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