Earlier this year we shared info about applying for a community microloan program in Michigan sponsored by Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology, Grain Train Natural Foods Market and Oryana Community Co-op. Those microloans have been awarded for some really neat projects, described in this article. This innovative program could be emulated almost anywhere. Hint hint.
The 13th Annual U.S. Draft Horse and Mule Plowing Contest was hosted again this year by Mike and Joyce Downs on their farm located in Olympia, KY. This is the 2nd year for the competition to be held on this majestic piece of land located in Bath County, KY, where teamsters did not have to do the dead furry mambo in the back part of the field. This year’s competition was held in late October 2017, hosting 21 teamsters from six different states.
Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Life and Legend of Folk Artist Paul Seifert, by Joe Kapler, is a superb 2018 art book from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The extensive spread of the fascinating and beautiful Seifert paintings would be reason enough for a lover of art to search out this volume. Add in the wonderfully researched and written story of this illusive gentleman and his life’s work and you’ve a double treasure.
Gary, hoping that that was the lot, revved up the big yellow machine in eager anticipation but once again I called a halt and disappeared in the direction of the house. When I reappeared at the graveside holding a dead cat by the tail Gary shut the machine down completely, remained totally silent for what seemed like a long time, and then leaned out of the cab and with a look of mock concern on his face said in his dry manner, “Where did you say the wife and kids are?”
The key to most of Ben Green’s stories is meeting a stranger on the way to or from somewhere new and strange. Is this a friend, an adversary, a rival in an elaborate charade? A farmer down on his luck, or a fellow trader addicted to the thrills and rewards of sharp practice? Green has the knack of traveling incognito, of gaining valuable information by sharing meals and swapping favors.
Having animals to tend again, chores to do, is a kind of rebirth for me; a second childhood, a return to yesteryear. Like a new blade of grass, or a fresh sprout poking up through the brown, winter-soaked leaves at the edge of a field, I am coming alive once more, feeling a sense of déjà vu, a usefulness and sense of value and accomplishment that was sorely lacking during all those years working at the prison. Living things are depending on me again for sustenance, understanding and compassion, patience, maintenance and punctuality.
I write the first draft of this story with a special pencil — white with green lettering and a green 4-leaf clover. Each leaf is imprinted with a white H. Below the clover is this motto: “To Make The Best Better.” Further lettering states: “I pledge my Head to clearer thinking – my Heart to greater loyalty – my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
There were two irrigated fields, adjacent to one another, and totally 25 to 30 acres. With only a couple of minor mechanical adjustments we mowed pretty much uninterrupted (except for water breaks and photo ops) and finished the job in under 3 hours. (For those of you who are interested in the applied math: These outfits can cover 9 to 10 acres each in one day. Using 9 as an average that means these 5 mowers can drop 135 acres of hay in three days.) Mike told me that when the hay was ready Nick would spend a six hour day with forecart and rake just ahead of the baler.
Dr. Mark and their mother Becky had recently bought a home in Spokane that was situated on five acres and had a barn. The previous owner had to move away, but couldn’t take his horse. It would be theirs if they wanted it. Laura’s daddy hadn’t told her about the horse until he had talked it over with Becky and they had decided they would keep it. Now the secret was out. Dr. Mark would learn to ride and care for the horse and would teach the children as he learned. It would be fun and recreation for the whole family.
The Raquette Lake Railway was in its first year of operation, making it possible to travel by rail from New York City to Raquette Lake. The force behind this new rail service was Mrs. Collis Huntington, who announced to her wealthy husband that she would no longer endure the buckboard rides necessary to get to their camp, Pine Knot, on Raquette Lake. Like any new enterprise, railroads had start-up bugs. So, it was no surprise when the telegrapher from Raquette Lake sent this message to his counterpart at Clearwater: “WHERE NUMBER SEVEN? ONE HOUR OVERDUE HERE.” The resulting dialogue follows.
Living in the country in the 40’s and 50’s was a joy and delight for me and my friends. Most kids our age who live out in the country or in town weren’t aware of hard times or of the sacrifices our parents made so that our lives were comfortable. I can’t really say we were poor as we ate well and between Mother and Grandma sewing all our clothes, we were always cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Strange things happen when new equipment arrives on a farm. Feuding neighbors call a truce to hostilities. Bedridden old men suddenly find the strength to put on pants and comb their hair. Even cows gather along the fence to watch the arrival of a new piece of scenery. By new, I should specify “new to the farm.” In fact, rusty pieces of farm equipment draw the biggest crowds. Sometimes the crowds grow unruly as onlookers jockey for position to ogle the equipment, declare make and model, enumerate defects, and place odds on the piece ever running again. Illegal betting may occur, which is why a police escort of the equipment onto the premises is advisable. If a spontaneous parade forms behind the escort, no prouder moment occurs in a farmer’s life.
