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?

DLH

1st Anniversary

The beginning of the new school year reminds me that I have reached a milestone: one year since I started farming full-time.

It’s been a bumpy year, with big successes and catastrophic failures along the way. I’ve learned more in the past year than I think I have in the rest of my life put together, and for the first time in a very long time, I think I can say I am not the person I was a year ago.

Overall, I think I would give myself a D+ for this year. I had huge ambition and huger plans but very little concept of what I was undertaking. That’s not to say that my ambition and plans for next year are any less grand, but frankly, I was clueless last year at this time, and the past twelve months revealed that lack of understanding for everything it was.

I could go on for a long time about what I have learned, what I have realized, and what I plan to do, but I think the details of those things are best left for different posts. In the mean time, here’s to another year!

DLH

Life and death and farming

I can’t think of many other places where the drama of life and death unfold with such breathtaking regularity as they do on the farm .

Today, I had to help a cow give birth to a calf that was too big for her and got hung up on her hip bones as it was being born. We lost the calf but saved the cow; lost a new life but ensured new lives in the process.

No matter what kind of farming someone decides to pursue, some element of this cycle of life and death will be present. With animals, especially big ones, this cycle can be traumatic and dramatic, but even with plants the cycle is just as evident.

I think that constant exposure to life and death is why farmers, especially traditional ones, tend to be far more realistic and spiritual than most other people. In the life and death I experienced just a little while ago, I saw the tale of my own life and of the lives that depend on me. I saw the evidence of how fleeting life is and how important it is to make every second count.

From that view, I see how farming, like the rest of a life well lived, is not for the weak of heart or the weak of soul. Yet, even seeing life and death acted out before me, I am not discouraged or afraid but instead that much more dedicated to the idea of making every moment I have matter.

It is because of that sense of dedication that I think society has lost something as it has moved away from the farm. Because most people are not exposed to the ever-present reality of life and death that farmers see, they have lost sight of the fact that their own lives are part of the same cycle.

I think that restoring that sense of reality is as important as feeding ourselves in my encouragement of people to grow their own food. Farming is life, not just a job, and doing it reminds us how little time any of us really have and how we should make the most of what we do have.

DLH

2010- A beer odyssey

Here’s one for the “checking something off of life’s list” category: today, at long last, I purchased the supplies necessary to form the beginnings of what I hope to be my long endeavor with brewing beer myself.

Fortunately for me, and for Dayton, the owner of Belmont Party Supply in East Dayton has made starting this endeavor easy by opening Miami Valley BrewTensils, a fully stocked craft brewing store located at 2617 South Smithville Road in Dayton, right next to the party supply store. I spoke with Jeff Fortney today, and he was very knowledgeable and eager to help me get started brewing.

In the mean time, here on Innisfree, my goal is to begin not just brewing my own beer buy growing everything I can to brew it with. If all goes well, by next summer, my “Beer Garden” will be fully established and providing the ingredients necessary to create my own “Innisfree” home brew.

Stay tuned for more information as this project progresses.

DLH

Never again

I went to the stock auction today because Keba and I hauled our calves there over the past couple of days and I wanted to see for myself what their business was all about.

I will never take my animals there or buy animals from them again.

We took nine perfectly healthy, vibrant young calves to that place, where the people who run it proceeded to give them a battery of sixteen different shots, antibiotics, and tests then to sedate them so that they would behave in the auction ring. From there, those poor little ones are probably destined for a feed lot somewhere where as many as half of them will die from sickness, overcrowding, or malnutrition before they end up as meat in a grocery store or restaurant near you, full of a year’s worth of drugs and food they were not designed to eat.

I understand that I raise cattle for food, but my goal from the first moment I set myself to that task is to do so as morally and humanely as possible. What they do at the stock yard is wrong and I will have no more part in it. I would rather stop raising cows and go back into information technology than knowingly participate in a process that robs humans and animals alike of their essence.

Instead, I will humanely raise only the number animals I can sell directly to the people who will consume them as food. I will control my herd to ensure its numbers, and I will never give my cows drugs in order to increase their size or the density of the herd.

I understand that death is part of the harsh reality of food production, but it will be death under circumstances that I control, and my animals will not suffer years of torment before they die.

I also want all of you to think about what I am saying. Yes, we can feed ourselves cheaply and efficiently by going to big box groceries, but at what cost? When we make that kind of choice, we reduce ourselves to essentially the same fate as those nine calves: eating food that makes us sick and then pumped full of drugs to compensate for it.

I understand that what I am suggesting here is reactionary and revolutionary, but it is my understanding of history and human nature that it often takes both in order for change to happen. I pledge that I will no longer be part of the problem. How about you?

DLH