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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Old Man Farming

Written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller, Old Man Farming: Essays of a Rewarded Life is a book to add to your summer reading list. Here is an excerpt of a chapter to whet your whistle.

what it takes…

Some will remember how it was that Dad never explained, just expected you to know. “No, not that way. To the left, to the left! Haven’t you been paying attention?”

Instruction was a ludicrous concept. Water in the nose, fire on the skin, ridicule in the gut, dizzy with pain, nauseous with anxiety, dull with confusion; these were the ways to learn. Those days, for some they may still be today, if you didn’t allow yourself to be pulled along you were left behind. And behind was nowhere, no flow, no connection, no justification, no ladders, no doors, no coupon, no pay, no stay, no return.

“Why would I waste myself explaining to a kid or a greenhorn how the thing is done? It’s an invitation to questions, the answers to which invite more questions. The work doesn’t get done that way. And the kid doesn’t learn that way. They either pick it up or they are out of here! Forgiveness and understanding never got the pig cut and wrapped.”

I wonder if this ‘tough it out’ message isn’t a main reason why so many of us farmers are fiercely independent?

“Nobody held my hand when I learned to work a team.

Hard to argue with those sorts of valuations of resilience and self-sufficiency. I certainly came from that. But I’ll try to argue nonetheless, because today so many are desperate to know what to do. The collective memories of that other great depression frequently suggests that it took toughness and self-reliance to survive when all else failed. But there is also ample evidence of how it was that communities working together made a very great difference in hope and possibility. Or how ‘extended’ and deep-rooted family held together faith.

Bad days at the bank, sad days on the edges of the river. Millions of good people in this country and others have found themselves in the very depths of economic and emotional depression. It has begun to dawn on those of us who thought ourselves immune, resilient, self reliant, that this minus tide IS taking down ALL boats. No amount of pretending, no amount of analytical gymnastics, hides this terrible fact. But that doesn’t stop the opportunistic merchants and priests of denial. Why do I make these observations at this time? What possible good is done by pointing out the painfully obvious? I believe to my core that amidst this depression one of humanity’s greatest enemies is alienation, I don’t mean as in those protectionist tendencies that alienate countries and cultures from one another (bad enough those), I’m speaking of the close-in alienation that breeds unhealthy suspicions and distance between individuals.

“Keep them away. Their problems aren’t ours. We’re clean and strong, they’re living on the river’s edge in a tent. We aren’t like that, we’re clean and strong.”

Wrong. Their problems ARE ours. And you know what? If we could believe that, really act and believe as though we are in this together, their problems would lessen AND the tide would turn. It has nothing to do with commerce, with spending, with government largess. It has EVERYTHING to do with TRUE community. Nothing to do with handouts. Many people know this and act on it daily. The river’s edge is peopled not just with the homeless, it is also regularly visited by folks who care and, regardless of their own personal well being, folks who will stop at nothing when it comes to helping those suffering human beings within their ever widening view.

At the same time, within the wider agricultural community, there is a stiffer, longer held tradition of alienation buried deep within the most ornery and tenacious of farming’s survivors. Some might take offense at my choice of words and prefer to call them fiercely independent. While they are definitely that, I will add that some of those folks bring upon themselves by choice and consequence a very real alienation from other individuals and community effort. But for this discussion I would point out that this world of farming’s independent survivors is a parallel universe which measured against today’s depression shows a curious pattern of weaving trajectories. A pattern which may show us what it takes to build acceptable and revitalizing community.

Long after his physical capacities have dwindled to pain and stiffening, what drives the solitary old man to continue bringing in the handful of Guernsey cows to milk? To laboriously split the piles of perfect kindling and stack so meticulously in the perfect woodshed? To struggle with the anxious young horse in tedious repetitious harnessing? To calmly shoot dead the helpless suffering cow? To stoop and pick the wild flowers for his lonely breakfast table? To disassemble the hydraulic pump for the fourth time, carefully replacing the o-ring? To scratch with pencil stub at the scrap of paper, planning a new cross fence he may never be able to build?

After all, this man does not worry about getting a piece of land to farm, he is beyond that. And this man does not worry about family as his wife is dead and gone and his children are far enough away in their own anxieties and longings to be disconnected. And he does not worry about learning how to farm, something that he absorbed in his dirt-fighting youth. Pulling a red hot chunk of steel from the forge fire, or pulling a struggling calf from its young mother’s uterus, or pulling hay from the mow, or pulling five dollars from his wallet, he doesn’t think much about making his farm pay, that’s behind him now. Eighty-five years old, he doesn’t think about not having a retirement account or health insurance. If he worries it is about his cows, who will care for them when he wakes up dead? If he worries it is about his land, who will know what to do with this fragile piece of the planet? If he worries it is about his tools and what they evidence. Who will know how to use the device he invented to pull stuck posts out of the ground? Who will know how to spin the drill press head before starting the motor? Who will forgive the old millstone its dips? Who will keep the wooden handles of his screwdrivers oiled? Who is there to honor the craftsmanship he cultivated for nearly a century? For the only honor craftsmanship can use is that which carries forward with the working.