A seed is a fitting symbol for an organization inspired by a fallen trailblazer of the local, organic food movement. The People’s Seed was founded by the late Tony Kleese who, despite the onset of a terminal disease, committed to his own period of reflection in order to understand the challenges of the organic seed industry.
A portrait of Maple Rock Farm and Hogstone’s Wood Oven, a unique farm and restaurant on Orcas Island where the farmers are the chefs, A Reverence for Excellence strives to be an honest portrayal of the patience, toil, conviction and faith required of an agrarian livelihood.
Situated a few blocks from the French Quarter, the Mid-City Carriage Company stables 28 mules and 12 head of horses along with a wide variety of carriages, the staple of which is the Vis-a-vis. They hold seven hack permits for the Quarter which is the cornerstone of the service. Along with this they do weddings, funerals, and special events. There are twenty drivers and ten support people including office help, checkers, a full-time farrier and a wheelwright. This is a busy and successful enterprise which was built slowly and deliberately.
My fingers are purple tonight. We just came back from picking blackberries at the base of the Blue Mountains. It was a great Sunday afternoon and I enjoyed spending it with my family. We have four children between the ages of 5 and 11 who have gotten much better at helping us fill the containers! We do this every August, just before the local county fair. “Our place” is on private property that my uncle rents for summer pasture. I have spent many days in that pasture, chasing cows down the long ridges and out of the brush in the bottoms during fall round up on my saddle horse, Peaches. Mostly I enjoyed these times, but I haven’t gone the past year or so. We all get so busy with our own plans and life fills in the gaps…
We shared this video a while back, and now it has been released on Netflix. Check it out! — “A Small Good Thing” explores how the American Dream has reached its end and how for most of us, greater material wealth and upward mobility are no longer possible. To find out what is taking its place, this feature documentary follows six people in one community who have recast their lives so they can live with a sense of meaning.
It should be noted that, much to Bunyan’s amusement, Poka had a vocabulary that would make a sailor cringe, a highly peculiar asset in a day and age when women rarely swore. To Bunyan’s way of thinking, to hear her let loose was well worth the sacrifice of a few stalks of rhubarb, so every spring Queenie and King “accidentally” trampled Poka’s rhubarb patch. Beholding the ruins from her kitchen window, Poka would come tearing out of her house, her apron flapping in the wind. Wrinkled jowls jiggling with intensity, black eyes flashing with vehemence, she would lob a volley of cuss words toward Bunyan and his white horses.
Westmoreland County, in Southwestern Pennsylvania in the late 50’s and early 60’s was largely an industrial area. But backed up in the hills and valleys and eastward towards the Appalachian Mountains were some of the prettiest little farms to be found anywhere. Two hundred year-old farmsteads were testimony to the hard work and persistence of those who had been before. The tractor had largely replaced the draft horse throughout much of North America by that time. But tucked back into those hollows and on those steep hillsides could be found a surprising number of “big horses.”
Norway is a beautiful, rugged country, which has produced several breeds of hardy, versatile horses. Until the Second World War, horses were a primary source of power on the characteristically small, remote farms, and in the immense forests. The steep land and long cold winters created strong selective pressure and contributed to the development of tough, intelligent horses that generally thrive with minimal care.
Sure, the hands thought they knew all about broke horses, and green-broke horses, and those that had never felt a rope or bit. Being broke was mostly a deal the horse made with you, some easier than others. If you quit riding them, they got harder to ride till eventually you were back where you started, having to catch and subdue an animal who was far from curious, intent on just running away. Nobody could blame them, and there were only a few tricks — what else but patience to calm their fears, touches and treats to reward their curiosity, and for their ears a nonsense lullaby.
There are many working definitions of art, and doubtless there will be new ones in the future. The definition that encourages me to see the clear relationship between farming and, say painting, is the one which places looking and manifesting what is seen, felt and encouraged into imagery. Photo realism as a genre has a rich tradition stretching back to Hans Holbein the Younger and Johannes Vermeer, a tradition which has challenged individual artists to discover and instill the tricky visual elements which embue the images with a living vitality. Alexandra Klimas has discovered her access to the living image.
