The time is ripe for a new direction
Dean Gray has found a novel way to make a buck: turning manure into money. He’s beating out the pricey, synthetic fertilizers with old-fashioned cow manure. Gray ran a classified ad last month marketing a large pile of last winter’s waste and has gotten a swift response. We arrived Sunday afternoon at Gray’s small farm in East Lancaster and were enthusiastically greeted by his sociable dog. As we soon learned, Dean Gray loves at least two things — animals and telling stories, and if you get him talking about animals you’re bound to be there for a while. Finally, we get around to the manure, and I place my order: “the $10 load.” He tells me, I’ll have to come back. I wonder if he’s run out, and how long it will it take for his cows to produce more. He fills the pause with, “can’t fit it all in that truck.” Wow, what a deal, I think. “The $5 load will do.” His tractor drops one, and then two loads into the bed of my truck. It’s heaping full, and I wonder if my 22-year-old truck will make it home. Gray may be on the verge of something big: changing the way we eat. The poor economy, skyrocketing food and petroleum prices seem to getting people down - into the dirt, that is. Vegetable gardens are making a comeback. Local garden supply retailers report that seed sales are booming. Getting back to basics may be a silver lining in this perfect storm of bad economic news. While the motivation may be financial, the benefits could be societal, and just what we need. For more than 100 years, conventional public policy has encouraged and supported the centralization and industrialization of agriculture through price supports, construction of a national highway system, and a one-size-fits-all health inspection process that is committed to technology rather than hygiene. Factory farms’ affection for efficiency has resulted in cheap food that is, at its best, unhealthy and, at its worst, deadly. Don’t count on the quality to go up with the price. The only thing we can count on is our own response to the situation. Sometimes a kick in the pants leads to a step in the right direction. By taking responsibility for some of our food supply, we will take an important step toward lasting self-sufficiency and independence; creating sound minds through hard physical work, better health, sustainable communities and a cleaner planet. Like the manure, the opportunities are ripe, but we must get to work, so we can enjoy the sweet smell of success come harvest time. Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield teaches social studies at White Mountains Regional High School and assists in his family restaurant, the Woodburn House.