Essex Farm Note
Week 8, 2012
Remember the week 6 note where Kristin mentioned Who can catch the most sunlight, and keep it? Well she’s away this week and that means I’m here to take you into the deep end of the pond regarding that sentence. Let me warn you in advance, the train of thinking I’ve been on the past few months may be a runaway train. You might want to step off now before that train crashes. Ready?
Here we are, eating carrots, popping popcorn, raising kids, raising ourselves, having one of the easiest and most wonderful lives available to hominids since there were hominids (4 million years ago, so I hear). Yet… what if… there is an unseen price to it? What if all those social rights people who make us feel bad about hunger and cleft palates in Africa and all those god-awful scientists who keep telling us the earth is heating up are right? What if our lives are reducing the quality of life for the other 7 billion people in the world and for our kids and our kids’ kids? Possible? Remotely possible? Well %#$*!
Not that I and others haven’t had these thoughts before, but somehow now after almost a decade of “sustainable” horse farming I am seeing it all fresh again. And I’m getting awful fired up. Fired up to help myself, my family, my friends and neighbors (near and far) create a life that is easy to conceive of, yet so difficult to achieve. Sustainable. Wendell Berry wrote about thinking and acting locally, and I think he’s got it. Local means the consequences of production are internalized, visible just outside your doorstep. Global means the costs are externalized, and invisible.
In the billion year plan, none of it is a problem. Geology and most likely biology will wend their way along for a good while, whether the quality of life for hominids improves or declines. But I want it to get better for us. Better for me. Because being rich with good air and good food and good water and good shelter and good brains and good bodies and good family and good friends and good toys is amazing. Out of control great. But I want to have those things and not destroy our future, destroy the quality of life for other people. That is so worth fighting for. (Clearly, I haven’t been getting quite enough farm work lately. Sorry.)
Here’s how I think we do it: we play some games. Some Olympic caliber games. We play who can catch the most sunlight and keep it? All life is fueled by the sun. How can we sustain seven billion people using available sunlight? Can we do it here on this farm, for 100 people, or 200 people, or 8000 people? This is a game, but we will play it by any means necessary. We capture the sun with plants and we let go of that sun with breath and fire. All we need to do is make sure we are capturing more sun than we breathe or burn. Easy. Let’s do it.
We live on the sun’s savings account: fossil fuel. That’s sunlight in plants that just didn’t get to be breathed or burned when those crazy microbes and plants of the Cambrian and post Cambian eras died and went into the earth. We discover this coal and oil and it makes it so easy to be us. A barrel of oil can do the work of ten years hard physical labor. Only one drawback (just kidding, there’s lots of drawbacks): suddenly we’re letting all of that CO2 into the air.
So back to the challenge: who can catch the most sunlight and keep it? A farm has the ability not only to be carbon neutral – that is, catching as much carbon as we release – but to be a carbon sink, so our net energy capture exceeds our net energy release. Net energy profit will live in the soil organic matter, which makes for healthier soil, which makes it easier for us to grow more plants and catch more energy. So we can win the Olympics of Sustainability. Or at least win a bronze.
Alas, we can’t do it by ourselves, and there’s more to it than growing food. It involves every last one of us. From how we move from place to place to how we cook our polenta. It may involve bringing your urine and manure to the farm in buckets (be brave, people, be brave). It may involve a horse and wagon bringing firewood to your door. It may involve…
Alright, here’s the news. Snow coming, and a taste of winter cold. Rob and Jenny and Sabrina and I got in a last ice skate today before the flakes fell. Barbara and Rob and Jenny and Ashley and Courtney and Asa and Ryan and Jori and Steve and Anna and Gus all rocked the farm world this week, from slaughter to egg wash to milking to chores. And they made me laugh a lot. We keep making improvements to the winter animal housing, and the beef are looking a bit more at ease with each improvement. Ryan serviced the Ford 6600 and the JD 4030. Jenny and I measured all the horses for new improved harnesses and collars. Don built a great staircase into the trailer. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this by-any-means-necessary 8th week of 2012. -Mark & Kristin Kimball