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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

Field Weeds and Street Boys

Field Weeds and Street Boys

from Marian Hungerford, of North Cameroun, Africa

I was working alone, at the office, Memorial Day, when I received a call from our old friend, and hero, Marian Hungerford of North Cameroun. She came back to Oregon for successful health care and is returning to Africa in late July. We chatted away and she told me of her campaign to plant ‘field weeds’ to regain food self-sufficiency. She talked about Amaranth (what we call Pigweed) as the ancient gold standard of grains. The story was on phone time, which means we kept tripping over our own thoughts and observations, but I did get a chance to ask her to send me the larger story in an email. What follows is that message. Marian is proof that giants are made from tight focus and unselfish work in close. When it comes to beneficial human beings, she is the gold standard. LRM

Dear Lynn,

My interest in farming, public health, and history is to help modern Camerounians not fall into the same traps as the United States. In medical history, for example: the United States used to have huge problems with yellow fever, malaria, leprosy, cholera, typhoid … and these diseases were mostly helped, the mortality went waaaay down, with improved hygiene and nutrition. And THEN when the mortality was descending dramatically, antibiotics and the modern pharmaceutical industry was invented. In Cameroun, improving hygiene and nutrition is an individual family free choice that usually is less expensive than illness, transport, clinical consultation, pharmacy purchases, down time from work …

The ancient Sao kingdom — an empire of giants so it is said — occupied the east side of Lake Chad. Their genetics have influenced the height of various ethnic groups down the river tributary systems of Lake Chad. I am most familiar with the modern folks south of Lake Chad along the Chari and Logone rivers. In many of these ethnic groups, unlike the skinny, tall basketball players of eastern Africa, these are hefty, solid, over six feet tall people, men as well as women. In a not amusing incident, using my double cab pickup truck as an ambulance, one of these tall men needed to get to the hospital (80 miles north). He couldn’t lay down on the back seat, couldn’t lay down in the pickup bed, couldn’t lay down in the pick up bed diagonally, couldn’t lay down with the tail gate open. We finally had to put a piece of plywood under him to support his heels. At the hospital it took several benches to extend the hospital bed length so he could lie comfortably during treatment. One of the ethnic groups places a cultural value toward seeking and marrying women over 6 feet tall.

When I teach nutrition, one of the rhetorical questions I ask and that we answer is: What did the mama Sao feed her baby so that he/she grew to be 6 foot and more tall? What is good food then and now to feed strong big children? Turns out the foods of north Cameroun are some of the nutritionally best in the world, and those same foods are the cheapest on the market, and easiest to store from one crop season to another.

But we have a BIG problem. Some of these traditional foods are being made extinct by modern cotton poisons especially herbicide. GMO cotton and soybean plantations liberally spray fields (and all areas next to their own fields). Enterprising farmers then use the same herbicide and pesticide and fertilizer to farm any crop.

Field Weeds and Street Boys

Small-spotted Genet indigenous to Africa.

What happens? The traditional field weeds have disappeared. Example: Amaranth is the most widely used sauce leaf in the world, appearing in traditional historical recipes on all continents. Amaranth in the United States is called Pig Weed or Red Root. Harvesting and drying the young leaves yields a high nutrition, readily available additive or main ingredient for food preparation. The Aztecs of Mexico discovered that the seeds of Amaranth rivaled any cereal for taste and nutrition. When Amaranth seeds are ground (not into flour but into paste) they yield a super food that supported the growth and health of the Sao. And has done so, historically, on at least two continents in antiquity. Bob’s Red Mill sells Amaranth seed, which in a test last week yielded about 80% sprouting between damp paper towels in my kitchen. So lots of life in the seeds for planting. Mixing 1/3 amaranth butter and 2/3 peanut butter yields a wonderful trail food or school snack still valued in north Cameroun by those in the know. Eat it with a clean forefinger digging into the paste.

Amaranth is only one of the now rare field weeds, but I only know the other weeds using the local language equivalent, so it would be difficult to see if it is available. For instance, Tasba is not known under that name in America.

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.

So voila, an immediate money maker that is also immediately edible by farming weeds. Who would have thought it !? All the American gardening effort to combat Pig Weed, and we will be sowing the seed and weeding the weeds, and taking the bundles of stalks to the city market where homemakers are hunting for these traditional plants to cook.

We are planting lots of Moringa trees for the above reasons. Moringa is a native tree that grows wild from Senegal east to Pakistan along the drier Sahel area. I could deliver a long rant on United Nations policy that feeds soy to malnourished Camerounian children when Moringa is widely available and has 4 times the protein. The rhetorical question is, why would the UN feed soy when Moringa is cheaper, better, and widely available? Answering that question gets us deep into awful politics, the politics of changing free independent farmers into peasant serf agriculturalists.

