What is ‘regenerative’ farming? Simply put, it is farming that heals the land, treats all living beings with respect and care, and supports healthy vibrant communities from the soil up. It is the opposite end of the spectrum from industrialized, ‘extractive’ agriculture that continually taxes the soil and requires constant inputs to sustain itself. It is also not the same thing as ‘organic’ agriculture. Where as ‘organic farming’ is defined largely by what it is not (it’s not full of chemicals, it’s not genetically modified, etc.), regenerative agriculture defies any specific definitions, mostly because what may be healthy for the soil on one farm is not going to be good for the soil on another farm. We do not give any growth hormones to our pigs, and only administer medication on the very rare occasions that an animal becomes extremely ill and needs medicine to survive. We do not cut off our pigs tails or file down their teeth, and ensure that they are always able to root, run, wallow and play.
We like to joke that we are actually dirt farmers and the pigs are our army of minions, because what we are doing is taking urban and industrial waste, along with local wood waste, and turning it into living soil. Your average hog farm has one main input (corn/soy based commercial feed), and two main outputs (corn and soy dressed as pork, and carbon/methane into the atmosphere ). Every week we collect thousands (and some times tens of thousands) of pounds of commercial and industrial food waste or bi-product and feed it to our pigs. Our primary sources are breweries (malted barley, high in protein), whole sale grocers (pallets of fresh produce: salad, fruit, vegetables, milk, herbs, and insane amounts of bread), a local flower mill (wheat bran, which is the nutrient protein dense outer hull of wheat that gets removed to make the flower white), distilleries (local corn, cooked, fermented and distilled; yes there is still alcohol in it, and yes it is absolutely hilarious to get a bunch of pigs drunk; also helps with internal parasite control), and most importantly Road runner food bank. Our partnership with Road Runner (which serves as the distribution center for most of the food banks in the state) has grown over the last year to the point that we are routinely diverting over 25,000 lbs per week from the landfill from that facility alone.
We dump the food waste onto a bed of wood mulch inside the pens and allow the pigs to consume most of the food while stomping some into the wood mulch, which also helps absorb much of the moisture. We continue layering carbon rich materials and food waste until we have a mass of well mixed, moist bedding to harvest and pile in windrows. Currently we are turning our piles to aerate them, then allowing them to cure and spreading them in the orchard and on our pastures. For a host of reasons we are looking to move towards vermicomposting. We’re going to be worm ranchers before you know it!
Our ducks and chickens are given free range of the barn yard to help keep things clean and tidy and to keep the fly populations under control in the summer. Our small herd of cattle we move through the pastures, mostly during the winter months, while also supplying them with unlimited access to brewers grain for additional protein and putting hay bales out on the bare patches in the pastures to cover the ground and encourage more vegetation. We use portable electrical fencing to concentrate the animals on small sections for a few days at a time, and try to ensure that no piece gets grazed for more than a few days per year.