Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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5/14/2015

With spring officially here, days are filled with a billion and one things on the to-do list. How to pick and choose which comes first is always a challenge.

There’s the ancient fallen apple tree, one I’ve been waiting to take scions from in an attempt to propagate more of this unidentified fruit. The taste of these apples is a combination of fruit and flower. There are many apple trees on this property, but this one in particular produces a fruit I’ve not found in any store or farm stand.

There’s the pond, finally uncovered from the wrath of winter’s snow and ice. Each spring, I drain as much of it down as possible to start fresh with clear water and a bag full of new inhabitants in the form of algae eaters. The ducks are particularly happy when this chore is finished.

There’s the pine tree that landed across the fence and into another apple tree. It went down in a gust on a winter day when storms were blowing up over the Gulf of Maine and right across the farm. The sheep have been enjoying bark from it’s limbs and trunk all winter, using it as a mineral and vitamin supplement to keep them going through the long, dark months.

Romeo & Ariel

Then, there are the garden beds. My kitchen garden, the one right outside the new back door, has softened and seems ready to accept the hoe. Its dirt is a deep, dark brown. I’m adding the ashes from the fireplace and heading to the sheep compost pile to add carts full of sheepy richness. It will be ready to accept this year’s crop of basils and parsley. Can you really have too much? I’ve enjoyed Lemon and Thai Pesto all winter. Each time I open a jar, I’m reminded of warm summer days. It helps when the snows are blowing sideways and the temps are, once again, down in the teens.

There’s the dairy barn. Overwintering for this building means deep compost, all needing hand forking out. It’s a big job. I usually wait until the nights are a bit warmer, just to give the girls some nice bedding under them during the transition from winter to spring. In the fall, we start with a couple inches of fresh soft shavings. The girls do the rest throughout the winter, pulling hay from their racks and laying it where they need it. Goats are fussy eaters. They selectively eliminate the bits out of the hay they either don’t like the taste of, don’t have the particular nutrition in it they need, or just because they want a softer, drier bed. No matter. I indulge them, and their feet and legs benefit from not standing on a cold hard surface all winter.

goats

There is a method to our madness in farming. It comes in many forms. Everybody seems to have their own, but it always seems to come down to the same thing: it’s a lot of work. The reward comes in the form of lazy summer days with gardens bursting at the seams with fresh vegetables and herbs. While we work away in spring, uncovering and freshening beds, pruning and trimming to let sunshine in for bigger juicier apples and other fruits, cleaning and wiping and painting and hauling and digging out from winter, the spring sunshine warms our backs and lightens our hearts.

At Bittersweet, Romeo is growing into his amazing lamby self. He is enjoying days playing in the pasture with Ariel, our other great lamb from last spring. He’s romping about, doing that springy lamby thing with Buttermilk. Seeing each other from behind the old pine tree or from across the spread, they run to greet each other. Just before they literally run into each other, they stop in their tracks, gently lower their heads, and touch each other on the forehead. Connections.

Romeo cuddling

Romeo and I are soon visiting Story Hour at our Jackson Memorial Library here in St. George to read the tiny book he inspired me to write. The message is about building confidence in kids. I’ve found a farm to be a place where that can happen.

In a few short weeks, goat kids will arrive. Frannie is up first and her big Mama belly is starting to grow at the seams.

Mama Frannie

She’s lazier now, slower to get up and down. In her gentle motherly way, she looks at me with her big doe eyes and comes to my side. She leans against my leg and once again, I pat her head and remind her, I’ll be there for her when the time comes. Connections. I don’t know who benefits from it more, her or me.

Welcome spring! We’ve waited a long time for your arrival. Thanks for coming back to visit, even if it’s only for a short while.

Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

Photos by Dyan Redick

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



5/13/2015

A swale is not a complicated technique,  nor is it something new. Swales are nothing more than water harvesting ditches on contour. On contour simply means level. The contour lines of a topographical map are level, at least on a large scale. Another way of putting it is to think of the jagged shoreline of a lake. Wherever water meets land is level and on contour. 

