Hay Now

soil health, grassfed, pastured, sustainability, family farm, ethical land use,

This summer’s first cutting of hay is stacked in the barn. Seventeen acres of grasses transformed into golden squares, storing sun and soil’s energy for the winter ahead.

The unsung miracle of grass is a beautiful illustration of nature’s wisdom. Cows eating only grass flourish, turning these coarse blades, inedible to humans, into rich high-protein milk. This benefits the environment as well as the health of people drinking the milk of grassfed cows. To me, fields devoted to hay and pasture make sense while factory farms make no sense at all.

Hay isn’t a fancy crop.

It doesn’t bring much in the way of money. Some years we scramble because there’s too much rain and not enough time to harvest. But this perennial doesn’t just nourish a few of our favorite ruminants. It helps preserve topsoil.

The loss of soil to water erosion, called sedimentation, is measured in tons of soil loss per acre per year. This runaway soil clogs waterways, smothering aquatic life and affecting navigation. The denuded land left behind is robbed of fertility.

The importance of topsoil can’t be underestimated. According to Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, the decline and fall of civilizations are based on soil fertility.

Nearly everything we eat relies on healthy soil, yet it takes 500 years for nature to produce an inch of topsoil. Current farming techniques increase soil erosion 10 to 40 percent greater than the rate nature can replace it. We’re running out of the very dirt our lives depend on.

The living skin of our Earth is thin, wildly complex and more interconnected than we might imagine. That’s why, when I look out over the woodlands on our land, the pastures our cattle graze on, the hayfields—I am reassured. The continuous ground cover of pasture or forest protects the soil. Perennial hay fields, pastures and woodlands allow organic matter to build naturally.

I have just a beginning grasp of the vital interplay between amoebae, fungi, bacteria, arthropods and plant roots in soil, enough to sense those bags of “sterilized potting mix” found in every big box store are a mockery of the lessons to be found in nature. I do grasp that we survive, in large part, through the life-giving nutrients of what has died. Organic material of all kinds decays into humus and that makes soil a story of resurrection, writ large.

*

*

books worth reading

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan

Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners by James B. Nardi

Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

The Secret Life of Plants by Christopher Bird and Peter Tompkins

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" (subversivecooking.com). She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
This entry was posted in farming, food, sustainability and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Hay Now

  1. Pingback: All Things Eco Blog Carnival Volume 107 » Focus Organic.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s