Syncretism vs Christian Agrarianism

I have attended Pentecostal churches, Methodist churches and for a couple of years, way in the past, Marlene and I were involved in a church that focused heavily on deliverance ministry. But for most of my churchgoing days I’ve attended an independent Baptist church.

Some who have read my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, and this blog have mistakenly assumed that I attend a Reformed church. It is understandable. My faith has been fed and my beliefs more clearly defined in recent years by several Reformed Christians, starting with Doug Phillips who I was, like so many others, introduced to through his speaking at homeschool conventions.

Before long I was reading the writings of Reformed Christians like Rousas Rushdoony, George Grant, Gary DeMar, and R.C. Sproul. I even tackled John Calvin’s “Institutes.” Then, maybe two years ago, I received a Draught Horse Press catalog with a sample copy of “Basement Tape” recordings from The Highlands Study Center. That was my introduction to R.C. Sproul, Jr. (son of R.C., Sr.) and, incidentally, Rick Saenz of Cumberland Books. There was a clear agrarianism to the ministry and message of The Highlands Study Center and that was, as you might imagine, an attraction to me.

From the beginning, R.C., Jr. struck me as a bit of a rebel—a Christian enigma that, frankly, still confuses me sometimes. I’ve noticed that there are people on the internet who have a harsh opinion of R.C. I have no reason to feel that way. Though I may question some things, I find myself liking the man because I think his heart is in the right place. Besides that, I see similarities between him and I. For example, we are both fallible, and a little stubborn, and learning as we go—sometimes the hard way.

Another thing I like about R.C., Jr. is when I read some of the things he has written, I find myself thinking harder about topics and viewpoints that deserve some hard thought. More often than not, I have to read his writings a couple of times, (or more) to get it. That’s because I’m a little dense (Really. I am.), and because there is an element of “riddle” to much of what R.C. writes. The riddle comes, I think, because R.C. writes from his ingrained Reformed perspective while I read from my ingrained Baptist perspective. I’ve also noticed that it helps to understand R.C if you have a good understanding of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Nevertheless, I was reading an article by R.C in the May/June 2006 issue of Every Thought Captive (a periodical published by The Highlands Study Center) and I thought it was particularly perspicacious. It is titled Worshiping The Living GOPP and I am going to tell you about it here because of the strong Christian agrarian connection.

The article is about syncretism, a word I never understood until I read the article. Fact is, I may have never even heard it before. But it is a word I think all Christians need to understand. Here is a quote from the article...

”One could even argue that there is a cause and effect relationship between the showering of God's grace upon His people, and their turns to idolatry. We grow accustomed to His grace, and forget Him. Well, we don't exactly forget Him. Instead we dress Him up in the latest fashions, refashioning the God of the Ages into the god of the age. That is, idolatry in Israel was almost never the wholesale abandonment of God, but was almost always idolatry in the form of syncretism, the blending together of the true and the false.”

Now that you understand what syncretism is (if you did not before), let’s find out what GOPP is...

”Our syncretism is simple enough—we worship the living God, and the god of this age, the god of personal peace. We meld these two polar visions into one, and then wonder why our lives are so confused. We are torn asunder, trying desperately to prove Jesus wrong, that we can indeed serve two masters.”

Did you see it? GOPP is the God Of Personal Peace, which is the god of this age. I tend to think of it as the God Of Personal Peace And Prosperity, but I suppose GOPPAP is too weighty of an acronym. Besides that, most mistakenly think prosperity is a necessary ingredient for peace, so GOPP is just fine.

In any event, the way I read it, in his own unique way, R.C. is asserting that the modern church has compromised (syncertized) with a modern culture that is at odds with the one true God and His word, and I couldn’t agree more. Here’s R.C. again...

”There is but one way to break free from this syncretism, this serving of two masters, one false, the other Truth, and that is to worship the Truth. There is but one way to stop pursuing any false god, and that is to pursue the living God.”

Now that is well said and I personally think this pursuit is best accomplished within the agrarian paradigm, which includes, by definition, living simply. The idea of living simply is a recurring theme with R.C. and I suspect he may be taking some heat for emphasizing the simple life because he goes on to clarify what he means...

”This is all we've ever meant when we've encouraged people to live the simple life. It has never been our intention to guilt people for any blessings they might enjoy, (nor to guilt ourselves for blessings we enjoy. All of us, on a historical and world scale are filthy rich) to suggest that if you don't think Green Acres is the place to be, then you are outside the camp. Poverty and agrarianism have never been the goal.”

”The simplicity isn't ultimately about the stuff, but about the goal. Any and all things that bring us closer to Him, that's the simple life. Any and all things that draw us closer to her [GOPP], that's what we pluck out that we might inherit eternal life. The simple life is one simple goal, serving our King. It is nothing more, and nothing less.”

This simplicity also includes the concept of separation which, it seems to me, is not only the antithesis of syncretism, but the sure remedy. R.C. continues...

”If we master simple, have we not already mastered separate? If they are living for growing their 401k's and we are living for seeing 401 grandkids, though we share the same earth, though we are still in the world, have we not shown ourselves to not be of the world? If the allures of the temptress of the god of this age are unheard by us, because we can hear only the Master's voice, will we not look distinct, different? And again, if we do this together, as a body, then will not our light so shine before men, that they by His grace might be drawn to the light?”

”We're not separate because our cars are held together by duct tape. We're separate because we do not measure our joy by how much duct tape is on our cars. To put it more simply, we're separate because we are simple, because we enjoy the peace of serving only one master.”


Simple, separate, and deliberate are three intertwined concepts that serve to define the teaching of The Highlands Study Center. Having touched on simple and separate, R.C. now addresses deliberate...

”Here is where it is hardest. To be deliberate is to be conscious enough to think through not just means but ends. It is to be alert enough to realize that whether we hear him or not, the devil is always whispering in our ear. He is always enticing us, pimping for the god of this age. To be deliberate is to recognize that the normal, evangelical life is precisely what we've looked at, idolatrous syncretism of the highest magnitude. So let us learn to separate the voice of the Master from the voice of the one calling in the streets. Let us learn to distinguish between His good gifts, and her illicit favors.”

Okay, I confess, when he says normal evangelical life is idolatrous syncretism of the highest magnitude, a see a red flag. I wonder if he might be talking about me? I’ve always considered myself something of an evangelical Christian. But I must not be “normal” in that regard, at least as R.C. sees it. I say that because I agree with everything he said right up to that point. I also probably agree with with the point. And I surely do agree with R.C.’s conclusion...

”Serve her who promises the world, and we shall have nothing. Serve Him, acknowledging we have nothing, and He will give us His peace.”

Yes! there it is—the whole essence of the Christian agrarian good life is summed up in those two sentences.

For over a year, this blog has celebrated things like family closeness, rural living, gardening, homemade bread, hunting, pastured poultry and all sorts of other exciting agrarian endeavors. But make no mistake about it, those things are not my goal, nor are they the goal I have for the family God has given me to lead. Those things do not bring peace in the midst of a troubled and lost world. True, lasting peace comes only from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.

And Christian agrarianism is just an outward expression of our desire to live a life in accordance with His word, a life that eschews syncretism by being simple, separate, and deliberate, a life that serves, ultimately, to bring glory to God.

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The excerpted quotations above have been used with permission.

Bits & Pieces

Observant readers of this blog may have noticed the sidebar was missing for a few days. It was actually down on the bottom right of the page. Keith Bradshaw over at Allelon Farm sent me an e-mail explaining why my site was messed up (the pictures I posted were too wide) and telling me how to fix the problem. It’s great to have such helpful and intelligent friends. Thank you Keith!!

