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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

by Tim Miles of Mount Airy, NC

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” — Japanese farmer, writer, and proto-permaculturist Masanobu Fukuoka from his book “The One Straw Revolution”.

My photographs and essay entitled Back to the Land chronicle the triumphs and struggles of my oldest son Matt and his partner Tasha Greer as local farmers over the past three years. The narrative draws on the thoughts and experiences noted in their blog The Way Back (www.the-way-back.com).

Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014.

In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

Back to the Land

Matt and Tasha moved to a 10-acre, mostly wooded property in Lowgap, where the Blue Ridge plateau dips down into the piedmont area of North Carolina. They named it the reLuxe Ranch in honor of the counter-culture lifestyle they were adopting.

Back to the Land

From the outset, they intended to engage in small-scale farming to provide for their own sustenance and some outside sales to try to earn extra income. They wanted to work with natural forces, using environmentally-friendly practices, to provide their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs. They aimed to minimize human inputs while maximizing use of waste products to improve the soil.

Back to the Land

Building infrastructure to support their homestead was one of their most important tasks. They installed a solar panel system to supplement their electricity. They also assembled a greenhouse for seed-starting and winter vegetable growing that would be used later as a brooder for poultry.

Back to the Land

Since the soil was severely eroded, they cover-cropped the exposed land that had topsoil and sheet mulched areas where nothing would grow with wood chips, manure, and straw. They also transplanted fruit plants brought from their yard in Maryland. Later, they purchased and planted other exotic edibles like jujube, hardy almond, and goji berries, and more.

Back to the Land

They started their vineyard with 50 wine-style vines cultivated for pest and mold resistance to minimize the need for pesticides and fungicides. In fall of the next year, they installed trellising and began wire training the 46 vines of 50 that had managed to survive intentional neglect and the local climate.

Back to the Land

In their first summer, Matt and Tasha found and foraged edible boletes and other mushrooms from around their property. They also began inoculating their own shiitake and other mushroom logs and created a mushroom grotto. Cultivated mushrooms became a significant and delicious part of their diet and, at $12 a pound, a saleable commodity at the local farmers’ markets.

They hoped to raise honey bees for pollination of their plantings and to harvest some honey. However, after several colonies were lost to a cold spring, low nectar flow, wax moth infestations, and Japanese wasp invasions, they decided to take a break from bee keeping until their edible landscape was more developed.

Back to the Land

Matt and Tasha knew livestock would play a key part in their soil fertility plan. Initially they bought 15 chicks and four ducklings as egg layers. They raised them in the house until they were mature enough to move the chickens to the existing chicken coop and the ducks to a small duck house.

Back to the Land

As ducks were a preferred meat source, better layers, and less harmful garden workers than chickens, more ducks were added bringing the population to 20 layers and two drakes. Fertile eggs were incubated and hatched on the farm to produce a small supply of Pekin ducks for meat production and sale at the farmers’ markets.

Back to the Land

Tasha and Matt tried raising turkeys as well, but their flock of ten was quickly reduced to three after many died in accidents or perished due to neighborhood dog attacks. Woodford, a Bourbon Red, and Ferdinand and Isabella, two Spanish Blacks, survived and became pets instead of table meat since they foraged well, ate a lot of pests, and entertained farm visitors.

Back to the Land

Goats were the first experiment in rearing non-poultry livestock. Matt and Tasha purchased two mature Nigerian dwarf does, named Phoebe and Fancy, as breeding stock for their personal dairy herd and underbrush clearers for land development.

Back to the Land

Several months later they brought in a new buckling to expand their herd. They named him Pythagoras because of the triangular shapes under his eyes and on his head and tail.

Pythagoras proved more effective than expected. Phoebe and Fancy gave birth to their first litters in March 2015 and again several months after that. In no time, the milking herd was up to six does. Extra bucklings were neutered and sold as pets. Pythagoras’ first born, Moose, was kept as a buck and companion for him and a later buckling named Patches, also got to stay on the ranch.

