…and buy your organic seed potatoes from the family farmer fighting Monsanto…
…and buy your organic seed potatoes from the family farmer fighting Monsanto…
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
All the talk about creating jobs strikes me as another example of how so many of us sneakily drink one way and piously vote another. Oh how we voice our concern, how much we pretend to support more jobs but we go right on conducting real business on the basis of replacing human workers with machines whenever possible. All the ways being proposed to increase jobs right now are the same old methods that do not face the real cause of the dilemma. The awful truth is that we have created an economy that can’t afford people to do the work and so every year there are fewer meaningful jobs and more pretend jobs. Pretend jobs require pretend money. We are capitalizing costs on money interest not on human interest.
No where is this truer than in farming. We boast about how many people one farmer feeds—155 is the latest number I think— as if that kind of efficiency is a sign of progress. I don’t hear a single business person or government official pointing out that if the whole economy of the common good is considered, one farmer feeding 155 people is not a sign of true profitability but of gross and unsustainable inefficiency. So gross in fact that while the 155 are getting fed, others are going hungry.
It is fairly easy, I think, to demonstrate the inefficiency of one person feeding a hundred and fifty five especially when some of the hundred and fifty five are having a hard time earning enough to buy their food. More…
From BARBARA AYERS
The Contrary Farmer
I hope everyone won’t mind if I contribute my story. I have often wanted to comment on this wonderful, thought provoking site, but felt too shy because I don’t have a farm. My husband works in the entertainment business, hence we live in Pasadena, part of the giant suburban sprawl of Los Angeles, California. I didn’t grow up on a farm either — suburbs, again, outside of Washington, DC. But my maternal grandparents were farmers who emigrated from Romania to Western Canada. I believe the urge to farm must be passed down in one’s genetic code.
I’d always made flower gardens, and I’m a good cook. Somewhere back during the culinary revolution, I came upon a cookbook by Alice Waters, who can’t help but be inspiring. So I planted a pot of basil and parsley on my apartment balcony. Alice was right — picking that super fresh basil whenever I needed it, instead of spending two dollars for it, half wilted from the grocery store, was absolutely life changing. I spent the next fifteen years growing fruits and vegetables wherever they could be squeezed in, and dreaming of life in a more rural setting. Then, one happy day, my young children were accepted by a school that had, among other attractive features, a small organic farm. I spent the summer driving stealthily past the school’s farm property, stalking it, wondering if there would be any space for me to sponsor a project or two. It turned out to be a dusty acre of weeds with a pretty, tiny pond More…
From THE ETHICUREAN
[Our own local CSA farms are now taking memberships for the season: Paula and Adam of Mendocino Organics, the Decater family of Live Power Community Farm, and Tom Palley of Covelo Organic... and the new season starts tomorrow 5/6/11 for our local Farmers Markets. -DS]
The first time I heard of Essex Farm, I was working a kitchen/garden internship at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont. The school sent me to the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s 2009 conference, where I carefully chose workshops I thought would help me plan and plant a garden that would serve the school’s kitchen. It was my first farm-y job, and it didn’t fit the usual master/apprentice approach: I had people I could ask questions, but there was no master — just me. I was in a little over my head, and I was nervous. But that didn’t stop me from taking a detour from what I thought was practical to a workshop that thoroughly intrigued me even though the people running it sounded insane.
The workshop was titled “Everything But Sushi” with a subtitle something like More Dirty Life…
From GENE LOGSDON
Upper Sandusky, Ohio
I’m thinking lately that a farmer can learn more about sustainable farming from history rather than from current science. Agriculture has been taking giant leaps “forward” and archeology giant leaps “backward,” both with intriguing and absorbing results. Both work under a handicap. Archeology studies a silent past and has to worry that it’s getting the story right. Agriculture assumes a future that may not turn out to be true either. The two sciences have markedly different philosophies. Agriculture is interested in making farming a money-profitable business. Archeology is interested in finding out why profitable farming invariably leads to wrecked civilizations.
Archeologists are discovering new information all the time, especially in Central America and in North Africa because in both cases the past is not so silent after all. Written records and datable non-written records are coming to light especially for the Mayan empire on this continent and the Carthaginian Empire and its aftermath in North Africa. For example, researchers are reporting new evidence indicating that the Mayan Empire was maybe a thousand years older than it had been thought to be. The Yucatan Peninsula supported a population of millions more people than historians previously had concluded. Supporting those millions was an extremely advanced maize or corn agriculture, the profit-farming of that time. But whenever the Mayans figured out yet more clever ways to increase corn yields, the population increased and that required yet more yield increases. One example: the people literally built upland fields for corn by carrying rich mud up from swamp land that they could not otherwise drain. Sadly, the Mayans used the wealth from their profit-farming More Gene Logsdon…
From Lucy Neely
The Gardens Project
I felt like I needed to buckle down and really write some news, instead of just musings. I asked myself, ‘what’s the news right now? What’s happening?’ It only took a short moment: ‘Ah hah! Tomatoes!’
What is it about tomatoes? What makes them arguably the most popular vegetable plant with United States of American home gardeners? What makes them hold such a place in our hearts and minds? And what is the state of tomatoes in Mendocino County and in Ukiah?
Mendocino County Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar estimates that 40% of households in Inland Valley Mendocino County have at least one tomato plant. Ukiah Mayor Benj Thomas estimates that 30-40% of households in Ukiah have at least one tomato plant.
Scott Cratty, manager of the Ukiah Farmers Market and co-owner/operator of the Westside Renaissance Market (WRM), the most local food store in Ukiah – says that a lot of people won’t come to the Farmers Market until there are tomatoes. Cratty theorizes that tomatoes symbolize summer, abundance, and eating dinner outside. Melanie Underhill, an AmeriCorps VISTA with First 5, points out that she can really tell the difference between a fresh tomato and a not fresh tomato, more so than with other vegetables. Is the tomato the symbol of the glory and importance of fresh food?
