Worldview: And you call yourself independent…

The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. — The 9th Amendment to the US Constitution

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. — The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution

Once upon a time, the United States was founded on the principle that the best way for people to live was to maximize their liberty and minimize their governments. In an effort to ensure that state of affairs, the founders of the United States crafted a Constitution and ten amendments designed to ensure that the federal government was bounded and that the liberty of the people was unbounded. Certainly, that founding document had glaring flaws, left certain things unresolved, and failed to anticipate things that have since occurred, yet the principle ideal was sound then and is sound now.

At least, it is sound in theory. Unfortunately, over the intervening 235 years, many Americans have decided that the liberty granted them by foresight, determination, and blood was just too much for them. They have traded their liberty for security, are deserving of neither, and have lost both.

Most Americans see no irony in the fact that they have allowed their government to violate the Constitution by allowing it to force them to pay for unemployment security, medical security, and retirement security; every one of which programs are failing to deliver on their promises while simultaneously bankrupting even those who do not want to participate in them.

And that last part is the real rub. Certainly, it is possible under the ideals of liberty for a group to decide to cede their liberty, but what has happened, especially in the last half of the 20th century, is that some groups have  forced all groups to give up liberty.

So, what are you celebrating if you celebrate independence today? How do you exercise your independence–not just the several liberties guaranteed by the amendments but the innumerable ones not enumerated there? If you are dependent on the government can you even celebrate independence?

These are hard things, and they are supposed to be hard. Liberty is hard. Freedom is hard. The things the founders did were hard. The things 235 years worth of patriots did to secure our nation were hard. Now it’s our turn, and if we do not get to work, we are going to lose what they secured for us.

DLH

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Worldview: An open letter to farmers big and small, sustainable or not

Dear farmers,

I’ve read a lot about how none of you want cuts to federal farm subsidies or programs. I’m betting no one whose federal budget is on the chopping block right now wants their funding to go, but the extreme nature of the budget crisis means that something is, by definition, going to have to go.

My proposal to all of you is that we be the ones who stand up and say, “We don’t need the money.”

You see, from my point of view as a small farmer just getting started on the sustainable agriculture journey, the reason we have such a hard time making money and getting our message out as farmers is because so much of the money and so much of the message is controlled by the government. Because the government controls the money and the message, we farmers have very little control over how the money gets spent and what gets said.

For those of us who have decided to go it alone, the experience is quite different. I know from first hand experience what kind of money can be made and what kind of message can be put out there by a single farm. People are hungry–literally and figuratively–for what we are doing and they want more. In the next few years, unless something dramatically changes for us, our farm will be paying for itself without the benefit of a single government subsidy or program.

How is this possible? Because I, and those who work on and support my farm, understand that farming is a calling and a lifestyle, not just a job. I am my farm, and because of that, I care very deeply about what happens to it. Therefore, I am willing to put in the kind of blood, sweat, and tears that a mere job could never demand.

Now, is that kind of commitment for everyone? Of course not. Yet, I cannot help but notice that, if your’re not willing to make that kind of commitment, then what are you doing?

For those of us who are willing, the path leads away from the government. We don’t need government sponsored local food programs. We don’t need government price supports for commodity crops. We don’t need government rules telling us what, when, where, and how to plant.

What we need is our own determination and perseverance, and in a few years using those things, we would be free to do the thing we have come to know and love.

So let’s stop this dependence on the government and start our own independence based on the merits of our own effort.

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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Worldview: Never forgotten–Memorial Day 2011

It is appropriate that our nation should set aside a day to remember the sacrifices of all those who gave of themselves in defense of their nation to the point of giving their lives. Without such sacrifice, the republic could not be free, and out ideals of individualism, liberty, and independence could not succeed.

Yet, we must not forget those sacrifices or ideals the other days of the year. The fact that the men and women we remember today, taken from us by the violence of war or the cold hand of time, gave of themselves for the greater cause of what our nation stands for and is built upon should be seared into our minds every day, not just on Memorial Day. It is through the example of their service that we come to realize the full cost of the freedom we claim, and it is by their sacrifice that we should measure the value of our own payment toward that ideal.

And, if we find ourselves falling short of their example, then it is by their example that we can find our own way to pay the cost. This does not mean we must pay in our blood or our lives, but we must pay in a lifelong struggle to establish ourselves as individuals, exercising the liberty we have been blessed with, and standing firm in the independence that others earned and we continue to secure. It is when we do these things that we honor those who have gone before and we lay the foundation for those who will follow.

Godspeed then, brothers and sisters who have gone before. May we be found worthy to be counted among your ranks when then time comes.

