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Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

Buy Pastured Beef to Help Grasslands and Birds


For most of the 20th century, one could easily find evidence of cattle ranchers harming prairie grasslands and the wildlife that depend on this ecosystem. Overgrazing, drought, chemicals, and loss of habitat have decimated birds that call Western grasslands their home. Damage to the prairies and pastures in my former home state of Colorado was evident from corner-to-corner and seemed to have no end.

But then, Audubon Society came to the rescue in 2017 with the Audubon Certified Beef Program, or ACB. Audubon recognized that to effect lasting positive change in the grasslands of the West, private landowners/cattle ranchers would need to be partners in the restoration. The trick was convincing cattle ranchers that by making significant changes in their practices to benefit birds, would also help cattle ranchers in the long run.

Newly enlisted ACB ranchers work with Audubon to keep cattle moving so grasslands flourish instead of suffer under the hooves of cows. Free technical assistance is provided to ranchers to manage cows in a way that mimics former buffalo herds — aka American Bison. Proper cattle ranching provides aeration of the soil from cow hooves, fertilization from cow pies, and stimulation of plant growth by the way herds feed on the move as buffalo did for thousands of years.

Cleaner Beef

Ranchers who sign up for the Audubon Certified Ranch Program meet Habitat Management protocols that are tailored for each region. Other regulations in the program include animal health and welfare and environmental guidelines. Feedlots—the stinky scourge of the West — aren’t allowed, and consumers get a cleaner beef product because hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Curtailing herbicides and pesticides are another benefit to the environment in the ACB program.

The good news for ranchers is the program is free to ranchers, and in most cases, 100 percent, grass-fed beef sells for a higher price. This program puts consumers in a place of power, voting with their dollars, rewarding ranchers taking care of the environment and its wildlife.

Tracking the benefits to the environment is carried out by third-party verification. Bird counts are held on participating ranches each year. The number of birds and types of birds showing up in bird counts is encouraging in this young program. So far, some 60 ranchers have signed up to provide consumers ACB products. Participants range from near Sacramento to Eastern Missouri, and south of Houston to North Eastern Montana and many points in between.

 Why does the ACB program matter

If you’ve never heard a meadowlark sing its melodic song of the prairie, or seen a sage grouse burst out of the ground like a tornado, you might still have a chance thanks to ACB ranches. Many of the ACB members like Rafter Ranch in Colorado, invite customers to come to see how the cows and environment are treated. It’s not often you can go to the place of your food’s origin and take a look before you buy meat for your table. Take a walk and see a healthy pasture where meadowlarks, prairie dogs, badger, coyotes, antelope, rattlesnakes, insects, and numerous birds live in harmony.

Colorado grassland antelope

Where to Buy Audubon-Certified Products

To find stores that carry Audubon Certified Beef, visit Audubon's "Where to Buy" page. Sadly, those of us living east of the Mississippi River will need to buy ACB beef online as this program only has ranches in the West at this point. On the Audubon website they write,

Industry experts state that growth in non-traditional beef has grown 25-30 percent annually over the past decade and predict that this growth will continue.

This change in consumer demand for clean, grass-fed beef bodes well for the environment and our health. In stores west of the Mississippi River, look for the green logo stating, Grazed on Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Land.

I buy my beef from sustainable ranches like Pop’s Old Place, a Maryland Century Farm where the owners are raising grass-fed heirloom Randall Lineback beef that’s humanely-treated, and easy on the environment. Check out their website to find a comparison of the health benefits of grass-fed beef versus grain-fed beef.

Another source

Your local farmer’s market is also a great place to find grass-fed beef. Seek out those ranchers that eschew antibiotics, hormones, and grain to raise cattle. The environment and your health will most likely benefit from buying and eating grass-fed or grass-finished beef.

