News and Blog

A sporadically posted forum on permaculture and sustainability related topics. Posted when the urge to write something worthwhile presents itself, and I make available time. Most likely during the Winter months.
Posted 5/7/2008 1:04pm by Leaf Myczack.

Being raised in contemporary mainstream USA doesn't usually prepare a person to understand or comprehend the basic tenets of "wholeness." Our daily lives, based in the dominant American culture, are usually a series of fragmented, self-imposed "boxes" and events, strung together by a nebulous chain of individual needs and wants. This disconnect from holistic thinking manifests itself in numerous ways, not the least of which is found in our own health issues and the healthcare system.

This became most apparent when I approached my own health / illness issues through what we commonly refer to as Western medicine.  In the course of being diagnosed and monitored for a chronic disease, I sat across from physicians who smoked cigaretts, drank cokes and ate so-called "food" bulked-up with copious amounts of fat, sugar, and chemical preservatives. When I brought up issues of nutrition to these doctors, most just shrugged off any suggestion of a connection between health and diet!

Confronted by the contradictions and shortcomings of this western approach, I sought alternative treatment through an out-of-state clinic which practices Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). That approach is much more aligned with the farming practices we employ on our organic teaching farm in East Tennessee. Just as TCM treats the health of the whole body, not just a specific illness, we address the health and vitality of the whole farm, not just a specific area. We have first hand experience that this approach works very effectively without creating any negative side effects.

Our farming approach is centered around the principle that we create no waste product. Whether it be manure, crop plant residue and even weeds, we treat it all as a recyclable component in building the soil fertility. If it grew there, it belongs there. The idea that crop plant residues or weed residues are foreign material needing offsite disposal never crosses our mind. In TCM, no healer would consider removing or discarding body organs because they failed to operate properly. Rather the approach is to restore the body health and thus return the organ to its' rightful place in the healthy functioning of the whole.

On an individual, small residential scale, the fragmented approach is made manifest in the concept of yard waste such as grass clippings, leaves and deadfall tree branches. Grass catcher attachments, lawn rakes and leaf blowers are all used to remove "the crop" from the place it grew and the place it needs to remain. "Weed  plants" are often killed through chemical means because we fail to hear their message. Non-domesticated plant species and their root structures help to indicate underlying soil conditions. Much in the same way that human skin conditions may indicate what is occurring within the blood.

Plants have the unique ability, among living things, to produce their own food. When we remove the organic matter that plants produce, we take away the food that feeds the soil organisms. The soil organisms consume and digest organic matter , turning it into usable plant and tree food. "Rake up the leaves, starve the trees." It is a well designed system that is thwarted when we fail to view the cycle of plant life holistically.

When we burn organic plant food matter, we essentially compound the problem and create significant negative impacts on soil, air, and human and non-human life. We also weaken the whole living complex, allowing disease and pestilence to get a foothold. In response,  we try to compensate and offset the damage by introducing alien and often toxic products that do little to address, and even less in ameliorating the problems we have created. Western medicine tends to follow the same approach, treating disease and illness as something to eradicate, rather than a message about conditions in the body as a whole.

In our next blog, we will continue this discussion of wholeness as we look at  mental well being and its' relationship to intention.

 

-farmer leaf 

 

 


Posted 4/16/2008 11:53pm by Leaf Myczack.
When looking at the state of health for the average American citizen, the phrase “you are what you eat” should make thinking persons question the whole concept of “food” as it is currently presented on Main St., USA. Food provides the building material and fuel to grow and maintain our complex body structure. This brings me to another currently used phrase, “garbage in, garbage out.” How ironic that taste alone compels us to stuff ourselves with what we matter-of-factly refer to as “junk food.”

