Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]

On animals and worldviews

I suspect that one of the driving forces of the greatest changes in society over the past 100 years versus the past several millenia has been specific movement of people away from caring for food animals.

One cannot help but learn about the brutal realities of the cycle of life to death to life when one cares for food animals. As a result, one cannot help but see the realities of the same cycle in every other part of life. Such realizations cannot help but make someone more pragmatic at the least, if not even a little fatalistic.

That kind of pragmatism then fueled all sorts of ways of thinking that dominated most of human history. And while, yes, that thinking justified all sorts of things we moderns consider savage and inhuman, it also gave birth to the world we have today and, to a great part, continues to sustain it long after most people have forgotten what it all might mean.

Now, being engaged in that kind of undertaking, I find my own thinking inevitably changed by the reality of what I do. In some ways I am softer. In some ways I am harder than I ever imagined I could ever be. My focus is different–dare I say, more focused–and the change in my view of the realities of life and death could not be more profound.

I understand the impracticality of a general return to agriculture, but I cannot help but wonder if we would not benefit from a return to some parts of the worldview it fostered. We need more pragmatism in a world sometimes blinded by the shining and ofttimes false optimism of modernity.  We could do worse than to revisit history, and I’m certain we can benefit from it.

DLH

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

Not for the faint of heart

There are days that I understand why people don’t want to be farmers. It’s not a job for the faint of heart. Certainly, I’m making a judgment call here, but the fact is when your livelihood relies on braving the weather, flora and fauna, sometimes downright terrible fellow humans, and your own capacity to screw things up, it takes a certain kind of soul to endure such things.

On the other hand, I can assure you of something else: if you choose this profession and stick with it, you’ll find there aren’t many stronger people than farmers, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

DLH

Five years on: Disasters, reevaluations, and the straight and narrow

There are few things like a disaster of one’s own making to cause one to reevaluate.

We’ve had more than a few disasters, big and small, since we came back to Innisfree on the Stillwater. They kind of come with the territory of taking over this kind of an enterprise and learning on the fly.

While disasters can sometimes be setbacks and can also be demoralizing, we also use them as a chance to evaluate what we are doing and come up with ways to do them better, not just to correct a specific mistake but also to ensure that our approach is the best one to use.

The result is a cycle of disaster, reevaluation, and recommitment. It would be easy to give up when things go wrong, but nobody ever said what we are doing was going to be easy. Instead, we figure out how to do what we are doing better and move on.

In the end, that’s the only way to succeed at farming.

DLH

There are days…

People sometimes ask me why I tell people when I fail. Frankly, it would be easy not to tell anyone when things to wrong. It would be easy to lull people into a false impression that the life I live is somehow, distant, idyllic, and trouble-free.

It would also be a lie.

In fact, that lie is at the core of a lot of things I see wrong with how we moderns live. Governments, corporations, and our own fancies have convinced us that we live in a world that should be sterile and secure from risk, want, or danger when reality could not be further from that conviction.

So, I choose to speak to reality. Like today, when a series of miscues resulted in the two bulls I was taking to the butcher escaping and vanishing. Yes, I said vanishing. No one can find them. I spent all day trying to track them down with no success. We just had $4400 worth of animals escape and disappear into thin air.

And that fact does not deter me. Yes, it is a setback. Yes, I am going to have to figure out how to replace that income. Yes, those two loose bulls still represent a liability until they are caught or killed. But none of that means I am a failure.

I believe the best measure of a person is how that person responds to adversity. Decades ago, I chose perseverance because, from my view, what is the point of life otherwise?. And that’s why I choose to share my failures, so that other people can see that it’s okay to fail and that life goes on.

Now, to find me a couple of missing by cows…

DLH

Five years on: thoughts on half a decade at Innisfree on the Stillwater

It’s been five years since Keba and I returned to Innisfree with the idea of creating a sustainable homestead and refuge from the ravages of the modern world. So far, that quest has been unlike any experience I have ever had.

It would be easy to dwell on the parts that haven’t gone the way we would have liked or the challenges we still face, but the fact is that, despite those things, neither of us can imagine doing anything else. For people like us, the fact we still want to do it speaks a lot to how embracing the lifestyle of historical agriculture gets in a person’s blood.

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about some of the experiences we’ve had, the lessons we’ve learned, and the challenges we face. I hope you come along for that journey and retrospective.

DLH

Big Thugriculture

Robyn O’Brien, a tireless crusader against big agriculture and genetically modified food, recently posted about her ordeals in trying to share all of the evidence with people about what big ag and the manufactured food complex is doing to us. Her story is a sad testament to the experiences of many people on the front lines of the sustainable food movement.

But the question remains: If the GMO crowd is as right as they believe they are, then why do they have to resort to these kinds of tactics against their opponents? Shouldn’t their righteousness speak for itself?

They’re doing it because they’re not right, and many of them know it. They’re scared, and out of fear, they’re lashing out. They’re scared they’re going to lose their gravy train and they’re going to be revealed as the frauds they are.

You know the last time this happened, right? Back when brave people revealed Big Tobacco was tampering with its products in ways that were killing people. Don’t say you weren’t warned. If you’re ignoring this kind of thing, you’re just willfully ignorant.

Educate yourself.

DLH

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