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As further evidence of Keith Bradshaw’s “smarts” I encourage you to read at his blog about the “Automatic Chicken House Door” he recently made. Very nice. It is, in my opinion, nothing short of a Whizbang invention!

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And thanks are long overdue to Keith’s wife, Mary Susan, who posted such a nice review of my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian.

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Amey, over at The Circle Z also had nice things to say about the book and I am, once again, very appreciative of the feedback.

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There is a farm in my town that raises buffalo (North American Bison). It’s quite a sight to see a herd of them out in a field. The farm is just starting to sell the meat this year at local farmer’s markets. Marlene paid $9.50 for six bison patties (two pounds of meat). We grilled them outside last weekend. The meat is very lean, which means it cooks fast and there is hardly any shrinkage.

The consensus was unanimous—We all like buffalo burgers. In fact, we will probably have them again someday.

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A fellow I work with told me he recently went out to dinner at a restaurant with members of his family to celebrate his mother-in-law’s birthday. The bill (for 14 people) came to $1,196.00. The restaurant charged $75 just to serve the birthday cake the family brought along with them.

I find that story mind boggling.

My family would have been plenty happy with buffalo burgers and some potato salad.

But that’s just us.

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My son James, the rabbit hunter, chicken processor, cookie maker, onion grower, and future log hewer mentioned the phrase forty acres and a mule to me the other day. I confess that I really wasn't listening as closely as I should have to what he was saying, but I kind of woke up when he said those words, ”forty acres and a mule”.

“Where did you hear that?” I asked him.

“It’s in that movie you bought,” he replied.

He was referring to Gone With The Wind. I bought a two-tape video of the classic movie at a garage sale for a buck because I’ve never seen it and I’ve always heard it was good. James has watched it a couple of times.

“Forty Acres and a Mule” caught my attention because it is similar to a book that Rick Saenz recommends.

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I’ve been pressed for time and unable to reply to comments on my blog entries like I’d like to. Sorry about that. I do want to say, however, that I was very glad to learn that I was not “chomping” at the bit a few blogs back when I was anxious to get to processing our chickens. I was champing at the bit.

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And I’ve been trying to catch up on reading at the other agrarian blogs listed over on my sidebar. There are a lot of neat agrarian stories—real life stories—going on all over the country. A lot of inspiration and incouragement and advice. I encourage you to click through the links if you have not done so lately. And one of these days I'll add a few more links.

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I see that Nicolas Barbieto, the Junior Agrarian has posted a review of the documentary, The Future of Food. Thanks Nicolas.

And David Taylor mentioned the movie herel. I wonder where the Future of Food is now??

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Oh how I wish I had more time for blogging! It’s really a lot of fun and I keep thinking of more things to write about. But, alas, when I blog, things I might better be doing seem to pile up (does anyone else have this problem?).

Soooooo, I’m sorry to say, I must take a little break for the next few weeks. Blogging is very hard for me to part with but we have a lot on our plate here well into October—and it is piling higher. I have decided to post a blog entry only once a week from now until November. I will post on Friday or Saturday, starting this weekend.

So many events and opportunities to write will go by in that time but I’ll be taking pictures and jotting down notes for future blogs.

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Oh, one last thing..... The subject of processing chickens brings to mind something I read in the Bible the other day. I’ve read this verse many times in the past but this time it really jumped out at me. Here are the words of Solomon from Ecclesiasties 3:1-2

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck...”

Rabbit Hunting Boy

Last Thursday, Marlene and James came home from the farmer’s market and the car had barely stopped in our driveway before James was out the door, running into the house to see me. It was a bit more enthusiasm than I’m accustomed to...

“Dad! Can I use your gun? I saw a rabbit up in the corn!”

He was referring to the small patch of open pollinated fieldcorn I planted up in my neighbor Don’s field. I said, “Do you think it’s still there?”

He responded somewhat frantically, “Yes. It ran into the corn. Can I use your gun?”

I said okay, figuring it would be an effort in futility on his part, and warned him not to run and to be very careful. Then I turned my attention to Marlene, quizzing her about how things sold for her at the market.

A short while later there was a gunshot in the distance, but I didn’t give it much thought. A few minutes later, I heard James outside the kitchen window saying in a sing-song voice, “I got it.”

I looked out the window and there he was standing with the gun and the rabbit and a big smile on his face. I was amazed. “Hey! I gotta get a picture of that!” I said to him. I grabbed my digital camera (which, if you haven't noticed, I’ve been keeping close by these days) and snapped this picture.

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By the way, some who read this story may wonder what we did with the rabbit. Well, we did not eat it. James took it way up the hedgerow across from our house and threw it in the weeds. Some sort of wild critter will make a meal of it. I know they’re cute but rabbits are varmints like rats or woodchucks. There is no shortage of them hereabouts and they eat the garden.

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If you like hunting, trapping, guns, and stuff like that, I invite you to read some more of my essays...

How Not to Shoot The Bull

Trapping Class

The Charging Woodchuck

Going to The Trapper's Convention

Boys Will Be....Warriors (Part 1)

Boys Will Be...Warriors (Part 2)

Life Lessons From an Old Maine Woodsman

Shootin' Dad's Handgun

Needed: More Americans With Guns

How to Butcher a Chicken

The Fun, Fast Way to Skin a Deer

Biblical Entrepreneurship

I sure do appreciate the work Doug Phillips at Vision Forum Ministries has been doing in recent years. A few weeks ago he hosted an Entrepreneurial Bootcamp Conference. Here are some quotes from Doug about the conference...

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“Many men find themselves caught in a corporate culture at odds with biblical values. They are looking for a fresh start to provide for their loved ones in a way that builds up, not breaks down, their family. We are seeking to communicate hope to such men and their families by offering practical teaching that explores various business models in light of God’s Word.”

“Our goal with the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp is to inspire Christians to apply biblical principles of family life to the twenty-first century work environment,”

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This conference and the subject of Biblical entrepreneurship dovetails perfectly with much of what I was saying in my previous post about reestablishing the family economy. I was thrilled to see that a Christian agrarian (Joel Salatin) was one of the featured speakers at the conference. I wish I could have been there but I sure don’t have the time and resources to go to Texas. The good news, though, is that I have decided to purchase the complete 26-CD unedited collection of recordings from the conference.

I’m looking forward to hearing ....

A Biblical Model for Successful Agrarian Entrepreneurship by Joel Salatin

Family Business and the Two Hundred Year Plan by Geoff Botkin

How to Cultivate an Entrepreneurial Spirit with Your Children by Arnold Pent

How to Work with Your Kids So That They Will Want to Work with You by Joel Salatin

The History of Technology by Isaac Botkin

Getting the Big Picture for Entrepreneurship and the Christian Family by Doug Phillips

The Rebirth of Family-Friendly Christian Entrepreneurship by Nick Logan

Fathers and Sons Working Together by Scott Brown

An Entrepreneurial Family-Based Multi-Generational Business by Joel Salatin

That’s just a sampling of what’s on the CDs. Unfortunately, they are expensive ($125), but I’ve justified the expense by determining that I will review portions of the tape series here and share with you some choice tidbits.

You can find out more about the conference collection by clicking here

In closing, I offer you Doug’s excellent definition of Biblical entrepreneurship:

“Biblical entrepreneurship involves the moral obligation to be economically creative and productive. The principle of entrepreneurship is rooted in the dominion mandate and the biblical doctrines of work, stewardship, and fruitfulness. Biblical entrepreneurship incorporates principles of biblical patriarchy with its emphasis on multigenerational faithfulness, freedom in Christ, inheritance, jurisdiction, and the household as a vibrant, economically productive, God-ordained unit for cultural transformation. It is impossible to have a full-orbed vision of entrepreneurship without careful consideration for the scriptural doctrine of the family. Any approach to entrepreneurship which is divorced of these considerations inevitably leads to the idolatries of materialism, individualism, and the love of money.”

Home-Based Agrarian Enterprises & Garlic Powder Profits

This blog is about Faith, Family, and Livin’ The Good Life, which is another way of saying the blog is about Christian agrarianism. Part of the Christian agrarian vision is to strengthen families by re-establishing the family economy. In fact, reestablishing the family economy is a necessary fundamental to restoring Christian agrarian culture.

I have a chapter explaining what the family economy is and how important it is in my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. I hope that if you have not read the book, you will one day soon. In short, the family economy is when the entire family works together to provide for its own needs.

The ideal family economy involves a family working together to provide not only for the food, shelter, heating, etc., needs of the family, but the financial needs too. Total self sufficiency without a cash income was once possible in this nation (it was, actually, in many sections, the norm) but those days are history. Nowadays, we need a cash flow, and that means home-centered business enterprises. The whole idea is to reconnect the entire family by bringing fathers and mother’s home where they belong.

Farming, the tried and truest form of agrarianism, has always provided an excellent opportunity for exercising the ideals of a family economy. But few of us who did not grow up in the farming paradigm, have the financial resources or the experience to become farmers, at least in the commonly understood big sense of the word. And, for that matter, most of us don’t even have the finances and know-how to be farmers in the small sense of the word.

That leaves those of us who grasp the wisdom of living the agrarian life facing an enormous conundrum... How do we get from here to there? How do we break free from the industrial-world jobs that provide us with the cash flow our families need to survive? How do we come home and establish family businesses and/or farms, small or large? The answer to that question will vary from family to family.

I have been struggling with this conundrum in my own life for the past few years and I still struggle with it. But I do have some answers. First, I believe that the Lord has given me this vision and He will provide as He sees fit. Nevertheless I may, like Moses, see the promised land but never enter. I’ve come to terms with the fact that, even if I do enter, it will probably not be anytime soon. Nevertheless, I will deliberately work towards that end by doing what I can, where I am, with what I have. And I will take it a step at a time, or as Marco Lanzoni, the old Italian farmer I once knew used to say, “Little by slow.”

More importantly, I will endeavor to teach my children how important it is for them to have an entrepreneurial mindset and to consider home-centered businesses for themselves, not only now but in the future when they are leading and providing for their own families. Furthermore, as I can, I feel strongly that I should do what I can to help them establish such businesses. This whole Christian agrarian vision is, after all, multigenerational. It’s far bigger than little ol’ me and little ol’ you in the here and now.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know my family has numerous home-centered enterprises. Marlene has been involved in the farmer’s market for several years. She has established a nice little homemade bread business and each of our boys has played a part in that. I have told you about Marlene’s homemade soaps business too.

And you are probably aware that I have written and self-published several books. I also have a small home industry making and selling parts for the Whizbang Chicken Plucker. More books, and plans and such will, Lord willing, continue to be produced in the years ahead. I have so many ideas that it is amazing.

The money I make from these entrepreneurial activities is not needed to provide for my family because I have a full-time job that does that. The money I make from my part time business is either reinvested in the business or saved so that, one day, we can afford to purchase more land—-more than the 1.5 acres we now own. The acquisition of more land is central to my multigenerational agrarian vision.

I have told you these things to give you an idea of where and how the Lord is leading me. He leads each of us and our families differently but there may be similarities in our stories and our dreams, and perhaps my example will provide you with some insights or inspiration that may prove helpful to you.

With that in mind, I’d like to tell you about another of my part-time, home-centered, agrarian enterprises. Specifically, I want to tell you about garlic powder....

I started growing garlic in my garden back in 1998. I tried growing several varieties. Some grew very poorly and some grew very nicely. The ones that grew well, grew very well. The upstate N.Y. climate and my sandy, well-drained soil, fertilized with ample amounts of well-aged compost, was ideal for growing stiffneck varieties of garlic. The stiffnecks are often referred to as gourmet garlic, because they have a more hearty, robust flavor than to the common softnecks that you’ll find in most grocery stores.

One thing led to another and I tried peeling, slicing, and drying some of my stiffneck garlic. The resulting chips were good in Marlene’s winter soups and stews. Then one day I dumped some dried chips in a blender and ground them to powder. My homemade garlic powder was incredibly good. So good, in fact, that I bottled some of it up and gave it to friends and family as gifts. They liked it so much that they said they would buy it from me. That was the beginning of what has become a nice little agrarian home business for me.

I have been growing garlic, processing it into powder, and selling it for the past five years. When I realized how uniquely delectable homemade stiffneck garlic powder was, I decided to write a book on the subject. That’s what I do when something interests me and I want to share it with others—I write a book. The Complete Guide To Making Great Garlic Powder was published in 2003. The book tells how I grow garlic, dry it, and process it into powder.

At that same time I also wrote a Garlic Powder Profits Report. The report explained how I marketed, priced, and packaged my garlic powder. It provided samples of actual labels, and a list of suppliers for different products. I also included an essay about the “10 Keys to Success for Building a Sustainable Garlic Powder Business.” The report was not marketed very well but it still generated a lot of interest and the copies I printed sold out in about a year. The report has been out of print now for almost two years. I didn't want to reprint it until I revised and updated it. Finally, this last week, I’ve gotten around to doing that and the new edition of A Garlic Powder Profits Report: The Herrick's Homegrown Story is now in print.

I’m telling you about this new resource here because the products I offer are an integral part of the family life that I write about on my blog. And I’m telling you about the new, revised “Garlic Powder Profits Report” because, if you have any interest in this subject, I’d like to sell you a copy.

At 27 pages, my Garlic Powder Profits Report is not a long read, but it is crammed with nuts-and-bolts information about a very viable value-added home business that you can start without a lot of investment.

Selling your own homemade garlic powder, made from your own homegrown garlic, is a lot of work. And it will not make you rich. And it is not a business that you're likely to support a whole family on. But, if you like to garden, this is a nice little business that can provide a decent return for the effort you put into it. How much can you make? Well I discuss that in detail in the book, but I'll tell you that I "buy" the garlic bulbs I grow from myself for $5 a pound. Then I pay myself $20 an hour to process and package and market the product. And the final price of the powder even includes a small amount of profit over and above my actual costs of creating it. I currently grow around 1,200 bulbs a year and, after expenses, clear a couple thousand dollars from that. Sometimes I clear more. That's a couple thousand dollars net from a relatively small patch of land. Oh, and I sell every grain of garlic powder I can make. Selling the product has been far easier than making it.

What I've just told you has been my experience and it is, of course, no guarantee that your experience will be the same. Some people have made their own garlic powder and tried to sell it and they were disappointed that it did not sell better. Others have followed my example and have been very pleased with the results. The "secret" to this business is to start small, look at it as a long-term sustainable project, and build your market. Instant success is probably not going to happen. The point is, this little business can work and it does work and I'd like it to work for you the way it has worked for me. That's why I wrote the Garlic Powder Profits Report.