We are the most overfed (yet malnourished) nation in the world. Adult and childhood obesity are at epidemic levels, and type 2 diabetes is nearly epidemic as well. The fault can be credibly laid at the doorstep of King Corn! Corn, once a nutritious cereal grain, has been degraded by plant geneticists into a tasteless, nutritionally devoid, renewable starch feedstock. Grown on a scale and industrial intensity with highly toxic soil killing chemicals, corn has gone from agricultural gift to environmental curse. Nothing about the current industrial manner of growing or processing commercial corn can be considered sustainable. When King Corn crashes, which it surely must, it will herald the collapse of the contemporary, unhealthy American food chain.

When I refer to corn as a starch feedstock, I am talking about the ubiquitous High Fructose Corn Sweetener (HFCS) found in everything from bread to salad dressing. River barges and trains deliver the yellow No. 2 dent corn to giant refineries where it is chemically transformed from starch into sugar. A sugar by the way, with no nutritional value, and because it is derived from corn starch, one that promotes the growth of fat cells in both animals and humans. Soft drinks are one of the most egregious examples of HFCS use in what could legitimately be called an "anti-food beverage."

Cows, as ruminants, were biologically meant to eat grass. However, grass fed cattle tends to grow slower and take longer to gain weight than the beef industry is willing to wait. The Beef Industry’s answer is to force feed cows a corn based diet in filthy, cramped feedlots, which turns them into sickly, obese, saturated fat laden animals. Given this horrific treatment, it is realistic to refute the USDA and claim that grain fed beef bought in grocery stores is basically unhealthy for a number of reasons. When Opra Winfrey brought this up on her TV show, the Beef Industry sued her!

Grain finished beef cattle are unhealthy for human consumption because feeding corn to cows will, over time, stress them and make them sick. Harmful acid build up in the stomach and blood, (acidosis) is a major feedlot problem, and the longer they continue to have a corn-based diet, the more at risk they are of “sudden death.” The beef industry plan is to fatten them up as quickly as possible and then kill them before they get sick and die. Currently the average feedlot bovine spends up to 16 months “finishing” on a corn diet.

There are currently small, organic family farms who are raising wholesome, grass fed beef and dairy cows. To find a farmer near you who raises grass fed beef, check out http://www.localharvest.org/  Not only will you be supporting your local farmers, but you will also be contributing to your own good health.

-farmer leaf
Posted 4/1/2008 10:52pm by Leaf Myczack.

Due to the importance of this subject, we are leaving this blog up as the current topic for another week. Please read and pass it on. Thanks 


I have been reading a fascinating book titled "Toward Saving the Honeybee" by a beekeeper named Gunther Hauk. For me, it is a captivating look at the natural dynamics of bee colonies from the most holistic and natural world perception I have yet come across. Completely devoid of the typical anthropocentric viewpoint of modern-day honey production, it is both refreshing and sobering. It also strikes a familiar resonance with my experience of recently being treated for my immune system disorder with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Just as TCM treats the whole body, not just a specific illness, so too does Gunther Hauk advocate a holistic, inter-related approach to reversing the current collapse of the honeybee colony. While USDA scientists chase one fragmented theory after another in search of the "cure," the basic premise of our human relationship to the honeybee goes unchallenged. Like most everything else concerning the natural world, humans have abandoned respect and reverence for the web of life, and replaced it with an extract and exploit-for-profit mentality. That approach has wreaked havoc in the natural, non-human realm, which in turn is having a significant negative impact on our own health and well being.

In the contemporary industrial agriculture paradigm, "honey is money" has become the bottom line approach to bee stewardship. The hive is treated as a honey machine and the workers viewed as production units. Non-producing  "units," the drones, are considered superfluous and treated like a mistake of nature that needs elimination without regard to their unseen or unknown function within the bee colony. Honey stores are robbed down to the last ounce, and sugar water or corn syrup is substituted. Bee pollen is also taken and the bees are given a soybean based replacement. It is the equivalent of serving velveeta in lieu of genuine aged cheese made from real milk. Is it any wonder that most large commercial bee operations have malnourished bees, which are highly susceptiple to disease and colony collapse?

