Some thoughts on farming

Well, here we are in the middle of summer and its hot and humid here in central Minnesota. I do a bit of farming and I thought I’d talk a bit about that. I have fifty acres of land that was part of the farm I grew up on. It is located on what is called a glacial moraine. A glacial moraine is basically a big pile of gravel that was left here when the glaciers melted. There are numerous gravel pits in my area.

So, my land is composed of gravel hills with small fertile valleys in between. I decided long ago, after watching my father’s crops burn up with drought every summer that the best use of the hills would be to grow trees. Toward that end 22 years ago we planted over 11,000 trees. I plant more every year.

The fertile valleys I use for crops. In the past I have planted all my fields to soybeans because they don’t require the heavy fertilizer that corn does and are financially rewarding. I have gradually diversified. This year I have soybeans, corn, alfalfa, wheat, barley and oats. I am trying to move to a more organic farming method. I say this because I want you to understand what I am trying to do here. I want to talk about each of my crops and explain my rationale for planting each one.

I plant “Glyphosate resistant” soybeans. That means that I can spray them with Roundup to kill the weeds and the soybeans are unharmed. It works well, but I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea of putting poisons into the environment. I know that glyphosate breaks down quickly and is alleged to not leave a residue. But it is just the idea of it I don’t like. However, soybeans are one of the most profitable crops I can raise. So I do what I must and keep looking for a better way.

Two years ago I went to our local farmers market and bought six ears of “Indian corn” or calico corn. Last year I planted the seeds from that. I was quite impressed with it. Some of the stalks were ten feet tall. While I did not calculate the per-acre yield, it seemed pretty good considering no fertilizers or pesticides were used. I do not agree with the current agricultural model that in the Midwest is based primarily on corn and soybeans. I think it is responsible for the demise of many small rural communities. However, I think that raising a bit of corn every year to feed my own livestock would be OK.

My wheat crop this year was interesting. I did not plant it. Two years ago I planted wheat as a nurse crop for sweet clover. Sweet clover is a biennial plant (does not produce seed until the second year, then dies) that is very useful in building the soil because it pulls nitrogen from the air and grows quite tall. Then when the plant is worked into the soil the fertilizer becomes available for the next crop. Anyway, last year I harvested the seed and worked the residue into the soil. Apparently, there was enough wheat seed left from the previous year that most of the little field came up to wheat. It was not a thick stand but since it was essentially free I considered myself lucky. The thing that impressed me was the character of the field. It was the tallest wheat I have ever raised, but stood up well in the several wind storms we had—better than the barley or oats. Additionally, the ground was covered with first year sweet clover. That means that next year I will have a crop of sweet clover there to harvest for seed.

The barley was a hull-less variety. That means that when it is harvested no further processing is needed to make it people food. I can hardly wait for the beef and barley soup. Also it is good for livestock.

The oats are also a hull-less variety. This is a big deal with oats. The indigestible hull on oats has always been difficult to remove. With this variety the hulls come off in the combine. This leaves the oats ready for making oatmeal or cookies. Oats are good for you and for your livestock too. My chickens love them.

I planted the alfalfa to feed cattle. I don’t have any cattle at this point. So, I have yet to harvest it. It is my intent to cut the hay and use it for mulch and compost. My fruit trees and garden will thank me. I may even spread some on next year’s corn.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with personal growth or mindfulness. Well, each and every one of us is dependent on the abundance of the earth for survival. Everybody eats. Our modern agricultural system, with thousands of acres devoted to one crop, does not strive to live in harmony. It beats the land into submission. I believe that going forward this system is destined to fail. By being fully present I am able to see what the land wants to grow. By growing trees on the gravel hills I have accepted that corn is not a good match. While that land does not produce a cash crop currently, I am able to supplement my heat with the wood I cut there. Additionally, I have quite a few black walnut tree that provide human food. I also have some chestnuts and pecans that are still too young to produce nuts, but they will someday. By being fully present and accepting of what the land is telling me I can learn to live in harmony with it. In the long run isn’t that what we all have to do?

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