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My side of the Fence

A mentor of mine, Malcolm Beck, once told me that the truth is not ours to keep, but ours to share.  Here you will find a compilation of years of boots on the ground lessons, information from numerous titles and many moons as a husband and father.

November 2019

Are Virginia soils poor?

    My observation and opinion on the quality of soils here in Virginia. This December 2019, I will have 5 years of experiance with VA soils. Many individals and farmers believe the soil is worn out (poor). So is it, really?

    Before I moved here from TX, my belief was that the East Coast had an abundance of rain with acidic soils in need of calcium to correct PH. Calcium is important. It is the mineral responsible for getting other needed minerals and trace elements into plants. However, answers to truly productive soil are much deeper then calcium and soil PH. My understandings of this soil is that it is lacking energy or carbon. Stored carbon, especially as humus, would give the soil more of a brownish or black color. The soil microbial life, which depend on this energy, cannot live and thrive without it. Plants will grow in these type soils but not near to their potential.


    These red soils have an abundance of minerals in the dirt structure and in rocks that can ultimately produce disease-free foods. Some minerals are available for plants throughout the year but the problem is because of the lack of carbon and life in the soil the minerals are sitting in a state that is not available for plant uptake.


    Yes, there are many soils that will grow higher yields of healthier plants than that of the average soil in VA. That does not mean the soil in VA is poor, only that the cycles (water, mineral, root) for life are in poor (lacking) condition.


    An abundance of water and sunlight throughout most of the year, here, along with mild temperatures, gives us what we need, if we use regenerative farming practices.


    Water is essential to life, but an abundance of water when there is a broken water cycle can have negative effects. Soil erosion caused by water runoff because of inadequate water uptake is usually caused by hard tight soil structure. Exposed soil with a lack of plants and dense root systems will also lead to soil erosion and carbon depletion. The soil should always be covered, year around, with a diversity of plants. In heavy rain cycles, the water that is absorbed in the soil can leach out available minerals IF there is inadequate soil life, organic matter and humus to hold the available minerals in place. This can lead to low electric conductivity in the soil giving plants what is comparable to diarrhea. This would be the time gardeners & farmers, including vineyards and orchards are looking for quick pharmaceautical fixes as in fungicides and pesticides. These may work for a short duration but put the soil health in reverse. So even if we receive adequate rainfall for plant growth, we might not be holding the water, and as well could be losing important available minerals causing us to do more damage with chemicals to save the crop. Good porous soil structure in a functioning water cycle will capture and store water for the future as well as retain its available minerals growing healthier plants that will be more efficient of sunlight conversion.


    Sunlight is unbelievably important and we need to capture all we can to store energy through photosynthesis. Plants and soil life are symbiotic. Plants will use the energy they need first. Next, they will share extra energy stores with microbes by trading for needed minerals that microbes are making bio-available to the plants. If the plants cannot create extra energy they will not be able to make these trades and will then suffer from a lack of nutrients. If just one nutrient is unavailable, the whole system will not produce at or near its capability. Possibly completely dropping out of a state of reproduction. Soil life will also suffer because they will not have enough food to live and thrive. This low microbial activity will lower the amount of minerals available to plants.


    In a thriving state of photosynthesis, the plants will create enough energy for themselves and the soil microbes. An excess, as plant exudates, will occur through the root system to create stable humus to be used in future years. Large leaves on broadleaf grasses are some of the most efficient at capturing sunlight.


    Historically, Virginia soils have been abused through heavy tillage and monoculture cropping of tobacco, corn, soy etc., because of their potential to produce high yields.


    My opinion is that Virginia's red clay is not poor. The problem is that plants can no longer acquire the minerals and trace elements from the soil. The capability of high quality yields of clean nourishing foods is completely doable if we farm in a way that fixes the cylcles that support maximum photosynthesis.


    Thriving farms, thriving people, please support your local regenerative farmer. We cannot do this without community support.

Red Clay Soil

April 2020

Survive or Thrive?

    The world exist as a whole. That is, every decision effects everything else that follows either positively or negatively. Think about the movie, Back to the Future, about traveling back in time, any small change made will shape the world to follow, indefinitely

    As a regenerative farmer we have been following the teachings of Holistic Grazing Management from HMI, among others, to guide the way we think about our every day decisions that effect our land, livestock, farm and personal lives, the local community and yes, the whole world environment. The term Holistic is growing in popularity and for those that make it a part of their lives most likely see the world in a different way. My family for example knows that this is not a time to sit and be idle, we must make daily decisions to shape the future for our five young loved ones and yes everyone else.

    I will not state my opinion of what I think of Covid-19 or the response from world leaders, but I will give an example from my field of work.

    I farm using organic, regenerative farming techniques. My family and I are continually trying to improve the quality of the land, soil biology, plants, and animals we steward. We have a beautiful healthy herd of animals with no signs of illness, no fertility or birthing complications and no need for veterinary care. Our animals forage on healthy fields with no applied chemicals, They receive no antibiotics or scheduled animal wormers or vaccines. Our gardens and fields are managed by applying no-till, organic foliar sprays and mineral/compost amendments. Along comes a superweed, fungal disease, or virus affecting farmers that have not made the same decisions of management as we have. Due to our holistic decisions, we do not feel the wrath others feel as our farm and livestock remain healthy and resilient.

    I hope you understand where I am going.


    Do we force pharmaceutical fixes on the healthy system knowing this will complicate the microbiome or rumen negatively? Do we spray glyphosate and fungal antibiotic sprays on the crops, lowering their nutritional value and killing massive biological health? This will put our whole system in reverse, heading away from our holistic goal, in a weakened state instead of resilience.


    What if we, as a society, acknowledge that there is a problem. Not in the resilient farm model but in the vulnerable conventional model. Instead of pushing the whole to a reverse state of health relying on pharmaceutical symptom fixes we follow the guidance of the healthy model to promote health and resilience.


    We know this disease effects vulnerable individuals with compromised immune systems. I guarantee if you test blood levels for nutrients you will find shortages. Zinc perhaps, which also effects copper assimilation and yes, copper is a major part of the human defense system. All disease is linked to nutritional deficiency. The chain is only as strong as the weakened link, in this case missing element. This all leads to the importance of truly nutrient dense foods, healthy environments and strong community. In other words as a community, family and as individuals, do we make rash decisions lead by fear, or do we observe and adapt.


    Survive or Thrive?

Nutrients are interconnected

April 2020

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Tall grass walk thru