December 13, 2019

Thank a Farmer

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | Nov. 16, 2019

November is a favorite month for me. Just past the blazing glory of September and October, and before the frigid plunge into December, November sits unassuming, and I believe, slightly underrated. It’s amazing to me that somehow this month still delivers us sustaining foods — squash and apples, late fall greens, venison for those lucky enough, and sides of hog or beef for those who have planned well. These foods have waited to offer their gifts long after their summer cousins have been eaten, pickled, dried, and canned. These foods are meant to keep a soul alive through months where nothing grows.

In stark contrast, November also ushers in modern America’s holiday season, the season in which every grocery shelf is piled high with food from industrial agriculture. You’ve got frozen turkeys from factory farms, potatoes from a box, gravy from a jar, pumpkin from a can, yams, green beans, and cranberries — all harvested and processed somewhere far from here and hauled in on diesel trucks. You get little nutrition with a too-big carbon footprint. Unfortunately, our current industrial mono-cropping chemical-intensive food production system keeps good food choices economically out of reach for many. Fortunately, we live in an area where there are opportunities for everyday folks to take small steps toward a better way, even in November:

• A handful of farm markets move inside for the winter, prolonging the season to buy crops that withstand winter storage, fresh greens from hoop houses, preserved foods, plus fresh meat, dairy, fiber goods, and more.

• In addition to food co-ops, which have long supported local food, small markets — and even some chain grocers — now carry fresh or frozen local farm products year-round.

• Community supported agriculture has really taken off, with growers diversifying and curating unique farm share packages for every season.

•Organizations such as Grow Benzie, MSU Extension, Crosshatch, and Groundwork provide year-round education and networking to help make sustainable local food more accessible to everyone.

• The internet and social media get it right this time, making it easier to find growers who have what you’re hungry for.

So, why should you care?

Local farmers do more than sell us nutrient-dense food that uses less fuel to get to our kitchens. Their methods often lead to outcomes that protect our health and well-being at multiple levels. When a farm uses intensive rotational grazing for instance, they create food not only for us but also for the organisms that live in the soil. In a well-managed system, various livestock move over the pastures, feeding on plants and insects, physically altering the ground, and leaving manure that feeds and stimulates a diverse ecosystem below and above it. The earth then holds more nutrients to enrich our diets.

It also acts as a sponge to store and filter more water, protecting the aquifer from drought and toxins, and the landscape from runoff and erosion. The smaller organisms attract larger ones. Butterflies, birds, and bats come to feed and pollinate, creating diversity, stability, and resources for other forms of wildlife. That’s good for the farm and good for its neighbors too. With species migration, air currents and water flow, the benefits could be even more wide ranging.

Rotational grazing is just one of many methods being tried out on local farms. Cover cropping, crop rotation, no-till farming, crop diversity, and various ways of re-using waste to amend soil (such as bio char) all show great promise for increased yields and nutrient load, building topsoil, storing carbon, and eliminating the need for fertilizers and pesticides. A healthy diverse farm ecosystem provides resiliency and therefore food security.
So you don’t have a farm?

That’s OK; everyone eats. This holiday season you can celebrate and give thanks by putting food on the table that’s grown nearby. Share it with others and tell them where it came from, and why it’s there. The value you get will be more than a tastier casserole. It will be an investment in your health and in the local economy. That delicious roast creature or amazing pie you stuffed yourself on will help pay for next year’s seeds, fencing, or a tractor repair.  

Farmer Jason of 1801 Farm, in Frankfort, lays it out: “We have thousands of acres of unused or poorly used grasslands in our county. These acres have the power to remove significant CO2 from our atmosphere if managed properly … . If you have land, animals, equipment, time to help, or money to buy the product produced, then you have the power to make a difference.  A major problem we face … is feeling powerless. You are not powerless. You are the only one with the power to change our grave trajectory.”

Amen, Jason. Joined together, the economic choices we make can be powerful. They can keep a farmer on their land — and the farmer I want on the land is one who will listen to it, learn from it, and restore it.    
 
Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County.
 

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