“Yes, with this approach to farming we make decisions and put our hands to some small manipulations but the very breadth of mixed crop and livestock systems often quickly leave us behind and spread out to do their own work of symbiotic osmosis and complementary relations.”
Where to begin? How do you get in the proverbial ‘door?’ Instead of saying out loud “I want to learn how to farm, I want to learn everything you know.” Save it as answer to a future question. Instead introduce yourself to that farmer and offer this; “How may I help you with your farm work?” And if the answer is, “I need those pumpkins loaded carefully on this wagon, can you handle that?” You say “Yessir,” and do it.
First we had hunting and gathering. Then we had farming. Those two periods of human history lasted quite a long time. Then we had agriculture, morphing some would say by necessity into the highly extractive agribusiness model of soil mining – simplify by calling it industrial agriculture. In the wider scope of human history, industrial agriculture has been a blip.
That’s a pair of book ends for you; the Age of Enlightenment up against the Age of the Dodo. But the Dodo bird went extinct long ago you say? Yes, and that is the very strength of the example; my point in calling this the age of the Dodo is to make a case for what is certain to follow the obsolescence of humans, of what it means to be a thinking, working, compassionate, and musical human being. The unthinkable is upon us, humans may just become extinct and by their own lazy hand.
People ask this question in many shifting forms; “What made you choose the life of an old-fashioned horse-farmer?” Sometimes I answer it, sometimes I don’t even make an effort. But now I’m intensely interested in understanding how we must crack the new armors of the young if we are to “get through to” candidate novices, those people who think they want to do what we do. And we must get through to them if we are to complete the hand-off, the passing of the proverbial baton. So that means we have to honor all these questions and make good attempt to honestly and completely answer them.
Once a pesticide is banned in the United States for its dangerous health and environmental effects, companies are still permitted to manufacture it for export only. This policy sends a message to the world that American lives are more valuable, yet ironically these toxic pesticides circulate the globe and come back to the US as residues on imported food in the circle of poison.
A long time ago I decided to stick my neck out and buy a small farm. I knew I had to do it. I was consumed by dreams of a place of my own. Dreams, and plans, and more dreams. Over thousands of late nights I had destroyed countless paper napkins and scraps of paper drawing little designs of where the farm house would be and the relationship of the chicken house to the garden and the barn…
We have a hole in our yard… We have lived with it all these thirty years. It starts out five feet across and runs straight down deep. At seven hundred feet we have not found the bottom. We have determined that it passes through the volcanic rock ceiling of a massive cavern at 250 feet. We keep it covered and fenced off. I try not to think of that hole, seventy five feet from our house, but I admit that it does give me pause. To friends and family it is a fearful thing. To me it is just a reminder that nature holds some cards.
The margins are where we overlap, where we test our absolutes. Where we touch. Whose land, whose barrier is this? And individual species’ invisible barriers may be stronger than those we erect and repair. I know a farmer who built perfect bluebird houses and screwed one atop every other post around his field. But the bluebirds couldn’t stand to live so close together — no more than three or four of the dozen boxes to a side were ever occupied.
My job has always been to make sure that my Great Uncle Ephraim, the fierce plowman, always had someone hammering away at the need for better farming. Don’t know that I have succeeded. I do know that events such as the Marsden Project offer the contradiction of a measure of good news weighed against the […]
Food Freedom is the right of consumers to purchase the food of their choice without government oversight and the right to free access to these consumers by farmers and food producers. For most of our history Food Freedom has been the norm. With Food Freedom comes the empowerment of communities to feed themselves. Food Freedom is about independence, self-sufficiency and food security. It’s about building community and local economic development.
Today there is no end to formulas that are supposed to give you a leg up, or at best some sort of guarantee of success, with draft horses. I say be wary. The best intentions, the best preparation, the best animals, the safest routine is NO guarantee of success with the working animals. Formulas cannot replace your personal fortitude or strength of conviction and clarity of purpose. And those things will result in a matched natural comfort with the animals.
Farming as a way of life, as a determination, as work flow, as a skill set – all of it at ground level is laced with tangible and intangible details that tell us more about the cause of the fray and the shapes of the smiles than about the presentable menus and recipes of the enterprise. Here is how you raise geese for market – the recipe. While over there is how you successfully fold into a farming day the shared presence of free range geese as guardians and weeders. Sometimes the only way to ‘get the true picture’ is through shared stories.
Marvin Haskell was a jovial engaging disjointed hermit. A crippled old wizened yet well-fed curmudgeon who lived a mile up the road on his 300 acre timber/former dairy farm. In a tar-paper-covered single-wall fourteen by sixteen foot one room tool shed of a shack with no running water.
Even more of a challenge than the actual work required is not to allow such things to discourage you to the point of inactivity. One way which works for me is to recall strings of best days working, days I want to think define me. So I chainsawed up the broken trees while thinking about turning beautiful soil and watching the birds follow for unearthed treasures. Or I would pull nails and screws to release sheets of tin from the blown rafter assembly while remembering best days mowing hay with the many outstanding teams I have owned.
