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Sustainable Idaho: Sustainable Agriculture

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Last week, we talked with the state soil scientist, Shawn Nield, about what healthy soil means and how Idaho’s soil is fairing. This week, we’ll continue talking about soil, but with organic farmers Tim Cornie, co-owner of 1000 Springs Mill in Buhl, and Matthew Bowman of Bowman Farms in Pocatello.

We first asked Cornie about what sustainable farming means to him and how he engages in sustainable practices.

“We’re big on using cover crops, we planted kale and peas and volunteer wheat. Then we have two bands of sheep that intensively graze those crops. And we are seeing huge yield increases where we graze the sheep. It's cleaner, we have less weeds, and biologically it feeds the soil.”

So Cornie utilizes cover crops and integrates animals into the fields, just like we heard was recommended last week, by state soil scientist Shawn Nield. We asked Bowman the same question, and while his farm is a bit smaller than Cornie’s, he had a very similar answer.

“The sustainability is mostly in the soil itself, and that sustainability is based on how one interacts with soil, values the soil as a reservoir of minerals that are just sitting there waiting to be used. But they're not accessible until the soil is alive and the soil becomes alive simply by growing plants in it. Plants have interactions with soil then draw in microorganisms and insects and earthworms, so on so forth their whole life then they grow up, they die and decompose then form the topsoil in that process. Plants are always drawing from deeper in the soil and so over years, you're developing that topsoil. You really have a system that is self-sufficient and therefore sustainable.”

Bowman touched on the different organisms living within soil and how they contribute to overall soil health. Both the farmers we talked to are certified organic, which means they don’t use pesticides to kill insects, and Bowman stated that these organisms actually improve soil health. But is there a downside to this? We asked Cornie if not using pesticides leads to pest problems.

“I don't have any insect issues, and the reason is when you come in there and you hit your field with chemo and kill all the beneficial insects in the bad ones, what breeds back faster? The bad insects. So you took your balance and you made it worse. So it's always better to work with nature and let the bug on bug warfare do its thing.”

From the insects to the cover crops, it seems a common theme is keeping live organisms in the soil. Bowman explained that live and healthy microbes lead to live and healthy food, which leads to healthy people. On the subject of healthy people, Cornie described the trip abroad that inspired him to begin organic farming.

“If you go to Europe if it’s not healthy and if it's not chemical-free, then they're not going to buy it and eat it. So we are trailing behind Europe by 20 years. If you think about it you look at our country where the unhealthiest we've ever been. And what has changed over the course of time, it's our food. So we need to talk about live food, not bulk, cheap food. We need quality, clean, healthy food with biologically alive soil that feeds the seed because we put that seed in our bodies and we are what we eat.”

Cornie is referring to the fact that in Europe, sustainable agricultural practices are more commonplace. Additionally, in general, food needs to meet a higher quality standard in order to be exported to countries within the EU. A high ranking USDA official wrote, “the United States has focused on outcomes and asserts that science, translated through technology and product innovation, is the solution to the complex objectives of both production and production capability, whereas many in the EU have focused on inputs and believe that “less is more” regarding technology and that natural systems are sufficient to achieve production, preserve nature, and sustain the environment.” But, we digress.

That has given us insight into large scale aspects of sustainable farming, but what does sustainable farming look like in Pocatello? Bowman tells us,

“I am one of maybe two or three organic producers in this community, and they're all pretty small operations, I'm the biggest that 2 1/2 acres. Maybe I have 250 people a week who get their produce from me in a town of 55,000 people. If there was more investment, if people were responding to that on a weekly basis, and that 250 went to 500 and then to 1000 and then 3000, then when somebody invests in this little farm when they pay that premium for produce then they are investing in the potential for a community of organic produce. A local food culture based on quality produce, on stuff that encourages healthy living. That's pretty amazing if you could say that my dollar is going to build a community with farmers growing food that brings health to a huge amount of people. My own Farm is growing, every year I plant a little more and hopefully, that means other people can see that example and use it for themselves and do the same thing. When I'm feeding 250 people out of 55,000 people, there’s no hesitation to have competition. The more competition there is the more we can all benefit.”

There’s definitely room for organic farming growth in Pocatello and Idaho. We can each support local, sustainable farms and invest in a healthier future for ourselves and the planet.

To learn more about 1000 Springs Mill, you can visit their website at 1000springsmill.com and to support Bowman Farms, you can visit their facebook page for their location and business hours.

Join Katie next week as she transitions into a discussion on food.

Sources and More Information:

https://www.focusforhealth.org/the-american-food-supply-not-fit-for-european-consumption/

USDA Official’s Statement:

https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/csan.20373

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Katie Kelshaw is a graduate of Boise State University with a Masters of Arts in Political Science where she has since taught as an adjunct professor. She is born and raised in Pocatello, where her family are farmers and business owners. Katie is an active member in an advocacy organization called Action Corps Idaho, where she helps run campaigns around Climate Justice and a Global COVID Response.
Ailie Maclean was born and raised in Alaska but moved to Kimberly, Idaho right before high school. Ailie is an undergraduate Political Science and Global Studies major at ISU. She is going into her last year at ISU as Vice President of Idaho State’s student government, ASISU, and has served as an Honors Program Mentor, Communications Envoy, and ASISU Supreme Court Justice in past years. In her free time she enjoys reading, longboarding, hiking, watching anime, and swimming in unique places (Silfra in Iceland for example). Ailie plans on studying environmental, or some variation of international law, after taking a gap year to travel and work abroad.