From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Unless you’ve seen the ad yourself, you will think I am making this up. Not only is a ten ounce bag of timothy hay selling for $4.50 for pet food as I wrote about recently, but dried lawn grass is going for three dollars an ounce for Easter basket lining. I kid you not. A four ounce bag goes for $12.95. It’s called Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass, and is advertised as “naturally beautiful and grown right here in Vermont.” This grass, says the ad, is “wondrously fragrant and dried naturally in the sun” and “reduces plastic consumption, is fully compostable, and contains no chemicals or dyes.” I can’t help laughing but this is what I call imaginative marketing and whoever Tim is, he is a genius in my book. Those of us brought up in agriculture would hardly ever think of potential products like this from our farms. We just don’t fully appreciate our modern culture that has too much money and too few brains.
Actually that’s too harsh. Today’s customers who want genuine three dollar an ounce Vermont grass for their Easter baskets or four dollar an ounce timothy for their gerbils are not brainless at all. I imagine a ten ounce bag of timothy would last a gerbil a month anyway, fairly cheap victuals for a pet. And if you live in an apartment far removed from the real world, having your Easter basket lined with fragrant dried organic grass might be a champion one-upper in, say, Manhattan. Maybe you could feed your basket lining to your gerbil at the end of the Easter season and really save money.
Point is, in a society where pets now live better than many humans, the cost of living is not reckoned the way those of us brought up on hardscrabble farms do the arithmetic. The changing view in the way we keep our pets is particularly significant and instead of making fun, as I am tempted to do sometimes, we should pay attention to the opportunities involved for innovative farmers attuned to the new society. The number of pet cats and cats in the U.S. is over 140 million, coming closer and closer to half the number of humans eating here. Most pets eat purchased food— grains, meat, dairy products and fish— just like most humans do. One of my volunteer spies tells me about some big shipments of barley being trucked to a pet food supplier.
If you pay attention to dog and cat food ads, you know that the quality as well as the quantity of pet food is rising. Also high society is willing to pay more for their pets’ creature comforts. New litter products from plant materials are coming to market. Someone has to grow those plants. All the manure and litter now going into landfills is a fertilizer that could be marketed profitably with a little good old American advertising genius. Pet owners more and more are providing their dogs and cats, not to mention their horses, with suitable clothing for cold weather or protection from insects, a market for cotton and other materials that come from the soil. Pet cemeteries are on the rise. Imaginative farmers are toying with ideas to turn fields and tree groves into green burial sites for humans. Certainly that idea is much easier adapted to pet animal interment. There are even retirement homes for horses. Think about it.
As more and more people miss the connection with nature and husbandry that past generations enjoyed, the yearning for pets will surely continue to grow. The whole bird feeding pastime is an offshoot of lost husbandry. People pay extravagantly for food to attract wild animals to their backyards. For them, five dollars for ten ears of corn for the squirrels is, pardon me, chicken feed. If lawn grass makes good Easter basket lining, what about lining materials for wild bird nests? Most birds have their preferred nesting materials.
Some farmers are making good money supplying sunflower seeds for bird feeders. How about a little more imagination here? For example, goldfinches love dandelion seeds. We can grow, without any tillage, perennial pasture fields choked with dandelions. Harvest the early crop for salad greens and the late crop for the windblown seeds. So I am joking… but only a little.