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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

The Shallow Insistence

by Lynn Miller

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

– John Adams

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.

– Henry David Thoreau

How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?

– Charles De Gaulle

There are melodies so evocative they would melt any attached words. There are images so powerful they might negate explanation. There are working rythmns which fly well beyond the vocational titles we give them. Those powerful melodies, images and vocations; all of them deep and rooted now in the human pysche. None of this has to do with good or bad, it is just so. And that has been for most of mankind’s modern days, these last five centuries. But then the shallow insistence snuck up on us and we have fallen down or are falling to our lesser selves.

The shallow insistence, the casual impatience, the convenience imperative, the lazy demands – whatever we call them or it – it has us in its grip. Today I hear of a man who says he quits his farm dream because you and I are unwilling and/or unable to tell him the simple secrets to how a comfortable living might be made without too much work, without too great an investment, without disappointment. He has insisted we give him the guaranteed plan. He casually says he’s not going to waste any more time on dreaming. He demands for himself a life without so much hard work. He says to us that those powerful melodies, images and vocations are all a thing of the past – or never existed at all. He says of us we are charlatans for hard-selling the agrarian life as a dream come true when all it is is misery, disappointment, hard work and poverty.

And I’m supposed to stand chastised and humbled because I dare to edit a publication which champions such a boondoggle? To defend our efforts against the shallow insistence tires me to the bone. There is no boondoggle UNLESS you see it as such. There are no answers, no guarantees, no sure-fire plans. Some of us will never make successful farmers, regardless of what criteria or definition you use to measure success. And some of us will continue to succeed no matter how poorly we are doing. If you see it won’t work, it won’t work. If you see it as the effort you want to make, it is already working. I’d much rather be home farming than in here defending music, art and hard work.

HOME

Expansive. Crystal clear summer midday. On the porch with daughter- made grilled turkey pepperoncini, cheese and mustard sandwich, limeade the chaser. The Italianeate shadows, cropedges – under trees and livestock – off the buildings – look as the sandwich tastes, thick with flavors and colors. Just in for a break from the field. It’s one of those days when most every bird is lazy-happy to be alive and somersaulting insects delude themselves into believing their lives will be long. Watch as old saddle horse saunters towards shade tree, head swinging low and slow on her long neck while tail does double time across the itchy hips. Puffy white clouds pass on parade, their pace matching the bird snores, the mare’s saunter, the insect somersaults and my sandwich party. Will be returning shortly to the field work. Glad for it. Glad to know what to do, to have it to do, to feel it working on me as well. I feel expansive and in the expanse of my good life, all of the moment and moments.

Back and forth across the field, walking speed, able to rest with thoughts instead of wrestling with them. No way to hurry this process. The time spent working this field gives me an acceptance quite above patience. No insistence, nothing shallow. Feels like I’m riding the day, and I am oh so happy for it. When I have completed this procedure I will have visited with my eyes every square inch of this field’s top side. Not to say I will know or understand it completely because that will take several lifetimes.

“Oh, you farmer you.”

As a young man I was prescient… I knew I wanted to be a farmer and an artist. Nothing else filled my imagination. And all during those growing up years, a half century ago, I was constantly warned that my choices were unwise. That neither art nor farming would grant me much in the way of security and wealth. It would be a slow life, hand-to-mouth, and one with very little prestige. So, wize guy that I have always been, I asked ‘what’s so wrong with slow? And ‘hand-to-mouth’ sounds pretty good to me – are you suggesting it should be ‘foot to mouth’ or ‘butler to mouth’, or heaven forbid ‘syringe to blood stream’? I know you mean that it likely will be tough and I’ll have to work for each meal. But again I say, so?’

FARMER?

Some of you will feel these words incorrectly as some sort of taunt. I’m sorry if that is the case, because that is not what is meant in the sharing. I have heard it said of me that ‘yah sure, he’s farming, but it’s because he had the money to get a start.’ Nope, not so. Started out poor as a church mouse but just as courageous and silly. And I’ve heard it said, “he’s not a very good farmer, always behind in his work.” To which I respond – yes, that’s certainly true but it is as much by choice as by happenstance. I do take the time occasionally to put this magazine together, and to paint pictures, and to do things with my family and friends. So the farming hasn’t always got the full measure of time it cries for BUT it has always received from me the fullest measure of my passion, ease, comfort, anxiety and thoughtfulness. But then I’m not normal in any measureable way. I am different from most other folks I know who choose to farm. We are all different, all individual.

Yet, the wider public has a definite sense of what it means to be a ‘farmer’, to be that character that says ‘farmer’. And that sense is ripe with contradictions. They see us as hardworking and slow witted, they see as essential and replaceable, they see us as highly skilled and uneducated, they see us as courageous and insulated, they see us as poor and lucky, they see us as trustworthy yet sneaky, they see us as alchemists and as luddites, they see us as agronomists and gamblers, they see us as religious and heathen but mostly they see us as unfortunate.

What is it about us? I was in the auto parts store today trying to get a couple of spark plug wires for an old Wisconsin-model baler engine. I took the originals in with me, learned long ago I had to do that otherwise they would argue when I described the parts. They say things like “ain’t no such wire, not like that any ways.” So I took in the offending wires and plopped them down on the counter. There they were big as life, no arguing with that. The two guys took a look at them, fingered them and then rolled their eyes in reverse unison. “What are these off of anyway?” So I tell them and the owner says, “better take him back there and show him what we got on the rack.”

We discover that they truly don’t have anything quite like my old wires so they decide they will sell me the parts and pieces to assemble. The hired man says, “don’t know how to put them together, never seen it done” to which the store owner says, in a voice meant for every other customer to hear “Just give him the parts, he can put it all together, he’s a farmer.” Somehow the tone of voice had the sour harmony of a history professor’s referencing of some idiot neanderthal tribe’s self sufficiency skills. So I pipe up and say “Maybe you should put a sign on the door says no farmers need apply.” And he mumbles looking down and says “no, no, it’s not like that…” because times are tough and every customer is essential and he knows now is not the time to pick a fight with a paying customer let alone a ‘farmer’. And I think ‘wait a minute, it was all meant in jest. Let’s lighten up here.’ But I don’t say it out loud because these times beg of us to play sweetly the pipes of the civility organ. So we part company in full and quiet disagreement, uneasiness at the core.

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Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

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.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

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.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Dont Eat the Seed Corn

Don’t Eat the Seed Corn: Strategies & Prospects for Human Survival

by:
from issue:

Gary Paul Nabhan’s book “WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine” (Island Press, 2009) is a weighty tome, freighted with implications. But as befits its subject it is also portable and travels well, a deft exploration of two trips around the world, that of the author following in the footsteps of a long-gone mentor he never met, the Russian pioneer botanist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov (1887-1943).

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Timing the Bounce

Timing the Bounce: Resilient Agriculture Meets Climate Change

by:
from issue:

In her new book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, Laura Lengnick assumes a dispassionate, businesslike tone and sets about exploring the farming strategies of twenty-seven award-winning farmers in six regions of the continental United States. Her approach gets well past denial and business-as-usual, to see what can be done, which strategies are being tried, and how well they are working.

Art of Working Horses Another Review

Art of Working Horses – Another Review

by:
from issue:

One could loosely say this is a “how-to” book but it is more of an “existential” how-to: how to get yourself into a way of thinking about the world of working horses. Maybe we need to explain what a working horse is. A working horse is one, in harness, given to a specific task. So, in that context, the book illustrates the many ways Miller has worked with his equine partners over the years – helping them understand what he wants them to do, as both work together to create relationships that help achieve desired goals.

Old Man Farming

Spinning Ladders

You die off by passing away. You live on by passing on. I want to pass the culture of my life on slowly, over the ripening time of my best years.

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.

Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

Storey’s Guide To Keeping Honey Bees

It is well known that the value of pollination and its resultant seed set and fruit formation outweigh any provided by honey bee products like honey and beeswax.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

by:
from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

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