I vividly remember finding out as a child that I could actually eat small scraps of paper without dying. It was a pretty cool trick.
But of course, the fact that nothing happened (i.e. I didn't keel over and die) which was once so exciting, eventually became the same reason I gave up on swallowing small bits of paper in front of my very impressed friends.
See, when you eat paper... nothing happens. (Except maybe a little bit of strain on your digestive tract as it ties to break down the cellulose.)
Overall, since we can get almost no nourishment from wood, it basically a net loss to our system.
But that's not the case for all organisms. Turns out, there are a LOT of organisms that absolutely thrive on high doses of carbon. And though we can't really SEE these organisms and we don't actually know a lot about them, they are still incredibly important.
You see, I'm talking about the little guys in the soil and compost piles. The break-it-all-down-into-nothingness guys. Micro-organisms. Fungi. Bacteria. All kinds of microscopic dudes. (So many in fact that they say there are more of THEM in a teaspoon of healthy soil then there are of US living on earth. Yeah. Let that sink in. There's a LOT of these little guys.)
And why are these guys important? (No, its not because they can eat paper!)
These guys are the foundation to all of OUR health. When they break down carbon, they make important plant foods available. And those important plant foods allow edible (to us) plants healthy and nutrient dense. And UNLIKE woody carbon type plant materials, these nutrient dense plants (think vegetables) CAN be digested by our relatively weak digestive system. (Yeah, we might be at the top of the food chain, but our digestive tract is actually pretty wimpy...)
And many of the healthy plants that are still fairly undigestible to our system (like grass) can be fed to various animals with more advanced digestive systems (like the mighty four stomached cow!) who CAN break down the plant, extract the nutrients, and provide us with something nourishing like milk or meat.
But now that I've run you all the way up the food chain let me circle back to where we started (the food chain IS a circle after-all folks!). Eating Paper. Which is wood. Which is Carbon.
Here on the farm we spend a lot of time and energy and money learning about, thinking about, and actively taking care of the carbon eaters. By feeding them wood (or paper!).
Because the more we can feed them and create a hospitable environment for the breaker-downs, the more they'll live in our soil, feed our plants, and nourish YOU--our friends and customers!
One place where this work is on full display is in our winter chicken coop. Throughout the winter we lay down significant amounts of carbon in the floor of our coop. This carbon (mostly in the form of wood shavings) absorbs and combines with the chicken manure creating a really rich compost that will feed our plants to the MAX!
And while the carbon is essential and important, the chicken manure is too. In fact, we sometimes refer to the layers and layers of carbon as a giant "carbonaceous chicken diaper" since one of it's main functions is to absorb that precious excrement. (Yes--poop is precious when it comes to sustainable farming. Please take as much time as you need to wrap your mind around that key truth. Poop is precious.)
I don't eat paper anymore. Its pointless.
But I do spend a fair amount of time feeding carbon to the little guys that like it. And THAT work isn't pointless. In fact it sustains life. Your life. All life.
So next time you sit down to a delicious and nourishing plate of vegetables from our farm, just remember that your nourishment started way back in the middle of winter when I was catching chicken poop and feeding carbon to little guys that none of us can see. Because well, somebodies gotta do it.