In 1976, after reading the memoirs of a much-lauded veterinarian/author from Yorkshire England, I got it into my head that I would make a good DVM myself. It was a rather bold aspiration inasmuch as I was a thirty-three year old high school dropout with few credentials and no visible means of support. It was a shot in dark: I hadn’t been in a classroom for fifteen years, but I made my way back to Guelph, Ontario, where the only veterinarian school in Canada was located.
On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.
As a great way to finish off the century, Clyde Keyes had the idea to compete horses and oxen against each other, the same day at the same fair, in the same drawing ring. Clyde is well known throughout New England and beyond as an organizer and announcer of such events. He also had his own team of horses 42 years ago. He’s now planning retirement and thought this competition would be a unique way to highlight his career. The teams of heavyweight horses were already scheduled to attend so Clyde arranged for six teams of powerful oxen to be on hand.
Dad was always a firm believer that the best way to train an animal was real work. As a kid, I always liked to take them out and take them for a walk down the road, and if dad would let me get away with that, that’s what I did. I still tend to do that, but he’s absolutely right: the best thing for training is real work and probably the best real work for them, that I can find, is picking rocks. We’ve got plenty of them around here. You know, you take a stone boat out. We generally kept a horn tie on them if nothing else but an insurance policy, but dad whipped on us very hard to manage the rope correctly.
The barn was built around a century ago. A pair of double doors on the front flapped when the wind blew, and a short service door was on the side. It wasn’t a big barn, about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long with a small hay mow above. It had a couple of windows for light, and of course a window in the peak. There was a hitching rail outside that gave it a certain welcoming charm. A charm that seemed to say, “tie up to the rail, and c’mon in.”
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.
Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…
In the corner of my living room is what some would call folk art. Of course, one man’s art is another’s trash. I’m not big on metaphors, so it’s neither trash nor treasure to me. It simply reminds me of all the years I made my living logging with horses. Evidently some long ago horse logger was having a bad day and broke a drive grab. Breakdowns happen. You fix them; you keep on keepin’ on.
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.
“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”
Mother was, and is, an utterly divine cook. Just as there are artists who paint, sing, so there are also artists who cook. There are Carusos, Pavlovas, and Michelangelos. There is also Mother over the cookstove. And like any artist she needed a public. She had it in the boarders. The curtain went up three times a day, and she took her applause in the chorus of appreciation and also in the visible poundage that went on the eaters.
Farms and families who have worked them for generations are the essence of Armstrong County. Most of our farmers turn to modern technology to lighten the workload a bit, but some, such as Bob Schall, choose to farm using the methods of their ancestors. Schall lives and works on the 70-acre farm in Plumcreek Township that his father, Roy, purchased in 1959. And even though he still has the tractor his father bought, also in the 50’s, Schall prefers to work the fields of his farm with his Belgian draft horses.
A little sign of life from France. Everything is going rather well at the tiniest of farms. Besides the veggies I have been plowing in the vineyards of the Bordeaux area to add some extra income. The drafthorses are back over there, so they need horsemen.
My aging stock dog and I were bickering like an old married couple. It was raining lightly on a cold and blustery day. I hurried across the yard looking for a staple gun in a tool shed. Out of habit, I called my Border Collie/ Aussie cross dog to follow me. Halfway across the yard, I realized she wasn’t tagging along. Turning, I gestured for her to come with me. She’s trained in voice commands as well as hand signals. However, her body language indicated she wasn’t sure I “really” wanted her.
Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.
It was early spring when an old friend of my Grandpa came by to visit on his day off and brought Grandpa a beautiful white Leghorn rooster as a gift. He was magnificent with his white feathers, bring red large comb and wattle and when Grandpa placed him in the chicken pen, he stretched his wings and began to prance around the yard obviously attempting to impress the hens. He made a strange calling sound as he paraded around and stuck his beak in and out. Grandpa swore the sound he made was, “buck, buck, buck,” and Grandpa declared that his name from now on was Bucky, because he seemed so proud of his sharp yellow beak. So, Bucky, it was.
One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.
