Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflection on 2011

2011 was a long and eventful year, marked by protests, movements and revolutions around the world.

Here at Longhaul Farm we are also participating in protests, movements and revolutions, organized by our manifesto, played out in our farming and living techniques and recorded on this cyberspace. We have worked hard to carry the simplicity, beauty and sustainability of our life in rural Argentina back to upstate New York, where we promised to consume and pollute less, contribute more to our community and local economy, and do what we could to maintain ecological balance in our environment.

It's a long haul and the road continues: we have started to create a diverse, naturally-cultivated farm, but haven’t yet completed the ecological cycle with livestock or rain harvesting; we have limited our consumption and shopping to only the essentials, but we continue to rely on gas to get us everywhere; we conserve energy and resources, but have not yet installed renewable solar energy sources on our stable roof; we have made our farm a gathering point for different "waste" streams (collecting household compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, leaves, wood chips and manure from local sources), but we still have many more people to connect with and organic materials to compost; we hope we are demonstrating by our actions what each of us can do to help restore balance to this world, but we have not yet launched our think/act space where we can teach, facilitate, inspire and connect with others walking similar roads. We have found some answers, but large questions remain. So our mini-protest against over-consumption and waste, mini-movement toward a local, sustainable economy and ecology, and mini-revolution for simplicity, equity and justice continue on.

We are content with 2011, happy with the life we are building, and hope that 2012 is even more satisfying and inspiring.

Wishing good health and happy days to everyone who has been and will be a part of the Longhaul.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The direct farmer-to-eater economy

When we sow, transplant, water, weed, feed and harvest, we think about who is going to enjoy the fresh produce and what they might do with it. Sometimes that means we think of ourselves. And most of the time that means we think of our family, friends and neighbors: I know my sister is going to love these Brussels sprouts... I wonder if the kids down the road actually like receiving this much broccoli... everyone's going to want more of these heirloom tomatoes. That's a nice connection we have as small-scale farmers who use the CSA model to share produce with the community: we actually know our customer base. There are a lot of small farms here in the Hudson Valley and around the U.S. who have the same experience selling directly to people.

The direct farmer-to-eater relationship is an important one in farming. To me, it provides a feeling of simplicity and community.

However, the economy that has been dominant in farming (and in all other industries, for that matter), which relies on middlemen to package, process or distribute goods, has changed our relationship with food and each other. The loss in knowledge and interest in how food gets into our kitchens and onto our plates seems to have created a culture of thinking that packaged goods with non-food ingredients or additives are normal. We have become alienated from the nourishment we feed our bodies. Similarly, we don't think of the farmers or farm-workers who are actually producing basic food ingredients.** The average farmer now makes 10-19 cents per dollar on the food they produce - and the remainder goes to middlemen. And the majority of the time, the money we spend on our food is being distributed across the country rather than going back into our local community.

Changing the way we, as a society, purchase our food is no easy task. But I can't think of anything more important that we buy than the food we feed ourselves and our families. So starting by encouraging the direct farmer-to-eater economy might help us better appreciate the health of our bodies and our community.

** This alienation from the raw ingredients/materials and producers/manufacturers goes beyond food products, obviously. It is rare to consider this when we buy our gas, our clothes, our pens and pencils, our tools, or anything else.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pig pen

Looking south.
Come spring, we hope to get several piglets to live on our farm. Pigs do amazing work at digging through and fertilizing the earth, perfect precursors to a field that a farmer hopes to eventually turn into cultivated land. And so, we will release our piglets into their mobile pig pen, protected with solar-powered electric fencing -- our future fruit orchard site -- to do their work.

Looking north.
As a result of five days of good, hard work in the final days of autumn, we cleared another field for livestock... removed dead and fallen branches, cut down diseased trees, clipped brambles and pricker bushes, piled the brush and ex-marked (i.e., lawn-mowed over) anything that remained. What once seemed like a daunting task, and a field that could never possibly be put to use, has been transformed into a beautiful, neat space, where piglets will be happy to root around and blueberry bushes and fruit trees will be happy to grow. 
[Sorry, I don't have a good "before" picture, but the "after" photos here reveal open space... imagine brambles, brush, fallen trees, broken branches EVERYwhere before Nick went up there to do the clearing.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Preserving: Horseradish

We have harvested our horseradish roots and are storing some to re-plant in the spring and preserving some to eat over the winter.

