In 2003, my husband, Mike, and I gleefully ditched our house in North Portland, Ore., to pick up the reins of a 7-acre parcel in rural Washington. Outside of some home-improvement projects and garden beds, we didn’t know much about rural life. But, we thought—We’re young! We’re enthusiastic! We figured that would be enough.
It wasn’t. After six years of working hard to keep up and stay solvent, the recession finally killed us off. Beleaguered by unfinishable-by-us projects and no reasonable job prospects, we reluctantly sold our beloved farm in 2009 and retreated to the city, where I finished my book, Get Your Pitchfork On! This no-romance guide is intended to give its reader better odds at success than my husband and I had.
The book is divided into five sections:
- Buildings, Inside and Out
- Community, Family and Culture
Below are highlights from each—food for thought.
Selecting property is far more important than anything else. A house can be remodeled; livestock and crops can change; but, with a few exceptions, the land is the land. So choose wisely.
This means paying attention to the landscape—where will the sun rise and set in the summer? And in the winter? Test the soil quality if a garden or crop is in the works. If it’s hilly, are there microclimates that might drop a pocket of cold air right where the basil and tomatoes are going? How will gardens be irrigated?
Consider environmental hazards such as nearby orchards (which are sprayed and use propane heaters during a frost) and animal operations (which might be noisy and smelly). When we bought our land in the Columbia River Gorge, it did not occur to us to ask about military flyovers. We happened to live under a flight path from the air force base in Tacoma, Wash., to the dams on the Columbia. Every time they flew overhead—at ridiculously low elevations—they disturbed both us and our animals.
(Photo Caption: We were not expecting quite this much snow)
This may be the only familiar section to the average city-dweller. When looking for a country house, examine pretty much the same things as a city house:
- Is the roof in decent shape?
- Has anyone torn out a load-bearing wall?
- Is there evidence of rodents around the foundation?
A period farmhouse might look cute, but make sure its plumbing and electrical systems have been updated. Is it insulated? Outbuildings need the same thorough inspection. Look for “improvised” systems such as illegal greywater. Be very sure the septic system is in top condition!
(Photo Caption: “The Shack”: a half-converted old shop that had a water line going to it but no drainage)
Any proper farm has animals—livestock, pets and wild animals. With livestock, the most important thing to consider is looking beyond the romance of acquisition. Before bringing any animal home, line up a veterinarian and a butcher, and a plan for the harvest of the animal.
Transportation is a major issue. My baby chicks made it home from the feed store on the passenger seat of my car just fine in a paper to-go box, but a cow/calf pair or a bunch of goats is a different story.
(Photo Caption: Occasionally free-range chickens)
One of the most well-known stories from Get Your Pitchfork On! is my battle with gophers. It’s significant not only because it describes my attempt to balance being an organic grower and dealing with an invasive pest, but also my “education” as a country gardener and person. Death is rare in the city and extremely common—or, at least, visible—in the country; that’s just a fact. It was an adjustment.
Growing food is one of life’s greatest joys. It’s a lot of hard work, and tedious at times, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. I recommend learning every food-preservation technique out there!
(Photo Caption: Pie is a great way to use berries!)
Community, Family and Culture
The best thing about living in the country should be your neighbors. Ours were fun, smart, and generous with their knowledge, skills and tools. We will always be in debt to them for their help. Make friends with yours right away.
No one who writes a book about country living talks about what is generally known as “small-town politics,” because they still live in that community. It would not be to their advantage to have people mad at them. Living in the country was great in so many ways, and challenging in just a few. But those few things were extremely challenging.
I happen to be a fairly nonmainstream, outspoken person, and this was a liability in our rural community. It takes a long time for strangers to become trusted members of a community, and only trusted members of a community get hired for local jobs. So, I was in trouble.
My husband, Mike, and I are currently making plans for our next move out to the country, and we can’t wait to return! This time, we plan to be smarter about it.