Many of us are good farmers (at least with the growing part) yet we fail at our business adventure because we are somehow crippled when it comes to seeing how our produce fits in the world. And seeing how our produce fits in the world is the front porch to feeling better about ourselves and realizing greater farm income.
It is NOT a small world, it is a BIG world, as wide and various as you can possibly imagine. We are not alone. When we feel ourselves shut down, crowded by worry and a sense of failure, it would serve us well to remember Bulldog’s admonition, “Boss, never give up, no matter what, never give up.” Anyway, how could we? Who would put up the hay? Who would unharness the team? Who would milk the cows? Who would wax the cheese? Who would feed those woolly pigs? It’s got to be us, after all it is who we are.
I will probably never get a chance to sit at the throttle of a steam engine heading up some winding mountain grade and feel the romance of the rails as the lonesome sound of a steam whistle echoes off canyon walls. Nor will I sit and watch out over the bowsprit of a schooner rounding Cape Horn as the mighty wind and waves test men’s mettle and fill their spirits with the allure of the sea. It is within my reach however to draw a living from the earth using that third glorious form of transport – the horse.
I would fix it but it ain’t broke yet, or more to the point — it ain’t completely broke yet. But that is the way of most of our lives isn’t it? We so often have to make do with a two-legged stool. That is until one day the cow will suddenly shift her weight and in response you will shift yours and you will hear a crack and suddenly your two-legged stool will have become a one-legged stool. And no one, not even a stubborn “ain’t completely broke yet” farmer, can abide a one legged stool.
There are beginnings and endings and everything else, all that in-between, all that MIDST. Messy, complicated, growthy, and fertile. How are we to know what to believe, what to retain, what to apply. What to plant, which stock to select for breeding, when to harvest, where to go to sell it all? Aren’t we required to figure those things out? This is farming. There ought to be a clear, simple and proper way to go about it all. Or?
Much of the world’s population is unemployed or underemployed. Most of those people are poor by any measure; they are hungry for food, purpose, place and hope. One pursuit, or endeavor, may employ millions and employ them with dignity, gain and satisfaction – that pursuit is human-scale, traditional farming.
I had seen the truck running around locally with a sign on the side which said CUSTOM MEAT CUTTER and a phone number so I called. It was a small family-owned business thirty miles away. They told me straight away that their facility wasn’t federally inspected. I didn’t care. (In my rustic, hardscrabble, farm and ranch community, federal inspection was a joke – an extra fee you paid to get a stamp of approval with no one really inspecting anything.)
SFJ Spring 2016 Preview: We need to find simple, direct, rewarding solutions to human interaction with all other forms of biological life. We need to find ways that our time on earth is beneficial for all. People are the problem but they are also the solution, or they contain the stuff that would make things right. Strength and billions of small adventurous choices to protect where we live, that’s the stuff.
Farming is an art, it is also a craft. We think about it frequently as a systemic treatment of nature and with nature, the goal of which is the production of food and fiber. All of this when lumped and worked together comes of the very origins of the word “technology.” Not the ways we see it and hear of it today. In the 1970’s we came upon the first common usage of the term “high technology” as applied to computers and applied data-driven systems and then morphing into artificial intelligence. Today the ‘high’ has been dropped. Now, frequently, when people throw around the word technology they see it in terms of IT or Intelligence Technology. But for farmers and farming, Hi-tech spreads out to include driverless tractors, drones, and the marriage of mutated plant and animal forms to chemical intensities.
We hear the earth breathing through the rustle of the margins. That single cow elk, as she escapes, parts the Triticale stems in one land and then, passing through the next, shakes the field peas clinging to the beardless wheat stalks. The beat of the wild turkey’s wings sends the sage rat scurrying in full view of the circling hawk until the rodent disappears ‘neath the carpet of irrigated clover. These things happen for us only when we are listening and watching. Who’s to know what the earth’s breath attests to when no one is near, or within the margins, to hear, to see?
Nowadays when someone speaks of people having short attention spans I make the visceral leap to people not knowing how to work. I believe it IS a defining distinction; no matter how naturally talented, or intellectually gifted, or wildly creative you are – if you do not KNOW how to work the world can never be your oyster. If you have a short attention span and cry-baby ways, long-learning distances through life’s swamps and sunrises will never be yours.
It is critical, if farming is to be restored to them as a heartfelt and enjoyed trust, that they come naturally to see once again that their way of life is within their control. Any true and lasting sense of self-worth and contentment must come from within each of us.
We have come to take for granted the most basic of truths, the obligations of family, the possible sanctity of work, the human as a humble piece of a biological universe, the realigning and reaffirming power of beauty, the deep comfort of great friendship, the absolute primacy of life, and the list goes on.
Oregon Plowing Match • Ventilating Poultry Houses • Water Buffalo • Ducks • Quarantine Humanity • Ox Teamsters • New Seed Drill • G Haw Tool • Food-Energy • Rebuilding Hay Loader • Fearless Manure Spreader • Horselogging • Auction Tips • Artisanal Maple Syrup • Calcium in Soils • Aboard the Planetary Spaceship • Yamhill Heritage Museum • You Can’t Farm with Horses and Send Men to the Moon! • Peerless Steam Tractor
Having made the conscious choice to employ work horses in harness as motive power for my farming I recognized that I would have to gather up the information I lacked. How to fit a harness – How to recognize a usable piece of older farm equipment – How to hook horses to those implements – What to feed my horses and when – How to tell if the boxings in a disc were bad – How to get my plow to run right – How deep to plant Oat seed in dry soil – Why certain names for horses were a mistake??? on and on and on… I would have to gather up this information because my research indicated that there was no public temple for this information, no place where relic technologies and skills were chronicled and cataloged. That was odd? So much beauty, value, and frailty in all the old knowledge – shouldn’t it be preserved, saved, stored?
“Waste Not, Want Not” is a familiar old adage, but looking at it through the technicolor lens of 2018 makes the phrase feel antiquated and empty. What does it mean? The dictionary will tell you that the idiom’s intended warning is that “wise use of one’s resources will keep one from poverty.” In modern day America, where there is a surplus of almost everything, it may not feel very applicable.
For the mass of us, the connection between food and farming is dry, distant, awkward, academic. We do not associate the squeaking sticky wet-sand dig with the flavor, smell and texture of clams because we buy them off the shelf. We do not associate the crystalline departing cold and invasive spring warmth and apiarian ballet amongst bouquets of apple blossoms with the resultant fruit in the supermarket bins. Most of us cannot, no CAN NOT, no WILL NOT, be bothered by the terrible tactile truths of where and how our meats come to us. And many of us haven’t a clue. We are separated, artificially, by contrived modern circumstance, from all that would define us.
She wrote in that inconsequential blog that they were to give up their farm because it wasn’t working. And she lashed out, blaming people like us for having sold them a lie. She was angry because her family could not make their farm succeed. She screamed in her capital letters that there was no way to make enough money to give her family all that they wanted and needed including security. It was all so loud that we were certain to hear the truth in it.
As farmers we must continue to take charge of our own lives, work, environs and future. Our example will win out. There is no other example with the heart and capability to win out. Leadership in its most ideal form is ultimately gardening. Governance in its best form is stewardship. And husbandry is the sane substitution for bureaucracy. Our leaders should be planning and planting and suggesting seed options.
All people who choose to farm begin, even today, with a sacred bargain that calls for work within nature. No one who chooses farming does so with the intent of destroying nature and natural balance. The villains have never been the individual farmers, no matter the scale or aspect of their enterprise. The villain has been an overarching industrial systems-management in place to control and profit at any cost.
Small Farmer’s Journal is restructuring and changing its business model • Continued delivery of print edition Small Farmer’s Journal • $5 per month website subscription • Increased ad content, print and web combined. For nigh on forty years we looked to magazine subscription revenue to keep us rolling. We printed journals and mailed them to our subscribers. The internet has changed all of that. We can share our small farm message and advertisers to even more people which makes us stronger than ever.
Nature, and humanity’s better interactions with her; that combination does hold the best and I think only answers for a good and fertile society. As for the planet and its future health, it is pretty darned obvious she doesn’t need us anymore than she needed the dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be magical and even divine if the societies of man could attain a plain of conduct and stewardship which would have us all be an invigorant and bejewelment for our Earth? A future essential?
from issue: 42-1
…until farmland preservation gets figured out. A pardon for farmland! Amnesty for farmers! And the world court for large banks! Below is a summary from the most recent AFT analysis of the loss of farmland to development. We have asked a few Journal readers and editors to share thoughts on the topic. A conversation with Lynn Miller, Paul Hunter, Shannon Berteau, Klaus Karbaumer, Ryan Foxley, Ken Gies, and Ferrel Mercer representing Oregon, Washington, Missouri, New York, and Virginia.
But the world very nearly lost Jimmy Red. Not so long ago one old moon-shiner, on his death bed, handed over the last two known ears of Jimmy Red to a friend and said plant these and keep the seed, save Jimmy Red. The heir did that, and handed the seeds on to proper believing hands and the result is that these last three years have seen the chance at salvation for this heirloom variety.
When I first got involved with working horses in the late 1980s, I was lucky enough to work for the late Geoff Morton who used horses for nearly everything on the farm. With the enthusiasm of the novice I was constantly asking questions. What I often thought was a straightforward question would often elicit a pause, and as often as not the answer was preceded by, ‘Well, there’s more about it than you might think.’
I was forced to sell our dairy goats and end our milking operation because the laws and regulations in West Virginia made it cost prohibitive for us to sell our farm fresh, unprocessed milk and dairy products, and we couldn’t afford to finance the cost of our operation solely on our retirement income. I then dedicated my energy to work for positive, progressive changes to those laws in an effort to salvage what was left of small family dairy farming as well as to promote agricultural diversification and profitability in West Virginia.