Why do you have grass?

One of the arguments I hear often about why we have to continue modern industrial farming practices is because there just isn’t enough arable land to grow enough food for everyone. I almost always wonder what the latest person who said such a thing is doing with his or her yard.

Seriously, what are you doing with your yard? How much did you spend seeding it, weeding it, mowing it, and fertilizing it this year? For what? Because it looks pretty?

See, my farm has several dozen acres of grass: grass that cows eat right off the ground or that we mow and bale for hay. For me, grass is a foodstuff for animals and part of a system that promotes good soil health and fertility. Frankly, other than a patch of grass around the houses and other buildings that we mow to keep the critters and building destroying plants at bay, the rest of our grass is food for something or unmowed meadow.

What about you?

I’ll grant that, especially in cities, controlling the places that pest animals tend to congregate is an always pressing problem, but does the answer have to be grass? What about vegetable gardens? What about replacing grass with attractive–and edible–stands of wheat or oats or barley? What about fruit trees or creeping vines like squash, pumpkin, or watermelon?

Heck, you wouldn’t even have to do all that work yourself. I’m betting that, if you advertised your yard as available for planting, someone would be willing to do the work for you for rent or in return for part of the proceeds.

Imagine all the arable ground that would suddenly become available if yards became, essentially, micro farms. This isn’t a new idea either. In many other parts of the world, entire large, extended families feed themselves every year on a fraction of an acre.

Now, I know that people have all kinds of aversions to this kind of idea, most of which I do not understand. But, beyond the perceived images of degraded status and the irrational fear of one’s home looking like a farm, what is the real problem?

To me the idea of growing one’s own food under one’s own control represents the height of independence. If your yard is a garden, do you have to worry about the price of food or the gas needed to get it? If things go badly and you lose your job or the economy goes south, will you go hungry if your yard is full of food?

Of course, for what I am suggesting here to have any real meaning, all sorts of things would have to change. People would have to be willing to do the work. Cities would have to realize that small plot raising of fruits, vegetables, and grains will not diminish the property values in their borders any more than the bursting of unsustainable, speculative housing value bubbles might. Communities would have to believe that a fundamental level of self-sufficiency is  a far better way to ensure their continued existence than begging for grants from state and local governments might appear to be.

And once those changes occur, then even more radical practical ideas can move forward. Ask yourself what’s worse: the occasional cluck or crow of a chicken or the incessant barking of your neighbor’s yippy dog?


Zombie chickens?

One of the things that veteran chicken farmers warn about is cannibalism. Chickens will attack each other when they are overcrowded, have sick chickens among them, or are just plain bored.

The breed we got on April 15th, Speckled Sussex, has proven so far to be a particularly precocious one, and we discovered yet another element to their rapid maturity: today they decided the coop of their youth was too small and started to attack each other.

What we’re learning from this heritage breed is that everything we know about chickens has been accelerated by weeks. Where traditional breeds can take as long as a couple of months to be ready to go outside,  these little devils are ready to go after just three weeks.

Part of the lesson here is to watch your particular breed when you’re trying a new one and respond to what you see as much as what you know. The result is that we’re accelerating the completion of our chicken yard fence to tomorrow so we can just let them outside during the day to ease whatever overcrowding and boredom might be going on.

Now, I’m wondering if the little buggers will learn to fly…


Farming goals for 2010

Perhaps my first goal for 2010 is to fully embrace the fact that I am, indeed, a farmer. I think that even I have had a stereotype of what that tag means, and I am discovering that there is truth and fiction to that stereotype. What I have come to realize already is that farming is what you make it and I have to be the one to make it that way.

Beyond adapting to being a farmer, I think this year will be one  a few spent discovering what Keba and I want this farm to be. We will probably get chickens and, maybe, turkeys under way this year, and we will probably change the pasture layout as well. Everything else will probably be keeping what is working continuing to work.

Stay tuned.