I just moved to the Chicagoland area. Could anyone recommend how I might go about finding volunteer opportunities in regenerative agriculture? Anything from farm grunt work to food distribution.
Recently, I drove through the country’s vast middle with my brother. As we passed from Northeast to Midwest to Great Plains, I had the opportunity to look at a lot of farmland and think about what the patterns meant. One clear takeaway: plants and animals are more segregated on the landscape now than I can ever remember. Small and mid-sized crop-livestock operations have largely been replaced by great expanses of grain monocultures. Driving through the evening from Nebraska towards Denver on I-76, we encountered the missing animals, mostly by nose since it was too dark to see. Each time, it would begin with a slight tang in the air that quickly grew harsh, followed by three miles of an unbearable stench of ammonia, cadaverine, putrescine and the other awful volatile organic compounds that gas-off from industrial feedlots ( a ‘long smell’, my son called this long ago as a toddler). This happened six times over the space of 100 miles, leaving our breathing ragged and labored. It occurred to me that as unpleasant as it was for us to breathe that air, still rank miles from the feedlot, it is immeasurably worse for the animals living mired in their waste, gasping in the miasma. At a recent IDEA Farm Network meeting, I shared this experience with an integrated crop-livestock producer who responded, ‘Life on a feedlot is a race to finish the animal before it dies from the conditions…’ The dislocation of crop and livestock production isn’t good for the animals, isn’t good for the land and isn’t good for farmers (see https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047149 for experimental evidence on the economic, production and environmental benefits of crop-livestock integration in a diversified production system). So, why is this system so embedded in our food economy? What are the structural obstacles to reuniting crop and livestock production? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and examples in your replies.