Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Some thoughts on the future of agriculture

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a link to an article on Grist about urban farming. The point of the article was that urban farming is not a panacea for our food production ills, and I made the argument that there is no one solution to those ills.

Something I did not touch on in those thoughts is something that too few people trying to reform agriculture in the 21st century talk about: how the consumer needs to change habits as part of a broader effort to improve the food we grow while reducing its impact.

Far too many reform efforts focus on the supply side–that is, on the farmer–while ignoring the consumer. People tend to ignore things like rampant food waste–as much as 60 percent of all food produced ends up in landfills–or over-consumption–the reason so many people are fat. They tend to ignore the massive impact out-of-season eating has on the environment and the economic impact massive box groceries have on local communities.

What I find interesting is that the concept of urban gardens addresses these sorts of problems too. It’s a psychological trick, but people tend to waste less food if they’ve produced it themselves, food harvested from gardens is of higher quality and nutrition, and gardening of any kind is fantastic exercise. Urban gardens can help reduce the transportation network required to keep box stores stocked with out-of-season foods and by definition keep food buying dollars local.

It is an old adage that how we spend is more powerful than how we vote. We affect the future of agriculture with our spending more than any other thing. As consumers, investing in urban gardens speaks volumes promises a brighter future.


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Worldview: Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: The test of time

I recently discovered that the building housing my coffee roastery is falling down. It’s an old brick garage, quite possibly converted from a carriage house at some point, that had the misfortune of taking a direct hit from a barn roof that blew off a decade ago. We’ve nursed it along to this point, making repairs along the way, but now the needed repairs are far more serious.

My first instinct was to seek out a professional to see how much it would cost to repair it, but then something odd happened.

I looked at the building.

If you could see it–I haven’t taken pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for this–you’d realize like I did that the people who put up that building in the first place weren’t professionals in the way we think of them today–that is, as specialists. The bricks aren’t always quite straight. The mortar work isn’t perfect.

In fact, most of our farm wasn’t built by professionals. It was built by the people who lived here. Ofttimes, they learned as they went, sometimes under the tutelage of someone who already knew, but just as often they just figured it out on their own. The did what they did out of necessity and need.

And the work they did has been good enough to last more than a century. We have a corn crib that could date back to the 1820s, built from hand-hewn beams. Our house was built in the 1840s, likely by the people who lived here from bricks fired right down the road . Our barn was built in the 1860s by the same people. And that garage probably dates to the 1880s.

What I saw when I looked at that garage was the labor of people who cared about this farm the way that I do. It’s not perfect. The years have taken their toll. But it was work they did that stood the test of time.

And it is work I can do too.

So, instead of hiring a professional or knocking it down to put up some ugly, sterile modern building, I’m going to teach myself masonry. I’m going to learn how to rebuild a garage they built 140 years ago. And maybe, somewhere along the line, I’ll have the chance to share what I know with others who want to know.

And that idea, I think, is what this farm is all about. I’m thankful I looked a that not quite straight wall with its not quite perfect mortar. It taught me something, and it’s a lesson I plan to learn.


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Worldview: Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Non-industrial farming as a vow of poverty

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day that included the idea that the other person would be interested in farming as a career except for the vow of poverty. At the time, I laughed, and I still am, but the idea has had me thinking since then.

In a lot of ways, non-industrial farming is never going to be a cash laden business. In fact, as far as I can tell, it never has been. One of the popular mantras among the industrial tycoons and capitalists of the 1880s and after was that America was a poor nation because so many people farmed, and if one limited one’s view to cash on-hand, they were right.

But, they were really so wrong.

Sure, non-industrial farming is not a cash laden undertaking, but that does not mean the business nor the people doing it are poor. Instead, such farming is very much a lifestyle choice that runs against the grain of the industrial-capitalist mindset that dominated much of the last 100 years.

Further, there was plenty of money in farming before consumerism came along. Just take a drive through the cities of old small town America and you will see the money farming provided in the form of stately houses and downtown businesses built by retired farmers after they handed their farms off to their kids and moved to town.

No, what makes non-industrial farming seem like a vow of poverty is the reality that one cannot have two-thirds of ones budget go out in the form of consumption if one wants to make it.

So, instead of being a vow of poverty, non-industrial farming is a vow not to be a wanton consumer. Most of the people I know in this business, myself included, who are not working second and third jobs to fund consumption go without most of the things most people think of as modern life. We don’t have mortgages. We pay with cash. We don’t have cable or TVs. Not a small number of people go without cell phones and internet service.

Instead of having those things, we invest in our farms. We grow our own food. Some of produce our own lumber. A few even make their own fuel. We fix up old stuff and use it instead of buying new. We buy functional clothes instead of fashionable ones. We shop at Goodwill.

And in doing so, we have adopted a life that is just different from what most people know. Sure we think it’s better, but that’s because it suits us.

Maybe instead of a vow of poverty, then, it’s a vow of contentment. I’ll take that any day.


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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Where’s your foodshed?

I just came across a term I really like. It’s called foodshed. Like a watershed, it refers to the idea of where one’s food comes from.

So, where’s your foodshed? Is it big enough? Does it grow the kinds of food you want to be eating? If not, what are you doing about it?


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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: What’s in a name?

Our farm experience is undergoing a lot of transitions right now. One of them is discovering that the name we’ve been using–in fact the name my in-laws have been using for decades–has been the registered trade name of another farm in Ohio since 2010. Needless to say, this created something of a moment of existential crisis for us, especially given all the other transitions we’re undergoing at the same time.

So, we’re kind of in limbo right now. We think we’ve found a new name–one that gives credit to the old while also not breaking the law–but we’re not going to tell anyone what it is until we’re sure. Then, it will be time to change a bunch of things in order to make it all legit.

But what’s in a name?


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Worldview: The only way is forward

I don’t know about you, but the past few years have been particularly rough ones for me. To be fair, some of that roughness has been self-inflicted, but there as been as much or more coming from outside as there has been from inside.

It would be far too easy to descend into some kind of self-lament, but the fact is that such thoughts lead to nothing more than excuses. The fact is, as rough as the past few years have been, the next few are not going to get any better if I sit around complaining and waiting for others to do something about the problems I see them creating or advancing.

No, for each one of us, the only way is forward. Each of us has to decide whether we are going to wait and complain or to act. I choose to act, and I hope to inspire you to do so as well.

The way I see it, this year–2013–is a make or break year for a lot of us for a lot of reasons. I know I believe it is for me personally, and I get the feeling that a lot of people feel the same way.

So, what are we going to do about it?

Now, the fact is that I am about as inspiring as a drunk TI with anger management issues, so I will try to let others do the inspiring on my behalf. (See what I did there?)

Now, visit Caine’s Arcade.

Why kids? Because if they can do this stuff, what’s your excuse? And, here are some people who are inspiring me: Chris and Janine PlugerGene Logsdon. Gene Veith. Jennifer Grubb. Keba Hitzeman. Limor Friedman. Peter Hitzeman.

And, now, go find some things that inspire you. Then report back. I want to know what you’re doing to make this the year we make it!


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Readiness: Being ready no matter what happens

When I sat down to write this post, I intended to write about what I see as the disconnect I see between the demands for firearms control and readiness and how so many people who demand such regulation are also the least prepared for when that regulation fails. Then, I realized to doesn’t matter.

The fact is that the people who are going to be ready are going to be ready irrespective of whether an overbearing government imposes firearms control or demands that people submit to any other kind of forced dependency. History is replete with examples of people being ready no matter how horrible the government restrictions levied against them might be. For some people, the instinct to survive and carry on is stronger than what any government or group can do. We owe our very existence to those kinds of people.

If you consider yourself one of those people, then I am talking to you.

It is very easy, in the face of the trials of our time, to lose focus on the one thing that drives being ready for whatever comes next: life goes on. Life will go on if the government takes all the guns. Life will go on if the government takes all of our money. Life will go on no matter what until the moment life ceases to exist altogether.

But if life is to go on, it requires certain things. For humans, that is, as a minimum: water, food, clothing, and shelter. Without those things, no other preparation matters.

That’s why it’s important for those of us who are ready no matter what happens to remember that we are ready no matter what happens. Eve if the government takes all the guns. Even if the government takes all of our money. We will be the ones who endure because we have dedicated ourselves to being the ones who endure.

I am not suggesting that we should not be concerned about what is happening around us. If we were not, we would have no cause to prepare. I am, however, saying that we should not lose sight of what we are preparing for.


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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Some thoughts on bureaucrats, school lunches, and the lies we tell ourselves

Bureaucrats tend to obfuscate the truth with words, and far too often, people fall for the resulting lie. Take school lunches as an example. As recently evidenced by the whole debacle over the NeverSeconds weblog, bureaucrats will continue to insist that they are doing something even when it is clear they are not.

In this case, they insist that they are feeding the children forced into their care for part of the day healthy, balanced meals that provide the best nutritional value for children of that age. At the same time, they blame rampant obesity, at least partly the result of malnutrition, on the parents despite the fact that the schools control the kids for as much as 10 hours a day.

Yet, if one looks at the bureaucrats, one has to wonder how they are remotely qualified to make such assessments. Two things immediately come to mind: they are rarely specimens of healthy lifestyles themselves, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bureaucrat eating the food they force on the children unless themselves forced to do so.

And so we all agree to the lie. The bureaucrats believe their own lie that they’re feeding the children well. The parents believe the lie that the bureaucrats are doing the right thing. The kids get fatter. The food gets worse.

There’s a way to put this all to the test: challenge your bureaucrats with something simple: eat lunch everyday in the school cafeteria. If the food’s that good, it shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

Then, watch the ways they squirm out of doing it. That should be proof enough, shouldn’t it?

And if it’s proof, then we have a problem: we’re malnourishing our kids on the orders of our government.

It seems to me we should be doing something about that.


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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: An update on the NeverSeconds weblog debacle

In a predictably rapid capitulation, the Argyll and Bute Council reversed their decision to censor Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds weblog. In addition, her fundraising effort raised £19,000 in about 24 hours in support of the charity Mary’s Meals.

This is an incredible example of what can happen when people care and act, but we can’t content ourselves with just this. We have to keep caring and keep acting.

If you live in the US and want to help improve the lives and health of public school students, consider supporting  and organization like Farm to School. Let’s keep up the momentum. We can win.


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