Solving agriculture’s many problems is not impossible, but the issues involved are complex and the necessary transformations radical. To discuss them is to risk frightening or confusing people. On the other hand, everyone likes good food. So campaigns for more ecologically sound farming practices, especially in the wealthier nations, too often seem to suggest to consumers that with enough effort, we can simply eat our way to a sustainable future.
For example, Organic Valley, the United States’ largest organic-farming cooperative, suggests that “personal food choices affect the health of our bodies and our planet, and drive their future”. Likewise, the British Soil Association says that “the buying decisions we make every day are a simple but powerful form of direct action”, and Naturalnews.com stresses that “by changing what you buy, you change what farmers will grow and how they will grow it”.
While the average American farmer is 57 years old, the next generation of farmers committed to alternative agriculture programs and raising healthier food options is also being embraced in the marketplace and among their peers. Organic Valley has invested in a 3-week biofuel-powered bus tour (Generation Organic 2011“Who’s Your Farmer?”) aimed at connecting farmers ages 18 to 35 with students and communities across the country. And the organic food sector continues to experience growth compared with conventional food sales, indicating that consumers are willing to pay more for quality organic food despite the fiscal uncertainty wobbling the American economy over the last several years.
Meridith and Zeb Burroughs, both 30, use their hands every day of their working lives. And they work most days of their lives.
They own and run California Cloverleaf Farms, a grass-based dairy nestled in the rolling hills and almond groves on the Merced-Stanislaus county line. They started with 700 crossbred heifers in 2003, and two years later started selling organic milk through the Organic Family Cooperative. Today they handle almost 600 cows.
The 950-acre dairy is a partnership with Zeb's dad and mom, Ward and Rosie Burroughs. That whole part of the county, in fact, could be called Burroughs Inc. for all the family enterprises flourishing there. A decade ago, Ward and Rosie divided their nearly century-old farming and ranching operations among their children.
Daughter Benina runs an almond farm called Vista Almonds and raises chickens and eggs. Daughter Christine and her husband Brian also run an organic dairy farm. Brother Joe lives off the ranch and grows some almonds.
Organic Valley is a big business. One of the most widely recognized organic brands in the U.S., it has 1,624 members who produce some 1.2 billion pounds of milk annually to the tune of more than half a billion dollars. But in many ways, Organic Valley functions more like an un-corporation. At the co-op’s La Farge headquarters—a barn-like, gambrel-roofed building—yoga, tai chi, cardio-kickboxing, pilates and zumba classes are free in the wellness room. Garden plots await those eager to grow their own organic vegetables, and canning and cooking classes help employee gardeners enjoy their bounty. The cafeteria sells chocolate truffles and caramel candies on the honor system; employees simply drop the money for their spirit-lifting treats into a waiting cup.
As you fire up the grill this weekend, you’re probably not planning on preparing some tasty bits of giant fruit bat.
But that’s mighty fine eating in Samoa, said Andrew Zimmern, who enjoys grabbing a taste of something he’s never tried before as he travels the world as host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.”
Zimmern will be at Saturday’s Kickapoo Country Fair in tiny La Farge, giving a cooking demonstration and talking about his adventures.
Mark and Marcia Kruse's rotational grazing system runs along their ridge top farm straight south from the barn. On a clear day, they can see the Mississippi River and Wisconsin beyond.
Mark runs high tensile wire, spring-loaded on one end, on both sides of a lane about a half mile with no breaks. The waterline follows the lane. He divides the pasture into 24 paddocks, approximately two acres each. The first two paddocks on each side of the lane are for dry cows and heifers, which he likes to keep close to the barn.
Mark raises hay, corn and small grains for winter feed on about 400 acres of tillable ground. He rents about 300 acres. Heifers are pastured on the rented farms.
Dan K. Bansen, Dayton, Ore., is the 68th recipient of the Master Breeder Award of the American Jersey Cattle Association. It was presented on June 24, 2011, during the annual Breeders’ Banquet held at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
The Master Breeder award is bestowed annually to a living AJCA member, family, partnership or corporation that, in the opinion of the Board of Directors, has bred outstanding animals for many years and thereby made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Jersey breed in the United States.
Dan Bansen has become a second-generation Master Breeder Award recipient, after his father, Stanley, who won the award in 1990. They are the only father-son duo to win the award in AJCA history.
It is within that context I wish to offer an organic vision of hope for the next two decades. I see organic farming and ranching as an integrated system modeling the complex web of natural systems as it takes root. All parties will come to celebrate the fertile soil that surrounds them. There will be ecological food hubs linking urban mini-farms with the surrounding countryside. Taking advantage of this indigenous system of organic production will be an educational system that inspires K-12 students to become young cooks and learn more about nutritional balance and preventive health care. New jobs will be created in food transport and processing. Trading collaborations will be established to reach outside of nearly full circle sustaining regional food sheds for national and even international organic products. If grey whales can migrate to Mexico and back within nature’s system of ecological balance, I see no reason why organic fruits and nuts can’t be exchanged for bananas and coffee elsewhere in the hemisphere. Distance traveled must be flexible and provide multiple benefits to all.
We hold in our own hands the key to building a sustainable economic future. Literally. By placing responsibility and ownership into the hands of employees globally, we have the ability to mold an economy that benefits us all.
It's possible by embracing the idea of economic democracy.
Traditionally, economic democracy represents a socio-economic arrangement in which business enterprises are democratically managed and worker-owned. Think Organic Valley, the $500 million leader in the organic dairy industry, which is also a cooperative of family farms.
The Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that since the 1940s has been studying organic farming, welcomed dairy cows onto its Maxatawny Township farm last month. The cows belong to farmers James and Ida Burkholder, who own land next to Rodale. Rodale is helping the Burkholders transition their conventional dairy farm to an organic one. Rodale's farm director of 35 years, Jeff Moyer, is the subject of this week's Q&A.
Q: Where can I buy this herd's milk?
A: The milk that's being produced is going to the same place it was because it will take a year for those cows to become organic. Once it's organic it'll be shipped to Organic Valley. We do hope to be able to sell some raw milk once the cows adjust to grass, in which case they could buy it right from the farm of James and Ida Burkholder.