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Buzzword alert! How our farm interrupts the word SUSTAINABILITY!

A big reason we wanted to start our meat business and share our farm story is to provide our community with beef and pork. In today’s world, there are a lot of hot topics buzzing around with terms being put on labels that make purchasing confusing. Today we wanted to talk about the trending buzzword “sustainably” and our farm’s stance on it. The United Nations' definition of sustainably is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The National Institute of Food and Agriculture states that sustainable agriculture practices “protect the environment, expand the Earth’s natural resource base, and maintain and improve soil fertility.”

Conversations have been had about agriculture’s role in maintaining a sustainable world, and many of them are centered around the buzzwords put on protein food labels and in marketing campaigns. As consumers, we don't understand the complexities of these labels without doing a lot of research and a majority of these descriptors aren’t even regulated by the government. From our perspective, putting farming and agriculture in boxes only furthers the confusion of what a sustainable future of agriculture looks like. We completely understand why these labels came to be. Farmers who were changing the way they farmed from mainstream agriculture had to separate themselves into categories. Now, however, the media and culture have taken these labels and pitted farmers against each other to the point that we are confused/scared about which food labels are best to feed our families. 

The way we like to explain the evolution of agriculture is very similar to how we evolved as a society. National Geographic wrote a great article explaining this evolution. As the human species evolved, we changed from being hunter-gatherers and moving from place to place, to a species that grew their food through farming. Farming allowed us to settle down in one area and create a “home”. From here, towns and cities were developed and our farming practices evolved to accommodate a growing population.

Throughout this evolution, farmers have worked with the resources and knowledge known to them during the time they were in. When new technologies in machines, crops, and livestock occurred, farmers implemented them to better their operations and lifestyles. Today, with the huge increase in technology, our industry has realized that not every decision made was the best for our world (just like any other industry). The mindset for our food production industry has always been to produce more food efficiently as the population increases, and our world didn’t always keep future generations in mind.  There hasn’t always been the knowledge that some of our farming practices could be harming the world and our ecosystems. A good example of this in agriculture is to look back to the Dust Bowl during the 1930s. Farmers switched the landscape of the Great Plains from prairie grass to plowed fields to grow wheat after the beginning of World War 1 because of the increase in demand. These heavily plowed fields, along with severe drought (this area receives less than 20 inches of rainfall per year), lead to major dust storms carrying off topsoil. Since these times, farmers have adopted many different practices such as using minimal tillage, no-till planting, cover cropping practices, rotational grazing, raising various livestock species, forested buffers, etc to maintain/increase our soil productivity.

What we think these differences in product labeling boils down to is that our world is in the middle of a farming evolution just like what occurred after the Dust Bowl. The agriculture community is in a transition where not everyone is on the same page about how to continue making our farming practices more sustainable for the next generations while also producing a safe and affordable product. Because we aren’t on the same page, labels on food products are created to differentiate between the groups.

In our opinion, sustainable farming means different things in different regions and areas. Not every farming practice works in every location (ex. The Great Plains are meant to have grasslands and not excessively tilled row crops). One must also consider that not every farm has the economic resources to make large environmental changes to its operations quickly. Many of these changes also take time and we don’t see improvements for years or decades. Currently, many of the changing practices have the potential to reduce productivity in the short term, leaving farms unable to stay afloat financially. 

With all that being said we would like to explain what we believe sustainability looks like on our farm. First, we believe that farming with animals and land go hand in hand. For our business, everything revolves around the animals. We grow the food on our land for the animals to consume, and other intermediate farming practices happen in rotation to help the soil and provide income to the farm. In other words, our land feeds the animals and in turn, the animals feed the land (manure).

For the animals we utilize rotational grazing (look back to the blog post we did about this), cover crop grazing, and when needed we house them inside. For our area, we believe that housing a certain part of our animals inside is sustainable. Why? We do not have the land capacity to house them outdoors and our winters are too muddy that their hooves would damage our ground over time. We give them the best indoor environment possible. Plenty of easy access to food and water, shade, and a nice bed to lay on. Whenever possible we like to provide animals with a choice of their environment. Some of our barns have outside lots that when it is nice animals can go out and enjoy the weather, but when bad weather comes they have the choice to go inside.

Since we are in the corn belt, we believe it is sustainable to feed our animals corn and corn silage as long as we take care of the soils. For one, we think corn provides great quality beef. Two, we feed our animals what we grow. When we break down our feed ration we raise the corn silage, hay silage, corn, and hay. We bale straw purchased from local farmers, and we buy corn gluten from 1 hour away that was produced by other area farmers supplying the ethanol mill. We also purchase our minerals from a local feed mill.

For our crops, we utilize crop rotations, tillage when necessary (our soils need some tillage), cover crops, manure application, and we apply some biological fertilizers as well as some mechanically made. These processes are what currently work best for us and provide us with some grain to sell in between what we harvest for our animals to consume.

We believe that creating a sustainable community happens before a sustainable world. If we can use what our landscape grows best and create a circle of local businesses that support us we have created a community that will support itself. That is why we wanted to start our business. We wanted to finish the circle of a sustainable community by providing our locals with meat products. 

We wanted to end by saying that sustainability isn’t a one-size-fits-all for our world. Some nuances have to be taken into consideration. We encourage everyone to look into food labels and know that some changes take time and that farmers are working with the best resources they know how. We look forward to having a great conversation with our community about this! Happy spring!


Olivia, Tabby, Gina, & Kendra

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