November 30th, 2011 by Digestive Detective
by Jordan S. Rubin
The obvious first step in controlling the supply is acquiring the space required for agriculture and livestock production. My space is now over 8,000 acres of land in southern Missouri, where we are currently pioneering the largest organic certification project in the entire state of. But my vision is much bigger than organic. When I survey the land, this is what I see. I see the means to feed thousands of families with the world’s healthiest food. I see a system that provides the maximum nutrition per acre and leaves the land more fertile after each season, rather than stripped and depleted. I see a food production model that is sustainable in EVERY sense of the word.
Sustainability gets a lot of publicity these days, and for good reason. The basic concept of sustainability where it relates to land is the ability to keep the land productive over time with little or no inputs from the outside. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people really understand what goes into sustainable food production. In fact, I thought I knew, only to be thrown by the most simple of questions. Am I a farmer or a rancher?
The key, if you want to have land that is truly sustainable, is to be both. Now, when most people think of farming, they rightly think of growing produce crops. And we certainly have plans to do just that. But the most important thing I will grow is . . . grass. Good grass is the lynchpin of a sustainable, mixed agricultural operation. Why? The grass is the connection between the sun and the animals.
Every blade of grass on my land is a solar panel. It stretches out, takes in the rays of the sun, and uses that energy to grow as it pulls nutrients from the soil. When the animals eat the grass, they are capturing the sun’s transferred energy. If really pressed, I would tell people that I am, in fact, a sun harvester and a grass farmer.
While that sounds simple, in reality, it is an intense process. My learning curve started when I was taught that there is no such thing as “one grass” to feed animals. In order to provide total nutrition to ruminant animals such as cows, goats and sheep, I need to have multiple species of grasses, herbs, forbes and legumes for the animals to graze on. This provides a more diverse ecological system, as the grasses support each others growth, and the diet of the livestock. But it all begins with the sun, the source of energy and nutrition captured by the tiny solar panel that is each blade of grass.
Controlling the supply means not only having healthy land and healthy grass, but raising healthy produce and livestock. That is not easy to do. Everybody in the natural health industry wants to have the ultimate highest standard—organic, sustainable, raw, etc.—and just about everybody falls down at some point. I am committed to growing and raising the highest quality foods and beverages available anywhere.
On our ranches and farms all ruminant animals used to produce organic meat and dairy will be 100% grass-fed and finished and our chickens will have ample opportunity to consume most of their nutrition by grazing. In order to do this, we will use a system known as Management Intensive Grazing. At its best, this system will ensure that our animals are always eating grass from the ground, even during winter. While the grass they eat in winter might not be growing at the time, I believe it is still preferable to stored forage, or hay. Our livestock will be grass-fed and grass-finished.
It takes a lot of land and detailed management to accomplish the 100% grass fed plan. A conventional dairy farm, for instance, is able to raise up to 10 cows per acre. The best I can hope for on my farm is one adult cow per acre. If you leave a cow to it’s own devices, it will eat grass, a lot of grass. That’s the diet it was created to consume.
Conventional farms may be able to produce more food, but the food we produce will be much more nutritious and our animals much healthier. We will not be measured by how much food per acre we create, but by how much nutrition per bite.
What is the hardest part? Believe it or not, it’s not taking care of the livestock and chickens. It’s taking care of the grass. If you can cultivate diverse and nutrient-dense forage, then the health of the animals will pretty much take care of itself. Any sustainable farm or ranch is an ecosystem unto itself. Ours will not just have cattle, we will also have goats, sheep and chickens freely roaming, and we’ll have bees, fruits, vegetables and even fish in our large spring fed lake. Our farm will be more ecologically sound because of our multi-specie approach.
If we are to meet our goal of being able to feed thousands of people, we know we are going to need more than animals. We have to grow produce on our land.
Our growing season is shorter than it would be in warmer climates, typically from May to November. We will use that time to grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. To supplement the shorter growing season, we will utilize greenhouses, hothouses and other hydroponic farming methods, allowing us to grow year around.
The best part about a sustainable farm is that nothing goes to waste. The manure from some of our livestock will be used to fertilize some of the produce. And, because that livestock is fed on organic grass, the fertilizer is perfect.
I chose the land in southern Missouri for many reasons. It is great land for mixed agricultural use, able to support both produce and livestock. Missouri also allows for the sale of raw dairy on the farm and delivered directly to homes. But perhaps the most important reason for selecting the location of our properties is the live water.
Our properties daily produce millions of gallons of pure and pristine spring water. Water is even more critical to life than food is. Before you can have livestock, before you can have grass, you have to have water. I think access to such a vital natural resource is the absolute starting point for a sustainable farm. It will allow us to grow healthy grass, provide water for our animals, and sustain the vitality of our crops.
I have started this “beyond organic” farming and ranching operation for many reasons. I am fed-up with a bureaucratic system that tells us what we can and can not eat, and worse, promotes unhealthy food. I want to be able to provide for myself—and more importantly, my family— the healthiest foods possible. I want to provide food, water and even shelter for thousands of people.
If I succeed in these goals, our “beyond organic” farm/ranch may be the only one of its kind in the United States. Many may have the same vision, but lack the resources, and those who have the resources often won’t do everything it takes to get there. I will do whatever it takes to get there. When faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle the easy thing to do is back away, to retreat, let someone else deal with the problem. I am no longer satisfied watching from the sidelines—I’ve decided to do my part and (hopefully) become part of the solution.
My journey began in an RV in San Diego 15 years ago. And while many would say that “I have arrived”—I know that my work here has just begun.