Real Food. Insanely Cheap. Musings on Mark Shepard’s “Restoration Agriculture” Farm.

Posted in Healthy Food & Agriculture on January 25th, 2014 by dhawkinsmo

MLK HAD A DREAM.  I HAVE A DREAM TOO …. REAL FOOD. SUPER CHEAP.  HEALING LAND.  HEALING SOULS.  Here’s some thoughts on this topic drawn from Mark Shepard’s 2013 book “Restoration Agriculture” (Mark’s farm pictured at left) The most remarkable things I glean from Mark’s book are …

1) Mob Grazing Plus. Everything I have learned about Mob Grazing – cattle, sheep, chickens following, etc. – applies – that is, no input, much higher grazing densities, no meds, etc. BUT … with Mark’s system, densities can be increased even more because of 3 key factors – (a) partial shade which benefits both the animals and the grasses, and (b) fruit from trees falling on the ground which automatically supply extra feed to pigs and chickens (omnivores), and (c) multiple livestock species

2) Mob Grazing Plus a Gazillion. OK well, not quite. But a whole new universe of production is available – IN ADDITION to the mob grazed livestock on the same acreage – because of the trees and bushes, which are arranged in rows with 23 ft wide alleys. You can harvest 1000 lbs per acre of chestnuts alone plus apples and several other items. So for example, if a Mob Grazed cattle operations produces 50 lbs of beef per acre per year (what Greg Judy does), a Mark Shepard system might produce more like 60 lbs because of the extra fertility / shading of the grass, animal shade, etc, PLUS perhaps 10 lbs of lamb, 40 lbs of pork, 15 lbs of chickens (for meat), 50 dozen eggs, PLUS 1000 lbs of chestnuts, 7000 lbs of currants and more (Mark does not give the yields for hazelnuts, grapes and raspberries which all grow under the chestnut / apple trees). Anyway the production is enormous from the tree / bush crops and this is ON TOP OF the already efficient mob grazing operation!

What are the implications of this?

Well, it tells me that with Mark’s system, we have the economic “engine” to drive conversion of cropland — which is degrading rapidly due to tillage — into farmland which is not only wildly productive and wildly profitable, but actually REVERSES land degradation.

I have not assembled all the numbers yet, but I do have some of them. Let’s calculate some retail values of production with what I know so far from Mark’s book. Let’s use some average numbers for retail for “beyond organic” animal products. LIVESTOCK: 60 lbs beef x $5/lb = $300. 10 lbs lamb x $8/lb. = $80. 40 lbs pork x $5/lb = $200. 15 lbs chicken x $3/lb = $45. 50 dozen eggs x $3/dozen = $150. Livestock total per acre: $775/acre. TREE/BUSH CROPS. Add in 1000 lbs chestnuts x $5/lb = $5000 plus 7000 lbs of currants x ?/lb plus hazelnuts plus apples plus grapes plus plus plus … do you get the picture?

Now one of the greatest obstacles to converting row crop land to Restoration Farm land (Oak Savannah) is the high lease cost, typically a minimum of $100 per acre per year and as high as $300/acre per year – even higher in some places. Another obstacle is that cropland is DEAD. The soil life has been killed by years of tillage and chemicals and pesticides. There is very little organic matter in the soil so the soil must be brought back to life by adding organic material. This costs money and takes time.

BUT … it seems to me that an investor with a little patience could realize huge returns by making the up front investment to resurrect dead cropland and put the land into “Restoration Farm” production. We’re talking over $700 per acre in just livestock revenues against very low production costs. Then on top of this, we have THOUSANDS of $ per acre in tree / bush crops, again, against very low inputs / harvesting cost.

As for revenue timeframes, I have heard that chestnuts can begin yielding in as little as 3 years with grafting and proper soil prep. The other tree and bush crops can yield sooner than this and livestock can begin yielding within 2 years. I don’t know yet how much this conversion would cost up front, but I do have a feel for what steps to take and some approximate costs of some of these steps. I hope that I can refine this model soon for presentation to investors.

Stay tuned!

PS How will we get cheap food out of this? Well … it seems to me that if we can invest say $1000 per acre over 3 years to resurrect cropland then begin harvesting all this bounty, would it not be possible to lower the retail prices of food thusly produced? If “beyond organic” beef sells for $5 per lb under the Single Species Mob Grazing model, isn’t it possible that we could see it drop to $1 per lb under the Mark Shepard model? I see no reason it could not. Ditto for chestnuts. And everything else. Abundant supply drops prices. This we know. How much it will drop, I cannot say.

Bipolar Disorder And Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Posted in Healthy Food & Agriculture on January 19th, 2014 by dhawkinsmo

Several years ago, Dr. Andrew Stoll, director of the Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School-McLean Hospital, conducted a landmark study on the role of omega-3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder and came up with some surprising results. The researcher discovered that when patients with bipolar disorder consumed omega-3 from fish oil, they experienced a marked reduction in episodes of mania and depression. Extensive research continues to demonstrate that omega-3 fatty acids form the foundation of a solid, healthy diet, while also reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and arthritis, among other conditions. Here is a link to Dr. Stoll’s recent (2012) book … LINK

Nationally Recognized Depression Expert Speaks Out Against Psych Meds

Posted in Healthy Food & Agriculture on January 19th, 2014 by dhawkinsmo

Steve Ilardi earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Duke University in 1995, and has since served on the faculties of the University of Colorado and (presently) the University of Kansas. The author of over 40 professional articles on mental illness, Dr. Ilardi is a nationally recognized expert on depression. His work has been honored by the American Psychological Association’s prestigious Blau Award for early career contributions to the field, and his research on the neuroscience of depression has been funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH).

