Saturday, August 31, 2013
Folks, This Ain't Normal!
I loved this book. I thought I was pretty hip to a lot of the issues he would be talking about in his book. How cheap commodity corn and soy are the ruination of our food system, and how we look for increasingly bizarre ways to process and recombine these products into different "food items" to keep feeding the coffers, so we can keep subsidizing cheap commodity corn. How local food is important. Yeah yeah, I got it, I read the 100 mile diet (another great read, fyi). I was wrong. Yes, I have been introduced to a lot of these topics, but I've been introduced to them largely as a consumer. It was really interesting to hear about them from the other side of the fence, the farmer's side. Sure, we the eaters say rah rah, give us local food, grr to the industrial system, why is everyone so lazy, why don't more people provide food on a more reasonable scale near where we all live? It made me think to hear about it from the other side. How fear, and paranoia and a lot of mutual stroke jobs go into creating systems that require close monitoring to keep us "safe" and governmental agencies that institute prohibitive and expensive policies for regulating food that the little guys can't afford to comply with. And since it's illegal not to, they either cave to the pressure, build the infrastructure and turn into an industrial food monoculture like everyone else, or get out of dodge and leave the farm. It's not sloth, it's fear.
And the way that polyface farm is run is innovative, yet ancient. Uses new technology and old, old ideas of normal. The basic premise of the farm is to mimic natural patterns as closely as possible to express the natural behaviours of each part of the food chain, and ensure the greatest health of each element of each species through what they all offer to each other. Cows move about in mob grazing pens that stimulate maximum healthy growth of the grass, weeds and herbs (the "salad bar") and restart the carbon sequestration cycle with each pass. Chickens follow the cows, scratching apart the cow pats to keep down on parasite and insect infestation by eating the larvae growing in the poop. This gives the chickens a protein rich diet that helps them to thrive. In the winter, those cows need to be kept in a barn, but they're kept on deep bedding that gets layered on throughout the winter. It stays smelling great, and then in the spring when the cows go out to pasture, the pigs are introduced who hungrily go after fermenting corn in the bedding. This turns it, aerating it (hence, pigerator) and helping it break down into compost, that goes back out to fertilize the market garden and pastures. This is a vast simplification of the vast network of interconnected, looping synergies and symbiotic relationships that makes up polyface farms, but know that I will forever rethink my definition of "proper farming". If you want to know more about his farm (and you should!) please pick up this book, or one of his others, such as "holy cows, hog heaven", or "Everything I want to do is Illegal". I'm waiting on the former right now, should be here from chapters.ca by Tuesday, but in that sad lull I feel between books, that feels like forever.
It was a lot of book to wrap the noodle around. I love reading books like this, and like the omnivore's dilemma (which does actually talk about Joel and Polyface farms now that I think about it...) and the 100 mile diet, but they take some time to process. To really let the message sink in. To take the facts and figures and give them the time to penetrate my reality (because lets face it, numbers are prone to roll off me like water off a duck's back). I find myself reading chunks, starting to go cross eyed (not quite literally) and then needing to take a break to process and turn over what I've learned before I'm ready to take in another chunk. Much like trying to digest real, nutrient dense food rather than cheese doodles. This isn't a fluffy beach read. But it's a read that matters.