A Small Medium @ Large

The 20 Year Plan – Part Three

The Economic Imperative for Sustainable Agriculture

Older Herald readers know firsthand how the industrialization of American agri-culture has torn asunder the fabric of rural society.  It has weakened social rela-tionships, increased impersonality, and the culture of self-reliance is gone.  Small farming communities across the Ozarks have become ghost towns and larger towns like Ava are desperate to attract outside investors and jobs. 

Industrial agriculture extracts its economic resources from the earth and from so-ciety; it uses up the fertility of the soil and exhausts the productive resources of rural people.  When all the physical and social energy is gone it discards them. To Industrial Agriculture, it makes no economic sense to maintain the productive ca-pacity of the land if the benefits only accrue to future generations.

Forget Missouri’s lawmakers. They are in bed with the globalist corporate money.  Politics is the golden path to personal advancement and their sponsors, greedy for maximum profit and growth, intend to keep it that way.

Result?  Tremendous profits flow to Big Ag and their myopic minions at the ex-pense of the many- that would be all of the rest of us who live downstream or downwind.  On the house floor debate on Senate Bill 391 only five rural repre-sentatives voted on Rep. Doug Beck’s roll call vote to force an amendment to stop foreign corporations from owning and controlling Missouri’s agricultural land.  Ask yours.

As our democracy dies in darkness, there is no evidence that expectations for higher standards will ever be met.  The time for “glasnost” (openness) and “pere-stroika” (policy restructuring) of the 1980’s Russia came to America and went.  Ordinary people have no choice for a better outcome but to devote a significant part of their life’s energy to renew the ecological and social capital landscape.  Revive the economic potential of the Ozarks or kiss it goodbye.

A sustainable economy must be fundamentally different from the industrial econ-omy of today.  The sustainable farming movement offers this possibility because it is regenerative, ecologically sound, socially responsible, energy-renewing and economically viable.  In Crises and Opportunity John Ikerd, Professor emeritus of agriculture at the University of Missouri, writes: 

“This includes farmers who identify with organic, biodynamic, holistic, bio-intensive, biological, permaculture, as well as many who claim no identification other than traditional family farmer.  These farmers and their customers share a common commitment to creating an agriculture that is capable of maintaining its productivity and value to society indefinitely.” 

Many conventional farmers still consider sustainable farming to be a niche market, a haven for “fringe farmers” but not for mainstream agriculture.  But sustainable agriculture and silvopasture are becoming the new agricultural mainstream.  By 2008, various studies and surveys showed that one-third of American consumers had core values consistent with the principles of sustainability.

Today, the potential market for sustainable local foods has skyrocketed.  Sustaina-ble agriculture has moved beyond farmers’ markets, CSAs, and roadside stands and into higher-volume retail food markets.  Even Walmart is on board with “or-ganic” but the issue goes beyond availability to who owns it. 

Sir Albert Howard, a pioneer of organic farming, began his book An Agricultural Treatment with the statement: “The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture.”  The permanent agricul-ture of the Orient, as in the valleys of Switzerland, contrasts starkly with our chemical dependent approach.  “The farmers of the West,” he concludes “are re-peating the mistakes that led to the fall of Rome.” 

The restoration of the Ozark’s soil is the basis for job creation.  In previous edi-tions I’ve written about biochar production, side slope regeneration, silvopasture, perched water table construction and more.  

The reintroduction of a mixture of 16 warm season grasses and forbs can boost pasture plant protein yields up to 240% per acre, following the elimination of en-dophyte-infected tall fescue.  Our experiment with a sesame crop on Turkey Creek eliminated over 95% of the fescue with no spraying of Roundup.  Cattle can gain 1 to 1 ¼ pounds per day more in hot summer months once this conversion is es-tablished.  Besides the super food value of sesame, the ROI to Ozark ranchers can be calculated in the millions once the re-pasture process is completed.

A USDA certified, mobile, coop-owned, multi-species meat processing plant costs around 350K.  In the event of a national emergency, the Ozarks have enough meat on the hoof to sustain its population almost indefinitely. That is, given the turn to non-grid energy sources, on-farm refrigerated storage, and new found will.

No single farmer, or even consortium, can afford to create this, but the FRC’s 20 Year Plan prioritizes this infrastructure buildup.  The calculated return on a 5% investment for participating watershed foundations indicates we can restore food security in a relatively short time.  This goal will keep us united in times of crisis.

People are beginning to get involved in the bigger vision.   One FRC agronomist brought a load of ground rhyolite to demonstrate the replenishment of lost miner-als.  A host of soil products are available to boost micronutrient content and nutri-ent density in broad acre crops- not a quick fix- but a necessary multi-year com-mitment to farm prosperity, health and freedom.   

J.I. Rodale, a pioneer in American organic farming wrote:  “The organiculturalist farmer must realize that in him is placed a sacred trust . . . . As a patriotic duty, he assumes an obligation to preserve the fertility of the soil, a precious heritage that he must pass on, undefiled and even enriched, to subsequent generations.” 

The Rodale Institute is growing the organic movement through rigorous solutions- based research to (1) assist farmers in successfully transitioning to organic, (2) conduct research on organic farming methods and their impacts, and (3) educates consumers on the benefits of organic for people and the planet.

Instead of dinking around with local marijuana-growing ordinances, Ava’s civic leaders might want to enquire how the Farm Resettlement Congress is working on many fronts to establish new opportunities for small and moderate-sized Ozark farms. We must think bigger, and work together faster, to help create a new and sustainable Ozark agricultural economy. 

Independently-owned food processing operations such as The Local Food Center at Mansfield specializes in farmer and food buyer friendly aggregation, pro-cessing, packaging and distribution.  Founded by Omar Galal, the Center helps lo-cal farmers access wholesale markets they could not easily access before.

Top restaurants in St. Louis are begging for local supplies of organically grown foods.  For farmers in southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri, Good Na-tured Family Farms is a farmer-driven cooperative organized to meet K.C.’s de-mand for 100% locally grown grass-fed beef, and chickens, eggs, vegetables, sau-sages, milk and other value-added products in various stages of development.

These samples are meant to demonstrate the wide array of demand and resources available to Ozark area farmers who want to align with the economic potential of re-establishing local food freedom. Contact Kat at the Herald right away to learn more about contacts and follow up.   

Our regional, privately-owned, retail grocers need a consistent and year-round supply to fill shelves.  They have cash to invest and to play we only need to field a team. One goal of the Farm Resettlement Congress 20-Year Plan is the coopera-tive branding and marketing of a given watershed community’s products. This adds some 8 to 10% return to the producer from the get-go.  Producer owned dis-tribution networks, value chains, and worker-owned processing facilities are part of leveraging this.  

Generous economic incentives will draw the best and brightest young people from all over.  Otherwise our own young have found no real reason to stay.  But half of the problem is the very independence that comes with hard scrabble farming.  There’s no impulse to join with other farmers to achieve bigger goals. 

And when he does try, the efforts often founder over the smallest of personality differences. Until and unless we can sing from the hymnal of sustainable farming, the spiral of decline will all but empty the Ozarks in the next decade. 

But to those eager for a different outcome, the time has come to produce more food with renewable energy as if life itself was on the line.  Perhaps the window of opportunity is still open, but we’ll not know until we seize the carp. 

100 years ago, we fed ourselves. In 20 years, we will do it again.

This is an invitation to all who would help set up a public presentation of the 20-Year Plan. Contact me right away through the Herald office.