Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Distribitust Dilemmas

Pre-recs for this post:


The Catholic Land Movement is tied to thinkers like Chesterton and Belloc (for some of you, I might peak your interest by letting you know that Mumfort and Sons quotes Chesterton).  These thinkers were proponents of distributism.  To put it short, they theorized that capitalism and socialism are basically two giant entities that maintain power by maintaining a proletariat class (that's you).  The argument is over who holds the money and power - big biz or big brother?  Do you want trickle down government or business?  The funny thing is, capitalism is always followed by socialism - its inevitable.  Freedom is easily surrendered when a country looses its virtue and intellect.  Its been slower in the US, but socialism is basically accepted with blessed exceptions here and there.  Either one, money and power in the hands of a few.  Period. 

The problem is neither of them begin with the family and property.  Families, sustained and protected by property, will thrive in a truly free market.  But the market is not free.  And I'm not talking about unregulated "markets" that were closed down by Sandy.  I'm talking about the individual (perhaps a family) and his ability to OWN means of production that sustain and build.  Big biz or big bro aside, they both stop the impoverished from participating in a free market - one by crushing competition with sheer force the other by sterilizing the masses with regulation and socializing industry. Just to be clear, I am for competitive, free-markets, but that is not what capitalism produces in many cases and socialism doesn't exactly spur it either.  But lets think about a poor family for a minute.  Cities, especially liberal ones with lots of coffee shops and protests, often ban trailers, a reasonable and affordable (and recyclable!) housing for the poor.  If they could put their trailer there (to be closer to good markets), then there are all sorts of laws against chickens and home-industry in general.  If the poor were there and were able to produce, they would have to face laws that keep them from selling on their lawn, on the side of the road, especially on the sides of highways were potential customers would see them all day (it could be on an exit to be safe).  These foods would also be liable to the same laws that were reactions by a too-big government responding to the disgusting condition of too-big agribusiness.  Bureaucrats, who could not pronounce subsidiarity, want forms and fees that mom and pop just can't deliver.  Liberal or conservative, the laws hinder the poor because they cannot produce from their own land, because in reality they'll never own it.  We need them free to mow our lawns anyway.  Let them be dirty, flag-wavin idiots out in the country and we'll worry about the things that smart enlightened people think about while munching on GMOs and picketing for our slave master.  (This completely sets aside the fact that many, who would be able physically to produce from the land, simply have lost the skill and tradition.)

Anyway... the problem is property.  Property, and owning it, is THE problem for people wanting to get back to the land and be productive.  Unless someone was able to just purchase it for you (in which case you can't be too hard on capitalism) or you move to a deserted (read: marketless) town where land is basically free, its hard to make a go at it.  Even if you do inherit it, big bro has a death tax which is another way that property is removed from the hands of the proletariat class (remember, that's probably you).  Oh sure, they call it estate tax, but since it is triggered only when someone dies, its a death tax.

So, this is the dilemma.  I've begun a paper for my school on this very topic - how to return to the land in our modern situation.  I hope to share pieces of it with you, because I think that the current situation my family is in may be a great example of ways to do it - How? - this I cannot share yet, but I will.  I have not lost faith in my country, just to be clear.  How many "bubbles" we'll have to burst before reality sets in I don't know, but the way we've been livin' is just not going to work. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Projects Updated

Outside of trying to ease into agrarian life, I have a full time job and am finishing a Masters Degree in Theology.  What that means is I have added a part time job to the mix.  This all is, of course, second to being a father to good kids and a husband to a hot wife. 

But let me say this: it is very different that the business of a normal subruban life.  I'd like to draw this out a bit on another post, but for now let's just say that these things are very integrated and I now have MORE time with family, not less.

But another side effect - along with sustainability, spiritual and corporal heath, more laughter, satisfaction and dirt - is that I do little bits of work at a time and rarely get to devote hours and hours to one thing.  So, I have lots of projects in the mix and do them based on the availability of help, materials and good weather. 

Here are some things I'm working on:

First.  My father and I took out the gravel driveway that was in front of the house and put in a curvy sidewalk.  I just couldn't deal with a plain sidewalk, so I added some stones to make it look all like, ya know, like a creak or something.

Here's Henry hauling away some debris after the concrete was set.

Transfering some new laying hens.. that are OURS!

Trying to get checkers to like me.  No luck yet.

Getting cows on this unused pasture.

Here is a hugelkulture bed I build.  I have some other pictures of the process somewhere, but its basically burying half decayed logs (collected from the property).  These logs then act like a sponge making irigation unessecary.. so the story goes.  We'll see this summer.

The only major problem is that decaying logs can take in a lot of nitrogen.  So I planted Austrian Winter Peas, which are a lagume (a plant that puts nitrogen from the air into the soil).  Hope this helps.
I'm also attempting an "up-right" version of the bed.  We'll see... 
Its fun working with what you have.

 I'll find pictures of the before sometime (probably not), but the back of the house needed work.  The property sloped into the house and water was a major issue.  Big storms flooded the back room regularly.  My father regraded it and he and I build a rock wall and a berm to keep the water back.  Here's a little embelishment on the end with a place for a bench.  The stones for the surface were found underneath the driveway from the front.  My guess is granite from a gravestone manufacturer, maybe countertop.  Anyway, no one around remembers them being there, so they're old.  I actually finished a lot of this today, but don't have the latest pics yet.  It took forever because each stone has a different depth, making each one its own job.

Seeding the front yard.  Dirt from the back was moved up front to replace the topsoil that had washed due to exposed soil.  

Keeping up with the fall/winter garden.  That's the beginning of a fence to keep out the new chicks which, unlike the bigger ones, really like to eat on my plants.

Kale.  Some trampled by poultry.  Ah well, I'll eat them later anyway.

My dad also regraded this road leading up to other parts of the property.  Have I mentioned how great it is to have a handy father within a days drive?

Reworking the compost.  Feathers from processing chicks and the leftovers from a sprouts farm.  Once the hens work this over I'll layer with other matter to rebuild the compost for the winter.

Here's some chicken and turkey tractors I'm trying to get up toward the woods for two reasons.  1 is hawks - they dig chicks.  The other is to go get the bugs up there and clean out some new space for future projects.

This is Phillip.  He's suppose to watch the chicks and keep Hawks away.

 So I'm always like, "Phil, why the hell did the Hawk eat another one?"  And he's all like:

This is the upper garden.  It was waste high in weeds along with ALL of the gardens when we arrived.  They're getting better.  I knocked all the weeds down and then used boxes from our move to mulch.  Then I put the turkey tractors on those and they tore them to shreds.  Now I'll till that in with what compost I have and then do a winter cover crop.
There was a lot of other help in the gardens too, which was great.

Well, that's it for now.  Each day its really hard because I want to work more, but I just can't - I have another job.  It always feels like I don't get much done, but looking back you see it really all adds up.  Little bit here, a little there.  So, get out there and get your garden ready for winter.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Turkey Season

Where does your turkey come from?  Mine comes from the yard.

These are Bourbon Reds, the heritage breed that we picture when we picture a turkey - classic American folklore right here.  As soon as I am able, I'd like a whole field of these - they grow fast (this one is 7 months old), eat little once they're big, are docile, they're smart enough to get out of a cage here and there but dumb enough to let me get close enough to grab 'em too.  And the look awesome.  The first time I got in the cage I thought they were going to peck and scratch me, because well... I'm going to eat them, but I've learned that though they are capable of this, their docility trumps.

This line is acclimated to the area too, so the stock is very resistant to disease (sometimes people have trouble with them when they order them from a catalog 6 states away).  They are great mowers too - move them down the grass and behind them is a trimmed, fertilized carpet of grass.  The exception to a normal lawn is that this grass is producing resources for a family, not draining them. 

Why do I look so satisfied in this picture?  Its hard to explain.  You'll understand when you dive for an escaped turkey's feet and pick it up.... its satisfying.  

(As I'm writing this, my wife gave me a bite of butter she just made from a raw milk, grass-fed dairy.  Geeks?  Nah.  Humans.)

