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An Open Letter to the USDA

From Avery Hendries, age 17 

Dear USDA,

Let’s talk about the current state of our farms. It is a known fact that livestock farming is causing a huge problem to our atmosphere, ecosystem, food, and well-being. Many may think that cutting out meat will help solve this issue since cows and livestock produce harmful gases like methane and destroy our lands. Vegetarians are disgusted by the way animals are treated in these “farms” and don’t want to support that industry. Well, I am no vegan, but quite frankly, I am disgusted as well. You see, though, the problem isn’t as simple as cutting out meat from your diet. Farming and growing livestock doesn’t have to be a harmful process. There are ways to nurture healthy animals and regrow the lands as well as diminish and actually remove CO2 production from farming. This is something called Holistic Management Farming. 

American author and environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, states that “[He] is glad [he] will not be young in a future without wilderness.” However, this fear has become our reality. There are around 54 years left of harvest seasons before our soil is too damaged to produce anything. 70% of our grassland has turned into desert. Factoring farming produces 41 million tons of carbon dioxide per year from fertilizer. This is because of the high-energy crops that animals are being forced to consume which require large amounts of chemical fertilizer. An example of this is corn. Factory farm cattle are forced to eat grain like corn every day. The problem with this is that cows' digestive systems are not designed to process food like this. This gives liver abscesses and highly acidic digestive systems, and to fix this they are being pumped of drugs and steroids to combat these issues. The cattle raised on these farms consume a lot of fossil fuel energy. The chemical fertilizer used to grow these high-energy crops for cattle takes up an immense amount of oil. The waste removal and trucking of all this raise fossil fuel consumption higher and higher, as well as the deserted land behind picked over and grazed by cattle which is never given a chance to regrow. Most animals in these farms never see sunlight and some are so jam-packed they never see their calves or don’t have enough space to even turn around. Factory farming contributes a huge amount to water pollution as well. This is because instead of manure nutrients going back into the soil and being able to positively grow the land it's contributing to water pollutants. So what can we do? 

Bobby Gill, the Director of Corporate Development for the Savory Institute has spoken out about a better farming practice. This is holistic management farming. This way of farming proves the necessity of grazer for grassland and how farming can actually reverse negative global impacts of CO2 emission, drought, overgrazing, habitat destruction, etc. How does this work? It is actually quite simple. The plan industrial farms currently have for livestock is overcrowding them and keeping them on one patch of land to overgraze. So the better alternative is to have your cattle start on a section of grass/land and have space to roam and graze. Once the grass is significantly eaten they are moved onto another section. This works in whatever pattern and timely manner is suitable for the space. What this does is give the grass time to grow back and soak up nutrients to come back stronger and healthier while also having time to produce oxygen back into the atmosphere. This grass can take CO2 out of the air and restore it back underground as it is supposed to. These cattle are feeding on grass which their stomach is intended for so they are producing more nutrient-dense food and less harmful belches and gas. Here are some statistics on CO2 emission from Oak Pasture, a holistic farm helped by Savory Institute, then an industrial farm, and an impossible burger factory. Oak pasture produces: +29 for belches/gas, +5 Manure emission, -35 soil carbon intake, -4 plant carbon, +1 other, +.2 slaughter emissions, all together have -3.5 pounds of CO2 net total emission. Conventional beef farms grow grain to feed livestock, +33 pounds of CO2 for one pound of beef. Lastly, the Impossible and Beyond meat factories, +4 and +3.5 pounds of CO2 emission. So out of all these different options, holistic farms are actually taking more CO2 out of the air than they are producing. They are creating ecosystems while other methods are destroying them. As Bobby Gill stated in his 2020 Ted Talk, “It’s not the cow it’s the how!” 

I am fortunate enough that my family believes heavily in holistic and organic farming, so I have grown up with healthy meats and produce for all of my life. However, not everybody has the opportunity to eat grass-fed products. If holistic farming was widespread and as common as industrial farming there would be no jacked-up prices for “organic” foods, and food/produce would be on a level playing field. These mass corporations and factories are thriving off of money and will continue to out-maneuver and legislatively handicap the holistic grazing business. According to OpenSecrets, which is an independent research group, they have tracked that, “in 2021 lobbying money for dairy/livestock amounted to $10.4 Million and crops were lobbying $25 million.” The issue of greenwashing and its harm to people is more than apparent. The soil is one of the world's largest carbon sinks, so regenerating our grasslands is necessary! Holistic farming does just this. If we want to make a change and let nature do its rightful thing, it is not too late we can reverse the damage being done. We need grazers and they can restore our lands and our atmosphere if we allow them to. I am a 12th-grade high school student currently taking an environmental English class to further my knowledge of environmental crises. This also gives me opportunities to explore and find connections between literature and nature. Into the Wild, a novel about a man who ventured away from social normalcy to find passion and life in the Alaska wilderness, has beautiful insight into the necessity of nature to mankind. Christopher McCandless, the explorer himself, says, “When you want something in life, you just gotta reach out and grab it” and this is relevant to today’s environmental crisis. At some point, movements stand still and we need to act to see change. So please, take all this into consideration for the USDA, and for those reading elsewhere, change needs to happen. We truly can make a difference if you listen. Don't blame the cows, blame the how! 


Avery Hendries 

This submission was part of an open letter assignment at Huntington Beach High School. If you are interested in submitting a post to EarthPlex, visit our Submit a Post page.

Works Cited 

Gill, Bobby. “Letter to the Editor: NY Times ⋆ Savory Institute.” Savory Institute, 25 Feb. 2022, 

Gill, Bobby. “It's Not the Cow It's The How.” Bobby Gill: It's Not the Cow It's the How | TED Talk,



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