Back Issue Vol: 39-1
The waking dream of my single digit years was of a doe-eyed Guernsey cow chewing her cud at a rail fence near the barn while, across the lane – inside a poultry-netting fence – a mixed flock of hens pecked at grains as a mottled white- gold- red and black rooster stood tall at guard. In a wheelbarrow between cow and chickens was a bag of grain – or was it seed? The dream had muted sounds and sharp competing manure odors. I loved that dream, still do. It always brought me comfort as it offered to me the simple, infinitely useful push as question… ‘okay, what are you going to do next?’
Yesterday afternoon I found an ad on Craigslist (a computer classified ad service on the internet) and immediately emailed the ad’s poster (a ‘poster’ is the person who did the listing). Large Black Hog piglets for sale, they were 8 weeks old and located not too far away (well, about an hour and a half, but you gotta do what you gotta do to get piglets). I was so elated when the guy emailed back last night – you have to act fast on Craigslist – he said he had 13 available. I told him I’d come in the morning, cash in hand.
When I opened the kitchen door early this morning I was met by warm humid air and the sound of torrential rain. A monsoon, I thought. It’s what North-westerners call a “Pineapple Express,” a warm atmospheric river that follows the jet stream straight from Hawaii. The moisture laden clouds stack up against the Olympic and Cascade Mountains and the sky lets loose. It’s not uncommon for mountain areas to receive 5-10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Littlefield Farm sits in the foothills of the North Cascades and is a mighty wet little corner of the world. With 60 or more inches of rain at the farm annually, we are in the midst of only a handful of temperate rain forest regions of the world.
But what is most notable in this new book is a kind of coming of age saturated deep into its fabric. With age comes outspoken courage, saying your mind, speaking your piece. Former hopes and fears, ambitions and delusions fall away. As the great Irish poet Yeats says, “We wither toward the truth,” and here is truth aplenty. Lynn Miller has always taken his role as editor and spokesman personally, but here are hard subjects coupled with a wide and easy range of expression. Jokes like “She ran like a young widow after a pie thief, with determination and pluck,” jostle in the mind alongside his declaration that he feels “the corrosive constant crawl of evaporating time,” a ferocious and unapologetic mixed metaphor that slides in and sticks. And there is more here of what I can’t help but call courage, as contrasted with something said for its shock value, or as veiled education. Or, Heaven help us, to make a buck.
Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.
Hogs used to walk to barns and markets rather than ride in double-decker trailers and snooze in air-conditioned barns. Modern confinement systems, 18-wheelers, and hydraulic carts have relegated hog driving to a lost art, and swine drives are only farrowing-house conversation topics. However, a couple generations ago, farmers moved hogs the old-fashioned way. They drove them. Hog drovers have gotten little attention from historians, novelists, and TV producers in painting romantic pictures of frontier agriculture. They’ve concentrated on rope-smart cowboys trailing herds of white-faced cattle. Hog drovers didn’t get much glamour. They wore bib overalls and walked, but some of their roundups were colorful and impressive.
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.
Animals of suitable age, size, and conformation will ordinarily give little trouble and with systematic training and kind treatment will soon develop into excellent pack animals. Horses are usually preferable for use as pack animals which are led in accompanying commands mounted on horses, as they lead more freely than mules and their gaits conform better to those of the horses of the command. When not led and when worked in large numbers mules are usually preferable as they are more easily managed than horses under these conditions and superior as weight carriers.
The age-old model of mentorship in exchange for a place to stay and food from the farm was about to be upended. The first sign of trouble arrived in 2009 when a farmer in the Willamette Valley found herself subject to a wage claim violation by a disgruntled former intern. In 2010, one of Rogue Farm Corps host farms was sued in court for wage violations. There were reports of farms in California where labor officials were interviewing work crews in the fields to determine their employment status. This confluence of events sent shock waves throughout the farming community. Rogue Farm Corps found itself in the uncomfortable position of facilitating illegal farm internships and putting host farmers at great risk. Despite the wide spread practice of farmers offering housing, food and experience in exchange for some help on the farm, the reality of labor law meant that these informal arrangements were in great jeopardy.