Hank Talk Comin'

Just to let you know, I've spoken with Hank and we're talking soon.  My goal is to convince him to let me take care of some of his cows that he puts on the property we're staying on in exchange for a lot of meat - perhaps a cow.

I get to learn, he gets more pasture.  Oh, and more meat for my omnivorous children.

Maybe you could buy a cow, I'll grow it and we'll split it like an Abrahamic covenant party?   What do you say?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Henry and the Horse

My eldest boy is frightened of many things.  He doesn't know you so don't stick your hand in his face and say "five."  I'd rather you teach him to shake a hand anyway. 

He's slow to tread on new ground and slow to warm up to new people.  In a play group he's fine alone - in fact he probably prefers it.  Once he warms up he's good-to-go, but he needs time.

So the other day when he went on the farm tour and we saw that he could ride a horse, we weren't sure he would be interested.  Oh but he was.  In line he could hardly wait.  But, there was a big cowboy up there putting everyone on a horse, so we doubted he would let them pick him up and put him on a huge creature. 

We were wrong. 

PS - Hank's on the left.  Update on that soon.
He walked right up, lifted his hands up and was plopped down by a complete stranger on a beast of a creature (just imagine how big a horse is to a 2 year old).  He then trotted around on his back as if he was made for horses.

Maybe he was.

Its amazing what you learn about your kids out here. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Farm Dinner

We're in Polk county USA (NC).  Not a major county, but it has something only 2 others have - a full time director for ag development.  They have this ag center that is a converted high school (with some character, not like those utilitarian, prison-looking, sprawling, dreary buildings kids are forced in every day).  Each year they have a farm to fork dinner, which is basically an invitation to the community to come out and eat a big spread boasting food from local farms. 

Other than some logistical hang-ups, the event was a success.  I hope to one day have some of my own products there on the table.  Here's the girl - with self-applied headband - straight busting a move to the music:

If you're thinking of moving to the land and make a go at farming, find a place that has support like this ag center, and a community willing to pay for actual food.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chickens' Revenge (And: How to Catch 90 Chicks)

Remember how I told you that I killed a lot of chickens the other day?  Oh yeah, and how my kids chase the chicks everywhere everyday?  Well, tonight the chickens got their revenge.

Earlier today we moved the chicken tractors significantly to try and get them in more tree cover.  This was to protect them from the hawks that loom, but they didn't know that and apparently were upset we moved their home.

For those that don't know what a chicken tractor is, just google some images and you'll get the idea - its a chicken coop you move each day.  Most of the time you just leave them in there, but we let the chicks out most days.

Back to the moved tractor...  You see, at night chickens return to their coops if its their established sleeping place.  After they've gone in, you shut it up so coyotes and things don't wander in.  Get the phrase now, "all cooped up"?  Chicken Hawks in the day, coyotes at night - a lot of critters want to eat the things you want to eat, but they don't wait for big tender breasts to grow first.

Well, when I went out, none of them were in their coops.  Not one.  I looked around, since it was getting darker by the second, and they were all huddled up exactly where the coop was last night, two separate groups that is.  Great, said I. 

Here's what I learned about capturing chicks at night:
  • They get slower as it gets darker, but they also get harder to see.
  • They'll try and group together, so if they get scattered, give them a minute and they'll all come back together.  
  • Look for the ones that are bedding down next to each other.  They seem to just be in utter denial that I am completely ravaging their secret hide out (which is in the middle of a field), and as soon as I take a few away, they went to the same spot to try and sleep again.  If I were a fox, I would have confessed gluttony tomorrow.  
  • One at a time takes a long time.  I'm not sure, but I think we have close to 90.  I really don't know.  Anyway, I started with one at a time.  Then I was scooping two sleeping ones up together.  Then I was tucking them under my arm.  By the end I was so tired and could barely see so I was diving and just grabbing feet.  That's the best way.  I was just holding them by their feet, as many as I could carry.  

The lesson?  With young chicks, move tractors very gradually.  Or don't move them with them while they're outside of it.  Tomorrow, chicks are grounded.  They're staying in the coop to think about what they did (and to remember where it is).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Today I Killed Chickens

To be honest, when that first chicken went in the killing rack (don't know the real name, but you can guess the use) I felt a little queasy.  I felt the same as we dunked them in scalding water, cut off their feet, dunked them again, then de-feathered them, then twisted off their heads, then gutted them, then cleaned them...

