January 22nd, 2021

Winter on the Farm

It’s cold outside. Apart from pruning and planting dormant trees, there isn’t much traditional farm work to be done this time of year. Of course, this isn’t exactly a traditional farm. On the RavenRidge land where the bulk of our hemp is grown, Rich and Michele have been putting the finishing touches on the greenhouse in which our little hemp seeds will germinate at the end of Winter. When there two days a week this season, Nathan works with Michele to change electric fence paddocks for the hogs and roosters and to get redbuds, locusts and other trees planted.

Over at the Hidden Springs farm where Nathan and Cynthia live, Cynthia has been keeping the animals moving, trying to balance nutrient availability with animal needs on too little land with not enough time. She isn’t complaining. This just confirms that even in winter, there’s more to do on a farm than meets the eye.

There are lots of firsts for us on the horizon this year including our first blog posts, our first calving ( anticipated for this fall ), and our first time in four years venturing to hope that next month might be better than this one. So here’s to democracy, regenerative agriculture, and to the little things that connect us all. Thanks for reading.

- Nathan, Farm Manager

Regenerative Health

Healthy Soil • Healthy Plants • Healthy People • Healthy Planet

A Framework for Regenerative Health

- Richard, the Farm Doc

Soil profile showing differences in root penetration in perennial vs. annual grass plots. From Kansas Land Institute.

Image above: root systems in annually cropped soil on the left; perennial, living soil on the right

Earth as it currently exists can be thought of as a living planet, constantly changing through interactions between inorganic matter and soil organisms:  interactions that have created a planet habitable by plants and animals, including humans.  

I find it useful to think of soil health as a key vital sign for planet and human health.  Much of our soils, across the planet, are unhealthy.  The soil web of life (biome) essential to plant health is depleted or non-existent, requiring ever more costly inputs to support production.  Modern agricultural practices such as monoculture crops, tilling, and using synthetic chemicals to control “weeds” and “pests” are a significant contributor to this degradation of soil and health.

Let me illustrate the point:

Plants grown naturally, in healthy, living soils, produce salicylic acid to protect against pathogens and predators.  Humans evolved eating those plants, enjoying salicylic acid’s many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects, and a lowered risk of colon cancer.  With the advent of current western agricultural practices, pathogens and predators are controlled with synthetic chemicals, and plants produce little or no salicylic acid.  Consuming these plants no longer provides the same health benefits, contributing to a high rate of colon cancer in western societies, and rising rates in developing countries adopting those practices.1 Adding insult to injury, western medicine’s manufactured substitute, acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), brings its own health risks compared to the freely provided plant form.

In coming editions, I will present other examples of the health impacts of our current agricultural system, and the health benefits of regenerating the soil and consuming plants grown without manufactured chemical inputs, in a balanced ecosystem. I hope you’ll join us on our journey toward healthy soil, plants, people, and planet. 

 

Reference


  1. Colon cancer and Salicylates; Tanveer Dhanoya, and John Burn; Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health [2016] pp. 146–147 doi:10.1093/emph/eow009

A Sense of Place

Through our own yards.

Debris Piles for Biodiversity

An overhead view of hemp hill, the area at RavenRidge where most of our hemp is grown. Pilot and Sauratown Mountains are visible in the distance.

- Nathan, Farm Manager

When I think of the whole earth as a living planet, the diversity of life can get a bit overwhelming. I find that by just walking out into my own backyard, whether it's the garden, a patch of field or the forests beyond, I can more easily see ways to appreciate the interactions going on all around me.

For example, after we sat for a bit with a grasshopper one chilly late December morning, mom and I walked the perimeter of hemp hill with an eye alerted to the activity we now knew was ongoing in the winter cold. We noticed in particular some flurried action around the brush piles which had been intentionally left behind last fall.

An image of the centermost brush pile along the top ridge of hemp hill.

Decaying brush can bring life to an area that hay and other mulches do not. Lots of flying insects use brush piles as shelter. Ants and other ground dwellers can be found here, too. And where there are insects, sooner or later come the critters that eat them. Birds, bigger bugs, lizards and more all can find a place in a properly located brush pile.

For those city dwellers reading, and suburbanites too, if your personal backyard is a bit more cementitious, or if you have just a small plot of grass or even a high balcony, I’d encourage you not to think of that as a limitation. Rather, take the opportunity to consider providing alternative winter shelter for our debris seeking friends. We’ve seen old bricks stacked ever so neatly as high-rise habitation for beneficial pollinators. Indeed a debris pile of any sort could very well do the trick, particularly if placed along a protected edge that’s not too shaded. Where do they come from, these tiny insects of the city? Watch closely, and maybe you’ll find out.

A creative hexagonal shaped insect motel mounted on the face of a brick building.

No matter where they’re found, brush piles with leaf matter, and even stones and hollow pipes when placed around the edges of our outdoor spaces can invite a variety of flying and ground dwelling insects to hang out in our own backyards until the winter sun ushers in Spring and life explodes around us once more.

Thanks for reading!

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