Farming: Little pastures

One of the transformations in thinking I have experienced over the past few years as I have taken over the farm and learned how to farm it is how I look at grass.

Before, I thought of grass in the way I think a lot of people do, as an ornamental ground cover that functioned as much as a constant bane because of its demand for care as it did as a nice place to walk and hang out during the warmer months. I didn’t tend to care as much as some about what my grass looked like as long is we mowed it periodically, mostly because I just wasn’t willing to do the work to keep it up.

Now, I see little pastures everywhere I look. I see places people could keep a few chickens or a milk goat or a beef cow. I see land better suited to the raising of food than to the constant maintenance of a crop that serves virtually no other purpose than to fill the gut of ruminants and to keep the dirt from washing away.

What has been most startling to me is to learn that my realization is nothing new. In fact, before the industrial agriculture revolution’s heyday in the 1950s, most Americans outside of cities thought the way I do now, and it turns out most Americans lived outside of cities.

Before industrial agriculture, Americans considered it their privilege and right to grow their own food. Food independence meant personal independence, and personal independence was among the most important of life’s concerns.

Of course, most people today are far from independent. Whether they rely directly on the government for their well-being or whether they depend on corporations for the same, they have given up their independence for the myth of security that never existed.

And so, they see yards where I see pastures, yards that need to be mowed, sprayed, fertilized, and cared for like a pet because someone told them that’s what they should do, without realizing that they could probably be feeding an animal and themselves for a lot less on that same lot of ground.

I hope I am planting a seed, though, for some people, so that, when the time comes, they might consider changing that yard into pasture or a garden or some other effort at gaining independence for themselves and their own. I think we’re going to need a lot more than that before it is all said and done.


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Figure it out

Let’s get something out of the way: growing food to feed yourself is not rocket science.

Now, I understand that in the last half of the 20th century, a lot of rocket science found its way into growing food, and I think that fact is responsible for so many of the problems we face in food production today. Growing food and sending things into space are different kinds of magic, and what is good for doing one well is rarely good for doing the other well.

Over the past two years, I have learned as much about what I am doing and about myself as I think I have in the rest of my life up to this point, and I owe most of that education to a simple fact about the way I’ve taken over the farm I run: I’ve had to figure out most of what I am doing on my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had lots of help and advice along the way, most of it good and some of it bad, but at the moment when the work actually needs to be done, its usually me, the task, and my brain participating in accomplishing it. It has been mind expanding in ways that are hard to describe unless you’ve undertaken something similar.

What does this have to do with you? Well, if I can figure out how to run a 185 acre farm–and don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot to learn–you can figure out how to plant a salad garden in your back yard. If I can learn to master the raising of as many as 40 head of beef cattle, you can figure out how to plant a small plot of wheat for making bread.

There is a lot of talk these days about the cost of food, food security, and the threat hunger poses to national stability. One of the things nearly every policy maker and pundit gets wrong as they fret over these kinds of things is that they assume the solutions will involve massive expenditures of government programs that centrally manage food production. They get it wrong because they are trying to use political magic to solve a food growing problem.

The solution instead comes from when individuals establish food independence by growing it themselves. During the last days the Soviet Union, as the central government was collapsing and central food planning had reduced agricultural output to a fraction of what was needed for the Soviets to feed their citizens, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed came from the roughly 4 percent of the land dedicated to small, individual farm plots tended by people after work and on weekends. To this day, as much as 50 percent of Russia’s agricultural output comes from about 2 percent of the land under cultivation.

What remains, then, is for people to figure it out. You can grow your own food and feed yourself and your family, and you don’t have to have a degree or a green thumb to do it. But, you do have to do it.

What are you waiting for?