Commercial agriculture's critics idealize farms that raise both crops and livestock and use the manure as fertilizer. Here in central Indiana, Meadowlane Farms lives that idea, though not in the Jeffersonian-yeoman, small-plot fashion the critics worship.

Meadowlane feeds 33,000 hogs a year and grows 1,700 acres of corn and soybeans. Thanks to a single-minded devotion to efficient and environmentally-sound manure management, it's 90 percent free of commercial fertilizers. It also runs a profitable business applying manure on other farmers' fields.

To Meadowlane's owner-operators – Mike Beard, his son David and his son-in-law Chris Pearson – manure isn't a problem to be disposed of. It's a soil nutrient and maximizing its value informs everything Meadowlane does from the feeding and watering of the animals to the techniques for returning manure to the soil.

The returns on this obsession are not only economic but environmental. Meadowlane has won awards from the state government, including the “Indiana River Friendly Farmer” award and the “Governor's award for Environmental Stewardship.” It is cited on the Conservation Technology Information Center website for its sound practices. The National Pork Producers Council has posted a Youtube profile referring to Mike Beard as a good environmental steward.

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