The Omnivore's Dilemma: Part II (Pastoral Grass)

As I mentioned on Sunday, last week (April 28 – May 2) was Baltimore Green Week so I’ve been reading:

Today I want to continue writing about Part II (Pastoral Grass) of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Part II talks about two types of food growing chains — large-scale industrial organic, small-scale pastoral organic — and culminates with meals at the end of each chain.

At the center of large-scale industrial organic is Whole Foods Market, as well as Gene Kahn of Cascadian Farms (a General Mills subsidiary), Drew & Myra Goodman of Earthbound Farms (producers of those ubiquitous pre-washed baby lettuce mixes), and other smaller industrial scale organic growers (such as Petaluma Poultry and Greenway Organics).

Industrial organic farms tend to grow monoculture (one crop at all times) so while they don’t use fertilizers or pesticides, they are still susceptible to the disease and pests that come with monoculture. But because of the massive quantities of compost that industrial organic farms require, they consume huge amounts of petroleum to transport the compost needed!

So are organics good for you? Well yes, science supports the idea that organics do have more nutrients than industrial foods. Organics are full of polyphenols, which may have evolved in plants to defend itself against pests and disease.

And what about “free-range” chickens? “Free-range” hens must stay indoors for the first five to six weeks of their life (to prevent disease) and are permitted to go outside for the final two weeks of their life before slaughter. But most never venture outside and the farmers would prefer that they not go outside as it would make them more susceptible to infection! Nevertheless, the barn doors are open during the final two weeks but the hens never go out because all their food and water are indoors and thus they have no interest in leaving the barn!

On the other hand the focus of small-scale pastoral organic is Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA.

Pollan‘s descriptions of Polyface Farms fill you with wonder. How can 100 acres of pasture patchworked with 450 acres of forest possibly produce tomatoes, sweet corn, berries, chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, rabbits, and pigs? Salatin guesses that in one growing season Polyface Farms produces

30,000 dozen eggs
10,000 broilers [chickens]
800 stewing hens
50 beeves (representing 25,000 pounds of beef)
250 hogs (25,000 pounds of pork)
1,000 turkeys
500 rabbits

Click here to read detailed descriptions of Polyface Farms‘ products on their website.

By measure of health, Polyface Farms is hugely productive and successful — it simply has no need for antibiotics and it’s animals and plants don’t get sick. But even in terms of nutrient produced, one acre of well-managed pasture is more productive than one acre of corn! And a one acre of well-managed pasture can remove 14 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year, that’s the equivalent of removing 40 million cars from the road!

And how does Polyface Farms manage to be more productive in it’s “off the grid” farming? By practicing “management-intensive grazing” and following what Pollan calls the “law of the second bite.” Simply put, Salatin moves his animals around his pastures in a way that harnesses a great amount of solar energy captured in the form of grasses (such as orchard grass, fescue, red and white clover, millet, bluegrass, and plantain, timothy and sweet grass) and reduces and “recycles” the waste by composting.

In nature, “birds follow and clean up after herbivores” so Salatin puts chickens on pastures three to four days after cattle were on it. The chickens then eat the grubs out of the cowpats (cow manure) and provide fertilizer in the form of its own manure.

In addition, the cows are moved frequently to prevent overgrazing and undergrazing (both of which decrease the ground’s fertility) and Salatin has even learned to move his cattle at the end of the day, when sugar, water and minerals have peaked in the grass that his cattle eat. With the proper amount of grazing, the cattle help the grass to become even more vibrant and to convert ever more solar energy into calories!

And I haven’t even told you of Pollan‘s writing of chef’s descriptions of the quality of the food at Polyface Farms. People — chefs, foodies, and locals from Virginia — all seem to agree that the food from Polyface Farms just tastes better.

And science agrees! Grass-fed meat has more beta-carotene, vitamin E, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA (alpha linoleic acid) and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a transfat shown to have antioxidant and anti-tumor properties)! Plus it’s lower in overall fat and has much lower quantities of bacteria than industrial corn feed-fed meat.

Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA sounds truly amazing. Salatin says, “One of the greatest assets of a farm is the sheer ecstacy of life.” Wouldn’t we all love to experience that?!

Considering Polyface Farms is less than a half-day’s drive from where I live in Baltimore, I’ll have to make it down there sometime this summer. Maybe in July or August.

And if you’re looking to read more on the philosophy of “management-intensive grazing,” Salatin (by way of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) recommends these authors and books:

I’ll write about Part III (Personal: The Forest) of The Omnivore’s Dilemma later this week.

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2 responses to “The Omnivore's Dilemma: Part II (Pastoral Grass)

  1. Pingback: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz « Adventures in Reading

  2. Pingback: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair « Adventures in Reading

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