To store horseradish for spring planting: Cover root in sand and store at 32-40 degrees or keep in the back of your refrigerator (but be sure it doesn't get  wet).

To preserve horseradish for eating: Grate the washed root finely. Process in a food processor with vinegar and salt (1 Tbsp:1 tsp). The food processing stage really brings out the roots heat (just grating it won't get you there). Store in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Our holiday tree

Since we established the tradition of a holiday tree in Argentina (see pics below), we now have a freshly dug cut** white pine, potted, adorned with holiday lights, cheering up our living room.

** The grove of white pines was so crowded that we decided to thin it out, rather than disturb the roots of neighboring trees. 
Holiday tree 2011, fireside
Dad and son with their 2011 trees
Xmas 2009 in Buenos Aires
Sourcing our 2010 tree in Patagonia
"Stealing" our 2010 tree
Siting our 2010 tree

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Preserving: Daikon radish

Harvested daikon; ready to dry.

My all-time favorite pickle is the Japanese takuan. It's the yellow pickle that comes with onigiri or some bentoo boxes. It's made out of daikon radish, of which we had plenty. So I searched online for an "authentic" recipe for making it. I used the recipe on this site - it was very similar to most other sites and gave clear directions.

The first step was to dry out the daikon: after harvesting, wash the roots, leave the greens on, and let them dry in the sun for about 2 weeks until the radishes are very flexible and can be bent easily. Once dry and flexible, cut off the leaves (save for later step)
1st layer of daikon, bent and packed in.
and roll on a hard surface to soften any hard spots. Make the pickling mixture: rice bran (the healthy part of rice that is processed off when turning brown rice into white rice; this is not easily available, even in health food stores so I had to actually order it online), salt, sugar, chili pepper, konbu and persimmon peel (this is for coloring). In a clean heavy vessel, layer the pickling mixture, daikon and leaves (in this order), being sure to leave as little air between the daikon as possible, packing the leaves down. Put a weight on the soon-to-be pickles and cover with a cloth to keep clean. Leave in a cool, dry place for about 4 weeks.
Full jar of soon-to-be takuan.

I had harvested 11-lbs. of daikon; their dry weight was only 5-lbs. And this fit perfectly into the only heavy vessel I could find easily (since it's glass, I'll cover it with a cloth to keep out the light). Sushi party in January!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This season's final digs

The temperature has fallen, the sun has lowered its path, the days are at their shortest... but that doesn't stop us from digging.

We are racing against the threat of frozen ground to dig 10 post holes for our rain harvest roof. We've acquired some fine straight logs of black birch from the property and Jason has been digging 3-foot-deep holes so we can sink these logs before snow sets in. Over the winter we plan to put the 600+-sq-ft roof on with a gutter system so that we can capture the spring thaw in large rain barrels.

We learned how to build this structure while on the farm in Argentina. Working with Fabio, the farmer husband, Jason learned techniques for lining up the posts, sinking the posts, leveling the height on uneven ground, notching the posts for roof beams and building the roof. Looking forward to putting these skills to the test.
Jason y Fabio in Patagonia
Notched post w/ roof beams
Tubing with water for leveling post tops

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amazing greens

Although I have admittedly had my fair share of mustard greens these past few weeks, I have to pay homage to those amazing, hearty greens that are still in the ground, providing us with freshness. We covered with greenhouse plastic 5 vegetable beds of greens, most of which were transplanted in September, and they are healthy and alive: spinach, mustards, kale, chard, baby bok choy, collards, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi cabbage, red cabbage and lettuce. Yup, lettuce - it seems delicate, but it loves cool temperatures. There are also leeks, leeks and more leeks and fresh parsley.