Back to the Land

Milking goats has been a daily chore that has given Matt and Tasha a regular supply of high-cream milk and great tasting cheeses.

Back to the Land

Matt and Tasha picked up four Yorkshire piglets in the spring of 2015. Their first round of pigs were easy to rear, but grew to unexpectedly large sizes. Since the couple knew nothing about raising pigs, the pigs were each 400 pounds at the time of slaughter rather than the target weight of 270 pounds.

Back to the Land

Their second round of pigs, acquired in June of 2016, proved to be impossible to keep in pasture without frequent feedings and fence checks. These pigs were about 300 pounds each and ate more than 1,000 pounds of feed plus pasture and garden scraps in their five months on the farm. The cost to buy and feed each pig was $300 and resulted in over 170 pounds of meat products per pig.

Back to the Land

Like many Americans, Matt and Tasha enjoyed eating meat as part of their diet. However, they objected to what they saw as cruel and inhumane practices in the global industrial food system. The prospect of slaughtering the animals they cared for was daunting initially, but participation in ethically and sustainably raised meat has become a critical part of the couple’s farming ethos.

Back to the Land

Killing twelve of their 15 ducks in October 2015 — their first attempt to raise meat for personal consumption — was logistically easy in that it involved holding and swiftly decapitating 10-pound ducks. Dispatching four grown pigs required a great deal of planning and coordination to bring together a community of friends, neighbors and family to carry out the slaughtering. Fortunately, many of these people had experience as hunters or grew up on farms and understood the importance of a swift and humane slaughter.

Back to the Land

It took the better part of two days to butcher the carcasses, cure hams and bacon, and package cuts for freezer storage. It took several more days of hard labor to turn whatever bits were left into sausage, lard, and pate. This first slaughter netted 780 pounds of pork products — much of which was shared with helpers as compensation for their efforts or cooked for the post hog killing celebration.

Back to the Land

An important element of homesteading is preparing and preserving food that is grown and raised. Matt and his brother Jason built this smokehouse which was used over the winter of 2015 to smoke the country hams, prosciutto, and certain varieties of sausages from the autumn pig slaughter.

Back to the Land

Farmers’ markets are one of the principal ways small farmers sell their goods. Buying locally-grown, healthy, farm-fresh produce has increased in popularity in recent years. This marketing channel allows farmers to share communal spaces to display their products and to forge a personal relationship with buyers and establish customer loyalty. Tasha has been selling what she harvests in her gardens at markets near where they live in Elkin and Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Back to the Land

As 2016 ended, Matt and Tasha had many reasons to celebrate. They had tripled the size of their vegetable garden and reaped bumper harvests of salad greens, sweet potatoes, squashes, tomatoes, watermelons, and many other vegetables. They had gained enough confidence and experience to raise and slaughter another round of pigs for their meat. They had started fodder projects to offset the costs of feeding their animals and hoped one day to earn some profits on their hard work. And, finally, they made plans to re-establish some new hives on their farm in 2017 so their gardens could benefit once again from the life-sustaining activities of bees.

More than anything, Matt and Tasha were grateful for the wealth of advice and help they had received from friends and neighbors who now formed a closeknit and mutually-supportive community that they have come to value greatly.

They had a home now where their hearts would always be.

Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

Portable Poultry

Portable Poultry

An important feature of the range shelter described in this circular is that it is portable. Two men by inserting 2x4s through the holes located just below the roost supports and next to the center uprights can easily pick up and move it from one location to another. Frequent moving of the shelter prevents excessive accumulation of droppings in its vicinity which are a menace to the health of the birds. Better use will be made by the birds of the natural green feed produced on the range if the houses are moved often.

