Back Issue Vol: 43-3
The interwoven human stories in the book hold many surprises, with unlikely heroes and distressingly ordinary villains. I will try not to spill the beans, but the most memorable story for me is a newly met couple who join some environmental activists, and are talked into climbing up into the canopy of an old-growth tree, to halt the clear-cutting of an ancient forest. Expecting to only be up there for four or five days, they are both alarmed and slowly charmed to be marooned 220 feet above the forest floor for a stay that stretches a year, when the beleaguered activists can’t find anyone to replace them.
There are many working definitions of art, and doubtless there will be new ones in the future. The definition that encourages me to see the clear relationship between farming and, say painting, is the one which places looking and manifesting what is seen, felt and encouraged into imagery. Photo realism as a genre has a rich tradition stretching back to Hans Holbein the Younger and Johannes Vermeer, a tradition which has challenged individual artists to discover and instill the tricky visual elements which embue the images with a living vitality. Alexandra Klimas has discovered her access to the living image.
Hands-on human-scale farming will frequently put you in need of a way to repair implements and equipment, including gates, hinges, hangers and such. Success with your operation may well hinge on your willingness and ability to do most of these jobs yourself. Fifty+ years ago, when I got started farming, I was immediately intimidated by the cautions and precautions implicit with welding, either oxy or stick (arc). My first sense was that this process was not for the beginner or novice. I got over my trepidations. That was a long time ago. Since then innovations in welding technologies have come a very long way, adding to the hazards, and complexity, tenfold.
I do an audience analysis exercise in my freshman composition classes at community college. As part of it, students have to compose questions about their topic for their classmates, to determine how people feel about it, how familiar it is, and what people already know. I join in, since I’m always writing something myself, and since it’s interesting to hear what students are thinking. Generally my questions are about subjects like peak oil, future technologies, and climate change. It is striking, though not conclusive, that over the past few years students’ answers have become increasingly pessimistic. They’ve gone from rocket cars and living on Mars to a future of pollution, sea level rise, and extinction.
Having a not-so-great day, I opened the stall door and called them from outside for supper. Immediately enthusiastic to hear my voice, they came running. In fact, even when they hear my car pull up, they start asking for me. They don’t do this with any other car and I have no idea how they have been able to discern the difference between my engine and anyone else’s. As I hand them dinner, Daisy’s tail wags furiously with delight. They munch away and I watch. I pet them along their ridges, tell them what good friends they are, and then go on to refill water and add more hay to the hay racks. Once the fresh water arrives, I giggle at their silly slurping and their excitement for the simple pleasures of nourishment that exist within our lives: food, water, care. Ah yes, care.
In the Winter 2016 SFJ, we briefly noted equipment modifications to make fieldwork easier and safer for Eric as he recovered from a debilitating autoimmune disease. Thinking that these add-ons might be of interest to other teamsters, we decided to briefly describe the three we consider valuable now that Eric has regained most of his strength and balance.
The real trick in shearing isn’t learning the pattern of the shearing strokes, which lessens the time involved in removing the wool, but in immobilizing sheep by the various holds that give them no leverage to struggle. A helpless sheep is a quiet sheep. Rendering sheep helpless cannot be done by force alone, for forcible holding makes them struggle more. Try to stay relaxed while you work.
During the summer of 1991 I went to work for a Montana outfit called the Bozeman Trail Wagon Train. For a youth coming of age in the late 20th century it was high adventure. At such an impressionable age I learned a great deal about the nature of horses, of men, and of myself. It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, and those summers of my youth, especially the one spent on the Bozeman Trail, while not necessarily stranger than fiction, were certainly on par with any fiction I have read.
When Dani was 5 years old she enjoyed “helping” grandma with the ranch chores every chance she got. Even though her mama and siblings still lived in town at that time, she wanted to come to the ranch and see the animals. She loved the cattle, but was a little afraid of the big ones. One spring day when she was tagging along with me to feed the horses and water the cows in the field above our house, she told me she wanted to pet a cow or calf.
Ducks offer a wonderful option for the small-scale poultry keeper. They are hardy, fast-growing, present a ready market, and are much less subject to price-conscious shoppers than staple meats like chicken or beef. And chefs adore them. Ducks are good foragers, easy to herd, producers of copious amounts of fertilizing manure, and make nice pond ornaments (try that with chickens!). What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to raising ducks for meat, but rather a record of our experience. That said, we feel that this experience counts for a lot. While there are certain things that will necessarily be left out on account of this, I would argue that a farmer’s first-hand account is more valuable than a researcher’s idealized theory any day.
Have you been staring longingly at those wide eyed alpacas you see out to pasture on your way to work? Or maybe you’ve been mentioning to friends that you would love to have a couple sheep whose wool you could use in your knitting, crocheting, or weaving. If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you are in luck as author and fiber farmer Chris McLaughlin’s new book Raising Animals for Fiber gives an informed overview of owning your own fiber flock.
A broad, blocky body exuding power and old world aesthetics along with a voluminous mane and tail and massive legs with thick feathering, are what most people envision when they hear the Brabant name. This traditional Brabant horse that you may have seen pictures of, is indeed impressive. The Brabant horse did not begin with this appearance however. A stallion named Orange I, who was a very famous draft horse, officially began the Brabant lineage in the late 1800’s. An amazing book titled, Het Trekpaard In Belgie 100 Jaar In Fotos, shows the yearly evolution of the Brabant horse in photos. The Belgian champion in 1890 was a stallion named Brilliant. He was a Flemish horse sired by Orange I.
The usefulness of the horse depends largely upon his training and his obedience to his master’s will. The best methods of training him, and of establishing agreeable relations between him and his master are therefore of the greatest importance. With few exceptions training the horse for his life work is not difficult, yet much of the viciousness existing among horses is due to improper training or unwise management. The trainer and driver, though innocent of the fact, are often at fault, and the horse, having been confused in his training, consequently is unable to understand either what is expected of him or how to perform his work to advantage.
Let us remember: We all come from a great lineage of farmers, seed stewards and plant breeders. From ten thousand years to a century ago, to be a farmer was synonymous with being a seed saver, synonymous in turn with being a plant breeder. Keen observation, thoughtful selection and an appreciation for diversity across the millennia have surrounded us with all the agricultural crops we now know, love and depend on. Countless generations and entire cultures were plant breeders before DNA was even described. Indeed, modernity has thoroughly rogued human interest from our food system.
Less than a year ago, while my husband and I were picking lettuce, a hot dry wind brought a cloud of smoke over my farm here in the Capay Valley. The wind didn’t die down, and neither did the smoke. For weeks afterward, we harvested produce while covered in the ashes of California’s most deadly wildfire. We cried for the dead, gave thanks for our own survival, and adjusted to a new California reality: Fire will always be knocking at our door.
But then came the oil anyhow. The last of the lots on the far end was bought by a man with two grown sons. He figured all three worked off somewhere in town—little did he know, since they’d paid cash. Big rough old man Maximillian Donnelly and his two big roughneck boys cut of the same cloth, Whit and Brat. When they banged up a house in eight days in one corner of the lot, in a big hurry right through the nights with halogen lights and a boom-box playing Tex-Mex music, right next to the road rather than set back in the middle like all the others going up, he should have known. By the time they moved into the house they already had a drilling rig set up, over the lot’s exact center.
Forges fired by wood charcoal have been a mainstay in blacksmithing history for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Regions in North America that did not have access to high quality coal and coke depended on wood based charcoal as a forging heat source. Wood charcoal is still a primary blacksmithing fuel in much of the world. In recent years there’s been a renewed interest here in the Pacific Northwest in utilizing our abundant wood resources to provide fuel as an alternative to coal for smithing.
Writing these editorials has been, for almost 44 years, an abstracted meeting of sorts with readers, you mostly. I could reasonably imagine that a bunch of folk, or you, read what I wrote, agreeing or disagreeing but reading nonetheless. That mental picture of someone unseen and unheard actually engaging with the ideas and notions, that was thrilling. Then, starting ten years back, fewer and fewer people took to reading anything, let alone my small efforts. And yet I kept writing and putting them in here.
During a severe drought in 2011, JennaDee Detro noticed that many trees on the family cattle ranch in Cat Spring, Texas, withered, but a certain evergreen holly appeared vigorous. It’s called a yaupon. “The best we can tell is that they enjoy suffering,” Detro says with a laugh. “So this kind of extreme weather in Texas — and the extreme soil conditions — are perfect for the yaupon.” Detro began researching yaupon — a tree abundant in its native range, from coastal North Carolina to East Texas — and discovered that the plant contains caffeine and has a remarkable history.
Farm toys, in a small way, give a nod to a universal underlying need, and that is for farms. Lots of farms. Small, diversified, unique, healthy, ecologically rich farms. Seated deep within the human psyche is the innate yearning to connect with and be a part of nature, to share our lives with the plants and animals that sustain us and which we in turn care for. Playsets speak to that. Children are drawn to depictions of cows, horses, chickens, and people on the land, and living from it. A monoculture cornfield playset (if they exist) would not be a very engaging play thing.