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.
Dig sweet potatoes carefully as their skin is thin and they will bruise easily. It is best to wear gloves when handling them. Do not leave the roots exposed to direct sunlight with temperatures above 90 degrees F. for over 30 minutes as they will sun-scald and be more susceptible to storage rots.
Here on these twenty five acres a steady transformation is happening, a confluence of fortuitous events, opportunities, and passion that brings me to the righteous work of land stewardship. Dad’s father was the classic outdoorsman. He bought this land in the 1940s. It was mainly a sanctuary for wildlife, and for family too. It’s fair to say habitat conservation is the one thing he began that I have the sacred honor of continuing, albeit in a slightly different form: sustainable food production.
Java temperaments, laying abilities, and meat quality have been a tremendous help for us in interesting potential new breeders. These birds are very calm and easily handled while still being a very active breed. They are excellent foragers and do well in the barnyard. Hens lay large rich brown eggs and many are good mothers. Young cockerels make excellent table fare. The size of Javas also makes them a very desirable bird. Roosters average about nine and a half pounds while hens tend to be about six and a half.
One of the most fondly remembered horses was “Old Dot.” She came to the ranch as a young mare and worked there until she was about 30 years old. Dot was probably the most versatile horse the Thomas family ever had. They used her for riding, packing, haying, pulling any kind of wagon or equipment, and for “snaking” logs and poles out of the woods when they were cutting firewood or corral posts and poles.
Corn picking started the first week in October if growing conditions were good. Farmers often harnessed their teams in the dark to be in the field early and bring in a 50-bushel load before dinner and another in the afternoon. Nobody picked on Sunday. Truman Nelson said even the horses knew it was Sunday. They would stand in the far corner of the pasture and stare if you had a bridle in your hand.
They advertise “rain or shine” for the Rock Creek Plowing Exhibition and this year they were put to the test. I’m happy to tell you that the horses and teamsters and spectators passed the test with flying, if soaked, colors. But I had forgotten that folks west of the Cascade Mountain range are accustomed to this sort of weather. I think it was my friend Ron VanGrunsven who, when I asked him why he was there, remarked “It’s too wet to do anything else.”