Monday, December 21, 2009

In Liue of Words

Here is the blog post that you have all been clamoring for. I am too busy and tired to write anything profound, but I had a few sights from my time so far that I wanted to share. They count as 1000 words each. All the pictures with the (A) beside them are courtesy of Amanda, the other apprentice here at Nature's Harmony. Enjoy!

Curing bacon

Thanksgiving with the Shay family -David = :(

Don't mess with Rosy. She's the boss cow.

Pork chops with apple chutney, collard greens,
mashed potatoes, and beer
That's a good dinner.

Tim wooing our new dairy cows

Making beer happen with one of the coolest guys in town

Grass is good.

A bad trip to the Oliver Police Department
Watch out for speed traps!

The incubator (A)

The Garden

Garden Harvest

Keg o' brew and bluegrass at the campout

Poulet Rouge means "Red Chicken". Brilliant!

Where I spend most of my waking time at home

Ana and the pups chowing down. (A)

Sheep (A)

Pounder. 'Nuff Said. (A)

This is called my "game face".

P.S. This counts as my Christmas present to you. If you don't like it, file your complaint with Santa.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Perception

I wrote this well over a week ago, but just got to typing it today. While the timing is bad, the lesson is still a good one.


This past weekend the baffling American instiution of “Daylight Savings Time” worked it’s magic on our clocks and gave most people an “extra hour’s sleep” on a Sunday after what may have been a late Halloween night. The apprentices here at Nature’s Harmony spent this past week debating what day we actually would save time on and what affect it would have on our schedule. Yes we would have an extra hour, but the sun would rise earlier. Since we start our chores at sunrise, we would have to get up earlier to get everything done. As it turned out, Saturday was a long day and none of us changed our clocks. My alarm went off at 6:30 and I was out do chores at 7:30 with the sun just coming up. We were supposed to meet Liz at 8 to feed Ana’s puppies and I realized that my phone said 6:30. Time had changed and not even told us. Without an appointment to remind us, we could have gone days or even weeks before we even noticed that the time changed. Sunday night at our farm dinner, we talked about it and decided that “time” as in “what time is it?” is irrelevant at the farm because our time revolves around light and seasons.

All of this had me thinking about perception. Being around the animals here at the farm, I am realizing how much perception matters to them. I’ll give a few examples that should illustrate what I mean.

First off is an incident that happened yesterday. As some of you may know, we use rotational grazing at the farm which means that we give the cows and sheep new pasture every day. In order to do this, we have to set up a new electric fence for the animals and then move them to their new paddock. At one of the corners we usually form a gate that we open to let them in. Usually we swing this gate into the new paddock, call on the animals, who are usually ready to move, and let them do all the moving. Yesterday we had a weird set-up for our gate and we were forced to swing their gate into an old paddock. We then gave our customary calls, “come on cows!”, “come on sheep!”, but only a few of them went for the new paddock. The rest began to panic and trample the fence. They were confused because other animals had made it to the other side but all they could see was a new corner. It was easy for us to see the gate clearly had opened, but their perception, visual and mental, was not allowing them to see what we saw. Luckily, we got the animals to the new paddock, but not without them almost disassembling our fence.

Another good example of this is our chickens. Since I got to the farm, we have always had problems with chickens getting into our processing shed and leaving little “surprises” for us all over our ice machine. This is a mess that we don’t want to have to deal with every week, but we also leave the processing shed open to natural light, to be visible from the outside, and to be easy to get in and out of. So to remedy our problem, we put up clear plastic strips on the front of the shed. At first, Mario and I were not convinced that this would keep out the birds because it is not very much of a physical barrier for them. In fact, it would be pretty easy for them to walk right through one of the seams, but their perception tells them that it is a window or a wall and they don’t even try to walk through it. It’s an easy solution that takes into account a factor that I am learning you have to use to your advantage in farming – the animal’s perspective.

All of this brought me back to thinking about my situation when I moved to this farm. I have thought for a while that I would like to make a living off of farming, but I felt too unprepared to jump right into it and take all the risks that I would need to take to get started. Perhaps there was also more than a small part of me which thought that I just couldn’t do it. Yet after working here for a not even 2 months, I am starting to gain confidence that starting to farm on my own is something I could do. I am peeling back the thin plastic strips and seeing that the opportunities will be there for me if I am willing to take them. In the meantime, I have plenty to learn and lots of opportunities to enjoy the farming life.

The lovely processing shed

Meals of the weeks

Above: Breakfast burritos with sausage, eggs, and fresh salsa.

Below: Garden salad with fresh greens, radishes, banana peppers,
grated parmesan and citrus vinagrette.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Addendum

I just wanted to share a quote that I read from one of my favorite literary agrarians, Wendell Berry. This is from The Unsettling of America on pg. 87 and it sums up what I was trying to say in my post entitled "A Rumination on 'Days Off' ". It is as follows:

Most farms, even most fields, are made up of different kinds of soil patterns or soil sense. Good farmers have always known this and have used the land accordingly; they have been careful students of the natural vegetation, soil depth and structure, slope and drainage. They are not appliers of generalizations, theoretical or methodological or mechanical. Nor are they active agents of their own economic will, working their way upon an inert and passive mass. They are responsive partners in an intimate and mutual relationship.

Because the soil is alive, various, intricate, and because its processes yield more readily to imitation than to analysis, more readily to care than to coercion, agriculture can never be an exact science. There is an inescapable kinship between farming and art, for farming depends as much on character, devotion, imagination, and the sense of structure, as on knowledge. It is a practical art.

Amen, Wendell, Amen. If only all of our agriculture in this country could aspire to this careful artestry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Need for Balance

I am not sure why I thought that this would not be the case, but I am quickly learning that life on the farm is full of the same lessons that I learned in the “real world.” Perhaps they are more poignant and noticeable in the situation that I am in here at the farm, but they are the same lessons. Take, for example, one of the first “rules” that I learned here at the farm: Have Priorities. Being the perfectionist that I am, it was difficult and stressful for me to learn that there is only so much time in a day and too many things to do. I don’t have to make too much of a leap to extend this to other areas of “real life,” which undoubtedly require us to have priorities.

The lesson that I have been learning recently here at the farm is the need for balance. This applies to many aspects of life here. For example, we have to be balanced in our approach to raising animals “naturally.” What does that even mean? For us, it means raising our animals in such a way that they can express their natural characteristics and thrive off of their surroundings with as little help and input as possible from us, the farmers. For this reason, we don’t give the sows farrowing huts, because we want them to develop the genetics to birth and raise piglets without them. In some cases, this has been a really hard decision to make. Many of the Berkshire sows that we have lack the natural mothering characteristics that we believe need to a part of our animal’s genetics, and many of them have lost full litters in a matter of days. The response for many people in this situation would be to just give them farrowing huts and that would solve the problem. Perhaps it would, but we would never be giving these animals the chance to develop the characteristics they need to survive and reproduce naturally. On the other hand, we have to remember that this farm is trying to mimic natural processes and that these are not wild animals. The cows and chickens are given a chance to express their natural tendencies, but they are still managed by us. So we have to remain balanced in our approach to taking care of these animals. We want to take care of them and protect them, but we also want to encourage them to develop natural characteristics.

In the same way, I have been learning a lesson about balance for myself. Somewhat foolishly I decided to take my one day off last week driving 8 hours in a 24 hour span to go visit some friends up in NC for an Oktoberfest/Self-Sufficiency celebration they were having at their house. While I had a great time getting to visit with old friends and learning how to make sausage and apple cider, I did not get good rest and take the time to prepare for the week ahead. By failing to balance work with rest, I set myself up for a very hard next couple of days. In addition, I spent most of my day Tuesday running around trying to get things done and didn’t spend any time recovering from my weekend. Finally, nature or providence has caught up with me as I was forced to take another day off today because I got sick, probably with a mild case of food poisoning but I am not sure. Hopefully the rest that I have gotten today will leave me more prepared to take on the work that we have the rest of the week and Farm School this weekend, an event where we will have 25 aspiring farmers here all day Saturday to learn about our farming methods. Either way, I have learned my lesson about balance and look ahead to the many things that I will have to learn in my farming experience.

Meal(s) of the Week(s)
Top: Made from scratch wheat pancakes with
Nature's Harmony honey, Ossabaw sausage, and coffee.
Below: Slow-roasted sirloin with sweet potatoes,
risotto bianco, green beans, and homemade salsa with chips.
(not pictured: sauteed okra with oven-roasted tomatoes)

Amos with some homemade sausage at Oktoberfest 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Rumination on “Days Off”

As I sit in an Athens coffee shot sipping on my very large glass of a very hot double-shot americano, I have to admit that I am a little bit frustrated. I can’t seem to figure out how to make my computer connect to the internet, and I can’t use any of the prompted internet setups because I am signed on as a guest. My frustrations are more with my lack of ability to figure this computer problem out and less about the problem itself. It is not that important for me to have the internet at precisely this moment – I can publish this post later when I get back to the farm – but I am annoyed because there is a specialized piece of equipment that I can’t figure out how to make work. All that is a reminder to me that at the farm I have thankfully moved away from the work of cookie-cutter answers and into a highly creative field.

Most people wouldn’t think of farm life as entirely creative. Perhaps they would agree that the “pastoral” or “rustic” life of the country has the ability to spark creativity, but most people would not see the work itself as creative. Yet the creative side of farming is one of the reasons that I find it so attractive. In “conventional” farming there are stock answers to stock questions. Cows eat this mix of feed and chickens are given that much space to produce these size eggs. At Nature’s Harmony and other farms that embrace an approach that enhances the beneficial natural properties of the animals they raise and the land that they work, the story is completely different. Just this morning, the other apprentices, Mario and Amanda, and I were discussing ways that we could improve the chicken tractors that we have to move every day. Our answers to the problems that we face will largely be informed by local conditions, what is best for the animals we are working with, available materials, and the cost of those materials. There are parameters, but within them, we have a lot of room for creativity and there are a variety of solutions we may come up with.

Another good example of how this way of farming is creative is the rotational grazing method that Tim and Liz use. In this method, the cows and sheep at the farm are given new forage every day on a fresh paddock of pasture. Nearly every day Tim walks the field and examines the grass on his farm, plotting his next course for the cows. There are a number of things that he has to think about: how big does this paddock need to be to last a day, what types of grass are growing, when will they be growing again, what part of the farm do the cows need to be moving to. These seem like simple decisions, but they are some of the most important decisions that Tim and Liz have to make because they affect every level of the farm from the business to the health of the land itself. I am sure that it can be a somewhat nerve-wracking way to farm at times, but I am seeing more and more how it allows a farmer to make the most of the land and to be a responsible steward of it at the same time.

All that to say that it is much more enjoyable for me to spend a day walking the fields trying to decide how to best provide for the animals than to sit with a computer trying to figure out how to make it connect to the internet. I would still like to have the internet right now though, because I need to find the best way to get back to Elberton. I’ll try human communication instead.

Farm Meal of the Week:
Crockpot Chili with Homemade "Balloon" Bread and
Xingu courtesy of Morganne and Aaron Weeks

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Life and Death on a Farm

Dad, me, and most of my possesions packed in a pick-up.

Just over a week has passed in my time at Nature's Harmony farm in Elberton, GA, and I have already seen, tasted, smelled, and touched more than I could have imagined I would have in an entire year somewhere else. It is no surprise to me that there is life on a working farm, but I am finding myself consistently amazed by how much of it there is. Before I embarked on this journey, I must admit that I was afraid that I would be a little bit bored out on the farm. However, it is wonderful, in the word's truest sense, to be out in the fields watching the hens peck for bugs, the cows grazing in their paddock, the pigs playfully chasing each other, the dogs keeping all the hawks away, and the sheep running in a flock. Even the smallest life is amazing. Yesterday, I was cleaning out one of the water troughs for a cow and I noticed a small, glistening beetle swimming in the water, moving slowly then bursting with speed like an ice skater.
And not only is there life on the farm, but life that is beginning. Last week, one of our sows had a farrow of piglets. Apparently this particular Berkshire sow, Tweeter, is not the best mother because last time she farrowed, she trampled all of her piglets before they even grew big enough to dodge her enormous weight. Tim and Liz showed patience with her though and hoped that the mothering instincts of the Ossabaw sows she is with will wear off on her. It seems to be working this time around as she is now learning to take care of her piglets without a farrowing hut. Though one piglet has been lost already, 5 are still looking healthy and strong and Tweeter is learning how to take care of them.

Tweeter and her piglets.

We also had a calf born on the farm yesterday named Pollyanna. Her birth through a wrench in the morning plans that I had to finish painting the dairy barn, but it was a welcomed opportunity for me as I got to watch Tim and Liz take care of the young heifer and feed her the milk which her mother was refusing to give her. Apparently this particular mother hadn't weaned her other calf, who is a little bit older, and Pollyanna was a week and a half early, so she didn't have any milk for her. Tim and Liz had to head out to get a special milk supplement that has the antibodies for the calf which are only produced in the first 24 hours after birth. Today, Pollyanna and her mother, Promise, are back on schedule and we are hoping for the best. Pretty soon, we expect one of the Aleutian Pyrenees on the farm, Anna, to have her first litter of pups who will help her and her mate, Jethro, to patrol the farm.

Pollyanna just a few hours after birth.

Anna hiding under the broken dump truck, Dumpy.

Another part of the farm that has been a surprise that I can't say that I was expecting was all of the death. I am not naive and I know that it is the natural course of things for death to follow life and precede more life. But I have lived in a world that has been mostly sheltered from this knowledge of death. As violent as our T.V. and video games are, our culture does not realize that death is, in fact, natural and unavoidable. Yet knowing that death is inevitable has not made it any easier to be around it. When all of the guinea hen's chicks died or when we found a dead Bourbon Red Turkey, my knowledge of death grew, and yet I still did not feel comfortable with it. By far, my least favorite job on the farm is moving the chicken tractors. Every day we move the chickens to fresh grass and new forage, and every day we find at least 5 dead chickens which we take to the compost pile. Apparently this is due to a respiratory illness in chickens which spreads like wildfire. Because Tim and Liz don't use antibiotics and instead prefer to breed out these weaknesses, many chickens have been taken by this illness.
In addition, I also took part in my first "processing" day on the farm. To say that we "processed" chickens is a bit of a euphemism in my opinion, because what we actually did was kill them and clean them out. I don't think slaughtering is the best word for this either, because neither does justice to the reality of what is happening. We are killing a chicken as painlessly (for us and them) as possible and preparing it to offer sustenance to us and the farm's customers. I don't particularly enjoy it, but I understand that it is a necessary part of providing good food to people who care about the way that the way the chickens they eat live and die. It is as it should be, we are taking from the world which gives to us and which we in turn must give back to.

Dead animals in the compost pile.

My first farm dinner. Homemade meat sauce with bowtie pasta,
roasted tomatoes, and baked acorn squash.

Monday, September 14, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...

The past few weeks I have been thinking about the things that I will miss about Savannah. Here is a short list, by no means complete and in no particular order.

...Friday nights - cooking and praying and conversing with friends

...6 o'clock Mass @ Sacred Heart and all the people that I have had the pleasure of getting to know

...Watching the Steelers with my pop

...Family dinners (including the Archer's) and cooking with my mommas


...The possibility of fishing with Reid and Nathan (the reality doesn't happen often enough)

...Riding my bike around the city and seeing all of it's life

...Going to the beach on a whim 

...Soccer @ Forsyth Park

...The Farmer's Markets and my farmer friends
...Coffee and reading @ "The Bean"

...Watching Liam grow up ("Fort!")

...Crab, shrimp, & oysters

...Themed parties (Sangria anyone?)

...Zunzis (especially with Enoch)

...Afternoon thunderstorms in the summer

...Watching my sister play basketball and soccer 

...Hanging out with my cousins 

...Screamin' Mimis @ my front door

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An Introduction and A Manifesto

So before I gave away the link to my blog, I wanted to go ahead and write my first post. I am new to the "blogosphere" and I can't say that I even know what I am getting into.
As you may probably know by now, I am starting an apprenticeship at Nature's Harmony farm in Elberton, GA in September, and I will be there for a year. I figured that a blog would be a good way for me to keep anyone who is interested up to date on my life at the farm and all the interesting things that I will be learning. If you want to learn a little bit about the farm, the owners Tim and Liz have a blog here. I am going to share my life at the farm as much as possible, but there will definitely be some overlap with Tim and Liz's blog. I hope that my experiences will shed some light on what good farming looks like and why it is so important.
For the manifesto of this blog, I figured I should use a poem by one of my favorite writers (who just happens to be a farmer), Wendell Berry:

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motion of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.