Archive for May, 2009

mel_and_J_in_garden_008GOD SPEED THE PLOUGH
(from an old English cup)

Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendour and state.
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham;
I shear my own fleece
and I wear it.
I have lawns; I have bowers.
I have fruits; I have flowers.
The lark is my morning alarmer
So jolly boys now,
Here’s God speed the plough.
Long life and success to the farmer.


No, that’s not a plow behind that horse; it’s a drag harrow.  And no, that’s not me, that’s Mel driving “the ‘J’ mare” as Jason calls her, working the garden on Ridgewind Farm.   But I stumbled across the poem the same day he sent the picture of Mel and J, and for that reason they go together in my mind.

“God speed the plough, ‘a wish for success or prosperity,’ was originally a phrase in a 15th-century song sung by ploughmen on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Day, which is the end of the Christmas holidays, when farm laborers returned to the plough. On this day ploughmen customarily went from door to door dressed in white and drawing a plough, soliciting ‘plough money’ to spend in celebration. “Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

I found the poem on Hollin Farms website; another good Virginia farm worth taking a look at.


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Spring Green

Oh what a difference a month makes.  The trees are finally wearing their fresh new leaf outfits, unblemished yet by insects or dust, and the view heading up the hill past the garden/barn spot is now an emerald rhapsody of dappled greens kept sparkling like jewels by the steady spring rains.  I am curious to know what wildflowers have bloomed and gone by the time we get there in late May. 

There’ll be time enough in the near future, I know, to explore for myself the myriad inhabitants of Kentucky forest, creek and meadow as each season takes center stage; for now I must content myself with doing homework, learning what I can from books and the internet to identify grasses, trees, weeds and flowers I am as yet unfamiliar with. 

My native landscaping knowledge was of High Country western flora – Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona.  As a twenty-something citizen naturalist I knew every shrub, tree and flower around the northern Rocky Mountain region by their proper latin names and common tags as well; now I am an illiterate pre-schooler as I walk through my fields and forest, yet to learn the alphabet, much less read the book of diversity that surrounds me.  It will come, though, in time, that familiarity.

Two weeks from now I’ll be in this picture, clad in muddy work boots and  jeans, doing farm work in the warm May sun.  Two years from now will be the last Spring on the farm I’ll have to miss in its entirety, the last time I’ll ever have to wonder what mystery wildflowers spring to life on the forest floor in the month of May in south-central Kentucky.  Time enough, ’till then, to read and learn.  The flowers and the jeweled leaves will wait for me.

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Starting the Garden


This is the third summer Alene and Bobby have put in a garden on this 1/4 acre back of the shop building, a little stretch of grass that borders the creek as the road starts up the hill.  They hadn’t gardened for several years, said it was too much work for what they got out of it; but for some reason they decided to pick it up again.  Bobby loves potatoes and onions and tomatoes, and his family always grew subsistence gardens in his childhood years.  I also think my constant mention of gardening in San Diego got them thinking it wasn’t such a bad idea for a couple of old retired folks, to tend to a garden and knock a little off their grocery bill.

The first summer, 2007, was a very dry one, and they went overboard with how much they planted, so they ended up pouring a couple of swimming pools worth of water into it – the water company actually called to ask if they had installed a pool, their useage had jumped so high!  But they got lots of Blue Lake green beans, corn, potatoes and tomatoes out it, freezing the beans, storing the potatoes in the shop and eating the tomatoes fresh.  Swore they weren’t going to garden anymore, though, with the watering being so costly, but you know how gardens are.  Like birthing babies, the pain and effort fades eventually and all that’s left is a hankering to do it again.

Last summer they planted some potatoes, tomatoes, squash and beans, keeping it down to a couple of rows.  I think they finally discovered a “right size” approach that gave them some fresh food without being too much of a hassle.  So, this year they’ve got potatoes, onions, mustard and turnips in again, with some tomatoes growing in pots up by the house, and surely some summer vegetables will make their way in sometime this month.  I’m very happy they’re gardening again, and enjoying it.  

Alene wrote just this morning that the potatoes and onions are up and looking good, despite the cool weather and rain.  She’s measured 18″ of rain so far this year.  Granted, it’s the rainy season, but that’s still quite a lot of rain for four months.  The garden site is well-drained though and gets good sun throughout the day, so it shouldn’t set anything back too far.

I’ll put my kitchen garden somewhere else when I get there in 2011, as this scrap of relatively flat land is destined to have a small barn built on it and paddocks fenced for the horses, so they’ll be close at night while I’m living down near the road in the little house, working and building the barn up on the hill.  It’s a fair stretch of road to the top, and I don’t like the idea of my critters being up there at night so far away from the watchful ears and nose of the farm dog.

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There are serious problems and concerns with our nation’s the world’s current model of how meat is put on the table – call it Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or Industrial Food Animal Production (IFAP) as the Pew Commission does – threatened public health, environmental degradation, severely compromised animal welfare, and decimated rural communities.   Just recently, just this week, just today, we’re all getting a dose of reality about the public health angle with the discovery and emergence of the H1N1 triple-hybrid human/bird/pig flu virus.

Tom Philpott raised the ire of quite a few commentors with his report on Grist of a possible link to Smithfield Food’s large hog factory (I refuse to call it a farm) in the area in Mexico near the outbreak.  Naysayers were very skeptical of what they felt was a leap in logic, connecting a swine flu outbreak to a giant concentrated feeding operation, and many commenters accused the blogger of not having scientific references for any of his assertions.  I don’t know what planet they’re living on.  The Humane Society’s Factory Farming Campaign website provides all the solid, scientific background one could ask for (with painstaking references ) in an article by Dr. Michael Greger – it’s a good read, but look further to his online Bird Flu Book for some really in-depth education on the subject of flu, flu pandemics, and the animal connection.  I’m half-way through and I can’t put it down; hell, I never knew any of this, what an eye-opener this book is (and his references are exhaustive).

Short answer is: this is not new, and the culpability of industrial animal production is undeniable.

I’m not surprised.  You won’t be either, once you’ve taken the time to read the science of it.   And it only reaffirms and strengthens my conviction to do my part as a small farmer, raising small numbers of humanely cared for, genetically diverse livestock for local consumption.  I’ll do it first for myself, so that I’ll have healthy, fresh, safe food to eat; and to the extent I’m able, grow a surplus that I will sell directly to an appreciative customer.   Smithfield be damned.

I realize the scale of small farm production can’t meet total demand.  Yet, anyway.  But as Wendell says, we don’t even know what we eat, as a community, so it’s difficult to determine what it would take to feed us.  We have no idea if our region can sustain itself on what can be raised reasonably in small operations that avoid the crowding and contamination that spawns disease. 

I say, start somewhere, and work your way out.  Connect with others at the edges, link arms when it makes sense to do so, maintain your belief in the rightness of what you are doing.  Feed yourself and some of your neighbors.  Don’t exceed the capacity of your land and ecosystem; maintain appropriate scale.  The rest will work itself out.

We’ve hatched quite a mess, with our industrial, machine-like approach to producing and distributing vast quantities of animal flesh, no mistake about it.  Small farms with uncrowded herds of pastured animals are surely a step in the direction of abatement, if not a total solution, to the danger.  I’m steppin’ that way.

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