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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 Way it Wasnt

The Way it Wasnt

The Way it Wasn’t

by Brandt Ainsworth of Franklinville, NY

It often seems to me that a good share of life is determined by our own perspectives. I’ve competed in pulls where the team came in last and I was completely content, if not downright thrilled. We made weight, we crossed a few loads, showed some potential, and didn’t have a hard time hooking, (or at least not a runaway). I’ve had other times when the team pulled all they could and behaved perfectly, and still disappointed me. It’s just my personal perspective on that particular day that led to my disappointment or pleasure. Let’s face it; a day at a pull, with the good people a pull attracts, and the bond shared with horses is a good day that we should cherish whether you finished first or last.

Ever since I was very young, I’ve struggled with bipolar disorder, (though I never heard of the term until well after I was an adult). Being bipolar makes one’s perspective all over the map. A sunset may be the most hopeful, beautiful sight you’ve ever experienced one day, but the next day the same sunset may be depressing, ominous, and lonely, another day yet may receive that same sunset with complete apathy – just something that happens every day. I’ve learned to live with my albatross with the help of my friends and family reminding me often that things are never as bad as they seem, and just as important, things are never as good as they seem.

The Way it Wasnt

While being bipolar affects only a small percentage of us, changes in perspective affects all of us and how we view each situation and each memory. Where I live, somewhat close to Buffalo, the local perspective is, we have a good season if the Bill’s win a few home games and don’t fire the coach mid season. Playoffs? C’mon… it’s Buffalo. My New England friends have the perspective of it being a poor year if the Patriots don’t win the Superbowl. Looking back and reflecting on one’s memories is a pitfall for skewed perspectives. That’s why it’s said, “the older a man gets the better he used to be,” and “the older the man; the farther he walked to school, and the deeper the snow.”

I was familiar with an item in my youth that could change perspectives in people as quickly as a politician changes his stance on an issue to a new one that gets more votes: a faded, red, half gallon water jug. The handle was broken. The outer shell was cracked from falling off the jig cart while dragging. It was perpetually as dirty as our hands. I think it came free with a pizza years earlier, but the logo had worn off a long time since. The white inside was stained a rusty brown from our very hard well water. When filled with our awful tasting water – pieces of mineral like sediment settled to the bottom until it was passed around and the particles were mixed throughout. On a good day we would fill the jug with the pure clear water from the spring if we walked past it on the way to the southern part of the farm. Even the good spring water didn’t help much inside of a vile vessel like that.

The old water jug was as constant in my youth as our old sheepdog. It rode on the guard over the power take off shaft of the Farmall H when we were haying. It hung under the seat of the Pioneer plow when plowing. It dangled from a wire gathering layers of dust on the back of the Ontario drill when planting. Shoved into the corner of the wagon by the staples and fence stretcher. Hanging under the seat of the sulky cultivator it hung low enough to touch the tops of the young corn plants. There was no place to hang it on many implements like the handle cultivator, (as opposed to riding cultivators) the corn binder, or the grain binder so it hung on the near horse’s hames. When it was back onto the wagon for hauling back to the thresher, or ensilage cutter the old red jug hung on the front standard where we tied the lines. As often as not the jug hung together with other farm essentials like a rifle, or a grease gun. Thus, the jug always seemed to have smudges of grease, even on the part where you put your mouth.

The Way it Wasnt

I may sound like I’m describing a nasty memory that I’d rather forget, but my perspective is quite the contrary. I remember the old jug as a refreshing oasis. A break from the hot and dusty work. I remember setting the lid on a lug of the tractor tire and enjoying every sip of the delicious water the way a wine connoisseur remembers a fine bottle of vintage wine from a good year.

We were lucky enough to often have help on the farm for many of these hot, dusty, and laborious jobs. Of course, the prissy people from town thought ill of my Dad and I for drinking from this unhealthy jug. Even rough and tumble farmers and rednecks turned their nose at it. I understood their perspective. How can these Ainsworth boys pass that nasty jug – I just saw a bug lit in it. Dad and I would pass it back and forth, with him always getting first dibs and I was second as our helpers tried not to look so they wouldn’t feel ungrateful when they declined our offer to share. Perspectives changed as the work got harder and the day got hotter. Often by the third load of hay someone else would tentatively try a sip. Then by late in the day an hour or so before evening milking time, the friends, no matter how civilized, would eagerly take part in our ritual of sharing one water jug of dirty water as my Dad unhooked the strap where it hung, blew the hay chaff off the lid, and took the lid off. It was an early lesson to me on the way people’s perspectives changed.

As I remember all the places that jug went on our farm, I remember the wonderful feeling of being a farmer who farmed mostly with horses. I can close my eyes and smell the first furrows of the year being cut, hear the stones scrape across the moldboard, see the perfectly straight furrows laying over, and feel the leather lines resting in my hands. Plowing was a favorite to so many of us that we always remember it fondly, even poetically.

The Way it Wasnt

Farming that way seems to stir all of the senses, and make us long for those days. Try to close your eyes and remember the way about mid-May when the pasture was green, a horse on pasture would have a distinct smell – not really sweet, but surely pleasing. A few weeks later it was the smell of cut hay. The first hay of the year had a smell that seemed welcome after it was first mowed. Corn for silage in the fall had a smell that reminds us of summer work and somehow makes us think of whiskey. After the grain binder went by it was time to shock oats, with the dry smell of oats and straw and fall in the air. Every job had it’s own feel too. The air during plowing had a mixture of the warmth of spring, with the cold of winter still in the ground coming up from each furrow. The sun on your skin makes you feel healthy in the hot of a July haying day. Threshing is hot, dusty, and itchy feeling, but you know in a month or so you’re fingers will be feeling the checkering on your favorite deer rifle. One could write a book on how good a set of lines feel in your hands with a team on the bits just right, or even how their favorite saddle feels under them.

Heel chains jingling, a good teamster commanding his team with quiet confidence, the steady hum of a sickle bar are all music to my ears that make me lose sight of the other perspective of farming. The one that happens in a not so perfect world.

This perspective has us itching under the chin from setting up shocks of oats, and our ears ringing from the loud threshing machine. I often forget how bad I am at cultivating, and that I seem to take out as much corn as weeds. It’s easy to forget how hot and dusty the straw mow is, and how often the thresher plugs, and its belts slip. I’ve had hard hands, and blisters all my life from fork handles, and every spring I get sunburned while picking rocks before planting. Damn the flies that chew on me and the team all summer long. My life would be fine if I never had to scour another rusty plow, or fix a knotter that won’t tie. Just when you make some progress mowing hay it rains for four days straight. They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a flat tire, and so does a trip to the hay field; then it’s an odd size tire the local garage doesn’t have on hand. As long as I’m griping, let’s talk about the fence that’s down and the animals that get out of the meadow and into the yard of the only neighbor around who cares about his yard. Then the frustration of chasing the stock back in. It makes you long for the dog you used to have instead of the one you have now.

The Way it Wasnt

While I’m not deeply philosophical, I do believe that you don’t truly know pleasure until you’ve felt real pain. That may be why we love farming so much, after all the hardship you endure – when it finally does go right we tend to relish in it.

It’s just a matter of keeping it all in a realistic, not idealistic, perspective. When teaching somebody new about farming, we would do well to recall the way it was on both the good and bad days. Few farmers, even on the rare time when they remember the bad days, would’ve traded the worst day on the farm for the best day without a farm.

As we flip over a five gallon pail, and sit down with the kind of friends who sit with you in the barn and remember the old days; try to keep in mind – if it was as bad or as good as we remember, we are probably remembering the way it wasn’t.

The Way it Wasnt

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

by:
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We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

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After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

from issue:

Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

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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.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

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