from the British Isles
Dear Lynn.. I hope you don’t mind me being so familiar and not using the standard “dear sir”…. Anyway… just received my Summer 2010 edition and was reading thru the letters when I read Mr Armstrong’s letter. I am saddened that he feels he cant learn anything from “foreign countries !!!.. The article you printed about the village project in the Congo was a real inspiration.. If agriculture didn’t adopt the closed door approach to youngsters or new/old ways of doing things , then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.. Monsanto and there likes are gaining power on the back of this narrow minded way of thinking… Sorry for ranting a bit.. I am waiting for my new plow from Pioneer.. The new foot lift model with the 12” Kverneland body. I cant speak highly enough of the Wengerd family… Keep up you’re excellent editorial please and power to you’re elbow.. Best regards from the Morton family..
every necessary tool
Hi, I was recently given a subscription to Small Farmers Journal as a gift from my fiance. He was raised on a homestead in upstate New York, and SFJ was always a part of their family. I am 25 and I have just started a Bachelors of Diversified Agriculture at Vermont Technical College. Sitting down to read your publication reminds me that I have chosen the right path. Sometimes I think it’s silly to go to college to study farming, when I could just go out and do it (and skip all the tuition!), but reading your editors letter this morning reminded me of all the hardships small farmers face today, and I was glad to be getting such a thorough education. My hope is that, in learning as much as possible, I will have every necessary tool to make changes in our country’s food system. I so appreciate your grounded view of farming and food. It’s so nice to read your articles that are based in hard work and common sense! Small Farmers Journal is a gift in my life! -Courtney Dyche, Vermont
Don’t Perpetuate a Myth
I’ve enjoyed your magazine for a long time and have learned a lot of useful stuff, some of which I use around the farm with my Shire horses. But I have to take one of your contributors to task for perpetrating a myth that is simply false and needs to be stopped.
In the Winter 2010 issue, Stephen Leslie presents an interesting overview of his farm operation and some of the equipment he uses. One section of the article (pg. 51) presents information on the plows he uses, and it is here that I must object. In discussing the differences in design of older plows, with their beautiful goosenecks, as compared to the newer plow built up from tubing and plate he writes, “An Amish farmer one told me that the reason that gooseneck beams are no longer produced is because of the quality of steel now available is so degraded that it can no longer support the form of the old designs.” In truth the quality of the steel available today is far superior to that available in the past and has nothing to do with the change in design.
I’m a Mechanical Engineer and my wife is a Metallurgical Engineer, both of us with many years of experience in our fields. I believe this gives me a good understanding of the reasons for the different designs. Fundamentally the difference in the designs of old and new plows is a matter of production volume. Those beautiful goosenecks are forged. But while forging makes a great part, to do it requires a forging press, and to make a part as large as the gooseneck takes a really big press – perhaps 25 feet tall, with a foot print of 15 by 20 feet. These presses are very expensive as are the dies to make specific parts. When a manufacturer was turning our tens of thousands of these parts it made sense to forge them; but, today, with the total annual production of animal pulled plows in the hundreds or low thousands the price of a forged part is simply too high. It could be done of course, but the final product might cost $10,000.
Modern designs also take advantage of factors not available to the designers of the older equipment. These include a large selection of steel bar stock in an array of sizes, and vastly superior welding technology.
Bar stock can be had is an amazing array of sizes and shapes from I-beams, and pipe, to square and rectangular tubing, to T and Z beams, channels, and the list goes on. This bar stock is available in bulk at very low prices, and it’s fairly easy to cut, drill, and combine to make the desired product.
And finally this bar stock is easy to weld so the desired product can be built up from several pieces of bar stock. In the old designs you will see very few welds because the welding technology of the day was basically gas torch, which is very inefficient in a production environment, and lets remember that this equipment was not made by your local blacksmith but by very large companies who were looking to make money. The older steels also tended to be high in carbon. Such steels, when welded, tend to become brittle, which is why it’s generally a bad idea to weld forgings unless you have the knowledge and the correct welding rods to do so. Modern steels on the other hand have very tightly controlled compositions and weld very well although you often need a specific welding rod to do it correctly. Still, most bar stock used in the current production of farm equipment is 1008, 1010, or 1020 steel that readily welds.
Poor quality steel does exist and does show up and become a problem. This is especially a problem in the area of bolts where counterfeit parts, for example those marked as grade 8, but really grade 5, are a major problem for many industries. But to explain changes in design over the years as attributable to the “degraded” quality of modern steels is simply foolish.