I could grow more garlic. Fact is, I have grown more. But, for now, I've found that as a part time business 1,200 bulbs is just right for me to handle. The really neat thing about growing garlic is that part of my harvested crop becomes seed to plant the next year's crop. In other words, there is no need to purchase seed every year and that saves a lot of money. It is also part of the definition of "sustainable."

I intend to grow garlic and make Herrick's homegrown powder for the rest of my working days (and I hope my working days in the soil continue until I'm a wrinkled old geezer!). If things work out that I can break from the industrial factory job, I will expand my garlic crop and the garlic powder. But this enterprise will always be one agrarian enterprise among many. I'm convinced that diversity is absolutely necessary with these agrar-preneurial enterprises! Or, to paraphrase the old agrarian saying, "Don't put all your entrepeneurial eggs in one basket."

Another great thing about garlic powder is that it can be the foundation of different custom herbal mixes that you can make and sell. Herbal dip mixes, herbal salad dressing mixes, barbecue seasoning mixes, and so forth. These are niche market opportunities that I haven't even touched, but others who make their own garlic powder have. Personally, one of the things I’m looking to do is grow and harvest dried beans and develop packaged bean soup mixes that contain my garlic powder and other spices that I raise and dry. This year I am growing 5 kinds of dry beans for seed to grow even more next year.

Anyway, if you’d like to purchase a copy of my “Garlic Powder Profits Report” I’d like to send one your way. The cost is $16.95. That price includes postage. If you don’t already own a copy of my book, “Making Great Garlic Powder,” you should have it too. The price is $6.95. Full details about these resources can be found at The Whizbang Books Online Catalog.

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P.S. Here is a photo of the report...

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I invite you to read my other garlic-related blog essays:

Making Pickled Garlic Scapes

How I Plant My Garlic

Selling My Garlic Powder At The Farmer’s Market

Curing Garlic Bulbs

Hay Hooks



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Marlene called me at work yesterday. She does that every so often and it’s always so nice to hear her voice. It is like a ray of sunshine beaming into the dark world of my industrial job.

Marlene told me it was a busy morning. She and James were working on making his quick breads and cookies for the farm market later in the day. In addition to that, one farmer called early in the morning to see if Robert could help pick stone.

Then another farmer called shortly thereafter to say he could use Robert at 1:00 to help with hay. It was the same farmer who let James hang out and help with hay yesterday, but not for pay. The farmer told Marlene that James was such a good worker yesterday that he would pay him today. As you might imagine, that news brought a big smile to my face. it was another ray of sunshine.

Robert picked stone in the morning and helped with hay in the afternoon. But, unfortunately, James couldn’t be two places at once and the farm market trumps hay. But the farmer said he would remember James next time he needed help, and James was thrilled to hear that.

Then Marlene said, “James wants to talk to you.” My son, another voice from home, another bright ray, came on the line and asked me if I would buy him a pair of hay hooks.

How many 11-year-old boys ask their dad to buy them hay hooks so they can use them to do hard, manly work? Maybe some new designer clothing or another computer game, but not hay hooks.

Well, I long ago outlawed computer games in this household and we don’t buy expensive designer clothing. But I’ll buy my son a pair of hay hooks. No question about it.

Last year, when Robert started helping with hay, he used his bare hands to grab the strings on the bales. I told him I would buy him some hooks and that is what I did. I stamped Robert’s initials on the handles and colored them in with a marker. Believe it or not, he slept with his hooks beside the bed when I first gave them to him. Now they have some wear but he has taken good care of them.

So now James wanted his own hooks, just like his big brother and, right after work, I headed directly to Barski Brother’s Feed. I plunked down a twenty dollar bill for two new Osborne hooks with hardwood handles. When I got home I stamped James’s initials on the handles just as I did on Robert’s.

If properly cared for, my son’s will have these hay hooks for the rest of their lives. In time, with enough use, the wood handles will loosen . If they get too loose, they can be removed and steel handles can be welded on. That’s what many farmer’s do when the handles finally go. They do that because a man can get real sentimental about his hay hooks.

I hope my boys will grow up looking back with a sentimental regard for their hay hooks—the hooks their father gave them when they were young boys. That thought is like another ray of sunshine in my life.

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Today I came home from work and both Robert and James were not here. They were both helping the farmer with his hay. They arrived home a short while later (the farmer drives them home). They came in the door dirty and tired but feeling good about themselves. That’s what working in the hay will do for you. After talking with them about their experience, I exclaimed, “I need to get a picture of you guys!” James replied, “Oh no, Dad’s gonna blog about this.”

Yep, I sure am.

The pictures on today’s blog entry are of my tired farm boys with their hay hooks, which they put to good use today.

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Processing Chickens
With My 11-Year-Old Son

Dateline: 17 August 2006

”I don’t want to grow up to be 
a helpless man.”

That’s what my 11-year-old son, James, said to me last Monday as we were processing our eight-week-old pastured chickens together. I had just complimented him for being such a good helper and he responded by repeating back to me something I’ve told my three boys many times in the past—”You don’t want to grow up to be helpless men.”

Well, I doubt James is going to be a helpless man because he is such an active boy with so many healthy interests and an excellent work ethic. Last Monday was a perfect example of what I mean.

I had set up the equipment to process our chickens in the backyard on Saturday. The plan was to do them all on Monday. But I was chomping champing at the bit. I processed 18 of the birds on Sunday afternoon by myself while Marlene and the kids were away. That left 42 birds for Monday morning.

But, come Monday, my oldest son had to work his regular job at the lumberyard and Robert went to help a local farmer with his hay. That left James and Marlene and me to take care of the birds.

Marlene does not kill, bleed, and scald chickens and, though she can do it, she is not all that skilled at gutting either. So she manned (womanned?) the vacuum sealer in the house, and worked at making us a peach pie, and did some cleaning, and she came running when we needed her help with something.

Here are some photos of my son the chicken butcherer at work, along with some commentary......

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James and I worked together to round up chickens at the Chicken Tractor which was way out on the lawn between the road and the garden. We put a bunch of them into our modified-for-poultry-transport garden cart and pulled the load right up to stage #1 of the process—the killing cones.

The cart in the picture is my homemade Whizbang Garden Gart. What an incredibly useful homestead tool that is!

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Here is James lifting a future chicken dinner out of the Whizbang cart.

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This photo shows James fitting the bird into the killing cone. The two cones I use are suspended over a wheelbarrow filled with dried grass clippings to absorb blood. Sawdust absorbs better but we did not have any.

I made the cones out of recycled galvanized ductwork. The pattern for these cones can be found on page 48 of the book, Anyone Can Build A Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker.

If you handle the chicken properly it will go right into the cone without a lot of fuss. Here, in some detail, is the way we do it:

First, set the chicken on the ground (or on the top of your makeshift garden cart poultry transporter when you make one). Let it stand freely. There is no need to struggle with it. Put your left hand in front of the bird’s chest and the other near its back end. The bird will try to walk forward to get away from you but you simply block its way with your hand in front of its chest. Then it will try to back away or jump up but you simply use your right hand just above the back end of the bird as needed to block it’s movement. It will go back and forth a few times before it realizes that you have corralled it. But you aren’t alarming it by grabbing it, you are merely blocking its movements. After a few seconds, the bird will accept the fact that it can go nowhere and it will calmly stand still. When this happens, you have graduated to the level of “chicken whisperer.”

