Consider the cattle feedlot.  These are what Michael Pollan has described as cities for cows… not modern cities, but instead 17th century cities lacking modern sewage and hygiene systems.  Around 97% of cows in this country spend their last 3-10 months in these bovine metropolises, with three-quarters of them in settings with more than 1,000 cows… but some of the largest have over 100,000 cows on just 400 acres.  

That’s 125 cows on your suburban ½ acre lot, or 625 cows on your average 2.5 acre urban block.  We haven’t yet figured out how to put cows in high rises, so this is, well… tight quarters.

All of these cows present three immediate environmental challenges, among others:

  • Feed must be imported to the feedlot, because the ground is continuously trampled and could never support plant growth (or, it’s concrete);
  • Fertility must be artificially derived by the application of synthetic fertilizers, typically supported by herbicides and pesticides, to grow this feed, since the cows (and their manure) are no longer on this land; and
  • Waste must be disposed of somehow, since it continually builds in the manure lagoon, which must be perpetually drained.

The agriculture industry has decided to break these three problems down into their component parts, and solve each independently, which, in turn, creates a new (typically unintended) consequence that then also needs to be tackled independently.  For example, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport of feed, toxic runoff from overapplication of synthetic fertilizers (and the resulting algae blooms), land application of waste… and second and third order downstream effects from there.

There is an alternative: farming in sync with nature.  This means mimicking natural systems wherever possible.  For beef, it means raising them outdoors on pasture, moving them through separate paddocks on regular rotations at high stocking densities, and feeding them only what is grown in the pasture.  Manure is incorporated into the soil at its natural carrying capacity, in turn increasing the pasture’s yield and thereby, its ability to support more animals over time.  There is no need to import feed, no need for artificial fertilizers, and no manure lagoon.  There are not three distinct problems, there is one symbiotic system.  This is farming in sync with nature.  In nature, there are not inputs and outputs, only cycles.

This systems-level thinking applies to banking as well.  Banking in sync with nature means understanding the internalities and externalities that don’t appear on a balance sheet, and valuing second and third order effects of our actions.  Put differently, we don’t support businesses that socialize their costs but privatize their profits.  We do support the sustainable growing, harvesting, processing and selling of local food in sync with nature, and we focus on the long term.

Join us, help us build a new kind of bank, and make sure your idle savings are used for good!  We’d love to have your support as a depositor (when we get there!).