Back Issue Vol: 30-3
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.”
When we ask a horse to follow us in the round pen we can help him succeed by varying things a bit – changing direction and speed frequently, stopping periodically to reward him with a rub (“a rub” or two, not 100), picking up a foot, playing with his tail/ears/mouth, etc. In other words, working at desensitizing or sensitizing him by simulating things he will experience in the future (trimming and shoeing, crupper, bridle over the ears, bit, etc.).
I don’t think anyone was prepared for what he said because he obviously liked the wine very much. He shocked us by saying he had to recommend other wines to his customers because he could get California wine cheaper. He said that he felt he owed it to his customers to sell them wine that made their money go the farthest. He is indeed doing just that. By using the cheapest price as his primary guideline, the shop owner is sending his customer’s money out of the state and all the way to the coast, instead of sending the customer’s money to a nearby community. In addition, he is also sending trucks the farthest too – over a thousand miles to the coast to pick up the wine when a trip to the nearby vineyard would have netted him as good or better vine.
The SFJ library owns a lovely old leather volume, “How the Farm Pays” which features a curious and thought-provoking treatise on farming 100 years ago. We offer the introductory remarks, originally presented as an interview of the authors, here for your review. Hope you find this as interesting and useful as we have. SFJ
The person who works closely with horses usually develops an intuitive feel for their well-being, and is able to sense when one of them is sick, by picking up the subtle clues from the horse’s body language. A good rider can tell when his mount is having an off day, just by small differences in how the horse travels or carries himself, or responds to things happening around him. And when at rest, in stall or pasture, the horse can also give you clues as to his mental and physical state.
Baled hay requires about 400 cubic feet to store a ton. A draft horse can easily eat 5000 pounds or about 1000 cubic feet of hay in a year, even if pasture is available in the summer. This would fill a 12 foot by 12 foot room seven feet deep. Weight of hay is also a consideration as anyone who has stacked square bales on a wagon behind a baler knows. Confronted with these big volumes of heavy stuff we recently converted most of our hay making from square bales to round bales. This greatly reduced the labor to get the hay bales, but left us with new questions about hay handling and feeding.
When I was a boy in the mountains of East Tennessee, we didn’t know anything about ordering baby chicks or even gave it a thought. With the help of a nesting box, or boxes, a household with fifteen or twenty hens could hatch out 300 to 500 chicks each year. We would let the hens go broody by leaving the eggs in the nest until a hen laid 15 eggs, (plus or minus 1 or 2) and the hen would go to setting on them. Often times we would put boiled eggs in place of the fresh eggs under a sitting hen until we had 4 or 5 hens setting at one time.
A while back, with the farm slumbering under a full moon and a clear winter sky, my husband Mark and I decided to take a stroll down to the mail box, ostensibly to see if the outside world had delivered to us anything of interest, but really just to enjoy the night. Jet, my one-year-old English Shepherd, was with us. Just out the door in the driveway, Jet suddenly puffed up and let loose with his woo woo woo bark that means, in his language, something’s wrong here, folks. Then Mark and I saw a big black shape lumbering toward us.
Federal and state food safety regulations require such expensive facilities investments that many small-scale producers can’t get their products into grocery stores and restaurants. Farmers must either plug into the industrial distribution system – taking pennies on the dollar of retail sales and giving up control of important management decisions – or take their chances in the alternative venues of direct from farm sales, farmers’ markets or community supported agriculture. Even there, they are often constrained by zoning laws, value-added sales regulations, as well as meat and dairy regulations and prohibitions.
We had all the time in the world, the day was cool and lovely, and there was no reason not to just keep at it. During a short break, Charlie gave me some pointers, but he added that it was mostly a matter of “getting the feel of it.” He said he couldn’t really explain how to hold a plow; the knowledge would have to come to me as I held it. When we started up again, an old memory welled up: that first exultant glide after my father’s steadying hand had lifted from the back of my bicycle seat. All at once I relaxed and felt connected not to a lump of contrary metal, but to the living force that a plow becomes behind a team of horses. And a long cusp of earth curled over like an unbidden line of poetry, all but making music.
Do you know where your food comes from? Probably not, at least not all of it. Does it matter to you? For most people the answer is no, it doesn’t matter. But to a rapidly growing number of folks the question of where their food comes from is crucial. Should it be important? Yes, absolutely, it is terribly important. Our health, well-being and connection to life itself are all reinforced by the easily accessible view of who produces our food, our knowledge of how it is grown, and our belief in the farmers who are responsible. Comfort and assurance an extravagant notion? I think not. Quite the opposite; it is extravagant to close your eyes to where your food comes from.