Author: Sam Gregory

Farmer Story: Spoon Full Farm

In early 2017, five young farmers joined together to realize a dream that had been in the works for many years. Five people, each coming to the conclusion that our current agriculture system is broken and in need of repair, ready to commit to each other and to a beautiful piece of land in the Kittitas Valley…

We had gotten in late, well after the sun had gone down on a short February day. We had been moving slow for the last fifty miles on snow-covered roads. Two packed-full cars caravaned at what felt like a snail’s pace, slowed even further by the anticipation of what was about to begin.

After pulling up to the farm house, Michael and I went in search of snow shovels. We had no intentions of sleeping outside, and the snowbank around the entrances to the house were piled high. A half-hour later, our cars were in the garage and we sat down to enjoy our first dinner at Spoon Full Farm.

That night, we couldn’t have hidden our excitement even if we wanted to. Mesmerized by the amazing opportunity we had and the near-limitless potential for a 240 acre piece of property with senior irrigation rights, we excitedly discussed the possibilities the future may hold, and all the potential good we could do: for the land, for the soil, for our community, for our health, and for our planet. We went to bed with our hearts racing with enthusiasm.

We woke up the next morning and had a very short through-the-wall conversation:
“Sam!”
“I see them!”

The herd of over 100 elk were nibbling on the ornamental plants in the yard, mere feet from where our heads lay. A few, in fact, were nibbling on the house itself.

We got up and walked around the house. The herd was distributed in a circle, surrounding the house on every side. At some point they noticed us, and didn’t seem bothered by our presence.

The awe-inspiring silence Michael and I shared still remains vivid in my memory. A good first experience of daylight at our new home.

Today, 10 months later, the elk are back with winter coming once again. But this winter, contrasting the wilderness of the Yakima river, the elk herds, bald eagles, coyotes, great-horned owls and Canadian geese, is Spoon Full Farm, equipped with a greenhouse, an acre of no-till vegetable gardens, 22 cattle, 20 sheep, 300 chickens, two dairy goats, four dogs, two cats, one llama, and five humans.

Our first season has wrapped up, and we’ve taken major steps to develop food production systems on what was once a conventional hay farm.

The cooperative, production-diverse regenerative farm has been a dream of mine ever since I first spent a summer farming over five years ago. The synergy offered by diversity yields incredible benefits. Multi-species management-intensive grazing benefits our no-till vegetable system through the compost we’re able to produce. Raising honeybees improves our orchard pollination, and the ability to add value to our produce in a commercial kitchen minimizes inventory loss.

On top of all that, this enterprise diversity allows for a specialization that makes each pillar of our farm likely to succeed. Each enterprise is micro-managed by a single individual, allowing for a nuanced approach. We are doing many things, but are not spread too thin because each individual can remain focused on one main task.

When it comes to marketing, a shared farm label makes it easier to move product, as well. We first entered the market with incredibly tasty produce, thus beginning to build ourselves a reputation. As we bring more and more new products to market, those new products have a ready foundation and a customer base. We are moving towards the one-stop farm shop model, and in 2018 will add grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, and canned, preserved and processed vegetables to our current lineup of grass-fed lamb, wildflower honey, and fresh vegetables.

“Loyal to Soil”

While our business structure gives us excellent market access, it really is our practices that set us apart from conventional farms or commercial organic farms.

Our slogan says it all: we are Loyal to Soil. Fundamentally, we encourage healthy soil. In turn, that healthy soil provides us with nutrient-dense and delicious food.

We encourage soil health by taking several steps which contrast drastically with large-scale agriculture. The first is that we never till the soil. When farmers till their soil, they powerfully turn it, diminishing overall soil structure and killing trillions of soil microbes which are the foundation for a healthy soil ecosystem. Soil is different from dirt because it is alive. And we can’t grow healthy food in dirt.

We also avoid synthetic fertilizers and pest-control sprays of any kind, even organic. Pesticides don’t discriminate — they kill pests but also beneficial insects. Nature’s diversity within complex ecosystems creates self-balancing systems. With these self-balancing systems, we can minimize external inputs which themselves have a major ecological footprint.

So, on our farm, we are committed to building a diverse ecosystem- both above and below ground. We graze with multiple species (cattle, sheep, goats, llamas and chickens), we are planting a widely diverse network of hedgerows and orchards that will be of commercial value while also providing “ecosystem services” (such as food and habitat for pollinators and predator insects) and we build healthy soil by keeping our soil whole and by feeding it (with compost).

The result is a highly productive farm, producing particularly delicious and nutrient-dense food, actually building soil and improving ecosystem diversity, and capable of supporting the livelihoods of the farmers who work and live there.

Learn more about Spoon Full Farm here.

Beyond the Carbon Footprint: Embedded Energy and the Resource Shed

An introduction to embedded energy, supply chains, and product origins

By now, the term ‘carbon footprint’ is a part of our shared vocabulary. But how many of us have actually been moved to radically change our consumption habits because of it? Unfortunately, the data behind our individual carbon footprints is often difficult to follow and hard to understand, making our daily choices as a conscious consumer more challenging. I propose that in addition to being aware of our own carbon footprint, we each pay close attention to what might be called our personal “resource-shed.”

Much like the health of each ecosystem depends on its local watershed, we each are dependent on a multitude of resources, each with very particular geographic origins and complex supply chains.

While most of the goods we consume are locally available or can be shipped directly to our doorsteps, the materials that go into these goods have wide-ranging geographic origins, each with diverse and complex supply chains and production methods. Often the convenience of having such a wide range of goods at our literal fingertips undermines our ability to follow the supply chain to the raw material sources, muddling our understanding of how vast our individual ecological footprint can be.

We can begin to think of all the resources we use, all the products we consume, as contributing to our own personal “resource-shed.” Our “resource-shed” is the physical geographic area and accompanying raw materials that are required to manufacture everything we consume.

For example, the cotton t-shirt you’re currently wearing could be made of cotton grown in India. After being harvested, it was transported to a facility where it was milled and processed into fabric, then transported to Bangladesh where it was sewn into a garment. The t-shirt was then packaged in plastic and shipped across the ocean to a distribution warehouse before it was stocked in your local store. While you might say the resource-shed that supports your lifestyle via the cotton t-shirt is multiple regions in India and the factory in Bangladesh, there are several more factors. The cotton was transported between the processing facility in India and the factory in Bangladesh in an Isuzu truck, a Japanese vehicle. The plastic packaging was manufactured in China, and the oil for the vehicles originates in Malaysia. All of a sudden, your $5 t-shirt, which says made in Bangladesh, couldn’t have gotten to you without contributions from India, China, Japan and Malaysia.

This example isn’t intended to burden or intimidate you  only to show the idea of Embedded Energy its full glory. The t-shirt’s footprint includes not only the cotton it was made from, but also the energy and raw materials necessary to create it from crop to finished product.

In our global world, think about how vast our individual resource-sheds are when we combine together every item we have ever owned! It takes nearly our whole planet to supply and support our lifestyles. Every action we take or item we purchase has numerous direct and indirect ecological and social effects embedded into the action or item itself.

Even though thinking of our consumption in terms of a personal resource-shed might feel somewhat challenging, it is a valuable thought experiment insofar as we can begin to trace the rippling, nuanced effects of each of our choices. Awareness and curiosity is the first step.

If you’re up for it, select a nearby object and hypothesize in the comments below:

  1. What is the geographic resource-shed that this product originates from?
  2. What aspects of its production contribute Embedded Energy into the final product?