On that first really rainy day we had this fall, I woke up to the sound of it tapping on my windows with the sort of giddy feeling I imagine people in colder climates get when the first snow hits. I’m a California girl born and bred, so I’ve grown an affinity for the rainy season (actually, it might be the association I make with rain- good weather for blankets, books and cozy fires.) But this year, I have more reasons than before to really yearn for the rain.
The farm’s hills are bone dry.
Giving tours, running back and forth between the office and the store, and helping out with events, I’ve spent the summer coming home with a thin layer of dust caked to my sturdy boots, but lately it’s been worse. Lately the dust has been thick, turning the rich chocolate leather to a sort of dull grayish-brown. I didn’t make the connection until our ranch manager pointed out how easy it was for our pigs to “moonscape” a pasture (literally took ‘em a handful of days.) It was then that I really looked around at our hills and realized how much we need the rain.
Brown grass, as you can imagine, has very little in the way of nutrition for animals. Our cattle have spent the summer feasting on alfalfa flakes, and our pigs and chickens have gotten all kinds of wonderful glean to supplement their diets (suffice it to say they haven’t really suffered the effects of a dry winter. I swear to you the pigs were eating brie for a little while there.) But the dry winter led to all kinds of issues, including heavier losses to coyotes (because if the little guys can’t eat, neither can the big guys.) It’s long past time for the rain to come back and breathe life back into the soil- not just for the animals but for our neighbors’ vegetable crops! Rain helps everyone eat.
People often think of soil is this inert thing, but nothing could be further from the truth- it is home to millions of microbial life who live in a symbiotic relationship with the grass. During the rainy season, healthy soil will grow tall, lush grasses which attract ruminants like deer and cows. Cows, given their druthers, will eat just the tops of these grasses and move on to greener (or in this case, taller) pastures. For every inch of grass the cow eats, an inch of root dies off to feed the microbial life, whose poop gives nutrients to the grass. As the cows are mowing the grass, they are also leaving poop and depositing nutrients right back into the soil which, you guessed it, microbial life eats. Chickens and pigs bring their own magic to this cycle, but the end result is a whole lotta eating, pooping, and nutrient recycling.
So what does rain have to do with all this poop talk? Quite a bit, actually. When it rains, poop deposited in the fields is dissolved and served up on a silver platter for our precious microbial life. Each thing- the grass, the microbial life, the soil, the cows, the poop and the rain- are connected in the life cycle, and one cannot exist without the other. With the early cessation of rain this spring and the delay this fall, we may not get enough grass on pasture to properly rotate the cows through the fields. It’s a problem that could end up really hurting biodynamic farmers like us.
So, imagine my reaction when I bopped into the gas station on my way to the farm that first rainy morning and heard the girl running the cash register lament, “I really hate the rain! I wish it would go away.”
I wanted to launch into a scientific tirade (which wouldn’t have been terribly coherent given that I hadn’t had any coffee that morning and am typically more eloquent in writing than I am in person.) At the very least, I wanted to remind her that rain enables us to, you know, eat and drink? But I didn’t. Again, partially due to the coffee thing, but mostly because one silly girl who hates the rain isn’t going to make it stop. Moreover, I knew in my heart of hearts that she’d write me off as a wierdie and go about her rain-hating day without really heeding my words.
So maybe you hate the rain too- the gloomy dark, being cooped up inside, the fact that nobody in this state seems to understand how to safely drive in even the lightest of drizzles. I get it. But when the rain finally comes around for a good handful of days, just remember that it’ll turn Tara Firma’s hills back to that rich verdant green we all love so much, which means happy healthy cows, pigs, chickens, soil and- ultimately- us.
Happy Rainy Season!
-Your Rain Loving Office Girl