Rebuilding the New Idea Manure Spreader

Rebuilding the New Idea Manure Spreader

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To select a Model 8, 10 or 10A for rebuilding, if you have a few to choose from – All New Idea spreaders have the raised words New Idea, Coldwater, Ohio on the bull gear. The No. 8 is being rebuilt in many areas due to the shortage of 10A’s and because they are still very popular. The 10A is the most recent of the spreaders and all three can be rebuilt. The 10 and 10A are the most popular for rebuilding as parts are available for putting these spreaders back into use.

New Idea Manure Spreaders

New Idea Manure Spreaders

from issue:

There is no fixed method of loading. The best results are usually obtained by starting to load at the front end, especially in long straw manure. To get good results do not pile any manure into the cylinders. The height of the load depends upon the condition of the manure, the condition and nature of the field. Do not put on extra side boards. Be satisfied with the capacity of the machine and do not abuse it. Overloading will be the cause of loss of time sooner or later.

400 Hen Laying House

400-Hen Laying House

by: ,
from issue:

One of the hardest problems in successful poultry keeping is to maintain the vigor and health of the flock. Housing has particular bearing on this problem. If the laying-house is poorly lighted, has insufficient ventilation, or is overcrowded, the health of the fowls will be affected. The purpose of housing is to increase productiveness. In order to accomplish this the fowls must be comfortable.

Shoeing Stocks

An article from the out-of-print Winter 1982 Issue of SFJ.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by:
from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

Geiss New-Made Hay Loader

Gies’ New-Made Hayloader

by:
from issue:

I was sitting on a 5 gallon bucket staring at the hayloader. I had a significant amount of time and money invested. My wife, the great motivating influence in my life, walked up and asked what I was thinking. I was thinking about dropping the whole project and I told her so. She told me that it had better work since I had spent so much money and time on it already. She doesn’t talk that way very often so I figured I had better come up with a solution.

Illusive Herd of Threshasaurus Sighted

Illusive Herd of Threshasaurus Sighted

by:
from issue:

The Threshasaurus’s large size and curious nature may appear antagonistic, but they are mostly curious and largely non-threatening. Be careful when approaching, however, as they do have sharp teeth and many fast moving, exposed pulleys.

The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge

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from issue:

In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

Sleds

Sleds

by:
from issue:

The remainder of this section on Agricultural Implements is about homemade equipment for use with draft animals. These implements are all proven and serviceable. They are easily worked by a single animal weighing 1,000 pounds, and probably a good deal less. Sleds rate high on our homestead. They can be pulled over rough terrain. They do well traversing slopes. Being low to the ground, they are very easy to load up.

Walsh No Buckle Harness

from issue:

When first you become familiar with North American working harness you might come to the erroneous conclusion that, except for minor style variations, all harnesses are much the same. While quality and material issues are accounting for substantive differences in the modern harness, there were also interesting and important variations back in the early twentieth century which many of us today either have forgotten or never knew about. Perhaps the most significant example is the Walsh No Buckle Harness.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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from issue:

The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

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from issue:

I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

LittleField Notes Spring 2013

LittleField Notes: Spring 2013

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If we agree that quality of plowing is subject to different criteria at different times and in different fields, then perhaps the most important thing to consider is control. How effectively can I plow to attain my desired field condition based on my choice of plow? The old time plow manufacturers understood this. At one time there were specific moldboards available for every imaginable soil type and condition.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Amber Baker Letter

Hello from Michigan!

Dear Lynn Miller and staff, Hello from Michigan! We have only just started to read your Journal, and have really enjoyed it. First off, thank you for your publication. It is always a special occasion when the journal arrives, my favorite part would have to be when the seasoned farmer imparts some knowledge. Secondly, my dad is trying to figure out how to make a PTO forecart, but we are having difficulty finding information on people who have made their own, or what dimensions to make the cart out of and such.

Shed and Barn Plans

Below is a short piece from Starting Your Farm, by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller. Click the links below to see Chapter One of Starting Your Farm and to view the book in our online bookstore. “You may have purchased a farm with a fantastic set of old barns and sheds. You, on […]

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT