Using organic and permaculture methods to create an edible landscape, we produce healthy foods (eggs, meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts) for ourselves, our families, and our community. We strive for ever-increasing levels of self-reliance, resilience, and sustainability. Our ultimate goal, as good stewards of the land, is to increase the quality, fertility, productivity, and biodiversity of the land for future generations.
In 2012, my life came full-circle when day-old chicks arrived on Glass Horse Farm. Many years ago, when I was an undergrad at Virginia Tech, agriculture had been my area of study. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Animal Science — an education that was deeply steeped in the industrial model of raising crops and livestock.
Somewhere along the line I got off-track and wound up in medicine, where I practiced Ob/Gyn for nineteen years. I was privileged to experience things that most never will: I was the first person to hold new life entering this world; and I was able to snatch lives from the jaws of death. But the multitude of stresses inherent in today's medical system festered below the surface. Before the stress irreparably affected my health, I chose to walk away.
When I got off the treadmill, my mind quieted enough to actually think about life instead of just trying to make it through each day. I read voraciously and began to understand the complete unsustainability of our nation’s Industrial Agriculture model:
Fossil fuels are used in every step of production — a significant contributor to climate change
Industrial Agriculture is causing topsoil to erode much faster than the rate it can be regenerated — no soil, no plants
Runoff of petroleum-based fertilizers has caused an enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico
And don’t get me started on GMOs, herbicides, and pesticides!
Then I started learning about farming methods that go beyond organic and sustainable — practices that are regenerative. Permaculture and Holistic Management build topsoil at an accelerated rate and sequester CO2 in healthy, living soils. These are the methods we use on our farm.
Permaculture means Permanent Agriculture that revolves around fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and perennial vegetable crops. It also incorporates livestock for mowing, trampling vegetation (which is key to building soil), and fertilizing.
The livestock are rotationally grazed (usually moved to a new paddock on a daily basis — mimicking a herd being contained and pushed by predators in the wild), which spreads their manure effectively and prevents overgrazing. It also makes for happy animals that are outdoors, on grass, expressing their inherent behaviors.
In permaculture, we strive to maximize the usefulness of each chosen entity on the farm. For example, trees are planted in the pasture instead of isolated in an orchard, so they will provide shade for grazing animals in the heat of summer. They are planted North and West of the home and barn to provide a wind-block. The trees also provide a crop of fruit and nuts.
In addition to providing eggs, our chickens sanitize the pasture by eating parasites that would infest livestock. The chickens also eat the dead-fall from the fruit trees to prevent the spread of disease to the trees. Their manure fertilizes the pasture. And they provide hours of entertainment for our viewing pleasure (Chicken TV!)
Holistic Management focuses on making the farm a closed cycle in which waste is recycled into the system to provide fertility. Water conservation is another huge part of this model — making the most of every drop that falls onto the farm. We strive for maximum biodiversity in plants, insects, and animals (both domestic and wild), as this is a major indicator of environmental health.
"The best time to plant a tree
was 20 years ago.
The second best time
— Chinese proverb
Also of great importance, decisions are based on the threefold effect they have:
Allan Savory, the father of Holistic Management, did an excellent Ted Talk that shows what this method of agriculture can accomplish.
A Chinese proverb states, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time in now." So, with the trees I've planted over the past four years, Glass Horse Farm is still in its infancy, yet I hold fast to the vision of what it will become. For now, I protect the young saplings from the grazing sheep. But in my mind's eye, I see sheep chewing their cud, resting in the shade under grand trees.
We eat well on the farm (vegetables, fruit, eggs, lamb, pork, and chicken) and provide food for family, friends, and neighbors. We know our fruit and vegetables were raised without pesticides or herbicides in healthy, mineral-rich soil. We know our meat animals were not given antibiotics or hormones and that they were raised with kindness in a natural environment filled with sunshine, green grass, and companions of their own kind.
So, I continue to use my accumulated education and skills as I doctor chickens and midwife sheep. The stress that was once so integral to my career is gone, as is the frenetic pace. Now, life moves at the speed of the sun, and at the pace of the seasons. The physician has healed herself.