Compounding the mistakes of overharvesting the honeybee food supply is the introduction of plastic hive components. While bees do much better in round hives, they have seemingly adapted themselves to the wooden rectangular hive, which is a big convenience to the modern beekeeper. However, bees still need to produce wax (for building combs and sealing the hive) in order to flourish. Plastic hive components rob them of this critical function. Also, wood and plastic are very dissimilar materials, having different "energy" and nurturing properties. They are not readily interchangeable for maintaining a vibrant lifeforce within a beehive.

As American agriculture becomes more mono-crop oriented, food for pollinators becomes scarce to non-existent. Honeybees (and to a lesser extent bumblebees) are trucked hundreds or even thousands of miles to "chase" the bloom of fruit, nut, and field crops. Genetically Modified crops may produce pollen that is toxic to bees! Combined with a diet of "junk food substitutes" such as sugar, corn syrup, and pollen substitute, along with a host of toxic chemical compounds to control honeybee colony parasites, the stress level in beehives has to be constantly pushing the critical boundary.

Here at the Broadened Horizons Farm, we attempt to work within the natural cycles, rhythms, and limits of the natural order. We treat our bees as valued members of our farm community. We use diverse planting of clovers, vetch, flowering trees, and other plants to provide nectar and pollen throughout the warm weather months. We mow sparingly to allow the widest possible variety of flowering plants to grow unhindered. We provide the most ideal habitat conditions, including shelter from winter wind, shade from afternoon summer sun, and a nearby water source, for the placement of our beehives. Through our organic-soil enrichment program, we provide healthy soil to grow healthy plants that feed healthy honeybees. We hold the health of the honeybees to be as important as our own health, which is inextricably tied together in our finite natural world.

 

-farmer leaf 

Posted 3/26/2008 7:46am by Leaf Myczack.

Those who are currently experiencing the financial meltdown first hand are just the latest people to be duped by the lure of easy money. Forty years ago, America's family farmers were encouraged to go bigger, borrow lots of money and expand their operations. The rest is history as farm after farm sank into a morass of low farm commodity  prices, insurmountable debt, foreclosures and bank held auctions. Orchestrating this collapse of the family farm economy was the then Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz.

Not much in the way of thinking has changed at the USDA since then, as we witness factory farming on an industrial scale replace what was once a co-operative, healthy, sustainable form of agriculture. In the name of large scale efficiency we have disrupted and destroyed local farm communities with a system that is impersonal, unresponsive, and ultimately unhealthy. We are reaping the so-called benefits of that system with contaminated food, polluted land and water, and poor health. We are presented with food unfit to eat at mega-grocery stores, and who often fail to have any locally grown produce available on their shelves.

As generational family farmlands fall into the hands of bankers and developers, good land is continually destroyed by housing subdivisions and shopping malls. Concrete is poured by the tons into and upon the good earth, rendering it unfit for living things. As a result, the bulk of our food grown in this country is done so in an unsustainable manner. We are on a collision course with the mother of all agricultural disasters, one that seems to be approaching us at high speed.

However grim this current scenario might be, there is a movement afoot to disconnect our local food supply from the clutches of the corporate world. Call it the Small Farmers Local Organic Food Movement if you like, but whatever the name, it has a true grass roots flavor and holds a way out of our current food dilemma. Across the country, small local farms are coming back to life as older farmers and young idealists come together. Creative ideas for a sustainable food supply are being put into practice as farmers and consumers find common ground and meet mutual needs.

Standing in the way of this unfolding food revolution is the high cost of farmland. If the land is too close to a river or lake, or an urban center or highway, then inflated prices seem to rule. Few young, would-be-farmers can afford to buy the land being eagerly gobbled up by speculating developers with a robust credit line. Fortunately, there are examples of people and communities buying land which is then leased back to the farmer at a nominal rate. In exchange for freeing the farmer from insurmountable front end debt, the farmer supplies the shareholders with local, healthy, organically grown food at reasonable prices.

The mission here at the Broadened Horizons teaching farm is to provide new farmers and homesteaders with the ideas and examples needed to create a sustainable living and food growing operation. We show and tell ways to use natural systems and recycled materials to construct innovative, low cost and sustainable farming and gardening operations. We believe that right action is the antidote to despair and hopelessness. Believe you can, or believe you can't; either way you will be right.

