Well everybody, this is the last week of the Winter Share. Thanks so much for your commitment to Fresh Fork Market.
We've been through some unbelievably cold days and nights, but we've also supported our local Farmers at a time when they really need us. We hope you had a great experience as Winter Subscribers, and we can't wait to meet you in a few weeks on starting on June 3rd for the first pick up of the Summer Share 2015. Don't forget to sign up!
Before we get to what's in this bag, I thought I'd share with you some stories about soil that caught my eye:
Last week I was reading an interesting article by a pioneer in permaculture, John Kempf of Advancing Eco Agriculture. I met John when I was first getting started. He was then starting his business, which has since exploded in growth. Today, his younger brother, Harvey, farms the family farm in Middlefield and practices the techniques John believes in. You're already familiar with Harvey's produce: the dried red kidney, cannellini, and dragon-tongue beans, the fresh yellow and purple filet beans in summer, and lots of leafy green vegetables and carrots he supplies to Fresh Fork.
Anyhow, one of John's primary concerns in farming is soil erosion. In his last newsletter, he had some fascinating statistics. In Iowa - the heart of the corn belt - farmers are planting what appear to be endless fields of corn in rows. In the winter and early spring, the fields are essentially naked and the soil exposed. During this time, strong rains or even melting snow cause significant soil erosion as the soil (and the chemicals used in this industrial system) run off into draining ditches, streams, and rivers.
From a study coined "Losing Ground," done by Iowa State University, there is an estimated 2 lbs of soil lost for every pound of kernel corn produced! There is about 2.7 lbs of corn kernels per dozen ears. That is a LOT of soil erosion. That's significantly higher than what the USDA calls national "sustainable" averages. And isn't that crazy? How can there be such a thing as a sustainable average soil loss? Shouldn't the goal be to continually be building the soil for better future productivity?
So let's do some math here. It takes about 2.25 lbs of corn per 1 lb of meat gain to fatten a head of beef in a confinement operation (not how we raise our beef.) That means that it takes about 4.5 lbs of soil to get 1 lb of gain on the carcass. Then you figure that when you process the beef, about 50% of it's weight is loss in the processing - removing the head, hide, guts, bones, excess fat, etc. That means about 8 lbs of soil is used to produce 1 lb of beef. So think about it, for a quarter lb burger, that's 2 lbs of dirt!
So back to soil erosion and building soils. John and Harvey recognize that these problems are not unique to industrial agriculture. Small vegetable farms also face a problem with soil erosion and loss in soil fertility. The solution - building organic matter (compost) in the soils and biological activity (micro-organisms) in the soil. This is done not only by applying compost, proper crop rotation, and cover crops, but also by the way the crops are managed.
The picture above one is from Harvey's farm and that is a field of beans. Notice the weed pressure? Harvey, like all vegetable farmers, is planting on "plastic mulch." It is essentially a plastic layer that covers the raised bed of soil where the plant is. This keeps the soil from drying out, increases the soil temperature, and reduces weed pressure around the plant. You can see the plastic more clearly in the photo below, growing between some Kale from David Yoder's farm:
But between the rows there are lots of weeds. These weeds protect the soil from erosion, and at the end of the season when they are tilled back in, the composting weeds are putting the energy from the sun and nutrients from the plant back into the soil. This is building organic matter in the soil!
While the weeds may not be attractive, they are a sustainable solution to soil erosion.