Contour

The benefit of using swales, even on a small scale, are: 1. Collects water, slows it down and spreads it out. 2. Soaks water into the ground hydrating the surrounding area and recharging the water table. 3. Prevents erosion or reduces erosion from the landscape. 4. Reduces the need for irrigation if used in conjunction with food and fuel growing systems.

Our land is sloped and even though we get adequate rainfall each year (average of 30 inches) most of it quickly runs off and is wasted.

On our homestead we just completed nearly 200 yards of swales. This is not a large project by any means but it will add our homestead greatly in the coming years. We combined the addition of growing systems with the swale in order to gain the maximum benefit. We have planted a combination of fuel wood: black locust and honey locust which are also nitrogen fixing trees and forage trees and food producing trees: fruit and nut.

Swale Construction 

For constructing the swales we used very simple tools like an A-frame level. This is a simple device for determining an accurate contour line. In this case we used two means of verification: a simple bubble level fixed to the A-frame and a plumb bob with markings. Having both of these are redundant but I like redundancy! A neighbor of ours also helped us out with providing a tractor with a bucket loader. This is not the ideal tool for making swales (excavators and bull dozers would of worked much better) but it is what we had available to us and we appreciated our neighbor lending us a had immensely. The tractor combined with shovels and, of course, sweat equity made for a successful venture. We cut swales on contour and made very simple spillways in order to shed excess water should we get a large rain event. 

A Frame Level

In the weeks and months to come we will, hopefully, start to see some of the fruits of our labor. We plan on building more swales in the future but these were the mainframe swales we put in to start improving the land.

Finished

We will be talking more about swales this summer during our upcoming workshops in June and July. Homestead Workshop


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5/12/2015

I have been attending the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival with my husband for sixteen years, since the first year we were married and farming. Back then we would dream about keeping sheep on our newly purchased pasture as we walked through the stalls of sheep—Jacob, Barbados, Merino, Southdown and all the rest. We would laugh about putting a couple haybales in the back of the outback and bringing home a sheep or two. Then we had a baby and we’d toddle him past the sheep and say what fun sheep would be to keep. Our kids grew up loving our visits to Sheep and Wool. I could sit on the hill and watch the professional sheep shearers all day, as they clip beautiful fleeces off beautiful sheep. Maryland's own talented shearer, Emily Chamelin, gives wonderful demonstrations of sheep shearing. 

After my friends taught me to knit, I had to attend two days, one as an aspiring shepherd with my family and one on my own as knitter and collector of yarn. Booth after booth of lovely yarn. I learned wet-felting and needle-felting, and I gleaned the booths for the beautiful wool roving, in stunning natural colors and vibrant dyed ones. Every fiber art of your dreams, it is all represented in the booths of this festival, one of the largest of its kind.

Some years I attend with a new crafty inspiration, ready for fuel. Sometimes I go without inspiration at all, and I see what catches me. A couple years ago, my husband spied a felt wizard hat, so I came home and made him one. Last year I came home with a spinning wheel. This year a needle-felted lion caught my eye.

Wool Lion

Sara from Sarafina Fiber Arts, a new vendor at the Sheep and Wool Festival, made this incredible creature. As my friend said, “It doesn’t even look fake!” On my third visit to her booth, I figured out what I wanted to do. I purchased supplies from Sara to step up my needle-felting skills. I have spent some time needle-felting animals, mainly focusing on facial features. Now I can add wire structures to achieve more detail, structural support, and moveable parts. I teach homeschool kids how to needle-felt and I am excited to step up the instruction I can offer them.

She has clever tips and structural materials to make the small details feasible, like flexible wire for the fingers of a raccoon. Her tutorials are free online, and she sells the perfect wool blends and wires and tools to make it all come alive. I’m pretty excited about it.

needlefelt 

People always ask why I don’t keep sheep. I like to make so many things in my life from the source—growing and making food, milking goats for my yogurt, handmade craft items. Why not grow my own yarn? I have my answer down pat—I love getting to the source of things. But I can’t do it all. This is one arena that I love to shop, from other people with a fiber arts passion. A wise friend told me I could buy all the yarn I want and I wouldn’t approach the cost of keeping sheep, and I’d have a better variety of yarn. I take her advice to heart. It is still tempting, every year at this time, to buy a spinner’s flock.  

Did we go home with a sheep in the back seat of the car this year? No. Not even an Angora Goat Buck, but that was a close call. Maybe next year.

Go to my farm blog to see more creations from the Sarafina booth.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House in the Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



5/6/2015

I’m not sure how my conversation about the $250,000 mortgage came up, but it got me thinking about two very different ways that young people can get started in life. There’s the “mortgage-now-pay later” approach that’s grown so popular over the last 50 years, then there’s the old-fashioned, pay-as-you-go “bootstraps” approach that I still have faith in. Let me explain why.

 The conversation started when an old friend told me about his daughter and son-in-law and the big new home they built. I remember the day I bumped into these kids as they were walking into the bank a few years ago to get approval for their mortgage. I wasn’t sure if I should wish them luck or suggest they turn around and run. The ability to get into your own large, custom-built home before you’re 30 is an exciting and prestigious thing, but the mortgage lifestyle that makes it possible doesn’t come cheap. The price was a $250,000 debt that will end up costing nearly three quarters of a million after-tax dollars before it’s paid off – assuming the mortgage holders can hang on to their jobs for the next 30 years.

 So what’s the alternative to a mortgage for young people who don’t want to rent? Even in the credit-crazy world we live in, I still say the build-it-yourself, pay-as-you-go, live-with-less-for-a-while bootstraps approach is best if you can pull it off. And not just because it costs less and offers more freedom.

 Growing as you can afford to, and working for the things you want but don’t yet have, brings more joy and satisfaction in the end. I know this from my own experience building my homestead from scratch starting back in 1985. And my son, Robert, and his new wife Edyta, are showing me this truth all over again.

Robert is 24 years old, but when he was 18 he got the notion to build a cabin on a small corner of our homestead property. What better way for a young man to grow in competence and stamina than to take on a project like this? I was all for it. There’s nothing like struggle and sweat and accomplishment to turn a boy into a man, and that’s one of the things the cabin project has done for Robert.

Fast forward to September 2014, and my wife and I are watching Robert at the front of a church in Poland, ready to put a wedding ring on the finger of a young lady from Warsaw who he met online a couple of years earlier. Robert and Edyta could have chosen any life they wanted for themselves, but they’ve chosen to live on our family homestead, building slowly as they can afford to, including modest expansion plans on that cabin Robert built, turning it into a full-time home.

Before you start thinking how rurally romantic all this is, let me remind you that the reality of romance is often just plain hard work and deprivation – at least in part. With labor underway right now expanding the cabin amid the scramble of all our other homestead work, Robert and Edyta are sleeping on mattresses on a floor in a place with no bathroom nor running water. They don’t have a kitchen of their own, but cook and eat and wash up with the rest of our extended family at the main homestead house. They have no vehicle, but borrow our 25-year-old F150 for the times they leave the homestead once every few weeks. Six days a week it’s work from 7am to 6pm – sometimes evenings, too. When the expanded cabin is finally ready to move into, it will be warm and bright and pretty, but it will still be only 800 square feet in size.

 So if building a mortgage-free life for young people isn’t a picnic, what’s the benefit? Why not just get everything you want right away, funded by credit and live like normal people?

Besides the fact that bootstrap living means you pay a lot less money for things in the end, there are other benefits delivered by this out-of-fashion lifestyle. Big benefits. Bootstrap living forces you to become more innovative and competent, doing more for yourself directly and gaining skills as a result. Robert can frame a wall, shingle a roof, climb a ladder, set up scaffolding, negotiate his way around a lumberyard, wire a circuit, design simple structures and keep a building site clean. He’d know none of these things if his name were on a mortgage right now.

 Having grown up in the city of Warsaw, Edyta never stacked firewood, climbed ladders with paint brush in hand or operated power tools. As it turns out she has a remarkable aptitude for all these things and she’s getting better all the time. Working on their tiny home has made them bigger people, but it’s also delivered joy that money can’t buy. There really is something deeply energizing about working for yourself on projects of your own, where the fruits of your labor come in direct proportion to how well you perform.

