As you are familiarizing environmental awareness in your local areas, we do the same through a tour of our farm. Everything is connected. If there is anything that we don’t understand, it is because we have not yet found its purpose and that is our task or mission to find out how it fits into making the picture complete.
For example, mountain blue birds are a joy to see on our farm. Their blue plumage can take your breath away and leave you in awe. However, the BB is not just another pretty face. It enjoys dining on terrestrial insects like grass hoppers and their larvae. When a drought comes along, grass hoppers are part of the package, as they like dry conditions. They can wipe out entire crops of grain and also pasture.
The industrial model of farming has discovered pesticides that kill grasshoppers and save crops and pastures. However, pesticides do not target only one thing. Eventually, they make their way into the food chain and have been found to be a cause of breast cancer, one pesticide called Carbofuran, to be specific. It is examples like this that make us realize that any action that we do, cannot only do “one thing.” This relates not only to our farm but also to your community of Camrose and area.
One thing that industrial agriculture does well, is that it treats symptoms. It rarely identifies the cause. On our farm, we have 240 nesting boxes that we hope will attract many mating blue birds. If they do their job, we have great hopper control. To discourage hoppers, we leave lots of standing pasture in the fall which dies and becomes litter that covers the ground in the spring. The fewer bare patches that you have in your pastures, the fewer hoppers you will have as they seek out these areas to lay their eggs. So we are identifying the cause. The temptation is to have more cattle which would leave the pastures bare in the fall and if the following spring is dry, there will be ideal conditions for hopper out breaks. More cattle translates into more money for the short term, but less in the long term, as overgrazing will soon have you reducing your numbers and recovery takes a long time. I know because I have visited there and done a great job of reducing the abundance that the land can provide. In 1996, we began to “rebound” and rebuild what my previous management had compromised. As Wendell Berry mentions, we have to understand how much is “enough.”
The other benefit of leaving more grass in the fall is that the litter that it provides in the spring covers the ground and reduces evaporation. This provides the grass with moisture so that it will grow, even though there has not been any rain.
I have asked many people what benefits come from a drought which sounds like a dumb question. I have had no takers. However, in the extreme drought of 2002, the BB’s that came to our farm and nested, found so much food (grass hoppers) that they nested twice and doubled the population. There is the benefit to our farm and the common good.
A tour takes about 2 to 2&1/2 hours. We drop in on the hogs on pasture. Kids seem to enjoy this the most as few if any of them have ever seen a real pig, except for “Babe,” let alone observed it in a farming environment.
The chickens, turkeys and laying hens on pasture is the next stop. Again, this is something that few adults or children have seen. It re-frames the paradigm of raising livestock.
We begin calving next week and should still have a few more to come when you come for the tour. We will drop by and see the cows and calves grazing or lounging while chewing their “cud.”
We will also be grazing about 120 cattle for another farmer. Water is pumped to them with a portable solar powered pumping sytem. By keeping the cattle out of the creek, we are improving water quality for those downstream. If you ponder this, you will realize that there is always someone else “living down stream.” Even when the water runs into the ocean, there is “life” living downstream.
We have trees planted in many different varieties of plantings such as eco-buffers, wildlife habitat plantings and shelterbelt plantings. All of these have very diverse purposes. The eco-buffers attract native pollinating insects which pollinate our pastures as well as the native flowers in them. The habitat plantings attract a plethora of species of birds as well as ungulates, insects and predators. The two row shelterbelts provide “shy” wildlife species corridors to travel throughout our farm and feel “at home.”
During the tour, you will see all of our 10 dugouts (watering sites) and creeks, fenced off from livestock. These areas provide tremendous habitat for biodiversity. Since 1970, the “Blue Dot” has lost 50% of its wildlife…………………………(this requires a pause)……………………………………….I feel that this needs to be emphasized as we are all dependent on many forms of flora and fauna to exist as a species. This is our main goal of offering tours; plant the seeds of the importance of caring for the land and its creatures and hope that our guests will take this home.
The last stop is at the cabin for the potluck at about 4:00 to 4:30. There is a small propane stove with an oven. There are two composting toilets – each looking like the best toilet you’ve ever seen. I would ask that folks bring chairs. The cabin has a wrap around deck and the front overlooks the wetland that inspires us to keep on keeping on. We have three pick-up trucks that we can transport about 40 people so dress comfortably and prepared for “weather.”
RSVP to: email@example.com. Also, please feel free to ask questions if you require clarification or have suggestions.
Our hosts, Don and Marie Ruzicka: