In Part One of his interview with Ayako Hiyoshi from Sweden, TruBeef Founder, Ken Power talks on a broad range of subjects including:
- Sustainable and Regenerative Farming.
- Modern food, modern environment, and the effects on health.
- Modern farming and human illness.
- Relationship of how food is farmed to food quality and our wellbeing.
- Importance of healthy soil and biodiversity.
- How we can make farming more sustainable farming for the future.
- Problems and mistakes with modern beef farming.
- Beef farming and global warming.
- The real Carbon footprint. "It's not the cow it's the how"
"Good quality food starts at the farm"
Ayako: I understand that what made you question the food on your plate and how it was produced, started with the fact that you were diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune disease. I assume this fact changed your perspective, as well as your diet?
Ken: I was an extremely healthy person and also a highly trained racing cyclist who would train and race to a very high level. My world changed in an afternoon, quite literally. I was out on a light training ride when tremendous body pain, fever, headache, and swollen glands just hit me from nowhere in a matter of minutes.
I went from a high functioning, healthy active athlete with a resting heart rate of 30 BPM to being unable to walk or get out of bed on some days, and a dangerously low white blood cell count.
After 18 months, I was ultimately diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, prescribed all manner of medications including nuclear drugs (chemo) that did nothing, only break me down further. None of it made sense…
So, I went back to basics and kept asking myself the one simple question no doctor or test could answer: How did this debilitating illness get into my body? For me, it had to have come from my outside environment. It had to be the air I breathed, the water I drank, the food I ate, or a combination of all three.
Through an ultra-detailed period examining and experimenting with all three, I found that a change in my food intake, specifically to organic foods (mostly fats and proteins from organic sources) had a profound difference in managing the symptoms. The turnaround and the biological response were so quick, it was like Mother Nature just shouting in my ear “It’s the Food Dummy”!!
Despite coming from a farming and food background (where I should have known better), I was guilty of allowing myself to slip into the convenience trap of modern food and swallow the marketing brands put out without ever questioning their honesty.
In any given month I would normally ingest boxes of energy gels, sports drinks, protein shakes, pre-prepared salads, copious amounts of chicken laced with hormones and antibiotics, and buckets of vegetables… Just cutting out these ‘healthy' foods and eating clean organic fats and proteins was a game-changer. I was sold.
I also learned just how misleading food labels can be and how food companies, even brands that position themselves as 'Healthy' or 'Natural Foods' can deceive us.
Ayako: So, from what I understand, health and farming are related, hence not separated matters to you. Explain how you see this relation.
Ken: It is a symbiotic relationship. The saying “We are what we eat,” is a true one. I learned this lesson the hard way. However, I believe we should take it a step further and say to ourselves as a reminder “You are what your food eats”… What do I mean by this?
In the case of livestock, if a piece of steak or liver you just bought at the grocery store came from an animal that spent its entire life in a filthy, overcrowded pen and given heavy doses of growth hormones, antibiotics, constantly dehydrated, fed a mix of GMO grains or Ethanol by-product (Distillers grain) which leads to acidosis and liver damage, that liver or steak is not doing you much good if you are consuming it over a long period of time, especially if you are immuno compromised.
Image: Distillers Grain used for Cattle Feed.
Even if that animal was fed grass, but grass that has been heavily treated with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, that piece of steak or liver is not doing you much good either.
Many studies demonstrate the bioaccumulation of toxins in muscles and adipose tissue of animals. If we are injecting the cattle, we are also injecting the toxins within that fat and muscles of that animal.
Other studies are pointing to widespread antibiotic resistance amongst humans is due to the presence of antibiotics in our food when we don’t even know it or need it, but when we do need it most when we are ill, it is useless.
Traditional clean farming methods that work with nature, on the other hand, allow the animals to thrive to their absolute peak which we as humans can, in turn, enjoy for our benefit and good health.
In short, good farming practices lead to genuinely healthy foods. Mother nature set this up for a reason and if we can work with her, she will give us a limitless bounty for generations to come i.e. True Sustainability.
Ayako: Symbiotic relationship! I just love that description!
Ayako: What is most essential in your opinion, when it comes to sustainable farming?
Image: TruBeef Organic Farm, Queensland, Australia.
Ken: There are multiple technical factors, but I would break it down into four basic areas:
- Pasture. More livestock farms need to return to true pasture-based farming.
- Tillage farming, at the very least, needs to be forced into seasonal crop rotation and limits put on chemical use. No more monocropping.
- Livestock farmers who have lost touch with the tradition of raising animals on pasture, need to be educated on the basics, such as pasture management.
Organic farming. This singular way of farming alone would allow our soil to repair, regenerate, sequester carbon and thrive for generations to come.
According to Green America, if 10,000 mid sized US livestock farms switched to organic farming, in carbon savings terms, it would be the equivalent to taking one million cars off the road.
All four factors have one important thing in common: The Soil!
These first 4 factors alone will have a huge impact on our soil health / biodiversity, a huge positive impact would be seen in natural carbon reduction by soil sequestering and soil erosion would be reduced dramatically.
Just these 4 factors alone would be the basics that will allow our children, grandchildren, to have the opportunity to eat real sustainable food and live in a world where greenhouse gases are not a threat to their future.
It is a natural and perfectly balanced cycle of "Give and Take" which has worked for literally millions of years that modern science has gradually gained an understanding of.
Ayako: What do you consider the 'biggest mistake' of modern farming?
Ken: This is a whole topic in itself; however, the mistakes of Modern Farming need to be addressed in two broad but separate categories of
- Modern Livestock Farming ~ let's use Beef farming in this instance.
