Q: What is it You’re Trying To Do?
A: Wow. What do you mean by that?
Q: Why did you move here?
A: Well, it was Grandma’s house. Almost every Christmas of my life has been here. It was available, affordable and emotionally satisfying. Plus it’s a good place to raise the kids.
Q: But can’t you do all that without the animal work?
A: Oh. Well…I mean…I guess. I could rent the fields to another farmer who may or may not farm in a way I approve of. He could spray whatever out there, abuse the ground in whatever way, cause erosion and pay me for the abuse but isn’t it better if I just manage it myself?
Q: So what are you managing?
A: Well, I can grow forage without even trying. I mean, it’s silly how easy it is to grow forage. I just depend on free sunlight and free, occasional rain. But grass isn’t worth much so it really doesn’t matter how much I can grow unless I can find a way to add value to it. Right now we’re using cows to convert that grass into beef and milk. Milk isn’t worth a whole lot. Beef isn’t worth a whole lot. But they are worth more than grass. Further, using cows to mow saves me from mowing. Grazing, trampling and manuring also help more grass to grow than would otherwise be there so that means I’m fixing more carbon than my farm would otherwise…so I get a happy green feeling inside. So, to answer your question, I guess you could say I’m managing grass.
Well, except I jokingly refer to myself as the “Head Farm Steward” (a title I am anxious to hand to one of my much more capable children). Stewardship has little to do with cattle or grass. It means I’m accepting that I am in charge of a few resources for a short time and have to do my best to increase those resources. That means more dirt, more carbon, more grass, more earthworms, more dung beetles…but it also means more money. I mean, 5 talents or 5 acres, I want to hear, “Well done.” We are currently using grass to convert sunlight, sunlight and time to convert beef into dollars. Would we see more increase if I planted forests to passively fix carbon, absorb sunlight, mine nutrients out of the soil and create value? Maybe. Dunno. Would it be better to open a composting facility? Dunno. Would it be better to build an array of hog floors, haul in nutrients, add value to corn and haul out manure? Maybe…maybe not. That sounds like a lot of work. Also, it sounds like a lot of manure for my few acres to metabolize.
At any rate, “management” sounds/feels different than “stewardship”. I wish you had asked me what I was stewarding. That’s an easy question. I’m stewarding land that has been in my family since 1843. My land surrounds the graves of my mother’s fathers. In a way, I’m honoring the work they did when had their turn on this land. Honoring my father and mother…well, my mom’s father and mother. Dad’s side are all buried in Eastern Tennessee.
The “what” question takes us to the “how” question. That takes us back to grass and cows…and chickens. …and ducks. …and a small orchard. …and children. …and an alarmingly small amount of money. And it’s the money I am working on growing as I find that it helps with so many problems. And that’s why I need sunlight, rain and cows. And that’s why we need Eddie Van Halen (bonus points if you got that reference without using Google).
But here we are. Taking things of lesser value and adding value to them. Chicks to chickens. Chicken feed to eggs. Logs to lumber. Sunlight to grass. Grass to beef. Girls to women. Boys to men (ABC BBD (…mmmm hmmmm)).
So now I ask you, Are you adding value to something each day? Are you conscious of your need to steward your resources and seek increase?