Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
In our market garden the horses pull the ground-driven spreader to apply the compost.

Fjordworks: Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2

by Stephen Leslie with technical assistance and generally sound advice from Kerry Gawalt — both of Cedar Mountain Farm at Cobb Hill co-housing in Hartland, VT



“Sustainable farms are to today’s headlong rush to the earth’s destruction what the monasteries were to the dark ages; places to preserve human skills and arts until some semblance of common sense and common purpose return to the public mind.” — Gene Logsdon

These days I call myself a farmer. However, I was not born into the farming life. In my late teens and early twenties, I began to have the creeping suspicion that my privileged upbringing in a first-world household, my secondary education and suburban lifestyle had left me completely bereft of any useful skills with regard to the fundamental situation of being a human animal on the planet. When I came of age I had this gnawing suspicion that in the first eighteen years of my existence on earth I had learned next to nothing of the kind of skills that would allow a person to survive in the natural world. Skills that had been of vital importance to all our common ancestors for the first fifty-thousand years of our tenure on the planet had been all but lost and abandoned in our time. Of course such skills were not valued by the majority of my peers because no monetary value accrued to them. And yet I was profoundly disturbed at my own lack of basic orientation in regards to right relationship with the living environment. I set about to begin and try to rectify this situation. I had absolutely no faith in the long-term viability of our modern civilization. I was yearning to find a path with heart that could lead me back to an essential connection with the earth.

I was thirty-three years old when I got my first horse — two more soon followed. Long before I had heard of the term “Natural Horsemanship” I had innately sensed a need and a desire to try and understand the horse on its own terms. I wanted to understand the thinking and the feeling and the worldview of the horses, to know how they saw the world, what it smelled, tasted and sounded like to them. I wanted to try and bridge the gap between the diverse evolutionary trajectories our two species had taken as predator and prey. To that end, I would often walk quietly out into their grazing paddock, keeping my distance, though often as not they would come over to see what I was up to and to discover if I was bringing them anything they could eat. But once it was clear to them that I was just there with no agenda they would wander off again and I would stay put and simply watch them — with no set purpose or process of evaluation, not certain whether I was learning anything or not — just letting horseness, the sheer and naked fact of them, penetrate my senses and my mind and my soul.

It is true that our horses have much to teach us, but it is equally true that we have much to teach them. At its best, training horses can also be a process of self-becoming — of actualizing hidden potentialities — for both humans and their horses. The green horse does not know how strong she really is. By steady and gentle training, we evoke from each other a new kind of strength forged in the bonds of the human-equine partnership.

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
Jersey cows at the water trough.


After plowing, the second phase of primary tillage on our farm is to spread compost. Presently, we field stack all our compost in the market garden. We have eleven 50’x 200’ sections in our rotation and each season the compost windrow comprises one of these sections. Next year we will begin constructing a covered manure pit with three months storage capacity and an adjacent quarter acre cement pad for stacking and turning the compost once it is removed from the covered pit. These improvements should help us to capture more nutrients in the compost and protect the quality of the groundwater on the farm. However for the moment, we continue with field stacking.

On our farm the engine of fertility is the dairy cow. While the baseline nutrient readings for NPK might not be as high in cow manure as they are in the poop of other common barnyard animals, because of the biodigesting that happens in the cow’s rumen the product that comes out the other end is in a relatively stabilized condition. Cow manure is high in organic matter, rich in enzymes and microbial life, and when combined with the correct balance of carbonaceous material, it is primed to create a humus-like garden ready compost. We currently maintain sixteen milking cows. We have forty-two registered Jerseys total including replacement heifers, calves and steers raised for beef. The herd is housed in a cover-all barn structure with a compost bedded pack. If you have never seen one of these barns, imagine an enormous green house with steel tubing trusses, only instead of plastic it is sheathed with a rugged fabric shell that has a minimum 20yr lifespan. This covering has the unique properties of providing windbreak and shade and yet at the same time allowing in enough UV light to nourish the animals with all the benefits of direct sunlight. The hemlock plank walls of the barn stand at 7’. The sills of the steel structure rest on 8”x 8” hemlock posts that are set in poured concrete 5’ below the ground. The bedded pack section of the barn lies on top of packed gravel. The scrape alley in front of the feed bunk is concrete.

