Monday I went to see a farmer that was interested in fencing
his cattle out of a stream on his farm.
He operates one of those down-home, “buy your local meats here”
farms. They raise beef cattle, “free
range” turkeys and hogs. They sell all
kinds of meats, from bacon and sausage to whole fresh turkeys to steaks. It’s local.
It’s organic! Although it’s not
USDA certified “organic” it is all natural and organic.
The farmer and I walked out into the front pasture where the
un-named stream flows through the middle of one of his larger fields. His cattle have access to the whole stream,
probably a quarter of a mile of stream. That’s
where they get their water and you have to drive right across the stream to get
to the office where he sells his meats. He
wanted to fence the whole thing out which would create four grazing units. We talked about all the different scenarios
for watering the cows once he fenced them out of the stream.
I asked him the same question I ask everybody that gets into
a stream exclusion project, “What compelled you to fence the cows out of the
stream?” His answer surprised me.
He said, “A lot of my customers ask me why I don’t have my
cattle fenced out of the stream”. He
went on to say that he thought fencing them out would help his marketing and
image as a farmer of “all natural” products.
So here’s the lesson.
It’s okay as a customer to demand environmental stewardship. I guarantee the American Farmer will produce
what the customer wants. After all, we
really do vote with our wallets. So the
next time you buy that local chicken or rib-eye steak be sure you ask the
farmer why he hasn’t fenced his cattle out of the stream.
It must be hard sharing “new” ideas with old traditionalists. I have wondered how you’re able to describe the importance of agricultural conservation in a way that the traditional, or shall I say, “old-school” farmer can understand it and put it to use. To me, it’s a no-brainer that stream water is sacred. (I make sure Neal relieves himself at least 200 ft away from any body of water!) But I also studied freshwater ecology and a little bit of soil ecosystem ecology in school, so the process is fairly clear to me: waste enters the stream, changes nutrient cycle dynamics, allows for specific bacterial or algal cells to thrive, which effects nutrient availability to other biota in and around the stream, and in turn makes critters that depend on that stream for water consumption and use (like us homo sapiens) sick. Besides the illness factor, introducing that waste to the stream drastically effects the surrounding habitat, which means that food web and population dynamics shift and create space for invasive or opportunistic species. To a farmer, does that make sense? I can only imagine the bored look I would get.
Bobby, could you call me at some point? 480 406 1277. Thanks–checking to see if you would be interested in being on an organizing committee for a USDA NIFA Conference grant proposal, with 2 workshops slated for Polyface and Innisfree next Summer 2012.
I hadn’t really thought about a farmer fencing his cattle out of streams because his customers were the pressuring force. I hope to remember this each and every time I go to purchase anything from a farmer who also has livestock and remember to ask about the status of his streams and if their fenced out. And if not at least hesitate to give him my business. ‘Organic’ farmers requirement by the government should start to have a section all about the sustainability of the land and if the farmer has work to protect his soils as much as he’s worked to produce his crops organically. Also I’m curious to know if you were on the committee mentioned in the above comment this past summer??
Logan, thanks and I am proud of you for voting with your wallet. I wasn’t on a committee last summer re the organic “sustainability” issue you mentioned. But I think this is good. Currently, organic doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable.