Restoring the Land

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Cover page of my Farm Indiana profile of WE Farm

Dr. Lisa Harris remembers well the first conversation with the young man who would come to farm her land—they talked for hours, almost an entire day. “I was so impressed with how deliberate and thoughtful he was,” she told me.

Dr. Harris is Eskenazi Health’s medical director, a vegetarian with a lifelong interest in eating healthy food. As I learned when I wrote about WE Farm for Farm Indiana, she leases her Owen County property to Josh Egenolf and Laura Beth Wayne’s pastured beef cattle, poultry, and pork operation.

“Most people in the United States do eat meat,” she said. “So if I can be part of something that gives people access to meat from animals that have lived well, it seems like a perfect opportunity.”

Like many of us, Dr. Harris tries to live as lightly as possible, and Josh’s plans to make her land productive really spoke to that goal. “What Josh is doing,” she said, “is in every sense helping to improve the land.” WE Farm’s integrated, rotational grazing plan means the animals work in concert with nature to restore pastureland—all the while sequestering carbon and nitrogen in the soil.

The day I visited the farm last November in preparation for my Farm Indiana story, four happy dogs ran in front of the pickup truck as we drove up the lane to tend the livestock. Owen County is picturesque, with wooded hills and deep valleys. Josh showed me the steep woodlot where the hogs are periodically turned loose to forage for acorns and pawpaws. They also help him clear out understory invasives, just by doing what pigs do.

Breeder pigs enjoying their mineral rations on a frosty November morning.

Breeder pigs enjoying their mineral rations on a frosty November morning.

Josh was raised on a farm just a few miles up the road, and he treasures the richness of his a rural childhood. Giving that experience to his own child (and another on the way) is a big reason why he moved back to the area after pursuing his doctorate in ecology at the University of Georgia.

Also, he wanted to be put what he’d learned there into practice. Agriculture, he told me, has enormous potential for creating meaningful environmental change.

He said, “In 2007 I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Before that it never occurred to me that there might be anything troublesome about the way meat was produced, other than animal welfare stuff. That’s very clear to me…you shouldn’t treat your animals poorly. They need to be respected. But it didn’t occur to me that there was a single thing wrong with them eating grain and (even) industrial byproducts.”

He knows that many people still don’t realize the environmental and health issues that accompany feeding grain to meat animals, but a growing customer base tells him how many people value pastured meat. “It’s like an awakening that needs to happen.”

Josh and Laura Beth strive to keep the business as local as possible, keeping close to home in all their dealings. For more on their endeavors, check out my Farm Indiana story and the WE Farm website.

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