Posts Tagged ‘Small farms’

This coming Saturday, the first of December, I will have been retired from the Navy for a year.  A year, for heaven’s sake.

I’m amazed that an entire year has passed already.  Not that it flew by, not at all.  Most of it dragged on like a bad cold I couldn’t shake, testing my patience, challenging my well-laid plans, and taxing me both physically and mentally to my limits.

What a year it’s been.  Full of major changes, some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, more adventure than I ever could have imagined, and lots of unexpected twists and turns that have kept me busy figuring out how to do stuff I’ve never done before.

In addition to packing up 30 years of accumulated possessions, traveling cross-country with two dogs, setting up rudimentary housekeeping at the farm, and acquiring an entire cow herd, the heat and chiggers and physical exhaustion nearly kicked my butt.  And I’m still living amongst stacks of boxes, still looking for things I know I packed but haven’t found yet, and wishing I could wave a magic wand and have all the settling in stuff done now, please.  My heart aches for orderliness, balance, and efficiency.  My life doesn’t have much of any of those in it right now.

But I’m getting there, dammit.  At a bear’s pace, it seems:  lumbering, measured, deliberate.  Not speedy.  Not magic.  At times not seemingly making any progress at all, just meandering.  But the truth is, I continue to whittle down the daily lists of things that need done to care for livestock, pay the bills, keep the larder full and food on the table, prepare for winter.  I am getting my feet under me.  And I am rewarded with a small but growing level of orderliness, balance, and efficiency where just a few months ago, there was none.

Getting back to this blog, this narrative of my small farm journey,  is one of those deliberate, necessary steps toward where I need to be.  Yesterday I finally updated the Flickr pictures on the right of the page, replacing the shots of winter snow and ice from a visit two years ago, with photos taken the past few months.  Since late October I’ve been back to keeping a daily journal, and I’ve reserved time each day to write posts, taking my camera with me more often to capture the magic that happens every day here, magic and beauty I’ve lately been too overwhelmed to see or appreciate.

It’s the year mark.  Five months here at the farm.  Time to shake off the negativity, push through the brambles of doubt and lost confidence, and lumber into the sunny clearing ahead.  One bear paw in front of the other, I’m getting back on track.


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I started this blog post a long time ago, when Skeet and Bandit and I arrived at the farm back in the beginning of July, and I had high hopes of settling into a routine that included regular updates.  It has been a lot like heading downhill on a black diamond ski run as a beginner since then, to be quite honest.

How could I have thought it would be otherwise?

At this point in the story telling, with the long, hot drive from California to Kentucky just a faded memory, 4 months and two seasons under our belts, cows up on the pastures eating hay and winter knocking at the door, I don’t think it’s possible to catch up on the details.  I’m not sure I can even write a decent synopsis of the events that have packed my days since arriving here on the 3rd of July.  No, I just need to get started back to posting, which will be a huge achievement in itself.

I’ll try to explain as I go.  It’ll be skippy for awhile, I’m sure, but eventually this narrative should smooth out, the missing pieces will get filled in, and it’ll start sounding more like the story of a woman starting up a small farm, instead of just dreaming about doing it.

Bear with me, please.  The adventure has just begun…

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hilltop hayfield in june

Our ten days at the Farm in late May/early June were work-filled and blessed with mainly good, clear weather.  It is a pity I was not able to cut the pastures, as the ground was fairly dry and we had a week with no rain; it has rained regularly since we left and they may not get mowed until well into July.  But we had other things to do, and Bobby can mow when things dry out again. 

The folks took the opportunity to drive out to Oklahoma to visit family, meet a new great-grandaughter, and get away from the Farm for a bit.  With us there to look after the dogs, it was as simple as jumping in the truck and driving West.  We appreciated having the place to ourselves for the week; we enjoy their company but when we’re there to work non-stop on specific tasks, it’s nice to set our own meal times (supper usually waits until after dark, past nine) and not have to explain what we’re doing and make conversation as we fly in and out of the little house.  At least for me, that’s the benefit.  My type-A dawn-to-dusk work practices are not always easy for laid-back retired folks to understand.

I had every intention and was well-prepared to tackle two projects this visit:  building steps for the back door to replace the unsafe stack of cinderblocks that Alene had tumbled down once already, and repainting and moving to storage the rusting corral panels that once served as a stock handling pen.  The cinderblock stoop was completely inadequate and the corral, 20 panels or so, is placed too close to the Big Pond and has been weathering unnecessarily, unused since 2002.  I will set it up in a better location as a round pen for training the horses, when that time comes.

The back door steps idea morphed into a full-blown porch, a 6′ x 10′ deck with two wide steps and a sturdy railing porch building finishedcapped with 2 x 8’s, built strong and solid on four posts embedded in concrete footers with a concrete pad at the base of the steps; safe, roomy, useful, enduring.  And beautiful, I think.  It took me 9 days to finish, from digging the footer holes to putting the last coat of stain on the deck.  Halfway through the week I realized my pace was slower than I’d planned, and the corral panels would have to wait another year for their sanding and new coat of green Rustoleum paint.  But doing something well is always worth taking your time.

Derril left me alone with my carpentry project and worked on digging out culverts and drainage ditches on the road up to the hill.  He also replaced the kitchen faucet and fixed a few problems around the house.  Carpentry is not really his thing, and I will admit I work better by myself on projects like this where I am learning and figuring things out as I go.  So he worked at his pace and I at mine, and we were both pleased with what we accomplished on this trip.

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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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lady-horseloggerHere is Mel at work, skidding logs in late March at this year’s Open Woods Day in Floyd, Virginia.

She and Adam are apprenticing with the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation to become Biological Woodsmen.  They’ll head back up north to their farm soon, to start operating their own restorative forestry business  there, and will train, work, breed and care for my mares for a little over two years, until I can get boots on ground at the Farm in Kentucky.

It is my hope that the contribution of living capital, both the horses to use and the foals they’ll keep, will help them get a good start.

Mel’s a quiet girl, but intense and passionate too.   Were you to meet her on a busy city street, you wouldn’t guess she works in the woods with horses and chainsaws and huge, heavy logs.  Having done a myriad of non-traditional jobs my whole life, I can really appreciate another woman who fearlessly chooses to follow her heart into the woods and the fields and do work like this.  It isn’t just for men, and it’s a lot of fun, and we can be very good at it.

These two young people are very special, and very important, to their community and to the world at large.  Not afraid to roll up their sleeves and learn a complex craft that defies the conventional mindset of profit over every other thing, and that gives back to the Earth and her future generations.  They give me hope and remind me that good, honest dreams built of hard work are still all some folks need to be happy in this life.   Makes me feel good, that.

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 Last Tuesday’s ice storm through Kentucky and surrounding areas hit the Farm, but not as bad as it could have.  The folks were without power for an hour and a half, they said, and had to burn quite a stack of wood in the little fireplace to keep the place warm.

It’s an all-electric double-wide trailer house, on a permanent foundation, with good 6″ walls well-insulated, but you know, with electric heat and an electric stove, you’re just screwed when (not if) the power goes out.

We’re planning on installing a little wood-burning stove where the fireplace is – probably do that next Fall.  By the time I move there, I’m going to be heating with wood, and might even get a propane stove put in, too.

But the folks are ok and the temperatures are climbing again, so for now, disaster has been foiled.  A friend up in the Louisville area wrote about this ice storm up there, and spoke of one a couple of years back, down in Arkansas where they used to live, that snapped big beautiful trees with the sounds of gunshots.   I do not like to see great living things damaged like that, but if they do go crashing down, you just make more firewood, I suppose.  And any good saw logs can be made into lumber, if you have the means to do that.

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