A different shade of green

Published January 14, 2007

The Green Revolution, as farmers call the boom of productivity since World War II, isn't green at all, writes Michael Pollan in his 2006 book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

It is powered by fossil fuels used to run combines, make pesticides and fertilizer, process food and ship it around the world.

"Put another way it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food" in the United States, Pollan writes. "From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it's too bad we can't simply drink the petroleum directly."

Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer featured in the book, proposes a counterrevolution based on grass.

Chemicals and most farm machinery can be replaced by plants and animals doing what they do naturally, said Salatin. Chickens, for example, pick through cow patties for foods such as fly larvae, clearing the manure of parasites as they spread the soil enhancer. Rooting pigs aerate compost and help clear underbrush. Trees bring moisture and minerals from underground and spread it in their leaves.

Over the years, Salatin's pastures have grown healthier and supported a wider variety of grasses. In a good year, Pollan wrote, Salatin's farm can produce 30,000 dozen eggs, 10,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 25,000 pounds of beef, 25,000 pounds of pork, 1,000 turkeys and 500 rabbits.

"This seemed to me a truly astonishing amount of food from 100 acres of grass."