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September 28, 2012


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Dan Colby

Grain is an input. Why have you not included that in these numbers? I understand it adds to fertility, but your point is undermined and possibly moot by it's omission. How do caloric input and financials work with grain in the equation. That is the important question to me as a farmer.

Rebecca Thistlethwaite

Greg- When part of the land was flooded (~13 of the 20 acres) we moved them to the upper portion of the field (~7 acres). Because it was a smaller area, we would add a bunch of cheap hay that we baled off the lower field on occasion in order to reduce the animal impact for those months. As for eating, I mentioned it above in the article.
Orna- you asked some good questions. I am not sure how to calculate all the energy that went into the fertilizers and I don't even know where they come from. As for the feed, I mentioned we used mostly waste feeds for the chickens & pigs while the cattle just ate grass. Probably 20% of the pig/chicken diet did come from formulated organic feed and I did not put that into my calculation due to the difficulty in doing a life cycle analysis on each ingredient in the feed. But you are right- feed does act as fertilizer if it passes through the animal. The chickens would make use of much of the undigested feed coming out of the pigs, and vice versa!
As for water, I don't include any post harvest handling for either the berries nor the animal products. The strawberries have considerable energy use in the post-harvest (forced air cooling, cooling, transport, retail cooling, etc.) and the animal products have water use at the slaughter. I did not quantify either in this analysis because I don't have access to that info. But you are right- they add up. But having watched and participated in the slaughter & butcher process with our animals, I did not see that much water use. Perhaps the clean up of the buildings & equipment at the end of the day is where most of the water gets used?

I feel that animals really have a place in human nutrition, especially on marginal lands. Goats are used world-round to turn dry scrublands into protein, for instance. Chickens can turn unpalatable insects and weeds into high quality protein as well. Pigs can take a spring or summer surplus and turn it into food for the winter. Humans need protein and I feel that grass-fed grazers/browsers or pasture-raised chickens and pigs are in many cases a more efficient way to get it than vegetable crops, especially if one is using land that is not suitable for crops to raise those animals!

Orna Izakson, ND

Very well done! I agree with everything here in principle, but have a few clarifying questions.

First, re. fertilizers: It would be great to see the actual energy inputs for the bone meal, fish meal, etc., at some point. Do you know if anyone's done all that math? Because it seems very significant to me that this invisible piece is missing from the critics' calculations. By the same token, it seems to me that the true comparison here is not so much what's put onto the land, but what food is needed for the final output (strawberries vs. meat). So I think it would make sense to calculate in the grain you fed the chickens and pigs; it's functionally the same as the bone meal in that it provided building blocks.

Second, water: I've always heard (though never quantified) that most of the water used in livestock production is related to slaughter/butchering. Whether or not that's precisely true, if water is a significant factor in prepping animals for market that should get figured in somewhere. Similarly, if there are significant energy expenditures involved beyond the growing, I'd love to see those figured in.

Thanks again for your good work. If you have time to address these questions I believe the numbers will continue to strengthen your argument.


Where do you put the animals while the land is flooded? What do they eat?

Kim Williams

Thank you for crunching those figures and making a fact-based comparison. As you essentially said, the more voices that say it, the sooner it becomes part of the public psyche.

Jackie @Auburn Meadow Farm

Really great article Rebecca. So true, I wish people would stop judging and categorizing everything as if black and white existed- that's really starting to annoy me, lol.

And, when judging farming, you do reach a point where book smarts only goes so far. I take with a grain of salt any dictates about what the world should eat from someone who hasn't tried to grow their own food.

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