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LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics
by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
photos by Joe D. Finnerty

Prodigal Sun

As I sit down to tap out these words I can’t help but notice the silence. For the first time in two weeks there is no rain pelting the roof, no sound of the downspout working overtime, no roar of the swollen river. With eight inches of rain in two weeks every depression in the lower pasture is full of water, one pond flowing into the next creating a new system of tributaries. Nights I’ve fallen asleep to the roar of the raging river through the open bedroom window. But now… silence.

And the sun, that rare and pleasant orb, is making one of its infrequent winter appearances. Around here we welcome it like the prodigal son returned. We are tempted to be unforgiving, to hold a grudge for staying away so long and being so fickle; but when the bright rays shine all is forgiven and we welcome it back with love and forgiveness. We soak up our vitamin D; enjoy its brilliance on the green grass and be thankful to be graced by its regenerative presence.

Mid January, and despite still being in the depths of winter, bulbs are coming up and certain buds are swelling. A few early birds chirp. Canada geese and ducks have taken up residence on the rain-swelled pasture ponds, happy to find a place to winter without snow and ice. I know how they feel.

Work involves mostly fixing broken things, hauling manure and feeding livestock. There is always a list of items that need fixing: the bent handle on the spring-tooth harrow; the lately acquired John Deere #4 mower needs the cutter bar shortened to make it a Fjord friendly machine, fix the busted up grain box in Oley’s stall, install new grease cups on the little four foot garden disc, find out why the one horse grain drill is bound up, dismantle the parts tedder so the parts are accessible next summer and the bulk of it can be gotten out of the rain, replace the wooden diagonal bracing on the wagon with angle iron for more rigidity, shim the hold downs on the other John Deere mower so I can use thicker modern knife sections since I have had such a devil of a time locating the old ones. There are more projects of course, some of which will get put off until next winter, or the next.

I was talking with an old-timer some years ago about the seemingly endless nature of work on the farm and he said “Yep, when yer done yer dead.” I guess I best not complain about new projects; they may be all that’s keeping me alive.

Food Ethics

To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

God bless these well-intentioned folks, but I don’t envy the sea of words and rhetoric that must be plowed through and understood to simply make good choices about what to cook for supper. Here is a sampling of some of the jargon you will hear when you start talking food: organic, free range, fair trade, hormone free, cruelty free, RBGH free, local, heritage, open pollinated, natural, bio-dynamic, GMO free, traditional, wild crafted, shade grown, grass fed, pastured, sustainable. You’ve got to have a PhD in abbreviations and a buzzword handbook to go to the grocery store these days.

Unfortunately, in a heavily industrialized food economy, these labels have become necessary, not so much for small farmers mind you, but for the industrial players – yes. It is true that distinctions must be made between the good, the bad and the toxic. There is in my mind a sliding scale of food morality, a food ethics pyramid if you will, that takes into account all the factors that go into the production of a given product. Small-scale local farmers are at the top while the multi-national food corporations are at the bottom. There is a vast middle ground occupied by all manner of players trying to get their voices heard and their products sold.

If local and small-scale farmers hold the moral high ground, then corporate farms have laid claim to the moral wasteland. They are increasingly being called out for their fraudulent, soil killing and inhumane practices. The big food corporations know this – and it makes them nervous. Why else would they fight the labeling of food products which contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Why else would Big Dairy vehemently insist that consumers buy their line that there is no scientific proof that milk from hormone injected cows is any different than milk from non-treated cows? These giant corporate “farms” fear an eating public with a conscience. They fear full disclosure lest their dirty ways be exposed for what they are. They insist on holding fast to the lie that all food is created equal.

Here is what our pyramid of food ethics looks like: At the top is the food grown in one’s own back yard. You walk out the back door with scissors in hand, bend down and snip perfect baby lettuces, pluck plump crisp radishes and head for the kitchen and enjoy salad bliss. No workers or soils were exploited; no refrigerated semi-trucks needed, no sprays or giant tractors necessary; just the sweat of your brow, homemade compost and a little love.

