I weaved through gorgeous farm country this past weekend to go mountain biking just north of Columbus. Unlike the Amish country of last week, the landscape here was bordered by magnificent forests and ground that undulated with slopes and valleys. It had just rained so the green was exceptionally vibrant. Big corn country! Stakes stood proudly like soldiers at the end of rows to indicate where a different variety of GMO seed had been planted.I glanced from side to side. Fields alternated between corn and soy bean. From afar it looked beautiful, but the soil could tell a different story. Cruising along, I did a double take. Amidst all the GMO signs was one, lone, little sign that squeaked, "Don't Spray - Organic!" I slowed down on the way home to get a closer look. It was an organic dairy. Most of the acreage was pasture with other fields growing hay. Holstein cows speckled the green slope. Matching red barns and a white farm house sat on the hill. An oasis in a desert.

It got me thinking more about this whole pasture-raised vs grain-fed thing. It's not just about what's better for the cow and the environment. It's also about land management. A lot of land is used to raise cattle conventionally. Land that could be sequestering carbon while raising happier cows. On a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), livestock are designated to a dirt feedlot while their feed is grown on a different field perhaps a few hundred miles away. So big is that field that over 55% of the corn produced in the US is for animal feed. Not only are the animals concentrated but so is there waste which creates air and water pollution. And the field that grew their food is GMO and uses buckets of chemicals. The soil quality erodes so more chemicals are needed. In the case of nitrogen fertilizer, soil and plants can only absorb about 30%. The other 70% leeches into ground water. Season after season, these fields are tilled further reducing the soil's potential to sequester carbon.

In pasture-raised, the cows get a diet they were designed to digest, mixed grasses plus loads of room to roam. And barrels of oil didn't need to be used to truck in their feed. Instead, they grow their own food. Talk about "farm to table." The farmer rotates them between fields not letting them overgraze. In their path, they leave manure to fertilize the grass. Soil is kept in tact and never needs to be tilled allowing the soil to reach its full carbon storing potential. Pasture-raised is way less land intensive both in scale and impact. Cattle share the same land upon which their food was grown and it requires no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Keep it simple and manage the land wisely. We might just eat better and mitigate climate change in the process.

A sincerely, important protest is happening right now in Washington D.C. against the proposed Keystone-XL pipeline which will bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the United States. Climate Action Network has organized a 2-week sit-in outside the White House starting last Saturday, August 20th. This act of civil disobedience will hopefully persuade President Obama and Congress to deny this permit. I felt compelled to bring awareness to this concern so foodlust will just have to wait.

I first learned of this issue in the film, SPOIL, by Epicocity Project. At the time, the concern was "just" a pipeline across Canada to the coast of British Columbia cutting right through the Great Bear Rainforest. In the film, a team of conservation photographers and videographers documented this pristine ecosystem with iconic images to build a case for the area's protection. It is the home of the rare Spirit Bear, an albino black bear (pictured here is a Spirit Bear with her two, black cubs). If you saw the September issue of National Geographic, you would have seen the stunning cover and centerfold-like images of this breathtaking creature. Seriously, get your hands on a copy of this issue. They are jaw-dropping. 

But now, the issue is much, much graver...the United States wants a piece of the action by bringing a pipeline to the East Coast with plans for more throughout the central US. No one will deny that energy independence is a good thing but the extraction process of this fossil fuel makes it energy-irresponsible. The argument to "drill local" doesn't stand a chance to the argument in the video, click here. The Alberta project alone is the size of Florida and in the case of tar sands leaves the land dead and unrecoverable. Not only that... it's the most expensive drilling effort to date; requires insane amounts of water to release the oil from the tar sands which is then dumped into toxic waste lakes - not ponds, because they are much bigger than ponds - and it requires practically as much energy to process the oil from the tar as it will provide, meaning the greenhouse gas emissions are double. And that's just the extraction process... The section of pipeline that travels through the Great Bear Rainforest ends at an inland port where large barges have to navigate narrow, river channels with lots of tight corners before reaching the sea. Imagine if one of these tankers got a leak or ran aground splitting open. It would create another Gulf Oil Spill but in a much more concentrated area. A tanker bursting in a river like this would be the equivalent to a brain aneurism. No Bueno! Now imagine a pipeline running through your backyard. Gives a whole new meaning to NIMBY. You can make your voice heard at Tar Sands Action.