Soil Farmers: How A Renewed Focus On The Land Is Building More Resilient Farms

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Author: Brian Kaufenberg | Published: June 26, 2018

Peter Allen wants to bury a fence.

Tucked within the rolling landscape of the driftless region, on a farm outside of Viola, Wisconsin, a barbed wire fence runs along the spine of a ridge separating a strip of pasture from the valley below. The noticeable three-foot drop between the fence and the field is the result of years of soil washing away while the field was being used as conventional cropland.

“When we got here, this soil was in really bad shape; it hardly grew anything and there was no topsoil left, it was all just sand subsoil,” Peter Allen recalls in a January 2018 episode of the television show “Outdoor Wisconsin.” “So we immediately brought the animals in, […] planted about 30 different species of native prairie grasses and flowers and then a bunch of trees in rows, and then we ran chickens here behind them. And now, just two years later, this is some of the best forage we have on the farm, right where we ran the chickens through.”

As Allen’s animals—cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens—graze the forage, they return nutrients and organic matter to the land, slowly rebuilding what’s been lost—adding between a quarter of an inch to an inch of soil per year, he says, and slowly restoring the savannah ecosystem once native to the area, a mix of trees and prairie. The livestock are key to this process, providing the cornerstone to a farming system that now yields perennial fruits and nuts, annual crops like corn, and pastured beef, pork, and chicken.

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