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
The bedded pack is a recent innovation in the overall movement towards loose-housing for dairy cattle.

The bedded pack is a recent innovation in the overall movement towards loose-housing for dairy cattle. In studies conducted by the University of Minnesota the bedded pack barns have compared very favorably to free-stall barns in terms of cow comfort, longevity, hygiene, and production. The pack is less labor intensive than a free-stall but still requires daily management. In our region, largely out of economic necessity, some farmers are still consigning their herds to traditional flat barns where the cows are locked in the stanchions almost all the time, but I don’t believe anyone would argue that this is the best thing for the cows or the farmers. Some farmers are managing the new bedded pack barns as year round confinement systems but our cows graze from approximately May 1st to October 15th (we hope that through improvements in our intensive grazing system, including the stockpiling of select paddocks in the fall, we may be able to extend the grazing season into November). Even in the summer the cows still like to lay on the pack and chew cud for an hour or so after milking and they will come in during prolonged bouts of inclement weather. One of the many advantages of this bedded pack system is that it makes for a much drier material in terms of manure management. In fact, the bedded pack is already partially composted when it is removed from the barn and has virtually no effluent that could potentially contaminate ground water.

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
Currently, we use softwood shavings as a bedding material. The softwood shavings harbor less harmful bacteria (environmental mastitis) than either hardwood shavings or mulch hay or straw.

Currently, we use softwood shavings as a bedding material. The softwood shavings harbor less harmful bacteria (environmental mastitis) than either hardwood shavings or mulch hay or straw. Clean sand is considered the best material from a herd health point of view, but it is only applicable to the free-stall type barn. Sand as bedding is also hard on equipment and certainly the least desirable choice if one’s aim is to make quality compost. The downside of shavings or sawdust in comparison to straw in terms of making compost is that the shavings are acidic and take longer to break down. My own empirical observations tell me that straw as the carbon component is a near perfect balance to cow manure for making a nutrient rich humus-like finished product. However, because the bedded pack digests aerobically, the finished product is pH neutral. The nutrient values of a bedded pack utilizing shavings or sawdust have tested out at an equal or slightly better level when compared to other types of commercially applied composts.

Thirty years ago or so, when the majority of dairy farms in our region started shifting to shavings or sawdust as a bedding material, these materials were a cheap bi-product of the logging, milling, and building boom that was going on in Vermont at the time. Small grain production had become nearly non-existent in our state and most of the straw available was being imported at high prices from Canada. Any farmer who had a dump-truck could drive to a mill and pick up sawdust and shavings for free, or else pay someone for just the trucking fee to deliver.

But now with the economy in recession and the lumber mills closing and the building trade in the doldrums, all of a sudden this once cheap resource has become scarce and turned into a pricey commodity. Some mills are now utilizing shavings and sawdust as an on-site energy source. Also, in a state that relies heavily on tourist dollars, the number of commercial riding stables and second home owners who maintain pleasure horses has proliferated, increasing the demand for bedding products. In the last few years several enterprises have sprung up that harvest and render whole trees of poor timber quality into shavings for the express purpose of producing bedding material for dairy, beef, and horse farms. Kiln dried shavings go for $6.00 per 9 cubic foot bag.

The effect of these shifts is that farms are now importing large quantities of forest biomass onto their farm fields. This is a new phenomenon and one that leads me to question its long term sustainability both from an environmental and economic standpoint. Each year our farm business buys in about eighteen truckloads (4 ton capacity dump bed — 33 cubic yards per load) of shavings for bedding in a year at $575.00 per delivery — that adds up to more than $10,000.00 a year for bedding. This is our third biggest single expenditure after payroll and bought-in feed. Even if we consider the shavings as a fertility input for the soil it is still an exorbitant cost. On the other hand, the fact that farms are utilizing shavings is keeping more loggers in the woods. The fellow we purchase shavings from works with a forester to sustainably harvest his woodlots. He is also a master teamster of oxen and uses his teams in the woods from time to time. Management decisions are seldom black and white but rather a balancing act of adaptability to shifting conditions and this is no less true of finding appropriate bedding materials, but I often find myself wondering if the reintroduction of small grains for both their feed and straw value into our regional farming systems might not only restore food security but also bring this crucial piece of the puzzle back to our livestock operations. However, for the bedded pack to be effective it must be tilled, so if straw were used as the main bedding component it would need to be chopped. The bedded pack system requires large volumes of bedding material compared to free-stall housing barns, but the initial construction costs of a free-stall barn are enormous in comparison to the bedded pack barn. Increased cow comfort and a lower incidence of mastitis should also be taken into account when calculating the long term expenses of either system.

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
The overall dimensions of the cover-all barn are 52’x80’ and it is divided by cattle panels into four different groupings; milking cows, dry cows, bred or soon-to-be-bred heifers, and just weaned heifers (with steers being in the mix of every group except the milking cows).

The overall dimensions of the cover-all barn are 52’x80’ and it is divided by cattle panels into four different groupings; milking cows, dry cows, bred or soon-to-be-bred heifers, and just weaned heifers (with steers being in the mix of every group except the milking cows). The milking cow pen utilizes half the barn space. The bedded pack portion of the interior of our barn measures 26’x 80’. The pack is contained by cement highway blocks and there is a 12’ concrete alley in front of the feed bunk which is outfitted with head-locking stanchions. Each mature cow is allotted 65 sq, ft. Right now we are 20% under-stocked, so the cows actually have a little more space. So far we are getting by with cleaning out the barn once in the spring. The pack depth reaches 4’ by the time of clean out.

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
An adequate amount of clean dry bedding is a necessity to maintain clean udders, clean milk and healthy cows. We add fresh shavings to the bedded pack three times a week.

The dairy cow spends as much as twelve hours a day lying down. A lot of this down time is spent chewing cud — ruminating her feed. An adequate amount of clean dry bedding is a necessity to maintain clean udders, clean milk and healthy cows. We add fresh shavings to the bedded pack three times a week. The pack is rototilled on a daily basis. The cow’s feed alley is also scraped on a daily basis and this amounts to an additional 2 yds of manure collected every day. The scrape alley manure is considerably wetter than the material in the pack, and so are the two wheelbarrow loads that are taken from the milking parlor (a renovated ten stanchion remnant of the original flat barn) however this is somewhat ameliorated by the relatively dry bedding and hay materials that are removed daily with a wheelbarrow from the maternity and calf pens. These manure sources are stored in a temporary pit adjacent to the barn which has to be emptied twice a month — no easy task in the dead of winter.

The majority of dairy herds in this country are now housed in free-stall barns, where each cow has a stall available when she needs to lie down and plenty of free-choice TMR (total mixed ration) available in the feed bunk whenever she is hungry again. The most common bedding material used in the stalls is clean sand, although sawdust and even straw are not uncommon. The scrape alleys between the cow stalls and the feed bunk are scraped once or twice daily and in some instances they are further cleaned by spraying high pressure hoses to liquefy the manure which then gravity feeds into a lagoon or storage pit. This liquid manure is then field applied. Some dairies have settling tanks in which the solids are separated from the liquids. The solids are then desiccated and used as a bedding material. Back in the early 1980’s when I was just out of school I worked one winter on a dairy farm. One of my daily tasks was to scrape the free-stall barn and then spread the raw manure out onto the frozen corn fields. Now in the northeast we have bans on spreading in winter to protect surface water from contamination through run-off. A few large dairies in Vermont have partnered with the Central Vermont Power Company to build methane digester facilities that generate on-site electricity or “cow-power”.