But by the time I got to the last step - putting them on ice - I was amazed.  "This is how it works," said I.  "Yep," the pros responded.

It was awesome.  I loved each step, which I did for a while.  Yes, its psychologically difficult to twist a head off the first time, but then it kinda gets enjoyable.  Not because actually twisting a spine until it breaks and dropping a head into a bucket of other heads all looking at you for remorse (they received little) is enjoyable, but because I was learning how to be more human.  Humans eat animals, yet humans in our country are so far removed from their food that young kids may come to think that chicken comes from packages and any steps before that moment are shrouded in agribusiness screens and regulations.

You have watched Food, Inc. right?  It gives you a glimpse of what I'm talking about.  There's a moment in the movie where the famous food/farmer rights hero Joel Salitin is processing chickens out in the open.  Today was like that.  Yep, just like the movies.  More blood though.  

I'm not saying that everyone needs to twist the head off a chicken to be human, but you need to know how your food gets to your plate.  I can only say I feel a little bit more free today.  Today I grabbed an animal by the feet and now I can eat it.  Fluctuating markets be damned, I'm gonna eat tonight.  ... I might wait a while before I eat chicken again, but I can if I need to.  Today I ordered 50 meat chickens that I'll process in the spring.  No matter what happens in Greece or Washington, I have food and I know where it came from and how it got to my plate.  There's something there right?  Feeding the animals that feed you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chick Pics

They grow up so fast...

Before you know it you'll be processing them for dinner.  The chickens that is.  In fact, tomorrow I'm learning how to take a bird from running around to in the freezer ready to cook. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kids Learning Chores

As this blog takes shape, I want to make sure that we give actual updates on our progress to the land.  I will always have a tendency to tangent about Chinese goods and ugly ties, because I hate both, especially in the same package.  However, I also fear I might tend to paint a too rosy picture.  Its like you see me eating my delicious sandwich on the beach but can't hear the crunch of the sand in the bread.

But, this will end rosy.  Sorry.  Its just a rosy thing.  I'm an optimist.

When we first got here, we had chores to do.  Boxes stacked in every room could not stop the digestive tracks of the animals placed in our care.  So, we began.  Right off I wanted the kids involved. I was eager to provide my kids with the privilege of work. 

At first, it was horrible.  They were slow, whiny, clumsy and unhelpful.  The slow and unhelpful things were expected, but it was the whiny stuff that was the real drag.  I'm half way across the yard with two tubs of water in each hand with a 3 year old fallen on the ground crying she can't get up.  Then they wanted to go back inside, which was impossible because we were all out there.  Tension.

This went on for a while, but now things really are better.  The rythmn of it all is clearly good for them.  Prayer follows breakfast, then dressing, brushing, scratching.  Then out the door.  They go around and get the water cans while I bring feed out.  Sometimes they carry feed too.  The chief thing that I've learned is this: have real chores for them, but let them blur the lines of play and work and drag it out a bit.  If its taking a while then work on something else.  Don't give them things that require you to wait on, etc. 

They're actually helpful now.  Really and truly they are.  Usually after animals we work in the garden, which is me giving them a place of dirt to dig in, but they can pull weeds ("leeds") and plant plants.  It really is amazing how quick the lifestyle changes and how it is clearly good for them.  If they were 9 and 10 it might be different, but at this age I think its going very well.  They love it.  My favorite chore is closing up the coops with the older boy.  This usually means chasing a few chicks down who haven't learned lunar signals yet.  My boy can catch him some chicks, lemme tell you.  He's good.  They don't know what hit him when the toddler hand thrusts and grabs whatever is available.  Foot?  Got 'em.  Wing?  Got 'em.  But mostly he grabs them like a pro around the mid section.  He then tells me how eager he is to eat one of them.  That's my boy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Building a Rock Wall

We've been working on this rock wall for a few weeks.  Its just finish work now, as my father did the heavy lifting with an excavator with me on the ground yelling for him to do impossibly complex movements with a mammoth machine. 

