Let them eat grass

I was thinking this morning, while Gracie and I walked and enjoyed the crisp morning air and the sunshine, while I tried not to shiver, tried to ignore the feeling that winter is barking at my heels.
I was thinking about the planet and our reluctance to care for her, our inability to shoulder the responsibility of adjusting our actions for the better.
I met a farmer several weeks ago, interviewed him for a column I am writing about grass fed beef. He is inspiring, but he is also anxious. He is striving to do things right.
He grass feeds his cattle, pastures his pigs, free ranges his chickens, ducks and geese. He and his wife love their animals; are passionate about caring for them.
Lance grew up on a farm, a farm very much like the one I grew up on. Grass fed beef was the norm back then, before we squeezed cattle into feedlots and stuffed them with high acid-producing corn diets.
How does grass-feeding beef save the planet? Because cattle are anatomically designed for a grass diet?
Because a grass diet corrects the excessive acid that a grain diet creates and passes this benefit to humans? Because perennial grassland sends down a deep root system more than three metres, retrieving the trace minerals that are consumed/washed away by annual crops?
Because tilled land sheds rainfall causing erosion and flooding whereas pasture ground can absorb five to seven inches of rain an hour? Because it allows farmers to treat their animals with respect?
The correct answer is all of the above, according to Richard Manning and a growing number of farmers, but the greatest benefit is a “massive reduction of carbon emissions.”
Richard Manning is an environmental journalist with a deep pedigree having worked as a consultant to the UN in agriculture, poverty and the environment.
In February, 2009, Richard published an articled called “Graze Anatomy in On Earth, A Survival Guide For The Planet” (www.archive.onearth.org/article/graze-anatomy).
In his report he detailed the plan of two Minnesota farmers that would “shrink our carbon footprint, expand biodiversity and wildlife habitat, promote human health, humanize farming, control rampant flooding, radically decrease the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and for those of us who still eat [meat] a first-class, guilt-free steak.” What was this plan? “Let cows eat grass.”
Row crop farming releases into the atmosphere the carbon that is stored in the soil, whereas “perennial crops pull both methane and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stash them in the soil”, perhaps even better than forests do, the evidence shows.
Lance Bishop, the farmer I spoke to, wants nothing more than to make a modest living at caring for his farm animals with respect and while doing so, improve the environment.
He has calculated his carbon footprint in detail to be sure he is on the right track.
It takes time and effort, but it can be done he assured me. Because of the current “rules” of farming, much of his day is spent marketing his product and educating his customers as to the benefits of grass fed beef.
Aside of the environment, one of his biggest challenges is taking his animals to the abattoir for slaughter.
Lance explains that separating the animals from the herd and trucking them for slaughter causes the animals a great deal of stress.
Lance would far rather do the kill himself, in the familiar surroundings of his farm, so the animal is honoured and respected as it gives its body for our sustenance.
Only if a customer buys a whole animal is Lance allowed to slaughter on the farm.
There are methods within our reach to change the story of the environment and how we farm and produce food. We have the power to bring about real change.