The test of time

I recently discovered that the building housing my coffee roastery is falling down. It’s an old brick garage, quite possibly converted from a carriage house at some point, that had the misfortune of taking a direct hit from a barn … Continue reading

I recently discovered that the building housing my coffee roastery is falling down. It’s an old brick garage, quite possibly converted from a carriage house at some point, that had the misfortune of taking a direct hit from a barn roof that blew off a decade ago. We’ve nursed it along to this point, making repairs along the way, but now the needed repairs are far more serious.

My first instinct was to seek out a professional to see how much it would cost to repair it, but then something odd happened.

I looked at the building.

If you could see it–I haven’t taken pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for this–you’d realize like I did that the people who put up that building in the first place weren’t professionals in the way we think of them today–that is, as specialists. The bricks aren’t always quite straight. The mortar work isn’t perfect.

In fact, most of our farm wasn’t built by professionals. It was built by the people who lived here. Ofttimes, they learned as they went, sometimes under the tutelage of someone who already knew, but just as often they just figured it out on their own. The did what they did out of necessity and need.

And the work they did has been good enough to last more than a century. We have a corn crib that could date back to the 1820s, built from hand-hewn beams. Our house was built in the 1840s, likely by the people who lived here from bricks fired right down the road . Our barn was built in the 1860s by the same people. And that garage probably dates to the 1880s.

What I saw when I looked at that garage was the labor of people who cared about this farm the way that I do. It’s not perfect. The years have taken their toll. But it was work they did that stood the test of time.

And it is work I can do too.

So, instead of hiring a professional or knocking it down to put up some ugly, sterile modern building, I’m going to teach myself masonry. I’m going to learn how to rebuild a garage they built 140 years ago. And maybe, somewhere along the line, I’ll have the chance to share what I know with others who want to know.

And that idea, I think, is what this farm is all about. I’m thankful I looked a that not quite straight wall with its not quite perfect mortar. It taught me something, and it’s a lesson I plan to learn.


Non-industrial farming as a vow of poverty

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day that included the idea that the other person would be interested in farming as a career except for the vow of poverty. At the time, I laughed, and I still … Continue reading

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day that included the idea that the other person would be interested in farming as a career except for the vow of poverty. At the time, I laughed, and I still am, but the idea has had me thinking since then.

In a lot of ways, non-industrial farming is never going to be a cash laden business. In fact, as far as I can tell, it never has been. One of the popular mantras among the industrial tycoons and capitalists of the 1880s and after was that America was a poor nation because so many people farmed, and if one limited one’s view to cash on-hand, they were right.

But, they were really so wrong.

Sure, non-industrial farming is not a cash laden undertaking, but that does not mean the business nor the people doing it are poor. Instead, such farming is very much a lifestyle choice that runs against the grain of the industrial-capitalist mindset that dominated much of the last 100 years.

Further, there was plenty of money in farming before consumerism came along. Just take a drive through the cities of old small town America and you will see the money farming provided in the form of stately houses and downtown businesses built by retired farmers after they handed their farms off to their kids and moved to town.

No, what makes non-industrial farming seem like a vow of poverty is the reality that one cannot have two-thirds of ones budget go out in the form of consumption if one wants to make it.

So, instead of being a vow of poverty, non-industrial farming is a vow not to be a wanton consumer. Most of the people I know in this business, myself included, who are not working second and third jobs to fund consumption go without most of the things most people think of as modern life. We don’t have mortgages. We pay with cash. We don’t have cable or TVs. Not a small number of people go without cell phones and internet service.

Instead of having those things, we invest in our farms. We grow our own food. Some of produce our own lumber. A few even make their own fuel. We fix up old stuff and use it instead of buying new. We buy functional clothes instead of fashionable ones. We shop at Goodwill.

And in doing so, we have adopted a life that is just different from what most people know. Sure we think it’s better, but that’s because it suits us.

Maybe instead of a vow of poverty, then, it’s a vow of contentment. I’ll take that any day.


Day 314 – friends

To me, it’s always nerve-wracking to introduce a new animal, especially a dog. Those of you with dogs know they can be very, um, protective of who and what they see as their pack.  This was something I was nervous about when Lucy came – how would Minnie take to her? Would Lucy be a threat to Minnie’s goats (and Minnie’s humans)?

So we had Lucy contained in a large, fenced in yard area that shares a corner post with the area containing the goats and Minnie. They could see each other, sniff each other through the fence, and generally get to know each other before actually being able to touch.

As it became clear that Lucy was now our (my?) dog, I would leash-walk her to the gate into Minnie’s area so they could see each other closer. We would also put Lucy in the fenced-in garden, which shares a fence with Minnie’s area. The slow introduction seemed to be working – Minnie would run up and down the fence, with Lucy in hot pursuit, and Lucy would bark when Minnie “hid” behind the garage where Lucy couldn’t see her (Pyrs have a crazy sense of humor!).

