What is a field made of? Rocks, for one.
But also: living things, waste that comes from living things, and formerly living things.
Lately I've been contemplating how everything is dependent on everything else.
As a vegetable farmer, it's my job to grow plants that nourish people. Plants are a vital, supportive part of the food chain, converting the sun's energy into carbohydrates that animals need to grow and thrive.
But I've been thinking a lot about how plants need animals in order to grow and thrive.
Maybe it's because I'm working on a horse farm now, a vast ranch with 25 horses, 200 acres of hay and pasture, and... a lot of horse manure. What was formerly considered "waste", mucked from the stalls and spread on the back trails to "get rid of it", is now being turned into vital nutrients for growing our vegetables through the miraculous process of composting!
After a few weeks, I turn the piles with the tractor, and they are hot, steamy, sweet-smelling, and starting to turn into that black gold that gardeners know and love-- all through the action of billions of tiny bacteria, fungi, worms, and other decomposing organisms! Last week when I turned the piles, early in the morning alone on the farm, and I swear the warm steam coming out of the center of these piles smelled something like oak-barrel aged wine.
A place like the EquiCenter is ideally suited for receiving tons of food waste from the city and neighboring areas. All the right ingredients are here: lots of land, proper equipment, a close location, and plenty of animal manure!
We even received several loads this weekend from the carnival that's in town -- a local Rochester organization called Impact Earth is making sure the carnival produces "zero waste"! So instead of the landfill, all the "waste" is getting recycled, and the biodegradable stuff is being brought over here to our manure piles! These clam shells will take a few years to break down, but will add rich minerals to the soil for long-term fertility in our growing fields.
Now, composting, like growing vegetables, takes time, and we will probably not be able to use the compost we're making right now until next year, but at least we are capturing all these nutrients that were formerly considered "waste" products of animals and humans, and diverting them back into the cycle.
Back into the fields to become living, growing, plants that will feed humans again.
And for other exciting news...
I am getting closer to owning my own land. I walked the field yesterday, and came face to face with the lesson of animals being vital to a vegetable system. The field I'm buying is very infertile. It is 8 acres of almost beach sand. Even now, after a warmer-than-usual spring, it is hardly growing weeds!
But there was one little round patch of green in this barren wasteland, so I walked over to it to inspect.
A deer had died here, probably last fall, and as its body has decomposed into the ground, the nutrients in it's blood, fur, flesh, and bones, acting as fertilizer for this very healthy patch of weeds.
It sadly has given up its life as a deer, but has now become green and healthy lambsquarter plants!
And so, death becomes life again, animal becomes plant.
Just like when we harvest and eat plants, they get to become us.
When I finally own my land and start living on it, I will bring in some animal elements right away. Whether it's cows, horses, goats, ducks, pigs, chickens, worms, or humans, all will benefit this sandy soil with their "waste" and help create the fertility I'll need to grow vegetables and fruit. I'm even thinking about (besides the disgusting factor) collecting roadkill-- why not? The native Americans buried fish under their corn hills, why not bury that unfortunate raccoon under a pear tree?
When we learn to work with nature's systems instead of fight them, things might be easier for us.
The journey of American agriculture has lead us to compartmentalize things -- keep the animal operations separate from the plant operations.
But we need both.
And they need us.