- Modern Tillage Farming is the mechanical manipulation of soil specifically to grow crops.
Mistakes in Modern Beef Farming
Image: 'Grass-Fed' Beef farm sprays pesticide / herbicide on grazing pasture.
- Dishonesty. Currently here in the US, any beef or lamb producer can claim that their cattle is fully grass-fed. This goes unchecked at a farm level, and is highly misleading. As more consumers become aware of this practice, ultimately it is the reputation of beef farming that will suffer.
- High use of growth-promoting hormones and non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.
- Feedlots, poor and unsanitary living conditions for livestock.
- Cramped living conditions in pens or sheds.
- Barren Soils* with compromised ability to absorb and hold carbon.
- Poor access to fresh air, clean water, and lack of exercise for animals.
- Reliance on commercial feeds and GMO grains which are designed to fatten animals quickly despite being highly unnatural.
- Artificial supplements.
- For cattle and lamb that are given some ‘natural’ grass in their diet, it is generally grass that has been treated with herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. That is not what the consumer thinks they are getting.
- Water supply damage. Massive unsanitary industrial-scale feedlots and heavy pesticide / herbicide use on fields, all lead to the water runoff during rains which ultimately makes its way to the water table and into our rivers and streams causing further destruction of unrelated flora and fauna.
- Overcrowded pastures lead to overgrazing which in turn leads to poor soil health, poor water retention, and lower soil biodiversity.
*Barren Soil is soil devoid of any natural fertility and relies on artificial fertilizers for it to remain commercially viable. It is soil with little to no biodiversity or other decaying plant / animal organic matter and cannot absorb or hold moisture. Barren soil has lost its natural ability to support life, be it wild pasture or the growing of crops.
It is soil in name only and essentially lifeless which in turn means its ability to sequester carbon is highly diminished at best or is unable to absorb at all.
In developed countries like the US where you have a vast monocropping industry, due to extreme overuse of heavy chemicals, constant tillage, and no crop rotation you will find such Barren Soil.
Ayako: (I had to ask Ken to explain this and I reckon others may benefit from his explanation as well. So there it is).
Mistakes in Modern Tillage Farming
Image: Barren Exposed Soil, devoid of any natural organic matter, no water retention and easily blown by winds.
- Stripping and clearing the topsoil of natural ground covering / mulch vegetation leads to soil erosion from wind / poor water retention.
- Heavy use of artificial fertilizers / pesticides and herbicides end up on the crops, fruits, or vegetables we consume.
- Toxic water runoff from these man made chemicals finds its way into the water table.
- Reuse of the same crops in the same soil instead of following crop rotation leads to pathogens and diseases in plants. To combat this, even more, chemicals are used, bactericides are introduced, and the negative cycle just gets worse year after year.
- Very high dependence on genetically modified and hybridized seeds designed by the Agriscience industry for rapid crop growth and profits.
- Monocropping is a huge problem in the US where GMO crops like soy and corn are grown at an industrial scale for decades on the same land which destroys the entire ecosystem. No natural biodiversity, in turn, leads to very poor and highly compromised carbon sequestering.
- Over-reliance on monocropping has been proven to strip the soil of naturally occurring nitrogen and plant matter (let’s call them natural fertilizers). Without these at hand, monocropping operations are forced to rely exclusively on the use of artificial fertilizers.
- Monocropping requires vast amounts of water for irrigating crops as moisture retention is so poor in the soil. By irrigating monocrops with chlorinated water instead of natural rain water, further damages the soil ph and natural fertility. Artificial water irrigation means
draining from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, which in turn is exhausting natural resources and aquatic ecosystems.
I had the chance to take a walk around a massive industrial mono-crop soy plantation (I can't call it a farm). It was an eerie and horrific sight, sound, and smell. The soil was like a dark carpet of fine lifeless dust, devoid of any obvious natural matter such as dead leaves or worms.
The soil smelled lifeless with no obvious rustic odor one would find in healthy soil. Most memorable was the silence. No bees, no butterflies, no birds, no crickets, no movement… just silence. Mother Nature was long gone.
Ayako: A lot of people have the opinion that cows and livestock are causing global warming. What´s your perspective of that?
Ken: This opinion is very much outdated and thankfully we now have a lot of scientific research to prove that this is not the case, and in fact, it is quite the opposite if one key condition is met and that is: the livestock are on managed pasture with healthy vibrant soil.
So, livestock are living, breathing animals and they do indeed produce Carbon Emissions as do all living creatures. There is no denying this. Typically, an average-sized 150-acre farm with 130 cattle will produce 80 tonnes of carbon annually.
However, this same typical-sized pasture-based farm with 150 acres; that 150 acres of pasture without any chemical inputs has been shown to sequester a whopping 500 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.
The simple math of 80 tonnes of carbon out (from the livestock) and 500 tonnes of carbon back (to the soil) means 420 tonnes of carbon have been sucked back into the soil which is like a giant living breathing organism.
I was born in the mid ’70s and growing up we were taught the Amazon Jungle was the lungs of the planet. However, science has since been able to take the carbon sequestering cycle several steps further to the actual source and powerhouse and found it is in fact soil (healthy vibrant soil) that does all the hard work for us.
Conversely, 150 acres of heavily overused industrial monoculture tillage land has been proven to be devoid of life, biodiversity, nutrients, and natural fertility to absorb carbon in any meanigful way.
To sum up my point, the well-known saying “It’s not the cow, it’s the how“ is so true.