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The Old Versus the New

Publisher Tracy Patterson with her dog sitting in the desert resting up from a hike

Tracy Patterson

While at university obtaining my undergraduate degree in physical geography (similar to an ecology degree), soils classes were among my favorite. I loved learning about the layers of soil, the making of sub and topsoil, the relationship and the importance of soils to, well, pretty much everything else. Other classes in ecological land classification, vegetation, landforms, glaciology, climate, etc., etc., etc., along with years of working and playing outdoors, provided me with a pretty good knowledge of ecosystem processes.

After reading this month’s feature, “Beyond Factory Farming,” I watched One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts, one of the films listed in the resources at the end of the article. I was moved by this film on many levels; it stirred some old passions that I hadn’t acknowledged in years. It brought back some of what I learned in school and in life regarding soils and their integral role in the ecosystem and the sustainability of our planet.

The farmer in this film provides an example of how someone can make a difference, not only in his own practices but in the act of speaking up. It’s not easy to physically change the production on such a farm, or change the minds of farmers who have been engaged in the same practices for generations—practices that have provided them with an income for their families.

I think it’s important to understand that this is not someone speculating on what can be done—this is someone who took his “factory” farm and began the long, and sometimes painful, process of turning it into a productive and sustainable piece of land that supports animals, domestic and wild; his family; his employees; and, ultimately, his community.

This film is about how we need to work with the land, and not against it, to ensure a sustainable future. It’s a great example of how that works. The reality is that in some areas simply growing crops is not a reasonable approach to an ecosystem that requires so much more. The balance in nature is to have all the parts working together. How much we eat, what we eat, and how much we waste, that’s another topic.

And it’s hard to change old ways because farmers, like all of us, have to make a living. Many have left the farming business because they cannot make enough money to feed their families and have been pushed out by the big guys. And yet, films like this one make sense and give me hope that if more farmers move in this direction, we will at least be headed down the right path.y