Thanks for letting me have my say. I look forward to your next installment.
A leg up
The new Journal is here and after reading through it a couple times I keep coming back to Bob Hanthorn’s letter. Some of the questions I’ve heard before and some I’ve probably thought myself at times.
I grew up here in Maine sixty some-odd years ago and back then my dad would say there are two kinds of farmers. You either sold what you couldn’t eat or eat what you couldn’t sell. We all sold what we couldn’t eat, or traded in reality. It was sustainable farming, long before we heard or knew what the word meant. All of our farmer neighbors worked out. They were likely millworkers, or shipbuilders, or fisherman. They made their money and supplemented it with farm work, had gardens, made hay, chopped wood, made milk and so on.
Dad also said there were two kinds of farmers, those that farmed for money and those that farmed with money. Everyone I knew farmed for money. But it was never money. You traded your extra wood say, for stuff you were lacking, like eggs maybe.
Most put their hay up loose. You’d get home from school in February and see they had shoveled snow to the barn, set up a baler, and baled half the hay and were gone. A big dairy was 16 cows and a big broiler house was 25,000 chicks. The broiler business literally went south. And we have one dairy in three towns hoping milk prices double so he can break even.
But we have many new, young farmers around. Some wondering aloud the same questions as Bob.
I think you need two things to be a farmer.
First, you need a leg up. Forty years ago, I wanted to buy a 25 acre wood lot. It cost $6,000 and I needed $1200 down to borrow the rest. I didn’t have 1200 cents. Neither did my aunt but she leant me the money. I bought my wood lot. The wood paid my aunt and the bank, but that wood lot and my aunt’s kindness and generosity were my leg up.
I think that every thing I have now, came from that woodlot and her help.
Next, you need someone who believes in what you do. My first wife farmed with me and I made our living in the woods with horses. Bless her heart for hanging in ten or eleven years and we have two great strong men children to show for our efforts. She left me with a piece of land that is now part of another farm that my new wife Penny and I live on today. Penny was not a farmer but that’s what I did so she dove right in and now, 21 years later, she is a better farmer than I. She can’t think in terms of success or failure ‘cause I don’t. Every year some things come and some don’t. That’s just how it is. We just farm. We lost our beans to rain this summer. Lots of rain. I started to complain ‘til Penny told me we had 50 quarts still from last year in the cellar and enough dry beans yet to eat and still plant two acres in spring. She is much better at marketing than I am. I still think four tomatoes is worth a dozen eggs. She doesn’t. She does all the sales.
So now I have two things to remember.
First, be thankful every day for everything you do have, not what you don’t.
And second is to give each person you meet a leg up when they need it, even if you can’t. That’s the deal.
Hey to Kristi and Scout from us.
Mitch and Penny
Earl Mitchell and Penny Savage
P.S. I think it’s hard to remember some times, but important to remember, that firewood and potatoes are true wealth and that money is just green paper, and that all of us, no matter how rich or poor, are still just working for food.
Mitch and Penny, It was good to see you at Common Ground even if it was way off in the distance. We need to sneak off together and do some serious fishing next trip. Your letter is the tops, thinking about having it burnt into a big old timber to use for a mantel piece. Your friendship means a great deal to us and the whole journal community. Lynn
To all who know the soil,
It is like seeing the stars for the first time and realizing they are not a myth. I was beginning to believe I was all alone with the belief single horse farming was an integral part of early farming here in Oregon, or farming altogether for that matter. I am grateful for the insightful and starkly honest article Cedar Mountain Farm wrote about their experience with single horse farming. I have antique pictures of our farm’s early farming operations with single non-draft horsepower, and knew I could do the same. But sadly, I was not taken seriously by most that team plow and all too often found little to no support there. The Amish had a hard time making a harness that could fit my Quarter Horse, Miss Kitty, much less a plow in proportion to her size, my size and our soil type. Farming is persistence, no matter what the issue, you get your goal accomplished, are willing to admit defeat, are humbled when you succeed. So it is with single horse plowing. It took great effort to train Kitty myself (plowing and farming with horses are a bit different than the harness horse showing I grew up with!) and finding tools to help teach her or tools to farm with were all considered miracles. A second hand store had a cultivator exactly like the one Cedar Mountain has and I snatched it up for $35.00. I found my Oliver small garden plow standing in a neighbors front yard as an “ornament”, knocked on their door and for $75.00 walked home the proud owner of my “new” plow. I sold my new but much heavier and larger Amish plow to Hands All Around, a CSA farm with a farm restaurant and use only my smaller plow and cultivator of which I am so attached too that I will probably be buried with them! As a result of my lessons in the soil, I teach workshops covering the fundamentals about single horse plowing called, “One Quarter Horse Power”, which covers safety, training, tools, harnesses and collars, horse health and the basic reality of small sustainable farm horse farming and horse care. In the mean time, the soil, Miss Kitty, these tools and my soul all come together in a harmony I know only as single horse plowing. Thank you Cedar Mountain for a great article and connecting with those of us who single horse plow. I am certainly glad to know you are out there! I’ll be thinking of you folks when I am plowing!
