Norfolk County -- here on a cattle ranch near Delhi in southwestern Ontario, the farmer's getting a kick out of playing redneck carnivore to my city-slicker vegan.
Good fun, really, but we both know what's really going on here. This former tobacco farmer is part of the advance guard of a shift in the eco-agro economy one that will hopefully pay all stewards of the land for their green habits.
Enter the Alternative Land Use Services, or ALUS. This farmer-led initiative funded by a kaleidoscopic partnership of birders, hikers, anglers, hunters, environmentalists, towns and the province gives cash to farmers in this area that was once cigarette country to safeguard clean water, grow bird habitat and store excess carbon in their land.
Bryan Gilvesy, a tall, muscular, talkative fellow, is the farmer hosting this harvest tour on his YU Ranch to celebrate his new crop of life-support services.
Gilvesy, who raises Texas longhorns, has turned eight of his 350 acres over to what's called tall grass prairie. It's the kind of growth that covered thousands of square miles in the North American West and Midwest only 120 years ago but has now almost disappeared, making its last stand in protected settings such as this.
Above ground, the tall grass provides nesting habitat for a variety of birds in the spring and early summer. Below ground, roots that go down 16 feet stabilize the soil, store carbon and filter water that drips down into the water table.
ALUS bought the prairie grass seed and pays Gilvesy $400 a year to leave the field alone until mid-July, when the birds migrate elsewhere. After the birds leave, Gilvesy lets his cattle feed on the grass, which he says "makes them fat and sassy" and ensures their meat is lean and well-priced.
"As I see it, society gets the use of my field for 10 months of the year, while my cattle and I only use it for two months," so it's fair that the society pay its share of the overhead costs.
The hundred or so Texas longhorns on YU Ranch are about as close to their wild ancestors as cattle get, with long horns to fend off predators and a sparkle in their eye indicating intelligence and watchfulness.
Each longhorn has a different multicoloured coat, indicating that some genetic diversity has been preserved.
The reward of keeping this breed on the wild side is that "they do my work for me," Gilvesy says. They're calm because he leaves them to "live like cattle," following their own herd instincts instead of being crowded in barns. "They'll eat anything thistle, thorn, anything," he says, which means he has to take special measures to protect nearby trees with fences.
Gilvesy also keeps cattle out of the stream that cuts through his property. This is where they could do a lot of harm, breaking up the soil along its banks and dumping manure in the water. "We're where the water for this area is born," Gilvesy says, so he works to keep it clean and cool, the way the fish need it and the way the townsfolk like their water coming into the filtration plant.
A solar-powered pump takes water from the stream to the cattle in the field, and a few tricks with the pump make sure returning water doesn't warm the creek.
It takes work and energy to provide this service to the town and anglers, but Gilvesy gets the equivalent of a local tax deduction from a club of hunters and anglers for his trouble, all orchestrated by ALUS.
Gilvesy was also provided with 30 bird boxes to house 60 bluebirds that eat flies off the backs of his cattle. That "biological machine" substitutes for the conventional treatment against flies a chemical mixed in diesel fuel applied to the cattle's backs. "It's like having a little army of helpers," Gilvesy says.
About 120 of his farm's 350 acres have been reforested. It's a managed forest, so some of the mature black cherry and red or black oak are cut for a local sawmill each year. (There's the old goods economy.) But the forest is still in the service business of taking carbon from the air and holding down the sandy soil, preventing the return of the still-remembered 1930s dust bowl.
"This land could turn to a sandy beach in a heartbeat," Gilvesy says, so growing corn from fence line to fence line doesn't make long-term sense.
Being eco-friendly also pays off, he says, because he gets visitors for his hay wagon rides who then buy their beef direct from him, bypassing the middlemen who normally take most of the money. He's also certified with Local Food Plus, which earns him a premium in restaurants.
"We used to be the people with a problem,' he says. "Now we're in the solutions business. Farmers can grow back wildlife habitat just like they grow any other crop. It's win-win-win all over the place. I can say to the public, "Now I work for you; just give me some support.' Just give us the incentives for being good stewards.'
The purchasers of Gilvesy's services in the natural capital business include the local town and county, Ontario Power Generation, the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Metcalf and Trillium Foundations and a score of others.
About 200 representatives of these organizations came out to cheer him on the late-September afternoon I did my tour.
There are a few other experiments like this elsewhere on the continent. Waterloo and New York City pay regional farmers in their watershed to follow practices that sustain clean water.
Many areas in Pennsylvania and Maryland pay farmers to adopt practices that keep the Chesapeake Bay alive. U.S. farm bills pay farmers to leave fragile lands idle.
It's true that ALUS payments are small $10 to $150 per acre, depending on the loss of income to the farmer and the quality of the service. For proper financing, there needs to be payment of fees for services by governments, too.
A leading thinker in the field, Pablo Gutman of the World Wildlife Fund, estimates that $3 trillion a year could be profitably spent this way around the globe, simultaneously ending rural poverty in the post-colonial world.
Getting off pollution doesn't have to be as hard as quitting tobacco.