Please leave a comment on where you buy environmentally-friendly beef products that are free of growth hormones, antibiotics, and not finished on feedlots.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after attending cook school in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his seventh year of container and raised-bed organic gardening in his backyard. For other published stories by Kurt, check out his travel blog, Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Whether a farmer is raising one cow or a herd, Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle is the most reliable reference for ensuring a successful, healthy cattle operation. In this fully updated, full-color fourth edition, longtime cattle rancher and author Heather Smith Thomas explains every aspect of bovine behavior and provides expert guidance on breed selection, calving, feeding, housing, pasture, and health care. Along with in-depth information on raising grass-fed animals, there’s also advice on creating a viable business plan and identifying niche markets for selling beef. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Lessons from Ashes: A Mountain Homesteading Community Finds Strong Leadership After Wildfires


Recently a post on social media caught my attention. It was a small, remote cabin very similar to ours on a mountainside and about the same size. It was posted with a question of whether you could live there. There were about 400 comments and numerous re-posts. Most comments were from people who loved it and the solitude and peace it presented. Only a few were from people who were committed city dwellers who could not live like that. Several were from people who would like to vacation there but not live there. There were the usual questions about how far was shopping, medical, and groceries.  

Could you live in our cabin? The photo of the cabin coupled with the comments reminded me of our Colorado mountain cabin and the comments I have heard in the more than 23 years we have lived here full time. Because of the wildfire in 2018, our nearest neighbor is now about one mile away. Approximately half of our community lost their homes, so neighbors are more scarce. Self reliance is more of a reality now, because there are fewer full- or part-time residents in the community. Having watched this community grow over our time and now seeing it partially destroyed is heartbreaking. 

Small community problems. Our small community has been a micro reflection of our country. It was deeply divided over a broad spectrum of issues and subjects. People were divided and unwilling to cooperate with each other, making it hard to achieve a common goal. I’m guessing that most still residing in the community have forgotten the many small battles over the years and those who are no longer here and had their investment wiped out in a moment of time don’t consider those battles or issues worth remembering.

Disputes that divide are a waste of time. For those of us remaining on this mountain, our lives are now consumed with issues like snow removal — we get an average of 260 inches per year — finding firewood, roads being kept open, and land restoration, instead of picking fights or finding arguable issues with each other. Due to our length of time in this community, we are finding that skills and insights from our past serve us very well now. We have always been private people and now with even fewer people living nearby, we are less affected than those that crave social involvement.

A disaster brings out the best in some people. Our local leaders have risen to the new demands and are bringing our community back without partisan agendas. Disasters bring out the best in some people and our local leaders have certainly risen to the occasion. As I reflect back, I was involved in two disputes. Both were reported in blogs for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. One was regarding reckless application of an herbicide without regard for community safety. The other was about damming up a creek that adversely affected our native fish population.

Some issues deserve opposition. Both issues were serious threats to our community and those who would live here in the future. There are multiple ads on television now from lawyers seeking to represent people who believe they were affected by an herbicide. The damned stream was one of only a handful of streams that had native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, fish that had been in our stream for thousands of years. Our government agencies were at a temporary stalemate recognizing they lacked proper legal backing for saving these native fish. Since then, a Colorado-New Mexico pact has been achieved to make sure these fish will be safe for future generations.

Minor issues waste time. Fierce battles that divided the community, like what type of a security gate, purchase of road equipment and a host of other community conflicts, all seem pretty petty now considering our community has been reduced by half. A wildfire — the third worse in Colorado's history — has pretty much solved the petty squabbles of the past that previously plagued our community. If not for the wildfire and the resulting mud slides that washed out roads and property, I expect our community would still be somewhat fractured. Post wildfire, I have witnessed responsible leadership to deal with the difficult subsequent challenges.

Choosing our battles as a community of homesteaders. It has always been my opinion that a person should choose their battles carefully and only ones you can ultimately win. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers facilitated winning restoration of our stream and the Colorado Department of Agriculture helped win the reckless herbicide spraying issue. The herbicide was toxic and needed control and oversight by proper authorities. The dam in the stream was placed exactly where I had caught a 15-inch trout and I personally found it offensive.

Working together solves problems. As I see the news reported, I have compassion for those across our wonderful country that find benefit in dividing people over issues that one day will most likely be meaningless. Our community is only a tiny microscopic version of the larger problem and it took a disaster to put our community back on the path of an improved, forward thinking and cooperative community. It should not take a disaster for people to realize they can accomplish more by working together than against each other. Hopefully it won’t take a disaster to bring our entire country together again and working together for a common interest will once again prevail.

Reflecting as a community rebuilds after fire. This time of year when I go outside to shovel fresh snow surrounded by the total silence that fresh snow brings, I remember how it was before the wildfire and how it is now. There are new people building homes or buying houses that survived the wildfire where the owners no longer wish to chance another wildfire. It is an unforeseen new start and hopefully past history will not be repeated and it will be a community to enjoy life and mutual cooperation among neighbors.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

wildfire-cover Author and researcher Linda Masterson knows what it's like to flee a wall of flames in the middle of night, with just minutes to escape with her life and very little else. Her home in northern Colorado burned to the ground in the Crystal Fire in 2011. Now she's sifted through information, resources and expert advice from across the country to put together a practical handbook and personal pocket guide for homeowners who want to be better prepared if disaster strikes.Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Harken to the Wisdom Ways of Agroecology

call to action
Image by Pixabay/Flash Alexander

Harken – pay heed to the wisdom ways of agroecology and our native roots. That's my advice as climate and geopolitical whirlwinds intensify. Those wisdom ways mark the path to a sane and healthy future for us all.

Last year the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published a kick-in-the-gut report about the surging wave of extinction upon our local life-support system: Planet Earth.

Their report—based on the work of 450 researchers from around the world and 15,000 scientific and government reports—warned of immediate, grave danger. “The overwhelming evidence…from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture."

The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating rapidly. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Among the report's recommendations about judicious ways to respond is a section under the heading Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities and Nature.

Here’s a snippet: “Regional and global scenarios currently lack, and would benefit from, an explicit consideration of the views, perspectives, and rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities...their knowledge and understanding of large regions and ecosystems, and their desired future development pathways.”

As I learned while doing research for my new book, Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future, paying respectful attention to indigenous wisdom ways is a key element of agroecology. Now, as change accelerates in climate and in geopolitics, is an explicit time to embrace those knowings.

We Know Something

Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a long walk from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Our walk, what I've come to refer to as the Odyssey of the 8th Fire, was guided by Grandfather William Commanda (Ojshigkwanàng, 1913-2011) of the Kitigan-Zibi Reserve in Quebec, Canada.

A recipient of many high honors including the prestigious Order of Canada, Grandfather Commanda steadied us with his words and his example as our steps led us toward The Western Gate.

Grandfather William Commanda
Photo by Romola Vasantha Thumbadoo, Circle of All Nations

Three months after setting out from First Encounter Beach in Massachusetts, the pilgrimage reached Memphis, Tennessee. Among the many remarks Grandfather Commanda offered at different ceremonial circles in Memphis, he said: “We cannot order or demand anyone to do anything. We can only tell you what we know, and hope and pray that you will listen.”

“We native people know something. After having lived here on this land for many, many thousands of years, we have learned some things. We don't know it all, but we do know something.

"Right now we have a choice, but that choice is very hard. But we must make that choice now so that our children will have the possibility of the life that we have had," Grandfather said. "We love you, we love you all, and we are depending on you to help us make life possible for our children and for your children.”

Having become a friend and colleague of Grandfather Commanda, I know he would regard the farm and food ways of agroecology—with its focus on clean, local, just food sovereignty and security—as a big part of making life possible for ourselves, for our children, and for our children's children.

Grandfather William Commanda's legacy endures via the Circle of all Nations.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog posts here.

plant-conservation-coverGlobal warming and the destruction of natural habitats are a serious threat to many plants, and there are worldwide efforts to mitigate the disaster. Plant Conservation tackles this essential topic head on. Timothy Walker plays a key role in this effort as the director of the Oxford Botanical Garden, a leader in the field of plant conservation. He highlights what is happening now, from cataloging the world's flora to conservation efforts like protecting plants from overcollecting. He also shows home gardeners how they can become involved, whether by growing their own food to decrease reliance on large agriculture or by making smart plant choices by growing natives and avoiding invasives. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Secret Cost of Corrosion on the Homestead

Photo by Unsplash/Jen Theodore

In 2016, the corrosion of equipment and materials cost the United States more than $1 trillion, a number that has risen by $724 billion since 1998. The only two areas with higher total spending are healthcare and real estate. 

A few billion dollars is not an amount most can afford to pay, though some have little choice. Farmers earn their livelihood through the help of expensive machinery. Without it, their jobs are more complicated and time-consuming. They, along with homesteaders, must spend thousands on replacing corroded equipment each year. 

This issue is difficult to fix and often merits the purchase of new machinery. However, preventing corrosion is cheaper and easier than most people realize. 

How Much Will Corrosion Cost?