WHERE DO WE START?
We moved to our rented 9.3-acre farm out of desperation last summer. The owners of the horse-training and –boarding facility I was managing hadn’t paid me in three months, and were asking me to pay more to keep my own horses there. Then they went into foreclosure. I didn’t know how on earth we were going to find a home for myself, my husband, our 20-month-old daughter and my four horses with less than a month’s notice, let alone maintain my business of training horses and ponies for competitive carriage driving. My husband had taken a second job in town, leaving me at home with our child and with very little time to work. I had spent the unusually hard winter and spring caring for the twenty horses at the training facility with the baby riding in a backpack. We were exhausted and broke, and on the verge of moving back to the city. I couldn’t stand the thought.
Fortunately we found this little place, part of a larger 130-acre farm owned by the same family for three generations. There was an old flood-damaged barn, no fences, and gorgeous pastures. Family and friends rallied to collect all the used fencing materials that could be found, and I got my horses moved in for less than $200. There was more grass than was good for them, so I wouldn’t have to buy hay for a long time. One of my clients was married to a builder, so I trained one of her horses while her husband rebuilt the barn. A good friend gave us some laying hens. We managed to get in a small kitchen garden by mid-July, and thanks to our long growing season we kept our food bill pretty low for a while. I started washing my own diapers.
We didn’t have time or money to build cold frames, so by November I had picked the last of the greens. I no longer had an indoor arena, so my carriage-driving lessons and horse training slowed way down. Two chickens had been lost to coyotes, and the others weren’t laying. I found out where the local food banks were. A few days before Christmas the radiator in my truck blew up, so I told my husband where the food banks were so he could stop by on the way to work. The school where he taught was about to go on a five-week break for the holidays. I had two horses up for sale, but folks just weren’t buying. We weren’t quite sure how we were going to pay rent in January.
My birthday was three days before Christmas, and with it came a new radiator from my dad and an extra day of babysitting from my mom so my husband and I could go out. We splurged on a nice brunch, and talked about moving to Seattle. I still couldn’t stand the thought. We spent the holidays pinching pennies and enjoying our daughter’s delight in all the lights. The winter had been incredibly mild, no snow or flooding, and we enjoyed a week of clear freezing weather – sun in winter is a wonderful treat in the Pacific Northwest. We were so busy with out-of-town relatives and an enthusiastic toddler that we didn’t open our gifts from my parents until just last week.
It was our two-year-old who opened the big flat package that felt like an oversized magazine. I loved the brown paper cover before I could even read the title. A handwritten note from my dad was taped to the cover: I wasn’t sure if this was something you’d be interested in, but if you like it I’ll get you a subscription. They mention John Erskine. I remembered John Erskine from the Draft Horse Extravaganza my dad took me to every year when I was a kid. It was the most wonderful journal I’d ever seen. There were poems from a guy called Paul Hunter in Seattle, just 40 minutes from us. There were letters from other small farmers in western Washington. There was a lot of talk about helping young folks get started in farming. And best of all, there were people using horses in a real way. As a fan of Fell ponies, a native British breed used extensively in small-scale agriculture for centuries, I was delighted by the discussions about moving away from big draft breeds to smaller, easier-keeping types. I breathed a big sigh of relief, and realized I’d been holding my breath for months.
