Slow & Steady

The 2014 Project

We’re are so excited about any version of a normal rain year that we are doubling down on that hope. We are going to add greens to our native grass pastures. Yep, greens. As in turnip and mustard greens, kale, and collards. What’s the point? We love our native grasses, both for their beauty and history as well as for the different varieties’ ability to thrive in different, cold, dry or wet. Our thinking is this - why not take that even further back in time when grasses included what we now think of as vegetables? Kale, collards, turnip and mustard greens.

That thought led to another and caused us to expand our thinking when it comes to the soil conditioners, the legume plants. Our land has improved as we nurtured the spread of clovers. The clovers are legumes, known for their soil-enriching qualities as well as for their nutritional value. But they are fairly short-term in their season. We could extend that beneficial quality by adding the warm weather legumes - southern peas being the prime example. Peas, be they blackeyes, purple hulls or others, grow well into the summer and thereby extend the legumes in our pastures from early spring into mid-summer.

Then in the fall we will do it again with the greens and the peas being planted in late August to mid-September. Adding the greens in the late summer and early fall will give our livestock a richer pasture at a time when the native grasses tend to be poor. And the legume season will be extended from 3 months to seven or eight with the blackeyes and purple hulls.

How do we plant all of these grassy vegetables and legumes without plowing up the ground and disturbing the root system of the native grasses? With our new no-till seed drill. Here’s how it works. It has nine disks along the front row. The disks cut a narrow trench in the soil about 1/4 inch deep. Behind the disks are the seed drops. They drop the seed into the trench just opened by the disks. Behind the seed drops are the packers. They pack the seed into the trench and cover them with the dirt standing alongside the trench. The no-till drill allows us to plant among the native grasses without disturbing them.

Like everything in farming, the savings come down the line if it works as planned. But the potential is here for a win-win-win outcome. Better food for our livestock; improved, more prolific soils; and a reduced need for imported hay in the fall and winter. All of that translates to better food for you. There is a lot of upside potential in the 2014 Project. We believe in it.

You Don’t Have to be 100% Today

When it comes to how we eat, a Chinese proverb comes to mind. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” You will not get there today, but you’ll never get there until you take that first step in the right direction.

What’s my point? Too many of us are appropriately shocked by what our food system has become. The evidence of its failure is in our face daily. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimers, autism, asthma, allergies, lethargy. Pessimism is not in my nature, but goodness gracious, we do seem to be a sick-getting-sicker society. And it can’t be just the food we eat but also the air we breathe and the water we drink.

But the food we eat is definitively a part of the problem, perhaps the primary cause of our debilitation.  Don’t make that a reality that turns you into a radical that is afraid to eat anything, because radicalism usually ends in failure. It is just too hard to change a long-taught style all at once. Take it a step at a time.

Here is my personal experience. I have eaten our meats for a long time, and when we eat at home, which is most of the time, it is the only meat on our menu except when we have fresh-caught and wild fish. We also strive to include a balance of vegetables and fruit (less of the fruit because of our understanding that sugar, even natural sugar, has to be taken moderately). All of that should be as fresh and pure as possible.

But, and it is a big “but”, that doesn’t mean I forever avoid a Whataburger, or a pizza, or a Frito laden in Velveeta-based chili con queso, or, for that matter, the favorite local cuisine, Tex-Mex. I just don’t do it very often. These things are my approved diversions back to my gustatory past, excused because I feel that I am doing it the right way more often than not. And that’s a lot better than it used to be.

The result of taking it a step at a time? Over the last 5 years, I have moved my blood chemistry from bad to good, my cholesterol dropped 30% and this was accomplished without statins or other pharmaceuticals, a fact that shocks my doctor. Not possible according to current medical and dietary lore. But the good blood chemistry results were confirmed by a nuclear stress test that revealed no plaque anywhere in my system. None. And at age 63, I ride my bicycle regularly so that I stay in shape for the MS 150 ride from Houston to Austin. This April will mark my 15th year. (In the case of the bike, it is not one step but one pedal stroke at a time. Whew.)

So take it a step at a time. If you are reading this, you have started that journey. Keep going steadily, not radically. Divert, guilt-free, to old habits occasionally. It will keep you fresh but the after-effect will also remind you of why you changed your habits.

Like the tortoise who beat the hare, don’t exhaust yourself by trying to get there today. Let’s all meet at the thousand mile finish line — one step at a time.