There’ll be a series of posts coming from my visit to Common Good Farm in Raymond, Nebraska. One of few dually certified organic and biodynamic farms in the country, Common Good has been raising food for both market and CSA (community supported agriculture) sales for 15 years.
Certified organic farms in the US have to meet a variety of criteria and pass inspection by a third-party certifying agency. There are list of don’ts (no nasty chemicals, no GMOs) and a couple of do’s (do use your land to plant a buffer to protect your farm from spray drifting off the nearby conventional farm [hmmm. Why don’t the conventional farms don’t have to plant a buffer too?]). As there have become more and more organic farmers, there has become an ever larger market of agricultural inputs catering to these farms: seeds, acceptable pesticides, organic fertilizers, etc.
These organic inputs can be very helpful for someone attempting to transition to organic farming from conventional, but they are too often relied upon as staples of industrial scale organic agriculture (agribusiness, really). One of the things that makes Common Good unique (for now) is farmers Ruth and Evrett’s commitment to providing the farm’s inputs from the farm itself as much as possible.
This ‘closed-loop’ of a farm supporting itself requires a different mental economic spreadsheet. Rather than seeing a field fallow under cover crop for a season (or even a year) as a loss, a closed-loop, on-farm ethic sees a field being reinvested in, re-invigorated.
The trick is to move the time horizon of the economic calculation. Just looking at how much money can be earned in a single year from a square foot of land is myopic. Looking through that lens at Common Good Farm’s stand of quick-growing (but frost-killed) Sudan grass, well, the profits look pretty darn slim.
But, by extending the time horizon out 5 years, the benefits of adding so much organic material to the soil (all those grass roots) and mulch (the dead and flattened grass on top) start to come to light. Extra soil organic matter acts as a sponge, helping crops on that plot ride out a drought much more easily. The mulch keeps both moisture and soil nutrients from escaping into the air. It also provides material for the soil food web to strengthen itself.
Now add to those boons 5 years of money saved by not buying off farm solutions like irrigation systems and fertilizer. Analyzed at with that math, Common Good Farm’s long-term investment in soil building shows up as very profitable indeed.
This same pro-biodiversity ethic appears above the ground as well, from their inclusion of the needs of beneficial insects and birds, to the quality of life available to their farm’s animals, to the markets and methods through which they sell their products.
As I get these posts written, I’ll be sure to add those links here. In the meantime, if you have ideas for other ecologically sound farms I should visit, please do share.