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Re: [fukuoka_farming] Hullo from the prairie

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  • yarrow@sfo.com
    Iowa! I saw a documentary this week about growing corn in Iowa. Two young men learned that most of what they ate was corn-based, so they moved to Greene, Iowa,
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 26, 2008
      Iowa! I saw a documentary this week about growing corn in Iowa. Two
      young men learned that most of what they ate was corn-based, so they
      moved to Greene, Iowa, for a year. They leased an acre, leased
      equipment from farmers in town, and grew corn. They also followed the
      trail of corn from the farm into the food chain -- as an export, for
      animal feed, and to be processed into corn syrup. The most poignant
      interviews are with the local farmers who admit that what they are
      growing is not worth eating, but they do it because they get
      government subsidies. Without the subsidies, the corn would cost more
      to grow than they could get for it.

      It's called King Corn. Highly recommended.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/dining/10corn.html

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    • Dieter Brand
      Steven, Welcome to the group. I hope you do find time to post frequently! Few of us have that much experience. I m not much into grazing land, but there are
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 27, 2008
        Steven,

        Welcome to the group. I hope you do find time to post frequently!
        Few of us have that much experience. I'm not much into grazing
        land, but there are others in this group who are. 11 years ago, we
        bought a hillside property (about 30 acres) of badly depleted land
        (due to ploughing) in the South of Portugal. The soil is heavy clay
        and the climate is semi-arid. The vegetation is typical for the
        Mediterranean: cork oaks, madrone and scrubland of cistus and other
        native perennials, most of which I don't even know the name of.
        Most of the fields, used for growing wheat until about 12 years ago,
        still don't show any significant improvement even though I stopped
        all ploughing.

        Unlike you, I have no prior experience of farming, if you discount
        childhood experience that is. I'm learning by trial an error. The
        garden is producing more than we can eat, for the rest I just keep
        on experimenting.

        You probably noticed our discussion about Yeoman's ploughs and
        in which the Carbon Farmer's were mentioned. Don't feel shy
        about commenting.

        Just one question, I don't of course know your land, but would
        you not consider trees, landscaping trees or whatever, a useful
        addition to prairie land?

        Dieter Brand
        Portugal

        Steven Smith <twofriendsfarm@...> wrote:
        Friends,

        I stumbled onto this group and joined the list a couple of months ago. This is my first post.

        I first encountered the writings of Masanoba Fukuoka in 1979 when I came across a copy of One Straw Revolution in a bookstore. It has proven to be one of the watershed experiences of my life. I grew up on a farm in the midst of what was once tallgrass prairie in Iowa, USA. In my fifty years I have witnessed the transformation of midwestern agriculture from a checkerboard of diversified family farms with pasture, livestock, multiple crop rotations and remnants of wildness to a complete industrial model that treats the soil only as a medium in which to bank artificial imported fertility, dependent upon genetically modified seeds and the multinational corporations which supply them, dominated by only two monocultures of annual crops--corn and soybeans--and encouraged by government policy to "get bigger or get out." Though it is a rural state Iowa is the most developed state in the US. Over 95% of its natural landscape has been altered by man.

        Shortly after reading One Straw Revolution I left the farm to study philosophy and try to learn how to apply the principles of natural farming to my own small way of living. I worked for a Quaker college for a time (I am a Friend) in environmental monitoring and outdoor education. In 1991 my wife Sally Wilson, a biology teacher, our newborn daughter and I returned to Iowa to farm again with my family. We thought that we would be able to begin to incorporate sustainable practices into the farm. Alas, it was not to be. Many farmers, invested in the "corporate" approach to "industrial" farming are incredibly resistant to even considering change. We tried for 9 years, but finally sold our share of the by now 3000 acre (1214 hectare) "family" farm to my youngest brother. We then bought a 40 acre (16 hectare) run down, worn out, eroded hill of a farm and began listening to the landscape.

        In the seven years we have been on this land we have converted all the row cropped ground to grassland. There is no longer any bare soil at any time of the year on this land. The land was once traversed by gullies that carried the eroding topsoil into the river. Now no water leaves this farm. It has handled a six inch rain received in three hours and the entire rain was held on the farm with no runoff!. Our plantings include 8.5 acres of mixed tallgrass prairie (over 50 species), 10 acres of mixed grass & forbes pasture, 6.5 acres of new tree plantings, and the balance in remnant native woodland including 12 acres of riparian habitat embracing a small river. We have planted 5500 trees, taking our cues as to species from native remnants around us which are mainly oaks, hickories and some sugar maple in the cooler damper areas. We are also rehabilitating an old orchard taking grafts from these
        neglected dying trees. We are planting more fruiting trees and shrubs
        and trying to inform our decisions on farm design using permaculture
        principles.

        Iowa is the only state in our nation that was completely encompassed by tallgrass prairie at the time of European migration. For tens of thousands of years, grasslands and woodlands have marched back and forth across this landscape, the dominant plant group determined by rainfall and fire. Our farm is in an edge area, woodland along the river and savanna on the hill tops, grassland marching up to it. We are trying to encourage this natural community in the decisions we make. The prairie evolved as a succession of grasses and forbes in symbiosis with large herds of moving ruminants and as such banked huge amounts of carbon as organic matter. When Iowa was plowed the average organic matter was 14% and as high as 20% in certain soil associations. The statewide average is now around 2%. We are working to improve the health of our soil by emulating the ecology which created it. We are developing planned management intensive grazing as an element of
        the farm with goats, cattle, and poultry grazing the pasture and prairie on a rotation. We also move the goats around to control aggressive invasive species like multifloral rose and honeysuckle in the woodlands. They love the stuff and their milk production goes up!

        We recently have become involved with a farm group called Carbon Farmers of America http://carbonfarmersofamerica.com which is promoting the intensive and intentional sequestering of CO2 in soil organic matter as a way to combat global warming. Their methods are directed at improving soil health and diversity in soil communities--all things which promote productive natural farming. As well as the writings of Masanobu Fukuoka we are inspired by Emelia Hazelip, Bill Mollison, Allan Savory, Allan Nation, Wes Jackson and Sepp Holzer (check out what Sepp & Veronika Holzer are doing in the Alps http://www.krameterhof.at/). I also have a current fellowship with the Sustainability Institute http://www.sustainer.org that has put us in touch with a global sustainablilty community. Sally teaches environmental science at the local community college, and I teach a course there on "Applied Systems Thinking" in the sustainable agriculture program. We regularly
        incorporate materials from all these folks in our classes and are always looking for more inspiration. Thank you all for what you do in living your values in daily life.

        We have so much to learn. I look forward to reading more of your posts. I seldom get an opportunity to post, but am happy to have found this group and thank you for reading this long letter.

        Steven Smith

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