A few days ago we brought Minnie into Lucy’s area, and they chased each other around for a while, but Minnie was more into sniffing this new area than playing with Lucy. So today I took the leap and took Lucy into Minnie’s area. Oh boy, the goats were not happy about this! But after head butting Lucy a few times, she stayed clear of them and they left her alone. Then it was all about running – Lucy running the fence line and Minnie right on her heels!

Maybe some people say “put them together right away and let them sort it out,” but I’d rather avoid a giant dog fight if at all possible. Besides, what’s the rush? Each animal is different and you have to consider all the personalities you’re putting together.

Now Lucy has met and interacted with all the critters at Innisfree. We’re working on longer “out” times and staying away from the road, but she has imprinted on me as “momma”, and doesn’t really stray too far.

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Day 311 – new chicken boxes

It was time. The old metal laying boxes were just not doing the job anymore. The mesh that was to let the poo through – wasn’t. The covers over the area the eggs rolled into weren’t opening very well (and had become separated on one side). Time to upgrade the nesting box system.

We had already installed some of these nice plastic boxes on the other wall, and decided to use them as replacements for the metal, even though we would be possibly losing a box or two in the process (the metal one had 10 boxes, and I could only fit 9 of the plastic ones in the same space). The theory goes that from 3-5 hens can use the same box, so we wouldn’t be losing too much with the number of hens we currently have.

I decided “I got this” and went to unscrew the metal boxes from the wall. One screw – no problem. The other? Wasn’t too interested in moving. Finally got it to loosen – great! Picked it up to lift it off the cinder blocks – the bottom fell off (that’s the bit laying on the far side of the metal boxes). Then the mesh fell off. I ended up dragging the bits that didn’t fall off through the chicken coop and out the door to where you see them laying in the picture, then tossing the fallen off bits out after them.

Installing the plastic boxes went smoother, although I remembered (after having screwed in 3 boxes) that you should always start from the wall and work out – much easier to make sure there’s enough room for everything! Unscrewed the boxes, started from the corner, and managed to fit one more box in than I expected – yay!

To complete the job, I tossed in some paper shreddings to each of the boxes – which the chickens promptly tossed out of the boxes when they entered to lay eggs.

Another little job off of the list and chore time made simpler for the egg collector.

Day 310 – it’s Minnie weather

Being the big, fuzzy bear that she is, we are getting to Minnie’s favorite part of the year. With the heavy winter coat she grows, cooler days are just the thing for the puppy in her to come out. To be fair, she’s not even 18 months old yet, so there’s still a lot of puppy there (of course, the puppy weighs over 100 pounds!) who loves to play.

After our post-feeding wrestling/play time, it was time to wiggle! She can be a very serious dog when she’s working, but play time is hardcore play time.

Day 305 – big wind

A nice sized storm system rolled through the area last night, bringing some serious wind and rain, which (surprise, surprise) knocked our power out for the evening. After checking the animals, we thought a line had been knocked down by some falling branches, and reported as such to the DP&L power outage hotline.

No one slept well last night, half listening for the repair truck (not that we actually expected it to come until this morning!) and wondering about the imagined damage to buildings and such around the farm. Well, at least I was wondering about that!

Morning arrives, power is still out, so we begin assessing the damage. No line is down, so we figure a fuse popped. Buildings – fine. Critters – fine (it appears that there was a calf born sometime between yesterday afternoon and this morning – silly momma cows). Trees – laying across the driveway. Yikes!

Out comes the chainsaw to cut a path (you can see how big this “branch” is) and a rake to remove smaller debris. We’ll chip the branches later on.

These are the branches that we think caused all the problems – they came from pretty high up and we think they bounced the power lines together and blew the fuse.

DP&L arrives as we are sawing away – problem resolved, and we have power. No damage to foods in the fridge/freezers. Huzzah!


Day 303 – cow poop

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This is a garden full of poop! After 3 years (yes, you read that right), we decided it was about time to clean the barn out since we had to cut some beef steers out for processing, and it was getting a little sloppy in the door area.

We’ve been having some problems the soil in this garden over the last couple of years, so are doing some hard core soil amendment – manure, green manure, probably some straw, then legumes to be planted in the spring. A couple years of that, and we hope the soil is back to normal. We’ll be using the other garden for our food crops while this one rests and recuperates.

And it doesn’t stink because we periodically added straw to help the manure break down better. Animal poop doesn’t have to smell bad – it’s all about the microbes. If you give them something good to eat (like straw or wood chips), they do their job and the poop doesn’t stink.