Then, with your one hand still lightly blocking its front chest, move your other hand under the bird from behind, palm down. Direct your index finger between the bird’s two legs. Grasp its left leg between your thumb and index finger. Then reach over and grasp the right leg firmly with your index and middle finger. With the legs thus secured, lift the animal slowly and tip it ever so slightly against your hand that is against its chest. If you do this gently, the bird will cooperate without even flapping its wings. But it may flap a bit and that is no problem as long as you continue to maintain your hold. Walk the bird to the cones and tip it , head first, into the cone.

If you let go of the bird’s legs after you’ve deposited it in the cone, it will use its legs and feet to struggle and try to get out. If it gets out of the cone (and sometimes they do) you’ll have to chase the upset fugitive all over the place and that is counterproductive. So, to avoid that scenario, hang on to the bird’s feet with one hand after you have deposited it in the cone. With your other hand, loop a length of stretchy bungee cord around the feet, pull it taunt around the frame of the cone stand, and hook it in place. This completely immobilizes the bird.

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It isn’t pretty but the picture below shows the reality of killing chickens. You hold the chicken’s head by its comb with one hand and use a sharp knife to slice into each side of the neck, severing the main arteries. You know when you’ve cut the artery because the blood will flow fast and sometimes squirt. Then you let the bird’s heart pump the blood out of its body. The birds will occasionally squawk and thrash about but most of the time they are calm as the lifeblood flows out of them.

A carefully placed slice will do the job but James tends to overdo it. That is understandable and okay because it just makes the head easier to pull off after plucking.

I would not have dreamed of doing this sort of thing when I was 11 years old, and your average modern boy would not do something like this. But, thankfully, my son is not an average modern boy. He has no problem with this part of the process. In fact, he was chatting with the birds and contentedly singing songs from Vacation Bible School while slitting the throats.

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After the birds were dead, James clipped them into the auto dunker on my Homemade Chicken Scalder.

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James needs only to watch as the dunker does the work of repeatedly lowering and lifting the birds into and out of the hot scald water. The water is heated by a propane burner and automatically maintains the optimum temperature range.

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James knows the birds are sufficiently scalded when the wing feathers pull out with no resistance. It takes only a few dunks. Then he unclips the birds and brings them to the plucker.

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We yelled to Marlene to come help with the plucking while I took this next picture. That’s a homemade Whizbang Chicken Plucker Fact is, it’s the original Whizbang. Maybe someday we will put it in the Whizbang Museum.

Whatever the case, plucking chickens by hand is a drag but plucking them in a Whizbang is downright FUN!!!

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Before I snapped the following photo, I said to James, “Hold the chickens up and look excited.” Now that’s excitement for you!

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The excitement was almost more than I could bear. So I said, “James, try to look more serious.” Now this is serious!

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After plucking, James hammed it up for the picture below. He is about to attack the carcass.

The sink is an old enameled cast iron (very heavy) one that sat for years outside my parent’s barn. We brought it home, cleaned it up, and use it primarily for poultry processing. But I hope to hook the sink up permanently behind the house for using in the summer months as an outside sink. It would be very handy. The water supply comes from a garden hose. I have some 2” PVC pipe wedged up under the drain and leading 10 feet away.

While gutting the birds together, James worked on the right drain board and I worked on the left. These were the best moments of our processing day because we were close enough to carry on some more casual conversation.

James told me about the trapper’s cabin he hopes to build. He wondered about the war in Iraq and why we were fighting there (sometimes I wonder that too). At one point he said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if the President homeschooled his kids?”

I said yes, that it sure would be a good example. And then I suggested that it would also be neat if the President raised some pastured poultry in chicken tractors on the front lawn of the White House. Well that led to some more conversation. And so it went.

I must say that I had a wonderful time processing chickens with my son James last Monday. Although he is only 11, he worked like a man. Not a helpless man, but like a capable man who knew exactly what he was doing. It was a special day and he is a special boy and I thank God for allowing me to be his father.

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Oh, there is one more photo. After processing all those birds, it was time to clean up and put the chicken tractors away. Robert and James hooked their field car onto one tractor and towed it over to the weeds on the edge of our property. It is mostly out of sight there. The tractor has temporary transport wheels on the back end—it is setting on two mini skate boards.

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I have written several more essays related to the subject of poultry and small-scale poultry processing. here are links:








A Boy And His Log Dogs

I mentioned in an earlier blog here that my 11-year-old son, James, bought himself an adz for five bucks at the annual Route-90 garage sale and that he was looking for some log dogs. When David Taylor read the story he responded that he had an extra pair of log dogs and would send them along.

I didn’t tell James what he was getting but I told him that something special was coming in the mail for him. This was a couple weeks ago. He has been anxiously awaiting the surprise and pretty much gave up because it never showed up. But today, 14 days after David mailed the package, the U.S. postal service came through.

The lady at the post office handed the package over the counter to me and warned, “Watch out for the sharp projectile sticking out there." I told her that was the end of a log dog. It had broken through the side of the box.

When I got home and walked into the kitchen, James was bagging loaves of bread for the farm market tomorrow. He said, “Look at my arms,” and pointed to scratches on one forearm. “What’s that from?” I asked. He informed me that he had helped with hay on the farm where Robert works. That was a first for him and I was delighted to hear of it.

Robert asked the farmer if James could help. The farmer said he didn’t really need to hire any more help, but James could stay and hang out with them if he wanted to. Well, that’s what he did and he worked in the hay wagon and in the barn getting the hay in. He didn’t much care if he wasn’t getting paid. He just enjoyed being there.

I told him that there was something for him in my vehicle and he asked if the surprise package came and I said yes and he went right out to get it. They are really nice log dogs.

Below is a picture of the happy future log hewer with his axe and his adz and his new log dogs.

Thanks David!! That was an exceptionally nice thing for you to do.

Now I have to find some logs....

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Cheap Cars & Chicken Stock

I told you a short while back about the 1994 Nissan Sentra that I bought for $600. I’ve discovered one of the nice things about little Japanese cars is that when they break down, they’re easier to push by yourself.

Last week my little “rice burner” (as I affectionately call it) stopped running all of a sudden one morning on my way to work. I managed to coast into a deserted parking lot on the outskirts of the city. Then I walked towards the middle of the city, a mile and a half, to a grocery store with a phone.

I walked along urban arteries that I’ve only driven along for the past six years. I walked by houses set back maybe twenty feet from the blacktop road and with only a driveway width between them. Some had little lawns in the front that were about the size of my winter squash patch. A few had no greenery in front—just cars and dusty pavement. Many were old homes converted to multiple apartment buildings. I heard an upset woman screaming at somebody from inside one of them. I walked past an empty bar and a liquor store. The landscape around me was filled with overgrown weeds and litter and chain link fences. Cars were continually zipping by. I wondered if I was about to hear the voice of Rod Sterling.

The city is different, grittier, dirtier, when you are actually in it as opposed to driving through it in the comfort and security of an automobile. When I got to the grocery store I called home and my oldest son drove out to get me. He brought jumper cables and some tools. I waited for him at a run-down little park across from the grocery store. I sat on a bench and read a copy of “Farm & Ranch Living” magazine that I bought at the store. I like the magazine. It had an article about a Christian-agrarian family trying to make a go of farming somewhere out west. They were my kind of people.

We got back to my rice-burner and found one battery cable clamp was just about corroded off the terminal. After jump starting the car, I drove home and put a new end on the cable. The battery wouldn’t charge up so I bought a new one. It was noon before I got the repairs done. I could have gone back to work but the day was beautiful. My little homestead was more beautiful to me than usual. My wife and children were beautiful. Walking along squalid city roads had given me a fresh perspective. I more clearly saw my rural home as the blessed haven that it is. So I decided to stay there and do some things that needed doing. Things that offer much more joy and satisfaction that working in a factory in the city.

