In 2005 I was lucky enough to visit Earth University and met up with Dr. Richard Taylor who showed me around the Universities integrated farm. I was shown the dairy cattle and pigs, whose diet included leafy browse from tropical trees. I saw the methane production from the animals effluent and worm production and ponds of fish also thriving on the waste. Earth University are using (EM) Effective Microorganisms part of their integrated farming system. EM is a cocktail of lactic acid bacteria, yeast, actinomycetes and fermenting fungi originally developed at the University of Ryukges, Okinawa, Japan. At Earth University EM is used to treat cow manure in the dairy so it doesn’t smell and speeds up composting of manure and banana waste.
Earth University were also looking at chicken egg production systems. The chickens diet included leaves of mulberry which are protein rich and they also provided with water containing E M. So why is it included in the chicken’s water? Well the living non pathogenic bacterial cocktail acts as a prebiotic which stops harmful bacteria from causing infections in chickens – keeping them healthy. It is a bit like us drinking pro-biotic yoghurts, which are intended to keep your gut full of beneficial bugs.
Earth University were also developing cheap mobile chicken runs for keeping chickens in fields. They developed three prototypes. The wooden run rapidly rotted under their tropical conditions – the metal framed run was too heavy – the best option was the version built out of plastic clip together drainage pipes.
Later back in Britain I took two of the Earth University students who were on placement here on a visit to see sustainable farming systems in the UK. As they were particularly interested in animal systems we were lucky enough to visit one of Lloyd Maunder’s chicken farms producing free range organic chickens near Exeter and the John Widdowson based in Devon who developed the concept of Woodland Eggs now on sale in Sainsbury’s. This followed his observations of the way that chickens behave, they prefered sometime under the shade of trees to exposed fields. Our trip culminated in a visit to Martyn Wolf at Waklyn’s Agroforestry research station in Suffolk. Martyn is interested in developing ecological agricultural systems which conceptually challenge current agricultural systems. His experimental grounds include land used a crop rotation system, between ecologically rich woodland strips.
He is working on modern-day ‘land races’ of wheat for organic production systems. A landrace is a genetically mixed population of wheat that are moulded by the genetic make up of the mixture the environment and human intervention. His wheat populations are derived from populations bred from the top performing wheat varieties of the last 50 years. His aim is to ensure populations that produce a stable yield from year to year. The mixed population reduces the risk associated with monocultures of diseases sweeping through the crop and the consequent need to spray the crop with fungicides. He is also growing mixtures of potatoes in an effort to reduce the risk of diseases. This is a novel approach in the developed world but has been practiced in the Andes for millenia in their traditional agriculture systems. We were invited back to his farmhouse to enjoy a fantastic salad lunch of fresh eggs originating from the chickens pecking around the doorway, a rich yellow coloured Suffolk cheese and crusty bread and local butter.
Andrew Ormerod 2014