Thomas Stack is a dairy farmer, one year into his conversion to organic. The Limerick man is using Korean fermentation processes to improve his soil, enrich his grass, and finally, to produce the best milk possible. All the while, his feed and fertiliser bill have been reduced to zero.
So how does he do it?
It’s all about the micro-organisms, for the Co Limerick native, and, once you start to think micro, the entire process becomes fascinating, with invisible battalions of microbes starting to work for you and your farm, like a tiny army of helpers.
Sourdough bakers and kombucha makers already use simple versions of these techniques in increasingly popular breads and drinks available in Ireland; indeed people also use these techniques to reduce smells and to increase decomposition speeds of domestic compost heaps, in confined spaces such as boats and barges.
However, Tom Stack is one of the first farmers in Ireland using these methods on his land and his cattle.
Korean Natural Farming uses inputs farmers can make themselves. This
includes five stages of what are called indigenous microorganisms. These are plant- based, essentially diluted micro-organisms sprayed onto the land. Other Korean Natural Farming inputs such as fermented fruit juice and fermented plant juice are added as required during the growth cycle of the grass.
The five stages of indigenous micro-organisms start with ‘recruitment’, gathering enough local micro-organisms at the start. It may sound a little unusual, but you just leave something starchy, such as rice, out for a few days — to allow for
the substance to be a little colonised by local microbes.
Thomas Stack: “I half cook rice in a rice cooker, put it in a wooden box, with holes in it, go to the forest, scrape the soil back, put the box into the ground, cover it with a paper towel, cover it in a mesh to protect it from wildlife, then I blanket it with foliage and come back in four or five days. Around here, the microorganisms are blue/ yellow/green. They differ in different countries. The whole
process takes about seven to eight days.”
There are four more stages after this, which involve working with the "inhabited" rice. Stage two sees cane sugar used, to help the micro-organisms grow (much like the process for maintaining scoby in making kombucha drinks) and also ‘sleep’; while stage three sees a food and carbon source used to essentially wake them up again and proliferate.
At this point indigenous micro-organisms can be fermented with lactobacillus and biochar and fed to the cattle to improve gut health. Stage four sees the introduction of local elements such as soil. The final stage five, uses the same nutrients as indigenous micro-organisms, while adding a nitrogen rich source.
Another bonus in the Korean Natural Farming approach is its impact on animal housing: animal housing can be cleaned up remarkably well with these techniques, as the Chinese army’s pig housing methods attest to. The Chinese army produces much of its own food, but when it brought its own pigs to feed itself during the Beijing Olympics, the odour was so bad it reportedly caused rioting. This smell was dealt with using Korean Natural Farming techniques.
Thomas Stack adds: “David Wong keeps 800 to 1,000 pigs. He used natural farming the last seven years, and a living floor. There are no flies or smell. He is located on the Island of Oahu. His pork is famous there, and gets great prices.”
Tom Stack will present with others in an event on fermenting, January 25 in Highbank Orchards, Kilkenny. Book on the biabeag.com website