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Holy Shit: The Secret Behind Creating Truly Sustainable Food

If you're into food, you've got to embrace manure. Like it or not, the bowel movement after all, is the foundation upon which the sustainable food movement stands.

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The real dilemma is that few people want to make the sacrifices that come when one renounces fat salaries and keeping up with the Joneses. They feel forced by society to acquire, as quickly as possible, everything for themselves and their children that society deems proper for the well-regulated life. They have not been taught, as many of us oldsters were taught, that one can forego much of what is considered necessary in modern lifestyles and be quite happy-especially if we love our little farms and the life it engenders. Why can't more people see that? That is the dilemma.

MG: Are you an organic farmer and what does that term mean to you?

GL: Now that the government and some organic farm leaders have co-opted the power to define organic in ways that allow very large farms and food delivery systems to call themselves "organic," the term has become much less meaningful to me. Part of my definition of "organic" is that the farm should be comparatively small and sell primarily to local markets. If the operation is large and national or international, I don't think it is necessarily bad, in fact it might be just as good as what the small operation offers. But it just isn't organic to me.

My early reasons for championing organic farming were economic, not environmental. For me it was a way to farm without high overhead. I am uneasy now with the way "organic" has become sort of like an institutional religion where, if one does not follow sometimes-arbitrary rules absolutely and purely, one is headed for environmental hell. Why not just tell one's customers exactly how you produce your food including when, if ever, you use non-organic materials. Then let the customer decide. This can work effectively on a small scale where a farmer is selling his or her own personal food to his own regular customers. As soon as the larger company is selling food from many sources, that kind of verification is not trustworthy to me no matter how many rules and regulations are supposed to be in effect.

MG: Do you see young people effecting change in current farming practices that is revolutionary or exciting?

GL: Oh yes. My favorite example is pasture farming, sometimes called grass farming or graze farming. The idea and ideal here is to produce meat, dairy products, eggs-all animal products-by allowing the animals to graze freely. The animals do most of the work themselves, harvesting the pasture by eating it and spreading their manure for fertilizers. Graze farming eliminates the high cost and destructive results of annual cultivation of grains.

Pasture farming is gaining adherents and momentum all over because it makes economic sense as well as environmental sense. A notable scientific development aiding and abetting the trend is the work of Wes Jackson and his staff at his Land Institute in Kansas. These revolutionaries are developing perennial grains-grains that will come up year after year without annual cultivation, like grass. Wes recently gave me a sample of flour from his improved perennial wheatgrass plantings. We made pancakes with it and they were very tasty. When pasture farmers have perennial grain grasses to plant with their clovers, there will be no reason at all to grow annual grains for animal feed.

Another exciting development is urban farming. If you have driven through Detroit in the last decade or so, you know how many parts of it look about like Dresden after World War II. Now city leaders are talking about transforming several hundred acres of abandoned buildings and rundown ghetto land into a farm. There are problems with this idea-perhaps it will never happen-but it is historically significant that urban people are even suggesting it. They are suggesting it because all over, gardening and market gardening and even animal agriculture are coming increasingly into all cities. Some suburbs are even getting rid of regulations that forbid chickens in backyards. Hooray. When the day finally comes when urban farmers figure out how to use human manure for fertilizer, then you will see the new age rising.