Modern farming practice has become very scientific, and most of what we see making it to the market is brought to us by large industrial players. While small farmers might not be able to feed the world, they provide value in what they do for the community, and the ecosystems in which they co-exist.
Jen and I brought the family out to visit our friend Sarah Roland at Bayou Sarah Farms, where she does things a little differently, to say the least. She created Louisiana’s first and only water buffalo dairy. She’s moving the culinary needle, experimenting with buffalo gelato and blue cheese! I was most impressed with the sustainable ecosystem she’s creating on her family land.
At the center of the hilly tract in St. Francisville, there rested a 16’ “chicken tractor,” a device used to house chickens and allow them to free range and fertilize the land under them. Her breed of choice is a stately mix of buff and black orpingtons and Easter eggers. They happily jumped in and out of the trailer to feed, water and lay. The subfloor of the trailer was cattle-panel, so the manure would drop right through to the ground. The field in the wake of the caravaning fowl was much greener. I once built my own modern looking chicken tractor, and enjoyed it for years before we moved to a subdivision.
Roland uses an electric fence to manage the location of the water buffalo in relation to the chickens. The buffalo enjoy much greener grass thanks to the symbiotic relationship. What do the chickens get out of the deal? Beefed up security from their buffalo friends. As we sat enjoying the view, a baby deer walked out of the woods and nestled into the herd like a distant cousin.
Roland continues to break the traditional mold, creating an amazingly unique lifestyle alongside the abundance of life surrounding the farm. She raises hogs, blueberries, chickens, buffalo, crops, and is building a two story barndominium.
Recently, she built a “mobile milking parlor” ™ to assist in her dairy farming efforts in the field, disturbing the buffalo as little as possible. Dairy is one of the most highly regulated industries. Roland laments that it costs half a million dollars in equipment and permits to break into the industry, but there are several grants available to small operations savvy enough to navigate the lengthy application processes.
While out in the field, learning how each animal plays a critical role in the overall operation, my Earth Day Challenge became clear: how can we use what we have at our disposal to make our own ecosystems flourish? If you are like me and live in a subdivision where yard size is not plentiful, try mini-farming with a victory garden and a pair of chickens or ducks. If you live in an apartment, grow a couple bush tomatoes. If you don’t want to get out in the garden, the patio is a perfect place to grow things in Louisiana. Vertical agriculture is growing in popularity, as people find new ways to make the most of limited greenspace.
If plants still seem out of reach, I have yet another solution – invite nature to do what it does where you are. Six small birdhouses are my family’s favorite new addition to our garden. The sparrows have made it a new hang out and help me fertilize my garden. Birdwatching is a fun activity for the family, especially the smaller kids, and we eagerly await the opportunity to watch baby birds pop their heads out of the nest this Spring.