-farmer leaf 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 3/19/2008 12:24pm by Leaf Myczack.

This is our fourth year for raising baby chicks, who will over the Spring and Summer, mature into the future laying hens for our small diversified heritage breed flock. These early chicks were bought from a hatchery source when they were day old "peeps." They are now a week old and doing quite well under the watchful eyes and ears of our family members.

The purpose of buying "hatchery stock" is twofold; to obtain pure bred pullets to replace their aging grandmothers, and to obtain a breed of hen well noted for brooding and raising their young. (Not all hens are capable of becoming broody mothers). Through natural selection and careful breeding, we are creating two flocks of laying hens that will hopefully lay more eggs in the Wintertime, (our hardest time of year to meet egg customer demand), without our resorting to forced, artificial, or un-natural measures. 

The chicks are fed a blend of grains, legumes and seaweed (for trace minerals) that we mix and grind ourselves. We avoid commercial "chick starters" since they often contain antibiotics, toxic compounds and growth hormones. We want our chickens to grow at a natural rate, using their own immune system to ward off chicken illnesses and diseases. Our success rate is unblemished with a 100% survival rate over the years. We take great pride in our holistic, nature-based, humane approach to raising chickens. Customers consistently praise the quality and taste of the eggs we sell.

Our relationship with our non-human farm members is based on respect for all of life, kindness to the least among us, and gratitude that they provide us with a means for making a modest, but richly rewarding living. We take the well being of our soil, ponds, trees, plants, chickens, and bees quite seriously. In this way we honor the spirit of life of which we are a part.

Contrast this approach to a recent news article announcing the recall of 143 million pounds of beef, because sick and down animals were forced into the slaughtering pens at California based Westland /Hallmark Meat Co. When I first heard the story, I was sickened by the implications of the recall. Assuming that these cows dressed out at 500 lbs. (a generous assumption) and 100 lbs. were diverted to non-ground beef products, the remaining 400 lbs. of ground beef per cow would represent about 357,500 cows. It is nearly impossible for me to comprehend the scope of this livestock mis-management disaster.

The sheer volume of wastefullness boggles the mind. It is about a lot more than just a loss of ground meat product for Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. It represents farm families, their labor, their land, water, pasture grasses, hay, barns, fences, soil, tractors, trucks, brood cows, calves, fertilizers, seed, etc. From a sustainablility viewpoint, it is a disaster of catastrophic magnitude. And within the current industrial agricultural paradigm, it is inevitable that these kinds of disasters keep occurring.

We are what we eat, and when we abuse and defile our living food supply, we lessen ourselves, imperile our personal health, and destroy the bonds that create a balance between the human and non-human families in the circle of life. When humans raise animals for food in sickening conditions, it follows that humans will become sick as a result. It is for this reason that we mostly eat the food grown here at the farm. We know it was raised under the best of conditions and in the healthiest manner possible. It is this same food we offer to our customers so that they too can live well.

 

-farmer leaf 

Posted 3/12/2008 9:06am by Leaf Myczack.

 While morning frosts stlll coat the farm fields, we stand poised and ready to begin a new planting season. After the disastrous climate events of last Spring and Summer, we feel a renewed optimism about the 2008 growing season. And well we should, for we have not been idle over the many long months since we faced the challenges posed by a late hard freeze and an exceptional drought.

There have been many changes here at the farm since the last growing season. The biggest change is the amount of rainfall we have received so far this year. Climatologists say it is because of the effects of a La Nina in the Pacific Ocean. Whatever the reason, we are receiving our normal (and generous) amount of rainfall, which is a big relief. Already we have received eleven plus inches, with more forecasted for this week. To retain a lot of this rainfall where it fell, we have spent the Winter months spreading woodchip mulch, horse barn-stable litter, leaves from roadside ditches, and last year's plant residues.

Rainwater collection and storage is our forte at the Broadened Horizons Organic Farm. We have employed every imaginable way of storing rainwater. When the rainwater barrels, cisterns, and ponds are full to overflowing, ground storage is the only remaining option for retaining additional rainfall. For that to occur means that the land must be loosened up and then have the ability to resist being recompacted. We are beginning our fourth year of working on renewing groundwater storage capacity in the south bottom (aka "Lost Forest"). It is a slow, deliberate procedure that becomes sustainable when the process is able to begin and then maintain the hydrologic cycle. The pieces we add to create the "starter" are trees that thrive in hydric soils, copious amounts of wood chip mulch, water soluble fertilizer (recycled black water), and pruning skill.

Three years after the first tree plantings, we are anticipating watching the closing of the overhead canopy with the first surge of new growth this Spring. This should occur shortly after the young trees begin to leaf out. This is an important benchmark, as it will now provide shade for the majority of the root zone. The shade provides the moist soil with protection from the sun, which in turn allows the tree to continue producing new growth, and hence more shade. Being located in a bottom means it is cooler overnight (cool air sinks- hot air rises) so that dew will collect here on the leaves which can then benefit the trees. During the day, humidity will be slightly elevated inside the grove, creating a potentially moist micro-climate.

While this work may seem to have little to do with the planting of feed grains or vegetable crops, it has everything to do with the viability of this farm. If the ground continues to dry out and crack like it has the previous two years, the long-term prospects for a productive farm grow dim indeed. It is essential for us to utilize every natural method of keeping the soil moist and fertile. Re-establishing vegetative shelter belts and pockets are a way to balance crop planting areas with those natural areas which sustain the functioning of the larger web of life. They slow or block the wind, provide habitat for insect eating birds, supply nutrient rich organic biomass, provide shade from summer heat, and retain critical soil moisture.

We are optimistic,because we can feel the heart of the land beat with a stronger pulse. We know our countless hours of pond digging, stream renewal, exotic and invasive plant removal, mulching, pruning, tree planting and working with the contours of the land are set to reward us with bountiful new growth indicative of fertile and healthy soil. That we have a meaningful role in the rapid restoration process of land that once yielded little more than heartbreak and debt, is a legacy worthy of our pursuit.

 

-farmer leaf 


 


Posted 3/5/2008 8:47am by Leaf Myczack.

I am back on the farm after a two week absence. During my time in southern Virginia, I was receiving treatment for a chronic health problem using Traditional Chinese Medicine. The results have been most encouraging, and more specifically, it is giving me a means of participating actively in my own health restoration.

In my last blog (#20), I talked about healing both the farm and the farmer. My body, like the original farm, had been pushed into a state of long-term non-viability due to unsustainable conditions. For the farm, it centered around the depletion of soil-based nutrients and a lack of surface water. For the farmer, the challenge was an uncontrolled production of white blood cells. Modern industrial chemistry had a "quick-fix" treatment for both conditions. For the farm it was the application of toxic (to the soil) synthetic fertilizers; for my body it was toxic chemotherapy. Both approaches were fraught with potential negative outcomes, and both approaches were rejected.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very aligned with the philosophy that guides organic farming and gardening. Conditions that negatively affect the health of the soil or the body have been in place for a long time. Turning those conditions around can not be accomplished overnight. They require a long-term disciplined approach that seeks to restore balance and good health to the whole organism, not just a small portion or part thereof. It requires a willingness to change behavior and diet. Both soil and body need to be fed the proper "food" that restores and maintains good health.

All through the winter we have been manuring and mulching areas of the farm. This is the third year we have carried on this activity. Each year we see a gradual but steady improvement in both the soil condition and the fertility of the land. Most noteable is the feel of the land underfoot. No longer is it hard and unyielding, but rather it has taken on the more spongy feel of loose earth. With a good, steady rainfall amount so far this year, we are anticipating a good Spring bloom of vegetation.

We do not subscribe to the practice of annually having the soil chemically analyzed by a contract lab. Rather we have learned to walk the farm and feel the heart of the land beneath our feet. We pick up a handful of soil and feel it and smell it, and let it run through our fingers. We examine what grows here and what grows there to help determine the state of fertility. We do not treat one area at the expense of another, but factor in how improvement to one area affects the overall health of the entire farm. In short, we are attuned to the energy of the whole farm.

And so it is with TCM. Rather than look at just one aspect of the body, healers are trained to view the body as a whole interconnected organism and work to restore balance throughout. It seems so obvious, but western medicine has fragmented the body into seemingly unrelated parts. Specialists which focus on one particular aspect of the body now dominate the conventional approach to wellness. Each practioner is in effect, removed from the whole-body approach by adherence to only his / her area of expertise. It is similar to the conventional farmer claiming soybeans or corn growing as the only type of farming expertise, while ignoring or being ignorant of the broader soil and plant communities.

If you would like to explore the holistic concept of healing / farming in more depth, you may email me with your request. I am available to share my experiences in both areas.

 

-farmer leaf 

 

 


Posted 2/13/2008 7:31pm by Leaf Myczack.


teach-[ME techen<OE taecan] vt.1. To impart knowledge or skill; to INSTRUCT.  2 To provide knowledge of; to cause to learn by example.

The Broadened Horizons sustainability-teaching-farm is, by the composite strengths of its staff members, a good learning environment for practical and sound ideas of how to achieve a greater measure of self-awarenes, self-reliance and sustainability. Because we take our mission to be worthwhile, we personally and communally strive to bring our best to all of our endeavors. As we journey through our days, we are often confronted with choices that seem to involve practicality and idealism. It is our goal to bring these two approaches closer together, where they can overlap more often than not.

Our determination to blend wisdom into our farm activities is most apparent in our land and water restoration program. By looking at a long-term time frame, we have, quite literally, planted the seedlings of a functioning biological framework for this resurrected plot of abused cattle farm. At the same time, our aggregate farm experience allows us to develop a greater role as co-creative partners. By reversing the process that drains the land of fertility, we actually do improve the soil’s ability to nurture life. It is taking land management beyond the contemporary context of resource extraction and habitat degradation, and using it to re-create a more viable and valuable biological ecosystem.

I have used much column space in this blog to offer rebuttal to the industrial-corporate farming paradigm. Common sense alone would indicate that chemical fertilizer and pesticide use is not sustainable, is simply a quick fix that leaves the underlying imbalance unresolved, and in the long run makes the problem worse. The only way we can have long-term, successful agriculture is to restore balance in the natural world. We need a balance between plant needs and soil fertility, between prey and predator, between give and take. When we lose this balance, we over-tax and under-nourish our life support system. If we insist on maintaining this imbalance, it can only result in eventual collapse.

Short-sighted “experts” vow to the public that quick fixes are good and the only real practical alternative. What they don’t acknowledge are the health-risks of stepping outside of the circle of sustainability. When our sustenance is no longer obtained in a natural way, our bodies will react accordingly.

For 15 years, we lived a rather stressful life aboard a small sailing vessel plying the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Tombigbee Rivers in the Southeast U.S. as citizen RiverKeepers. Stormy weather, commercial shipping, industrial pollution, poachers, hostile government officials, irate developers, and drunk boaters kept us on a constant high alert-like mental edge. Fresh food was sporadic, good drinking water scarce, and chemical exposure pervasive. We left our health threatening activist RiverKeeping life at the end of 2003 in order to restore our sacrificed mental and physical well being.

On Thanksgiving eve in 2006, a doctor friend who had given me blood tests and a physical, informed me over the phone, that I had been diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Since that time, I have been going to the VA Hospital in Nashville to have my condition monitored. As my white blood cell count continued to climb, the VA began talking about treatment. I was told that there was no cure for this smouldering dis-ease, just chemotherapy to maybe slow it down.

For me as an organic-based, teacher / farmer, the chemical treatment is not something I would want to do to my body. My immune system is my soil. To consciously and deliberately build and strengthen the immune system (or farm soil) makes much more sense than attacking it with toxic chemicals. I asked a fireman friend if I should fight fire with fire? No, no he said, "you fight fire with water!"

I will be away from the farm until March 4th while I seek alternative treatment to restore the healthy balance within my blood, and within my body. I am not outwardly ill, and my vital signs and life force are strong. It seems a perfect synchronicity to learn to heal both farm and farmer by following the broad tenets of natural restoration.  

The “Notes from the Farm” blog will tentatively return on March 5th.

farmer leaf

Posted 2/6/2008 12:14pm by Leaf Myczack.

In recent weeks, small, organic-based family farmers in Indiana and Michigan began receiving registered letters from the USDA's non-compliance sector located in California. A woman farmer, from Coal City, IN, posted the first entry on the Local Harvest website forum after receiving such a letter. This singular event triggered a new forum topic that generated an immediate and vigorous discussion. It has been both ongoing and widely read by other small farmers. I took part in the discussion that ensued.

At first I believed it was a hoax, especially after a weasily ex-husband was implicated in turning over a photographaph of his former wife's "Farmers Market" organic produce stall to the USDA "Organic Cops." Then when it became apparent that indeed something "big-government" was really going on, the mood changed. There was both anger and resignation, rhetoric and reasoned argument, facts and make believe, but above all, a palpable sense that an illigitimate power had violated the sanctity of the small family farmstead.

The USDA was created in 1862 by President Lincoln. That same year the Morril Land Grant College Act was passed, a guarantee that the USDA's view of agriculture as an industrial-scale component of the global economy, would be taught to future generations of farmers. They would be weaned away from a sustainable, diversified, natural way of farming, and instead be taught that the only viable option for "modern" farming was to listen to the government experts' advice and grow the operational size beyond its' sustainable limits. The rational for this flight from reality, was of course, rooted in money!

Hewing to that belief, a long line of commissioners promoted a move away from diversified and sustainable local, family farms, to a more centralized, mono-agricultural approach. Certain regions became synonymous for certain foods, i.e. the "corn-belt." This involved shipping large amounts of food long distances, in order to supply local demand. Ripeness (or freshness) was lost, and the food failed to keep us healthy. As farm labor became more about large-scale machinery, and less about the growing talents of people, it was aptly named "industrial farming."

But back to the letters. The letter writer claimed to speak under the authority of the National Organic Program (NOP) Act, which essentially gave the USDA legal authority to regulate the use of the word "organic." It claimed that farmers, not certified by the USDA as "organic" were in violation of the NOP and subject to a $10,000 fine for claiming to grow organically. In other words, use of the word "organic" without USDA permission was forbidden!

As a member of the Broadened Horizons Organic Farm family, I was thinking I might have run afoul of the law, as nothing we were doing was certified by anybody. So I spent a few late nights reading the lengthy NOP at the USDA website- eCFR. I read it adneauseum until I could quote section and paragraph. I became well versed in the section that exempted small farmers making less than $5,000 from food grown and marketed as organic. I read labeling requirements and prohibitions, record keeping and audits, non-compliance penalties, soil requirements, manure protocols, all the lawyerese a simple farmer could possibly digest. And, I came to one conclusion; It was harrassment - plain and simple!

The movement to re-establish small-scale, sustainable, local farms to serve community food needs is based on a common belief that our bodies can only be as healthy as the food we eat. If we can't grow the food ourselves, we want to know the farmer who grew it, and what was done to make it grow. We want to know our food is safe, nutritious, and naturally grown or raised to give us the best possible nourishment for our bodies.