Robert’s original cabin had no electricity, and it required a lot of work to get the whole place wired and energized. This meant electric light was a real novelty and a hard-won feature of the expanded place, and we all find ourselves happily turning the lights ON and OFF, just for the thrill of it. Perhaps I’m easily amused, but I still call it a good thing when an investment of sweat equity results in the ability to enjoy so many little things that often go unnoticed when we just buy them ready-to-use.

 I’m hopeful as I see the tiny home movement taking off, and requests for construction plans and instructions for building Robert and Edyta’s cabin have come in often enough from my readers that I put together a video construction course. People are now building this cabin across North America and even on the other side of the world. Here’s a quick video intro.

 The mortgage-free bootstraps lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and Robert and Edyta have the right situation to make it happen. Not everyone does, I know. They’re also patient, easy to get along with in an extended family situation, and willing to submit to wisdom they might not recognize immediately on their own. Their plans would never happen without these qualities. All this said, is it too much for me to hope that more young people might bootstrap themselves into a home and life by building or renovating a small place of their own, borrowing as little as possible or nothing at all while using hands and hearts and sweat to make a place their own? Can’t a few more $250,000 mortgages be replaced by this kind of old-fashioned gumption and the deep satisfaction it delivers? I hope so.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page



5/6/2015

The following tips for frugal gardeners are not only quick, safe, and easy, but also involve using items you probably already have in your house.

ASPIRIN: Dissolve 3/4 of an uncoated aspirin tablet in 1 gallon of water. Spray plants every 2-3 weeks with the mixture to prevent fungus problems, including powdery mildew and black spot. It’s also been found to help some plants yield more fruit than using commercial fertilizers.

BAKING SODA: Mix 1 Tbsp of baking soda and a 1/2 tsp liquid soap into 1 gallon of water. Spray this weekly on plants that are prone to powdery mildew. This works as more of a preventative, as it won’t do much after the powdery mildew has taken hold. Make sure to spray the undersides of leaves. Also, apply it in the evening if you can, as it can burn some leaves.

BEER: Put beer (or water with yeast in it) in a shallow container. Sink the container so that the lip is at ground level in the garden. The beer attracts snails and slugs. They'll fall into it and drown.

BORAX: This is a common laundry additive (20 Mule Team is a popular brand), especially for those of us with hard water. But it also works as a nontoxic ant killer. Ants are a huge problem for us as they “farm” aphids and mealy bugs for their honeydew. We have tons of ladybugs but they are useless if the ants are protecting the pests.

CORNMEAL: Corn Gluten Meal can be used as an effective pre-emergent herbicide, but most of us don’t have that just laying around. Cornmeal, however, is an effective soil fungicide. For every 100 square feet, work 2 pounds of cornmeal into the soil. Water well. One application per season is all that is needed.

DRYER SHEETS: If you’re having a picnic or BBQ and are being plagued by yellow jackets, aka meat bees, and mosquitoes, place dryer sheets around the area to deter them.

Eggshells

EGGSHELLS: Save all of your eggshells! Rinse them and then crush them when they are dry. When preparing a planting bed for tomatoes or peppers add the eggshells (approximately the shells from 1 dozen eggs per plant) to the planting hole to avoid blossom end rot.

EPSOM SALTS: Epsom salts contain sulfur and magnesium and are good for using as a foliar fertilizer. Dissolve 2 Tbsp Epsom Salts in 1 gallon of water. Mist plants as a foliar feeding.

MILK: Dilute milk in a 1:1 ratio with water. Spray your tomato and pepper plants weekly to avoid blossom end rot.

RUBBING ALCOHOL: Apply 70 percent isopropyl alcohol to a cotton ball and apply to scale insects. The alcohol desiccates them. Rub them off when they’re dead so you can continue to monitor their levels.

SHAMPOO: Mix 2-1/2 Tbsp Shampoo and 2-1/2 Tbsp cooking oil with 1 gallon of water. Spray insect pests with the mixture to control them. Do not use in full sun, and a few hours after application, rinse the plant off to reduce injury.