Our Right and Responsibility to Choose Our Food
Farm-fresh, unpasteurized milk availability varies from state to state. Often the consumer must do your legwork to seek it out and make sure it's safe. For instance, in Oregon we only allow micro-dairies, typically milking 1-10 cows, and milk must be picked up on the farm.
The raw milk industry is unregulated in Oregon. Dairies are not inspected and there are no food safety requirements to sell raw milk. It becomes your duty to assure your supply of raw milk is safe. Find out the requirements of your state on http://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/.
What Do I Look For?
If a farmer follows the proper procedures to produce safe, clean, nutritious raw milk, it is very easy to do so every time. Unfortunately, with the lack of training and education available to raw dairy farmers, the consumer is the one who has to do the check for proper procedures in many states.
In our culture we are used to government regulations telling us what to do – can we talk on our cell phones while driving? Or, should I wear my seat belt? Or has this food been properly processed? Raw milk is your chance to embrace your rights and freedoms and do your research and ask the hard questions – you have no one else to rely on to do this for you.
When looking for a farm to purchase raw milk from, I recommend the consumer take the following steps. None are cost-prohibitive and all are easily attainable by all raw milk producers, whether you have one cow, 50 or 500.
1. Only drink raw milk from farms that test their milk at least monthly and can show you results in the format of "Standard Plate Count" and "Coliform Count." If the farm doesn't or won't test for this, do not drink their milk. They have no idea what’s in there.
For a small monthly fee of $35, the farmer can conduct these tests. Testing tells them so much about their milk and keeps them on top of their game.
Acceptable test results are Standard Plate Count under 15,000 and coliform count of 25 or lower.
The farm should be able to provide the past 3 months lab test results and have the current month's lab results posted in the milk pickup area and on their website.
2. Request a tour. Do not buy milk from a farm until you tour the facility. This includes the milking parlor, pastures, barn for winter shelter, feed/water, and milk processing and storage area. When you meet the farmer they should be open to sharing their practices and answering all your questions. Do you trust this person, what they say and do? Ask for references that have been getting milk from the farmer and contact them.
3. Look at the cows out in the pasture/winter barn. Are the cows on tall (4"-8") green grass vs. mud? Or in wintertime are they in a covered shelter with deep, clean bedding underfoot with little visible manure around? Are the cows clean? Is the feeding area clean? Is the barn clean? How does the place smell?
4. What does the farmer feed the cows, in addition to pasture? The most nutritious and safest milk comes from grass-fed cows on tall, green pasture. These cows must be supplemented with some grass hay to balance their rumen. They usually will get some kind of grain equaling 1% of their bodyweight is ideal, perhaps rolled barley or oats. They need minerals daily properly balanced with their feed. In the winter months when grass is dormant, feed should include high-quality grass and perhaps alfalfa hay, a few pounds of some grain balanced with proper minerals.
5. Look at the milking area. Is it clean? A dirt floor in a barn can be a clean place to milk, look to see if it is free of manure and bedding. How is the milking equipment cleaned and sanitized? And how are the milk jars sanitized? Where is the milk handled and is that area clean? How is the milk chilled? (Jars immersed immediately in an ice bath are ideal. If the milk is just placed in a freezer or fridge, it cools down much slower … which means it will sour faster.)
Also, the barn and milking area should be free of other animals such as birds.
6. Ask if they use organic and/or sustainable farm practices. No hormones; occasional antibiotics only when necessary, 50% or more of the feed coming right off the farm. Regular vaccinations should be used following an organic dairy plan.
7. The farm should be a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Membership for the Fund is $125 per year and the benefits far outweigh the cost. The farmer has free access to raw dairy consultant Tim Wightman who will help them balance nutritional demands of their herd. In addition he will assist with any questions they might have about raw milk production. Support your raw dairy producer in becoming a member. Set up a donation fund if they can't afford testing or FTCLDF membership. It is guaranteed they will quickly raise the $125 annual fee to join and additional funds for testing, or support them in increasing the cost of the milk to cover these two items.