Linegar tells me that tomatoes are technically a berry (as are grapes) and that Inland Mendocino County has “some of the best tomato growing conditions in California. more
From JERRY BRUNETTI
[I've been drinking raw milk regularly since childhood, and raised my kids on it. I'm a dedicated imbiber of local, non-pasteurized, raw goat's milk. Please support your own health, and our local, mom-and-pop, raw dairies. Ain't nobody's business if you do. -DS]
What a surprise! “Pseudo” farm organizations like Farm Bureau — an oxymoron — now support Wisconsin Governor Doyle’s veto of a proud bill to legalize raw milk in the Dairy State, all in the name of protecting everyone from … what? The existing centralized, monopolized, industrialized food system is literally owned and operated by a handful of dominating cartels, who in turn, are in bed with agencies such as the FDA. According to the centers for Disease Control, this well-subsidized inner sanctum of a corporate-state food alliance kills 5,000 Americans annually, hospitalizes over 300,000 every year, and sickens at home an estimated millions more. more
[Steve Soloman founded Territorial Seeds in Cottage Grove, Oregon many years ago, then sold it and moved to Tasmania. Here is what he has been doing since... -DS]
This website provides free e-books, mainly about holistic agriculture, holistic health and self-sufficient homestead living. There are secondary collections about social criticism and transformational psychology. No fees are collected for this service.
Upon special request the Soil and Health Library provides custom-made digital copies of a far wider range of books in the same subject areas for its patrons, delivered on CD-ROM by post. There is a small fee for this service.
The library’s subject seemingly-diverse topic areas actually connect agricultural methods to the consequent health or illness of animals and humans, shows how to prevent and heal disease and increase longevity, suggests how to live a more fulfilling life and reveals social forces working against that possibility.
The Free Digitalized Library:
There are four major subject areas:
Radical Agriculture. The nutritional qualites of food and consequently the health of the animals and humans eating that food are determined by soil fertility. This section’s interest is far wider than organic gardening and farming; other health-determined approaches to food-raising are also included. Go to the Agriculture Library
The Restoration and Maintenance of Health. Nutritional medicine heals disease, builds and maintains health with diet—and sometimes heals with fasting or other forms of dietary restriction. There are many approaches represented in this collection. There is also a collection concerning longevity and nutritional anthropology. Go to the Health Library
Achieving Personal Sovereignty. Physical, mental, and spiritual health are linked to one’s lifestyle. This collection focuses on liberating activities, especially homesteading and the skills it takes to do that—small-scale entrepreneuring, financial independence, frugality, and voluntary simplicity. There is also a collection of social criticism, especially from a back-to-the-land point of view. Go to the Personal Sovereignty Library
From GENE LOGSDON
Last week, in company with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, I spent a delightful evening at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, discussing the importance of good food and good farming. [Podcast 42 minutes Wendell Berry / Wes Jackson / Gene Logsdon.mp3 or here.] At one point, someone in the audience asked what we thought of the practice of urban farming. As often happens at panel discussions, we got sidetracked a little, and I did not have an opportunity to say as much as I would have like on that subject. So I will try to answer the question more fully here.
I think urban farming is one of the most hopeful developments to come down the street in a long time. First of all, it encourages the practical economic advantages and benefits of raising and consuming food locally. But its importance goes beyond that for me. I am sometimes asked why I spend my time writing about farming and gardening when, it is suggested, there are more important topics to which to apply my talents. That, in one sentence, indicates one of the most troublesome cultural problems that modern society faces today: the notion that food-getting is not an important enough subject to merit the close attention of all of us.
First of all, if you let big food business rule the roost in agriculture, you are going to get just what you pay taxes for: more big food business. For example, most people don’t even know that they are eating potatoes that have been genetically modified to kill potato bugs. If sometimes you get a notion that potatoes don’t taste as good as they used to, you just might be right. The potato bugs would surely agree with you.
But there’s something else that I think is important in this regard. The fact that our country has become divided into so-called red and blue states is an outcome directly traceable to the urban-rural division of our society… More at The Contrary Farmer→
Tour the century-old organic Chaffin Family Orchards where even the animals are “farm hands.”
Visit chickens in their egg-mobile, scratching for bugs and pooping fertilizer in the heirloom stone-fruit orchards.
Goats chomp off low branches from the olive trees, so no fuel or human labor is needed.
This certified predator-friendly enterprise includes 200 acres of olive trees plus various fruit and nut trees; sheep, goats, broiler and egg-laying chickens.
They distribute only locally through fruit and meat CSAs (community-supported agriculture), growers markets and a farmstand, providing fresh foods that burst with flavor and nuance.
From ELIOT COLEMAN
Four Season Farm
The radical idea behind by organic agriculture is a change in focus.
[This post was adapted from an address given at the recent Eco-Farm conference in California.]
When a friend told me of two of the proposed discussion topics for a major agricultural conference — “What is so radical about radical agriculture?” and “Is small the only beautiful?” — I told him that I thought both questions had the same answer. Let me see if I can explain.
The radical idea behind organic agriculture is a change in focus. The new focus is on the quality of the crops grown and their suitability for human nutrition. That is a change from the more common focus on growing as much quantity as possible and using whatever chemical techniques contribute to increasing that quantity.
None of the non-chemical techniques associated with organic farming are radical or new. Compost, crop rotations, green manures and so forth are age-old agricultural practices. What is radical is the belief that these time-proven “natural” techniques produce food that is more nourishing for people and livestock than food grown with chemicals. What is radical is successfully pursuing that “unscientific” belief against the counter-propaganda and huge commercial power of the agrochemical industry.
The initiators of this new focus were a few perceptive old farmers from the 1930s and ‘40s who had not been taken in by commercial pressures and saw clearly the flaws of chemical agriculture. The popularizers of the new focus were the young idealists of the 1960s and 70s who were attracted to the idea of food production based on non-industrial systems, even though most of them had no previous connection to agriculture.
