Back Issue Vol: 36-2
2011 really tested our metal. All day there was tension among the Crew, the Oxen, the Teamsters and the Crowd. Why? Hurricane Irene was ever so slowly worming her way up the east coast, leaving havoc in her wake. She was aimed directly at New England and the Cummington Fair. By Saturday (which is known as OX DAY) Irene was so close that the air was deadly calm and the sky an unhealthy yellow-green. All the fair animals were restless, as was the overflow crowd, many of whom were tuned to hand-held technology for updates on Irene’s progress.
We have tried a workhorse, and for our needs he has proven quite satisfactory as well as satisfying to use. Thus we feel it is possible for someone with little or no experience to learn to care for and use a horse or a team for farm and woods work, although, obviously, this is not a process to be undertaken lightly. One of the basic aims of the farm operation for us is self-sufficiency, and we thought that the horse would be more efficient than a tractor in achieving this aim.
Ann brought her “All-in-One” single horse implement to our farm. The horse drawn implement is a basic frame with two front wheels, handles and receivers for the different implements such as hilling disks, cultivators, and bed marker. Ann designed handlebars that can be raised, lowered and offset with simple sturdy pins and levers. The wheels can be adjusted in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Both horse and driver can be offset to avoid walking on the cultivated beds. Ann put thought into the weight, balance and ease of use for this implement.
Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.
Heart rate is one way to tell if the calf is in respiratory distress, since it drops as the body is deprived of oxygen. Normal heart rate in a newborn calf is 100 to 120 beats per minute. Place your hand over the lower left side of the ribcage, just behind and above the elbow of his front leg. If heart rate has dropped as low as 40, the calf ’s condition is critical; he needs to start breathing immediately.
To weatherproof more of the market garden in 2011, we tried a variation on the grow-your-own mulch system we developed for producing winter squash in the fallow fields. We discovered it was possible to mulch row crops like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and leeks by moving windrows of rye into the pathways. Although awkward to handle at first, we soon got the hang of picking up an 8-10’ length of twisted rye straw in our arms and walking it from the fallow lands into the adjacent vegetable field.
In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.
Today there is no end to formulas that are supposed to give you a leg up, or at best some sort of guarantee of success, with draft horses. I say be wary. The best intentions, the best preparation, the best animals, the safest routine is NO guarantee of success with the working animals. Formulas cannot replace your personal fortitude or strength of conviction and clarity of purpose. And those things will result in a matched natural comfort with the animals.
My gardening career extends from the late 40s to the present. I am not a certified master gardener who has achieved acclaim and fame. Vegetable production has been fairly substantial with a scope of hundreds of jars canned, quarts frozen, and bushels dried almost every year. Eighty-five percent of the food we eat is produced on our farm and in our gardens. As we have worked in the agrarian life style, we have learned many lessons which have come in the form of failure – missed expectation. Perhaps some of our experiences will help you.
For the last ten years, I have made hay mostly with a single horse. This has not necessarily been out of choice, as at one time I had hoped to be farming on a larger scale with more horses. Anyway, it does little good to dwell on ‘what if ’. The reality is that I am able to make hay, and through making and modifying machinery, I probably have a better understanding of hay making and the mechanics of draught.
I will probably never get a chance to sit at the throttle of a steam engine heading up some winding mountain grade and feel the romance of the rails as the lonesome sound of a steam whistle echoes off canyon walls. Nor will I sit and watch out over the bowsprit of a schooner rounding Cape Horn as the mighty wind and waves test men’s mettle and fill their spirits with the allure of the sea. It is within my reach however to draw a living from the earth using that third glorious form of transport – the horse.
But for now, I prefer to think about some of these fashionable issues of local self-reliance and local foods from the aspect of what constitutes nearby for each of us. “Local” feels to me to be inviting a formulaic concept for measurement (ie. within 50 miles?) while “nearby” suggests comfort and culture for ownership and identity. Sure “local foods” slips off the tongue easily while “foods from nearby” doesn’t have the easy slide. But what I’m suggesting here, more than the words we use, is that the words we picture when we think about concepts and motivations help us to understand what we’re working towards.
How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.
If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.
Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year.
The Savonius rotor was originally designed by Finnish inventor Sigurd Savonius in 1922. It is classed as a drag-type device, and is understood to have relatively low efficiency but high reliability. Interest in the Savonius rotor and other types of Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs) became elevated during the oil embargo and resulting energy crisis. Also, during the 60s and 70s, the Savonius was considered as an example of appropriate technology for rural development in the third world due to its low maintenance requirements.
Urban and peri-urban gardens can provide quantities of fresh vegetables and fruits, but only rural farms have the space to grow enough of the starchy staples like potatoes, grains, beans, and rice that have historically supported urban population densities. Moreover, only rural farms can supply enough of the materials like oils, fibers, and wood that are basic necessities in our cold climate. Agrarian villages, not the urban center, will again become the heart of a relocalized county food system in the coming years.