Hey everyone! After a long lull, Sustainable Psyche is back and ready to kick spring off with some new topics! The last month was truly a busy one: between the Easter festivities here in Italy (so non-stop eating) renewing residency permits and everything else it’s been a while! So, today I want to talk about going back to the roots of farming and symbiosis-basics.
As I’ve discussed in prior posts, sustainable agriculture is based on small-scale production that combines animal and plant production in order to maintain biodiversity; it emphasizes technology that is appropriate to the scale of production and transitions towards the use of renewable forms of energy.
One farmer who epitomizes the description of a sustainable farming is Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm, as described in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. ( if you haven’t read this book I highly recommend it).
Check out the video below to learn more about this exemplar model of a sustainable farm with many different faces:
On Polyface’s meager 550 acres (100 acres farmland, 450 acres forest), Joel Salatin and his small staff farm a variety of different animals for a wide-range of produce: chicken, turkey, pork, beef, eggs, and rabbits. This farm is extremely sufficient, in fact, in the course of one growing season it produces 30,000 dozen eggs, 10,000 broiler chicken, 800 stewing hens, 50 beef cattle, 250 hogs, 1,000 turkeys and 500 rabbits.
One of the keys to success of this diverse production is Joel’s belief that agriculture practices and animal production methods should mirror nature’s natural symbiotic relationships. In a sustainable agriculture system, the overall yield is interrelated between the different species on the farm. It is no longer a linear relationship of ‘crops –> feed –> livestock –> meat’ but rather it becomes a complex loop in which every element contributes to the other. They call it the circle of life for a reason! One example of this is the symbiotic relationship between the ruminant and birds.
At Polyface, the beef cattle, which are raised on grass, rotate pastures every few days. When the cattle are removed from an eaten down pasture, chickens move in after a few days to forage through the manure left in the pasture. By foraging, the chickens remove the larvae in the manure and naturally fertilize the soil by distributing the nitrogen rich manure back into the soil, promoting a nutrient rich environment for grass to grow. This mini loop ‘grass-cattle-manure-larvae- chicken-grass’ provides rich feed for both the chicken and the cattle and utilizes the manure as a natural fertilizer to restore the grass and soil.
Another example of symbiotic relationships used at Polyface is the relationship between the chickens and the rabbits. The rabbits spend time outdoors in their portable hutches but when they are indoors, their interaction with the chickens becomes crucial. The rabbits live in cages indoors, suspended above a bed of wood chips; however rabbits produce strong ammonia in their urine which can damage their lungs and creating vulnerability for infections when kept inside. In most agriculture practices, the animals would be given antibiotics, but for Joel the chickens are the solution.
Dozens of hens peck and scratch in the wood chip bedding, searching for earthworms. This chicken-power turns the ammonia rich urine into a carbon rich bedding. Here, the animals do lots of the work and it’s all about finding the most efficient solution for the long term.
Sustainable agriculture uses the knowledge of interactions between organisms and the balance of nutrients and energy to reduce environmental impact. In sustainable agriculture, livestock are only produced in the quantity that the resources of the land can support. When the land is not exhausted by overpopulation of animals, the manure produced can be managed in ways that are beneficial to soil.
Have you heard of any farms in your area that have similar production methods as Polyface? Have you ever tried to buy eggs, beef, chicken or milk directly from them? Challenge yourself to go out and do some research on farms in your area and see if these methods of production exist in your area. And if they do- go one step further and support their local business by buying their products!
Author: Ali @ Sustainable Psyche
My name is Ali. I am an American living in Italy. I am passionate about delicious food that is also ethical, healthy and sustainable. I love pasta and pizza, traveling, horseback riding and exploring the vibrant city of Milan that I call home.