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

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

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