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CHAPTER 4 Farming Is a Spiritual Responsibility MIKE RUPPRECHT It's April, but you couldn't tell that from the weather. This year, it is still winter. I drive through the milky translucence of a winter daywith snow falling onto the snow on the roofs of barns, falling onto the snow on the trees and on the ground, turning the whole landscape into a pale, mostly white, minimalist painting. Maybe the artist today wanted to paint light but didn't want to overdo it, or perhaps just ran out of color. I am headed for Earth Be Glad Farm near Lewiston, Minnesota, to talk with Mike Rupprecht, a beef grower who also raises chickens. Mike comes out as I pull in to park behind the house. Mike is tall and slender with a quiet demeanor. The Rupprechts are a close family, and it won't cause a squabble if I tell you that his sister told me, "Mike is pretty quiet, a man of fewwords." We shake hands and go in to sit at the kitchen table to talk and sip tea. When I ask Mike about the future of agriculture, he responds simply. I think we'redoomed. End of comment.I think for a moment the interview is over, that I should say thanks and leave. Mike's remark is stark enough, but when pressed, his reasonsfor that statementarepretty clear too.They are both social and environmental. The key is going to be the consumers, and now the public isbrainwashed by corporations I don't know how this earth will survive. We have been so hard on it. We cannot go on like this. MotherNature always batslast. Mike is a rotational grazer, which means his land, like the Haugens', is Farming Is a Spiritual Responsibility fenced off in paddocks, and he allows the cattle to graze each one intensively ; then he moves them into another paddock. On Mike's rotation, paddocks get a rest for thirty to forty days, till the grass comes back, and then they are grazed again. Mike has mapped out his whole system and has arranged it so his cattle can get to water no matter which paddock they occupy. His hay and pasture hold the rain with the least possible runoff. I'm the fifth generation in this area. My great-great-grandfather, Wilhelm Rupprecht, came from Germany and built a water-powered mill for lumber and wheat. Ever since I was a kid, it's been fascinating for me to go down there. I love to go down there and just think about things, think about the history of this land. But bad farming resulted in flooding and finally closed the mill. You can read about it in Pioneers Forever, a book by Marvin Simon. It's true that Mike speaks softly. Perhaps because he is very thoughtful, his sentences tend to be short.But he looks me directly in the eye,and there is both power and passion in his quiet demeanor. He clearly cares, notjust about this place but about agriculture, and ultimately about the whole earth, and the world we are leavingfor our children and grandchildren. It was a crime to let the topsoil erode. We're not going to go on very long if our soils are depleted. That's why I have so much pasture on my farm. We raise Angus beef. Also chickens; we have eighty laying hens. The whole key is that they need to be on grass.What's killing us isn't beef; it's the cholesterol from all the hydrogenated oily foods, and the sugar. Mike asserts that profit is not his primary goal. We have 160 acres, and we rent a hundred or so from Mom. We want to prove it can be done—that you can make a good living on a small farm. And not just that we can do it, but that others can too.... It has to work for more than just us. I only think about economics on this farm from the standpoint of making a living.We have to make a living or we'll lose the place. But I don't make all my decisions on the basis of money. If I had to do that, I wouldn't farm. The land here is continuing to improve. We use no chemicals,little fuel, no till on our pastures, and reseed. Nature is telling us it's right too—the songbirds are back. Now we are...


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