Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Yeoman Farmer

Small scale agriculture. An end unto itself, it is the life-giving, soul enriching work of the Yeoman farmer that blesses a community. Whether producing a vine ripened tomato or selling this morning's freshly laid egg; or maybe just imparting common sense values to the coming generation--small scale AG offers balance to a culture that is far too detached from the circle of life. With all the convenience and attendant benefits of centralized food production, we are left wanting, and that wanting is two things: instinctively we sense that any disruption to our food supply would be catastrophic, and society is becoming increasingly desensitized to natural law. Its the "Froot Loops come from the grocery store" phenomenon. (Some excellent background:Professor John E. Ikerd, UMC)

Modern trends in city development are antithetical to small scale AG. Great reservoirs of agricultural aptitude are being silently drained in favor of perfectly manicured, micro-lot subdivisions. Over the past 20 years, I have observed many communities in Utah pave over vast orchards, gardens, and pastures. I have also watched the traditional tendency to landscape with fruit trees and gardens in urban settings shift to more aesthetic and sterile designs--all in the name of convenience, curb appeal, and conservation.

Thomas Jefferson, always the pragmatic agricultural philosopher, had this to say of development, if you will. You see, he understood a fundamental truth. It takes more than dwellings to make a community. (See for more)

1785 Oct. 28. "It is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state." (TJ to James Madison, B.8.682)

We hunted for four years before finding the wonderful little piece of dirt we live on. It measures 1.18 acres and it boasts the right to 6 acre feet of pressurized irrigation water that comes from a well we share with 20 other neighbors. It also has the now nearly extinct AG zoning which imparts some distinct advantages to our usage--one of which is the total freedom to produce and market AG based products from our home.

It is incredible what a person can do on an acre, just using a little help from the kids and a bit of spare time. What follows is a catalog of the AG activities that are currently underway at our little Flying I Ranch--please understand, not as a brag, but as a source of ideas. The day may come where many of us may need to put our productive space to work.

It is a work in progress...

20 x 50' greenhouse full of seasonal variety, winter stuff at the moment

Fruit trees (bitter disappointment--didn't get grandpa's gene for it)

Vinyard--just starting to get that planned and planted in strategic places

Out door garden 40 x 60--probably just corn again this year because it dresses the farm up.

80 laying hens, half are starts, the other half are laying. Preston sells his eggs as fast as the hens drop them and he is learning about life.

30 baby ducks, anticipating their eggs. Duck eggs go for a premium. (Thanks Yeoman Farmer)

3 beef cows: 2 for friends, 1 for our own freezer.

5 sheep: 4-H is a wonderful program for the kids. The AG teacher at Dixie High School set us up for future wins!

2 hogs: couldn't talk daughter #1 out of it. Pigs got us into 4-H in the first place. Love them, but probably won't miss them after April's show.

2 Rabbits: I'm writing this tonight at our diversity's zenith--they are tomorrow's dinner.

4 mules: everyone is better looking on a mule...

2 mustangs: American legends, both. Wouldn't trade them.

1 mammoth Jack at stud: his tone clear bray is its own reason for being here.

2 dogs: they complete the picture. Love them on the trail, or in the back of the truck--they live to go.

1 tom cat named Squishy Head that does the dirty mouse catching job no one else wants.

We certainly have excess of certain things. Some of our AG activities are for pleasure and childhood development. But if push ever comes to shove, we have the room to re-tool and produce an excess of additional other things.

Sadly however, small scale AG is on the auction block. Curb and guttered hell is quickly encircling our delightful 20-home AG zoned neighborhood with its suffocating grip. Not without a good fight, mind you. We passionately articulated the benefits of preserving a contiguous corridor of AG zoning and acre minimums for our geographically distinct Little Valley to our city, and continue to do so. I'm glad I got to raise my kids this way, and we'll make lemon-aid with our lemons until the masses of luckless urbanites get tired of us. But I'm sorry my grandkids won't get the same benefit--at least not in this town.

Here is a pass-along: enjoy this blog titled "The Yeoman Farmer." I gather this farmer is like me--some guy with a real job in town who is doing his part to pass it to the next generation.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Little Boy Who Cried "Skunk!"

"Preston's Ranch Fresh Eggs" reads the egg-shaped sign in front of our house. With 35 mature hens, and another 40 babies under the lamp, Preston has been selling eggs for $3 a dozen since this summer. Its a pretty good business for a six year old. He feeds, waters and collects the eggs every day. The eggs usually need to be washed before they are presentable for sale, and he gets that job too.

Two dozen eggs a day is pretty normal for these winter months. But suddenly, the yield went to 1 or 2 eggs a day. What the devil? Well, it has been raining. A lot. We are building our chickens a new barn to escape inclement weather, but they are wandering around in the muck this week--maybe that's why. Chickens have to be pretty happy to lay eggs. Bad weather might do it...

Then, 3 nights ago, I smell a skunk out there. Dirty little egg stealers! "That's the problem"' I think. Maybe this is Karma, after all the skunks I've whacked in my life. Somehow, the skunk must be getting in around the construction of the new barn and eating all the eggs--probably living under the unfinished barn. So I round up the boys and send them out to secure the coop! Tyler and Preston plug all the possible holes and we hope the problem is solved.

Next evening's chores? 1 muddy little egg. Customers are showing up, and we are out of product. Not good. How is that skunk getting at the eggs?! My brain starts scheming. Now that the city has moved into our back yard, shooting skunks under the chicken coop is considered poor etiquette and shows a lack of urbanity, or finesse.

So, last night on my way out to feed the cows, I shine my curious little flashlight into the chicken coop and see... 2 dozen muddy eggs! "Well then," I think..."its about time." So I feed my cows and putz around outside--taking in the smells of wet farm. Meantime, Preston comes out to do his chores. Suddenly, he calls out, "Dad, I smelled skunk really strong tonight by the water container."

"We are gonna get that egg thief one of these days!" I quickly reassure him as he goes back into the house, chores completed.

"Glad he came out when he did," I think. "Otherwise, that no good, dirty, egg-sucking thief of a skunk would have stolen today's eggs. Its funny I didn't pick up on the stench myself when I walked by the first time." Passing back by the coop, I shine my light inside one more time, happy that we outsmarted that old skunk. I stop cold. What I see completely stuns me. 2 dozen, freshly scrambled eggs, quietly oozing into the mud.

Its not easy for a 6 year old to admit he has been smashing the eggs for the last week. Stomping the eggs seemed a whole lot easier than washing them up to be sale-ready. That skunk we imagined was living fat off our eggs sure was a great diversion tactic while it lasted. And one more kid gets schooled, out behind the barn.