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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: How-To & Plans

Build Your Own Butter Churn

Build Your Own Butter Churn

by:
from issue:

Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.

Chicken

The Best Chicken Pie Ever

by:
from issue:

She has one more gift to give: Chicken Pie.

Blacksmithing

Blacksmithing

from issue:

Modern farm machinery is largely of iron and steel construction, making an equipment of metal working tools necessary if satisfactory repairs are to be made. Forging operations consist of bending, upsetting, drawing out, welding, punching, drilling, riveting, thread-cutting, hardening, tempering, and annealing. Heat makes iron soft and ductile. Practically all forging operations on iron can be done more rapidly when it is at a high heat. Steel will not stand as high a temperature.

Horse Powered Snow Scoop

Horse Powered Snow Scoop

by:
from issue:

The scoop has two steel sides about 5 feet apart sitting on steel runners made out of heavy 2 X 2 angle iron, there is a blade that is lowered and raised by use of a foot release which allows the weight of the blade to lower it and then lock in the down position and the forward motion of the horses to raise it and lock it in the up position. This is accomplished by a clever pivoting action where the tongue attaches to the snow scoop.

Horseshoeing Part 4A

Horseshoeing Part 4A

According to the size of the horse and his hoofs the nails should be driven from five-eighths to an inch and five-eighths high, and as even as possible. As soon as a nail is driven its point should be immediately bent down towards the shoe in order to prevent injuries. The heads of all the nails should then be gone over with a hammer and driven down solidly into the nail-holes, the hoof being meanwhile supported in the left hand.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

The Use and Construction of Home Made Implements

The Use and Construction of Home Made Implements

by: ,
from issue:

It is now possible to purchase a make of machine to suit almost any condition if the money is available. There is no doubt that eventually they will be quite generally used. However, the dry farmers are at present hard pressed financially and in many instances the purchase of very much machinery is out of the question. For the man of small means or limited acreage, a homemade implement may be utilized at least temporarily.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

by:
from issue:

Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Rebuilding the New Idea Manure Spreader

Rebuilding the New Idea Manure Spreader

by:
from issue:

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.

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

The Milk and Human Kindness: Plans for an Old Style Wooden Stanchion Floor

by:
from issue:

The basic needs that we are addressing here are as follows: To create a sunny, airy (not drafty), dry, convenient, accessible place to bring in our cow or cows, with or without calves, to be comfortably and easily secured for milking and other purposes such as vet checks, AI breeding, etc. where both you and your cow feel secure and content. A place that is functional, clean, warm and inviting in every way.

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Besides good, tough iron for the shoe, we need an anvil with a round horn and a small hole at one end, a round-headed turning-hammer, a round sledge, a stamping hammer, a pritchel of good steel, and, if a fullered shoe is to be made, a round fuller. Bodily activity and, above all else, a good eye for measurement are not only desirable, but necessary. A shoe should be made thoughtfully, but yet quickly enough to make the most of the heat.

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 […]

Work Horse Handbook

Grooming Work Horses

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

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