Replacing equipment is always expensive — it's just a question of how expensive. How much did you pay for what you currently own? Was it new or pre-owned? Odds are, the price you initially paid has only gone up. If you have to purchase more than one item, the total adds up fast. 

If you need a new forklift, storage cabinets and handrails, for example, you're looking at approximately $23,700 in replacement costs — and that doesn't account for other farming expenses, like planting crops and maintaining livestock. By contrast, paint or a protective metal coating will cost a few hundred dollars at most. 

What Is Corrosion?

It's important to note that corrosion and rust are not the same. Rust forms over metal as a result of its exposure to moisture. Corrosion, however, eats away at metal, compromising structural integrity. Due to its destructive nature, it's to catch this defect early. If your equipment does corrode, it will lead to unsafe operation and costly replacements. 

Corrosion is a chemical reaction between materials and factors in the environment, such as rain, salt and stress. Once this reaction begins, it's difficult to determine how quickly it will spread. How long your equipment lasts will depend on the type of corrosion and material. General or stress corrosion, for example, will occur after metal has rusted, while galvanic corrosion takes decades to form.

You can take steps to prevent corrosion. If you find it, however — no matter the type — give it immediate attention. Damage can go unnoticed or unchecked for long periods of time. By the time you open the shed after a damp winter, it could already be too late. 

Preventing Corrosion on a Farm

Preventing corrosion on your farm equipment and vehicles is easy and cost-effective. Discover the best ways to keep your machinery in tip-top shape, such as: 

1. Consider the design: Look for equipment engineered to withstand rust and corrosion. Components exposed to weather, for instance, should allow water and debris to fall off instead of collect. Avoid machinery with narrow gaps where fluid can enter and become stagnant. 

2. Think about indoor storage: An excellent way to prevent corrosion is to store your equipment indoors where it's safe from elements like rain and snow. For the extra cautious, it doesn't hurt to cover items with tarps when you're not using them. Preventing rust is helpful, too, since it can lead to corrosion.

3. Apply metal coatings: Sometimes, moving something inside or shielding it from the weather isn’t an option. Metal coatings, however, are a corrosion-resistant solution. They create a barrier between metal and corrosives to ensure the weather doesn't damage your equipment. 

4. Use paint alternatives: If your metal equipment has chipped paint or no coat at all, don't let it stay that way. Cover over potential corrosion areas before they develop a problem. Issues could arise from anything that's chipped or scraped.

5. Keep up with maintenance: Check your equipment periodically and see if you notice anything amiss, especially after periods of poor weather. If you have tractors or other vehicles that were exposed to salted winter roads, clean them immediately. Undercarriage corrosion is common because it’s easy to miss. 

6. Proper preparation is vital if you're painting or using a metal coating on your equipment. Before you begin, make sure the surface is clean to ensure the coating adheres properly. You might need to scrub to remove caked on-dirt and dust. 

Corrosion on the Homestead — What's the Secret Cost? 

Corrosion is costly, affecting both corporations and small-time homesteaders alike. For the average farm, however, the price to replace machinery is too much to afford. 

If you're a homesteader, don't let corrosion cut into profits and affect operations. With the tips above, it's possible to prevent this expensive defect. Start by understanding the different types of corrosion and how they differ from rust.

Implement a plan to protect the machinery you already have, whether through adding indoor storage or applying metal coatings.

You should also keep up with maintenance and routine checks. If spotted early, you can conquer corrosion. 

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory.



Your equipment is valuable. Knowing how to repair and fabricate essential hardware will help make it last.

Master the fundamentals of welding, brazing, and soldering so you can repair equipment both big and small, from a garden rake to a mower. Learn to add a bale spear to your tractor bucket, build a wall-mount hay feeder, or make metal hooks. Real repair scenarios help you strategize for those moments when you need to fix equipment in bad weather, at awkward angles, or out in the field.

Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Using Free Wood from Storm-Downed Trees

Chopped wood from trees

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could heat your home for free?

Whether you use gas, or electric. One thing is for certain, heating bills are one of the most expensive utilities there is! So naturally, finding a way to cut heating costs is ideal. As a landscaper who doesn’t have full-time work in the winter, cutting winter expenses is crucial.

This year I was able to heat my home with free wood from storm downed trees. But, heating your home is only the beginning of what you can do with wood from storm downed trees.

Today, I wanted to talk about a few of the things I have down through the years with the storm downed wood. Including how I was able to use storm downed tress from Hurricane Dorian to heat my home this winter.

If you are looking for things to do with storm downed wood, or are just here to read something new. Here are some of my favorite ways to make use of storm downed trees.

The Great Breeze of 2019

When hurricane Dorian came through in late August, rain wasn’t the only thing that came falling down. By the time it reached Eastern North Carolina, Dorian wasn’t much of a hurricane. Yet it still took down a number of trees around town.

As Dorian continued north back into the Atlantic, storm cleanup began. After only a few days, there were piles of wood out in the streets ready to be collected by the municipality.

>Unfortunately, most of the downed trees just go to the landfill. But, there are so many uses for storm downed wood. Even the soft woods that can't be burned.

Fire in woodstove

A Windfall of Firewood

This year I finally have a wood stove. Ironically in the 7 years I was in NY I never had one. It seems as if more people have wood stoves and fireplaces in eastern, North Carolina where I am now, than in the area I lived in Upstate New York. Regardless there isn't much wood on the property where I now live. In NY, I lived on 15+ acres, but now I live in on a tiny plot of land, less than 1/2 an acre. The little bit of wood that was here, I stacked and burned through earlier in the year.

Yet, after Hurricane Dorian came through, all around town there was piles of wood and downed trees. Seeing an opportunity I started up my truck, grabbed my chainsaw and started collecting. For about two weeks there was more wood than I could handle. My tiny yard was soon covered with wood ready to be cut to size and split.

In a two week span, I was able to harvest around 2.5 cords of firewood. Best of all, it only took me an hour or two each day to get it. When I have made firewood in the past. Downing the tree and dragging it out of the woods took a long time. However, when Dorian came through, the wood could not have been easier to collect. It was very easy to create a supply of firewood for the winter.

Yet, as much wood as I was able to get, there were still dump truck loads of wood being driven off to the landfill. Sure a lot of it was pine or other woods that couldn’t be used for the fireplace. But, there are certainly other uses for storm downed wood too.

Wood burning in stove

The Downsides of Storm-Downed Firewood

There were definitely a few stumbling blocks I ran into when collecting the storm downed wood from around town. The biggest of them was difficulty identifying the wood I was collecting. Sure it’s easy to tell a hard from a soft wood, but there are still a number of hardwoods that are difficult to process. Finding the best firewood is harder when the tree isn't standing tall.

One load of wood in particular was difficult to split. Splitting the smaller pieces was easy, but there were a lot that I just couldn’t split through.

Again, being used to 15+ acres in upstate New York, I tried to burn what I couldn’t split outside in my fire pit. When a crew of firemen came to my door and asked me to put it out, I discovered burning outside, even in a fire pit is illegal in the city I now live in. Fortunately, the firemen were kind about it. Apparently they get yelled at a lot for telling people they have to put their fire out, and were just glad that I simply put it out. 

The other downside to collecting storm downed wood, which is a problem with all firewood in general is the bugs. Some of the wood, in particular a pecan tree I found, was full of carpenter ants. Every time I would split it they would come pouring out! But bugs and firewood just go hand in hand. I treated the yard a few times with a lemongrass oil based pesticide from Lowes, and it really cut down on the amount of bugs I brought in.

desk made from downed wood

Other Uses for Storm-Downed Wood

Firewood isn’t the only use for storm downed wood. Over the years I have made a lot out of wood from dead trees. When I was in Upstate New York there was a guy that you could bring wood to and he would mill it. Once, after collecting a truck load from ash trees killed by emerald ash borers, and some cedar that was downed in a storm. I took it to him and got it milled.

Having wood milled by a small mill is cheap too. For the truck load of wood, cut to custom sizes it only cost me about $30. And, it took me a few years to make use of it all. Most of it was milled into 1’ thick material because it is so expensive, and versatile.  

In fact, I made both of my desks from cedar wood I found from a downed tree. The ash I used to build raised garden beds and for shelving my books. You can see some of those shelves and my cedar desks in the photo above.

After hurricane Dorian I was lucky enough to find some ginkgo biloba wood. I still haven’t found a use for it. Worse case I can burn it, but ginkgo wood is good for a lot of fine woodworking and it is used in China and Japan for building religious furniture. Only time will tell what it will be used for.

Garden Beds and Mulching

For any wood that can't be used as firewood or building material, you can always make use of in your landscape. From building raised garden beds from whole logs, to hugelkultur, or mulching. Any and all fallen wood can be utilized. Professional mulching machines can be rented in many areas, and they make mulching a breeze. Maybe your neighbors would want to share the cost.

As a landscaper, I find that it is important to keep any and all nutrients on the property when possible. It simply doesn't make sense to remove material full of organic minerals from the land, just to add them back with some fertilizer, even if it's organic.

cat and woodstove

To Wrap it Up

Whether a storm downed tree strikes your house or falls into the yard, why not make use of it? It definitely takes a bit of work. However, if you take the time to make use of the fallen wood around you, you can build a keepsake that will be around for years to come. Or at the very least, keep your house warm for the winter.

So many trees simply fall down and go to waste. All the while there are forests of trees being grown just to be harvested. Making use of storm downed wood may not have been in your plans, but I have always found that my life is better for making use of it.

You don’t need to be an expert in woodworking to make amazing things things happen with storm downed wood. I for one am certainly far from a master carpenter.

If you have ever made anything from storm downed wood, let me know. I “wood” love to hear your story!.

Photo credits: Krystal Blackmouth @kovacspistol on instagram

Douglas Dedrick is landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him at Healing Law, and read all of Douglas’ MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Mandatory Morphing of America's Family Farms

The United Nations (UN) has declared the years 2019-2028 to be the Decade of Family Farming. With this declaration the UN intends to create opportunities for people to transform existing food systems around the world so they are clean, sustainable, and just both economically and socially.

In this manner the UN hopes our farms can be key actors in helping the world achieve the urgent markers of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Necessary goals, no debate about that. But at the end of the very first year of the special UN Decade (2019), here in America our family farms are swiftly swirling down the drain. It's an economic, climate, environmental, and social catastrophe fast surpassing the tribulations of the 1980s farm crisis. This time, for America and for the world, the stakes are heaps higher.

Time magazine just published a long story on the subject, including the sobering message of Al Davis, a Nebraska cattle producer and former state senator. “Farm and ranch families are facing a great extinction,” he's quoted as saying. “If we lose that rural lifestyle, we have really lost a big part of what made this country great.”

Mr. Davis makes a critical point about America's foundation. It's mutating at a reckless pace. As our agricultural foundation mutates, many other elements of the nation's culture oscillate unsteadily.

Small farms are being thrashed on multiple fronts: a trade war, low crop prices, tottering commodity markets, severe weather associated with climate change, and vertically integrated agribusiness farming corporations dedicated to uniformity, efficiency, and monetary profit. For thousands of farmers this formula is relentlessly leading to debt, bankruptcy, and, inevitably and tragically for some, suicides.

Paradoxically, it's just been reported that farm income for 2019 is higher than it has been for half a decade. That fact, reported by Ag Insider, radiates a deceptive picture of what's actually happening to our farms. The reason for the apparent farm-income bump? Republican-style corporate-socialism. The bailouts of Big Ag are using our tax dollars to compensate for the widespread farm damage done by President Trump's tariffs (taxes).

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the bailouts primarily help large producers, not family farmers. “Instead of helping small farmers that have been hurt by the Trump administration’s trade war," EWG's analysts have written, "the USDA is wantonly distributing billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest and wealthiest farms."

That approach is unfair, and unsustainable.

Morphing Into the Future

 While multitudes of America's traditional family farms are swirling down the drain of oblivion, there are positive possibilities. Several forces at work in the world favor small farms, in particular consumer demand for cleaner, healthier, locally produced food. That movement is no ephemeral fad, but rather an impulse based on a highly intelligent and deeply rooted recognition of the facts around farms, food, human well-being, and environmental health.

Reality, not ideology, makes morphing of the family farm mandatory. By way of clarification for this article, I regard mutating as passive, a process that happens, or is imposed, upon you or your community by government or corporations. I reckon morphing to be active, to describe changing in a healthy direction that you and your community have consciously chosen, willed, and acted upon.

Officials for the UN's Decade maintain that "nothing comes closer to the paradigm of sustainable food production than family farming." They write that when family farmers are supported with affirmative policies and programs, they have "the capacity to redress the failures of the status quo world food system." But America's family farms are not getting that support. 

In the context of all the relentless climate, corporate, and government forces driving the worrisome mutation of America's farm foundation, it's time to morph — to recognize and to act upon positive possibilities.

21st Century Family Farms?

About 14 years ago I researched and wrote The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the Twenty-First Century. It's a still-relevant sourcebook of positive agro-ecological pathways, a manual of morphing models, if you will, with information on dozens of individual and community pathways for food security, economic stability, environmental repair, and cultural renewal — the essence of agroecology.

While researching the book I spoke at length with dozens of people. When I interviewed Lowell Reinheimer he told me that in his work at Wisconsin's Organic Valley coop, he and his colleagues often talked about the challenges of transitioning from conventional agriculture to organic, and likewise from a market economy to an associative economy.

"We still have the family farm model in America," he said, "but the family farm is hard to define in our era." When Lowell and his family moved to Wisconsin, they looked for land and for people. They found a piece of land, and two partners. Together, they went in on buying a small farm. They were trying to create a new model for the family farmers of the future, farms populated by people who are not necessarily blood relatives.

"There's certainly a strong tradition where children inherit the farm, but that's an institution at risk," Lowell told me. "None of us inherited a farm from our family, yet we are farmers called to the land. We had no choice but to associate with each other. This may be a wave of the future."

While America's traditional family farms are falling like corn stalks before combine harvesters, many long-ago planted seeds of health, sustainability, and justice have germinated and given rise to an array of agroecological models that could — based on the choices and support of individuals and communities — be implemented on a massive scale.

Among the emerging agro-ecological models for morphing, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) continues to mature and to grow toward its promise, not just in America but worldwide.

CSA can serve as one of the models that can help make possible the survival and prosperity of family farms in the 21st century. Many of the families on those farms will no doubt be related, as is traditional, while at other farms the families may not be hereditary but rather composed of people who have entered into conscious, free-will associations. These are among the overlooked seeds of CSA farms.

Agroecology in general, and CSA farms in particular, can be part of a conscious morphing of family farms into forms that are capable of surviving and meeting the daunting challenges of the 21st Century.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Deep Agroecology. Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at Chiron-Communications. You can reed all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog posts here.



A Nation of Farmers examines the limits and dangers of the globalized food system and shows how returning to the basics is our best hope. The book includes in-depth guidelines for:

  • Creating resilient local food systems
  • Growing, cooking, and eating sustainably and naturally
  • Becoming part of the solution to the food crisis

The book argues that we need to make self-provisioning, once the most ordinary of human activities, central to our lives. The results will be better food, better health, better security, and freedom from corporations that don’t have our interests at heart. This is critical reading for anyone who eats and cares about high-quality food.

Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Ranney Ranch: An Eco-Friendly Southwestern Cattle Ranch


Cattle ranches in the West often get a bad reputation. Overgrazing has decimated the environment in places like my former home state, Colorado. I remember many times during my years of hunting and fishing in Colorado, walking through a cow pie studded landscapes where the grass was almost gone. Sagebrush and cactus could barely gain a foothold so denuded were some of the places I hiked. For most of the last three decades, I thought our public lands and private ranches were nothing more than over-used cow feeding land. That is until I met Nancy Ranney in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was at the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association annual conference I heard Nancy speak on a culinary panel discussion when I realized there was hope.

Nancy is a Harvard graduate with a masters degree in Landscape Architecture who took over the family ranch near Corona, New Mexico. The 1990s were a drought-ridden era of misery inflicted upon the land, animals, and humans who inhabited the Southwest. Nancy knew there was a new and better way to manage her family's 18,000-acre ranch and instigated herd rotation and regenerative soil management practices to bring back the native grasses. The ranch's pasture was a monoculture of blue gramma grass when Nancy took over in the early 2000s. The herd had been reduced to try and get through an extreme drought, and the ranch's future was looking shaky.

The plan was to keep the cows moving, instead of being allowed to graze in place for days, and start restoring native grasses. The ranch's ecosystem was in shambles, and birds, as well as other species, were disappearing at an alarming rate. The health of the soil was suffering, and Nancy knew it was vital to the quality of the herd to bring the soil back to health. To do so, it would take restoring the landscape to an intact ecosystem of microbes, grass, and other high-prairie plants that would feed the life forms that make up a healthy landscape.

I asked Nancy what she had in mind when she started turning the ranch around and she told me, "The key was to keep the herd moving across the landscape, never grazing long enough in any one place to damage the plants and now allowing seeds dormant in the soil — viable for over 100 years in the Southwest — to grow." Once the native grasses started to come back, so did most of the life forms that rely on the ecosystem.

Before the European settlers arrived on the scene some 400 years ago, the high-prairie was awash in life. There were buffalo, prairie dogs, badgers, cougars, snakes, moles, hawks, and the songstress of the plains, the meadowlark. All of these species lived in harmony, and the land flourished during this time of healthy grasslands. When the ranchers showed up, there were some of the most magnificent grazing areas a cattle rancher could desire.

These bountiful grasslands became some of the best cattle country in the world.  After centuries of grazing, much of the land was depleted.


Through over 150 years of big ranches, cattlemen worked the land in good years and bad years in this western paradise. When the drought of the 1990s hit, it was clear something had to change. Some of the species had disappeared, and many others were just a shadow of their former numbers. But ranchers, like farmers, are not eager to adopt new ways of working the land.

One of the big surprises in the effort to restore our grasslands is the theory that cattle can improve the soil like buffalo once did. Cattle can aerate the ground with their hooves, much like buffalo did for centuries before the white man showed up. Cows also provide fertilization from the numerous cow pies they leave in their wake. The native perennial plants are stimulated when the cattle bite them only once as they move along, instead of being allowed to graze in one place for hours.

In an article in Time magazine, writer Judith D. Schwartz points out cows might be able to save our grasslands. Instead of abandoning cattle ranching entirely, the pastures seem to benefit from proper ranching techniques such as regenerative plans that Ranney Ranch uses.

When Nancy took over the Ranney Ranch management, the longtime ranch manager thought she would fail, and they would revert to his methods. Nancy didn't fail and would go on to document the restoration of more than 50 types of native grasses without seeding or irrigation. Ranney Ranch saw water retention capabilities increase by twenty-five percent under this new direction. While neighboring ranches languished in the drought, overhead photos showed Ranney Ranch was developing a thriving grassland in the high desert of New Mexico. Nancy's herd showed similar health benefits as the land with the new techniques in place.

Nowadays, the ranch and the herd are going strong. As part of the eco-friendly practices, Ranney Ranch sells most of the beef they raise to local consumers. Nancy knew that fewer than two percent of New Mexico's beef stayed in the state. By shipping shorter distances, they have cut down on carbon emissions.

By instigating regenerative agricultural practices, operations like Ranney Ranch can bring back healthy ecosystems that benefit all the Earth's inhabitants. As part of the restoration of the land, Ranney Ranch was selected by the Audubon Society to be part of their Conservation Ranching Program. Audubon and their Conservation Ranching Program seek to bring back some of the bird species that saw an eighty percent decline in numbers due to loss of suitable habitat. The grasslands of the West are vital to birds that are an essential part of the ecosystem.

When consumers buy Audubon Certified beef, they can rest assured the rancher they support is helping the planet. Ranney Ranch is also an AGA Certified (American Grassfed Association) and AWA Certified (Animal Welfare Approved). There's plenty of research showing grass-fed beef is healthier for consumers than grain-fed beef. I encourage you to read some of the published articles on the Ranney Ranch website and see how their way of farming has other carbon-reducing benefits. Even though most of us live too far away to affordably purchase Ranney Ranch beef, look for other ranchers utilizing similar techniques where you live. We all can play a part in restoring the health of the planet in the way we buy our food.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his seventh year of container and raised-bed organic gardening in his backyard. For this and other published stories, check out his travel blog, Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


In All Flesh Is Grass: The Pleasures and Promises of Pasture Farming, Gene Logsdon explains that well-managed pastures are nutritious and palatable; they’re virtual salads for livestock. Leafy pastures also hold the soil, foster biodiversity, and create lovely landscapes. Grass farming might be the solution for a stressed agricultural system based on an industrial model and propped up by federal subsidies.

In his clear and conversational style, Logsdon explains historically effective practices and new techniques. His warm, informative profiles of successful grass farmers offer inspiration and ideas. His narrative is enriched by his own experience as a “contrary farmer” on his artisan-scale farm near Upper Sandusky, Ohio. All Flesh Is Grass will have broad appeal to the sustainable commercial farmer, the home-food producer and all consumers who care about their food. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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