Excellent farms start with excellent soil
Dale’s chemical-free sustainable farm has a creek running through it and is located on alluvial flood plain soil, the richest soil on earth, where civilizations have settled and thrived since prehistoric times. Alluvial flood plain soil allowed the settlement and development of great civilizations such as the Egyptian and Mesopotamian. This soil has high fertility. It grows healthy crops, animals, and people. It is rich in minerals as a result of all of the organisms dying and recycling nutrients over thousands of years which are deposited in the sediments.
How is mineral-rich soil a foundation for health? Minerals are essential for the thousands of enzyme reactions within the mammalian body which maintain health. They help transport vitamins into cells and are essential for vitamins to function properly. Minerals play a prominent role in maintaining proper acid/alkaline balance in the body. They maintain proper nerve conduction, help to contract and relax muscles, help regulate tissue growth, and provide structural and functional support for the body.
How do microorganisms in the soil contribute? Their role in transferring soil minerals to plants is critical to plant health and its nutrition for animals and humans who eat them. The rich minerals of this farm are a foundation for animal health, but soil health is maintained only if the farm is managed properly. It must be chemical-free. No pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Or synthetic fertilizers. This is how Dale has maintained the farm since he took ownership in the early 80s. He has maintained a free-range herd of cattle and used their manure for compost piles – used in gardens and crop fields. This is why his highly fertile, mineral and nutrient rich soil is loaded with live beneficial organisms. He mixes the manure with on-farm sourced hay and lets it sit for years, while mixing it periodically, and he uses it wisely. This is why the complex relationships between soil organisms are maintained in a healthy way in areas used year after year, and this is very important to disease resistance. He also rotates areas used for specific crops so potential pests do not build up in one area.
Soil fertility is dependent on the complex and balanced relationships between microorganisms in the soil. Chemicals disturb and/or unbalance those relationships, resulting in plants losing their natural ability to protect themselves from disease. Plants which have those relationships intact allow the elements in rocks, which are converted by microorganisms into humus, to be available to animals and man. And these elements are then built into flesh, bone and blood.
Contrast this with chemical fertilizers, which can neither add to the humus content of the soil nor replace it. They destroy soil’s physical properties, and therefore its life. When chemical fertilizers are put into the soil, they dissolve and seek to combine with minerals already present in the soil. New combinations glut or overload the plant, causing it to become unbalanced. Others remain in the soil — many in the form of poisons.
Farming methods matter
Dale’s farm differs from conventional farming in the methods used to grow crops. The farm is a recycling center. He wastes nothing. He and farmers like him build and maintain the soil’s fertility, structure and nutrient cycles with the use of their knowledge and farm-sourced materials. This is what supports plant growth and development. This agricultural method works directly with nature’s dynamic biological processes and cycles, as opposed to conventional agriculture, which forces just about every process involved. As a result, a sustainable farm’s crops are not subject to the increased pest pressures from insects, weeds, or plant diseases that are caused mainly by the chemicals of conventional farming.
Conventional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to the soil to grow their crops. Dale feeds and builds soil with natural fertilizer. Conventional farming uses insecticides to get rid of insects and disease. Dale uses natural methods such as insect predators and barriers for this purpose – the insect predators are naturally present on his farm. Conventional farming controls weed growth by applying synthetic herbicides. Dale uses crop rotation, tillage, hand weeding, cover crops and on-farm sourced hay mulches to control weeds.
This farm’s location is important for reasons other than its excellent soil. It is adjacent to a very large portion of Hiawatha National Forest, so it is connected to a swath of undisturbed plant and wildlife diversity. Look at the map in the link.
Dale maintains a healthy mature forest on-farm, selectively logging at times, providing small openings that increase plant and animal diversity. He leaves many on-farm natural areas undisturbed. Natural pollinators of all types are abundant on-farm: a variety of bee species, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, etc. There is absolutely no need to bring in conventional bees for pollination.
This farm is also isolated from any conventional farming – many miles away. Why is that important? Here is a typical scenario to help understand why. “Certified organic” vegetables in many areas of California are still almost all watered by the Colorado River. Irrigation water goes from one farm to the next through the aqueduct system. If a conventional farm is not far from an organic farm, its contaminants can enter the aqueduct system used to irrigate the next farm “downstream”, whether the next farm is “certified organic” or not, so any pollutants (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc) from conventional agriculture are passed right on to the “certified organic farm.” The water is so polluted that even if the vegetables are labeled organic their quality cannot live up to the label. Plus the soils that they are growing in have been used for conventional farming for so long (chemical-farmed for 50+ years) that they are extremely depleted. This depletion cannot be undone in the 3 years that a “certified organic” farm has to “rebuild” the soil. It is not possible to achieve a degree of soil fertility that amounts to anything, and the nutrition of the produce which is grown in that soil is far from optimal. This is “industrial organic,” and it is not much better than conventional.
In many states, land used for organic farming need only go for a three-year period without any chemical pesticides or applied herbicides before its produce is eligible to be labeled “certified organic.” This completely overlooks the fact that some pesticides linger in the environment for a longer time than provided for. Also, “organic soil” can be located adjacent to land that is heavily sprayed with chemicals, and thus be subject to aerial drift as well as water runoff. None of those concerns are present with Dale’s farm.
Dale has never used GMO plants or feed, hormones on his animals, or antibiotics (unless temporarily to save an animal’s life). The negative consequences of using those things are now well known.
My experience on Dale’s farm
I have worked on Dale’s farm periodically during the year for over a decade and have been fortunate to have a garden on his farm every year. He has supplied the compost when needed and prepped a bed for planting every year. The soil is virtually rock-free. He has supplied hay for mulch around plants such as squashes, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, and over the potatoes, which grow right up through 1.5 feet of hay. The hay mulch inhibits weeds and helps retain soil moisture during the hot sunny days of summer. This farm produces the best potatoes and squashes I have ever tasted.
Amazing bird life on-farm
Male American Kestrel
One of the things I enjoy when I am there during the bird nesting season is the sounds of the birds. I know all of their songs and calls in this area, so hearing them makes farm work less of a chore. I have spent a lot of time and years in the bird habitats of Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, but I have never heard such a variety of birds at one location – an astounding number of songbirds, hawks, woodpeckers, grouse, etc. There are many reasons for this: the variety of natural habitat on and surrounding the farm is exceptional; there is a good permanent water source; mature mixed Hiawatha National Forest is adjacent to the farm; and Dale maintains about 125 acres of the same type of forest on the farm.
The permanent water source is a good-sized creek which runs between his forest and pastures and winds into the forest, and there is a shrub section close to the creek, and a variety of habitats very close to the creek. He has a great variety of tree types on the farm – maples, oak, hickory, birch, poplar, spruces, pines, tamarack, cedar, balsam fir, black ash, apple and crab apple trees, choke cherry, Saskatoon serviceberry, Balm of Gilead (Balsam Poplar).
Male Golden-winged Warbler
Songbirds are especially associated with specific trees. The creek is close to all of that on-farm tree variety, so the farm has the most desirable nesting territories for all of these birds – they have easy access to water.
Male Mourning Warbler
Twenty species of nesting warblers include Golden-winged, Cape May, Blackburnian, Mourning, Chestnut-sided, Nashville, Black-throated Blue, and Canada. On-farm nesting Scarlet tanagers, Wood thrushes – species that are declining because they require large tracts of continuous mature forest.
Male Scarlet Tanager
On-farm nesting Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, Baltimore Oriole, Purple finch, Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Cedar Waxwing, Grey Catbird, Bobolink, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Ruby-crowned kinglet visiting during migration. Four species of sparrows nest on-farm and three more always visit in migration. Five species of flycatchers nest.
Six species of woodpeckers nest, including Pileated, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. It has nesting Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Kingfisher, Meadowlark, Woodcock, American Kestrel, Merlin, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse. Northern Harriers cruise the fields all spring and summer.
Flocks of Sandhill cranes and Canadian Geese visit the fields in migration. Regular fall/winter visitors include Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak (which nest some years), Pine Siskin (which nest some years), Slate Junco, Snow Bunting, Redpoll, Northern Shrike, Bald Eagle, and Rough legged Hawk. Snowy owl, Great Grey owl, Short-eared Owl, Saw-whet Owl have all visited the farm.
White-wing Crossbill, Black-billed Cuckoo, Brown Thrasher have nested on-farm in some years. Abundant late summer sunflowers attract lots of Goldfinches and sparrows.
As a bird photographer, needless to say, I never forget my equipment when visiting his farm.
You will not find a farm like Dale’s anywhere in the eastern U.P. (or probably anywhere else). It is located on the excellent non-rocky fertile soil; it is isolated from any conventional agriculture; it has and is connected to incredible natural diversity; it is chemical-free. The location was intelligently chosen, and it has been diligently and intelligently maintained by the best and most responsible farmer I know of. This farm is very unique, and should be protected, not fractured or left in the wrong hands.
The information I have provided just touches the surface of the subjects such as soil fertility, soil minerals, soil microorganisms – there are volumes of books on these subjects. These are the subjects that are suppressed or distorted by university teachings because the universities are given huge grants by conventional chemical agriculture, which does not want people to know the truth. You won’t hear much about those subjects to any significant depth in the media, on PBS or any public program, or they will only reveal a small fraction of the truth, as if that is all there is to see – for the same reason.
Small farmers have been constantly targeted by legislation and regulation for decades, much of it under the guise of food safety, but also environmental safety and worker safety – all with the intent of destroying small farms, despite the fact that their food is most often produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. Many laws are designed to restrict citizens from producing, selling, purchasing, and consuming local foods, so people’s access to healthy local food has been targeted for a long time. Dive into the history of armed raids against small farmers (especially in Michigan), for a start.
The truth is getting out. Dale’s farm can be an excellent example of a better future for small farming, but it needs the support of people who care. Go here to help.