If you have other tips on using household items in your garden, please share them!

Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

PHOTOS: (BAKING SODA) Rachel; (HOMEGROWN EGGS) Pete & Izzy's Mom

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.



5/6/2015

A Visual Check

A rabbit’s coat conceals the outline of its body and makes it impossible to see at a glance whether most rabbits are thin, fat, or just right. To measure its condition, you’ll need to get hands-on. However, a visual inspection can still be helpful. As you approach the cage, observe the rabbit. Does it come to the door as you get near? Whether your rabbits are on pasture or in hutches, they should always have access to forage such as hay – I expect to see some leftover hay at feeding times - but I also expect my rabbits to have eaten their grass and/or pellets and be looking forward to their next meal. Provided that you handle your rabbits somewhat regularly, they should not run and hide as you approach. Ideally, they should come closer and seem excited about the prospect of food. A “take it or leave it” attitude can indicate that the rabbit is fully satiated and might be overconditioned. An overly eager rabbit that seems desperate for food, though, probably needs more to eat. Get to know your animals so that you can judge their behavior individually.

Getting Hands-On

Now comes the real assessment of condition. Run your hand down the rabbit’s back with your fingers passing down the spine. You want to feel the bunny’s backbone with your fingers – your palm is not as sensitive. What does the rabbit’s back feel like?

In a thin rabbit, there isn’t much fat or muscle to spare and the spinous processes (the bony bumps of the back) are not well-covered. The bones will feel prominent, like distinct hard little bumps. As you approach the hindquarters, you may feel the pelvic bones clearly. A rabbit in this condition needs further evaluation and a change in husbandry, as it won’t make either a good dinner or a good parent!

In a fat rabbit, there is an excess of flesh on the body and those spinous processes will not be distinct at all. They’ll feel thickly covered and the structure of the back won’t be discernable; it’ll feel thick and smoothed by fat and muscle. If you can’t find a bunny’s backbone, you need to check the rabbit’s diet plan, because overweight bunnies have a more difficult time breeding.

Young bunnies being grown for meat should always feel well-covered, and should be encouraged to grow quickly to harvest size. You’ll probably choose to have food available to them at all times – hay and pellets in a hutch, and multiple moves to fresh grass plus pellets and hay if the rabbits are in a tractor on pasture. Also, lactating does need ample calories to provide for their litters. But other adult rabbits, especially non-breeding animals, can become overweight if they have pellets on hand all the time. If your adult rabbit is overweight, reduce the amount of pelleted food gradually – remember to avoid sudden diet changes in rabbits – but keep the hay free-choice. Check the rabbit’s condition every few days until the body feels more defined.

If your rabbit is too thin, the solutions may not be as simple as tossing in more food each day. Evaluate the rabbit’s diet, of course, but also consider other factors such as dental health, parasites, and stress (competition, heat, etc). Remember that a good breeding animal represents a significant investment on your part and may not be easily replaced – you should have access to a veterinarian if necessary.

When you’ve made changes, check the bunny’s condition once or twice each week. Feeling the rabbit more frequently won’t be helpful and might make it harder to detect a change in condition.

Also, what about scales? Scales are always helpful for tracking health if you have access to one.Just keep in mind that all rabbits, even bunnies of the same breed or gender, may vary in size. You should be checking body condition alongside the number on the scale to find out what each rabbit’s healthy weight range is.

Since my bunnies are outdoors on pasture, I don’t track weights using a scale and instead just feel the rabbits regularly, making changes in diet as necessary to keep the does and buck in good shape as they produce healthy litters. You can take the guesswork out of body condition too, with just a quick feel. Happy rabbit-raising!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page



5/5/2015

Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

• Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
• My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
• Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
• Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
• Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
• Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.

High Tunnel Raspberries

I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.

Battered Butterfly

As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.

Field

Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.

goats

I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.

Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (High-tunneled Raspberries) RICHARD MAXWELL; (Field) RICHARD MAXWELL; (Battered Butterfly) TERRESSA ZOOK; (Goats) ERIC MARSHALL

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.











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