Fossil Fuels – From a Pasture Based Farmer’s Perspective

Global warming and the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels is often in the news. There are two main camps, those who are concerned about the damage to the environment from the use of fossil fuel and those who think that global warming is all hype and not really an issue. It is easy for us to become puppets of the opinions of what we hear from everyone around us, especially from the media. It is important for us to try to be independent thinkers, to research facts for ourselves, and to step back and try to look outside the "box" that everyone is looking in.

One day as I was thinking about fossil fuels, I suddenly realized what the words "fossil fuel" means. "Fossil fuels" means that it is a fuel that came from fossilized plants and animals from years gone by. In other words, oil is soil fertility buried under the earth! The Middle East, which has had some of the richest supplies of oil, is largely desert. Their soil fertility is buried underground! The Middle East at one point must have have had very, very fertile soil (the Garden of Eden?).

Until recently, I had the impression that fossil fuels, being a non-renewable source of fuel, were like a foreign chemical that we shouldn’t be burning, and that we are contaminating the earth with it. However, when fossil fuels are burned, matter is not destroyed. It is changed into a different form. One form is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plants to live. Plants take in carbon dioxide and create oxygen. The carbon that existed in the carbon dioxide is stored in the plant tissues and in the roots.

Now, as a pasture based farmer, carbon is a very important element in soil fertility. It holds many times its weight in water. Increasing the carbon in the soil is like making the soil into a giant sponge. The more water that the soil is able to hold means that there is less runoff during a rain storm. That means less soil erosion. It  means that soil nutrients are held in the soil and are not as readily leached out. The more carbon that exists in the soil, the more drought resistant the soil is. Carbon is also important to the many microbes, bacteria, and fungi in the soil.

On a pasture based farm such as ours, carbon is sequestered into the soil from the grasses in the pasture. The grass that we see is only half the plant. The roots are equal in size to what we see above ground. When grass is cut, an equal amount of roots die back. For example, if grass in the pasture is one foot high and the animals eat it down to 3 inches high, 9 inches of roots die off. When those roots die off, the carbon in the roots is sequestered into the soil. Therefore, allowing grass to grow and then mowing it off (preferably with animals)  a number of times throughout the year is an important part of sequestering carbon in the soil.

In observing our farm this year, I noticed that there were two one acre plots where the grass grew the best. One was the chestnut orchard, the other was the broiler pasture. Both of those were mowed the most often last year. This year we are increasing the number of times that we mow the laying hen pastures. First we run the sheep and cows in a pasture. Then, after they are moved to the next pasture, we mow off the weeds and any remaining tall grass. This process increases the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil and increases the soil fertility.

Conventional crop farming releases a lot of carbon back into the air. Conventional no-till is better in that it does sequester some carbon into the soil. However, organic is even better at sequestering carbon. Rodale Institute Research Farm has found that organic crop farming will sequester 1000 lbs of carbon per acre per year, which is about 4 times the amount of conventional no-till.

We are facing a global food crisis. From my perspective, after understanding that fossil fuels are really the soil fertility from years ago buried in the earth and knowing the importance of carbon in the soil, I believe that it was a blessing to mankind that oil was discovered so that we can produce more food now when we need it the most. Much of the oil reserves are in places that can’t be farmed – under the ocean floor, Alaska, and in the deserts of the Middle East. We need that buried soil fertility so that we can feed the world. There may be a better way of transferring the soil fertility from fossil fuels to the soil than by burning them and then trying to sequester the carbon through plants. That is for us to discover. However, there is already a lot of soil fertility that we have put up in the air (carbon dioxide) that needs to be sequestered so that we can clean the air and increase the soil fertility of our farmlands. This is just one more reason why organic and pasture based farming is the better way to go than conventional chemical farming and the confinement rearing of animals and chickens.

The answer to many of our environmental concerns – air pollution, soil erosion, the contamination of our water supplies from farm chemicals and animal manures, the polluting of the Chesapeake Bay, etc. is in developing better ways of sequestering carbon into our farmlands and in making the soil a bigger sponge with greater fertility. As you hear all the negative environmental news, remember, all is not doom and gloom. There is a better way of farming and you are supporting it!

What is the Difference?

Jehovah-Jireh Farm Chicken Grocery Store Free-range Organic Chicken
True free-range, pasture raised

Large confinement factory farm chicken house with limited or no access to the out of doors.

No Vaccinations Many vaccinations
Practically no ammonia smell in shelter Lots of ammonia vapor in the chicken house
Normal day lighting Artificial lighting 23 hours a day
Small groups (350 or less) Huge groups (10,000 or more)
Low stress in small groups High stress in large groups
Clean air Air hazy with fecal particles and ammonia
Fresh air and sunshine Limited or no access to sunshine
Plenty of exercise Limited exercise
Fresh daily salad bar (pasture) Basically no greens
Local Trucked in from out of state
Promotes family farming Promotes large corporations
Rural revitalization Promotes urban expansion
Consumer/producer relationship Consumer/producer alienation
Environmentally friendly

Same environmental impact as conventional confinement chicken houses

The difference between the two is much more than the "free-range" grocery store label implies. The "free-range" grocery store chicken is not much different from conventional chicken, except it receives organic feed and does not receive antibiotics, or arsenic (fed as a growth stimulator!). A door may be open to let a few broilers out to scratch in the dirt.

