One Farmer’s Almanac
portraits by Michael Wilson
Wendell Berry reminds us the best fertilizer for land is footsteps. It takes a lot of footsteps to install nets around our sheep and move them every three days. Doing so keeps the guard dogs in and coyotes out. It prevents sheep from back-grazing and infecting themselves with parasites. It keeps the flock on a constantly high plane of nutrition. And it produces the cleanest lamb imaginable, the Midwest’s version of wild-caught fish.
We do not treat our sheep with anything more than this land management. They are as close to wild as a domestic animal can be. For producers of lamb, the issue of parasites is the hardest to address. Roughly 95% of lamb producers, even those raising grassfed meats, treat their flock with “dewormers.” We followed this standard protocol at the outset, until we became wise to Wendell Berry’s counsel. If we are willing to walk enough, we can solve the problem of parasites without resorting to pharmaceutical medications. We move the flock every three days, and don’t return to the same spot for a minimum of 90 days. This solution works, but it requires a lot of time and labor, far more than most reasonable farms are willing to invest.
Over time, we are discovering that Wendell is right: The more we walk upon the land, the better we know it, and the more it responds favorably. Moving these nets is more awkward than hard, requiring time and patience. Once one learns how to keep the posts from becoming entangled with the nets and the nets from becoming entangled with one’s own feet, the process of erecting and taking down nets becomes a meditation of sorts.
Back and forth, back and forth, one net at a time, with feet always upon the ground. After a while, the meditation takes hold, and the “net-minder” finds himself engaged in wordless conversation with the land through the soles of his feet. Reverberations in the soil are of such a low frequency they can’t be heard with our ears; rather they are sensed through the soles of our feet. We can feel how soft the soil is, or hard, or wet. We can tell if it is distressed or abundant. Soft-soled boots enable the sound and feel to resonate all the more—and barefoot is best for listening to the land.
All children know the sensory satisfaction derived from walking barefoot. It is not just the pleasure of feeling grass that is rewarding, but also the unfamiliar sensation of receiving vibrations from the ground through the bottom of the foot. These are grounding experiences that put us in touch with profound forces.
When moving nets and engaging in low-frequency discourse with vital soil, the labor becomes easier, even inspiring. As one’s steps are fertilizing the ground, the soles of the feet become active conduits between one’s inner self and depths of the earth, ever provoking one’s soul to higher planes.
May the soles of our feet always serve as active conduits,
Drausin & Susan
Drausin has been the chief-cook and bottle washer at Grassroots Farm & Foods since 2008, when he chose to become a full-time grass farmer, leaving his job as a banker to do so. He and his wife, Susan, lease 200 acres at Red Stone Farm in Pike County, which has been in the John Wulsin family since 1968. In addition to grassfed meats, the farm offers prepared foods like chili and Bolognese sauce made by Susan’s Soulful Kitchen.