Is it really possible to earn a living farming? Is there really a demand for well-trained working horses? How can hardworking, resourceful, and totally broke young people like us get started? I know how to train young horses to ride and drive, breed Fell ponies, train herding dogs, and raise sheep for fleece and meat. My husband knows how to raise vegetables and flowers organically, propagate heirloom fruit trees, and collect and preserve seeds. We have brilliant compost from the horses. Our landlord will let me use the 20-acre hay field next to us for free. We live in a region with almost as many farmers’ markets as coffee stands – and that’s a lot! We can do this, but how do we start? How do we finance working harnesses for my ponies, a manure spreader, a hay mow, our first lambs? Would anyone trade a hay mow for draft horse training? How about ewe lambs for a great trail horse, or a set of work harness for breedings to my stallion? Copies of Lynn Miller’s books for graftings from our heirloom King apple tree? A good breeding rooster for seed sets?
Having devoured my first copy of Small Farmer’s Journal along with every page of the associated website and the Small Farms Conservancy website, I’m feeling a lot more hopeful than I did last week. Maybe we can hang onto this lovely farm. Maybe we’ll be able to sell some lamb to the nearby restaurant that supports other local farms. Maybe in the spring we can invite some kids from the elementary school to come watch the shearing and see the sheep dogs at work. Maybe next winter we’ll be able to take some of our abundant greens to the food banks that have helped us so much this year.
It would be great to hear from other young folks trying to get started, and from old folks who are helping out the younger ones. Do you keep town jobs? How do you pay for health care? How did you get your first equipment? Are you staying out of debt? Are you scared?
I feel enormously reassured to have read all the mentions of community and support in this one issue of SFJ. Clearly there are plenty of like-minded folks out there, and we’re sure looking forward to meeting you all.
Fall City, WA
Happy New Year! I hope this finds you and yours all well. I am a teacher (of sorts) at Terra Nova High School just outside of Portland. I wrote to you about a year ago about the farm program that I have started here at this school. In a nutshell we have turned a 1 acre ball field on the school property into a small organic farm. We are just in the planning phases of our second season. Last season ended up being a pretty huge success. We ended up with an 18 member CSA and are expanding to 30 members this year. We will be expanding our growing area to a satellite property off the school (one possible option is a local community college that would make an incredible academic partnership) in addition to the school site. The unique aspect to the program is that the business is totally run by the students. These are not students from rural areas either. They are very much from urban and suburban backgrounds. They are involved in every aspect of the farm including planning, marketing, seeding, cultivating, harvesting, post harvest production and ultimately handing off shares to and educating CSA members.
The amount of growth I have seen in them over the last 13 months has been amazing. They are learning so much about agriculture, community involvement and team work. I mean, how many high school kids do you know who boast that their favorite vegetable is kohlrabi? I was 24 before I knew what kohlrabi was and agriculture has been a passion of mine since high school! This last year has inspired me so much to try and spread this model. I think it is wonderful that so many schools have gardens but why not have more small businesses that are run by students that also bring the community together? Currently my position is grant funded and there is always the chance that funding wil not continue. The community has been SO supportive of this that I know somehow we will continue this program. Also there are always questions from the district about where the learning targets are. Sorry to be on my soapbox but the learning seems so obvious and the growth so immense that this sort of thing seems like a no- brainer. I guess part of why I’m writing is because I feel so passionately about the type of education (agricultural,nature based) going on here that I feel society as a whole would benefit from the type of growth I’ve been seeing in these young adults. The other reason I’m writing is because I am an avid fan of SFJ and have been thinking a lot about our possible place in the Small Farms Conservancy movement. I just wanted to let you know what we are up to and see if you had any ideas for how we could get involved. I see the urban youth I work with directly as the future of my local society and even if none of them pursue ag. after this experience I know they will take so much of this experience with them through life. Please let me know if you have any ideas for how we can get involved. Also I’d like to extend an invitation for you to come visit the farm if you’re ever up in Portland. Obviously the spring,summer or fall would be a more ideal time since there would be more to see. (As a sidebar I read in a recent issue that Jon Fishman is supporting the SFC. How cool. If you’re comfortable forwarding this to him please do so as I’d love for him to come visit as well if he is out this way sometime!)
Well, as always, thanks so much for what you do Lynn. I am at times overwhelmed at the direction I see our society heading in but am more often inspired by people like yourself and publications like SFJ.
Keep up the good work and please let me know if you have any ideas for how we can take this further!
PS- I’m including a link to an article that the Oregonian did on us back in the fall.
Not the best representation of the farm but it sure has generated a lot of interest. Oh yeah… that reminds me we received a huge donation of seeds from a seed distribution company and I would love to share them with other school farm/garden projects in the area. If you know of any others in Oregon that may appreciate some seeds please pass on my info to them.
Terra Nova High School
10351 NW Thompson Rd.
Portland, Oregon 97229