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...

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...

Worldview: Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: And so much more…

I’ve discovered over the past five years that people have huge preconceptions about what being a farmer means. I know, coming in, I had all sorts of them, and I know I am surrounded by fellow farmers who have deeply held ideas about their profession. One of my first posts on this site dealt with one of them, and dredged up the almost predictable responses (I’m not linking to it simply because I want to talk about something else).

One of the preconceptions I had coming in was the nature of what farm work meant in the first place. Many people, including my onetime self, have the idea that farming is as simple as growing and harvesting a crop or raising and selling an animal. I’m here to tell you firsthand that, whatever kind of farming one does, that could not be further from the truth.

Even at its most monoculture, farming is a polyculture because it cannot be anything else. Farming demands knowledge of everything from agriculture to zoology and demands the farmer be everything from an accountant to a zoo keeper.

It’s not an accident, then, that history notes the rise of farming intertwined with the rise of what we think of as civilization. Domesticating, planting, raising, harvesting, and slaughtering plants and animals for food in more effective and efficient ways is the necessary mother that gave rise to everything we take for granted today, either by inventing the things we have or by enabling the things we have to be invented.

And so, in the end, I can think of few other undertakings as intensive and broad as that of the farmer. Granted, the hurdles are tall and the valleys are deep, but if anyone wants to fully challenge himself in the pursuit of life, the vocation of farmer is a place to do it.

DLH

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

Read more at my Worldview site...

Worldview: Seven Stone: Calorie does not mean what you think it means

Most people, as a result of the junk sold to us by the media as dietary science, think of calories and nutrients for their body the same way they think of fuel and oil for their cars. As a result, they think, if they put in enough calories but not too many and keep the nutrients topped off, they should be healthy.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

I know plenty of people who will argue with me about this, but the actual science of diet is clear: it matters what kind of calories you are eating.

Before people read this and think I am advocating some sort of “eat only these kinds of calories” nonsense, I am not. What ends up being a healthy diet differs from person to person based on your own unique biology and lifestyle. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

That said, there is one rule: the more whole the food you are eating is, the less likely it is to make you fat. Here’s why:

Our bodies have very specific, unique mechanisms for dealing with nearly every calorie and nutrient we consume. These mechanisms often involve complex processes that sometimes themselves require calories and nutrients to function properly. It turns out that the necessary calories and nutrients needed for those processes to function can be found in the whole foods we are eating.

In fact, eating whole food is the most significant change I made toward losing weight over the past two-and-a-half years. I don’t really exercise more. I don’t really consume less calories. I simply eat less processed food and replaced it with more whole food, and as a result, I’ve lost 35 pounds and kept them off.

For me, it was really as simple as that change.

DLH


Read more at my Worldview site...

Worldview: Seven Stone: About the farm

When contemplating weight loss, one of the first places people look is exercise, and if your work is exercise, so much the better.

I came into the undertaking of running a sustainable farm much the same way. Five years ago, I expected that working on Innisfree on the Stillwater everyday would function as a gateway to the weight loss I had struggled with for years.

I was wrong.

In fact, for the first three years I worked here, I gained weight, so much so that I put on another 20 pounds in the first two years I was here. What happened?

It turns out that’s a complicated question that I can only attempt to sum up. In basic terms, my body wasn’t ready to lose weight yet because some other things needed to change first. In specific, my diet needed to change before farm work could help me lose weight. As counter-intuitive as it was at the time, That’s what it ended up taking for me to start losing.

Since then, the work I do on the farm has functioned to help drive the weight loss, but it wasn’t the first reason, and still is not the primary reason, I am losing.

DLH

Read more at my Worldview site...

Worldview: Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Fanaticism

There’s something about the sustainable food movement in all its various incarnations that brings out the fanatic in people, both pro and con. I admit that I am just as bad as anyone.

Yet, there is an underlying problem with that fanaticism that undermines the whole attempt to improve the way we feed ourselves, and it finds its voice in purity tests voiced by some that demand things that are unrealistic or downright impossible.

Among the worst of these tests are calls for laws that threaten the livelihoods of the very kinds of people trying to make change happen. For example, there are those who want to pass laws that would require sustainable farmers and vegetable producers to get licensed before they could produce.

I understand the motives that drive such calls because I experience them first hand. I also know they only serve to threaten the very undertaking we’re all supposed to be working together to achieve by making it harder to do what we are doing.

Perhaps, instead of calling for laws, boycotts, and bans, if we see a problem, we should be working extra hard to solve it and let the chips fall where they may. All that effort spent trashing others could be used in a far more productive way, and in the end, that properly applied effort might just produce something better than what we already have.

DLH

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

Read more at my Worldview site...

Worldview: Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Hay season

A couple of times a year, I mow lots of grass. Not in the $40-billion-make-my-lawn-look-like-a-golf-course sort of way, but in the make food for animals sort of way.

We mow and bale about 30 acres of grass hay every year to hold our cattle and goats through the winter. There are a lot of things that make hay a chore, like the heat and dodging the weather, but despite my complaints, I actually look forward to it.

While so many people slave away in cubicles or at cash registers, I get to spend days outside in the sun, in near contact with the abundance of nature, using big machines. In the hours I spend mowing, raking, and baling, I find a unique opportunity to contemplate and formulate this path of life I travel.

And sure, things go wrong. Equipment breaks. The weather doesn’t cooperate. I see these things as opportunities to grow stronger. To develop fortitude. To solve problems.

For me, hay season is the peak of my year. That’s not to say that it’s downhill from there, but I look forward to this every year even as I dread it. Hay season encapsulates farming as a whole, and I love it all.

DLH

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

Read more at my Worldview site...

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...