To remove the bedded pack from the cow barn we utilize the 54hp bucket loader and the 120 bushel mechanical spreader. This job is done in the springtime and the material is then delivered to the field. The spreader does an excellent job of thoroughly mixing and aerating the material. This material is actually a combination of the relatively dry pack comprised of cow manure and softwood shavings, and the wetter content from the storage pit. As winter comes on and the pack builds, the cows actually attain a fair amount of heat from it. The material heats up to about 100ºF and it is already partially composted at the time it leaves the barn. We figure that we collect about six to eight tons of stabled manure per each mature cow every winter (as well as manure from four horses stabled in their own quarters) and, accounting for the lesser amount from the young stock, this means that the farm produces approximately two-hundred tons of manure each winter. This material is field stacked in a windrow that measures 100ft by 50ft and is 6 – 8ft high.

The field stacked windrow that is built each spring is then turned again in the fall, using the bucket loader. The section of the garden that is then left open is worked up and planted to a cover crop of rye, either in the fall or early spring, depending on when the pile is moved (in our location we stop sowing cover crop near to the date of October 15th). This rye will then be clipped once or twice and then plowed down towards the end of June. After discing and harrowing and marking out rows, the fall brassica transplants (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) that were started in the propagation tunnel will be set out in mid-July. So far, the brassica have thrived within this scenario. The only proviso is that we have had three especially rainy summers in succession and it is possible that in a drier season with fewer nutrients leaching that the plants might receive an excess of nitrogen. The result could be big dark green leafy plants with miniature broccoli heads.

The field stacking method for managing the compost has positive and negative trade-offs. When we remove the pile we take care to skim the surface with the bucket loader so that a thick layer of finished compost is left on the surface. This skimming, along with the leaching from the pile, insures that the section will be fully loaded with soil nutrients as a result of having housed the windrow. We also try to mitigate nutrient loss by covering the windrow with an enormous trucker’s tarp. This has the double effect of reducing leaching and also discouraging weed seeds from sprouting on the pile. The black tarp also helps to accelerate the thawing out of the compost for spreading in the early spring. In this regard, we have also noticed that since the time we switched to using softwood shavings instead of mulch hay as a bedding material we have seen a vast drop in the proliferation of weeds on the pile. This underlines the fact that the cow’s rumen does eliminate most weed seeds and that the main source of introduction of new weeds for us is through imported mulch hay (and secondarily through the horse manure).

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2
In the pack barn the cows feed from a manger fitted with headlocks.

In the pack barn the cows feed from a manger fitted with headlocks. This system helps to reduce the amount of weed seed from hay entering into the compost because the headlocks prevent the cows from pulling out the hay into the alley and thus wasting it (this also saves on the feed bill!) Before we built the pack barn the cows were fed at open-air round bale feeders. This method led to a lot of hay either being pulled out of the feeders and soiled, or just ruined by being rained or snowed upon before the cows could eat it. For all these reasons the field stacking of the bedded pack has been a successful strategy, however, the ground definitely takes a beating with all the tractor work associated with establishing and then removing the pile.

In our market garden the horses pull the ground-driven spreader to apply the compost. I’ve been working our present team regularly on the ground-driven manure spreader for eight seasons and I still get the sense that they don’t care for it much. The spreader presents a hard pull, it is noisy, and occasionally it throws a small stone or a clump of compost forward onto the butts of the horses. I have heard the horse drawn spreader referred to as the “courage builder” because the pull gets easier as they go. No matter how many times I take them out on the spreader I always have to hold them back to keep them at a walk more than on any other piece of equipment. The ground-driven spreader we use is the McCormick No.100 — a single axle forty bushel spreader with a metal body and a wooden apron. This model was manufactured in 1949. It features three sets of beaters — a middle set with paddles at the rearmost and an upper and lower set with teeth. We got this spreader on loan from a farmer friend and when he brought it over the red paint and insignia on it were so bright I figured it must have been a restored implement, but on closer inspection we realized that it had original paint and had happily spent most of its life parked in a barn.