A friend had recently purchased 11 acres of ground and wanted to know if I thought that was enough ground to set up a viable farm to support his family. We have a fairly large farm of 24 acres in our area, probably considered nothing more than a garden to large-scale farmers. Yet from this farm we have been able to support our family entirely from our vegetable and fruit production. It was from this background that my friend asked for my input to assess his chances of becoming a farmer. To answer his question I sat down and wrote a letter outlining some points that I considered important for him to succeed in his quest. Following is that letter that I mailed off to him:
The long winter finally ended and our hill became green again. This time the old man had got a head start on his farming. Although he and the hands had hauled many loads of rocks and had built dams about thirty feet apart all the way up the slope, he had found time to do other things. In the fall he had cleaned out all the stables and scattered the manure over the garden spot and the land he intended to put in corn.
Cornfields in the 1880s were laid out much differently than those seen today. To recreate a cornfield during the time period it is laid out in check rows. The field is prepared and then marked using a marking sled. Afterwards, the farmer moves across the field perpendicular to his markings with an original corn planter. A knotted wire is stretched across the field which when tripped causes a kernel of corn to fall into place in the dirt. Rather than being planted in long straight rows, the field is actually laid out more like a checkerboard. The idea behind this is that the field could then be cultivated in all directions, including diagonally.
“Thank you for taking the time to visit our farm.” This is one of the responses that I give to the many visitors as they prepare to leave Carriage Hill Farm, an historical farm which is part of a much larger system of 24 parks within the Five Rivers Metroparks system. The main emphasis of our farm is education and interpretation of an 1880’s family farm with all the equipment and animals from the 1880’s time period.
Who is growing food in the high desert? How can you find it? And how can you contribute to creating a vibrant local food community in Central Oregon? Find out here! By consuming more Central Oregon grown food we keep money in our region, support local businesses, and have delicious, fresh food to eat.
The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.
Our white garage faced south and here were stakes of tomatoes. The stalks were tied with twine. We stopped. My dad reached in to the front pocket of his khaki pants and pulled out a saltshaker he had grabbed on our way out of the kitchen. He picked a tomato, salted and bit into it, testing its taste and juiciness before passing it to me for a pre-breakfast treat. Each of us leaned forward, the juice spilling harmlessly on the grass.
First off these days I usually refer to myself as “that Bozo with the lines.” I like to tell people that up till now everything that I have done with horses was wrong. It is time to do it differently. I hope that my horses can forgive my explosions and dubious communications. I have had horses for 8 years now. There was a time a few years back where I actually thought that I knew what I was doing.
I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.
In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.
The first balers were so large and clumsy, no one ever thought you could pull them with horses. So the church never put a ban on balers. Then the small pick-up balers came in and the farmers pulled them with their horses. The Amish have adopted just about everything that will pull with horses. It’s hard to say why one settlement made certain restrictions and others didn’t, why some have worked and others haven’t. I guess you’d just have to say it’s the will of the people.
Whilst on a trip to Germany at the end of August I took the opportunity once again to visit Pferdestark, the biggest gathering of work horses in Europe, which takes place every other year in the north German town of Detmold. Pferdestark is a honey pot for people from across Europe interested in the practical application of live horse power, as well as those who just like to see the big horses, so by the time I arrived half an hour before the start, visitors from far and wide were already flooding onto the site around the old post windmill overlooking the open air museum and the town.
In that valley with the ocean beaches to the west and the crest of the Olympic Mountains to the North is nestled Crestview Farm, home of the legendary Doctor Donald Mustard, D.V.M. Doc is well known in the area as the big horse veterinarian, and his reputation is excellent and well deserved. An “old-fashioned” vet, he answers his own phone and is generous and sensible with his advice. He has saved countless pets and livestock from prolonged illness, and saved their owners countless dollars with good over-the-phone advice and do-it-yourself animal care wisdom.
Saturday night I had just come in from playing basketball, and I was sitting on the porch eating watermelon. I was covered in sweat and watermelon juice and was planning on taking a shower as soon as I finished. Joy came out on the porch to tell me that I had a phone call. I said hello and heard, “Hello, Dr. Tharakan here. Just you get ready for a long trip. There is one elephant out of control near Kotayam. So, you just get ready and be at your guest house gate.” Click.
I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the frozen swamp. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground.
“La Route du Poisson”, or “The Fish Run,” is a 24 hour long relay which starts from Boulogne on the coast at 9 am on Saturday and runs through the night to the outskirts of Paris with relays of heavy horse pairs until 9 am Sunday with associated events on the way. The relay “baton” is an approved cross country competition vehicle carrying a set amount of fresh fish.
