Recipe for the American Dream

A Vision for the Future of American Agriculture

Agriculture precedes culture. While this might seem like a ludicrous claim to the detached modern bugman, it would have been uncontroversial to any of our more agriculturally-connected ancestors. What we grow, and how we grow it, undergirds the national ontology, directly impacting how we live and interact with one another. If our project is to make American culture and life enviable again, then we are going to have to start by manifesting it in agricultural form. What I will lay out in this essay is one idea of how we might go about it — in the form of a recipe for protein-rich, post-workout health food ice cream made of only three ingredients. This idea could be exchanged for others, but its underlying principles are non-negotiable. These are, among others, that agriculture must be the art of stewardship, not the practice of extraction. That it should be motivated by a sense of national pride in the peerlessness of our soils and our products, rather than by profit-seeking. And that we should maximize and cherish the freely given gifts of God, namely sunshine and rainwater, rather than compensating for their wastage with artificial means, sold to us at inflated prices by entities that only value America and its people as a parasite value its host.

1. Raw duck eggs

The limiting factor in any agricultural system is water. Currently, American agriculture derives its water from three sources: 1) rainfall, 2) aquifers, 3) dammed rivers. A source of joy to our enemies, however, is the fact that most American soil is not capable of infiltrating much more than a half-inch of water per hour. This is because we have tilled, over/undergrazed and compacted our soils into oblivion, depriving them of their natural porosity and burning off the organic matter that binds water (and other essential nutrients) on a molecular level. As droughts become more severe, aquifers become more depleted, and soils become less capable of holding even small amounts of water before it evaporates.

This is why there should be government funding and other incentives to hasten the building of earthen dam ponds in every non-riparian valley in North America. This simply means that every natural depression in the land that does not have a river in it should have a pond built in it. The purpose of these ponds is to ‘harvest rainfall and snowmelt’, as to not allow a single raindrop to exit the landscape until we decide it does. They will be equipped with simple, non-electric plumbing systems that will be capable of gravity feeding water downhill year-round in order to irrigate land, water livestock, and for other agricultural uses. Before the French came along there used to be 400 million beavers in North America. There were so many that something like 10% of the continent was submerged under freshwater (not including the Great Lakes) because of the beavers’ dam-building proclivity.

The limiting factor of most of the world’s land, and certainly most (if not all) of North America, is not that there is not enough rainfall, but that what rain does fall comes all at once during short rainy seasons, leaving the land parched for the rest of the year. The first step of increasing the viability of any agricultural system is to devise a way to spread rainfall out across time. The quickest way on a national scale would be by undertaking a New Deal-level effort to build earthen dam ponds all over this continent, so that we can control the water, rather than squandering it to gravity.

These ponds do not need to be merely infrastructural; they can be made to produce tangible products themselves. Because their water levels will fluctuate as the water is put to various uses, the viability of aquaculture (fish farming) is limited — at least to begin with. But fish are not the only species that thrive in aquatic environments. What about waterfowl? Ducks are capable of sustaining themselves completely off of what is provided in a pond environment. They use their long bills to burrow in the mud banks for delicious treats, and cutely flip upside down to fish for underwater prey. They feed on the grass on the pond berm and the slugs parasitizing the willow roots. And, most importantly, they produce eggs. These eggs can be laid in floating duck houses, opened and collected from every morning at 10 am. Dark orange-yolked eggs are the first ingredient in our delicious ice-creams.

2. 100% Grass-fed raw unseparated 5% butterfat milk

The first challenge of all agriculture is water management. The fundamental difficulty of water management on most of the world’s land is twofold: 1) frequency of rainfall; 2) effectiveness of rainfall. The above pond idea would address the frequency question. Even if all of a given year’s precipitation comes during a short window of only a few weeks, the ponds enable us to stretch the water resource across time. With that done, we must find a way to stretch the water resource across space. How can we make it go down, into the soil, and stay there?

This is the question of rainfall effectiveness. Effective rainfall is simply rainwater that is absorbed into plants before it evaporates or runs off the land. Much of America’s rangeland has been treated so poorly that even if we used our newly-built irrigation ponds to provide that much-needed moisture during the dry seasons, most of it would evaporate in the sun, or, if we were to flood irrigate, would run off as soon as the soil’s water infiltration capacity was overwhelmed.

The reason that the soils are poor is that the land is ‘undergrazed and overgrazed’, at the same time. This is possible because, as you have surely noticed if you have driven past a cattle ranch or farm, most cows and other herbivores are put out to one, giant pasture for most if not all of an entire growing season. Under this management, the cattle become ‘selective’ in their diet, meaning they eat only more desirable plant species, leaving less tasty plants undergrazed, and allowed to go to seed. Furthermore, they tend to congregate in specific areas at night and at the peak of the day, concentrating their manure and urine in one area, leaving the rest of the pasture relatively under fertilized. Over time, this leads to the overgrazing and elimination of the desirable species (deep-rooted, perennial grasses; nitrogen-fixing legumes like red and white clover) and the promotion of weedier species that the cattle find relatively undesirable (usually broadleaf forbs like dandelions and thistles).

The way to reverse this selectivity is to use simple technology like electric fencing to keep the cattle herded in a tight mob, and constantly moving. This alters the cattle’s grazing behavior. The presence of their fellow bovines instills a spirit of competition for food that makes them ‘non-selective’, meaning that they will eat whatever is in front of them (as long as it is not poisonous to them), rather than only the plants they prefer. This is better for the animals: just as we humans benefit from a diverse range of foods, so too is the health of herbivores bolstered by a diet containing a broad selection of plants. Even more important, under this system every square foot of the land under management is subject to an equal amount of ‘animal impact’. Simply by moving the animals frequently, we ensure an equal distribution of urine and manure over the landscape. But this is not all: the hoof impact, especially of larger livestock like cattle, stimulates the germination of dormant seeds and creates ‘micro-ponds’ where water is slowed and prevented from running downslope. And most importantly, this allows most of the land to rest, most of the time.