Whole Foods’ new mobile slaughterhouses
Massachusetts poultry farmer Jennifer Hashley has a problem. From the moment she started raising pastured chickens outside Concord, Mass. in 2002, there was, as she put it “nowhere to go to get them processed.” While she had the option of slaughtering her chickens in her own backyard, Hashley knew that selling her chickens would be easier if she used a licensed slaughterhouse. Nor is she alone in her troubles. Despite growing demand for local, pasture-raised chickens, small poultry producers throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and even New York can’t or won’t expand for lack of processing capacity… Full article here→
Update: [As a carnivore, I support our small, local, pastoral farmers. Our weekend lamb-shank soup/stew (simmered for 4 hours with local organic veggies), from Owen Family Farm in Hopland, was superb! (They'll raise lamb, goat, or Black Angus beef for you - 707-744-1615.) Other than our much-respected vegan/vegetarian community, previous opposition centered around outside investors imposing a large facility on our population center to serve distant markets. I believe that the healthiest, sustainable farms are small, "garden farms" that include grass-fed livestock, with agricultural practices such as Biodynamics. Whether using mobile units for chickens, or more permanent structures for larger animals, sustainable community principles for local meat-processing include: humane slaughter, small-scale, location on the ranches or ranch-lands outside population centers, environmentally-friendly, wastes composted, locally-owned. -DS]
See also: Save The Planet: Eat More Beef→
…and Favorite Veggie Burger recipes→
From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
When visitors ask what our main crop is on our little farm, they look a bit startled when I reply “wood.” They look even more startled when I say the reason wood is important to us is that it brings tranquility to our lives. In winter when an old man’s fancy turns to thoughts of staying warm, I am just about as happy to have a garage full of stove wood as to have a storeroom full of food. I could not afford to keep the house toasty warm with “bought” fuel. If the electricity conks out in a January blizzard, as it seems to do more often now than in years past, we can ride the storm out fairly well. Not only will we stay warm, but we can cook our food and warm our water. The mere thought of this kind of security relieves stress and brings tranquility— the Federal Reserve can take away the interest on our life’s savings, but I don’t think even that bunch of buzzards can take away the warmth from our wood. Tranquility is the most precious possession of life, possibly more conducive to good health than proper food, exercise or medication. Add to that the tranquility that can be achieved in the work of cutting and splitting wood in the sanctuary of the trees. I often think of one of my heroes, Scott Nearing, who kept cutting wood until he was 100 years old. He stopped then, figuring he had enough ahead to last the rest of his life.
In terms of income, we reckon our tree land brings in about $1000 a year from the value of the wood substituting for other home heating fuels and an occasional sale of sawlogs and veneer logs, plus some black walnut and cherry lumber turned into furniture. There are also nuts and mushrooms for food, and hickory bark for cooking and smoking meat on the grill. There are bean poles and fence posts and gate boards and chicken roosts too. A thousand dollars is not much in terms of today’s high-flying business profits, but even this small amount, in terms of saving money is interesting (another dratted pun).
Complete article here→
On the surface, the practice of medicine — both the traditional and non-traditional approaches — would seem to have little in common with the growing of wine grapes. For Dr. Robert Gross, there is a strong connection between his training as a Psychiatrist, and viticulture. This episode draws upon the rich interplay between two completely separate fields, each helping to enhance better understanding with the other.
It’s hard to tell how agriculture is influenced by medicine, and how medicine is influenced by agriculture because it kind of flows back and forth
My main job is being a psychiatrist, a medical doctor in which I practice mostly psychotherapy with some medication, and I mix that with alternative medicine which includes acupuncture and homeopathy.
And then I run Cooper Mountain Vineyards. Grapes are a lot like human beings in that when they’re real young they don’t show the same maturity that an older vine, or older person, might show. And so the grapes become much more elegant, sophisticated, and balanced — as human beings usually do too — as they get older. Then, of course, at some point in life, or in the age of the vine, they start fading.
My growth as a Doctor, and as a Farmer and Winemaker, have fed each other. As an example, I know in this plot here, in the early 1980s, we were using some chemicals that were available and were used to keep the birds off these grapes. We would apply the chemical fairly close to the harvest. The birds would eat it and eventually vomit because it affected their nervous systems. We were all told that these chemicals disappear. There were 10 days [after application] that we didn’t pick.
And then Canada decided they were going to measure the amount [of that chemical] that was left in the wine… something that most of us hadn’t thought about because we had been told it was all gone. Canada eventually banned the substance because it was a neurotoxin… a neurotoxin not just for birds, but a neurotoxin for human beings too.
That knowledge came from agriculture… learning about birds and what it does, and realizing that Keep reading→
From GENE LOGSDON
Upper Sandusky, Ohio
The sentence nearly leaped off the page and knocked me down: “No one with land should be without a job.” Jennifer McMullen, writing in Farming magazine in the current Fall, 2009 issue (“Good Food Depends On Local Roots”) was quoting Jessica Barkheimer, who, like Jennifer, is deeply involved in developing farmer’s markets in Ohio. I was at the time wrestling with a closely related concept but had not thought to put it in those words. I might have said it a bit differently— “no one with land is without a job” but the meaning would be the same. If you have some land, even an acre, you have the means for making at least part of your income and in the process gain a more secure life. Surely that is what it means to “have a job.” Our society hasn’t endorsed that notion yet, but I think that we are evolving toward that kind of economy.
We are only beginning to recognize how many income possibilities that a little piece of land can provide. We know about market gardening but most of us do not yet appreciate its reach. It’s not just sweet corn and tomatoes. It’s about all the fruits and vegetables on earth. Tasted any pancakes made with cattail pollen lately? Neither have I but it is treasured in some gourmet circles, I understand.
Market gardening goes beyond the plants themselves. A whole new world of marketing can open up from inspired ways to package the products. At a market in Bellefontaine, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago, shelled lima beans were going fast at five bucks for a half pint!
There are far more products you can grow than just fruit and vegetables. Meat is beginning to show up at farmers’ markets, as well as dairy products and grains. Flowers, fresh and dried, too. Uncommon seeds are a possibility, especially of heirloom varieties or uncommon wildflowers and trees. Medicinal herbs. Mushrooms. Nuts. Baked goods. Plants for holiday decorations. We are all familiar with the success of pumpkins, but have you ever seen corn husks that in the autumn develop streaks of red and green and purple in them, fashioned into wreathes and bouquets? Magnificent. Keep reading→
Via The Oil Drum
Seed saving is as old as gardening. There was a time when gardeners considered seed from their favorites plants to be treasures well worth saving from year to year. These days, seeds and seedlings are relatively inexpensive and there are new plants to try every year. So why be a seed saver?