Soon I will be cursing these vegetables for making me go out to harvest them in the freezing temperatures.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

To diversify or monocrop-ify

Consider this: you live in a space where everything around you looks like you, behaves like you and ends up like you. You are segregated from ever experiencing the benefits of diversity. You are isolated, culturally stunted and never going to have the chance to think there's necessarily anything wrong with that. You get sick unless you are given unnatural medicines because you and everything around you are all susceptible to the same diseases. The space that supports you never gets a break, never rests, never has time to rebuild and rejuvenate itself.
* * *
Almost hand-in-hand with the ridiculously large scale of a farm comes monocropping, the practice of devoting land to single crops and year-to-year production of the same crop species on the same land. Several factors have led to the increased practice of monocrop agriculture, including a growing global population, urbanization, advancing machinery and technologies, dominance of the seed/pesticide/herbicide market by a small handful of multi-national companies and a shifting political/cultural climate that encouraged farmers to farm "from fencerow to fencerow." Before they were told to "get big or get out" in the 1970s, many farms practiced sustainable farming and cultivated diversified crops. This, however, is no longer the norm.

Monocropping ignores ecological principles. It does not operate on natural methods for weed, disease and pest suppression and re-supplying nutrients to the soil, but instead relies on inorganic (mostly, or organic in some cases) herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. The ancient natural practices of rotating and diversifying crops was essentially eliminated because rotation requires some land to lay fallow and diversification requires "too many" inputs and can't achieve economies-of-scale production.

Monocropping also contributes to the metabolic rift: cycles of wastes and nutrients have become open and unidirectional, rather than closed as in a natural ecosystem. At one time, the majority of farmers raised crops and livestock on the same farm, a practice that provided a diversity of agricultural products and by-products that could be reused and recycled on the farm (reducing off-farm purchases, a whole other topic...). For example, manure could be used as fertilizer, while crops and crop by-products could be fed to animals. Now animals are increasingly grown in concentrated livestock operations which generate their own set of sanitary and ethical problems. Similarly, many farmers have abandoned animals altogether and now grow only one or two crops. Both of these methods take from the ecosystem in order to meet demands and in the meantime they are producing sicker and sicker products.

Diversity is a good thing, when it comes to farming and when it comes to people. Heaps of evidence demonstrate the negative effects of segregation. Building a healthier ecosystem requires moving away from segregated, monocropped practices and coming back to the integrated, diversified farm and community.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recipe with delicata squash

Delicata squash pudding (or pie)

Delicatas after baking; blend them skin and all
Ingredients: delicata squash, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, milk, heavy cream or sour cream, eggs

Preparing: Wash squash, cut in half, scrape out seeds, and bake in oven until soft, about 30 minutes. Combine squash (skins and all), 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg and 1/2 tsp. salt in a blender or food processor. Blend well. Add 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream or sour cream and 2-3 eggs. Blend again. Pour into custard cups and bake 35-40 minutes at 350, or until set.

Eating: Top with whipped cream or sweetened sour cream.

Dish history: We received some delicatas from a neighbor and she gave us this recipe. You can also pour the custard into a pie shell and bake just like a pumpkin pie.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Can less be more?

How do you measure your own sense of progress in life?

If you are a business owner, it might be in the number of new customers you attract.  Would it change how you did business if instead you measured progress by the amount of returning customers you served?

If you are a farmer, it might be in the amount of land you have under production.  Would it change how you farmed if instead you measured progress by the amount of vegetables you could produce on the least amount of land?

If you are a country, it might be in the amount of stuff (products and services) you are able to produce.  Would it change the type of society you created if instead you measured progress by the quality of life your people obtained?

And what if you consider yourself - given the culture we have all grown up in, it might be that you measure your own sense of progress against the career heights you have climbed to or the salary you have earned to live a certain type of life-style unencumbered by wants.  Would it change the life you lead if you measured progress by whether you are happy doing what you are doing or not?

Part of the problem is that the standard measures of progress are standard because they are easy to count – it is easier to quantify the amount of dollars in your bank account or the number of microwaves you produce than the experience of the people you serve or the level of happiness you feel.  Another part of the problem is that we live in a world society (currently) dominated by a fixation that equates greater scale with success; the bigger you become -- whether in business, in your career, in growing vegetables, or in the world economy -- the better off you are.

We strive to get bigger in the name of progress in order to secure a life unencumbered by wants, yet living a kind of life paradoxically driven by them.  It is worthwhile to pause and ask ourselves if this road is working out for us.

As Wendell Berry, one of the American philosophers whose thinking has most affected our farm-model, has written: “in this world limits are not only inescapable but indispensable.”  Berry argues that our society looks down on limitations, yet it is only in setting certain limitations that true freedom and creativity can have the space to grow.  To say I have enough – land to farm, income, stuff, professional status (and the hours of work it comes with) – is also to say I have the time and room to see what I can make of what I have.  To say enough is to free yourself to work on quality instead of quantity.

There is a growing tide of people and organizations thinking about these things and new paths forward and attempting to put them into practice.  On the farming and philosophical side, all the essays of Wendell Berry are worth reading.  On the sustainable business side, I’m currently reading Ari Weinzweig’s “A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business” (recommended by our farmer friend Pablo Elliot).  On the world economy side, there are folks thinking about how to measure Gross National Happiness and build a no-growth Steady State Economy. In the coming weeks I will share some more thoughts on this subject from my essay “The End is the Story”.

Maybe in the end, old wisdom will become new wisdom again: less is more.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The small-scale farm

I think size is really one of the most important dimensions of a farm (or of any enterprise, for that matter). I subscribe to Schumacher's philosophy that "small is beautiful" and have put it into practice in my work as a farmer and in most other aspects of my life. This is not easy to do - I was brought up in a culture that prizes thinking big, eating big, consuming big, expanding, taking over, up-scaling, super-sizing, conglomerating, growing beyond our means.

I don't think big-ness is inherently bad. For example, I don't think all of our friends and family who have thought of truly brilliant ways for our farm to expand are profit-driven capitalists, or looking to squash the little guys, or are disappointed with the small-scaleness of our operation. I just think they can't help it. It's automatic in today's world to come up with smart business ideas driven by efficiency and economies of scale, as opposed to smart business ideas driven by sustainability, ecology and human-scaleness.

Consider farming, where the dramatic expansion of industrial agriculture and the skyrocketing value of land for residential development has made it increasingly difficult for small farms to stay in business. Where farms in the first half of the 20th century employed over 14 million workers, they now employ just over 2 million. This is largely a result of the mechanization of agricultural work, which has enabled and required farms to expand their production in order to meet national and global food demands and to be able to stay afloat. Now the majority of farmers operate large-scale farms, often mono-cropping, feeding hundreds of people each (the average is 134 people per farm, up from 19 in 1940).

Our collective alienation from our food sources is associated with the big-ness of farms. We no longer get our eggs from our local chicken farmer, milk from our local dairy farmer, or greens from our local vegetable farmer (nor, for the most part, from our own backyards). While the "local food" movement is growing, most of us still buy our food from super markets that stock produce and groceries from large-scale farms from all over the world. This is not to say that local equals better - local just gives us as consumers a more direct connection to our food and an easier way to assess their practices and make decisions as conscious consumers.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has a typology for understanding size and scale of farms:

I. Small Family Farms (sales less than $250,000) - 90% of total farms in the U.S. which produce 27% of U.S. agricultural output. These farms include (a) retirement farms - small farms whose operators report they are retired; (b) residential/lifestyle farms - small farms whose operators report a major occupation other than farming (excludes limited resource farms) - 40% of total farms; (c) limited-resource farms - any small farm with: gross sales less than $100,000, total farm assets less than $150,000, and total operator household income less than $20,000; (d) farming occupation/lower-sales farms - small farms with sales less than $100,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation (excludes limited-resource farms whose operators report farming as their major occupation); and (e) farming occupation/higher-sales farms - small farms with sales between $100,000 and $249,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation.
II. Other Farms - 10% of farms in the U.S. which account for 73% of agricultural output. These farms include: (a) large family farms – farms with sales between $250,000 and $499,999; (b) very large family farms – farms with sales of $500,000 or more; and (c)  non-family farms – farms organized as non-family corporations or cooperatives, as well as farms operated by hired managers. 

I don't think this typology necessarily makes it easier to understand the difference between small-scale and large-scale farms in the U.S. But it does point out that the large majority of farms in this country are statistically considered "small-scale." And what measures do they use to assess this? Economic ones.

So 10% of our nation's farms are so big that they account for nearly three-quarters of all agricultural outputs, supported by government subsidies, locked into national or global trade agreements and dominating our collective consciousness of farming and agriculture. The remaining 90% can't go unnoticed... heck, we are living through the "99% movement." Small farms play an important role in saving our food system and American heritage. And if these small farms also practice sustainable, ecologically-conscious methods, we can go a long way in improving our national health and putting people back to work.