What pushes the lonely old woman to continue the working of her ramshackle ranch? To stitch together, one more time, the tired corner rock crib? To gulp cold coffee after breathing the ammonia-soaked feed dust of the poultry shed? To shoot dead the errant dogs and bury the tortured pieces of dead lambs? To siphon gas from the tractor to put in the pickup truck? To jack up the long heavy gate and balance for one half hour of juggling frustration just to get it lined up to fall back on to its hinge bolts – a job that could have been done in 20 seconds with one additional pair of helping hands?

After all, this woman owns all of this land. She could sell it tomorrow and live worry free for the rest of her days. Her physical aches and pains, her increasing limitations are each and every one met with the internal shrug of unquestioning dedication and ownership. Even so, she’d love to have someone to share the cold morning sunrises with, someone to laugh with and complain about. Someone who never got in the way and had sense enough to keep wood in the fire. Someone who watched and learned without needing to be taught. Otherwise who will honor the craftsmanship she has cultivated for nearly a century? ‘For the only honor craftsmanship can use is that which carries forward with the working.’

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Forging is that defect of the horse’s gait by reason of which, at a trot, he strikes the ends of the branches or the under surface of the front shoe with the toe of the hind shoe or hoof of the same side. Forging is unpleasant to hear and dangerous to the horse. It is liable to wound the heels of the forefeet, damages the toes or the coronet of the hind hoofs, and often pulls off the front shoes.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

by:
from issue:

Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

Building an Inexpensive Pole Barn

Building an Inexpensive Pole Barn

by:
from issue:

The inside of the barn can be partitioned into stalls of whatever size we need, using portable panels secured to the upright posts that support the roof. We have a lot of flexibility in use for this barn, making several large aisles or a number of smaller stalls. We can take the panels out or move them to the side for cleaning the barn with a tractor, or for using the barn the rest of the year for machinery.

Horseshoeing Part 2A

Horseshoeing Part 2A

As there are well-formed and badly formed bodies, so there are well-formed and badly formed limbs and hoofs. The form of the hoof depends upon the position of the limb. A straight limb of normal direction possesses, as a rule, a regular hoof, while an oblique or crooked limb is accompanied by an irregular or oblique hoof. Hence, it is necessary, before discussing the various forms of the hoof, to consider briefly the various positions that may be assumed by the limbs.

Log Arch

Log Arch

by:
from issue:

The arch was built on a small trailer axle that I cut down to 3 feet wide and tacked back together. This was done so that I could keep the wheels parallel. I cut the middle out after construction was complete. I used heavy wall pipe from my scrounge pile for the various frame parts. It is topped off with an angle iron bar for added strength and to provide a mount for the winch and some slots for extra chains.

Posts

Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

The Anatomy of Thrift: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 2: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Harvest Day is the second in the series, which explores the ‘cheer’ that is prepared on the day of slaughter, and dives deep into the philosophy and psychology of our relationship to animals.

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

by:
from issue:

Collecting rainwater for use during dry months is an ancient practice that has never lost its value. Today, simple water collection systems made from recycled food barrels can mean a free source of non-potable water for plants, gardens, bird baths, and many other uses. Rainwater is ideal for all plants because it doesn’t contain dissolved minerals or added chemicals. One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof yields approximately 600 gallons of water.

Horseshoeing Part 2C

Horseshoeing Part 2C

The wear of the shoe is caused much less by the weight of the animal’s body than by the rubbing which takes place between the shoe and the earth whenever the foot is placed to the ground and lifted. The wear of the shoe which occurs when the foot is placed on the ground is termed “grounding wear,” and that which occurs while the foot is being lifted from the ground is termed “swinging-off wear.” When a horse travels normally, both kinds of wear are nearly alike, but are very distinct when the paces are abnormal, especially when there is faulty direction of the limbs.

On The Anatomy of Thrift Fat & Slat

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 3: Fat & Salt

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Fat & Salt is the third and final video in the series. It is the conceptual conclusion to the illustrated, narrated story that weaves throughout the entire series, and deals instructionally in the matters of preserving pork.

Forging Rings in the Farm Blacksmith Shop

Forging Rings in the Farm Blacksmith Shop

by:
from issue:

Fabricating steel rings is a common task in my small farm blacksmith shop. They are often used on tie-rings for my customer’s barns, chain latches on gates, neck yoke rings, etc. It’s simple enough to create a ring over the horn of the anvil or with the use of a bending fork, however, if you want to create multiple rings of the same diameter it’s worthwhile to build a hardy bending jig.

Eggs & Their Care

Eggs & Their Care

from issue:

Egg quality is the combined elements of an egg which increase the market value to the producer, the keeping qualities to the distributors, and the nutritive and eye-appeal value to the consumer.

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 1

by:
from issue:

There are three general divisions or kinds of graftage, between which, however, there are no decisive lines of separation: 1. Bud-grafting, or budding, in which a single bud is inserted under the bark on the surface of the wood of the stock. 2. Cion-grafting, or grafting proper, in which a detached twig, bearing one or more buds, is inserted into or on the stock. 3. Inarching, or grafting by approach, in which the cion remains attached to the parent plant until union takes place.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Swaledale

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Swaledale

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from issue:

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 Milk and Human Kindness Making Camembert

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Camembert

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Camembert is wonderful to make, even easy to make once the meaning of the steps is known and the rhythm established. Your exceptionally well fed, housed and loved home cow will make just the best and cleanest milk for this method. A perfect camembert is a marvelous marriage of flavor and texture. The ripening process is only a matter of a few weeks and when they’re ripe they’re ripe and do not keep long.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT