The key to most of Ben Green’s stories is meeting a stranger on the way to or from somewhere new and strange. Is this a friend, an adversary, a rival in an elaborate charade? A farmer down on his luck, or a fellow trader addicted to the thrills and rewards of sharp practice? Green has the knack of traveling incognito, of gaining valuable information by sharing meals and swapping favors.
Burnout is common to idealists who invest deeply in their dreams. It is easy to overreach, and promise more than you have to give. Then too there is that tempered hidden anchor called hope, the mountain climber’s friend driven into cracks to belay and secure him as he goes, which still may fail first or last. So following the story that underlies these essays it is not hard to see how, as Kingsnorth says, finding himself increasingly mired in endless meetings with corporate spokesmen paid to resist him, enough futile effort might lead to despair.
SFJ Spring 2016 Preview: Edward O. Wilson’s new book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, offers a plan for the problem of species extinction: the dominant species, man, must hold itself back, must relinquish half the earth’s surface to those endangered. It is a challenging and on the face of it improbable thought, expressed in a terse style. But his phrases are packed because the hour is late.
Sure, the hands thought they knew all about broke horses, and green-broke horses, and those that had never felt a rope or bit. Being broke was mostly a deal the horse made with you, some easier than others. If you quit riding them, they got harder to ride till eventually you were back where you started, having to catch and subdue an animal who was far from curious, intent on just running away. Nobody could blame them, and there were only a few tricks — what else but patience to calm their fears, touches and treats to reward their curiosity, and for their ears a nonsense lullaby.
Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.
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).
The margins are where we overlap, where we test our absolutes. Where we touch. Whose land, whose barrier is this? And individual species’ invisible barriers may be stronger than those we erect and repair. I know a farmer who built perfect bluebird houses and screwed one atop every other post around his field. But the bluebirds couldn’t stand to live so close together — no more than three or four of the dozen boxes to a side were ever occupied.
This is my third Horse Progress Days, including 2008 in Mount Hope, Ohio, and 2016 in Howe, Indiana. We could note a few trends in a nutshell — how tall draft horses are back, and miniature horses (which are not stocky ponies but perfectly proportioned horses more pleasing to the eye) are being bred to ever more refined and useful conformations. How the current style for most big draft horses is to have their tails severely docked, though the tails of miniature horses are left long. By way of footwear these days there seem to be few of the brightly colored Crocs for the whole family, but gray and black Crocs aplenty. One huge change over three years ago is that here were as many bicycles, with and without baskets and trailers (and some with batteries and motors), as the dark square family buggies drawn by identical lean brown trotters and pacers. Bicyclers include both youthful and older farmers, using this healthy and efficient form of transportation to get around.
So it might be well to recall national models such as John and Abigail Adams, who when it mattered, knew what to do and did it without fanfare, whether the moment called for defending British soldiers against charges of murder in the Boston Massacre, drafting a state constitution, melting down pewter spoons to cast musket balls—or getting in a hay crop before the rains came. Their values extended beyond expediency and profit to the greater social good.
Not much for romancing Charlie still put on red suspenders and red socks slicked his hair back then fluffed whatall up front he had left into a wave even hung his good hat on a peg to drop by after supper come to find Evaleen alone on her porch swing figured to take this main chance to parcel out his thoughts that had become such a burden like a load of green firewood you need to quit driving around stack some place out of the weather near where you’re fixing to burn
So when he started watching these two horses he’d put out to pasture, he thought he’d better give them more things to look into and mull over. After all, they’d been smart around him, caught onto new things pretty quick, and when he messed up and got them confused they’d seemed forgiving. So at night he started putting things out in their pasture — first was a rusty red pickup with a blown engine.
I’ve got two teams of Belgians that power all the things on the farm. I don’t have a tractor, I don’t have a truck or anything like that. Everything must be done by them. I have two buggy horses that I use for transportation. I have a one-seater buggy for when I’m going into work or into town by myself and then I have a two-seater one for when I’m with the kids.
Somewhere amid the ebbs and eddies of a curious childhood I wondered who Alexander von Humboldt might be. I had noticed all the places named for him, sprinkled on maps of the world, and assumed he was some kind of explorer. It was not till I took up sailing in my late twenties that I learned of the Humboldt Current, a cold nutrient-rich Pacific current known to fishermen from time immemorial, that runs up the coast of South America from Chile to Peru, Ecuador and Columbia.
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.
If they had their druthers, most hands on the place would sit a tall horse and work cows. But there were always those who could farm if they had to, though they might grumble over the plowing and planting and weeding, coaxing things out of the ground, bucking bales. But as Len says, where else will winter hay and oats and feed corn come from — it don’t grow on trees, and whatever you buy, you surrender the profit.
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.
In his greatest works — Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and Huckleberry Finn — Twain offered a contrast and tension between town and countryside, between the web of deals and cons and bustle of activity that the modern world would call decidedly urban, and the hard-scrabble but quiet and ultimately nourishing living on farms. There were four farms that touched Sam Clemens, rural locales that sustained and helped mold him, that reached from his beginnings through the decades of his greatest creative efforts.
from issue: 42-1
…until farmland preservation gets figured out. A pardon for farmland! Amnesty for farmers! And the world court for large banks! Below is a summary from the most recent AFT analysis of the loss of farmland to development. We have asked a few Journal readers and editors to share thoughts on the topic. A conversation with Lynn Miller, Paul Hunter, Shannon Berteau, Klaus Karbaumer, Ryan Foxley, Ken Gies, and Ferrel Mercer representing Oregon, Washington, Missouri, New York, and Virginia.