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Archive | July, 2018

Book of the Week: Restoration Agriculture

By Mark Shepard

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. Copyright 2013, softcover, 339 pages. Regular price: $30.00. SALE PRICE: $24.00.

Where is the progress in this? Is our progress as a society to be measured by how big our sport utility vehicles are? Or is our progress measured by the fact that we have a 72-inch widescreen plasma TV in the living room with 300 channels of programming? Is it progress to be able to buy a 40-ounce “Big Buddy” soft drink at every corner and have a Walmart store within 30 miles of every citizen?

Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard

Do we measure our progress by the number of extremely overweight Americans that there are in the country? The United States has one of the highest rates of heart disease (#13) and diabetes (#3) in the world according to the World Health Organization. Is progress measured by the fact that Americans are so unhealthy that the latest Army statistics show that 75 percent of military-age youth are ineligible to join the military because they are overweight, can’t pass entrance exams, have dropped out of high school, or had run-ins with the law? “We’ve never had this problem of young people being obese like we have today, “ said General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There’s a crisis running through the heart of America and clinging to its coronary arteries. It ripples out in all directions into everything we do, everything we feel and everything we think. Some may say it’s a political crisis. Some blame the most recent batch of immigrants, others blame religion (or lack thereof). In each case, the proponents of one solution over another share some very basic common traits with their opponents. These commonalities are such deeply held core beliefs that they are nearly invisible to both sides. No matter who is to blame for our current health predicament and no matter who is morally or ethically “right” when it comes to finding solutions, we all share the same crisis. Our crisis has its roots in how we get our food.

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Identifying, Harvesting & Cooking Bamboo

I first read that bamboo is edible in my Army Survival Manual around age 14. That was over 25 years ago when my knowledge of botany was extremely limited. The book said to eat the young shoots, but there were no details or pictures as to what the young shoots look like or the time of year to harvest them.

Various ways of using edible bamboo with cooked hamburger in the internodes.

To an untrained and unsupervised child this meant trying the young twigs on the existing bamboo that grew near a branch behind my home in Sweet Water, Alabama. It was not a pleasant experience because the twigs were bitter and tough; making them unpalatable.

I gave up trying to eat bamboo for years and instead used it to build structures, makeshift arrows for homemade bows and cane fishing poles for unsuspecting bream.

It would be another 20 years or so before I would successfully eat a young bamboo shoot — the way they are intended to be eaten at a very young and tender age as they pop out of the ground in spring. Continue Reading →

Harvesting, Preparing Wild Potato

It’s true; the edible plants our ancestors have cultivated for hundreds of years are the main ones that get placed on the kitchen table, but their “wild” edible cousins that go back thousands of years — including wild potato — will most likely remain the black sheep of the family because few see their true worth.

White flowers and ruby throats, purple stems and heart-shaped leaves are the traits to help identify wild potato vine.

With all the talk of organic gardening and heirloom seeds, you’d think wild food and seeds would be at least as popular since there really isn’t any more “heirloom” than the wild cousins of modern day garden vegetables.

The surreal truth is that much of the population will happily eat genetically engineered foods without blinking an eye, but if asked by a well-known and respected forager to eat a wild plant, most get squeamish.

What if I told you there was food available that didn’t require the ground to be tilled, fertilized or watered? What if I told you that many of the weeds that you pull out of your garden and yard are more nutritious and even taste better than the neighboring vegetables? What if I told you there was a whole rainbow of nutritious and tasty flavors out there just waiting to be explored and experimented with which have histories with our ancestors going back hundreds and even thousands of years? Continue Reading →

Tractor Time Episode 17: Brendon Rockey, Potato Farmer and Speaker on Biodiversity

 

This episode’s guest is Brendon Rockey, a third-generation Colorado potato farmer. He spoke last October at a soil health conference near Greeley, close to our office, and when I wandered down to hear his talk, I was a bit surprised. We are surrounded by conventional ag folks in the Greeley, Colorado, area, but instead of talks about spraying schedules and storage tanks, I heard a guy talking about a wildly diverse field, about growing at 7,000 feet above sea level, about the importance of microbial life in the soil, and even how his neighbors even called him “weird.” As soon as I heard all that, I was pretty sure we had an Acres U.S.A. guy in Brendon.

Brendon Rockey

Turns out, we did. He will be speaking at our conference this year in Louisville, Kentucky, about what he does on his farm, and how he went from “weird” to the envy of his community.

Today, we’re going to talk to Brendon about this journey, and explore his farming techniques that go against a lot of conventional thought, and talk to him a bit about his quinoa crops as well.

Learn more about Brendon Rockey here, and his farm here.

Learn more about the 2018 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show, where Brendon Rockey will be speaking in December, here.

Shift the Workload: Focus on Livestock Culling, Genetics

Raising livestock on any size operation is hard work. There’s no way around it. However, you can minimize your personal time and labor investment by shifting your farm’s workload from yourself to your animals. They have their entire lives to spend doing a few simple jobs: eat, grow and reproduce. You, on the other hand, have numerous important things to do. This mind-set for management of any species will lead to a low-input ranch that can be run on just a couple hours per day.

A Red Angus crossed with Belted Galloway, 4-month-old bull calf.

My shift-the-workload philosophy is a product of my diverse experiences in agriculture. I have a bachelor’s degree in animal science and agribusiness from West Virginia University. I have worked on ranches in Montana and Texas, and for renowned grazier Greg Judy in Missouri. As an intern at his ranch I learned how to harness the power of nature with mob grazing.

I now own Rhinestone Cattle Co., a grass-fed beef and consulting operation in western New York. I have taken much inspiration from the work of Tom Lassiter, Gearld Fry and Ian Mitchell-Innes. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Hands-on Agronomy

The book Hands-On Agronomy, by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters, is a comprehensive manual on effective soil fertility management providing many on-farm examples to illustrate the various principles and how to use them. The function of micronutrients, earthworms, soil drainage, tilth, soil structure, and organic matter is explained in thorough detail.

The excerpt below details Neal Kinsey’s background, including how he met Dr. William A. Albrecht, and how he began to learn more and more about soil health.

Copyright 2013, 1993. Soft cover, 391 pages.

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