Monday, September 21, 2015

Sizing up Ag

I picked apples today from an old tree in the middle of a cow pasture. I didn’t need a ladder because the loaded branches hang down to picking height. The apples are huge, a handful each. And there’s hardly any worm holes! Whatever the variety, it is a hardy one for sure. It might not win any modern taste test, but will do nicely for apple pie filling. 

We graze cattle in this pasture spring and fall. And during the winter I maneuver the hay truck around the tree feeding the herd. I think they call that “layering” enterprises. The pasture abuts a busy county road.

We live in farming country and the roads are buzzing with trucks hauling produce this time of year. This evening it was potatoes and chopped corn silage. As the big trucks rumbled by, I wondered if they noticed me immersed in my bucolic enterprise of picking apples. One might say it’s “Big Ag” meets “Small Ag.” One might also say that those two are at odds with one another, but I hope not.

I read a headline the other day, Big Food is Losing, Penberthy, E. (2015, Sept.). Sound Consumer. But as I read the article, the main point was that consumers want to know what’s in their food. Large manufacturers and mega-restaurants like McDonalds and Subway are looking for alternatives to artificial ingredients. Subway, for instance, will cease using artificial yellow dye on its sweet peppers and will use turmeric instead. (I know, right. Why not just let them be their natural color?) Anyway, I think it’s a good thing. We could all do with more real food. And yes, small farms probably do more to promote real food, but does big food have to lose for little food to win?

In our community, whether big or small agriculture, we all provide needed diversity. If you enjoy wildlife, you’ll appreciate that pheasants and partridges find brush cover in our calving pastures, and that song birds build nests in the trees along our canal. Pavement to pavement tillage provides little in the way of wildlife habitat. 

On the other hand, our community relies on these large efficient farms for economic stability. When cattle prices are low, potatoes, milk, sugar beets or wheat revenues are hopefully high, which means money still flows into our ag-based economy.

We ranchers benefit from our farming neighbors by purchasing wheat straw, an affordable feed source for cows, on off-years in potato rotations. When the dairies can't use rained on hay, the beef cows clean that up as well. 

Small hog and sheep producers put great 4-H livestock in the pipeline and provide quality local meat for the community. We have a couple of fantastic local truck farms where I pick my own freezing corn. Stopping by Grove City Gardens with your kids to gather vegetables for supper is an honest education for everyone.

Community Supported Agriculture doesn't only mean a box of vegeys a week, it means a community thankful for the many attributes the diverse world of agriculture provides

Can we decide to set aside food fights? Big or small, industrial or artisanal, local or imported, they all have their attributes and their drawbacks. Let’s keep the conversation where it needs to be - sustainability, soil health, clean and healthy food, strong economies and education.

Sounds like a good discussion to have over pie!

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