5.14.2014 and the cow goes moo

There is a small farm on the edge of the neighborhood where I grew up in Harford County.  The same farmer has been there for well over 30 years.  Elmer is probably in his eighties by now.  He raises cattle and also has fields for hay and corn.  The farm usually has 20-30 head of cattle at any given time.  He grew soy beans last year for the first time that I remember.  (Growing soy every few years is a good way to enrich the soil with nitrogen, an essential nutrient for corn which cannot absorb nitrogen from the air.)  I am assuming that he will be planting corn again this year. 

His farm is essentially self sufficient.  He raises cattle.  He grows food for that cattle.  And also breeds his cattle to replace the ones he takes to market.  Its a beautiful circle.  It took me 30+ years to appreciate what he does for a living and what he does for us.

When I was a kid growing up near that farm, I never gave it much thought.  We used to fish in his pond once in a while.  Since it took so much courage to ask the old curmudgeon for permission, it didn't happen very often.  We would cut through his fields to take shortcuts and that would really set him off.  Looking back I feel bad about having just thought of him as a grumpy old farmer.  Especially since today I envy him.

Nowadays farming is a hot topic.  In a world where big business has merged with agriculture there has been a push for people to use products from smaller local farms.  This is beneficial in many ways.  Not only does it cut down on emissions from shipping, it also supports local farmers, their families and your community.   And by purchasing grass fed beef (like Elmer's) you are supporting a farming practice that could reduce harmful greenhouse gasses.

Cows are supposed to eat grass.  They're grazers, that's what their bodies have evolved to do.  Walk around and eat grass.  Their unable to properly digest corn and soybeans which makes up a large amount of the diet on large scale industrial farms.  They stand around on feed lots bare of vegetation and are so crowded that they usually need antibiotics to combat the unhealthy living conditions.  The marbling in the fat that has become so prized is actually a sign of an unhealthy animal.  This is especially troubling because of what I do for a living.

I don't see Elmer very often.  But I do see his cattle every time I go and visit my family.  His farm still looks exactly the same.  A couple of small ponds and a nice wooded area for the cattle to get some shade.  I hope that he has someone in training to take over his operation.  I'd probably break down in tears if one day I saw new cookie cutter homes being built on that beautiful sustainable farm that I once took for granted.