I am, for better or worse, part of the land I live on. I could have chosen to extract as much as possible from the earth, in the “Manifest Destiny” mindset. Instead I chose to take as little as necessary and leave as small a trace as possible, the “Seventh Generation” concept of the Native American peoples. Farming is never easy no matter how you go about it, but at least when farming with nature it’s not a 24/7 battle.
I believe that organic farming is a better way to farm, for the land, animals and people. I believe that no matter what I do, nature is in control; I cannot dominate for long, at best I will survive and be happy. Eventually the best laid plans will fail, monuments will fall, cities will vanish and nature will go on despite human efforts.
Since I am not fatalistic at heart, I believe I can work with nature. Farming depends on nature; it succeeds on knowledge and a certain amount of luck. Farming fails when farmers ignore nature, its cycles and its diversity.
The past year has been difficult in my part of Wisconsin, Last summer I prayed for rain to end the drought, when it came the meteorologists said it was a “hundred year rain”. Farmers saw not only their crops washed away, but their soil as well. Fences, roads and bridges, were swept away by the water that only days before we had been praying for. My farm is on a ridge, so while the cows slogged through the mud, I felt lucky I was spared, yet sad for those who had lost so much.
This June the rains again fell with a vengeance, ten inches in thirty-six hours. Flooding was worse than last year. Small towns were cut off as roads flooded, bridges were again washed out and power lines knocked down. Again, farmers had their crops submerged and they watched as their soil washed down the Kickapoo, the Wisconsin and the Mississippi rivers. On our high ridge the heavy downpour was enough to collapse the concrete manure storage pit. It was empty so thankfully there was no spill, but now I face building a new structure, costing at least $ 100,000.
I believe I am better off because I farm organically, but, it is really not a question of “organic” vs. “conventional”; it is a question of being a part of the world around us. Rather than trying to conquer the world, I need to fit in, just as farmers have fit in for thousands of years. They made mistakes and took their knocks like I did. My storage area can be rebuilt, I lost some soil in a few fields, but no more than the “no-till” farmers who use chemicals to control their weeds. I know that none of the toxic sludge headed for the Gulf of Mexico washed out of my fields, and there is comfort in that.