With curly red hair and a shy demeanor, Nathan is son of farm owners Sue and Melvyn of Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Bozeman, Montana. He helps with the daily demands of running a successful goat dairy and vegetable farm. In 2008 the farm also started selling pork, using the extra goat whey to raise high-quality meat.
Nathan ushers me over and says I can help Leslie with feeding the goats while he finishes tending to the pigs. Leslie is new on Amaltheia, brought in for the spring to help with the rearing of baby goats. Which is exactly why I came out to Amaltheia this morning: to see the baby goats!
I ask Leslie about her path towards farming. Turns out Leslie began her work not in animal husbandry, but wildlife biology. After graduate school, she studied potential climate change impacts in the tundra of northern Canada, specifically on the region’s caribou populations.
“Interesting,” I said, “you started in wildlife and moved to domestic animals. Why is that?”
“Well.” Leslie stopped shoveling alfalfa and stood with pitchfork upright. She flung her long braid of blond dreads over her shoulder. “I figured instead of trying to predict what will happen with climate change, I wanted to be more part of a solution to it. So, I started farming last year, and this summer I’ll take a permaculture course.”
Permaculture is essentially an agricultural design based on notions of ecology. Instead of growing one or two crops over lots of acres, permaculture emphasizes the creation of abundant food systems with multiple plants to create self-sustaining “food forests.”
The world’s population rises steadily towards 9 billion, and another one billion HA of natural habitat will be plowed under to meet the demands. Yet converting land to conventional agriculture would run the risk of undermining the ecosystems providing clean air and water. Thus the necessity for high-producing agricultural lands on smaller parcels of land.
Since food forests work to preserve ecosystem health, Leslie’s transition from a wildlife biologist to an eco-conscious farmer is not that big of a stretch.
I followed Nathan inside a large barn. When he opened the door I squealed. The baby goats all rushed to the front of their pens, jumping and tumbling over one another. I stepped over the gate into a group of week-olds and they flooded my feet.
“So, what do you do with all the goat poop?” I asked.
“We let the pigs in and they eat it. Pigs’ll eat anything. Then we throw the pig manure into the compost," Nate answered.
I followed him out of the barn to look at the compost. A couple long mounds of dark soil lined up in a field beyond the pig and goat pastures.
“And your family’s vegetable scraps? Those go in here too?” I asked.
"Oh sure. No waste around here, really.” Which is a central concept to eco-agriculture: minimizing waste.
Next he brought me to the greenhouse, where Amaltheia grows its tomatoes and basil for local favorites such as the Sun Dried Tomato Chevre. Over the winter they grew cover crops-wheatgrass, turnips, and peas-that will be tilled under to fix vital nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Using plants instead of synthetic fertilizers to enrich the soil allows organic farms to preserve soil integrity and ensure healthy yields without compromising waterways.
After explaining crop rotations inside the greenhouse, Nate walks me back to the baby goats so I could continue my love affair with the darlings.