Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma, Part 3 (the meme)

I've been tagged by Pho, tagged as in "for a meme" a term I had to look up and found that it is something like a chain letter only not linked to any threats of dire fortune if one doesn't keep it going. It's more of a controlled random way of forging blog links, so I don't mind participating one bit -- especially since it turns out to be total serendipity here at the Village Green.

The meme's instructions are:

  1. Grab the book closest to you.
  2. Open to page 123, go down to the 4th sentence.
  3. Post the text of the following 3 sentences on your blog.
  4. Name of the book and the author.
  5. Tag three people of your own.
I'm glad to do this because the book right in front of me is -- as you might expect -- The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It is at hand because I'm about to post my third comment in a row, takin g a look at the Pastoral Grass food chain. Page 123 turns out to be the first page of that section in a chapter called All Flesh is Grass. Here are the three sentences:

"I was tired. I'd spent the afternoon making hay, really just lending a hand to a farmer making hay, and after a few hours in the midday sun hoisting and throwing fifty-pound bales onto a hay wagon, I hurt. We think of grass as soft and hospitable stuff, but once it's been dried in the sun and shredded by machines--once it's become hay--grass is sharp enough to draw blood and dusty enough to thicken lungs." (Omnivore's Dilemma, p 123)

This was my favorite section of the book -- the chapter on Polyface Farm in Virginia. The farm raises chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, rabbits, and pigs, as well as tomatoes, sweet corn, and berries in a unique configuration of animal and crop rotations. This all happens on one hundred acres of pasture plus 450 acres of forest. The guy who runs it calls himself a "grass farmer" and his name is Joe Salatin. A fascinating fellow! But even more so is his way of farming which he deiscribes as a place where animals do most of the work.

Grass farming recognizes that energy comes from the sun and is stored in plant leaves, such as grass, which is consumed by animals who are then consumed by humans. Salatin has observed nature and his farming techniques are like an "intensive rotational dance on the theme of symbiosis. Salatin is the choreographer and the grasses are his verdurous stage."

Basically, he grazes his cows on pasture land then moves them before the cows over graze the grass. Grass will recover its vitality after one clip of cow teeth, but not as well after two or more bites down to the ground. So the cows are constantly moved with portable fencing. After the cows leave one section, a mobile chicken coop is brought in, affectionately known as the "Eggmobile!" Chickens in pens go straight to the cow pies (!) and peck out the grubs and other nasties growing in them. The chicken coops stay for one day and are moved the length of the coop to new ground so that the entire pasture benefits from the chicken manure which supplies the grasses with copious amounts of nitrogen.

The beauty and intricacy of this operation is that it is highly productive without the added costs from antibiotics, wormers, paraciticides, and fertilizers. There is a lot more to it than my brief summation above -- Pollan delves into the nature of grass plants and soil, doing a magnificent job of taking us on a grand tour of the the chain of food and life itself. Pollan spent a week working on the farm, and even participates in the weekly slaughter of chickens for sale. I admire him for his willingness to experience and record things that I could probably never bring myself to do. I know I couldn't kill an animal to eat it, but after reading this chapter -- I began to understand my heritage as a human onmnivore. If I were to become a meat eater once more, I would want link to the chain that had animals who lived their lives on a farm like Polyface.

Oh and tagging this meme far out of the park and on to: Microdot, Nerve Doc, and Kevin.

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