On pilgrimage,
Marian Hungerford
(40 years farming in north Cameroun and southern Chad)

Spotlight On: Livestock

Sheep A Logical Choice

Sheep: A Logical Choice

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from issue:

Sheep have numerous uses on a smallholding. They are excellent grazers and are ideal at revitalizing old pastures as well as an excellent follower of the cows in a rotational grazing system. Cropping the grass at 2-3 inches that the cows have left at 8 inches encourages new growth in the spring. Their manure is usually in pellet form and is spread throughout a pasture as they graze. A sheep shares a ton a year of fertilizer with the earth.

Fjordworks Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

By waking up so fully to the tasks at hand we are empowered to be more present, more available, and thus able to offer a compassionate and skillful response to the needs of our horses even as we ask them to accomplish heavy work on the farm. It is not up to the horses to trust us; it is up to us to prove ourselves worthy of their trust. What the horses can offer to us are new avenues to freedom and resilience, sustainability and hope.

Praise for Small Oxen

Praise for Small Oxen

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Every day in the winter, and a fair number of days in the summer, I choose to work with a team of Dexter oxen, just about the smallest breed of cattle in North America. Harv and Mr. Whistling Sweets are three years old, were named on a half-forgotten whim by my young children, and stand 38” tall at the shoulder. Sometimes, perched on top of a load of hay, moving feed for my herd of thirty cows, I look and feel comical — a drover of Dachshunds.

Types and Breeds of Poultry

From Dusty Shelves: A 1924 article on chicken breeds.

Plans for Hog Houses

Plans for Hog Houses

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Missouri Sunlit Hog House: This is an east and west type of house lighted by windows in the south roof. A single stack ventilation system with distributed inlets provides ventilation. Pen partitions may be of wood or metal. This plan takes the place of the original Missouri sunlit house since many farmers had difficulty in building it.

Work Bridle Styles

Work Bridle Styles

Here are fourteen work bridle styles taken from a 1920’s era harness catalog. Regional variants came with different names and configurations, so much so that we have elected to identify these images by letter instead of name so you may reference these pictures directly when ordering harness or talking about repairs or fit concerns with trainers or harness makers. In one region some were know as pigeon wing and others referred to them as batwing or mule bridles.

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

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A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

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Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

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.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

The Anatomy of Thrift: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 2: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Harvest Day is the second in the series, which explores the ‘cheer’ that is prepared on the day of slaughter, and dives deep into the philosophy and psychology of our relationship to animals.

The Mule Part 1

The Mule – Part 1

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There is no more useful or willing animal than the Mule. And perhaps there is no other animal so much abused, or so little cared for. Popular opinion of his nature has not been favorable; and he has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant. Still, he has been the great friend of man, in war and in peace serving him well and faithfully. If he could tell man what he most needed it would be kind treatment.

Finnsheep Sheep for all Economic Seasons

Finnsheep: Sheep for all Economic Seasons

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Another consideration for the Trimburs was health and ease of care. Heidi says, “Finnsheep, as a breed, won this one without contest! They are smaller, super-friendly, have no horns to worry about and no tails to dock. They are hardy, thrive on good nutrition and grow a gorgeous fleece. I love to walk out in the pastures with them. They all come running over to say hello and some of our rams love to jump on our golf cart and “go for a ride” – it is hilarious!

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

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Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

Raising Free Range Turkeys is a Joy!

Raising Free Range Turkeys is a Joy!

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“Don’t let them out in the rain, they’ll stare up into it and drown…” Our experience with turkeys has been completely the opposite. While most poultry species aren’t exactly bright, we find that turkeys are lovely, personable, and most important for the self sufficient homesteader — extremely efficient converters of grain and forage into delicious meat. In 5 months, a turkey can grow from a few ounces to 20-30+ lbs.

Horseshoeing Part 1C

Horseshoeing Part 1C

The horn capsule or hoof is nothing more than a very thick epidermis that protects the horse’s foot, just as a well fitting shoe protects the human foot. The hoof of a sound foot is so firmly united with the underlying pododerm that only an extraordinary force can separate them. The hoof is divided into three principal parts, which are solidly united in the healthy foot – namely, the wall, the sole, and the frog.

Oxen Experiences

Oxen Experiences

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Some things I have learned about working with oxen as with any other living thing is to treat them with some respect. Especially hump-backed cattle which I prefer. Be firm and gentle, but consistent, realizing you could be seriously injured if they chose. Be patient while teaching them what you want them to do, and then insisting every time that they do what you want them to do every time.

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