Overall, be an informed consumer. Be confident in the choice to drink raw milk so you can educate your friends and family who will surely ask how you can be sure it’s safe. If you follow these procedures you will be assured the milk you bring home is safe to drink. Once you bring your milk home make sure it’s kept covered in its container and refrigerated to 37-40 degrees F.
Consumers of raw milk also have the responsibility to educate themselves on the high costs involved with producing food on a small scale. If raw milk dairies are following the proper procedures for feeding and handling the cows and the milk, they are lucky if they cover the costs of production. It is a very difficult lifestyle to own dairy cows on this small scale. If you plan on enjoying the remarkable taste and health benefits of raw milk, plan on paying what it’s worth.
So grab a glass of raw milk, packed full of nutrition and a much needed source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, and support your local farmer!
On our cut-flower farm, fall is the season for new beginnings. After a long hot growing season, we are ready to move on to the promise of a spring full of beautiful flowers. Most people think of spring as the season of fresh starts and this is true for us also. But we have learned that, in order to have that wonderful spring surprise, we start the flowers in the fall, early winter and very early spring. These are the best times to plant a group of flowers known as hardy annuals so that they will be ready to burst into bloom at the first signs of spring, when night temperatures are still dipping low and the days have just begun to warm.
Sweet Peas, Bells of Ireland, Snapdragons, Sweet Williams, Bachelor Buttons, Larkspur, and so many other spring-blooming flowers are hardy annuals. They are so well known, so beloved, and yet so misunderstood. When planted after spring arrives, there is little time for them to get established before the pressure of producing blooms begins. Then as the season of spring rolls into summer, the heat starts and the plants suffer prematurely from puniness, disease and pests. Planting in the fall, winter, or very early spring gives hardy annuals ample time to become established. Because they survive cold temperatures, they have time to develop the strong root system they need to perform well into summer.
The spring bloomers that belong to this group are early magnets for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Having blooms in your garden as early as possible jump starts your garden on the way to establishing an army of warriors to work for you. The population of beneficial insects on our farm is crazy high because we use no chemicals and have permanent plantings for them to overwinter in.
While flowers in the garden furnish food and habitat for thousands of beneficial creatures, their ultimate end is hopefully in a vase with their toes in fresh clean water, making somebody happy. When I began growing cut flowers commercially in 1998, I was surprised at the way people responded to a beautiful bunch of cut flowers. But now, 15 years later, I know that’s what flowers do to people. Men and women, young and old--there isn't anyone immune to the delight of home-grown garden flowers.
What are the sweetest gifts of this hardy annual garden for those who plant and tend them? For me it is the anticipation: waiting, watching, and wondering — and, I confess, a bit of worrying — even after having planted like this for all these years. But then come the warm days of early spring; flower stalks filled with buds start reaching up from well-established plants. And then they bloom.
The sweetest of all is that you will have flowers to share. Cutting flowers from this garden once a week is essential to keeping the garden producing more fresh flowers. The abundant bounty provides a gift like no other. While picking up a bouquet at a store and giving it as a gift is thoughtful, how much more so is a bouquet that you grew and tended yourself.
The dreamiest part of cool season hardy annual gardening?
- You plant when little else is going on in the garden.
- Temperatures are cooler—nice for the gardener.
- Many of these plants prefer to have their seeds planted directly in the garden.
- Rain is normally abundant during planting times.
- Disease and pest pressures are minimal.
- Many come into bloom during the season flowers are most anticipated—spring.
And, oh yeah, this garden is practically maintenance free as it produces some of the most beautiful and most beloved flowers. After you have tried it, you will wonder, why didn't I start growing hardy annuals sooner? Don’t miss the opportunity to garden in the forgotten seasons.
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable cut-flower gardening. You can email Lisa at email@example.com call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com.
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For as long as I can remember, my brothers and I have been gathering for “Brother’s Weekends.” There is no schedule, and seldom an agenda, but growing up in a family of four boys, we have simply gathered together at random intervals to connect, and laugh, and discuss our individual lives together.
