Work Up To A Heavy Triple
No Failing! No Bailing!
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As Many Rounds as Possible in 10 Minutes of:
20 Russian Kettlebell Swings, 45/25
10 Push Presses, 115/75
20 Russian Kettlebell Swings, 72/53
10 Handstand Push-Ups
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Rosie's first day of CrossFit
Why Join a CSA?
Two Faces of Agriculture: Industrial vs. Agroecological
Farming uses land in order to make food (I see you hydroponics, but I’m ignoring you for now). How we use the land varies in different systems. It’s common to think of farming as a one-directional relationship: we try to make the land conform to our goals on our terms. These terms distinguish farming ideologies, which influences the how and whether the relationship can be reciprocal.
Industrial agriculture, like any other industry, tries to achieve consistent yields so that it can scale up continuously in order to turn an increasing profit. Climate, soil, precipitation, and topography are examples of conditions that must be overcome. Given the scale and geographic reach of this kind of agriculture, its terms have to be uniform and prescriptive in order to efficiently and consistently meet demand.
In contrast, Agroecology merges agriculture and ecology by seeking to recognize, value and be part of the dynamic conditions of farming. The primary goal is still to produce food, of course, but the terms are based on dialogue rather than prescription. Agroecosytems contextualize the goal of growing food by understanding the intrinsic nature of discrete elements like soil, plants, wildlife, climate, people and economics, as well as the interactions among and between those elements. This is a holistic way of farming characterized by multiple goals, which include, but are not limited to, turning a profit. Resiliency (against erratic climate, volatile markets, personal crisis, blight and disease...) is a central tenet of the approach.
There is certainly crossover between the two systems, and lots of farms operate somewhere in between, but I’m being overly simple so we can keep them distinct in our minds.
A grazing farm is an example of an agroecosystem. The success of the practice depends upon studying and harnessing climate-land-plant-animal-human interactions in order to produce food.
This series of posts will unravel the elements and interactions of a grazing farm in order to help you understand grass-based livestock farming. We’ll focus mostly on beef production, but many of the same principles can be transferred to other livestock.
This is also an unabashed attempt to persuade you that by joining a CSA, you have a unique opportunity to be part of an agroecosystem.
Commodity and Grass-fed Beef
In the commodity beef market, production goals focus on speed, efficiency, consistency and uniformity in order to meet increasing demands for meat. (The U.S. supplied the world with about 20% of its beef in 2007.) If animals fatten at predictable rates, to similar weights, and consistent marbling, your entire production system can operate more efficiently and, hopefully, turn a reliable profit.
All beef cows start out on grass. Commodity cows are moved off grass relatively quickly and sent either to an intermediary farm where they’re fed a mixed diet of forage and grain, or directly to a feedlot. The distribution of cows is partly based on putting like with like (i.e. breed types, genetic strains) so that producers have a fairly clear idea of the process needed to reach a desirable time to slaughter.
Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are where most beef cows get “finished.” CAFOs are penned in areas, which contain a minimum of 1,000 tightly packed cows – no more than one acre per cow is allotted (that’s being generous). Food in the form of mixed rations (grain and forage) is brought to them. Because of the continuous concentration of animals, the ground is bare, exposed soil. As a cow nears slaughter, its diet becomes increasingly grain based in order to reach correct weight and marbling. This production method is intimately tied to corn production in the U.S. In fact, over one-third of our corn crop is used to feed animals.
On a 100% managed grazing farm, cows are either purchased as weaned calves, or the farmer breeds his/her own stock. In most cases, the animal will remain on the same farm for the duration of its life. The number of animals a farmer owns is tied to the size of the farm: in the Northeast, it’s typical to stock one steer per 1.5-2 acres. A decent herd size is a couple hundred head, with many at 100 or below. Farmers divide their land into paddocks and allow animals to wander within a fenced area, grazing the grass (their only food source) until the farmer feels it’s time to rotate the animals to new pasture. This decision is based on variables like precipitation, season, how hungry the cows are, or the impacts on the soil. But a key practice is never to let the animals eat the grass down to the ground, otherwise the leaves won’t be enough of a “solar panel” to photosynthesize for regrowth. Instead, grass would be forced to deplete its roots for energy, which would eventually reduce its capacity to grow. Over time, a rotational practice leads to robust above and below ground “biomass.” In other words: long roots and tall grass. Farmers in the Northeast will rotate their cows around the farm a couple of times during the growing season; it usually takes 4 weeks to return to a pasture.
So, grass-based farmers are actually growing both grass and cows by managing their relationship to each other. Cows are nourished by grass, and grass is nourished by cow manure, the physical impact of hooves, sun and water.
While both systems have the same goal of producing meat, it’s pretty clear how much they differ in terms of process. Commodity beef production simplifies and moves linearly. Grass-fed production uses guiding principles to respond to dynamic conditions.
Coming up next… animal welfare in each of these systems.
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