Local “regenerative farmer” Joshua Nelson and his family from Nelson Family Farms, along with their team of local folks at “Farm House Naturals” are toiling away building a new food infrastructure, which isn’t so new, on their farm and leased farms near Ripley and in their store called “Farm House Naturals.” Headline after headline of the failing food infrastructure are starting to emerge in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and frankly, people are getting worried. One local farm team is working on the answer.
A first generation farmer/rancher, Nelson and his wife Brittany started out as hobby farmers about ten years ago. They started with a few chickens and goats, and now have well over one hundred chickens, dozens of pasture raised hogs at any time, and close to fifty head of cattle. They also raise pastured chicken and turkeys.
In 2017, Nelson, a pilot for the West Virginia Air Guard was flying a mission over North Syria when he decided to get serious about farming.
“I was watching the Kurds farm on their tractors in the middle of a war. There I was in the middle of flying a multi-million dollar aircraft and I was jealous of them” he said as he laughed. “Food travels for thousands of miles in the world we live in, and it’s not safe, and it’s wrong. Frankly, it’s a national security threat,” says Nelson as the 33-year-old farmer peered over his cattle as he moved them. At Nelson Family Farms, the cattle are what he calls “mob grazed” and moved daily. The idea is that the stock density per acre is increased to mimic how the buffalo used to roam across the country to build the soil. When Europeans first came to North America the organic soil content was upwards of 30-40 percent. Today, it rests around three-percent. Nelson claims his methods change this.
“For every one-percent organic matter that I can increase in our soil, it will hold 20,000 more gallons of water. This helps us in drought, and in floods. The grass grows at an exponentially increased rate, and that increases our bottom line. Grass makes beef,” Nelson said.
While some activists are claiming that cattle contribute to climate change, Nelson claims his cattle do quite the contrary and actually sequester carbon out of the atmosphere by keeping the grass in his pastures in what he called “the explosive growth phase.”
“Grass doesn’t grow at the same rate, just like people. It starts out slow and then just as humans hit a teenage phase, growth explodes. The goal is to keep the grass in this state as the cattle trim it off. This causes massive amounts of carbon to leave the atmosphere and go to the soil,” he said, as he moved one small line of electric wire.
His cattle are trained to stay in portable electric fencing.
“The animals live an amazing life and we don’t have to use medications and antibiotics and such all the time that conventional agriculture uses,” Nelson said, as he moved their “laying chicken tractor.”
The tractor sits on a trailer and is moved with an actual tractor behind the cows. He stated that the fly cycle is about three days. The chickens go behind the cows to eat the fly larvae out of the cow patties. This helps spread the manure which helps the fields, helps feed his chickens, and keeps the flies off the cows. Using this method, they do not have to use pour on insecticides. Nelson claims that those chemicals ultimately end up in the meat.
The methods aren’t so new actually. Before the industrial revolution, manure was used widespread as fertilize, but it actually became a problem for some cities. Article after article was published claiming that the cities had too many horses and would drown in horse manure. Life at that time literally revolved around mucking horse manure. Then along came Henry Ford and the automobile. People happily left the mundane task of cleaning horse manure for the mechanized car. With that, it stopped getting spread out in the fields and down went the organic matter. Fast forward to WW2, and along came an abundance of explosives.
It was then discovered that these explosives could be used as chemical fertilizer, and this was the birth of the modern agricultural methods. Minus a small circle of people, the USDA and everyone in agriculture accepted this new method. Until recently, regenerative agriculture was deemed “niche” and the phrase, “you cannot feed the world this way” was repeated over and over.
Nelson, vehemently disagrees.
“We absolutely can change the cycle if we commit to doing so. Food doesn’t have to be shipped all over the country, we just need more farmers, and local meat processors, and dairies,” Nelson said. “That’s our goal. Farm House Naturals carries local meats, food products, local soaps, and other things from your neighbors. Local farmers and artisans that you can look in the eye, know their name, and shake their hand. You know who your doctor is, which you need a few times a year, how come we don’t know who our farmers are?”
He’s got a point. Food plants are shutting down and supply chains are breaking. Americans are worried where their food comes from, and he’s providing a constant, steady solution. When asked about prices, he’s honest that they do cost a little more, within reason.
“In food you have two options, you can buy cheap food and pay the rest at the doctors office over a lifetime, or you can buy valuable food that is more nutritious,” he said. “You absolutely do get what you pay for. I encourage anyone to reach out to use, schedule a tour for a class after this crisis is over of the farm, etc. Come see the farm store. I promise you’ll notice an immediate difference in our methods and food quality. Our customers often refer to us as “their farm” or “their farmers. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a greater honor.”
To learn more about their farm or the store check them out on Facebook at facebook.com/Nelsonfamilyfarms.com, facebook.com/thefarmhousenaturals or their website at thefarmhousenaturals.com.