Aside from the politics, capitalism and biotechnology arguments that are making the news, the bottom line reason for saving seeds is because you have a plant you love and want to grow again. It could be the perfect blue campanula, the best tasting tomato or a champion pumpkin. You never know when a seed company will discontinue your favorite seed to make way for new varieties. Saving your own seed is the only guarantee.
What Seeds Can Be Saved?
Open Pollinated or heirloom, self-pollinated plants are the only varieties that will grow true from seed, meaning the seedlings will be exactly like the parents. These are the seeds worth saving.
Seeds that have been hybridized will grow into a variety of plants with some characteristics of either or both parents. Many, if not most, of the plants being sold now are hybrids. Hybridizing can create a plant with desirable traits and affords some job security for the seed company. Seed saving is not really an option with hybrids, unless you are looking to discover something new. You could however try taking cuttings.
Additionally, plants that are pollinated by insects or the wind may have cross pollinated with plants from another variety and again, will not grow true. To save seeds from these plants requires a bit of extra care, as explained below.
All that said, there are still many plants that will grow true from seed and saving and sharing these seeds has given birth to the seed savers phenomenon. Self-pollinated plants are the easiest to save and include: Beans, Chicory, Endive, Lettuce, Peas, Tomatoes. You can also save many heirloom flower seeds such as: cleome, foxgloves, hollyhock, nasturtium, sweet pea, and zinnia.
Keep reading here→
Charlie Koiner, Farmer
From Real People Eat Local
Silver Spring, Maryland
Thanks to Organic Consumers Assn
Only one block from a typical urban strip in downtown Silver Spring, MD, that includes an old parking garage, a beauty parlor and an Ethiopian restaurant, Charlie Koiner, who’ll be 88 in November, still has a farm. It’s hard to believe, but turning east onto Easley Street off Fenton, in the course of one block, you shift from urban grime to fertile rural splendor, from the cramped seat of your hot car to a comfy lawn chair under a mature shade tree, from the usual “rodent issue” to a farm cat named Hank.
Keep reading at Real People Eat Local→
See also Charlie’s Farm video→
From GENE LOGSDON
Upper Sandusky, Ohio
August 27, 2009 Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California
Here are some quotes you expect to see regularly in the media these days.
“Today, from press and pulpit, from publicists and legislators, comes the cry, ‘Back To the Land’! The problem of the “small farm” is becoming a very interesting one. The cry is ‘Back To the Land’ but the drift is away from the land.”
“The question of the big farm versus the small farm is very hotly debated… Good farming must perish with the breaking up of large farms, contends one side. Not so, replies the other side.”
“Two classes of people enthusiastically advocate the ‘Back To The Land’ movement… editors of our city papers and the high-cost-of-living sufferers… The metropolitan editors usually say: ‘Be independent. Be good citizens. And by quitting the city for the farm, you will become both.”
But those quotes appeared in print in 1921. Almost a century ago. The writer was James Boyle, his book, Agricultural Economics. At that time, the first big wave of gigantic farming in the United States, called bonanza farming, was breaking up on the shoals of economic reality. Some of those farms were over 10,000 acres in size, powered by cheap hired help and hundreds of teams of horses. There was a great hue and cry both for and against them. If the reader replaces the word ‘bonanza’ with ‘big’, many of Boyle’s quotes read exactly like quotes today.
“Mr. Budge says there are several bonanza farms in North Dakota and mentions one of above seven thousand acres. He adds that he would like to see them all out of the way. They take up so much space that it hurts the school districts. The owners ship in supplies from the East. They ship their men in and out too.” Keep reading at OrganicToBe→
August 20, 2009 Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California
Along with [his good friend] Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon has been a central leader of the American agrarian movement for decades. He is the author of many books, both practical and philosophical, and it is impossible to read any of his writing without being overcome with the desire to grow food.
ANOF: Given the rising cost of fossil fuels because of their declining availability, the climate change associated with using those fossil fuels, the problems of soil erosion and water degradation and all the other problems with the way we grow food and eat it at this point in history, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the American agriculture? And how can we address it?
Gene: The biggest problem in my opinion is that our society, our culture, does not understand that food is everyone’s business. We have decided, as a society, to let a few people worry about our food while the rest of us worry about money. And so food production has more or less become the domain of a few very large international corporations. The only cure for it is what is now happening. Food prices and food shortages and fuel shortages will force people to take back their lives. There’s an old saying that goes “People won’t do the right thing until they have no other choice.” I’m afraid that is true for the majority.
ANOF: Do you think it makes sense to grow food in the suburbs — in former farmland turned neighborhood? And do you have any suggestions for people interested in this sort of suburban homesteading?
Gene: Yes, this kind of “homesteading” is possible and admirable, and if you watch what is happening as food prices climb, it is taking place more and more. Keep reading→
From LYNN MILLER
Small Farmer’s Journal
(Farming with Draft Animals)
August 11, 2009, Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California
[This is the Editorial in the Spring 2009 issue, from Lynn Miller, Editor and Publisher. For those of us whose grandparents and great grandparents were farmers, and because of distorted US farm policies, find ourselves totally removed from farm life — that would be millions and millions of us — this essay brings us back in touch with the care, beauty, and poetry of true farm life... in these times that try men's and women's souls. Amidst the insanity and greed, there are traditions still being lived and written about. Read this and weep for what has been lost. And if there be hope, this is where hope lies. If small farm tradition and sensibility becomes lost, all is lost. -DS]
Some will remember how it was that Dad never explained, just expected you to know. “No, not that way. To the left, to the left! Haven’t you been paying attention?”
Instruction was a ludicrous concept. Water in the nose, fire on the skin, ridicule in the gut, dizzy with pain, nauseous with anxiety, dull with confusion: these were the ways to learn. Those days, for some they may still be today, if you didn’t allow yourself to be pulled along you were left behind. And behind was nowhere, no flow, no connection, no justification, no ladders, no doors, no coupon, no pay, no stay, no return.
“Why would I waste myself explaining to a kid or a greenhorn how the thing is done? It’s an invitation to questions, the answers to which invite more questions. The work doesn’t get done that way. And the kid doesn’t learn that way. Keep reading→
August 10, 2009 Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California
SPIN stands for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive
SPIN-Farming is a non-technical, easy-to-learn and inexpensive-to-implement vegetable farming system that makes it possible to earn significant income from land bases under an acre in size. Whether you are new to farming, or want to farm in a new way, SPIN can work for you because:
SPIN is being practiced by first generation farmers because it removes the two big barriers to entry – land and capital – as well as by established farmers who want to diversify or downsize, as well as by part-time hobby farmers.
SPIN-Farming’s learning guides detail the concepts and practices of sub-acre farming and offer specific models of operation you can use to create your own independent farm business. Each guide builds on the next so that your understanding grows along with your ability to put SPIN into practice. You can work through the learning series at your own pace. And the authors are available by email to answer your questions every step of the way!
SPIN Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to questions we’ve been asked the most since we began pioneering sub-acre farming in 2001. Some are posed by aspiring farmers short on cash or land or both. Some come from concerned citizens looking to make their communities more farm-friendly. Others are asked by reporters who know a good story when they see one. Still others are asked by policymakers who are realizing that sustainability is more than just a buzz word. If what’s on your mind is not covered here, contact us, and we’ll either answer your question or make you even more curious. Keep reading→
From Path to Freedom
June 17, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
Founded by Jules Dervaes (Dur-VAYS) in 2001, Path to Freedom is a grassroots, family operated, viable urban homesteading project established to promote a simpler and more fulfilling lifestyle and reduce one family’s “footprint” on the earth’s dwindling resources.
Since the mid 1980s, all five members of the Dervaes family have steadily worked at transforming their ordinary city lot in Pasadena, California, into an organic permaculture garden supplying them with food all year round. They also run a successful business, Dervaes Gardens, providing salad greens to local restaurants. This helps them fund their purchases of solar panels, energy efficient appliances, and biodiesel processor to further decrease their homestead’s reliance on the earth’s non-renewable resources.
What is unique and makes PathtoFreedom.com different from other sustainable living sites on the Internet? The Dervaes family isn’t just writing about the latest eco-practices or products that should be incorporated into their lives. Instead, they are sharing with you the changes and steps to sustainability they already have implemented in their lifestyle.
Furthermore, you, the readers, can “visit” the family daily at their journal and witness their first-hand accounts of struggles and joys, defeats and successes, as they journey along the path to self-sufficiency to accomplish more.
It is the family’s hope and desire to live by example as they strive to become earth stewards on a journey towards a sustainable world.
June 11, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
Regenerating landscapes, rediscovering abundance
SCHUMACHER COLLEGE near Totnes in South Devon has been a pioneering college of holistic education for over twenty years. Students leave the college nourished by the high quality of the educational experience, which includes helping to prepare and cook the food for staff and participants.
Over the past two years Schumacher has further deepened this aspect of the learning process by actively engaging with the land and rediscovering true abundance in its woodland ecosystems.
Inspired and informed by its neighbours at the Agroforestry Research Trust, Schumacher College has been regenerating its grounds using a dynamic “layering” design known as forest gardening. Tree crops, shrub crops and perennial herbaceous plants grown in harmony with each other produce an abundance of seasonal foodstuffs whilst contributing to the health and integrity of the land.
Designed with diversity in mind, these “foodscapes” seek to embody the natural principles of a healthy temperate woodland: this is the pattern of least effort and maximum diversity. Growing food in tune with this woodland tendency requires less effort, less machinery, and less fossil fuel — and the result is an almost unbelievable abundance.
Schumacher staff and participants have now planted over 100 fruit and nut trees to form the canopy layer of the woodland gardens. Peaches and apricots are grown as espaliers against sunny south-facing walls. Apple, pear and plum trees dot the landscape as do less common crops such as Cornelian cherries, hardy kiwifruits and Ugni berries. Sweet chestnut, walnut, hazel and bladdernut →
From GENE LOGSDON
Garden Farm Skills
June 4, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
When our bed of irises (in the photo above) bloom for one brief but glorious week in late May, I think, strangely enough, of a letter a friend of mine received from a doctor in Minnesota. The doctor observed that in his medical practice, rural people face the prospect of dying with more equanimity than urbanites.
He theorizes that people who live close to the natural world and to farm life have their thinking shaped by the way life and death follow each other up and down the food chain every day. They understand that death is the unavoidable way of nature and it applies to everything and everyone. Urban people more often live in a sort of surrealistic plastic bubble where they never see a nice neighborhood doggy tear the guts out of a lamb or a cute raccoon slaughter a henhouse full of chickens. They have never seen a hog die after having its throat slit to bleed properly so that the meat tastes the way they want it to taste. They do not associate their eating with anything dying. They become paranoid at the realization that they must die too and try to find ways to avoid every possible or even imagined threat of death that comes their way. That doctor didn’t say it, but mine would add that this paranoia is adding 500 billion unnecessary dollars to the cost of Medicare and Medicaid programs according to recent statistics.
I suppose that there are quite a few urban people living in areas of high crime rates who are even more conscious of the inevitability of death than rural people who care for animals or must deal with the wild animal kingdom, but generally speaking, I think the good doctor has it right. I would add gardeners in the group of those who accept death philosophically. There is an underbelly of sadness to the delights of gardening. The flowers in the photo above, mostly irises, are the result of my wife’s nearly year-round care, but peak bloom lasts Read the rest of this entry »
From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
[Gene's long-awaited, and much-anticipated 2nd Edition of Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers is now available. -DS]
No sooner had the news come out that rice stocks worldwide were at an all time modern low, and that the price of wheat had hit historic highs, when I started getting calls and letters from all over. Modern homesteaders wanted to know where they could get a copy of my old book, Small Scale Grain Raising.
It is gratifying to know there are still Americans who, instead of wringing their hands at a possible problem headed their way, start figuring what to do about it. I only wish I had some copies of that book left. It was published in 1977 and was as high as $300 a crack on the Internet. But I am happy to report that a new edition is now available.
I don’t really know if the high grain prices have anything to do with renewed interest in that book. What seems to me more likely is that self-reliant people are taking a look at what is happening in our financial world and wondering if it is time to plow up the backyard or that old horse lot and plant some food.
In my little world of writing books about rural life and culture, this is all the talk right now, as it was in 1973, 1982, and 1995 when the economy did “readjustments” like it is doing now, only not quite so profoundly. (In an economy ruled by interest on “pretend” money, as I call it, about every ten years there has to be a shakeup to bring the dreamers of riches, floating around in their bubbles, back down to earth again.) The idea of growing and threshing out several bushels of wheat (a bushel makes about 50-60 loaves of bread) in the backyard makes sense to self-reliant people. It isn’t really that difficult to do.
My wife and I first tried it in the late 1960s when living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just for fun. We scythed the wheat we grew in our backyard, made bundles of it, shocked up the bundles and when the grain was dry we beat the bundles on a bed sheet with plastic ball bats, threshing out the grain. The kids thought it was great fun. We winnowed out the chaff by pouring the grain slowly from one bucket to another in front of a window fan.
From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
Sometimes I think that Ruth Stout, the Queen of Mulch in the early days of organic gardening, did more to hurt the practice than to help it. She made it sound so easy and carefree. That’s okay because I daresay she persuaded more people to start gardening than any other single writer at that time. We all rushed out to gather up leaves and grass clippings from the four winds to pile on our gardens and then, tra la la, fell back in our hammocks and waited for harvest. Ruth put gardening on Easy Street.
As the old song puts in, “it ain’t necessarily so,” as we all found out. Mulching is one of the very best gardening practices, but like everything else, you have to master the details if you are hoping for quality time in the hammock.
The rule of timing: The sin that mulching so often covers, in addition to weeds, is cold wet soil from applying the stuff too early. Do not start mulching until the soil has warmed up completely. I suppose on pure sand or in the deep South, this rule is not as critical, but whatever, especially on clay and loam soils, you will experience much grief if you layer on the mulch early in spring or worse, put it on late in fall or through the winter under the mistaken notion that you are protecting the soil from winter’s cold. The soil benefits from winter’s cold.
Mulching too early means you can’t work up a nice seedbed until late in the spring. Transplants set into cold, mulched soil will sit there, blue and shivering, until July. I am talking now about organic mulches— hay, leaves, straw, grass clippings etc. Black plastic “mulch” can be put on early, and it will help warm the soil up. But that’s a subject for another time.
Here in northern Ohio, (you can make your own determinations accordingly), we do not put on organic mulches until June and then aren’t in a hurry. Right after a good rain is the best time, so as to prevent that moisture from evaporating into the air. Mulching in a normal year can take the place of watering. In a dry year, it can cut watering by half.
First we mulch early vegetables, perhaps even a little before June, especially leafy vegetables so that rain doesn’t bounce mud on them. Then comes the twin pole bean rows where the vines are climbing wooden poles anchored to a center wire overhead. That means a sort of tunnel underneath, impossible to get to with the tiller and hard even to hoe. Then we do potatoes before the plants fall and flounce all over. After that we do the viney melons, squashes, sweet potatoes, etc. before the plants crawl out all over the place and make mulching difficult. Last comes tomatoes, eggplants and peppers which especially need to be growing vigorously in warm soil before mulching. Do not mulch onions up close. The bulbs need air and sunlight to grow properly. I usually do not mulch the sweet corn either since it is easy to cultivate weeds between the rows with the tiller.
From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
The only raised bed I’ve ever found useful in sixty years of gardening is the one in my bedroom. And after I quit double-digging, I didn’t have to spend as much time there either. Or if I did, it was for reasons other than resting.
I must be wrong, but I don’t understand the modern enchantment with raised beds. Yes, if you are a market gardener, you will no doubt feel obliged to plant on raised beds to get the earliest possible crops but you can get early vegetables in unraised beds too. I have a very disgusting sister who plants peas in March here in northern Ohio, and often gets away with it, without raised beds.
If you want to plant a garden on an old parking lot (I have a hunch there will be many abandoned ones in the future) then by all means you will need a raised bed. (It should give us all pause, however, to realize that plants can come right up through cracks in pavement and grow vigorously— so what’s that say about all our dearly held beliefs about gardening?) And definitely, if you want to plant a garden on something akin to swampland, you will surely want a raised bed. But the poorly-drained soil under it will still “lay wet” and give you problems when your plants put down deep roots.
Other than those situations, raised beds guarantee only one result as far as I can see. You will have to irrigate more when dry weather comes and it comes quicker on raised beds. All of us gardeners pride ourselves in being eco-friendly. What is so ecological about using water (and the power to pump it) when you can avoid doing so? Also, if you are bound and determined to make raised beds, a veteran market gardener just told me that you should be sure to mulch the paths heavily around the raised beds. Otherwise moisture will be drawn out of the bed even faster. So why not just go with unraised beds and mulch them?
From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
As far back into childhood as I can remember, every morning and every evening I went to the barn to “do chores.” “Chores” on the farm then (and now) meant feeding the chickens and livestock, gathering the eggs, and milking the cows. This work must be done every day come hell or high water—- especially come hell or high water. I did chores even in seminary college— I much preferred being in the barn than in chapel. That’s how it finally dawned on me that the priestly life was not for me, so I can say with all honesty that doing chores guided me to my true place in life. I am still doing chores although I have bowed to age and given up everything except sheep and chickens.
In childhood, I didn’t always go to the barn happily, but now, except in the coldest weather, I still prefer my barn to any church or any public meetinghouse. Farm animals are so appreciative of getting fed and watered and when you get to know them well, they make good company. They are always glad to see me and do not try to tell me how to vote or pray. If you have only a few of each, they become your friends or at least your close acquaintances, each with his or her own personality. When I shell a little corn off the cob by hand to feed to the hens, one of them, always the same one, parks herself right between my feet to get the first kernels that fall. More than once I have stumbled on her. Our golden-feathered rooster is so utterly vainglorious that when I watch him strut about the barnyard, I can’t help but think of Donald Trump.
Keep reading Chore Time at OrganicToBe.org→
From Gene Logsdon
I’ve taken lovely vacations over the years, but the latest one, at an exclusive hideaway we were lucky enough to know about, had to be the best ever. My idea of a good vacation is one that combines natural wonders with good food (the greatest natural wonder of all), hopefully convenient to exhibitions or programs of art or history not yet widely publicized, and so removed from the possibility of crowds and traffic jams. Places that offer such a rare combination are few and far between, and simply discovering this magical retreat was a keen pleasure.
I don’t know where to begin in telling you the delights of this vacation. We awoke on Saturday morning to a pervasive silence, broken only by the song of a wood thrush outside our window. We dined on an upper deck, where a flaming orange and black Baltimore oriole scolded us from a huge oak tree whose limbs reached out almost to our table. At one point, the blue flash of an indigo bunting streaked across the orange flame of oriole, and I jumped in delight. That so startled the lovely lady vacationing with me that she lost the strawberry she was spooning from her saucer, and the fruit bounced into the cream pitcher. Giggle, giggle. The strawberries came directly from the establishment’s own garden. Yeasty homemade bread also originated in the kitchen, and the eggs were fresh from a nearby barn—we could actually hear the hens cackling. The thick strips of drug- and hormone-free, hickory-smoked bacon came from hogs raised in that barn, too.
We decided to go bird-watching that morning, encouraged by the variety of birds we saw just from the breakfast table. We did not see the bobolinks rumored to have returned to the fields behind the hideaway, but I did spot a stocky lestes (Lestes dryas), a species of damselfly, resting in the meadow grass. Though lestes is not exactly an uncommon species in these parts, I had never seen this striking insect before. Its clear lacy wings spread out about an inch and a half; its body was nearly as long. Its abdomen, a little thicker than a darning needle, glinted metallic green in segments marked off by tiny black and whitish bands. Its thorax was shiny green on top, yellowish on the sides shading into rusty brown underneath. Its bulbous eyes were blue, and between them on the back of the prothorax, a yellow and black design, resembling somehow a monkey face, seemed to stare menacingly up at me. In front of the eyes, precise yellow and green lines marked the real mouth parts. What a fearsome sight the damselfly must appear to a mosquito.
Keep reading The aim is joy at Organic To Be→
By Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
To reach its full potential, a garden farm should embrace four areas: garden, pasture, tree grove, and the watery domain of pool, pond or creek. Only then will the full compliment of the food chain and the full orchestration of natural beauty be achieved. Of the four parts, the tree grove usually receives the least attention from garden farmers, which is why I have been writing about it so much, plus the fact that in winter that’s where most of the action is. We graze our pastures and gardens in summer; we should be “grazing” our woodlots in winter. And of you don’t have one, start one. Your children will honor you in the latter days. Any timber that needs to be cut and moved out of the woods should be completed now, before mud time. The maple syrup season has begun now. And as the days get above freezing and no ice lingers in the bark to dull chain saw blades, it is now comfortable to cut firewood, fence posts and furniture wood.
Two weeks ago in this space, I mentioned an unusual way to graze trees, using juniper berries to flavor a meat sauce. We finally got around to making that sauce, using a recipe from Bon Appetit in the October, 2008 issue, and substituting juniper berries from our red cedar trees (Junipera virginiana) for the larger and more succulent berries of other juniper trees that the recipe called for. We had to improvise other ways too— we did not have fresh rosemary, so used dried. But we did have fresh thyme from the garden, surprisingly green where the February snow had just melted away. The meat sauce was recommended for venison, but we put it on barbecued steaks. Since our juniper berries from red cedar were smaller than other junipers, I handpicked sixteen of the plumpest ones I could find to substitute for the eight the recipe called for. The sauce turned out to have a subtle, piquant taste different from anything I had experienced before. The flavor of the red wine dominated the more delicate juniper berry flavor a little too much, I thought, but the combination was very tasty. I’m fairly sure that the juniper berry flavor would have been more pronounced if we could have used the bigger berries of other junipers.
From Gene Logsdon (1989)
Garden Farm Skills
The chief “product” of his business is mammoth jacks, but they are not the only animals he raises and sells. As we walk over the 180 acres, my astonishment grows. I have been on thousands of farms from the East Coast to the West, and never before have I seen such a variety or number of animals grazing per acre: not only the eighty head of mammoth jack stock, but about a dozen draft horses, a couple of lighter harness horses, a few dairy cows and calves, a bunch of fattening steers, a flock of sheep, a barnlot full of hogs, a barnyard full of turkeys, peacocks, ducks, geese, guineas, dogs, cats, and a genetic explosion of all kinds of chickens. Every niche of the farmstead is filled with animal life, and in reaction to anything unusual, a chorus of squawks, gobbles, quacks, whinnies, bellows, bleatings, and barking erupts, all drowned out by a crescendo of ludicrous-sounding hee-haws from the jacks and jennets. Jack Siemon’s farm is a celebration of the earth’s vital forces.
Siemon got interested in mammoth jacks seriously right after World War II in which he served. His wife owned a farm in Arkansas, and for a few years he tried to do the impossible: raise cotton in Arkansas and corn in Ohio at the same time. “I learned real fast that in weeding cotton, a good man and a mule could do a better and much more efficient job than a tractor weeder. But there were no good mules around. The army had bought most of them at the beginning of the war, and with the rapid adoption of tractors and trucks, mules just disappeared. So I started raising mammoth jacks to get some good mules back in circulation.”
From Gene Logsdon (1985)
Garden Farm Skills
A backyard henhouse for only a dozen or so chickens year-round should be commodious, a minimum of around 5 square feet of floor space per hen, which is much more than a commercial poultryman can afford. My henhouse design, based on what I’ve learned so far by building three coops of my own, differs from the standard designs in a few other ways, which you might find interesting to think about when building your own.
1. Predator Proofing. I would have preferred that my latest chicken coop be built on a concrete footing to make it more or less predator-proof. But pole construction was cheaper and easier. The bottom wall boards are of treated wood for rot resistance, and the wall is sunk into the ground 6 to 12 inches. Cats will not dig that far under to get in, and cats have always been my most troublesome predator—not my own, though, which I train not to bother chickens, but feral cats. I keep the dog tied next to the coop for further insurance.
2. The Size. I knew that for part of the year I would house approximately forty-five to fifty chickens, although there would be less than twenty year-round. Every year we buy six Rhode Island Red chicks and about thirty White Rock broiler chicks, the latter for meat, the former to add to the laying flock. The broilers are butchered when about ten weeks old, and later on I’ll butcher some old hens as they quit laying, so that the flock dwindles to around fifteen through winter. We buy chicks in June so have no need for brooder facilities. (The first few nights I might use a heat bulb on the chicks.) Anyhow, by my own idea of space requirement, a 10 by 20-foot building is more than ample. And it is tall enough so I can walk inside without hitting my head, as I did in the old coop.
By Gene Logsdon (1991)
The man standing stone-post-still on the shoreline of The Pond was watching a muskrat swimming on the water surface, its wake forming a V-shaped ripple of scarlet fading to indigo against the sunset. Without turning his head, which might scare the muskrat into diving underwater and scooting for its den, the man also watched, out of the corner of his eye, a great blue heron drifting down out of the sky toward him.
He was used to seeing the heron on its nightly trip up the creek valley, headed back to the rookery where most of Wyandot County’s herons, silent and solitary by day, gathered to roost. But this time, the huge slate-gray bird, its wingspan over five feet, was doing something wary great blue herons do not normally do. It continued to drift down in the twilight, made a pass over the pond, and then turned straight at him as if to land on one of the posts that held the homemade pier he was standing on. Forgetting the muskrat, but still not moving a muscle, the man watched aghast as the great bird hovered above him, like an avenging angel, and perched right on top of his head.
Not many people would have the steely nerves to suffer, without moving, a great blue heron’s talons gripping his head, but this man, my brothter-in-law, is not known in these parts for reacting to anything in an ordinary manner. He had already realized that no one was going to believe him unless he caught the bird. He started inching his right hand up the side of his body. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Gotcha! With one swift grab, he snatched the heron’s legs in his hand like a chicken thief removing a hen from the roost and bore his prize homeward so that all the neighborhood might see and believe. His family gathered round, ignorant of the danger involved. None of them knew that great blue herons can skewer an unsuspecting human’s eyeball right out of its socket with one lightning stab of its beak. This time, fortunately, its captor wore glasses and when the heron jabbed at him, it only knocked the glasses from his head. When another onlooker reached for the glasses, the heron speared him in the hand, having endured, it seemed, enough human attention for one day. A quick decision was reached. In the case of herons, better two in the bush than one in the hand. The bird haughtily stalked away, looking like the dignified old lady who hoped no one was watching when the wind momentarily blew her dress over her head. Then it regally pumped its wings up and down, slowly lifted itself into the air and flew away.
By Gene Logsdon
There is an interesting development in mainstream U.S.A that just might have significant relevance for garden farming. Record numbers of people are acquiring pets. The dog and cat business is not at all depressed by the recession. (If you are wondering what all this has to do with the Amish, bear with me.) You see evidence of the trend everywhere, especially in advertisements where dogs are shown licking the cheeks of children— this in a society that has an almost manic dread of germs. Pets are the in-thing. Apparently our society is so enmeshed in its mechanical and electronic gadgetry that the human psyche is seeking solace in real life, as in the ancient loving connection that we have always enjoyed with animals.
The modern pet craze is not limited to cats and dogs but embraces many animals, especially horses. (Now you see how the Amish are going to get into this discussion.) Statistics say there are 6.9 million horses in the U.S. involved in various activities from racing, showing, pleasure riding, polo, police work, farming and ranching. The horse business or hobby adds about $112 billion to the GNP. Horses generate more money than the home furniture and fixtures business, and almost as much as the apparel and textile manufacturing industry. In other words, while we generally think of Old Dobbin as a step backward in time in agriculture, horses are very much a part of our modern economic and social lives today.
By Gene Logsdon (1991)
Dave Haferd sees his farm with eyes that are 200 years old. He knows every foot of its 180 acres, on top and underneath. Walking across his land, he discourses endlessly and joyfully upon almost any rock, post, tree, clod, weed, or building that his eye falls upon. The gully that cuts deeply into the hill going down to the creek is where the road used to go years and years past, he says. The boulder in the fence corner required two days of hard work to move out of the field, he says, which reminds him that over in another field—he waves his arm in a southerly direction—there is a stone so huge embedded in the soil that he has never been able to move it. He worries, now that he is thinking of retiring, that the next farmer will break his plow on it.
From the original Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon, over at OrganicToBe.org
The summer tornado that touched down in Holmes County left a path of destruction cut as cleanly into the landscape as a swath mown through the middle of a hayfield. The wind plucked up giant oaks, tulip poplars, ashes, and maples and laid them down in crisscrossed, splintered chaos through the Amish woodland. With the same nicety for borderline definition, the tornado sliced through Amish farmsteads, capriciously reducing barns to kindling while ignoring buggy sheds, chicken coops, corncribs, and houses close by. In the twenty-minute dance that the tornado performed before exiting into the wings of the sky as abruptly as it had come, it destroyed at least fifteen acres of mature forest a hundred years or more in the growing, and four barns that represented the collected architectural wisdom of several centuries of rural tradition.
But what followed in the wake of the tornado during the next three weeks was just as awesome as the wind itself. In that time—three weeks—the forest devastation was sawed into lumber and transformed into four big new barns. No massive effort of bulldozers, cranes, semi-trucks, or the National Guard was involved. The surrounding Amish community rolled up its sleeves, hitched up its horses and did it all. Nor were the barns the quick-fix modern structures of sheet metal hung on posts stuck in the ground. They were massive three-story affairs of post-and-beam framing, held together with hundreds of hand-hewn mortises and tenons.
A building contractor, walking through the last of the barns to be completed, could only shake his head in disbelief. Even with a beefed-up crew, it would have taken him most of the summer to build this barn alone and it would have cost the farmer $100,000, if in fact he could have found such huge girder beams at any price.