Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
As a Mother Earth News blogger community member, I was invited to tag along on Yanmar’s Field Day with 60 other participants. Arriving at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania a day early, we rode to Sanaview Farms (Champion, PA) via bus just 20 minutes away. All I knew was there would be tractor and greenhouse workshops, so the entire endeavor was quite a mystery. Sometimes not knowing is the best thing to happen.
Upon arriving at the farm, we trekked through the vegetable fields to where all the action was. In front of us were two Yanmar tractors chained to a high tunnel greenhouse. The greenhouse was quite large, spanning 30 feet wide by 96 feet long. Little did we know, we were about to witness history. Either those tractors would drag the greenhouse several hundred feet or we would be witness to a disaster. Whatever the result, I knew we would be entertained.
In my mind’s eye, the tractors would speed along, as one would see with a tractor pull. In reality, it was much more like watching turtles race. Each tractor had a corner and they had to move as one. The drivers were from Yanmar, since they knew their equipment inside and out. Several other people, the farmers I assume, worked on making sure the greenhouse glided smoothly and did not shake apart.
Thirty minutes later, the greenhouse was in place over a new field. On the original plot (now exposed to the open sky and elements) was a boatload of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These provided the local area with produce since early July instead of the normal mid-August. The newly covered plot was planted with salad greens. The greenhouse will now provide protection all winter long for spinach and lettuce.
After the excitement was over, we split into two groups. Half would tour the farm. The other half would test drive the Yanmar tractors, then we would switch. I had no idea when the day started I’d be driving tractors around like a farming professional.
At my current “farm” a 0.91-acre rented house, these beautiful machines are definitely overkill. But, if my evil plans for purchasing a 5- to 20-acre homestead come true, I could see me riding around on one of these bad boys.
The first tractor I test drove was the 424, one of Yanmar’s biggest sellers. It had your standard front loader and a tiller on the back. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of tilling (permaculture background and all), but this setup was nice. As I rode, I imagined trying to till this area with your standard everyday walk behind tiller. Not a fun picture.
I also tried out one of Yanmar’s top of the line tractors. It had an air conditioned cab and automatic controls. As I headed out in it to mow a field, a realization came to me. We were being “Tom Sawyered.” You know, the Mark Twain story where kids are tricked into paying to whitewash Tom’s fence. We mowed and tilled, and the farm was all the better. At least we were able to work in style.
After riding around on the tractors, we took a quick farm tour on our way to the remodeled barn (which holds weddings and other events). Sanaview Farms is a 52 acre organic vegetable farm located on a designated historical site in Champion Pennsylvania.
Janet McKee, the farm’s founder, gave us an hour talk on the trials and tribulations of growing organic food. Like many farmers, she wasn’t full time, but instead worked in Pittsburgh during the week. She does have a farm manager who takes care of the day-to-day operations.
One detail I could appreciate was the farm had no livestock. The first thing many new farmers and homesteaders want to do is fill up their land with chickens, goat, pigs, goats, cows, and horses. Growing up on a mini-farm, I know from experience animals mean responsibility. You have to feed and water them twice a day and move them around. Not having them gives one much more freedom. Plants (especially perennials) can sometimes go weeks before you have to care for them.
Overall, my day out in the field was a pleasant experience. It let me play farmer without all that pesky “having to own a bunch of land” thing. I can tell this farm will be growing by leaps and bounds over the next decade or so, as this was only their 3rd year producing. In such an endeavour, the early learning curve can be quite steep, especially navigating the microclimates of a specific piece of land and the region’s customer base. I can’t wait to come back in a year or three to see how they have progressed.
Photo credit: Alec Weaver, Mother Earth News
Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of Don's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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