It’s important to remember that the greatest investment you can make for the health and success of your farm is you. This is a platitudinous sentiment, perhaps, but accurate enough. If your farm is to be, like many of us hope, a hand raised up against the monoculture- a place of resiliency amidst collapse- then you would do well to train and educate yourself towards such ends.
It was clear from the beginning of my farming internship at Chubby Bunny Farm that my boss, Dan Hayhurst, loved the work of growing vegetables. Most mornings I would be lying in bed, just waking up around 6:30 am, and I’d hear his truck roll up to the barn. I’d listen as Dan got out and started hauling sacks of feed out of the barn to drive out to the small flock of chickens and few pigs on pasture. This was my cue to get up and stumble about my trailer, putting on filthy work pants and shirt, probably mildly hungover, quickly frying eggs and making coffee so I could meet him and my co-interns in the greenhouse or at the tailgate of his truck in time for the morning meeting. I knew he’d been up for hours thinking on the farm, planning the most efficient way of doing all the days’ many tasks, and it was barely 7 am. (more…)
When Jonathon and I decided to start Forager Farm, we had a combined vegetable growing experience of roughly 10 years. We also had one full CSA season under our belt from our time spent working and learning at Captain’s Creek Organic Vegetable Farm in Australia. (more…)
This blog was in danger of sounding like an acceptance speech where I list off all the names of the people responsible for me being in a position to run a farm. I can’t separate the lessons I have learned from the people who taught me. So to really talk about my training to be a farmer, I’ll pretend it was a planned out education instead of just happening. (more…)
The differences between working on an established farm and starting your own were evident this month. Rather than learning the ropes and falling into developed routines, we’re recreating some systems that have worked on other farms. We’re solving problems unique to our farm. We’re spending a lot of time cobbling together equipment and systems. And often, that costs money.
The animal groups we are raising this year afford us the luxury of not needing big equipment. We rely on temporary electric net fencing powered by solar chargers. We are taxing our family well while we wait for the funds to dig a well dedicated to our pasture. We drive a 1989 Ford F250 to pick up feed from the mill, deliver chickens to the processor, and move our hay wagon/shade shelter/water tank around the field.
If the farmer paused briefly from his ceaseless toil, taking up pen and paper to list the various equipment he relies on continually in his daily labor, an afternoon would surely be lost and the farmer would retire to bed with cramps in his writing hand. Roller tables, harvest crates, wash tubs, pruners, hand hoes, soil knives, drip tape, row cover, lay flat hose, pitch forks, spades, backpack sprayers—hundreds of simple tools and supplies cluttering the dusty corners of barns and sheds. Tractors, rotary tillers, disc harrows, grain drills, box blades, wood chippers, log splitters, cultivators, cultipackers, flatbed trucks, skid loaders—the imposing diesel guzzlers and implements lined up in garages and parkways.
While I can assure you that hundreds of those simple tools and supplies can make as big an economic impact as a single big-ticket items, still, tractors have captured our agricultural imagination and are the heroes of children’s books and the pride of weathered old planters and harvesters. In or last century, the scale of farming in America has been transformed to favor 1000-plus acre plots which necessitate fleets of powerful tractors and mammoth machines.
The question of equipment and capital, it seems to me, is really a question of what decisions you make about your daily work and your financial equilibrium and why you make them. Questions we ask regarding both tools used and money spent (both whose and how much) are those of means and ends- what will the application of a particular sort of funding or a tool mean to the possible success or failure of the farm, how much labor will be eased because of it, what will be further necessary to add as a consequence, etc. Tools shape the user, as well as the farm. Nothing is neutral.
I’ve always been told that debt is the death of small farms and farmers. There’s some truth to this across generations and locales, but this is, unfortunately, the Actually Existing Capitalism of debt-financed America, and without significant saving or lucrative off-farm work, it’s hard to avoid credit.
I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, I’m an old-fashioned, reactionary, megatechnics hating anarchist loath to hand money over to the usurious death-trip that is global finance. On the other, I partially own a debt-financed tractor, and have been frequently dependent on the patronage and credit of well-meaning family and friends, as well as banks. The necessities of marketplace existence come crashing in quick and merciless upon my ideological niceties.
Unlike many other young farmers, we had access to land even before we made a concrete decision on whether to grow vegetables or not. We were fortunate enough to have family and friends willing to rent us a slice of land. Ultimately, we decided to rent land from some of our friends. This option allowed us access to some equipment as well as a place to live.
Renting versus buying, whether land or equipment, allows us to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. We realize now after operating for a few months, that the tractor we’re renting doesn’t fit all of our needs. The wheel spacing prohibits us from using the tractor for cultivation and weeding and limits the size of our raised beds.
We realized that hand weeding and using wheel-hoes and stirrup-hoes isn’t enough, especially when you get just under three inches of rain in one night and a continual rainfall for the next 10 days, amounting to double the average rainfall for the month of June. Let’s just say, once it dried up and we were no longer drowning in water, we were drowning in weeds. With that said, going forward we’d like to invest in some sort of mechanical weeding equipment, which we feel is necessary until we can get the weed seed bank under control.
Each seed has a story. Some seeds have been passed down relatively unchanged for generations. Others have been breed for certain characteristics and traits. And others have been adapted for climates like North Dakota.
At our farm, we tend towards open-pollinated, heirloom varieties of seed, for reasons practical, sentimental and political. We are suckers for the poetry of seed catalogues and the promise of hopeful January orders. Our seed shelves spell out the history of our journey to this place- corn and shell beans from Oregon, garlic and dry beans from Vashon, pumpkins and sunflowers from Washington, tomatoes from a friend in Spain, greens from California. Carried along like treasures, these things have sustained our farm, and each row seeded has been a remembrance of past labors and their ultimate fulfillment. Similarly, I hope for our animals to grow with us- to carry our farm through their generations as the farm grows with them. Many have spoken passionately and eloquently in recent years about the value and necessity of seed and breed preservation, especially in the face of industry consolidation and economic monopolization. I have little to add; I believe the strongest argument to be made for saving seed, for breeding animals, and for choosing wisely and carefully for your place is an argument of sentiment- these animals and seeds carry us and our history with them, and all the complicated emotions of planting, hatching, kidding, harvesting and slaughter alongside. That lends a power to the relationship we have with each crop and flock and herd.