Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mmmmmmm.... manure....


The large mountain of manure we've accumulated behind the barn is being eaten away, as we load up some manure for the garden. It's much easier to load into the spreader than it was to scoop it all up over the last few months, especially now that the manure heap is still much taller than the spreader.  Bilbo the dog was very excited, as he views the manure spreader the way most children view their neighborhood ice-cream truck


One of our ewes gave birth to two nice lambs a little over a week ago.  We had been expecting them for the last month, until Rachel noticed two black shapes in a corner of the barnyard one morning.  Both are black ram lambs, so I'm trying not to get too attached (males get to become lamb chops here in a few months). They're awfully cute for now though.

Mom was in a very licky mood after they were born. Normally she runs from us as if we're crazed axe murderers, but not after the lambs were born. She would lick them, then lick us, then lick them some more (that's how she dries off the lambs). When she wasn't licking anyone, her tongue was still running full bore licking the air. Nearly every photo I took had her tongue sticking out.

Thinking that we had better live up to our name, Henry and I put a few bluebird houses up on the pasture fences this last weekend. I was a little worried that they would sit unused, because the wind over the tensioned electric fence really makes them resonate.  Each one sounds like a mad bee hive when the wind picks up. Today, I noticed a pair of bluebirds loading one of the houses up with nesting material (our outhouse also doubles as a birdwatching blind), so maybe it's still alright. I'll have to check back after the next windy day and see if they're still there.

I'm apparently not the only person in the world who thinks Hummers and horse drawn vehicles might be the wave of the future. My friend Hazen found this excellent project and emailed me about it. It may be a tad more stylish than an Amish buggy, but I think the buggy would win in a drag race.

On Farming and Nutrition
It wasn't all that long ago that my primary concern about food was cost. I was a big fan of the 99 cent Whopper. I giggled to myself as I went through the Burger King drive through, knowing that I was outsmarting them by purchasing nothing but their money-losing hamburger promotion when they were hoping I'd buy some high-profit fries or pop to go with my meal. I was pretty sure that my frequent climbing and skiing trips would render the artery clogging cholesterol harmless, and getting fat was a non issue as well.

At the time, I thought that I only had to worry about what was *in* my food. I had never thought to worry about what *wasn't* in my food.

I developed an interest in farming a few years ago, when my friend Ed introduced me to the idea of small farms, some of which actually made money. I was always interested in farming, but had previously written it off as a possible career choice, because I thought the only farms making money were thousand-plus acre industrial farms which were neither affordable to buy nor fun to work.  I wanted to farm like my great-grandfather did in southern Illinois.  They milked a half dozen cows by hand, raised hogs and chickens, and grew veggies for the Chicago market.  Maybe I just want to emulate them because I know so little about their farm.  I once visited it when I was 6 years old, although the farm had new owners at that point.

As I started reading more and more books about farming, a common theme emerged. Farmers (organic farmers in particular) usually found that their animals or crops didn't get sick when they had proper nutrition. Elliot Coleman, a famous vegetable grower, claims that he has almost no pest problems when his plants get everything they need. When a bug infestation occurs, he figures out what the plants are missing, and adds it to the soil to solve the problem. Joel Salatin, a famous livestock farmer in Virginia, discovered that his cattle never developed pink-eye (which is very common in cattle, and can cause blindness) so long as they received enough iodine. He now feeds them kelp -- which is high in iodine -- and never has a case of pink eye. Most cattlemen just treat the pinkeye with antibiotics.

It doesn't take long before the farmer realizes that he's the same as his crops and animals. Many human diseases are a result of poor nutrition. Western medicine is just now figuring this out to some degree, with vitamin D deficiency. A doctor at the University of Washington I was listening to a while back said that, "We have learned that we shouldn't be thinking in terms of the rate of diabetes in women of a certain age class, but rather in terms of diabetes rates of vitamin D deficient women of a certain age class". In other words, most of these diseases, like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, are allowed to progress due to our body's inability to fight them off.  Our bodies are typically full of cancer cells and surrounded by pathogens.  Our immune system keeps them at bay so long as we keep it supplied with plenty of ammunition. 

Living in the US, it's hard to think of how our diets could be deficient. Our supermarkets are stocked with what is probably the widest variety of food ever made available in the history of humankind. But if you look closely, most of our food has been modified to have a maximum shelf life, with nutritional value losing out as a result. Our milk is skimmed, pasteurized and homogenized. Our canned goods are heated to very high temperatures to sterilize them.  Fruit juice is heated, condensed, and reconstituted.  We've been told that animal fats are bad, so we substitute vegetable fats which have essentially no nutritional value.  We can only eat so much, so everything we eat that is of low nutritional value deprives us of something which is important for keeping our bodies functioning.

An excellent example is flour. Most baked goods are made of white flour (either partially or entirely), which has had the germ removed from the wheat. The germ is actually the most nutritious part of the wheat grain. When I scattered some wheat behind our old house in Bellingham to see if it would grow there, slugs came and ate many of the seeds, but only part of each seed. Guess which part they ate? The part they left is the only part that we consume in white flour. Seems to me that the slugs are smarter than most humans when it comes to nutrition.

One of the main reasons we now use white flour is because it lasts much longer than whole wheat flour. The wheat germ contains oils which will quickly go rancid and spoil the flour, so we remove it. That's one of the reasons each town had to have a flour mill before the advent of white flour. It had to be milled nearby, or it would go bad in the time it took to transport it.

After we figured out that people got sick when we removed the wheat germ, we engineered a solution by creating "enriched flour". So we solved the problem we had just created. But, I suspect, we didn't really solve it completely, because we don't know what all was removed.  Humans always like to assume that we know much more than we really do.

Weston A Price, a prominent Ohio dentist from the earlier part of the last century had always assumed that everyone had bad teeth like most of his patients did. Then one of his family members started travelling the world as the age of air travel began, working for National Geographic. He visited exotic locales all over the globe. Wherever he went, he came back with stories about people who all seemed to have perfect teeth.

Dr. Price grew curious, and decided to figure out why. He and his wife spent nearly the decade of the 1930's travelling everywhere from remote Swiss villages, to the islands of Scottland, to the natives of northern Canada, the South Pacific, Australia, and a number of other places I can't remember.

Wherever he went, he found one theme, over and over. People who had transitioned to the modern "western" diet of refined, processed foods had far more cavities, poorly developed skulls (resulting in crowded teeth and sinus problems), and much worse health overall. People who still ate their traditional diets invariably had much better overall health. After analyzing many of the food samples he collected, Dr. Price concluded that the traditional foods were many times higher in vitamins A and D (as well as another unknown nutrient which he dubbed factor-x or something to that effect) than their western diet substitutes. If you google "Vitamin D" now, you'll find that western medicine is just now discovering what Dr. Price concluded 70 years ago.  

My take on this is that we don't need to study nutrition textbooks to eat well.  We just need to eat whole, unprocessed foods.  If people weren't eating something a few hundred years ago, we probably shouldn't be eating it now.  Michael Pollan has a great rule as well:   Don't eat anything you've ever seen advertised.

My interest in farming is driven by a number of factors, but nutrition is a big one.  Growing much of our own food is quite time consuming, but I think it's worth it.


Marshall said...

Will megan look that hot shoveling manure as well?
How much vitamin D do lambs have?
Well put however. I have noticed on this trip that when we are in the poorer countries, I feel a lot better because the foods come from the garden of each restaurant. We are in Panama now, which is a mini-USA in terms of food and it is quite hard to find unprocessed items. It'll be interesting to see how we feel after a week here.

David Veale said...

Only one way to find out, eh?