Keep Going in the Wrong Direction
[Note: There is a naughty word below, quoted in context. Please don’t read any further if you are offended by such.]
There are probably people like this in your life too.
I am privileged to know people with whom I can talk shop about farming, and even when we don’t agree we can have worthwhile conversations. But there are a few who vociferously express their unassailable, unalterable opinions. I used to be more mild mannered in dealing with these characters, but I’ve realized that I have nothing to lose in telling such a person that I disagree. Most of the time they’ll never listen. But talking back to them gives me the opportunity to examine my thoughts and clarify my purposes.
Lately I’ve been dealing with someone who has been telling me that I can’t graze cattle in tall grass without starving them, that cattle can’t handle summer heat or winter cold, that beef steers will lose weight unless they are fed corn meal, and that if I had any sense I’d be plowing my fields and planting genetically modified soybeans. His lectures are generously salted with patronizing instruction and advice, like this gem: “There’s a word for what you need to be doing here, it’s called management.” “Maaanagemennnt” is pronounced slowly and clearly, just in case I need a little help processing a big word. Obviously this is the sort of person who sees the “Wrong Direction Farm” sign and thinks that the only thing I’ve done right is selecting the farm’s name.
When he told me that I need to use tillage, pesticides, herbicides, nitrogen, and genetically modified crops instead of pasture, I replied that I am more concerned about conserving and improving the soil biology, that all those techniques are ultimately deleterious to the soil biology, and that my success should be measured in the number of earthworms per square foot, not in the bushels of soybeans per acre. His retort was one of those memorable statements that helps me focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing: “Fuck earthworms. Let mother nature take care of earthworms. You need to make money.”
Presto! That was just a perfectly antithetical statement to reassure me that I need to keep going in the wrong direction. Earthworms matter a lot. And so do the innumerable microscopic biological interactions between bacteria and fungi. Everything about our current brutalist approach to agriculture conspires against soil health (if you have 1 minute and 12 seconds, I strongly recommend watching this soil health demonstration by agronomist Ray Archuleta). When I told my antagonistic interlocutor that I disagreed, he changed the topic and made a quick exit. He realized he was casting his pearls (and he actually referred to his advice as pearls!) before swine.
My apologies, gentle reader, if this post was too self-indulgent and smug. Sometimes going in the wrong direction wears me out, so thanks for putting up with cathartic ranting. I’ll let this rest with a quote from the final paragraph of Charles Darwin’s unambiguously titled book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits: “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures.”