I grew up working at his side quite a bit.  In fact, when I had my second son I realized that the suburban life we had would have deprived (depraved?) my children of what he had given me.  It was so formative and vital for me that I new I had to return somehow to working with my kids nearby - as in watching and helping when possible.

So, being able to build this wall with my father and having my kids at a safe but close distance was, without exaggeration, just what I had longed for.  In suburbia we men who love our families really have to fight for that kind of time.  (Yes, I am insinuating that if you don't fight for that time you are not properly loving your children)  We have to negotiate and plan time down to the minute in order to spend even adequate amounts of time with our family.  I commend men that do this, and challenge men that don't to get a detailed calendar and be home more.  Tomorrow.  The very plain fact is that our economy, culture, neighborhoods, lifestyles do not revolve around the family, but the family revolves around them, making the home where everyone sleeps and little more.  But, rural life is just more like this naturally, culturally.  We need a cultural shift, and I think it starts with more families on the land, as Kevin Ford at thecatholiclandmovement.com trumpets.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Harvest is Plentiful

Its Muscadine season.  Muscadines are thick skinned grapes that you have to work to eat.  The seeds are big and abundant - apparently they're healthy too if you can get them down, but biting them reveals a nasty taste.  But the grape meat?  Oh its so good.  Really, its amazing. 

There's a vineyard down over some hills from us that has a bunch of varieties, including these plump beauties.  Our landlord took care of their chickens while they were gone, so she bartered the grapes, opening them up to anyone who wanted to come.To shorten this story (and this post): there's a ton of them.  TonS of them actually.  The harvest is plentiful.

And this is a lesson I'm learning out here.  It takes very little to grow very much.  There's real life out in the country, come and taste it!  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers really are few.  I get that now more than ever.  We spent an hour on probably 2 vines and didn't begin to get all the grapes.  10 families of 10 wouldn't even put a dent in the abundance of these vines.  The picture above is of our pretty basket, but i was carrying the giant - but less aesthetically pleasing - bucket. 

If anyone wants in, move to the land and I'll tell you where the grapes are. Now to find a muscadine wine recipe...

Beautiful, Simple, Cheap

I'm struck by the ability of rural life to create beauty from very humble means.  I'll have to illustrate with an illustration.

We have a baby swing, which we've had now in 3 different homes, that I don't like.  I keep it because the kids love it, and it is something I can strap kids to, which any parent of multiple toddlers knows is a Godsend.  But I don't like it, because I know it was made in another country as cheaply as possible at any cost; its made of junk and it has obnoxious colors.  I don't like it.  It has an uncanny ability to make a yard look junky, in my opinion, and I think that is because of what it is: imported cheapness.  I'll keep it because I bought it and it works, but when it can be replaced it will be. 

Compare that to the swing we found at a farm down the road from us.  Let me describe it:

Its a rope and a board.

It was clearly made from what was available, which was solid, quality, earthen, strong materials: a rope and a board.  You have contact with real things like wood and fiber  (so you can meditate better on the binding and crucifixion of the Lord).  But looking at it hanging from a giant oak it looks like something on a greeting card.  (Have you noticed that greeting cards in the middle of Target are filled with dreamy pictures of things you never actually see in places that surround Target?)  Its simple, cheap and beautiful.  Of course its a different cheapness, more in the realm of "thrift," which is a virtue.  I'm too dense to really perceive the difference, but there's something there right?  Both of them of made from junk, but its different...

Its also more dangerous.  One slip and a 2 year old is lying on his back in tears.  And unlike the swing which these kids want me to hang back up (its a plascitc heap in the shed right now), this thing builds muscle!  Did I mention its dangerous?

O Lord, thou hast introducethed my children to danger, for which I thank thee.  O blessed danger, from which safety shields, reveal your splendor and necessity to our weak and comfortable bodies.

I love this swing.  Literally, a company could not reproduce what this swing is.  Impossible.  They're missing something so human and natural when they ask a factory in China to make it.  Pottery Barn might get close, but then it would be too expensive.