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.


[UPDATE: Edited for content]

A question of contrariness

Quite a few people have asked me over the past few years why it is that I decided to start farming. While there are a lot of reasons why I’ve decided to do this, I’ve discovered that many of them boil down to a simple idea:

I’m farming because you’re not.

Now, I know that answer suggests that if you were farming, I wouldn’t be, and maybe in a way that is true. But, I’m pretty confident that you’re not going to quit your job and buy some agriculture land or find a relative with a farm, and because you won’t do that, someone else has to.

The way I see things, far too many people expect someone else to provide for them. In the second decade of the 21st century, far too many people think that going to work to make money to buy things is equivalent to providing for themselves. Never mind the fact that almost everything everyone does anymore requires massive inputs of oil to happen at all.

From my point of view, the 21st century system of people working to make money to buy food produced by some of the most energy inefficient methods ever invented is the ultimate pyramid scheme just waiting to collapse. All it will take is price spikes, even deeper economic disturbances, or supply disruptions, and suddenly we have millions of middle class Americans starving because they have no way to produce their own food.

Hence the reason I’m farming: because you’re not.

Some people might think that my response means that I’m part of the problem, enabling people the way the rest of the modern system does, but I can assure you that’s not true. My philosophy differs from all but a handful of modern agriculture producers in that my goal is to feed myself and my family first, those I know second, and everyone else with whatever is left over after the first two things happen.

A lot of people recoil from my philosophy, including most farmers, and that reaction shows how far our attitudes about food have drifted from what worked for thousands of years of human history before the 20th century. Before the 1910s, when the idea of moving Americans off farms and into manufacturing and the suburbs began, almost everyone produced some amount of their own food, whether it was in a garden, as part of a local co-op, or as a farmer. As a result, even in the worst times, most people were well-fed, even if they couldn’t afford the other things that made life comfortable.

Now, virtually no one produces food. Less than 1 percent of Americans are actual farmers, and the number of people producing food through gardens or other means may be as low as 10 percent. That means as little as 31 million people feed 310 million people. What happens if they can’t?

And that’s why I’m farming: because you’re not.

Soon, I will be posting my 2011 10-10 challenge, and it’s as much a challenge as it is a test: plant a 10 foot by 10 foot plot of winter wheat this year to prove to yourself it can be done and to prove you’re not going to be one of the people starving if something goes wrong. Most of the people reading this post won’t do it, and I think that proves my point.

I’m farming because you’re not.