On one such occasion we met in Lion’s Head, Ontario, on the edge of Georgian Bay. I was walking down Isthmus Bay road with my brothers Glen and Jim, and we were discussing a new law proposed by the government of Ontario that would ban all new solar installations on farmland.
Earlier they had passed a lucrative feed-in tariff that made the creation of solar electricity extremely attractive. Solar became the most profitable thing you could do with land. People were bulldozing vineyards to put up solar farms, and the government decided that was not what they intended.
We walked toward White Bluff and discussed the classic “food versus fuel” debate. I’m in the biodiesel business, where we turn fat into fuel, so that is a topic that is close to my heart.
My brother Glen envisioned elevated solar panels with crops growing beneath them. He is in the wind business, where the notion of “double cropping” is commonplace.
Whenever you see a picture of a giant wind turbine, you typically see a bunch of happy cows grazing below.
I returned from the weekend with the idea lodged in my brain. I work at Piedmont Biofuels, which makes fuel out of used cooking oil from local restaurants, and our plant is surrounded by Piedmont Biofarm—a sustainable farming operation with three acres of produce under cultivation.
Piedmont Biofarm is the domain of Doug Jones, an award winning farmer with an eye toward innovation and sustainability. When I ran the idea past Doug he pointed out that our agricultural zone is changing—we are becoming increasingly hot, and increasingly arid in the piedmont of North Carolina. As a result, many of our regular crops are migrating northward. He felt that perhaps his agricultural production could benefit from a little shade.
Encouraged by his enthusiasm for the idea, we built a cold frame using a partial-shade solar panel. In the prototype, 50% of the light energy would be converted to electricity, and 50% would be available for vegetable growth.
It worked like a charm.
Solar generation in North Carolina comes about through the tax code. As a regulated market that favors subsidized coal and natural gas, solar will never compete for the production of electrons. But for those with a tax liability, solar becomes an excellent investment.
In the absence of my own tax liability (I am in biodiesel, after all), I brought Michael Tiemann into the discussions. He was just completing his construction of Manifold Recording, which is one of the world’s great recording studios. Apart from being an amazing creation, its existence meant two things: a new consumer of electricity that would prefer to be offset by “green” electrons, and a substantial tax liability that would benefit from solar tax treatment.
With Glen’s idea, Michael’s tax appetite, Manifold Recording’s desire for green attributes, Piedmont Biofuels’ thirst for electricity, Farmer Doug’s cooperation, and the ingenuity of David Boynton at Southern Energy Management, we managed to build a 97kWh array over the north field of Piedmont Biofarm.
So far it has performed beautifully. On sunny days it delivers about a half a megawatt of electricity to the biodiesel plant, while providing strategic shade to plants below. Energy is produced above as farmers harvest below in a genuine double cropping scenario.
While climate change mitigation has been controversial, and “cause and effect” arguments have been politicized, there is not really anything to fight about when it comes to adaptation strategies.
Solar double cropping is one such strategy. It creates clean energy to fuel our economy while it augments the production of food.
You never know who you'll encounter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS, nor what ordinary thing they'll be doing. It might be actor and activist Ed Begley, Jr., picking up a bit of trash and tossing it into a recycling bin, or it could be renowned gardening author Barbara Damrosch hurrying through the exhibit hall on her way to a book signing. Or perhaps you'll spy Bob Moore smiling behind the wheel of a Ford Fusion Energi.
His surname may not be familiar, but you'll certainly recognize Bob Moore's face from countless packages of Bob's Red Mill flours, grains, cereals and mixes. Moore's respected company produces thousands of healthy products on a daily basis.
At the 2013 FAIR in Puyallup, Wash., Moore eagerly explored the fuel-efficient vehicles offered for test drives by the Ford Motor Company. He passed from all-electric to hybrid to plug-in hybrid to EcoBoost before settling into the driver's seat of the Ford Fusion Energi, where he happily compared its features to his own Ford at home. A man with a strong interest in electronics dating from his youth, Moore found the Energi's dashboard irresistible.
