Arsenal ranges from 'simple food' to 'building a sponge'
By STEVE BROWN
MARYSVILLE, Wash. -- The word "crisis" is overused in America, author Jim Gerrish says. "We are a nation in crisis. We've got a crisis for everything."
Speaking at the seventh annual Focus on Farming Conference, Gerrish said education and health are true crises.
"That's health, not health care," he said.
Looking at the abundance of health-related advertising, health clubs and diets, Gerrish said those are symptoms of personal health.
"I don't buy that. It's all disjointed," he said. Calling this a 20th century disease, he said, "75 percent of all medical costs in the U.S. are attributed to diet. We have safe food, but we don't have a healthy food supply.
"We forget we are a part of nature, not apart from nature."
Gerrish, a rancher, educator and researcher, literally wrote the book on "Management-Intensive Grazing," following that with "Kicking the Hay Habit."
His research has focused on plant-soil-animal interactions. His experience includes more than 20 years on the faculty of the University of Missouri, and he's now an instructor in the University of Idaho's Lost River Grazing Academy, held near Salmon, Idaho, each June and September.
The greatest health crisis is in the environment, he said.
"Life in the soil is critical, more important to our health than most people realize," he said.
Second to that is healthy communities.
"Without healthy communities, we do not build the character of people that make our country great. Education and health go hand-in-hand," he said. "If we don't address that, we're not going to have much of a future."
He summed up his solution to the health crisis:
* Eat food, not processed commodities.
* We must grow food, not commodities.
* We must grow communities, not ghost towns.
Listing the four things that make up all food -- solar energy, water, carbon dioxide and soil minerals -- Gerrish asked, "Why have we made it so complex, so expensive?"
He drew on his experience managing cattle and soil on his Idaho ranch, he said.
"The fewer steps and fewer added ingredients between solar energy and your products, the more healthful the food and the more profitable you will be," he said.
Caring for the land has multiple benefits, Gerrish said. The quickest and most effective way to sequester carbon is with healthy pastures and grasslands.
"Building a sponge" yields a healthier water cycle. Minimizing the time land is bare reduces erosion. Greater biodiversity benefits not only insects and wildlife, but livestock as well.
Just by managing organic matter and an effective nutrient cycle, Gerrish said, he increased production on his land by 70 percent in five years.
"I average less than 1 gallon of diesel per year per 100 cow-months -- though I do have the advantage of having gravity-flow water," he said.
Keeping with natural environment and natural diet, Gerrish said his cattle are less stressed, which leads to stronger immune systems, less disease, fewer parasites and calmer disposition, all of which yield a better product.