Horse drawn spreaders first came on line in this country at the turn of the last century. Prior to this, the preferred method for spreading fields was with a horse or ox drawn cart and a farmer with a pitchfork at the ready. Sometimes a dump cart would be employed to drop piles at regular intervals and then the farm hands would evenly distribute the material. Our concession to modernity is to load the spreader with the bucket loader. In order to have a temporary tie-up nearby the compost windrow, I sink a couple of eight-foot cedar posts and hammer on a cross board outfitted with rings. The horses stand hitched while I employ the bucket loader to fill the spreader. Working in this way, we can usually load up, deliver the compost to the field, and return again to the hitch — all in about fifteen minutes — thus a rate of four loads going out in an hour. Four loads will cover about a 20’x 200’area (the equivalent of four 5ft wide beds). Because the organic matter in our garden site was poor when we started out, we have been spreading the compost on thick over the whole garden every year at a rate of 15 tons per acre. This has doubled the organic matter in the soil to 6% in ten years. Also, because we have not been able to afford much in the way of mineral amendments, we have been relying on the heavy compost applications to bring up the levels of phosphorous and potassium.

All this spreading has been in conjunction with extensive cover cropping which has worked in tandem to achieve the same ends. We feel that having brought the garden soil up to its present well-stocked bank, we can begin to ease off the spreading rates and rely especially on the full-season cover cropping of sections in the rotation to help maintain soil mineral and nutrient levels. Hopefully, cutting back on the compost will also allow the full-season cover crops to work more effectively towards weed elimination. The broad-leafed weeds such as pigweed and lambs quarters thrive in conditions where there is any excess nitrogen and the finished compost applications from the bedded pack still bring in some new weed seeds. Thus far, we have been focusing on attaining adequate fertility at the expense of weed management.

At this time, we use tractor power and the mechanical spreader to cover our seventeen acres of hay land. We hope to divert a larger percentage of our available compost to regularly feeding this land. Last season we spread these fields heavily but figure to try and maintain them at a 5 ton/acre rate on a yearly basis. Our long term plan is to have two teams involved in getting all the arable land spread. We could both buy a larger ground-driven spreader and field our seasoned team on this and our-up-and coming team on the smaller spreader, or we could have three-abreast pull our PTO driven spreader with a motorized fore cart.


Perhaps the best, and certainly the noblest, teacher I have ever had in my horse-driving career was an old gangly brown molly mule named Becky. Something about the pathos of that veteran mule drew me in. Kerry and I started working with her and found that, when she was treated with kindness and respect, she was a sensible and compliant animal. She never once tried to kick us or threaten us in any way. During the year that Kerry and I spent working on a North Idaho ranch that old Becky mule taught us more about driving than any other person or equine ever has. She was forgiving of mistakes, tolerant of indecision, and willing to patiently stop and stand if she sensed danger in a situation until we figured out how to make it right.

Once we were working Becky singly with confidence, we then made a careful consideration of all the other denizens of the ranch’s motley herd in order to select a teammate for her. We settled on Shine — a fine five-year old mule whose mother was a Percheron mare. Shine was a big boy but mild of temperament. His owner hadn’t done much with him as yet, and so his personality was relatively unscarred. He was a little nervous at first in the team hitch, but he seemed to see in Becky a herd leader and that stabilized his worries and she helped to keep things safe. We hitched them to the stoneboat which we used to haul out round bales of oat hay to feed to the ranch herd.

We also ground-drove our coming-two-year-old Fjord mare with Becky on a pasture harrow. That went really well for the most part, although one day when I was away at work, Kerry had them out and they broke away and ran with the harrow until they reached the fence line. This was the only runaway we experienced with Becky, and considering how green and ignorant we were at the time, that was a further testament to her good character. In retrospect, we recognize now that in the training of a young horse, any runaway event — even one that ends without disaster — must be safeguarded against at all cost. Under no circumstances do we want the young horse to have the experience of breaking away from the teamster in panicked flight. Not only is their grave danger present in the situation, but the young horse is inevitably psychologically scarred and as a consequence more prone to try and choose flight as an option the next time a driving situation turns tense. Our eleven year old gelding has been working in harness for nine years and has never been in a runaway situation and I don’t believe that at this point in his career he even considers it to be an option. He has a lot of idiosyncrasies, some of them amusing and some of them annoying, but he has always stopped at the word “whoa” and for that all else may be forgiven.

As winter turned to spring we plowed up garden ground with our by now trusted team of Becky and Shine. Later, I drove them on an old sixty-bushel John Deere manure spreader which we loaded up with pitch forks to spread the new garden site. Kerry and I were just heading into our second season of trying to farm with draft animals, and with Becky and Shine we felt elated — we were really farming! After the spreading was done, I took the team out on a single-gang disc-harrow and followed this up with final seed-bed preparation by towing two sections of spike-toothed harrow behind the fore cart.

Fjordworks Primary Tillage at Cedar Mountain Farm Part 2


When Kerry and I began our current farm operation our intent was to create a whole farm system. To that end, over the last fourteen years we have built up a tandem operation consisting of a dairy herd and a market garden. However, sometimes the daily reality can feel more like a “split farm” with both facets demanding our full attention. On such a farm, the precision workings of a planned crop rotation must sometimes yield to the actual contingencies that occur in the rush of late June-early July when seeding, transplanting, irrigating, moving temporary fence, making hay… are all happening at once. At this point in the season we get into the “putting out brush-fires mode”. This phase of farming is analogous to throwing about ten balls into the air at a given moment with the full knowledge that you will have to drop some of them. High summer on the farm places us in a mind set akin to the triage mentality of the field surgeon, and like the field surgeon, the job of the farm manager is to remain cool, calm and collected and measured in pace, or at least try to appear so.

To succeed, the small independent farmer must become reasonably competent in a wide array of skills. Not only must she or he master the art and science of raising plants and animals, in addition the farmer needs to know how to do electric wiring, plumbing, basic carpentry, mechanics, welding, business management and accounting (or at least surround themselves with persons capable of such). All small business owners work long hours and must be able to cope with a fair degree of psychological stress, but few require the constant hard physical labor of the small farm. And while it is true that farming is not “rocket science,” it is possible that it requires a more ancient and subtle species of intelligence that is based on years of daily contact with, and observation of, living things. Farming undoubtedly requires a generous dose of common sense, which, though it maybe true that; “common sense can’t be taught,” is another kind of intelligence which is born through awareness and attention to detail and can be lovingly and patiently cultivated by measured attendance in the school of life.

The farm never sleeps. As every small business owner knows, the price of freedom gained is a double-edged sword. There is the pride and independence of being your own boss — but on the other hand, there is no time clock you can check out on. Everywhere I go on the farm there is always some animal needs to be fed, some crop needs tending, some new project to begin or some bit of deferred maintenance demanding attention. As farmers, we only get paid if we work hard and if nature is kind. At the end of the day we know that we have earned every penny that we receive. Such is the life of the farmer. However, whatever lingering doubts I had about the “rightness” for me personally being a farmer, were dispelled by my experience over the last three years of raising my daughter, Maeve, here on this farm. I see it all new again through her joy and curiosity and wonder. I can sense already and especially her love and delight of the animals. And it brings light into my heart and I am made so hopeful by how the farm is already integral to her vision of the world and to the person she is becoming.

There might be a lot of other things we’d rather do than the sometimes brute work of running a farm, but none of us chooses the times we are born into. Yet we can choose how we will respond to those times. We might wish we didn’t have to face such monumental environmental crises and social challenges, perhaps we’d rather live simpler quieter lives, but the call to live in community is a call to stand up and unite ourselves in a serious effort to face those challenges head-on. We are called to do this in small, humble, practical steps, yet profound in their repercussions. And we are called to communicate with anyone who will listen and to try and teach and learn from our successes and our failures.

These days not too many people want to farm and with the aging population of our current farmers a whole skill set is passing away with them. Many of us would claim we don’t want to farm because we are not physically capable, or we don’t know enough, or the hours and pay are just too uninviting, but truth is, most of us feel the work is beneath us. We’ve been trained from toddler-hood to believe that higher education and the work of the mind — not the hands — is the road to success, prestige, happiness — reality. Government and media propaganda have long encouraged the image of those left on the farms as the “poor rubes” who couldn’t make it in the modern city. I used to be sufficiently indoctrinated into the bourgeoisie fantasy world to believe these lies myself. We may romanticize the native peoples who managed to insert themselves into their landscape in order to create cultures based on a working ethic of giving back to the land — but bolstered by all our machine-based technology we still, even if unconsciously, hold ourselves to be vastly superior to all such “primitive” cultures. Truth is, we civilized folk can’t even imagine the technical sophistication and subtlety of immediate observation necessary to live such an existence. Simply in order to SURVIVE, the person who gains their livelihood directly from the land has to be AWAKE.

Sometimes I think of the work we do as farmers as being a form of voluntary poverty, kind of like being permanently enrolled in the Peace Corps. But then I remember the people and places I visited in my travels through Central America and Mexico and even in parts of this country, like the public housing projects in Bushwick NY, or the Lower Ninth Ward, or the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Here in North America you can be considered poor and still have four walls and a roof over you and heat and electricity and three meals-a-day and hot and cold running water, a television, a refrigerator, even a car — and still qualify as a citizen living well below the poverty line. Where as in many parts of our world only people who are considered rich have such things. I have witnessed entire townships in Latin America, ten times the population of Hartland, VT, where the people make their living entirely from picking through the refuse of landfills — every man, woman, and child gaining their livelihood by sorting through the trash of others. I have been to towns in rural Mexico where if you can afford to eat chicken once a month you are part of the middle class. So, I know we are not poor. We are the lucky ones. But to those whom much is given, much will be asked.

So why have a commercial farm at all? Why not just work the land as a homesteader in order to attain total self-sufficiency? Well, I think the answer to these questions is that we are called to be about more than simply making things safe or comfortable for ourselves. Having a working farm is one very important way of connecting our lives, in the first place, to our local community, but it just begins there, this farm joins us to a grass roots movement that is taking place not only here in the Upper Valley, nor just in the socialist republic of Vermont, not just in the United States of America — by operating our small farm focused on local sustainable food production here at Cobb Hill Co-housing our efforts are woven into a tapestry of healthy small farming communities and earth friendly villages and towns and cities emerging and re-surging across the geography of the entire planet.

Can you see this new reality? Why not? If you believe the Spirit is great than why not dream dreams of greatness to fit that vision? We are the ancestors of our children’s children’s children — they will remember us for the choices that we make now.

The threats to our ecological stability that we now face are very much like finding ourselves in a state of war. The terrible reality — the ultimate horror — of war, even still, sometimes has the inverse positive outcome of causing people to link the efforts of their singular lives into that of a greater common cause. And let us consider that the tools of violence are not the only weapons with which to wage war; a shovel and a rake and a hoe can do so much more — they can build soil, they can enhance the power of your life! As old Woody Guthrie put it: “My uniform is my dirty overalls.”

I feel certain that this marvelous, miraculous and mysterious entity we call earth will still be alive in one-hundred years and in one-hundred-million years. What seems to be hanging in the balance is what role, if any, human beings will get to play in the next steps of her continuing evolution. And at what cost the human experiment? Right now, we are her eyes and her hands and her heart awakening into a collective self-awareness of our interdependence. Will we wake up enough and soon enough to stop all the waste and destruction? Will we wake up soon enough to save ourselves?