Many visitors to the Puyallup FAIR who test-drove the Ford cars had more than a passing interest in alternative vehicles, according to staffers working the Ford Go Further display. Hundreds of fair-goers took a Ford for a test drive at Puyallup, and for most of them it wasn't the first time they'd driven one of these fuel-efficient cars. Puyallup FAIR visitors brought with them a basic knowledge of hybrid and electric technologies that bumped their test drives to a higher, richer level. Visitors were knowledgeable, positive and confident about the technology, and the Ford staff was eager to help them do some true comparison shopping. The FAIRS are wonderful venues for trying new products and services.
Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs: Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa., and Oct. 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets are on sale now.
You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Rebecca Martin is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, where her beats include DIY and Green Transportation. She's an avid cyclist and has never met a vegetable she didn't like. You can find her on Google+.
For most of us the prospect of getting a loan conjures up an awkward trip to a bank, or credit union, or other traditional lending source.
Next comes an intimidating meeting with someone across a desk, in a fishbowl of a cubicle, being given an inquisition about our personal and business finances.
We squirm and smile, pushing our shoebox of paperwork across the desk, in the hopes of winning the favor of the almighty loan officer and his or her underwriters.
And we try to be hopeful. Maybe if we can look and sound good enough, worthy enough, friendly enough? – they might say yes.
We fill out pages of numbers and dig through documentation while they run a credit history, check our police record, and glare at the dirt under our fingernails.
Interest rates, loan terms, and amortization schedules – we just hope we have the right answers.
No Hope Really
But these days the ridiculous truth is that unless someone already has enough money (as in collateral, savings, stocks, a private jet, etc.) in the first place it’s unlikely they will get approved for that mortgage, or car loan, or personal or business loan.
If you’re a small business owner, like a farmer or a local food entrepreneur (the new term is ‘agri-preneur’) just making ends meet, that capital you’re asking for may be crucial to cover a piece of equipment (probably ‘used’ to save money), or seeds, or much needed labor. These are costs that are vital to the productivity of your operation, and to your income – but which you quickly realize looks pretty paltry on paper.
But that walk-behind tiller, or cooler, or seeder, or greenhouse – would be so very helpful. You could get through another year and maybe even get ahead.
If you a just had a little extra cash right about now.
The chances of getting a conventional loan for, say $5000 at 3% interest for 4 years, that you are quite sure you could afford to pay?
That number is the easiest one to calculate. The chances are zero.
You might be able to use a credit card, but at 18% or 21% or 25%, that is a terrible option.
This is where Slow Money comes in.
Around the country, and especially in North Carolina, small farmers and local food business owners are finding folks in their communities that want to step in where conventional financiers will not, and make direct, peer-to-peer loans for these kinds of projects.
These are loans based on a personal friendship that arises between a committed and generous locavore and a passionate, hard-working farmer or ‘agri-preneur.’
Using a simple Promissory Note, together they work out the terms of the loan and the deed is done.
Simple and kind of old-fashioned, these Slow Money loans are essential to promoting and supporting our precious small and medium-scale sustainable farmers and to protecting and nurturing our planet’s valuable fertile topsoil.
Over the past three years nearly 40 farmers and ‘agri-preneurs’ have received Slow Money loans in North Carolina alone (and many others across the country) to purchase a skidsteer, a Hobart mixer, a cooler, and a precision seeder. They have gotten capital to cover wiring costs, labor costs, or seeds.
These are low-interest, short-term loans, and they tend to perform very well.
Who are the lenders?
Slow Money lenders are ordinary people who understand the value of local and sustainably grown food. They want to protect and nurture the fertile topsoil and clean water sources in our foodsheds – a concept similar to watershed.
When they hear about the Slow Money mission of putting money to work right in our communities rather that out in la la land (some call it Wall Street) they love the idea.