Held the last few years, this October celebration has been a success because of a precise and combined effort of family and friends: Gary Moyer; Kathy Moyer, his wife; their sons, Matt, Gary, and their girlfriends; Gary’s mother and brother; friends Sally and Mark Shaw; as well as additional family and friends. The celebration offers homemade food and two corn mazes: one walk-through and the second a drive-through/spook ride where two teams of Haflingers carry visitors through the attraction, day and night. All in all, customers have found the drive-through to be particularly enjoyable.
When I can pull myself away from the farm and I’ve got a few dollars to burn I’m an avid auction-goer. To me, a good farm auction is a fun social occasion and an educational experience to boot. And if I can get a few good deals while I’m there, so much the better. So what follows are a set of tips and tricks I have observed and used in my own auction-going experiences. May they be of good use to you as well.
The next day I had to go back to the area to return something to a Fleet Farm store just south of the farm area. I did my business there and headed north just a few exits to Exit 57 Holy Hill Rd – Hwy 167 West, the farm exit. Upon approaching the exit, catching glimpses across the road and to my right a quarter mile down the road, I was shocked to not see one single familiar thing. It was gone… totally GONE, ALL of it. The massive old large family farm home from the 1800s, the newer ranch from mid century 1900s. The road was tore up for construction, the road was one lane in some areas, there were large many acre parcels of newly cleared land. Land not to be toiled upon to raise crops, but land stripped of it’s top soil and in some stage of preparation to be parking areas or mega building sites. Upon where I surmised as best I could, upon the space where the farm actually stood, was a massive new building, a distribution center for Briggs and Stratton. Briggs has a treasured history all its own, but I was not at all receptive to it stealing our family history.
By the time I get to the farm, the sun has set – leaving a soft yellow glow hanging over the yard. I park by the house and step into the brisk Turtle Mountain air. A Border collie slinks back into the shadow of the faded red, hip roofed barn, barking a required warning. The door to the milk room stands open, welcoming me into its offering of light. I had arranged to meet Larry and David Black here, specifically because David, Larry and Susan’s twenty-two year old son, has decided to become a farmer – which at his age and in our parts is a remarkable event. I want to know more about him and his family.
Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.
So, our farming system to feed hungry street boys is to have them farm “weeds”. As we have all experienced, weeds are perfectly adapted to their climate, are robust and need no fertilizer nor any of the insecticides to enhance a good crop. Because we are aiming for long term diversified permaculture (this is a Shea native tree area), we needed some very quick marketable crops while we wait for the trees to mature. These field weeds intentionally farmed have a ready market in the big city 5 km north.
It was in consequence of reading a little volume called “Ten Acres Enough” — a practical and statistical, as well as, in certain points, a poetical production — that I came to prepare this volume. In that work a charming and interesting account is given of the successful attempt of a Philadelphia mechanic to redeem a strip of exhausted land of ten acres in extent. So useful is the instruction it contains, that no one should think of buying a farm, experimenting in rural life, or even reading this book, without first perusing that one. To be sure, the author forgets occasionally some minor matters — such as clothing, food, and the like, leaving his family naked and unfed for several years — but that is doubtless due to his poetical temperament and intense love of nature.
We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.
I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.
It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.
Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.
There are many emotional issues surrounding the care and consumption of animals. Because they move, and breathe, and make noise, we can relate to all animals on a most basic level. Whether cat, or deer, chipmunk, draft horse, or milk-cow, we can empathize with their life experience. It is enjoyable to husband farm animals because we can create relationships with them which enhance our own emotional lives. The recognition of the value of these relationships to my life is what compelled me to start raising a diversity of animals on my small farm.
I was having an afternoon nap in our bedroom and enjoying a wonderful dream when I felt someone nibbling my ear and blowing warm moist air on my check. I rolled over, expecting to see Andrea, and almost had a heart attack when I opened my eyes to a little brown creature with a flat snout peering at me. My Daughter Zoe was draping a small pig by the hind legs over me and laughing. “Look what Jack gave me,” she said, as she scooped the piglet back up and cradled the little bundle in her arms. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to Jack to make him pull such a dirty trick on me.
