Arquivos de periódicos de maio 2020

25 de maio de 2020

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 | 4 comentários | Deixar um comentário

26 de maio de 2020

SSF - Frost Seeding

Those first fleeting sunny afternoons in April bring us a particular excitement. At this point, we’ve been lambing for a few weeks, and new moms are still very happy for the cozy barn on wintery nights. But on those warm afternoons we look around and see the snow receding, see the tree buds swelling, feel the sun on our faces, and our thoughts turn to GRASS! Of course, those first days of Spring sunshine are inevitably followed by sobering cold snaps but the season is not without its opportunities.

Sheep grazing between brown canary-grass stems and the dairy barn our pasture once produced bedding for.

As the soil thaws and grass awakens, we reflect on our pasture. We’ve noticed that much of our pasture grass is reed canary-grass. This grass grows well here, but quickly grows tall and stemmy. As our animals graze, they delight in the young leaves, but stems are much more dry and lack nutrition. Each grass has its purpose though. The long stems of reed canary-grass are well suited for bedding – which makes it an unsurprising citizen of these pastures that were once managed to provide bedding for the dairy barn on the ridge.

Rather than producing stems to cut, dry, and transport to a barn, we want a pasture that provides tasty and nutritious food for our grazing animals. To move our pasture from mattress factory to salad bar, we bought a seed mix of ryegrass, white clover and red clover. Ryegrass is a leafy alternative to reed canary-grass’s long stems. The clovers, being legumes, are high in protein and enrich our fertile marine soil with nitrogen so neighboring plants can better access the rich stores of other nutrients. Together they work to provide a balanced diet – tender grasses with carbs and sweet clover packed with protein – all while improving soil fertility.

Our animals and the other plants in our pasture would benefit from these newcomers, but the problem stands: how to get them into the pasture? To germinate, these seeds want to be under ¼ inch of soil. To achieve that, many farmers will use a drill seeder on their tractor to push seeds underground as they drive along their pasture.

Two visions of grassland flora: on left, dead reed canary-grass stems stand. On the right, a rich mix of clover and grass was planted a few years ago when the pasture was disturbed to put in a septic field.

Rather than invest in that expensive equipment and the fossil fuels needed to run it, we let nature do that work for us. When the snow has melted but the ground is still frozen, we simply spread seed over the pasture. Then, as April takes us from midwinter blizzards to balmy sunshine and back again, the freeze-thaw cycles are each day working our seeds into the soil. Drivers in Vermont are intimately familiar with how frost can heave and crack our roads (so too many historic barns), but this action is also, on a much smaller scale, what opens cracks in the soil to create homes for our new clover and ryegrass.

Next time you enjoy a balmy April afternoon with full knowledge that tomorrow will bring snow and polar wind, raise a glass with us to this season’s help with frost seeding.

Posted on 26 de maio de 2020, 12:10 PM by pkm pkm | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário