My View from the Ramparts: Farming in the age of COVID-19

The past couple of months has been a strange time here at Innisfree, as I know it has been for everyone during this time of social isolation and pandemic outbreak.

What’s been strangest for us is how relatively little our day-to-day lives have changed in the face of these challenges even as we see the world struggling around us. That’s not to say we don’t face challenges, but years ago, my wife and I decided to follow the path of making our farm a smallhold homestead and making that decision has changed our relationship with the greater world.

I am a hermit by nature, so I have been long content not to go out much, and my full-time jobs have been here on the farm since 2008. Since last fall, my wife has been employed full-time by the farm as well, and we have had a long-standing dedication to readiness owing to our relatively rural location and personal experience.

So, when the social distancing came, what ended was the incidental trips we tended to make because we could. Otherwise, the farm carries on as normal. I know one of the challenges so many people face right now is being out of work, but since our money comes in clumps at predictable times of the year, we’re no better or worse off than we might otherwise be.

I’m not saying any of this to boast but rather to observe that we’re realizing that our farm-life choices have proved to be even more robust than we imagined them to be when we made them. It’s not an easy life, and it has required some difficult choices and sacrifices to make happen, but we’re realizing it now more than ever they were actions worth taking.

If anything, I want to put this out there for others to consider. This is a viable life choice if you’re willing to do what it takes to make it happen.

DLH

Read more at my My View from the Ramparts site...

Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Ten years in the trenches

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, though the story has been going on. It’s also been ten years since I took on running this farm as my primary occupation, an event that deserves at least some remark.

To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand right now. As with most things, my views on farming have evolved with experience and are less likely than ever to fit in with most people’s preconceived notions about an undertaking they know, at best, by proxy.

At its simplest, I still believe passionately in what we are trying to do, but I am less convinced than ever that it can actually be done, mostly because a decade has taught me that our expectations as a society no longer match with what it takes to engage in small-scale agriculture.

Nearly every practitioner of that kind of agriculture I know, including my wife and myself, have had to seek out other forms of employment to cover the financial gaps farming won’t pay. This isn’t just a function of wanting more than we can afford either. Subtracting the cost of operating the farm itself, we literally live below the federal poverty rate, which fact is buttressed only by the fact we grow some portion of our own food.

I don’t say this as a troll for sympathy. Rather, it’s an observation of sheer fact. Despite the fact that every person living needs a farmer to survive, farming itself is a financially losing proposition in America in 2018. Already less that one percent of us do it. Already the average age of a farmer is 58. Already the average farming couple works 2.5 jobs.

I know this all sounds terrible, but I believe somebody has to tell the truth. What sits on your plate any given day has a cost you’re not paying. Those of us stubborn enough to keep doing it pay the difference because we believe in what we do, but sooner or later, passion alone won’t pay the bills. And then what?

In the meantime, we’ll keep trying until the mountain gets too tall to climb and land prices get to the point where the only logical thing to do is sell. The funny part is we’ll probably just buy a smaller place and try again. It’s in our blood that way.

DLH

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater site...

Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater site...

Gaming for the Rest of Us: Field Report: Banished

Banished is a real-time strategy building game in a similar vein to games like the Anno series, The Settlers series, or the Tropico series. I got Banished through Steam via a Humble Bundle. I found the game to be easy to pick up and play without too much of a learning curve for the interface.

Unfortunately, the vanilla game lacks depth, and I found the underlying mechanics somewhat inscrutable. The most baffling of those mechanics is the aging process relative to the game play speed.

Like many games in this genre, you find yourself caught in failure cascades involving resource balances, resulting in various forms of the citizens dying out. Because the game contains no warning system about running low on resources, including the population aging out, you spend a lot of time checking the stats, which I find distracts from the game play.

All of that said, once you master the nuances of the game, it’s pretty straight forward, meaning it gets boring fast. Fortunately, the game supports mods that expand the game play, but unfortunately, some of the best mods for the game are unstable at best.

I enjoyed playing Banished after a fashion, but the underlying premise needs some work to make it a great game.

Field Report rating: 3/5

DLH

Read more at my Gaming for the Rest of Us site...

Gaming for the Rest of Us: Field Report: Banished

Banished is a real-time strategy building game in a similar vein to games like the Anno series, The Settlers series, or the Tropico series. I got Banished through Steam via a Humble Bundle. I found the game to be easy to pick up and play without too much of a learning curve for the interface.

Unfortunately, the vanilla game lacks depth, and I found the underlying mechanics somewhat inscrutable. The most baffling of those mechanics is the aging process relative to the game play speed.

Like many games in this genre, you find yourself caught in failure cascades involving resource balances, resulting in various forms of the citizens dying out. Because the game contains no warning system about running low on resources, including the population aging out, you spend a lot of time checking the stats, which I find distracts from the game play.

All of that said, once you master the nuances of the game, it’s pretty straight forward, meaning it gets boring fast. Fortunately, the game supports mods that expand the game play, but unfortunately, some of the best mods for the game are unstable at best.

I enjoyed playing Banished after a fashion, but the underlying premise needs some work to make it a great game.

Field Report rating: 3/5

DLH

Read more at my Gaming for the Rest of Us site...

Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]

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Worldview: 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.

DLH

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater weblog...

Read more at my Worldview site...

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.

DLH

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater site...

Worldview: Consequences for a region

The City of Dayton‘s recent decision not to extend the lease for Synergy Incubators has much larger consequences than just for the city. Synergy Incubators is a regional asset, opening opportunities for food entrepreneurs to create and sustain small-scale enterprises in seven counties bordering Montgomery County by providing them a place to prepare and package food for local markets. The decision by the city has the potential to affect as many as a million people in the Dayton Metropolitan Area, and the potential economic impact affects all of southwestern Ohio.

These observations are not hyperbolic. The Dayton area is one starved for jobs, opportunities, and hope. Synergy Incubators is one of the recent innovations offering these things to the region. By refusing to extend its lease, the City of Dayton has decided that it wants to kill these things for everyone in the entire region in favor of protectionism, parochialism and petty politics that really only benefit a few politicians and downtown Dayton businesses.

If we the people of the Dayton region cannot trust the government of the City of Dayton to show leadership on our behalf, then it is time for us to show that leadership ourselves by taking whatever power the city might have left out of Dayton’s hands.

You can do so first by signing this petition calling for Dayton to extend Synergy Incubator’s lease. Failing their action to do so, you can help by helping Synergy Incubators find a new home. In any case, you can consider helping them by contributing to their cause.

The Dayton region will live or die on the actions of all its citizens. One city government should not be able to dictate to all of us what opportunities we have. Let’s make the region a better place, without Dayton’s government if we have to.

DLH

Read more at my Worldview site...