Their lending criteria have more to do with trust and friendship than numbers on a page. They know that the bottom line is not a big financial return on their investment but a bigger and better return to the well-being of their community and their planet. Personal recommendations carry more weight than faceless, voiceless credit scores.
It is a radical new idea (or a return to a sensible old idea.)
Do it yourself financing. Putting our money where our mouth is, and then eating better because of it!
We can do this. It’s rewarding, and it’s not hard.
Take a look at www.financingourfoodshed and join this exciting movement.
I’ll see you there.
Carol Peppe Hewitt presented a workshop at the Puyallup, Wash., FAIR.
Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs: Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa., and Oct. 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets are on sale now.
You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
The 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Puyallup, Wash., last weekend was again a source of great energy and exceptional education, thanks to 15,000 attendees, more than 125 presenters and some 300 sponsors and exhibitors. Major sponsors this year included Bob’s Red Mill, Botanical Interests, Brinsea, CeCe Caldwell’s Paints, Earthineer, Envirolet, Ford, King Arthur Flour, Klean Kanteen, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Mountain Rose Herbs, Nature’s Flavors, Purina, Rub with Love, Shambala Permaculture Farm and Nursery, and Theo Chocolate.
Here's a summary of some of the highlights from Puyallup 2013. (And for those of you who are not able to travel to the FAIRS, watch for our new DVD later this year, featuring a selection of presentations from previous FAIRS.)
EXHIBITORS DEMONSTRATED A WONDERFUL ARRAY OF HOMESTEADING TOOLS.
- A new heavy-duty cider press from Bob Powell, developer of the wonderful Vashon broadfork (www.meadowcreature.com)
- Super-lightweight aluminum three-legged ladders made in Japan by Hasegawa
- An outstanding affordable ($180) cedar cold frame with stainless steel hardware and corrugated polycarbonate glazing (www.cedarcoldframes.com)
- BCS two-wheeled tractors, including a walk-behind sickle-bar mower attachment for small-scale hay making
- The super-efficient Sun Frost refrigerators
Several solar power installers were on hand.
And all of them told me that the costs of solar power have dropped by at least 20 to 30 percent in the last year or so.
EVEN MORE SEED AND NURSERY COMPANIES OFFERED THEIR WARES THIS YEAR.
Fairgoers mobbed Botanical Interests' booth, where they could choose from thousands of seeds at a special price of $1.00 per packet. Other seed companies and organizations exhibiting this year included Shambala Permaculture Farm, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply, Victory Seed Co., Seed Savers Exchange, Raintree Nursery and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
LIVESTOCK PROVED A POPULAR DRAW.
This year's FAIR featured a huge and wonderful Poultry Show organized by the Washington Poultry Exhibitors and sponsored by Purina. Fairgoers also enjoyed Dexter cattle, always-adorable alpacas, assorted sheep and goats, llamas under harness pulling carts, herding dogs, several breeds of pigs, and bees a-buzzin’. Kids attending got to feed the (goat) kids.
ATTENDEES GAVE EXCELLENT FEEDBACK ABOUT WORKSHOPS.
There were more than 240 workshops this year, making it tough to single out high points. But I have to mention the live demonstration of how to butcher chickens hosted by David Schafer and Joel Salatin (you can watch a video of an earlier version of the presentation on the FAIR YouTube channel) and the plethora of natural health information provided on the Mountain Rose Herbs Stage.
The FAIR wrapped up with a rousing standing-room-only presentation, "Don't Be Scared, Be Strange," by farmer/author/activist Joel Salatin. Joel’s insights and energy are always inspiring—a fitting close to two great days of learning, laughing and connecting around living wisely.
If you’re curious to know more about workshops you didn’t attend, or would like to jog your memory about those you did, peruse the full Puyallup program. Also visit the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR site and sign up for the FAIR e-newsletter. You’ll be notified as soon as the schedules for the upcoming FAIRS in Seven Springs, Pa., (Sept. 20-22) and Lawrence, Kan., (Oct. 12-13) are available. The e-newsletters will also keep you abreast of future speakers, special promotions and other news.