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Then, this morning, one week to the day after that incident, my little Nissan quit on me again. This time I was about to drive into the same grocery store when the motor stopped. I coasted to the parking lot entrance, jumped out quick, and pushed it up an incline and into a parking space.

My son was at work so I called Marlene. She came with the jumper cables. I charged it for 20 minutes while she checked out the Tuesday farmer's market on a nearby street. Then I drove the car to my neighbor Ron’s repair garage. As much as I wanted to stay home, I bit the bullet and went to the factory. I still like my little car...... when it works.

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Weekend before last I tilled up a patch of my neighbor Don’s field to plant garlic in come October. The ground had its share of stones. So I was tilling along for about an hour and as I passed a stone, I stooped down and grabbed it and tossed it off to the side for picking up later. The bending, twisting, throwing motion did a job on my back. I did not notice it that day, and the next day it was only a little sore. But the day after that I was practically crippled. It was acute lower back pain like I’ve never experienced before and hope to never experience again. I could walk but if I moved the wrong way the stabbing pain was enough to buckle my legs. We’re talking intense here! I suspect many of you reading this (I’m thinking of Emily in particular) know what I’m talking about.

Well after two days and nights of agony the back got to feeling just a little sore and uncomfortable. But it’s still not right yet..... especially after pushing the car.

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Sunday at church we had a gospel bluegrass group called Crosspoint from Shelbyville, Tennessee and we enjoyed them very much.

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I took yesterday off from work to process this year’s crop of chickens. We ordered 65 Cornish-X chicks 8 weeks ago. Sixty-seven came in the mail. Sixty survived and thrived. Dressed weights ranged from 3.5 pounds to 6.5. Figuring an average of 5 pounds translates to 300 pounds of chicken. Good, home-raised chicken!

We froze 18 of them birds whole and cut up the rest for freezing. When I cut the birds into separate wings, legs, and breasts, I end up with a lot of backs, which don’t have much meat on them. All the backs and necks went into four stock pots. Marlene added water, onions from the garden, celery, peppercorns, and a little salt, then let the contents simmer for a few hours. After that, she strained off the golden liquid and canned it.

Today she canned 28 quarts of stock, which you can see in this photograph...

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You’ll notice that James is eating a peach in the picture. Peaches are in season here in N.Y. and Marlene got a deal on a bunch of seconds at the market last week. Peaches rank right up there with blueberries and strawberries as my favorite fruits. So we’ve been eating homemade peach pie, peach smoothies, peach crumble, and just plain peaches.

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My garden is, I’m sorry to say, looking shameful. I have neglected it for a couple of weeks and it is overgrown in spots. But it still looks far better than last year’s effort and we are harvesting something from it daily.

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Speaking of preserving food, we bought a vacuum sealer for our chicken and other foods we want to freeze. The unit was kind of pricey and the bags are expensive but the machine does an excellent job. Prior to this year, we packaged our chicken in plastic bags and sucked the air out with a small hose duct-taped to the end of a vacuum cleaner, before sealing it with a twist tie.

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I also expect to use the sealer to package the dried garlic slices I use to make the garlic powder that I sell every year. 1-gallon glass jars have served the purpose in previous years and will continue to do so but the dried chips would probably keep better in the sealed containers in the freezer.

Speaking of garlic powder, I have been working on an updated version of my Garlic Powder Profits report. It has been out of print for almost two years. If all goes well, I have it back in print later this week and will post information about it then.

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Have you noticed that I’ve been putting more photos in my blog lately? I’ve become comfortable with the process and hope the shots are coming through for everyone. I plan to do a photo blog soon about chicken processing day and one all about my Whizbang Chicken Scalder. Stay tuned.......

New Hope Mills

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Half way through 9th grade, my family moved from suburbia to the rural countryside here in the Finger Lakes region of upstate new York. The old farmhouse we bought was about 1/4 mile down the road from New Hope Mills, which is pictured above.

Shortly after moving into the neighborhood, David Weed, son of Lee Weed, owner of the mill, stopped in to welcome us and he gave us a bag of the mill’s famous buckwheat pancake mix. He also invited us to visit the little church he and his family attended. The church was in an old one room schoolhouse and I’ve written about it here.

When I was 17, my father worked at the mill half days. One day he came home with his fingers bleeding. He had accidentally run his hand through a machine that was used to sew a lock stitch into the folded-over top of the bags of pancake mix. He was not seriously injured but it was the end of packing pancake mix for him and I got his job. I worked there much of one summer, then every day after school, and on Saturdays.

In the years since then, Lee Weed passed away, his son David died of cancer, and the mill is now owned by another son, Dale, who happens to be the pastor of the church my family attends. New Hope Mills has also outgrown it’s wonderful old building. It has moved it’s operation to a much more modern location on the outskirts of Auburn, NY. The mill sets idle. But once a year they have a little festival of sorts. They have a pancake breakfast and vendors and games and open the mill up for tours.

Marlene was there today under her canopy selling her homemade soaps. Here is a picture of Marlene.

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And here is a close-up of soap bars in the holders I designed.

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James was disappointed that he had nothing to sell. So, this morning, I outfitted him with some of my books and a basket of stiffneck garlic. Then he harvested some big round onions from his garden bed and put them in a basket to sell. I did not realize he had grown such beautiful onions and I wish I had taken a close-up photo of them to show you here. We priced the onions at $1.00 each and the garlic bulbs were $1.50 each or 4 for $5.00. Here’s a picture of James interacting with customers—something he is particularly good at. The man is looking at my chicken plucker book. I wonder if he has ever plucked a chicken?

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here is a shot of my son Robert. Behind him is a covered bridge. In front of him is the muddy mill pond.

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One of the neat things at the event was a dunking booth. For a buck, you could get three small bags of flour that you threw at a dunking mechanism. Here it is...

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The picture below is of a fellow on the dunking platform out in the mill pond.

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And here is what happens when the bag of flour connects with the arm of the dunker mechanism...

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Even though I worked at the mill many years ago, I decided to take a tour today. Pastor Dale told a group of us “tourists” about how the mill was built in 1823 by a man named Charles Kellogg. It turns out that Mr. Kellogg was a relation to the Kelloggs of cereal fame in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Back in the 1850’s, there were 15 water powered industries along one mile of the stream the mill sets on. The water comes out of Bear Swamp and flows into Skaneateles Lake, which is cold and clear and clean and beautiful.

Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the U.S. was born in Summer Hill, a few miles from the little crossroads town of New Hope. But when he was a boy his family moved to New Hope and, according to local lore, he worked in a carding mill not far from Kellogg’s mill.

The water wheel on the outside of the mill is a 26 foot overshot. It looks like it has always been there, but Lee Weed installed it in the 1970’s. Power to run the mill comes from a water turbine way down in the bottom of the structure. The turbine delivers 70 horsepower and runs an assortment of shafts and pulleys that convey grain to old grinders (shown in the next photo), and sifters, way up on the top floor. When the mill is working, and I remember it working when I was younger, the whole building creaked and rocked. But the framework of massive hand-hewn beams, held together with wood pegs, will accommodate the movement just fine.

The Weed family has cared for New Hope Mills for over half a century. Even though their business has outgrown the old mill, they still cherish it and are taking steps to preserve this wonderful relic of the past. You can learn more of the history of the mill and the Mill’s many products by going to The New Hope Mills web site.

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Politics & Meeting Vice President Cheney

An invitation arrived in my mailbox early last month...

