For the 21st century farmer, crop choices are much more than a simple sum of projected annual yields: farmers have to think about how to get the most out of their acres, and how to prevent precious topsoil from washing away. Steve Groff of Cedar Meadow Farms is involved in efforts to find sustainable alternatives that will help to conserve topsoil and precious resources over time.
Groff farms about 225 acres of land in Martic Township, part of the heavily agrarian Lancaster County area in southeast Pennsylvania.
On the borderline between the affluent Gold Coast section of Chicago, IL and the neighborhood that was once home to Cabrini-Green, one of America’s most infamous housing projects sits a sustainable urban vegetable farm called City Farm.
The farm occupies one acre of land surrounded by a fence latticed with six-foot tall sunflowers. City Farm is run by the Resource Center, a Chicago-based non-profit environmental education organization that develops and demonstrates innovative techniques for recycling and reusing materials.
In the documentary, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, John Peterson says that he “began to see the farm as a living organism.” Upon further reflection Peterson, the founder of Rockford, Illinois-based biodynamic farm, Angelic Organics, says that he’s always seen the farm that way. He says that the works of Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner helped to crystallize his thoughts around this idea.
In 1998, the bottom fell out of the hog market. There was a surplus in supply. Pork was selling as low as 14 cents per pound. It was also only the fourth year that Greg and Lei Gunthorp had been managing their hog operation in LaGrange, Indiana.
The pressure was on. While 90% of hog farmers have gone out of business since 1980, Gunthorp Farms has added land, expanded markets, and hired help. They’ve been able to do so because Greg Gunthorp farms differently.
This year, Gunthorp will sell 1,500 hogs, 70,000 chickens, 15,000 ducks, and a small number of turkeys. As a vertically integrated operation, Gunthorp oversees every part of the process, from field to plate. This includes raising the animals, growing feed, processing and cutting meats, and direct marketing to restaurants, retail establishments, and customers.
At first, Mark Elzinga, President of Southwest Michigan-based Elzinga & Hoeksema Greenhouses, doesn’t sound like your typical organic farmer. “Why did we go into organics? For the money,” he says right off the bat.
While his attitude toward organic has changed over the years, his conviction that organic farming needs to be profitable to truly become mainstream has not.