Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm
by Ish Shalom of Coquille, OR
Sometimes, or perhaps often, it is easy for us to be so immersed in our own doings and chosen disciplines that it’s tricky to imagine how someone fresh to our workaday world might see our farming. Friend Walt Bernard sent us an article which appeared in a small ‘local’ newspaper. It chronicled the ‘introduction’ of a forester to Walt and Kris’ farm and farming at their Oregon biodynamic open house. The captions are Walt’s, the pictures and text are by Ish Shalom.
I think this set of simple and abbreviated observations might be useful for those of us who need to understand the various ways we might be perceived. While, on another plain, the photos share, with some of us who are working horses, at least a couple of procedures and setups we might not be familiar with. For more info readers can contact Walt at: firstname.lastname@example.org Or their websites: workhorseworkshops.com & rowrivervalley.org – LRM
One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences.
At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work. They also have other animals such as cows, chickens and pigs. The pigs root the ground, effectively cleaning it out from any persistent plants, such as bindweed or blackberries. A multi-acre oat field stood with hardly a single weed in it, as it was so effectively rooted by the pigs beforehand. The chickens are also rotated through different areas, cleaning the ground of any weeds or seeds. They use an old delivery truck with the back of it as the chicken coop, so it can simply be driven to a different location with an electric fence erected around it. Besides raising animals for work, meat, dairy and eggs, they also have vegetables, fruits such as strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, and grain crops.
I was most impressed by the use of the draft horses. They occasionally use up to four of them together, pulling large implements across large fields. During my visit, I watched a demonstration of using a single horse for both discing and grain grinding. I got to observe the whole process from harnessing the horse, attaching the harness to the implements, getting work done, and then returning the horse back to the barn. They were using old tractor implements, such as harrows and discs, which were converted for horse use. First the horse was discing field rows to soon be planted. The disc implement was about 4′ or 5′ wide with a chair on it for the driver. After getting the horse and implement in place, Walt, the driver, sat down on the disc using his weight to push the disc into the ground. The horse seemed pretty happy to be contributing work on the farm, discing through the rows faster than I expected. The whole process seemed to not take any longer than firing up a tractor, letting it warm up, using it, and then letting it idle for a while to cool down before shutting it off. After the discing demo, the horse was harnessed to a grain mill, where she walked in a circle around the mill, turning it as it rotated, grinding field corn they had grown for animal feed. I liked the simplicity of the operation, with simple mechanical devices which seemed pretty straight forward to understand how they work and repair if necessary.
I’ve thought about having draft horses out here in Walker Creek Valley, for forestry work of skidding logs mostly. Currently we use a tractor, but it would certainly be more challenging to do this work with one horse power rather than our 28 horsepower tractor. Growing hay and alfalfa to feed a horse in our small forest clearing would be a different story than growing a vegetable garden as we presently do. Instead, I can envision building a collaborative relationship between several regional Ecoforestry operations together with a valley-based local farm which would be able to utilize one or multiple draft horses in the growing of hay that could then feed the horses. The horses could come up into the forest for specific harvesting jobs, just during the dry season, when road compaction would be significantly reduced. While already geared towards horse-scale farming, this local farm could also grow grain and vegetable crops to feed those foresters working on the surrounding forestland. Feed for forest-based livestock such as poultry and goats could be thus grown and distributed as well. Any wood products needed on the farm such as fence posts, lumber, poles, cedar shakes, firewood, etc, could be brought down from the forest with the horses returning to the farm. Building this kind of regional network of farms, forestry operations and community is how I picture the beginnings of Permaculture implemented beyond the home-scale.
Ish Shalom is the Food Forester at Mountain Homestead, a center for development and education of modern American skills through Permaculture implementation on a homestead scale. You can reach him at email@example.com