You Are Cordially Invited To a Reception Featuring Vice President Dick Cheney

The reception, held at the Hotel Utica in Utica, New York was at 5:30 pm. Doors opened at 4:00 and attendees were advised, “Please allow sufficient time for security.”

I received the invitation because I am involved in Republican Party politics. Six years ago I became a Republican committeeman. It is the committee that chooses candidates and then collects signatures on petitions to get their chosen candidates on the ballot.

I joined the Republican committee for the same reason I ran for a seat on my town board. As a Christian, I feel compelled to be involved in the political process, to be salt and light in a dark and unsavory part of our modern culture, to be a public servant in the best sense of the word.

Well into the second term on my town board, I can tell you it has been an enjoyable and satisfying job. But being a Republican committee person has been disappointing— very disappointing.

I say that because I’ve come to realize that relatively few people are involved in political party politics for altruistic reasons. I dare say most people are in it because they hope to personally benefit in some way from it. Some want a government job or they want to advance in the government job they already have. Others hope to get some sort of government grants or contracts that will benefit them. Political connections (often referred to as “juice”) make all the difference. Some join the committee for the social aspects; they love to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to rub shoulders with, and be on a first name basis with, popular politicians. Then there are the precious few who are in the Republican committee because they want to be an influence for righteousness. These are stubborn oddballs who value principle over pragmatism. They can not be bought. They are, therefore, marginalized. They are pariahs. I count myself among them.

Now, here is where I must confess that I work for a N.Y. state government agency. Someday I’ll tell you about it because it is a somewhat remarkable job. At least I think it is. I mention it because I want to make it clear that I did not get my job because of my political connections. Fact is, I was not involved in Republican politics when I got the job. And I hope I never stoop so low as to use any political connection to help me advance myself. It’s bad enough that I work for the government. I’ll not make it worse by seeking anything from a corrupt political system... and, believe me, it is corrupt.

Since getting involved in Republican politics, I’ve become disenchanted and disgusted with the way the party system in this nation works. I see that the bulk of lower committee people, the worker bees of the party, like me, rarely have much say in who is chosen to run for office. Back room agreements and understandings are made and candidates are chosen by higher-ups before the Committee meets. It is typical for only one candidate (no challengers) to be presented to the gathered committee for a “rubber stamp” vote of approval. This is especially true in the state races, and certainly in the national races.

Outsiders, those who are not familiar with how the system works, and hope to run and get elected on their superior credentials are, time and again, shut out of the process in favor of a candidate who is “more qualified” because he or she is better connected to the party.

Two years ago I broke with the local committee and refused to collect petition signatures for an 11-term Republican incumbent “moderate” running for reelection to the US House of Representatives. Mr. Incumbent was in the back pocket of the abortion-on-demand lobby. That tells me volumes about the man’s character. He was financially backed by the liberal group, People For The American Way. The candidate I chose to support was the complete opposite—a genuine, conservative, pro-life, pro-second-amendment physician. He was a qualified and capable man.

Many pundits speculated that the brave and decent challenger had a real chance of winning—that Mr. Liberal Incumbent was in trouble. But the incumbent was flush with money from his special interest backers. He hired savvy, campaign-hardened political consultants. His campaign was carefully orchestrated. It was, I suppose, what is to be expected from a slick, well-entrenched, Washington DC veteran politician whose job is seriously threatened.

Mr. Incumbent “generously” spooned out the pork to key organizations in his district. He walked the walk and talked the talk like all politicians do when they are running for election. The upstart challenger was smeared and discredited. He was outgunned and soundly defeated. He never really had a chance.

I was profoundly disappointed at the loss—not so much because it was a loss, but because the incumbent used lies and half truths with such cunning ruthlessness to discredit a sincerely decent man. Make no mistake about it, politics is a dirty business. Politicians put on a friendly smile and seem to be everybody’s friend, but it is a show. They are masters of deception.

That is what I have learned from my brief involvement in Republican politics. Of course, it is the same in the Democratic party. When you clear away the rhetoric and look at the reality, both parties act in the best interests of their own exclusive “clubs.” The best interests of the nation and the people are secondary to their own best interests. Both parties are, in my opinion, ships being captained by corporate special interests. Follow the money.

Yes, I readily admit it—I have become cynical and jaded about political party politics in this country. It is a self defense reaction on my part. You either become that way or you become absorbed into the corruptness of it all. I have seen Christian people, people who I respected and thought were solidly grounded in their faith, rationalize away and compromise their Christian convictions because they didn’t want to go against the party. They allowed themselves to be absorbed into the corruptness.

And so, when I received that invitation to meet the Vice President of The United States, I found myself not the least bit interested.

I determined that I would much rather do something more exciting, more rewarding, and far more important that evening. I decided to stay home. I worked in my garden. I spent time with my wife and children on our little homestead.

It was not a difficult decision to make.

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By the way, I do not expect to stay involved in Republican Party politics much longer. I don't see how I can. But I will keep watch for brave challengers from outside the mainstream. If I think they are godly people, running for all the right reasons, I will help them with their campaigns. It doesn't take much to pass a petition and write a letter or two to the editor of a local newspaper. I'll even send them money. In other words, I will go to battle, but I will choose my battles carefully, as the Lord leads me.

I will also stay on the town board, and I expect to run again for the position when my term expires. I will not run as a politician because I am not, and hope never to be, such a creature. I will run as a simple, and sincere public servant. As such, I will do what I believe is right and true and best for all the people I serve, based on the dictates of my Biblical Worldview. I pray to God that I never compromise in that regard.

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Oh, one last thing... If you’ve read my blog for long, you know that I have never discussed political issues here before. This post does not signal any significant change. It has been an aberration. Such discussions will be a rarity. We will return to regularly scheduled topics associated with Faith, Family, and Livin’ The Good Life in the next post. Thank you.

Curing Garlic Bulbs

Dateline: 9 August 2006
Updated: 10 April 2013

I’ve been growing garlic for several years now. Five years ago I started making and selling garlic powder from my bulbs and that has turned into a nice little home business for me. In previous years I’ve grown as much as 4,500 bulbs but I found that was more than I could properly care for and process with the limited time I have (I work a full-time factory job and have several other irons in the fire). So I’ve settled on growing around 1,200 bulbs and that is what I harvested a few weeks ago.

When you dig the garlic, the skins are not papery, like the garlic you buy in the store. The bulbs need to dry down or “cure.” In previous years I have hung my garlic in bunches to let them cure. It’s a lot of work and trouble to hang the bunches and get good air flow. That being the case, this year I tried something completely different, and it has worked very well for me.

What I did was build drying racks out of 2x6 lumber. They have metal poultry netting stapled to the bottoms and they stack on top of each other like shown in this photo:

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As you can see from the photo, the shelves set on top of a box, which is made of 1/4” sheet material screwed to 2x4 uprights in the corners. A basic household fan fits in the bottom and aims up towards the shelves, as shown in this photo:

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I cut the tops off the bulbs immediatly after harvesting, put the bulbs on the shelves, and stacked the shelves up (as shown in this next photo). I ran the fan for a week straight and it dried the bulbs very nicely. But, I ran the fan a few days longer until I could start sorting and cleaning the garlic (which I am doing after work these days). Some bulbs will are being net-bagged for seed to plant in October. Some will go into garlic powder. And the largest bulbs will be sold by Marlene this weekend at a special event she is selling her homemade soaps at. I’ll have more to say about garlic in the days ahead.

