“Grass Farming” – More Important than you think

June is the month when it really shines!  The method of production that we use here at Zettel Family Farms is often referred to as ”Pasture based livestock production” or more simply “grass farming”.  This year, for the first time, we had no spring seeding to do in the fields.  All of the land is seeded to pasture and hay.  Most of that acreage is used for feeding our cattle.  They are ruminants and are able to thrive on grass in the summer and dry hay in the winter, with only a vitamin and premix supplement and no grain.  The pigs, chickens and turkeys, while they also enjoy being out on the grass, require some grain in their diets, which we purchase from other organic farmers.  Seeing all the animals outside, clean and healthy in their natural environment is one of the great pleasures of being a grass farmer.  Animals on pasture are healthier and happier, and  (read the whole article on our website)

the meat that comes from these animals is better for us to eat.  There is also a huge environmental dividend created by feeding cattle with pasture, as opposed to growing corn and feeding them in feedlots or confinement.  Grasslands sequester carbon from the atmosphere, while industrial grain production, reliant on nitrogen fertilizer, is a major source of carbon emission.  All of these facts are well established.  (see https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2021/03/grazing-livestock-could-reduce-greenhouse-gases-in-the-atmosphere-study-shows.html)

 The obvious question which non-farmers ask is “So why doesn’t everyone farm like this?  It seems like a no-brainer.”

Simple question, but the answers are complicated.  The first thing to note is that the way mainstream agriculture operates today; growing corn, soybeans and wheat on vast expanses of land with monstrous equipment and continuous recourse to toxic chemicals and keeping pigs and chickens confined in barns where they never see the light of day is a fairly recent development. My Dad (c. 1918 – 2009) began his career farming with horses, and remembered the first time when “spraying” was introduced to kill weeds.  The old cultural methods of farming in the pre-industrial age and the organic practices of today, while they differ greatly, have one significant feature in common.  There were a lot of people working on farms back then and the way we at ZFF farm now requires a lot more labour per unit of production than on our neighbour’s farms.  In Canada, we have managed over the last century to largely eliminate people from food production.  From a strictly fiscal perspective that’s good.  People cost money and eliminating the people makes the product cheaper.  From almost every other vantage point, it seems to me that this single development is a colossal mistake; an affront to the natural order of things and a foolish, unnecessary loss of something good, true and beautiful. 

How can we begin to describe or unpack the benefits to the individual who is fortunate enough to bend his back or use her hands in the noble passtime of growing food?  What profound gratitude for nourishment is nurtured when the eater knows first-hand the sacrifice of hard physical work, the utter dependence on weather, the beauty and harshness of the land? There is great dignity in working in the field; sweating in the sun, chased by rain, legs and arms tired at the end of a long summer day, rising at the crack of dawn to look after animals.  Is this something that we want to eliminate from modern human experience?  Are we so “advanced” that farm work is demeaning? A friend of mine, critical of the government bureaucrats who administer red tape that confounds farmers, once suggested that each of them should be placed on a plot of land and be required to feed themselves for one year before they were eligible for a job with the Ministry of Agriculture. The world, he predicted, would be a better place! 

So here on our little mixed farm, where we grow a few of everything, it takes a lot more time.  We try to be efficient, and find ways to make things easier, but we are always conscious of the ultimate destination.  We are here for the good of people.  Our collective good is not served by eliminating every opportunity for people to engage in meaningful labour.  We know that developing technologies will make it possible to do this, not only in farming, but in every other sector as well. But we question the wisdom of going too far or too fast down that road. Somehow we are convinced that what we’re doing is right, and thankfully, those of you who buy our products agree.

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