This is a response from one of our readers, “I appreciate your attempts at educating the public concerning the source of their food. We all want to eat every day. Sustainable agriculture, the term is tossed around nowadays. Naturally it is a concept dear to my heart. With all my hard work and effort, I can not say that I have reached the stage of being self sustainable.
For some reason I have always had an interest in food production, paid attention and put two and two together. for instance, Long time ago, while still living in Germany, I noticed that since modern agriculture has been in full swing, and reliance on chemical fertilizers is heavy, that though the fields look lush and green, sometimes, on a corner and sometimes a whole strip, where the farmer missed a spot in fertilizer application, the corn is yellow and knee high. If there was no artificial fertilizer applied, the whole field would look that way and there would not be a crop.
When I was young, I lived through the transition of age old practices to modern agriculture. The land where I grew up has been continually farmed for a couple thousand years. During that time, it basically had maintained a reliable state of fertility. The farmers knew that you can not just take, you have to give back and you have to give back as much as you take in order to keep equilibrium. The farmer also practiced a tried and true system of crop rotation. Something that I observed, since I still saw fields tended the old way (I come from a very backwards region) were the relative lack of weeds and harmful insects. On my grandparents farm, where we raised oats, wheat and rye, also potatoes, mangels and turnips, the ground was never, ever treated with herbicides, there was no such thing yet, and yet, our fields were not infested. The hayfields, which we would have called meadows, had not been touched in probably hundreds of years. A variety of grasses, herbs and wildflowers grew and made very fragrant hay that kept animals healthy. Also, the hay was cut before the plants went to seed and so weeds were not spread onto fields by surviving seeds in the manure. I had to learn the hard way that you can not use old, spoiled hay as mulch as it is full of weed seeds nowadays.
Sustainable agriculture is like the famous "circle of life". The old dies and gives substance to the new. On my own place, I have worked very hard for several years to improve the soil. Basically I have employed a system that would best be referred to as "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as I am dependent on soil building mulch, manure, etc., that has been grown somewhere else. I try to be as natural as possible, but the hay my little cows eat, was grown on somebody else's unnatural field. Nevertheless, Paul has gotten richer. I am trying to apply all means to improve and help the natural effort of the soil to repair it.
Basically by growing green
manure cover crops and interseeding things like ladino clover which takes
nitrogen from the air and transfers it to the soil. In my attempt to learn the local flora, I
noticed that in some woodland where I was digging up some wildflowers, the soil
looked rich and friable, much different than just a few yards away in the
adjoining pasture. It is to be safely assumed, that a hundred some years ago,
this was the general condition of most of the bottom lands. It is a sad situation. Wendell Berry, whom I
would consider a chronicler of good farming practices, had a character in one
of his books says, “When the white man came to this country, he fell in like a
pig in a corncrib wasting the abundance. We all have read the numbers, the
unfathomable tons of good soil that has been washed away, irreplaceable. I
consider it to be good economy to sell produce locally. Of course that is not
sustainable agriculture at the soil level. Like a neighbor told me when I first
moved here, you can not grow anything without