Preserving the Environment

Why Are Only 1 Percent of Farms Using This Eco-Friendly Practice?

October 19, 2015
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Why Are Only 1 Percent of Farms Using This Eco-Friendly Practice?
Kiko, Boer, and Myotonic goats at ForeverView Farms. Courtesy of ForeverView Farms
Silvopasture is the environmentally-conscious way to farm that no one's heard of.

On a 30-acre orchard in Lovingston, Va., an experiment in Edenic coexistence is taking place: where commercially grown (and chemically sprayed) apples once grew, a herd of 120 goats now wanders between rows of trees, chomping on weeds, thistles and fallen Ginger Gold, Gala and Fuji apples.

Known as silvopasture — the symbiotic integration of livestock and trees — ForeverView Farms’ model prizes “regenerative farm management,” which Brett Nadrich, the farm’s director of business operations, defines as “leaving the soil and ecosystem better than we found them.” Ending pesticide use and providing locally raised meat free of growth hormone and antibiotics, this practice is sustainability taken to the extreme. And there’s the additional environmental benefits of protecting the soil from erosion, boosting water quality and ensuring biodiversity, as well.

“We’re taking our first harvest to market in the next few weeks. This is an active process for us. Part of generating consumer demand is raising awareness about the challenges we face and grounding those challenges in local ecosystems, local culture and the local economy,” Nadrich tells NationSwell.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 179 million acres of land are primed for silvopasture like ForeverView’s model, but between 2008 and 2012, the federal agency assisted in preparing only 2,000 acres. In total, according to the last agricultural census, only 2,725 farms (out of 2.1 million nationwide) graze livestock under forested areas or employ alley cropping, another environmentally-friendly practice, which involves planting crops and trees side-by-side on the same land.

Why have so few American farmers signed up for this forward-thinking style of farming? For one, most probably haven’t heard of agroforestry or silvopasture’s benefits for grazers like cows and sheep and browsers like goats. ForeverView Farms is using its proximity to Washington, D.C., to boost the farm’s exposure and people’s knowledge of sustainable agriculture. Nadrich can count off 10 food policy issues on which he has advised policy groups about. Foremost among them, he wants to see more support for workforce development to inspire young people to join agriculture and train them to be successful. He references George Atlee Goodling, ForeverView’s director of farm operations, who’s lived in Nelson County his entire life. “Atlee has a passion for farming, but without the founding of ForeverView Farms…, there wouldn’t necessarily be this type of job available,” Nadrich says. “If we want folks to have access to this type of high-quality food, we need to create jobs for the people who raise it.”

Nadrich, who works in the district, says he’s advocating his positions to policymakers, as well as to chefs to serve the farm’s goat meat and duck eggs. One of the most common refrains he hears is, “I didn’t know you could eat goat.” But once the conversation moves beyond that point and he’s able to explain ForeverView Farms’ overarching mission, customers are usually eager to offer their support.

“The general public has a lot of the same questions about broader benefits: ‘Why should we be interested in your product as opposed to some other goat meat or duck egg?’” they ask him. “It’s a broader environmental and nutritional benefit,” he says. “Allowing our goats to browse rather than having them cooped up allows the animals themselves to be healthier. That not only produces an end product that is healthier for the human consumer, but also more delicious.”

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