|Harris-Miller Organic Farm|
Most of us could agree that protecting “biodiversity” is, in the words of Martha Stewart, a good thing. Life in its various forms, translations, and reincarnation has human and economic uses, as well as innate value and right to continue persisting on our beloved planet earth. One of the take home messages for me this summer as our Transforming Nature Group has visited farms is that diversity is also the secret to a farming success.
|The Bull (Photo by Richard Moore)|
|Young Whippersnappers (Photo by Richard Moore)|
Last week we visited the Harris-Miller Organic Farm located down the road in Camden, OH—I thought the Millers ran an organic beef farm exclusively, but they consider their beef secondary to their grains. Although their fields and crops feed their free-ranging Angus cattle, their oats, soybeans, spelt (had never heard of such), winter wheat, hay, and feed corn are the bread and butter of their operation. The farms we visited who are making it and who look like they will continue to make it are diversified in the types of crops they are growing and they also have cattle. Economic success at the Butterfield Farm also may be related to the fact that they run a hotel and have a snow plowing business. The Millers are retired with pensions, so do not desperately need an income off the farm, which sounds like it breaks even or makes a little money in general. Their farm was started by Sibyl’s dad, Bob Harris, who was a chemist whose specialty was related to plutonium. Sibyl thought organic farming was a way that her dad made peace with his work as a chemist; both fields may have fulfilled his intellectual interests, but even if farming had been his true love, it is easy to imagine that it would be difficult to give up a stable salary to throw one’s self (and family) completely into the vagaries of farming.
|Winter Wheat at the Harris-Miller Organic Farm|
It is more than a little concerning that the farmers we have met suggested that farming is not a field where you can expect to make money, even though it requires a huge amount of work, effort, skill, and planning. The farmers we spoke with (Kristi Hutchinson at 5 Oak Organics, Bryan Butterfield at Butterfield’s Farm, and Bill & Sibyl Miller at The Harris-Miller Organic Farm) indicated that they had a love and passion for farming and/or a strong commitment to providing a certain quality of food (in case of the Millers and Kristi Hutchinson, organically and humanely grown food). They also all had a history with farming and a strong connection to their farming heritage. It’s hard to imagine someone going into farming without that connection – there seems to be a low correlation between amount of effort invested and the potential economic return. Industrial farming may have driven the prices of food lower, but the tradeoff is that it will get harder and harder for small family farms to persist or survive solely on their farming efforts.
|Oats with a little added diversity at the Harris-Miller Organic Farm|
(Photo by Richard Moore)
But, for the meantime, some of the farms are making it. The Harris-Miller farm was a beautiful 160 acre farm with a diversity of crops, lovely fields, and more forests than we saw on any other property—and that was nice to see. Forest and unmown property will provide habitat for wildlife and will help filter runoff of nutrients (say from cow patties) before it hits the streams, which are traveling through the watershed into Acton Lake in this case. It’s a farm worth supporting and a reminder that we can all take a cue from nature and nurture diversity produced by both natural and artificial selection.
|Fields at the Harris-Miller Organic Farm|