Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Grass farming

So, after a long hiatus, I’ve decided to reboot this blog. When doing so, it’s often hard to know where to start, so I decided to start with the question we get asked most often: Why don’t we mow our grass?

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The short answer to that question is that our “messy” “ugly” yard that makes our “farm look abandoned” is what real sustainable stewardship looks like. Because we’re not mowing our yard, we’re not spending money on grass mowing, not producing the byproducts of grass mowing, and are providing habitat for all sorts of native species.

But, honestly, the answer is more complicated than that. Yes, we are doing all of those things, but it turns out we’re also grass farmers. Our primary occupation at Innisfree is raising animals for food, and it turns out most of our animals eat grass. When I see a yard, I see a pasture, even if it’s one right up next to my house.

In a manner of speaking, we do mow our grass. We just do it sustainably with animals instead of mowers and gas. For us, the results are worth the “mess”.

DLH

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Farming: Could “earthing” help us rebalance our charged modern lives?

I’m usually skeptical of the claims of most “naturalistic” cures for things, not because I don’t believe they can work, but because history demonstrates they’re no more of a panacea than modern medicine. Yet, there are some concepts that are so logical and contain such an element of historical veracity that I can’t help but believe they’re true.

Food Renegade‘s recent article on the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? rings with that kind of veracity for me, simply because it speaks to ways humans lived with a great deal of success for thousands of years before now. Basically put, we’re suffering as modern people because we don’t walk barefoot in the grass enough. Does that seem too simplistic? Read the article and see what you think.

DLH

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Worldview: 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.

DLH

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Farming: Your yard could be making you money [UPDATED]

If you haven’t already noticed, world food prices have reached crisis levels in part on one of the tightest cereal grain supplies in modern times. Unfortunately, this trend only stands to continue on the heels of a terrible wheat harvest in China after Russia’s catastrophic drought last year.

What does this have to do with your yard? Simply that you could be growing cereal grains there instead of grass.

Consider that, unless you have grazing animals, grass is a worthless crop that costs you money in the form of mowing, landscaping, and fertilization (although why people fertilize grass they then cut so short it almost dies is beyond me).

On the other hand, a 10 foot by 10 foot plot of wheat can yield enough grain to keep a family of four in bread for a year and with wheat selling at $7.40 a bushel, it is easy to see how someone can turn at least a small profit on a small plot of ground. Depending on the size of the plot, the sowing method used, and the type of seed used, a 20 by 60 plot could yield anywhere from 1.3 to 2 bushels of wheat, and a 10 by 10 plot can yield up to 20 pounds of grain.

Now, I know that, especially if you live in a city, tearing up your yard to plant wheat can be problematic, but it’s not impossible, and wheat isn’t even the only crop you could plant. The point is that you could be making money off your yard, especially right now, and it wouldn’t take much on your part to do it.

DLH

UPDATED: Corrected my bad math and failure to pay attention to detail. See the discussion below. Thanks to Matt for catching my mistake.

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Farming: My 10-10-10 challenge

I often hear a lot of people claiming that the world cannot feed itself. They say there are too many people. They say there isn’t enough land to grow all that food. Some, even recognize that there aren’t enough farmers to grow the food we need. They throw up their hands and lament that we somehow need to reduce the population if any of us are going to survive.

I call bullshit on their entire line of reasoning.

There’s plenty of arable land and plenty of people to grow on it. When I say plenty of land, I mean your yard. When I say there are plenty of people to grow food, I mean you.

In other words, I challenge you to grow your own food, starting right now.

It’s really simple, and it doesn’t even require you to plow, till, or anything else. Find a 10 foot by 10 foot section of your yard. Mow it like you normally would at this time of year. Get a stick and poke holes in rows in that 100 square food patch about 5 inches apart with the rows around a foot apart.

Into those holes, plant Maris Widgeon Wheat or Hard Red Winter Wheat. If you live in an area where the winters are warmer, consider planting Hard Red Spring Wheat the same way in the spring. If you live in an apartment, consider asking your landlord or a friend with a yard if you can plant there. Do all of this by 10 October 2010.

Do nothing else.

Do nothing else, at least until next summer, that is. I cannot guarantee your little plot of wheat will grow or thrive, but statistically most of you will grow some amount of wheat in the coming year. Further, you won’t have to mow that patch of grass at all, and the combination of grass and wheat will keep down the weeds, attract beneficial insects, and improve the fertility of that section of yard. It is entirely possible, come next June or July, you will have a harvest of wheat that will fill a five gallon bucket.

From there, you can cut your wheat down with a weed cutter, garden sheers, or even a weed wacker (you’ll probably lose some that way). You can thresh it with a pillow case and a plastic bat and winnow it with a sheet and a box fan. You can dry it for a few minutes in a low temperature oven. You can grind it with a blender. From there, it’s flour and you can do whatever you want with it.

What you could very well have done, by next summer, is have grown enough wheat to make a loaf of bread a week for a year. You will have also prove that you can grow your own food and feed yourself without a lot of extra work. If you can do that, what else can you do?

It all starts by 10-10-10.

DLH

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