Sustainable farming innovations
Would a cow be the first image to pop into your mind when you think of sustainable farming? Not likely. But what if that cow wasn’t the normal feedlot cow and instead represented the grassland cattle that are raised by ranchers like Cory Carman from Carman Ranch?
“First and foremost, we raise very healthy grasslands,” said Carman at last week’s Solutions Seminar, the final in the spring series.
On the ranch, Carman has restored fields that for years had been doused in chemical fertilizers and eroded by excessive plowing—staples of conventional U.S. agriculture. After earning a degree from Stanford and working on Capitol Hill, she returned to save her family ranch in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. To do that, she realized she needed to save the land.
The family now raises cattle solely on pasture, has eliminated the use of chemical fertilizers, and has planted deep-rooted grasses that pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil.
Cory Carman has restored native pastureland on her family ranch. Photo: flickr/Steven Jackson.
The changes she’s made on the family ranch have paid off environmentally and economically. She works directly with customers who purchase a quarter or half of a cow at a time. Alliances with local chefs have also boosted the ranch’s wholesale market, and have been key in educating the public about the health and environmental benefits of sustainable ranching.
“We work with consumers and buyers—mostly in Portland—who believe in what we do,” said Carman, “All of the market we’ve built has been driven by consumers.”
Carman Ranch was the first Oregon ranch to earn the comprehensive grassfed beef certification from the Food Alliance. Fittingly, Carman was joined on the seminar panel by Emily Hall from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis, Oregon, which was the first farm to ever be certified sustainable by the Food Alliance.
Like Carman Ranch, Stahlbush is family owned and operated. But with 5,000 acres to plant and harvest, they need a few helping hands. The Food Alliance certification requires farm operators to meet standards not only for sustainable growing but also for safe and fare working conditions, ensuring that farmers treat their employees with as much respect as they treat the land.
Stahlbush has also installed a biogas plant on the farm, which converts food waste like corn cobs and husks into electricity and heat. The plant produces enough energy to power the farm as well as approximately 1,100 homes a year.
“Sustainability is a lifestyle, it’s a journey,” Hall said.
The third panelist was Allison Hensey, who leads efforts at the Oregon Environmental Council to bring sustainable, Oregon-grown food to our tables. Though she doesn’t work on a farm, Hensey works alongside growers to help them test sustainability practices while continuing to make a profit.
“If it doesn’t make business sense, then we won’t be able to make a sustainable food system,” Hensey said.