Dr. Ilardi has also received several major teaching awards in recognition of his dynamic, engaging classroom presence. Recently, he was selected from a pool of over 2,000 instructors as the recipient of the school’s highest instructional honor, the HOPE Award for teaching excellence. He also maintains an active clinical practice, and has treated several hundred depressed patients over the course of his career. Dr. Ilardi lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, Maria and daughter, Abby.

Here’s some excerpts from a recent article in Psychology Today authored by Dr. Ilardi … LINK

Got Chemical imbalance? What Big Pharma Doesn’t Advertise
Published on August 10, 2009 by Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D. in The Depression Cure

A prospective patient recently asked me if her depression might involve some form of chemical imbalance. Like most Americans, she had seen hundreds of drug ads trumpeting the idea, but they filled her with a deep sense of helplessness. “I really don’t want to take antidepressants,” she explained. “And yet if there’s truly something wrong with my brain chemistry, I’d pretty much have to get on meds, wouldn’t I?”

She had aptly framed the conventional wisdom: Got chemical imbalance? Then you need to ingest some chemicals.

But the conventional wisdom is misguided. Yes, depression entails striking neurochemical abnormalities, but this fact – in and of itself – tells us nothing about how best to treat the disorder. That’s because there are numerous ways of altering depressive brain function, and most of them have nothing to do with psychotropic drugs.

And he goes on to cite studies about how exercise, diet, bright light (sunlight) and “changing the mind” all have powerful anti-depressant effects.

Great article!

Bechamp, Salatin and Native American Epidemics

Posted in Healthy Food & Agriculture on January 19th, 2014 by dhawkinsmo

Is modern germ theory wrong? That is, the theory that says “Virus X” or “Bacterium Y” is “bad” and must be killed by antibiotics or by manipulating the immune system with vaccinations to kill the virus?  Joel Salatin is probably America’s most well known farmer. And in his book “Salad Bar Beef” (1996) Joel introduced me to Antoine Bechamp, a contemporary of Louis Pasteur whose view on microbes I would summarize as this: Microbes are not inherently “bad”. Rather they *become* bad in response to unnatural environments. This was called the “pleomorphic view” of microbes and opposed Pasteur’s “monomorphic” view. The practical outworking of Bechamp’s view is that IF we (and our livestock) eat natural foods and have natural, in-harmony-with-Nature environments, then our microbes (viruses and bacteria) will be “happy”, that is, they will remain in our bodies in non-virulent forms. On the other hand, if we subject our microbes to unnatural environments (out of balance body chemistry from industrial foods, unsanitary conditions, etc) then our microbes can mutate to virulent forms and make us sick and cause death. This year, 18 years after Salad Bar Beef, Joel has not changed his Bechampian view of microbes.

“We dare to question the notion that life is fundamentally mechanical and safety requires sterility. We know that most bacteria are good, and bad ones that proliferate into pathogenicity only do that when our management is wrong.” LINK HERE.

But what about Native Americans, many of whom died out from European diseases? Weren’t they living as naturally and as “in harmony with Nature” as it is possible to conceive? And if they indeed were living “in harmony with Nature” then why weren’t their microbes “happy”? Why did entire villages get wiped out with some of these European diseases?

Well, I don’t know … BUT … here’s a paper which might shed some light on these questions …

Emerg Infect Dis. 2010 February; 16(2): 281–286.
doi: 10.3201/eid1602.090276
PMCID: PMC2957993
New Hypothesis for Cause of Epidemic among Native Americans, New England, 1616–1619
John S. Marr corresponding author and John T. Cathey

In the years before English settlers established the Plymouth colony (1616–1619), most Native Americans living on the southeastern coast of present-day Massachusetts died from a mysterious disease. Classic explanations have included yellow fever, smallpox, and plague. Chickenpox and trichinosis are among more recent proposals. We suggest an additional candidate: leptospirosis complicated by Weil syndrome. Rodent reservoirs from European ships infected indigenous reservoirs and contaminated land and fresh water. Local ecology and high-risk quotidian practices of the native population favored exposure and were not shared by Europeans. Reduction of the population may have been incremental, episodic, and continuous; local customs continuously exposed this population to hyperendemic leptospiral infection over months or years, and only a fraction survived. Previous proposals do not adequately account for signature signs (epistaxis, jaundice) and do not consider customs that may have been instrumental to the near annihilation of Native Americans, which facilitated successful colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area.


Rodent reservoirs contaminating land and water? High risk quotidian (daily) practices of the native population? Hmmm … Maybe some Native Americans were not so “in harmony with Nature” after all in some important ways. We may never know for sure, but this is an interesting question. At least to those of us trying to help get society back to “normal.”