Thursday, May 21, 2009
BRING US YOUR NUTRIENTS!
From a nutrient perspective harvesting is the opposite of fertilizing. Everything we grow and then sell contains nutrients that come out of our soils. When we sell vegetables or eggs or meat, we're exporting nutrients off our farm. If our farm is going to keep producing, those nutrients need to be returned to the soil one way another. Conventionally, nutrients come from mines, are chemically processed with fossil fuels, are applied by the farmer, and the nutrients leave the farm through leaching, run-off, and through the sale of farm products, often polluting waters or contributing to landfills in the end. The organic ideal is a complete cycle: nutrients that leave the farm in the form of food and feed would be returned, however indirectly, in the form of compost and manures and other forms of organic matter. This is where we want to ask for your help. Do you have any nutrient sources, anything organic (in the sense of having come from a plant or animal) that's not getting returned to the soil like it ought to be? If so, we're interested in finding ways to cooperate in returning those nutrients to productive land. Of course, there are lots of things that can make nutrient recycling complicated. Nutrient sources can be difficult to transport because of bulkiness or excess water weight. Some nutrient sources can pose health or varmint issues if not handled properly. Sometimes forms of organic matter get mixed with heavy metals that can be toxic to soils. We want to start with those things that are easy and work toward the ideal. Composting can greatly facilitate nutrient recycling. When organic waste material breaks down in a compost pile bulk is greatly reduced, water weight is lost (thereby concentrating nutrients), weed seeds and plant pathogens can be killed by the heat of decomposition, and otherwise harmful wastes can be effectively sanitized. Grass clippings or leaves can form a good base for a compost pile. Some relatively nutrient-rich things like egg shells can simply be air dried and crushed. If you're asking yourself: can't I just pay the farmer to take care of this for me? Do I have to be involved? The answer is that if you eat, you're already involved in agriculture and in nutrient cycles. The only organic alternative we have to directly or indirectly retrieving nutrients from consumers is to import organic matter from conventional farmers. (For example, we've purchased straw mulch from a nearby farmer.) That's certainly helpful to our nutrient situation but it only displaces the abuse of organic nutrient cycles to our neighbor; the only solution that's ultimately organic is recycling. Hopefully we can work together more and more as stewards of different stages of a truly organic nutrient cycle.