Back Issue Vol: 35-3
Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.
This long-term cropping systems project is a collaborative effort between researchers, extension and farmers. Funded by the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, it explores the essential premise of organic farming, namely, the connection between healthy soil and healthy crops. Specifically, the Organic Cropping Systems (OCS) program, which includes long-term organic grain and vegetable experiments, tries to evaluate how varying intensities of cropping, cover cropping, tillage and compost affects soil quality, nutrient levels, insects, weeds, disease, yields and profitability.
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.
Mokelumne Hill, the site of our first evening gathering and one of the richest early motherlodes, had been a bustling community of 15,000 by 1850, though its tight little valley overlooked by its eponymous hill, is now home to roughly 800 souls. We drove up and parked in front of the Leger Hotel (built in 1852, and in nearly continual operation since then), and met our hosts, Michael and Diane Kriletich, who were setting up the fundraising dinner for Calaveras Grown, a local farmers’ group, in the town hall across the street. We were quickly involved in a stroll around town with their son, Sean Kriletich, who is a community organizer and self-styled “urban farmer.” We quickly saw why.
Successful dependence on draft animals as a power source takes three parts good mechanicals and one part guided intuition. It also takes positive expectations and less thinking. It most certainly includes determination and patience. That’s lots of parts; in fact that’s way too many parts. So many, in fact, that we are prone to get in the way of our success. The best teamsters just are. And they are because they spend a lot of time doing it. They DEPEND on their animals in harness. The work HAS TO BE done. For them it’s not a parade, it’s not a joy ride, it’s not a play day exercise, it’s not a ‘foo foo’ moment.
One of the fun things about horse farming is the simplicity of many of the machines. This opens the door for tinkerers like me to express themselves. Sometimes it is just plain nice to take a proven design and build one of your own. Last spring I did just that. I built my own buckrake. I’m proud of the fact that it worked as it should and that my rudimentary carpentry skills produced it.
The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.
Quackgrass or witchgrass is a creeping perennial grass, related to common wheat, and one of the most widely distributed and destructive weeds in the North Temperate Zone. It is often confused with other grasses having similar names and habits, but can be distinguished by the seed heads, the leaves, and the long, running rootstocks.
While we have achieved tremendous success for which small farmers everywhere should be proud, we can’t quit now. Despite the exponential growth that we have experienced in the last decade, our food system is still dominated by the industrial model. Enormous amounts of food are still shipped obscene distances using ridiculous amounts of fuel. Vast monocultures are still the norm. Consider the corn and soybean universe that dominates the Midwest, endless potatoes and alfalfa in Idaho, enormous feed lots in Colorado, dairies the size of small cities in California. I was in a Trader Joe’s grocery store recently and while standing amongst the grapes from Chile and strawberries from Mexico, I realized not one thing in the produce section came from the state in which I stood.
I’ve got two teams of Belgians that power all the things on the farm. I don’t have a tractor, I don’t have a truck or anything like that. Everything must be done by them. I have two buggy horses that I use for transportation. I have a one-seater buggy for when I’m going into work or into town by myself and then I have a two-seater one for when I’m with the kids.
There is a simple standard feeding schedule for raising good quality pork and ham without excessive fat. And the first thing to note is that it does NOT include corn! I learned to raise pigs in Canada where the Canadian government pays a premium on top of the market price for each pig that grades out at a quality suitable for export as Canadian bacon. The standards are very rigid to get this extra bonus. It is a simple fact that corn fed hogs would never get that bonus. The bacon in our American stores is a disgrace. The fat content is indicative of a striving for weight and not for quality. If that is the quality of bacon and pork that you want, then read no further – just feed corn and enjoy the fat that you raise.
Hard red spring wheat is grown principally in the north-central part of the United States, where the winters are too severe for the production of winter wheat. The States of North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota lead in its production. About 14 million acres of this class of wheat are grown annually in the United States, comprising about one-fourth of the total wheat acreage in the last 10 years.