Sunday, November 30, 2008

The First Step

This blog is about sustainability, being responsible and accountable for the resources you consume, but also living a rich and uncommon life. It's not a political blog, or a "rant" blog, or even a useful blog. It's a chronicle of how a suburban-raised, upper-middle class, over-educated, no-life-skills individual can slowly make a difference on a very small scale.

And so it goes like this. Five years ago, I got interested in horse farming. Not farming horses, farming WITH horses. You know, plows and wagons and such. I was living in Texas at the time and there were no horse farmers within 500 miles. So I flew to Vermont and took a workshop on working with horses. It was life changing.

The workshop itself was immensely education, but the real secret is that you lived with the farming family for four glorious and exhausting days. They oozed the kind of knowledge you would never find in mainstream life: how to cook fiddleheads, how to recycle EVERYTHING, how to raise animals humanely, how to diversify, how to live in clean air and not ruin everything around you.

So I got inspired, and started looking for a small farm to work with my (non-existent, but maybe someday) team of horses. I wanted to relocate to New England for various reasons, one of which is that it actually rains there, unlike drought-stricken Texas. Looking at land is depressing, because even though you feel blessed in life and rich, nothing makes you feel poor and unlucky like looking at 30 acre parcels of tillable land in New England. They simply don't exist for less than $1m because the old farms are disappearing. They have been subdivided for 300 years and never put back together. They are sold for lucrative development money. All I wanted to do was the "right thing" by these farms and I couldn't afford the price of admission.

I kept looking and finally, when the housing bubble burst, I could start to get in the door. I found a small 5.5 acre property in the heart of New Hampshire. It had not been previously farmed (in fact, it's mostly wooded), but there is a lot of potential there.

So here I am, learning to farm. It's important to set goals, so here's the big one: Within 5 years, I want to grow/raise/barter for 70% of the perishable food I consume. That's a pretty serious goal. And there's a catch. I have two pleasure horses (not work horses, the shame!) and they are not going any where, so I need to dedicate a portion of my precious soil to their upkeep. Horses don't make a lot of sense on a sustainable farm because they consume huge amounts of resources and even though they produce huge amounts of manure, all that energy they produce does nothing but make me happy. So there's the rub. I am farming my small parcel of land to ENRICH my life, not IMPOVERISH my life. The horses grant me a luxury I could not live without.

So that's the gist of it. Two adults, two horses, and 10 laying hens. It's going to be a wild ride.


Anonymous said...


With about an acre of kitchen garden and lots of hard work...natural composed horsemanure fertilizer, we raised all the vegetables my family of five ate. We also raised all our beef, chicken and duck. Pigs and pheasants only once-too smart and too beautiful to eat. I remember whole summers of shucking peas, snapping beans, cutting corn off the cobs, cutting up broccoli, pickling beets, cucumbers and cauliflower. Worth every minute.

Now, I don't grow everything I eat...but I eat everything that my meagre garden can produce.

Daun said...

This is so inspiring. Our current garden plot is a 60' diameter disk, cleared, leveled and there is a seasonal water spicket to it. Then I have some terraces which contain berry bushes now, I need to see what else would grow there.

I gave myself five years to make plenty of mistakes, no one in my family has a farming tradition, so I am learning much from books and online. Nothing replaces first hand experience though.

Thanks so much!

Andrea said...

I had no idea this was the real motivation behind the move to New England! THAT IS SO COOL!!!!!!!!!!!! My hippie Californian roommate and I support you and hope you have loads of success with this project, it's incredible!!!

Funder said...

Yup, I agree, this is very cool. :) I've read about workshops like the one you attended in Rural Heritage, and I've always wanted to go!

I am slightly jealous, too. My husband is content to live wherever I want to live, but he's not interested in issues of sustainability or growing/raising our own food or any of that. Passively supportive is good enough, though.

sugarmommy said...

very cool, daun. i love hearing of the things you do. i grew up on a small dairy farm. shhh..don't tell anyone! all my friends were aggies, and *gasp* i was even in FFA!! LMAO!! oh, and i went to aggie college. FUN times indeed!
it is sad to see what state the small farms are in these days. many of the properties my husband and i dream about owning are old farms we want to restore to their original glory. oh how i love antique farm houses!
i really have no advice on gardening other than one thing! fencing!! tall fencing to keep the deer out. and hair! you can call up a local hair salon and ask them to save a days worth of hair. put it in some mesh baggies...and tie to the fencing. feel free to pee around the area too. LOL!!

another random comment...when driving home from work during the summer months, i would see a local farmer plowing his small field with two drafts. very cool!

i leave you with these sites to browse at. some of my favs. enjoy!

the mckernon group site is my all time fav!

dp said...

I applaud you. David is the gardener between us, and mercy upon us if we are ever forced to sustain ourselves on what he can grow. I would love to do what your proposing, but it would have to be in contrast to my career, not in addition to it. Work keeps me too busy and I absolutely love what I do. Hopefully it will earn me enough cosmic brownie points that I will not be smote for loving fresh pineapple as I do.