Meat is much more than a combination of nutrients that we eat. All meat is not the same. We have been conditioned to believe that all meat is the same and that the main difference is the price. That is not true. Even though the nutrients in a downed cow and the nutrients in a healthy beef may analyze in the lab basically the same, the true nutrition is NOT the same! The same is true in the way chickens are raised. Just as we need sunshine, sunshine is important for chickens too. Just as fresh green vegetables are important in our diet, so fresh green vegetables (grass, clover, etc.) are important in a chicken’s diet. It is important that we get exercise to be healthy. So it is important that the meat we eat had the proper amount of exercise to be healthy as well. It is important that we get plenty of fresh air. In the same way it is important that the chicken meat we eat was not raised in an environment where the air was hazy with with manure dust and ammonia. We are what we eat. The way that the meat that we eat was raised is important. It has an effect on our bodies. That is why we, at Jehovah-Jireh Farm, go to the extra work to produce a product that is raised in the best way possible.

The Importance of Organic – Rebuilding the Soil and Cleaning the Environment

Several weeks ago, our family visited the Rodale Institute Research Farm for their Field Day. Rodale Institute publishes Organic Gardening magazine and many organic gardening and farming books. That Field Day began a learning process for that has continued for the last two weeks. We are excited about what we have been learning about how to build up the health of the soil and how that specifically relates to human health.

The Rodale Institute Research Farm for the last 27 years has been conducting research comparing conventionally raised corn and soybeans with organically raised corn and soybeans in two different plots. The organic plot produced similar or greater yields than the conventionally raised plot in a good rain fall year. In a drought year the organic plot produced 30 – 80% higher yields than the conventional plot. The higher yields were due to the higher carbon in the soil and the greater water holding capacity in the organic plot. They have found that the organic plot puts about 1000 lbs. of carbon into the soil per acre per year. Each pound of carbon in the soil has the potential of increasing the water holding capacity by 40 lbs. of water! If the US would convert all of its conventional chemical farmland to regenerative organic production, it would remove a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the air and place it in the soil where it would hold moisture and build the health of the soil, the health of the plants grown in the soil, and the health of every living being. When the Creator designed the earth, it was designed so that the environment could heal itself, just like our body heals itself after a cut, broken bone, or sickness. Our planet is not doomed to self destruction as some would lead us to believe. However, we do need to change some things so that the health of the environment can improve. We hold in our hands the potential through regenerative, sustainable, organic farming to be able to increase overall food production, and to bring health to the soil, the air, the water, and every living creature.

What we learned that Friday at the Rodale Institute Field Day was very important. However, as we left that day, there was a comment that was made that I realized that what they had discovered was only one piece of the whole "pie". They did not have the whole answer yet. Organic is an important piece of the "pie", but to have true health and nutrient dense foods there is more to the equation. We need to be organic plus pasture raised plus (?). I called out to God and asked Him to show us the rest of the pieces of the "pie". It was amazing how fast the next step in our learning process came.

    On Monday we received an announcement for another field day that Wednesday at an Amish farm in Lancaster, PA. Reuben Stoltzfus, the owner of the farm, also has a business called Lancaster Ag Products. Lancaster Ag has been achieving amazing results in helping farmers build up the soil and producing nutrient dense products. One farm they helped was able to grow organic peaches this year that were so healthy that the bugs left the peaches alone. By increasing the nutrient density of pasture, they have found that cows only need to eat half as much of the grass and will produce more milk. For the field day, Reuben Stoltzfus brought in a number of leading researchers and experts in soil and animal health. What we learned that day was an incredible learning experience and was another piece of the "pie".

    In the Lancaster Ag catalog, Reuben acknowledges the source of his information. "We are blessed by our Father, who cares for us and loves us wherever we are. He is blessing us with so much knowledge about where we are with the soils and the environment. If we only just take a moment to stop and think about what we are doing and listen to Him, He will help us find the answers. If we don’t listen when the Father wants to give us the answers, he will get our attention somehow. From a health perspective we may face a health problem or maybe God will show us through a loved one or a friend. For me, 5 years ago, I was faced with some health conditions that needed immediate attention. That same year my father also faced some deadly health problems, which gave us all the determination to find answers to the reasons for these conditions. Through the research and studies, many doctors, friends and researchers were able to come up with some methods to look at to improve life in general."

     I am not sure how many more pieces of "pie" there are. What I do know is that there is more to be learned. The universities have not discovered it all, nor do they in many cases have the real answers for farming or the environment. I feel like I am being catapulted along faster than my little brain can absorb everything. Farming is much more interesting and rewarding than when I was helping build mansions for people who didn’t need them. We will be sharing more of what we are learning in the coming months.