The very definition of the verb (to) coexist is to exist together or at the same time; also to live in peace with each other especially as a matter of policy. Our local food system coexists next to the dominant industrialized food production system in part as a matter of policy. This becomes especially apparent as I pass traditional livestock farm land, some of which has been foreclosed on or is for sale, on my way to Darby Farms in Good Hope, Georgia. The weather is beautiful, with temperatures again in the upper 60s. I couldn’t have wished for a better day. In the driveway, I am greeted by a couple of chickens and a curious black cat. Daniel Dover, owner and operator of Darby Farms is close to follow.
The farm is in its last weeks of off-season with preparations taking place for the 9 month on-cycle starting at the end of February/ beginning of March, Daniel Dover explains. He uses the three months off to adapt his malleable farming system and also to switch into a different mode. “Everything has its season”, Daniel tells me,” pastured poultry has its season really at the beginning of March.” The months prior, the weather is simply too crazy for laying hens. The fluctuations of temperatures and conditions stress them out. They tend to eat more without gaining much weight.
A lot of people may mistake farming for a constant overload of strenuous work. Darby Farms does run on a management intensive farming system but with more flexibility and a less rigid approach. He moves animals, trailers, fencing, composts you name it all for good reason, to not cause environmental damage and to diversify the land. Rotation of different species on the land is much like rotating different crops. Diversification simply helps keep the land fertile. Whereas, conventional farmers work day in and day out because they don’t feel like they have any other choice, locked in by loans for up to 30 years in some cases. Some commercial farmers have committed suicide due to the industrial farming standards, loan entrapment, or upgrades demanded by for instance the poultry industry that will cost them their contracts if avoided. Others bulldoze down their farms and sell off the scrap metal, once the loans have been repaid. Daniel Dover fittingly describes it as a system of indentured servitude; not a system anyone wants to particularly participate in but farmers just don’t know any other way to run their farms. Ironically most of these industrial farmers can’t make enough money farming, forcing them to go into construction or other fields to make up the difference. In short, it doesn’t make any sense.
Daniel says, his farming style is more productive per acre than any industrial farm, due to him running multiple species over the same amount of land. Rather than focusing on efficiency and regarding human costs, including health insurance, as an adjustable variable, Daniel Dover doesn’t regard anything on his farm as a single use but multiple use application. He intentionally goes below market demand to ensure that he doesn’t sit on stock pile of goods in his freezers. Big AG. on the other hand constantly over produces , forcing them to go into other markets, shipping meat goods to China inevitably clouding the real cost of making meat.
A fellow farmer stops by during my visit. He raises next to chickens also cubbies of quail, hardly ever seen in the wild anymore, especially not as a cubby. The two farmers’ exchange of ideas and resourceful approaches seem to amplify once they start talking. I hope to come back to visit the cubby of quail and learn more about the species and its farmer. At this point a few of my previous conceived notions have been thrown out of the window. The farm including deep litter compost, meat compost, the animals and ground they live on smell earthy and natural to me. Farming seems ultimately rewarding, joyful and connected to the land, animals and people, keeping one intellectually engaged by having to find solutions and adaptability to problems that are sure to arise.
At the end I post the question “If you could envision anything for the future of the American Food System, what would that look like?” Daniel Dover swiftly replies: “Decentralization, spreading out the food system into the regions & the regions feeding themselves, not only would that create a greater more robust economy, we would have traceability on food borne illnesses.”
On my way back to Atlanta countless of semi-trucks are passing me by. I am too quickly reminded of the more powerful agricultural industry. The only difference is now I know there is room for other farming methods to not just make a viable living with but that enrich our bodies and communities – that coexist.