Archive for September, 2017

shawn and babyIs the sustainable farm movement missing a major piece of its puzzle?

Organics conferences seem to consist of a very small percentage of people who make (or at least in the last couple of years have made) a reliable (if sometimes marginal) living at it, a larger percentage of people who at the end of the year are hovering between being in the black and in the red, and an even larger percentage of people only just starting or thinking of starting.  All the people in the second and third categories wish they were in the first, and most of these latter are here as speakers or organizers.

Is there perhaps a missing piece of the puzzle – a class of people for whom serious farming, for food and for a lifestyle, is the goal, but who have no expectation, perhaps no desire, even, that farming should generate sufficient cash completely to replace whatever else they do?  People who perhaps already like what they do for cash, but still want to be in the country and raise food/live, too?  Or people who have something they would like to do – art creation or performance, ministry, craft work or skilled labor – from which they do not expect to be able to derive an adequate cash income, and who in addition would like to live in the country and raise their food? – People who, if they could farm for food, beauty, health and pleasure, might be able to make the smaller income they could derive from their avocation be an adequate one?

One thought that comes to our minds is that the sustainable agriculture community of the future may — perhaps should — come to include in large proportion a class of farmer that once made up most of the human race, and today is hardly on our organic maps.  We mean the family farmer, the man, woman or couple who stewards a few acres very well, grows his own and his family’s food with some over for extended family, community and charity, and also plies a trade or avocation.  Not just one or the other, farming or avocation, will make up his entire occupation and living, but both or either, simultaneously or cyclically.

It is pretty well accepted among small-scale farmers that direct market, farm-to-consumer sales, allowing as they do that the famer should receive retail prices for his goods, is a necessary condition for most small farmers to pull down a cash income even remotely comparable to what is generally considered a living wage.  But a glance at the map of the U.S. in particular, or the world in general, will inform inquiry that, indeed, much of the habitable portion of the planet is too far from a civic center of any appreciable size for direct-market (farm to consumer) sales to make up an entire income anyway.  What then?  Is that land to remain in the hands of ‘conventional’ (and destructive) agriculture?  or is it to return entirely to grazing lands, for large herds which will have to be shipped long distances to market?  If land far distant from concentrated populations of people with money to spend on responsibly, sustainably grown food, is to be regenerated and restored to deep fertility, this land will have to be farmed intimately by careful stewards — and that, at least for the foreseeable future, means without the farmer deriving a full living from cash crop sales.

Who then is to farm these lands?

Our visits to sustainable agriculture fairs, workshops and conferences suggest to us that there is an army of interested, informed and avid farmers of many ages eager to take up the challenge.  It is an issue we think is going to need great deal more attention over the next few years.

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The new chicken tractor is as easy to move as a wheelbarrow, making it a good choice for use by our oldest grandchildren.  It holds five birds comfortably (27 square feet of space) and creates good impact on the pasture we are presently renewing.  In the winter it will be a great tractor for use in the garden, where we put chickens over the dormant raised beds to clean up weeds.  In the fall, they will be followed by a sowing of winter-hardy greens, or else a green manure of rye; when the weather turns really cold, bare soil will be covered by a good mulch of hay or shredded leaves.

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Chestnuts are so lovely that collecting them is like hunting for Easter eggs, a fun trip to make in the evening after supper dishes are done.  So far we have gathered about ten pounds, a good harvest.  Some we eat right away — a chestnut is a nice package of proteins and carbs, mildly sweet — but they will be sweeter, and their texture more silky, after a couple of months aging in the back of the refrigerator.  We suppose this is why they are traditionally a winter food.

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apple harvest

Diversity pays off in different ways.  Not everything we grow “makes” (matures to harvest) every year.  By September we are beginning to know what the storage cellars will be offering us this winter — to know what “made” and what didn’t.  IMG_5586[1]

This year will be remembered for its two biggest projects:  a wedding — two, actually — and a home salvage (two wrecked houses turned into one good one).  It will not be remembered as an organized garden year.  Nevertheless, we’ve seen good harvests in a number of crops, including apples.  With almost 90 quarts of applesauce in the cellar, 40 quarts of apple slices, and dozens of quarts of dried apple pieces, we move on to the cider making:IMG_5609[1]

imperfect fruit, shredded (crushed would be better) and juiced:IMG_5620[1]

and now bottled, to harden for a week or so before we enjoy it.  These bottles are a little too full — we’ll pour some off after 24 hours, for tasting and to leave room for the rest of the cider to ‘work’.IMG_5656[1]

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Characteristic objects of the season:  dehydrating apples,IMG_5597[1]

winter greens, carrots and beets just getting started,IMG_5591[1]

and the first of the fall cheeses drying on the counter —IMG_5599[1]

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Chickens in the garden, yes, but only under tight supervision.  This tractor of young pullets is pasturing on a bed of buckwheat.  Planted as green manure, and to smother weeds, this patch was allowed to get about four feet tall and set lots of seed before we started the tractor across.  Here’s what they did:IMG_5474[1] We didn’t want to till this patch (we’re trying to encourage the soil biota), so the chickens serve at least four purposes:  1) they are knocking it over and trampling it, so it goes from tall green plant to flattened brown mulch; 2) they are eating lots of buckwheat seed and plant, bugs, too; 3) they are spreading lots of hot chicken manure; and finally 4) piece de resistance, all the buckwheat seed they aren’t eating (buckwheat sets generous seed) is sprouting up through the mulch now,  binding all that chicken nitrogen so it won’t wash off or volatilize, and for a second crop of smothering green manure/mulch/honeybee food/chicken food!IMG_5470[1]

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This year’s first chicken mushroom; it weighed almost five pounds, enough for dinner and half a gallon of dehydrated pieces.


Oyster mushrooms.  There were two fallen trees laden with these; again, lots for dehydrating!

Last weekend we found another chicken mushroom (easy to spot that bright orange color) and brought it home to fix for guests the next day.  When we cut the lovely thick yellow flesh into strips, they were full of little holes.  Pores, we thought, until tens of half-inch white grubs began popping out.  We aren’t the only ones who like chicken mushrooms; something had started a very large family on this one, and we had to pass it on to the pigs.

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