DLH

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Farming: Broadforking, gardening, and growing your own food, expanded and refined

Earlier this week, I discussed the idea of using a broadfork as a method for tilling the ground instead of using a tiller and and why this method is superior to traditional tilling. Of course, this method still has its own related expenses and may seem like a daunting investment of resources and time to some.

Yet, it doesn’t even have to be that complicated. Most people can get away with no till gardening by simply using a pitchfork, a garden trowel, and a pointed hoe. This method is especially good for small plots and raised beds.

It is possible, and in fact preferable, to plant directly into a yard that has never been tilled. Simply select a plot, loosen the soil by sticking the pitchfork into the ground and tilting to about a 30 degree angle. Then dig holes or rows for the plants or seeds. You can control the grass between the plants with a pair of hand garden sheers.

Now, I will grant that some kinds of plants do better in this kind of planting environment than others. Tall and climbing plants do very well, as do densely sewn cereal grains. You might have to add fertilizer if you do this with corn, but then again native cultures planted in ways similar to this for a long time with great success.

If you’re nervous about this kind of planting, consider starting small. Buy a locally grown tomato plant (or whatever kind of vegetable you might eat) and plant it. Starting small can help build confidence, and before you know it, you could be growing a lot of your own food.

The point is to do it. Try it and find out what you can do.

DLH

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Worldview: “Keep your head down” represents a compromise of the Christian worldview

I hear this idea or something like it often: “We should just keep our heads down and mind our own business.”

Usually, it comes from conservatively minded people, often from Christians, and mostly in relationship to ongoing world events the speakers find troubling. Every time I hear the idea expressed, I wonder how it jives with everything conservative Christians know about the faith and worldview we are supposed to possess.

How can we be salt and light, share the Gospel with the world, or let our gentleness be evident to all if we’re hiding from the world? How can we do the good works God has created for us to do if we keep our heads down? How can we be the citizens of a shining city on a hill if we’re minding our own business?

From my point of view, these ideas represent a fundamental compromise of the Christian worldview, and the result of that compromise has been the demise of the good our forebearers accomplished.

The Christian worldview is on that can only be lived out loud. Look at the history of our faith. It is filled with men and women who refused to be silent even in the face of exile and death. Many of our American ancestors came here as an expression of and because of their worldview. It was, in part, from their loud proclamations of belief that the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights derived their legitimacy.

Yet, modern American Christians, in great part, would rather hide when the command is to shout and make a spectacle. If we do not declare what we know and believe, how will anyone hear?

As for me, come better or worse, I will not be silent, nor will I be afraid.

DLH

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Farming: Food as a fungible commodity

All around the internet, you can find vigorous discussions about how, with the impending risk of international economic meltdown brought about by massive overspending, the smart bet is to invest in things like gold, which is a fungible commodity that will retain its value even if the rest of the economy self-destructs.

While, in some ways, this exhortation to invest in things like gold makes all kinds of sense, typical economic-downturn commodities like it have many disadvantages: they’re expensive, hard to move in quantity, limited in availability, and difficult to produce. These disadvantages mean that, even if one accumulates quite a bit of them, they will be harder to use when the time comes and will eventually run out.

On the other hand, food is also a fungible commodity, and while it often lacks the durability of other commodities, it has the significant advantages of being cheaper, easier to move in quantity, largely available if you want it to be, and surprisingly easy to produce. In fact, before precious metals, gem stones, and oil, food was the currency de jure in most parts of the world for millenia.

What is so amazing about food production is that almost anyone can do it, even on marginal land or land often presupposed not to be agricultural. As I have challenged everyone to do in my “10-10 Challenge” and is discussed in a variety of books like You Can Farm, Small-scale Grain Raising, and The One Straw Revolution, just about anyone can produce quite a bit of food on small plots of land with minimal investments of time and effort. Historically, families in the East have fed themselves and sold surplus off plots as small as a quarter of an acre, which includes raising livestock.

The beauty of small-scale food production is that, if the economy does tank, the food you produce will still have value–perhaps even more value than it did previously. Further, unlike traditional economy beating investments, producing your own food means that you do not have to rely on someone else to produce that food for you, which then means that the other fungible assets you might have accumulated are now available to procure all sorts of other things.

Even if you don’t want to produce your own food, you can still invest in food as a commodity against economic disaster. The company Heirloom Organics sells investment grade seed packs designed for long-term storage and that contain open-pollinated, heirloom crop seeds that will become very valuable if the economy collapses. Companies like Emergency Essentials sell supplies of long-term storage foods like cereal grains and legumes. Even if one does not use these food items himself, they can become a valuable commodity in the case of economic hardship.

Of course, my underlying argument here is that everyone should establish a higher level of self-sufficiency by growing their own food, one of the benefits of such activity being that it can act as insulation against economic hardship. Doing such a thing seems like a double benefit and an easy choice to me.

DLH

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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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