George Lake has spent much of his life in the air. It took two retirements, first from the Marine Corps, the second from a commercial airliner, to bring him back to earth.
But, despite being aloft, Lake, 70, was always looking down. His time as a pilot took him across Europe, where he learned how small farms developed grazing practices and healthy grasses.
“Farming was in my blood,” he said. “It was a great journey.”
The son of a farming family, Lake founded Thistle Creek Farms in 1982. He started with two animals bought at the Middleburg livestock auction.
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“I didn’t even know what they were,” he said. “They just went cheap. We started building our herd from that.”
In the about three decades since, the herd has grown to 600 beef cattle and 120 sheep. Through a number of sustainable practices, the Tyrone farm has developed a bustling market, relying more on the land than the use of machines. It has been featured on the A&E Network, and its product has been in demand by chefs throughout the East Coast.
The secret, Lake says, lies in the soil.
“I didn’t know much when I first started,” he said. “But I knew I wanted to get the soils alive again. I produce livestock, but I’m kind of a soil farmer or a grass farmer. Because it’s so important to me to build the whole pyramid.”
On Saturday, Lake will share his experience at “Forage-Based Beef,” a seminar hosted by Penn State Extension at the Montoursville Presbyterian Church, 900 Elm St. in Montoursville. The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
He said he will discuss building up nutrient density in soils without the use of fertilizer or overreliance on heavy machinery.
“Really doing it with herds, much like the buffalo did in the West,” he said, “and how the soils are better when you trample organic matter in.”
Rotational grazing, which keeps livestock on the move, acts as a natural fertilizer, cultivating the earth with the pressure of hooves and an army of earthworms and microorganisms. Lake said he’ll cover that topic in addition to management and marketing practices.
Penn State Extension experts are also scheduled to give presentations, covering everything from controlling weeds to extending one’s growing season.
Registration costs $35 and can be done via Penn State Extension’s website by Wednesday. Interested individuals can also register by calling 570-433-3040.
“You’ve got to feed the livestock under the ground as well as the livestock above it,” Lake said. “Because it’s easy to see on one side of the fence to the other, where cattle have been pounding organic matter into the soil.”