After talking to other Christmas tree farmers, who were encouraging, and reading up on planting the trees, I began a plan for a small Christmas tree farm. In February of last year, Jim and I and our work horse, Snip, ploughed up and disked an area to the east of our house. My “field of dreams” became my “field of screams” as rocks and boulders boiled up out of the earth. Only slightly daunted, I tackled the rocks. I raked, scooped, picked and dumped them for days. When the little plot was relatively clear, the fun began. I untied the strings and opened the brown paper bundles that contained my Douglas and Noble tree seedlings, and inhaled pure Christmas, pure magic!
At the end of the day, what is a cow? Is she just so many pounds of animal flesh, a unit in a farm management scheme, a tool to be used and discarded as needed? Is she a mere producer of calves, of milk, of meat? Is she a member of the family, perhaps, or at least of the farm? Is she a pet? At the end of the day, is she still just a cow? These thoughts and more have been at the forefront of my mind these past few days as we deal — and, ultimately, dealt — with the decision of what to do with our beloved old boss cow Gail.
Anyone who has had a conversation with Geoff about working horses, especially if they work horses themselves, will realise that Geoff, through his work and interest in everything to do with the working horse, has already done a great deal to preserve and pass on this knowledge. After talking with Geoff, I am probably not the only one who is left with the impression that, despite having my head full of interesting and useful information, there is still a lot more to learn.
If you’re reading this you most likely love and admire the workhorse. I do and what I really admire is a man that I met in 1990 on the Wyoming Centennial wagon train, which traveled from Casper, Wyoming to Cody, Wyoming. The Bridger trail was the route and our 30-day excursion was the beginning of a relationship with George Miller, a man that I truly cherish, love and respect. The Billings Gazette, in a recent article about George, quoted me as saying, “He’s the only man I’d ever cook for.”
The first surprise came in the old barn, which had a huge raised level floor and steel beams that spanned its forty foot width without posts. And on that floor were parked three small bright prop planes. Single-seaters — red, yellow, and blue. A look around told me all I needed to know. With his jigs and jacks, saws and clamps he really had built them right here. Did they all fly? You bet.
I’ve found sharing time with others is a good way to brighten their day, and yours. Kids, grandkids, and other family members deserve a regular slot in your busy schedule. Camping, fishing, and just hanging out are great ways to share time with young people. Spending time with kids can also be a great learning experience for adults. One of the best ways to unwind from any job is to spend time with people who are confined to their homes or care centers. They’re eager for news about mutual acquaintances and local happenings. Family life is also a fun subject to share with the rural elderly. They have a treasure chest of stories about traveling salesmen, horse trading, and family reunions.
Having written this down I must admit to a slight embarrassment. It is not because I worry about admitting to a lack of skill, or fear being seen as a romantic. It is because some of you will have similar stories, perhaps more impressive stories, as this is just the sort of thing that happens when you spend enough time with horses at work. It is at once normal, but also extraordinary.
Having a not-so-great day, I opened the stall door and called them from outside for supper. Immediately enthusiastic to hear my voice, they came running. In fact, even when they hear my car pull up, they start asking for me. They don’t do this with any other car and I have no idea how they have been able to discern the difference between my engine and anyone else’s. As I hand them dinner, Daisy’s tail wags furiously with delight. They munch away and I watch. I pet them along their ridges, tell them what good friends they are, and then go on to refill water and add more hay to the hay racks. Once the fresh water arrives, I giggle at their silly slurping and their excitement for the simple pleasures of nourishment that exist within our lives: food, water, care. Ah yes, care.
I went to the Great Oregon Steam-Up over in Brooks, Oregon, near Salem. Lynn has been invited and has wanted to attend for years, but this time of year might very well be the busiest time of year for him. He’s always farming or writing or editing or painting or forecasting or businessing or just generally fightin’ the power, yo. It’s nuts, I don’t know how he does it all. So, when I told him I was going to go, he was very interested and wanted a good report.
The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.
It all began 50 years ago when faculty and students appealed to UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Dean McHenry, proposing a garden project that would serve as a central gathering spot on the remote, forested campus. As legend has it, Alan Chadwick, a charismatic, somewhat cantankerous master gardener from England, chose a steep, rocky, sun-scorched slope covered with poison oak to prove a point: If students could create a garden there, they could create one anywhere. And create they did.
The story is getting out that Michael, a local farmer, left his farm and family to join the Rural Life Defence Force (RLDF). And because the story is public now I expect its OK for me to let you in on some of the details – so we don’t go around making this into something it’s not. Michael put on his cleanest overalls a week or so ago, kissed his wife and kids good-bye, left a list of things to do for the neighbour’s boy and went to join his comrades at a blockade.
As we entered his harness making shop it just exuded an old-world atmosphere. A wood burning stove was heating the area and a subtle aroma of leather made it very pleasant. There was a vast amount and array of horse related items hanging, sitting and standing everywhere, which would take several hours to truly appreciate. It lacked the appearance of anything modern.
En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.
Haying season started in early June and just seemed to last all summer in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the heart of Crawford County. In between first crop and second crop, we cut and shocked oats. After the second crop of hay, threshing was done. After threshing, we often put up a third crop of hay. There was no hay baler on the Scheckel farm. Hay was cut with a No. 9 McCormick-Deering Enclosed Steel Gear Mower with a five-foot sickle and pulled by two horses. Let it cure for a few days, then bring in the siderake to windrow the hay, then the hay loader pulled behind a hay wagon. It was hard, dirty, back breaking work, often in hot and humid weather.
When folks ask me how it turns out my wife and I are so fortunate to have a son who takes interest in draft horses and their use in farming, all I can say is that from the time Luke was an infant he encountered the horses on the farm that I had acquired in 1970. In fact, as he grew up, thirteen draft foals were born on the farm. At the time we were raising foals, we kept our own stallion, and over the years, we bought and nurtured three registered stallions. Once Luke’s interest grew, he helped decide that we should buy foals to raise rather than breed them.
I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.
All the good implements were on hand with a few new surprises. There was a bale accumulator, all gravity – which gathered 10 bales to one spot. And I & J showed a cover crop roller especially designed to flatten and crush thick cereal rye before no-till corn planting. This tool had resulted from research done at the Rodale Institute. Pioneer, White Horse Machine, Shipse Farm Supply, Gateway, Hogback produce and all the other manufacturers put on an excellent field display.
This is my third Horse Progress Days, including 2008 in Mount Hope, Ohio, and 2016 in Howe, Indiana. We could note a few trends in a nutshell — how tall draft horses are back, and miniature horses (which are not stocky ponies but perfectly proportioned horses more pleasing to the eye) are being bred to ever more refined and useful conformations. How the current style for most big draft horses is to have their tails severely docked, though the tails of miniature horses are left long. By way of footwear these days there seem to be few of the brightly colored Crocs for the whole family, but gray and black Crocs aplenty. One huge change over three years ago is that here were as many bicycles, with and without baskets and trailers (and some with batteries and motors), as the dark square family buggies drawn by identical lean brown trotters and pacers. Bicyclers include both youthful and older farmers, using this healthy and efficient form of transportation to get around.
Close to the village there lived a lady, a small landowner, who had an estate of about three hundred acres. She had always lived on good terms with the peasants, until she engaged as her steward an old soldier, who took to burdening the people with fines. However careful Pahom tried to be, it happened again and again that now a horse of his got among the lady’s oats, now a cow strayed into her garden, now his calves found their way into her meadows — and he always had to pay a fine.
We were objects of much curiosity when we moved to Cape Breton Island in 1971, and people from miles around came to see what we were up to – and to comment thereon. It appeared that everything we were doing was destined to fail: tomatoes would never ripen here, and as for fancy stuff like peppers and celery! They smiled with pity. Jersey cows? Not a chance. Purebred cattle like that were too delicate to stand Cape Breton winters. But the staggerer was their vehement response to our June haying: That stuff is too green! You’ll never dry that! You’ll have to burn it or throw it over the bank!
Just inside the barn door hangs a coil of blue and white rope, and a big scary lesson. The rope is one of those things that doesn’t have a specific job, yet does about everything. It has been used to drag logs, pull cars out of mud, guide a falling tree in the right direction, or be threaded through the come-along on butchering day. It was the first thing I grabbed when Jacinth, our filly, went through the ice.
I came to sheep farming from a background in the arts – with a passion for spinning and weaving. When we were able to leave our house in town to buy our small farm, a former dairy operation, I had no idea that the desire to have a couple of fiber animals would turn into full time shepherding. I had discovered Icelandic sheep, and was completely enamored of their beauty, their hardiness and their intelligence.
Gene didn’t see life (or much of anything else) through conventional eyes. I remember his comment about a course he took in psychology when he was trying to argue that animals did in fact have personalities (as any farmer or rancher will tell you is absolutely true), and the teacher basically told him to sit down and shut up because he didn’t know what he was taking about. Gene said: “I was so angry I left the course and then left the whole stupid school.”
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.