The corporate farm segment does, through the control of the USDA and the Farm Bureau, dictate a food policy that is unsustainable, unhealthy, and harms the land and the larger environment. It is a policy that spurns local food sources and heirloom varieties in favor of a highly mechanized, highly chemical dependent, mono-crop engineered type of agriculture that is harmful to the Earth's well being. One of the most significant environmental actions you can take as an individual is to buy your food from locally grown sources, more of which are spring up every day.

farmer leaf

Posted 1/30/2008 1:22am by Leaf Myczack.
"The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Once again, we find our political leadership united around a very bad idea. This time it is ethanol and other bio-fuels to help gain "energy independence," to "help farmers," and most importantly, to help citizens avoid the harsh reality of peak oil converging with unsustainable lifestyles. It is understandable that politicians would pander to the corn growing states in search of election votes. Even the most seemingly enlightened, progressive, and thoughtful of them have fallen prey to this type of behavior.

While some crops are superior to others for producing ethanol, and forest-eating cellulostic ethanol technology plans are still in development, corn ethanol primacy is devouring the nation's alternative energy focus. Billions of taxpayer dollars are being thrown into this unsustainable technology, resulting in a subsidy of 51 cents for each gallon of auto alcohol produced.

In the rush to deplete our nation's dwindling soil resources, corn is king. Corn devours soil nutrients at 12-20 times the rate of soil renewal, meaning it is already a highly unsustainable crop. Corn is also highly dependent on fossil fuel based fertilizer and pesticide inputs. With the inevitable hybridization and genetically modified organism (GMO) corn crops, the soil nutrient depletion will accelerate. The Corn Cartel, led by the likes of Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto, has been working for decades on their plans for corn dominion in U.S. agriculture, and are now reaping record profits and subsidies.

To grow enough corn for ethanol to replace our current oil consumption would require approximately 482 million acres of cropland, exceeding the current total of 434 million acres of cropland used for all food and fiber. This does not even account for projected growth of oil consumption in the U.S. There is already the push to put the marginal Conservation Reserve Program lands, vital for wildlife and water quality and quantity, into intense energy crop production. Old school ethical farmers in the corn-belt are lamenting the destruction of soil saving windbreaks, (some planted during the CCC years), and the plowing under of hayfields to place highly erodable hilly lands into corn production. This unsustainable type agriculture hearkens back to the depression era insanity that squandered so much vital topsoil.

Ethanol contains only 70% of the energy of gasoline. Therefore, it takes much more ethanol than gasoline to go a hundred miles, undermining the 10-cent price difference at the pump that makes it seem like we are saving both money and the earth. The ethanol scam will only accelerate global warming. As forests are cleared, more carbon is released than could ever possibly be avoided by burning ethanol. It appears that the ethanol fumes are leaving us drunk on delusion, ignoring the short and long-term consequences, and refusing to face a future without cheap and plentiful oil. To paraphrase the famous Jack Nicholson line..."We can't handle the truth about unsustainable lifestyles, global warming, and how we're endangering this and future generations."

Do we feed cars or ourselves? To fuel the average American consumer's driving habits would require 11 acres of cropland per year, the same cropland that could feed seven people for a year. Ethanol primacy is in direct competition for the dairy and animal industry. In the US, the USDA projects that the wholesale price of chicken will be 10% higher this year, the price of eggs up 21%, milk 14%, beef 6% and this is only the beginning. Other food crops like soybeans, wheat, and barley are being plowed under to feed cars instead of people.

There is a reason that Toyota is now the biggest auto dealer in the US...innovation and greatly improved fuel mileage. Detroit seems to be asleep at the wheel in comparison.

A real list of energy conservation solutions would include the following: consumption based taxation on fossil fuels, vastly improved mileage standards with current technology, more emphasis on development and improvements in solar, wind and storage battery technologies, car pooling, and inter-city light rail. Decentralized solar and wind could power virtually all of our current home and transportation needs. We could quit transporting our food an average of 1,500 miles per bite and instead buy our food from local, sustainable, organic-based farms. We could re-learn to once again live within our means as both individuals and communities; based upon the timeless values of taking care of the planet for future generations, living by the golden rule, and being smart enough to figure things out and then doing right by the Earth and all its’ inhabitants. These measures could allow us to develop truly sustainable options without a noticeable impact on our current standard of living.

Guest blog by
Denny Haldeman
Soddy Daisy, TN.
dennyh@bellsouth.net