7/22 Farm to Food Thursday
Thursdays posts are going to be focusing on farms and food! My best friend Brian is going to be writing these posts and I couldn't think of anyone better to do it. Brian is an avid outdoorsman who is passionate about our environment, knows a ton about organic farming, and cooks some of the best meals you'll ever eat. Without further ado, Brian's first blog post:
Hello True Spirit community! I’m Brian, I grew up in Maine with coach Nick. I’ll be writing a blog post a week while Leslie is away. When I first arrived at college in Vermont, like many other young people, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I soon realized that I had a passion for the outside. That's when I started studying the Environment with a focus on sustainable agriculture and I became a guide in my school’s wilderness program.
This week, in light of all the current environmental issues that are so prevalent, I would like to share some of the benefits that come along with a sustainable agriculture practice known as “cover cropping.” When we think of farming, it's so easy to romanticize both the physical place and the practice: cows roaming in endless spaces, happy healthy employees jovially picking the carrots that get roasted with maple and end up at your dinner table. These scenes do exist, yet the USDA estimates that only 4% of food sales in the United States are organic. Furthermore, organic food production isn't necessarily pretty. Therefore, it is so important to know your farmers and visit the farms that produce food to feed you and your family. By making farm visits, you can ensure that the food you eat isn't contributing to soil and other environmental damages.
When farmers grow vegetables, there is a multitude of soil work that needs to be done in order for the crops to have an ideal growing environment. These acts may include tilling, soil amendments, cultivating and ploughing. Many of these actions can be performed in your household garden. On a farm, they are done over and over with heavy machinery. These practices are oftentimes unavoidable for a farm to stay productive- however there are solutions!
One solution is called cover cropping. Cover crops are plants that have the potential to increase soil organic matter and fertility, reduce erosion, improve soil structure and diversity, promote water infiltration, and limit pest and disease outbreaks. Along with other practices, cover cropping can be extremely sustainable and beneficial to both the farmer and the land. The benefits of cover cropping are completely dependent on the crop that is chosen. For example, if nitrogen is needed in the soil, it will be beneficial to go with a “nitrogen fixer” like Hairy Vetch.
When a farmer discovers a problem with the soil, he/she is confronted with a choice. The farmer could decide to use traditional methods that include harmful chemicals, only to make matters worse in the long run. Or he/she could decide which cover crop might be beneficial to employ. Two of the main families of cover crops are Legumes and Grasses. Legumes tend to be better “nitrogen fixers” and are very good at suppressing weeds. Grasses on the other hand, tend to have a higher amount of carbon which can help promote carbon storage in the soils.
Grasses tend to be very carbon-rich plants. They have a great potential to store a lot of carbon and sequester that carbon so it does not remain in the atmosphere. Grasses tend to be more suitable for short term cover cropping as they grow in a very short period of time. Grasses have a high carbon to nitrogen ratio which makes them perfect to use as a means to store carbon. Since grasses have extensive root systems they have a large amount of biomass under the soils.
A cover crop that is used with some frequency is Barley. Barley is extremely inexpensive and easy to grow so it is used quite a bit. Another reason that it is often used in our climate, is its ability to grow in cool climates. It can actually grow further north than any other cereal grain. Another benefit of Barley is that it has deep and fibrous roots that sometimes reach more than six-and-a-half feet below the surface of the soil.
Cover crops can maintain soil health which allows the farmer to use less harmful practices. These practices also play a big factor in how much carbon is stored. One of the practices is the ploughing and tilling of land. When a farmer ploughs their land, the particulates in the soils start to break up. This is the area that the carbon is stored in and the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Breaking up these soil aggregates also lessens the soils’ ability to hold water and can kill microorganisms in the soil. Thus, the need for more chemicals and other unsustainable practices- a vicious cycle.
Today, as fires rage in the west, floods kill in Germany, heatwaves cover much of the US, and rivers are running dry- we must look to make change. The United Nations estimates that our global food system accounts for one third to 40% of the greenhouse gases that are emitted into our atmosphere (while the transportation sector clocks in at around 17% according to the EPA). We must get creative and make sweeping changes. Buying local, to limit food miles. Using drip irrigation so all of our rivers don't end up like the Colorado River- dry at the delta. Above all else, making conscious decisions with our wallets to support those in the communities we call home who do things the right way.
In Bozeman, two of my favorite farms are Gallatin Valley Botanicals (I have a bias because I used to work there- Matt and Jacy are awesome people and Jacy used to be a part of True Spirit) and Amaltheia. Both are family owned and I know first-hand that both families try to do things the right way while truly caring about their food and land. When farmers care about the food they produce and the land that produces it, a healthier environment and a healthier product to nourish us are the results.
Right now at Gallatin Valley Botanicals (GVB), they have a bunch of summer squash, beets (my favorite food), fennel, dill and fresh tomatoes. Amaltheia is known for their goat dairy operation as well as their veg and meat production. Try this extremely simple chilled salad from Serious Eats by using the vegetables from GVB and the goat cheese from Amaltheia!
1 pound small yellow summer squash, thinly sliced into rounds on a vegetable slicer
1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored, and thinly sliced lengthwise on a vegetable slicer
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for dressing
2 teaspoons fresh juice from 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
In a large bowl, combine squash, fennel, dill, olive oil, and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Add goat cheese, gently toss, and serve right away.
Try roasting the fennel and squash (and beets) to add some nice flavors from browning known as maillard reaction
Thanks for reading! Make sure to go check out the farms in the area and feel free to reach out to me via coach Nick to discuss any of this stuff, I love talking about it.
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