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Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

The Milk and Human Kindness: Plans for an Old Style Wooden Stanchion Floor

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from issue:

The basic needs that we are addressing here are as follows: To create a sunny, airy (not drafty), dry, convenient, accessible place to bring in our cow or cows, with or without calves, to be comfortably and easily secured for milking and other purposes such as vet checks, AI breeding, etc. where both you and your cow feel secure and content. A place that is functional, clean, warm and inviting in every way.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

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I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

Mini Horse Haying

Mini Horse Haying

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The first mini I bought was a three year old gelding named Casper. He taught me a lot about what a 38 inch mini could do just by driving me around the neighborhood. He didn’t cover the miles fast, but he did get me there! It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home.

Walsh No Buckle Harness

from issue:

When first you become familiar with North American working harness you might come to the erroneous conclusion that, except for minor style variations, all harnesses are much the same. While quality and material issues are accounting for substantive differences in the modern harness, there were also interesting and important variations back in the early twentieth century which many of us today either have forgotten or never knew about. Perhaps the most significant example is the Walsh No Buckle Harness.

An Efficient, Economical Barn

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A well thought out, functional barn should be the center piece of any farming endeavor, horse powered or fossil fueled, that involves livestock. After building and using two previous barns during our lifetimes, I think the one we now have has achieved a level of convenience, efficiency, and economy that is worth passing on.

Center Cut Mower

Center Cut Mower

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The prospect of clipping pastures and cutting hay with the mower was satisfying, but I wondered how I might take advantage of a sickle mower in my primary crop of grapes. The problem is, my grape rows are about 9 feet apart, and the haymower is well over 10 feet wide. I decided to reexamine the past, as many of us do in our unconventional agricultural pursuits. I set off with the task of reversing the bar and guards to lay across the front path of the machine’s wheels.

Geiss New-Made Hay Loader

Gies’ New-Made Hayloader

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I was sitting on a 5 gallon bucket staring at the hayloader. I had a significant amount of time and money invested. My wife, the great motivating influence in my life, walked up and asked what I was thinking. I was thinking about dropping the whole project and I told her so. She told me that it had better work since I had spent so much money and time on it already. She doesn’t talk that way very often so I figured I had better come up with a solution.

Planet Jr Two Horse Equipment

Planet Jr. Two-Horse Equipment

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This information on Planet Jr. two horse equipment is from an old booklet which had been shared with us by Dave McCoy, a horse-logger from our parts: “Think of the saving made in cultivating perfectly two rows of potatoes, beans, corn or any crop planted in rows not over 44 inches apart, at a single passage. This means double work at a single cost, for the arrangement of the fourteen teeth is such that all the ground is well tilled and no open furrows are left next to the row, while one man attends easily to the work, with one team.”

Fjordworks Cultural Evolution Part 1

Fjordworks: Cultural Evolution Part 1

For the teamster who first and foremost just plain loves driving horses, hitching the team to a fully restored and well-oiled cultivator is a wonderful way to spend time with horses. For those intrigued by the intricacies of machines and systems, the riding cultivator offers endless opportunities for tweaking and innovation. And for those interested in herbicide free, ecologically produced vegetable and field crops, the riding cultivator is a practical and precise tool for successful cultivation.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

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from issue:

From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.

Amber Baker Letter

Hello from Michigan!

Dear Lynn Miller and staff, Hello from Michigan! We have only just started to read your Journal, and have really enjoyed it. First off, thank you for your publication. It is always a special occasion when the journal arrives, my favorite part would have to be when the seasoned farmer imparts some knowledge. Secondly, my dad is trying to figure out how to make a PTO forecart, but we are having difficulty finding information on people who have made their own, or what dimensions to make the cart out of and such.

Cultivating Questions The Cost of Working Horses

Cultivating Questions: The Cost of Working Horses

Thanks to the many resources available in the new millennium, it is relatively easy for new and transitioning farmers to learn the business of small-scale organic vegetable production. Economic models of horse-powered market gardens, however, are still few and far between. To fill that information hole, I asked three experienced farmers to join me in tracking work horse hours, expenses and labor over a two-year period and to share the results in the Small Farmer’s Journal.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Shoeing Stocks

An article from the out-of-print Winter 1982 Issue of SFJ.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

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One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

Journal Guide