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.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


THE man who feeds his cattle on a thousand hills may possibly see the title of this little volume paraded through the newspapers; but the chances are that he will never think it worth while to look into the volume itself. The owner of a hundred acres will scarcely step out of his way to purchase or to borrow it, while the lord of every smaller farm will be sure it is not intended for him. Few persons belonging to these several classes have been educated to believe Ten Acres Enough. Born to greater ambition, they have aimed higher and grasped at more, sometimes wisely, sometimes not. Many of these are now owning or cultivating more land than their heads or purses enable them to manage properly. Had their ambition been moderate, and their ideas more practical, their labor would be better rewarded, and this book without doubt would have found more readers.

The mistaken ambition for owning twice as much land as one can thoroughly manure or profitably cultivate, is the great agricultural sin of this country. Those who commit it, by beginning wrong, too frequently continue wrong. Owning many acres is the sole idea. High cultivation of a small tract, is one of which they have little knowledge. Too many in these several classes think they know enough. They measure a man's knowledge by the number of his acres. Hence, in their eyes the owner of a plot so humble as mine must know so little as to be unable to teach them any thing new.

Happily, it is not for these that I write, and hence it would be unreasonable to expect them to become readers. I write more particularly for those who have not been brought up as farmers -- for that numerous body of patient toilers in city, town, and village who, like myself, have struggled on from year to year, anxious to break away from the bondage of the desk, the counter, or the workshop, to realize in the country even a moderate income, so that it be a sure one. Many such are constantly looking round in this direction for something which, with less mental toil and anxiety, will provide a maintenance for a growing family, and afford a refuge for advancing age -- some safe and quiet harbor, sheltered from the constantly recurring monetary and political convulsions which in this country so suddenly reduce men to poverty. But these inquirers find no experienced pioneers to lead the way, and they turn back upon themselves, too fearful to go forward alone. Books of personal experience like this are rare. This is written for the information of the class referred to, for men not only willing, but anxious to learn. Once, in the same predicament myself, I know their longings, their deficiencies, and the steps they ought to take. Hence, in seeking to make myself fully understood, some may think that I have been unnecessarily minute. But in setting forth my own crudities, I do but save others from repeating them. Yet with all this amplification, my little contribution will occasion no crowding even upon a book shelf which may be already filled.

I am too new a farmer to be the originator of all the ideas which are here set forth. Some, which seemed to be appropriate to the topic in hand, have been incorporated with the argument as it progressed; while in some instances, even the language of writers, whose names were unknown to me, has also been adopted.

Preface from Ten Acres Enough