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Scriptural Eldercare

"I pray that I live to see Christians taking their duties to their parents as seriously as they take their responsibilities to their children. The homeschooling movement has revolutionized how children are taught and trained by Christian parents. Let us begin a new revolution, a revolution in which servants of Christ consider caring for their own aged loved ones a high honor as well as a sacred duty."

I say a loud and clear Amen! to that quote from Stephen Orr, author of the soon to be released book, Faithful in Every Season.

Mr Orr also has a blog titled Christians and Scriptural Eldercare. The blog's subtitle is, Honoring God’s Fifth Commandment by Providing For The Elderly in Our Households.

I have not yet read all of Mr. Orr's blog, but I've read enough to know that this is a man with an important message who is honoring our Lord with his writing. I am particularly touched by a story he wrote titled,,The Weight of Providence.


Talkin’ Bout My Chicken Tractor

Dateline: 7 August 2006

Many people who visit this blog know what a chicken tractor is, and some even have one or more of them. For those who don’t know, a chicken tractor is a moveable cage for chickens. The cage has a top and sides but no bottom—it sets directly on the ground and is moved every day to a fresh patch of grass. The idea behind a chicken tractor is that the birds can supplement their grain ration with fresh greens and bugs and worms and stones for their gizzards. They also get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Birds raised in a chicken tractor get all the good things that industrial chickens—those raised by the millions in factory farms—do not get. As a result, the quality of a harvested factory bird pales in comparison to that of a properly raised chicken-tractor bird.

I built myself a chicken tractor eight years ago and I have used it to raise birds for my family every season since then. Two years ago, I built a second tractor. Based on my experience and observations, I believe the perfect chicken tractor should meet several key requirements. It should be inexpensive and easy to build by someone with basic handyman tools and skills. It should be strong and durable, yet lightweight and easy to move by hand, but not so light that a gust of wind blows it away. Furthermore, the perfect chicken tractor should be varmint proof, provide shade and protection from the rain and, at the same time, be well ventilated. Finally, the perfect chicken tractor design should allow the chicken farmer (that’s you) to easily feed and water the critters.

There are all kinds of homemade chicken tractors out there. Some are better than others but, as far as I’ve been able to determine, all have their shortcomings. In other words, the perfect chicken tractor has yet to be built. Nevertheless, you don’t need a perfect chicken tractor to raise your own wholesome, tasty birds. Which brings me to my own chicken tractors....

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The photo above is of the chicken tractor I made eight years ago. It measures five-feet by 12-feet. The bottom frame is pressure treated 2x4 fastened together at the corners with 3” drywall screws. 2x4 angle braces on each corner (visible in an upcoming photo) keep the frame square and make it strong.

The five hoops are 3/4” PVC pipe, available from any hardware store. Poultry netting covers the whole thing, except for the one end which is waferboard. After eight seasons (outside for 12 months of the year), and several repairs, the waferboard door was finally no good and we replaced it this season with another of 1/2” CDX plywood. I also reinforced the waferboard in other ways as needed to get it through another season.

The tarp on the top is a heavy duty one I salvaged from my town’s junk days. The ends of the tarp have a 2x4 on them. Stiff wire bent into hooks hangs from the top of the tractor and slips into screw eyes in the 2x4 to hold it up, as shown here in these photos. When unhooked, the weight of the 2x4 attached to the tarp holds it down and helps seal along the bottom edge.

I put the tarp sides down at night when slinking varmints are typically on the prowl. And I fill in any gaps around the bottom perimeter with scrap pieces of 2x4 and plywood, as shown in the following photos. I also leave my dog, Annie, outside to help deter night predators.

The pail on top gravity feeds water down through a hose to a Plasson bell waterer, which is visible in the next picture.

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In the photo above you can see the hose coming down from the bucket to the waterer which is suspended from the top of the tractor with a length of wire. So the waterer rides right along with the tractor when it is moved and I can adjust the height of the rim to accommodate the chickens as they grow.

The 10” wheels on the one end of the tractor were purchased at Home Depot. They are simply bolted to the 2x4 bottom with 1/2” bolts. At first, the tractor had no wheels. I moved it by pulling a rope attached to the other end and it was a tough pull. There is no way that my kids or my wife could move it in a controlled manner. The addition of those two wheels made the tractor incredibly easy to pull around. Even with the bucket of water full (around 30 pounds) my wife can now movethe tractor.

If you’ve never had a chicken tractor you might think that moving it would be no problem if you hook on to it with a small tractor (the motorized kind). Well, you certainly can move it easily with such a tractor but you’ll also probably run over the birds. That’s because they are not the smartest of creatures and some will not get along like you want them to. That being the case, you want to move the chicken tractor with some finesse, and that means by hand.

The only problem with the wheels on the one end is that they elevate the frame off the ground a bit. The space provides an entry point for small varmints. But the varmints are typically a night problem and between the 2x4 tarp ends and a few scrap blocks of wood, any spaces can be easily sealed for the night.

As you look inside the open door in the photo, you’ll see a feeder along the one side. That feeder is nothing more than a section of inexpensive plastic drain pipe. I cut a slot down the length and screwed round wood plugs in the ends. Then I screwed the length into the side of the tractor. it moves along with the frame. I can fill the trough feeders (on each side) from outside by pouring feed from a scoop through the wire.

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Here’s another view of the tractor. You can see the wheel, the bottom frame, and the Plasson waterer. If you observe closely, you will see two angled braces. They extend from each side of the bottom frame up to the top of the door end of the tractor. These braces are made of lightweight pine furring strips and they provide considerable rigidity to the entire unit.

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The photo above clearly shows the 2x4 angle brace in the bottom corner. The chicks are lined up at the feeders. The pull rope is visible in the left of the picture. This photo also shows the chicken wire (a.k.a., poultry netting) held to the hoops with pieces of twisted wire.

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The above photo is another chicken tractor variation that I made two years ago. It is akin to the tractors used by joel Salatin but it is much smaller. The tractor measures five-feet by eight-feet and is 28-inches high. The frame is made of 1-1/2” by 1-1/2” pressure treated wood. It has the same watering system and the same kind of tarp, permanently attached in the back, with 2x4 weighted drop-down sides. The top opens (as shown in the photo) for easy access. I have a feeder that I put in and take out when I want to move the tractor. This tractor has no wheels and a pull rope on both ends

In the final analysis, my Salatin style chicken tractor with the big door on top looks really nice and it’s built incredibly solid but the thing is way too heavy to move by hand. The other drawback is that it is not very big. Maximum full-grown chicken capacity is around 25 birds.

My hoop tractor, as homely as it appears, is a better tractor to work with. In fact, when I look at my previously stated criteria for the perfect chicken tractor, my eight-year-old hoop unit comes close. The only real drawback is the feeder troughs. They need to be longer and I think I could come up with a little better design for them. Capacity for the hoop tractor is 35 to 40 birds, which is good enough for a small producer like me.

One of these years, I’ll build another version of chicken tractor. It will be different from the hoop tractor I already have, but not much different.

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Speaking of chickens, here are links to some other blog essays that you may find interesting and useful:

Talkin' Bout My Chicken Tractor (Part 2)

Backyard Poultry Processing With My 11-year-Old Son

My Whizbang Plucker Story

Frequently Asked Questions About The Whizbang Plucker

Introducing My Deluxe Homemade Chicken Scalder

The Next Best Thing To A Whizbang Chicken Plucker

How To Butcher A Chicken

My Chicken Plucker Parts Business

FREE Chicken Feed

Turkeys in Tractors & Comfrey For Feed