileyfortierii thanks for bringing to my attention the fact that iNat journals exist.

Publicado por pkm cerca de 4 anos antes
Publicado por wkonwent cerca de 4 anos antes

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