Local. Grass fed. Michigan made. GMO free. Organic. Naturally raised. Hormone free. Antibiotic free. Pastured. Free range. Cage free. Sustainable. These terms are often the touchstones for products listed on Cherry Capital Foods Product list that our customers see each week. The driving force behind most of these ideas is a healthy, rich, and verdant soil.
The slender skin of the Earth, of which only a small percentage is capable of supporting agriculture, has increasingly been exploited by practices that, since World War II, are dependent on inputs from non renewable resources and technologies that create a closed system. Increasingly, agricultural systems are dependent on large multinational corporations who dictate every aspect of planting, growing, and harvesting of the crops and chemicals they hold patents on. It seems that we may not need to rely on healthy soil or natural processes to feed ourselves anymore.
The obvious example of hydroponics proves that some things can be raised without soil. One can even have organic hydroponics, but for me this becomes counter intuitive and completely misuses the term organic. I must admit that growing up in the 70’s, I have a certain preconceived notion of what organic means which is at odds with the current “walmartesque” definition of organic. Many farmers and ranchers are looking beyond the current definitions and creating agricultural systems in a way that defies classification with current nomenclature.
Enter Gabe Brown. On a typical sub-zero morning in March (did I just say that?) I made my way to Michigan State University for the Great Lakes Forage & Grazing Conference which featured Gabe as it’s keynote speaker. Gabe is a rancher/farmer from North Dakota who is a passionate advocate for no till farming, soil health, and regenerating resources. He and his family have been operating since 1993 with the idea of building soils with sustainable and diverse methods. By focusing on multiple cover crops that create a blanket of organic matter he conserves moisture and prevents erosion that is regularly lost by regular tilling or cultivating. In the arid climate of the Bismark, ND, which gets just a third of the average precipitation that a typical Michigan farm gets, these considerations become critical for sustainable success. In 20 years of “holistically integrated grazing and no-till cropping system” Brown’s Ranch has been able to increase the depth of his top soil from 3″ to 18″.
As I travel around the state and speak with ranchers and farmers, there is a growing desire to become independent of the industrial agricultural system and create a farming system that more closely resembles the natural cycles that were once more typical of family farms. Do not be fooled, this is not nostalgia for the “good/bad old days”, but a desire to decrease inputs of money and chemicals, and increase the health of the soils, watersheds, plants, animals, consumers, and farm family’s that are the backbone of our regional food systems. I strongly encourage anyone interested in changing the way our food systems work, whether you are a consumer or a producer, to investigate what Gabe is doing and try to incorporate some or all of his practices that apply to your operation.