Sunday, August 4, 2013


Aside from a week in the mid 90's (while we were putting up our second cutting of hay, as dictated by this tradition of misery), this summer has been quite nice.  The pastures have stayed green, and I have yet to feed any hay.  The weather makes it easy to forget last year.  The heat isn't really gone though -- it's just toasting Europe and Asia this summer instead of us.

My day job makes farming difficult;  the extra hours of commuting effectively removed a day from my week.   I've cut way back on internet time (a good thing), but time is still tight, and I feel as if keeping my head above water with respect to our various farm duties is increasingly difficult.  The obvious answer seems to be to give up more of our farming endeavors, but they're the work I truly enjoy.  I still can't shake the notion that they may be all we have to fall back on when America finally has its Wile E. Coyote moment and looks down into the abyss.   It feels as if we're all in a game of musical chairs, but the music is playing much longer than I'd expected.   Sooner or later though, it's going to stop;  of that I'm quite certain...   I think.

We've been in need of a machine shed for all the equipment we've accumulated.   Much of it we're able to keep indoors, but it makes doing just about anything difficult, requiring the constant shuffling of equipment to make a work space or get to another piece of equipment.  Most of what we use hasn't been manufactured for decades, so it seems a good idea to keep it under cover, holding the rust at bay for as long as possible.

The cheap solution is the typical pole building, but I'm not particularly excited about erecting something with treated pine or "engineered" beams made of OSB that will do little more than serve as a constant reminder of how crappy our building materials have become while we continue to inflate the human bubble.  I'd much prefer to put up a real barn, but they're expensive.

A friend of mine moved a barn, an impressive timber-framed structure in the way of an airport expansion, for little more than the cost of a similarly sized pole-building.  I recently found a well maintained barn not too far from us, being offered for free, so we're trying to figure out if we could afford to move it to our place.   As time-poor as I've been lately, it seems crazy to start such a project, but hopefully we'll be able to afford to pay for most of the work.

The farmer who is offering the barn clearly appreciates what he has.  It was erected by his grandfather in 1877 -- and shows real pride of workmanship.  He showed us the hand carved plaque his grandfather made, marking the barn's year of construction.

However, he recognizes that it no longer fits the needs of someone who has no livestock and farms 4,000 acres (which is typical here in the midwest).   "It's the chemicals -- the ones they came out with after the war -- that changed everything." he says.  "Before that, everyone could make a living on 80 or 160 acres, but not anymore."

Living here in Michigan, surrounded by the toxic and lifeless corn and soy desert, it's easy to assume that the few farmers who remain in business (we have more people in prison than we have farmers here in the U.S.) are fully on-board with the industrialized, chemically dependent agriculture that they practice.

I'm discovering that this is rarely the case.  These farmers are effectively the "last man standing", being beaten into a corner by our mindless corporate system that does little but find new ways to externalize costs and direct cash flow to a handful of corporate coffers.  Our food is cheap, but we're paying for it in ways that most of us have yet to even begin to fathom.

One retired farmer even suggested that "We made a big mistake when we left horses for tractors".   Though I would agree, I was both surprised and heartened to hear it from him.  Perhaps our sanity isn't as far gone as I'd thought.

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