What does this have to do with effective rainfall? Two factors influence the effectiveness of rainfall. The first is soil cover: is there plant matter on the ground, protecting the soil from the evaporating effects of sunlight and wind? The second is soil water infiltration: how many inches of water can the soil absorb in a given amount of time before the water begins to run off as erosion? The grazing I have described addresses the first question by increasing plant matter through the stimulus of animal impact and the beneficial effect that short, intensive grazing intervals (followed by long periods of regrowth and recovery) have on grasslands. The second question is itself a product of the soil’s carbon content and compaction. Logically, compacted soils infiltrate less water because they are closer in nature to concrete than to living soil. The soil’s carbon (or organic matter) content is significant because it is carbon-based soil compounds, such as humic acid, that bind water and other nutrients on the molecular level. Think of these compounds as little hotels for water molecules: the more of them there are, the more water a given square foot of soil can absorb.

In nature, the deepest, richest soils are built under grasslands. This is because of a crucial concept of which most people are unaware: bilateral symmetry in grass growth. This is the simple phenomenon of grass species’ desire to maintain a specific proportion of root growth to leaf growth. What this means is that when the leaf growth is pruned off, a proportionate amount of roots are allowed to die. These carbon-rich, sugary roots are then broken down into soil by the billions of microorganisms that live underground. So if we allow grasses a long period in which to grow tall, and then graze, trample and excrete upon them intensively for a brief period with livestock, we are actually building soil while producing an agricultural yield. This is as opposed to depleting the soil with every spring tillage and every fall harvest, as our current system does. This could be happening all across the North American continent, as it once did with buffalo, herded and moved by wolves and human predators, building the same soils that the American agricultural system now squanders and erodes each year.

3. Raw, untreated honey

Through managed grazing and rainwater-harvesting ponds, the nation’s pasture productivity will increase dramatically. In these pastures will be flowering plants, red and white clover in particular. By integrating ducks and herbivores into this system, we convert this grass and this water into edible yields. But grass and aquatic habitat are not the only abundant raw materials that we can transform through the orchestration of biological systems. Another is the nectar of flowers.

We’ve all heard that bees are dying, and it’s true, but only because we are killing them by destroying nectaries and spraying the land with omnicidal agrochemicals. (Interestingly, recent studies have also shown that the systematic removal of woody debris from national park lands – done at the behest of the timber industry, in order to relieve fungal pressure on harvestable timber stands – has contributed to bee decline, because bees harvest antiviral compounds from fungal exudates. Less woody debris, fewer mushrooms, more bee problems.) The system I have laid out would alleviate the stresses on bees and other pollinators because its underlying pattern does not involve the annihilation of all living things in a given area in order to superimpose a genetically-engineered techno-system where biological life once flourished.

There is less to say about the bees because they are one of the few remaining examples of beautiful partnership that can be developed between man and nature, in which man contracts with another creature to provide him with food or other benefits, in exchange for loving care and reasonable stewardship. This sort of relationship is mediated by Divine Mystery, because the bees will always be privy to sacred knowledge to which the beekeeper will never have access: that is, the knowledge of honeymaking. The same is true of the cow, who possesses the knowledge of the tastiness of grass. And also the duck, who somehow knows where to burrow for underground delicacies. When man embraces and humbles himself before these mysteries, in concert with human reason and appropriate technology, abundance will follow.

I have a dream

I understand these changes will be difficult to implement; many psychological and physical obstacles must be overcome. Ally farmers will need to be persuaded, and the bureaucratic bugmen who occupy crucial spaces both public and private will need to be (non-violently) vanquished. The energy required to overcome these barriers can only be derived from an inspiring vision of the future.

Personally, I envision small teams of ten to twenty cowboys, ages sixteen to thirty, roughly one man to every hundred head, incorporated as partners in a limited liability corporation, renting or leasing grazing rights from landowners, managing the cows as I have described above. They would live full-time with the herds, together in the bush with their horses. The daily moves only take twenty to thirty minutes per day, so, when not managing the cattle, they should be squatting trees and deadlifting large stones, practicing horsemanship, riflery, and hand-to-hand combat. Once or twice per day, the milkmaids will drive out to the field with their mobile milking parlors, and much flirtation and affection will be exchanged during the milking. When through, they will bring the milk back to the small-scale processing facilities where they will make butter, yogurt, cheese, whipped cream, kefir, and, most importantly, ice cream.

As for the beehives, they should be managed by a newly consecrated order of pre-schismatic, green-robed Christian monks. Among their other responsibilities will be to provide the Sacraments to the cowboys, and to adjudicate and maintain the rural peace, as there is sure to be rivalries between the various teams in a given watershed. After the annual honey harvest, it will be stored in the aforementioned ice cream-making facilities.

This is just my plan and recipe, though. Perhaps a wealthy benefactor of our movement will consider purchasing ten thousand acres of scrubby Wyoming foothills for me to manage Club Rocky Mountain Excellent Ranch. Or perhaps I’ll be left to bootstrap it. Our movement has already intuited and recognized the ironclad link between diet and agriculture, and the health of the individual so much as that of the nation. A healthy agricultural system is rooted in nature but blossoms in culture: it produces healthy food to feed a healthy people, which populates a healthy nation. Agriculture precedes culture because it fuels people. We must coalesce not simply around a set of principles, but around a shared vision predicated on those principles. My vision just happens to involve a lot of ice cream.

William Wheelwright is a writer and an American farmer.

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