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My Retro Biofuel Fantasy

Last year I was inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to visit Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms where I saw beyond-organic natural grass-farming in action. He uses active management techniques to facilitate natural cycles and I’ve never seen a healthier looking farm. He considers himself a grass farmer but raises pigs, cows, and chickens for market. There are practically no flies and no barren ground from overgrazing—and the food he raised was fabulous. His stewardship of the land earns him a healthy ROI from local markets but my ever-eager imagination applied his vision on a continental scale.

In my fantasy I see a vast permaculture grassland dotted with seasonal ponds, windmills, and roving herds of herbivores. It feels like the mythical West but this is what America’s next Energy Belt could look like—a perennial prairie polyculture of mixed grasses that yields multiple harvests and energy from biomass, oil seeds, and wind and supports transient herds of herbivores.

To an unobservant eye, the prairies may look flat, brown, and endless but they are one of the most efficient energy storage and transfer systems on Earth and incredibly biologically diverse. We’re only now starting to understand how supporting and working with the natural cycles can yield big payoffs — in food, fuel, and quality of life.

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