balanced-budget farming

Sunday, October 16:

   Jeddo’s Run Hollow falls through a narrow neck eastward into the Beautiful river. This time of year the sunrise pours directly into the valley, casting long shadows from the owl-haunted oak trees at its foot.  Early this morning the air was brisk but not cold, and cloudcover pressed the pink dawn low in the sky.  When you feed pigs, you know you have done something; the noises they make are vigorous and appreciative.  Think of two new terms for pork:  “heritage” and “milk-fed”.  I can see it becoming the rage.

   Two weeks ago we went to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA.   We went less for any great information we expected to glean than because we thought it sounded like a good weekend date.  This was, we think, perhaps the first time since Luke was born that we have gone away overnight without at least one baby. 

   I called the number listed online for Seven Springs and asked for room rates. 

   “All our regular rooms are booked for that weekend, ma’am.  We have suites available.”

   That might be nice.  What are the rates for their suites?

   “Our smallest suite holds up to twelve people and rents for $2,000 a night.”

   Well.  We took a modest room in an inexpensive chain hotel thirty minutes away.  Quality of weekend not diminished.  Surprisingly, we had a lovely time.  Not surprisingly, since we really like being together, but surprisingly since our expectations of the event were very low.  In the circles in which we move TMEN is often characterized as a slick magazine for people who want to read articles detailing how to build an $1,800 chicken house to hold their fifteen heritage-breed egg-layers, thus becoming part of the green-earth-friendly-sustainable-and-frugal brotherhood.  It is supposed to be very big on telling the reader how to save ten dollars a month on his power bill by having installed a $20,000 solar array on the roof of his home.  Sort of a Town and Country for the eco-minded.  Not really a good fit for dirt-under-his-fingernails Scrap-Wood Louie and his wife. 

   The drive into the Laurel Highlands took us through some lovely farmland and some unlovely small towns of the village-overrun-by-car-dealership-and-funeral-home type, with every other business selling beer.  The carwash sells beer, the hamburger joint sells beer, the lawn furniture boutique and dog-grooming salon sells beer.  You would expect the post office to sell beer.  Between towns the land climbs in a series of ridges up to a high point from which you can see practically to Chesapeake Bay, the ridges wearing thick pelts of hardwood forest strewn with expensive vacation homes like brooches on a mink stole.  

   The Fair filled three floors of Seven Springs’ large mock-alpine ski-lodge and spilled out into courtyard, patio, and green lawn.  There were dozens and dozens of vendors and display booths.  One knowledgeable and friendly gentleman with a beautiful baritone voice was exhibiting a small wood-fired brick oven the building of which he had demonstrated at this event a year ago.  A beautiful young woman in the next space fabricated a straw-bale wall over the course of the two-day event.  On the patio side, the Zendik booth displayed some bright, delicate jewelry made, it turned out, with rolled-paper beads.  I hate to give this one away, because the girls and I will probably be making some of these for Christmas presents, and I don’t want you doing them for yourselves, but these were tubular beads, made by rolling tapered pieces of paper wide-end first, gluing, and then finishing with shiny floor-finish.  They were then strung on wire or filament with glass beads for spacers.  We stopped to see how they were done, and if they had any hair-clips in colors other than pink; they hadn’t, but what they had was a lovely young married couple who told us that Zendik was an intentional community established to make the world better through art and stewardship of the land, or something like that.  Very nice people, and they told us about Ossabaw pigs, which are a rare heritage breed from “an island in Virginia” (Beth was a little confused).  They showed us pictures of these bristly pigs, which look as though they took their hairstyle inspiration from Bill Waterson’s Calvin.  They are one of the breeds listed by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, and were one of the important things we learned this weekend.

   In the Livestock Breed Conservancy tent we met a pleasant and well-spoken young man from central Ohio trying to squeeze enough money out of a farm that had been in his family five generations so that he could buy it from the relatives who had inherited it and wanted to sell it for development.  Diversity, good stewardship, raw-milk sales through herd share, and raising heritage breeds were part of his overall plan for success, but he was frank in saying he needed something to give.  He and his young wife carry off-farm jobs to pay for the priviledge of raising other people’s food.

   Also in the livestock tent was the president of the Poultry Breeds Society, a gentleman of the old school and a little hard of hearing.  From him we got lots of good information on heritage breed chickens for brooding and foraging.  We also got a poultry-feed recipe formulated by some granddaddy of poultry breeders, along with the information that a gallon of milk is all the protein one hundred chickens need per day.  Membership in the Society is $50 a year and not allowed for in our budget but we left feeling very friendly toward the organization.

   Midday we sat on the floor in a narrow hallway eating yogurt out of mason jars while someone we couldn’t hear talked to an overflow crowd on Farming Diversity, and latecomers wandered up and down asking in whispers where they could find the talk they were interrupting.  Two of the addresses we most wanted to hear were cancelled; probably the farmers who were slated to give them had to stay home and farm.  Our favorite evangelist Joel Salatin held the crowd in his palm for three hours telling people in terse quips what they already knew and agreed with, and telling country stories in a delicious southern drawl.  Across the way an attractive young woman shared with charm and candour the lessons of two years raising heritage cattle.

   We checked out four separate and distinct talks with titles including the word “dairy” or “cheesemaking”, two of which addressed the development of government-inspected artisan cheese factories.  Another was intended to encourage timid people to consider keeping goats.  Only one venue addressed kitchen cheese making; it drew a big crowd in one of the largest spaces.  The couple who were presenting own a raw-milk dairy in eastern PA where they and their five young children make cheese.  We were more interested in them than in their talk, since it didn’t go beyond what we already know about cheese making.

   What we didn’t find anywhere was an expert on cheese making for the farm kitchen, nor anyone speaking on synergistic, whole-farm ecology for the homestead, what I think of as the “cottage farm”.  Gene Logsdon uses this term for the small acreage managed principally for the family subsistence; farming not for cash, but to reduce the need for cash.  No one there, so far as we could see, was speaking to people looking for a recipe for food independence.  Many topics were well-handled which would be of interest to the cottage  farmer – organic gardening, season-extension gardening, bee keeping, alternative energy sources – but we could see no one who was suggesting, or suggesting methods for, small independent sustainably managed grazier/dairyman/ gardener farms with a balanced budget. 

   Would anyone care to hear about this?

2 thoughts on “balanced-budget farming

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