Taking leave.......

Dear Friends,

The time has come, once again, for this deliberate agrarian to focus less on blogging and more on Faith, Family, & Livin' The Good Life. In other words, I'm taking a break from blogging.

Before I go, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a blessed Christmas season.

Lord willing, I shall return on January 1, 2008.

And I'm looking forward to it.

Herrick Kimball

P.S. Last year I put together The Most Challenging It's a Wonderful Life Movie Trivia Quiz in the World. I invite you to READ IT HERE.

And, if you are so inclined, feel free to answer any of the questions in the comments.

My Deer Boy

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The picture above is of my 16-year-old son, Robert, at the kitchen table cleaning fat and tendon off a piece of venison prior to packaging it for the freezer. Robert shot the animal just a couple days after Thanksgiving. It is his first year of hunting and his first deer.

Robert went out hunting many times during shotgun season. He went out alone in a tree stand of his own making and he went out with a couple of young men from our church. This first deer (a doe) was shot while hunting with the other men. Robert dropped it with a well-placed shot in the “kill zone” (right behind the front shoulder). He also, with the helpful instruction of one of his hunting buddies, gutted the deer before bringing it home.

It takes dedication, and determination, and persistence, and patience, and some know-how to successfully hunt deer. It takes some intestinal fortitude to cut the warm animal open and remove its insides. These are good qualities for a 16-year-old boy to develop and exhibit. I am a pleased and thankful father.

Deer for Dinner
Marlene’s brother and sister-in-law were up from Florida for Thanksgiving and several days afterwards. Before they went home, we had them over for supper and enjoyed some of Robert’s deer. Marlene does a fine job of stir-frying marinated slices of the venison, and we put them on brown rice with stir-fried vegetables and pineapple chunks. It is simple, good food. There were no leftovers that night.

Workin’ at the Rat Farm
Robert now works four hours a day, four days a week, at the local rat farm. I drop him off on my way to work in the morning and Marlene picks him up before noon. Raising rats and mice for zoos and laboratories can be a big business. The job is well suited to a 16-year-old boy with a lot of energy. It fits in with his homeschooling just fine.

My oldest son, Chaz, worked at the same rat farm for a couple of years before leaving for another job. The owner hired Robert, without hesitation because Chaz had been such a good employee. That’s what the guy said. Things like that please a father too.

Buying a Shotgun
Robert wanted to buy his own 12-gauge shotgun for hunting season. It’s a big expense for a boy and especially this boy, who is, by nature, careful about spending his hard-earned money. After much research and deliberation, he decided on a Remington 870 Express Combo. It is a reputable and dependable gun for the common man. It should serve faithfully for a lifetime.

So, Robert and his younger brother, James, and I went to a BassPro store not far from our home to buy the gun. So close to the start of deer season, they were sold out. But that didn’t stop the man behind the gun counter from talking to us for a long time about shotguns in general and the Remington 870 in particular. He told us almost ten million 870s have been made. He told us how many he owned (five). He told us about going to buy his first shotgun with his dad a long time ago. The fellow apologized repeatedly for not having an 870 to sell. He told us that he loves to sell a first shotgun to a boy with his father, and added: “It makes me feel like part of the family.” He sounded so sentimental when he said that, I thought he might start crying. The kids noticed it too. We didn’t bother to tell him it wasn’t Robert’s first shotgun. His first was a 20-gauge break action single shot that I bought him for Christmas a couple years back.

We left the BassPro store and went across the street to another gun store. The 870 was in stock at the same price. Once again, we got a salesman who took a special interest in a father and his teenage son buying a first shotgun. Once again, the salesman was a big Remington enthusiast. He was a wealth of information. We had a memorable buying experience, and each of us shook the salesman’s hand heartily on the way out of the store.

Second Deer
Last Friday, when I came home from work, darkness was settling and a storm was blowing in. Robert was out behind the house, across the gully, across the field, past the neighbor’s pond, across another field, and in a tree stand by the edge of some woods. Marlene and I were talking in the house and heard two shots in the distance.

Several minutes later, Robert was in the house. He had shot another deer. But he did not shoot well. He did not kill it. He had gone hunting with only two slugs for his gun (the last two he had). So he came back to the house for my 870, 20-gauge, and ammo for that gun.

The three of us headed out in the dark, over the gully, across the field, past the pond, across the other field, and into a swampy area around where Robert had been when he shot the deer. Using flashlights, we found the big doe still alive but immobile in the swamp. Robert finished the poor animal off with a shot and we commenced to pull it out of the dense underbrush.

I had a hold of one rear leg. He had the other. The beast was heavy. Robert sliced into the hocks and we slipped our hands into the openings to get a better grip. Together, we dragged while Marlene carried the gun and a flashlight. The low-cropped, frost-hard hay field was easier terrain to drag over than the brushy swamp. But we had a lot of ground to cover. Icy-hard snow crystals were in the strong wind. The road was a long way away. I was running out of steam. If I were 16 again, we would have kept dragging, but I’m not. I started thinking heart attack. Getting older is hard to accept.

I suggested we leave the deer in the field, walk to the road, walk the road home (1/2mile), get my Nissan Sentra, then drive back to the field, and load the deer on. As we were walking the road home, our neighbor (the one who owns the land where Robert was hunting) drove by with his backhoe. We flagged him down. He offered to get the deer up to the road in the bucket of the backhoe. Robert went with him while Marlene and I continued home for the car. By the time we drove back, Robert and his doe were waiting in the dark by the side of the road.

With him holding the front legs and me holding the back we swung the doe back and forth and heaved it up onto the trunk. It took a couple of tries to get it there. That’s one of the nice things about a beat-up, $600 used car (affectionately known as “Little Red”)—you can toss a deer on the back and not worry about scratches or dents.

All in all, it was quite an adventure. But there was one more thing that needed doing. When we got home, we turned on the outside floodlights and dragged the deer into position on a plastic tarp. Robert took his coat off, pulled up his sleeves, and proceeded to gut the animal. He wasn’t hesitant or squeamish about the job. He knew what he needed to do and I was, frankly, amazed to see my son do this nasty job without any instruction or encouragement from me. I pretty much just watched. And my heart swelled with admiration. Oh, and I took a couple pictures too (see below).

Butchering the Deer
We have gotten deer from friends and family for several years and have butchered them ourselves. We hang the deer from a ceiling hook in my workshop and slice the meat off. We aren’t butchering pros but we manage. And butchering is something I get involved in. It’s the least I can do. :-)

Robert: On Hunting
My son told me that when he is sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer to show, it gets boring and he gets cold. When that happens, he says he thinks he would rather be inside where it’s warm. But when he’s inside where it’s warm, he thinks about how he would rather be outside hunting. ”Deer hunting is addictive,” he tells me.

Reconnecting With Tradition
I have never seriously hunted a deer. I have certainly never shot a deer. And I have never gutted a deer. My grandfathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before them were all, I’m quite certain, hunting men. But my step-father was not, and I spent my formative years doing pointless modern-boy things in a suburban housing project. So the multi-generational hunting tradition in my family line was broken with me. That’s a sad story.

But it’s not the end of the story. My sons (two of them) are interested in hunting and I have encouraged their interest. While some boys their age are riveted to video games (something I do not allow in my home), my sons are learning practical, character-building, manly skills. They will, I believe, reestablish the tradition of hunting in our family line. They will, I'm sure, teach their sons to hunt. In this generation we are reconnecting to a very important rural rite. And that is the best part of this story.

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More Deer Stories
My congratulations to fellow agrarian bloggers, and successful hunters...

Jonathan Bartlett in North Dakota
A Few More Pitures For The Day

Scott Terry in Upstate New York
More Meat For The Freezer
The Buck

Pastor Thomas McConnell in Missouri
The Lord Answers My Call For Help

Thinking About Christmas Shopping

A radio news report I recently listened to stated that if Americans do not buy a lot of Christmas gifts this year, the economy will “be in the tank.” That’s the exact wording they used: In the tank.

Well, I haven’t heard how sales are going so far but I can tell you that the economy in my neck of the woods is not good. The cost of everything is going up. I live relatively simply. I have no mortgage payment, no credit card debt, no college bills, and yet, I feel pinched. Gasoline, auto repair, electric, telephone, all the insurances, dentist bills, taxes....I wonder how in the world other people are making ends meet? How is it possible that Americans can purchase a lot of Christmas gifts this year?

When I was a kid I would look through the Penny’s and Sears catalogs around Christmas time and dream of having so many different things. These days, there are plenty of other merchandise catalogs that come in the mail around Christmas. I do not look at them the way I once did. Now I look through them and think to myself how ridiculous and totally unnecessary almost all the stuff is.

Take, for just one example, the Brookstone catalog. It is subtitled, “Innovations for home and life.” There is NOTHING in the catalog that I need, or that anyone else really needs. Granted, there are a lot of clever and unusual gadgets and gizmos that you can spend your hard-earned money on, but few of them are truly useful or necessary. All of them will loose their luster, and end up being thrown out, some in a surprisingly short time. Or they will end up being sold in a garage sale or on Ebay, for far less that was originally spent on them.

So much unnecessary stuff. So much junk. So much eventual landfill fodder. The future of our economy rests on the willingness of Americans to buy this kind of merchandise for themselves and each other this holiday season. I think there is something seriously wrong with that.

Fusco’s Law, The Amish, & Upstate NY in 2050

The local Amish situation is still on my mind.

If you have not read my most recent blogs about the town board of Locke, NY and it’s persecution of the Amish population, I invite you to read about it here:

Defending The Amish

Defending The Amish (Part 2)

Today I heard through the grapevine that the Lock town board fully intends to pass the proposed, Fusco’s Law (named after the town’s attorney, Andrew Fusco, who has drawn it up and recommends that the board pass it). The law requires that all contractors, including the Amish, have liability insurance in order to work in the town. Currently there is no state or local law requiring such insurance. Passage of the local law will effectively serve to drive the eleven recently-settled Amish families out of the town of Locke.

After having been at the town meeting (as reported in the links above), and seen first hand the strong local support for the Amish, and the strong disdain for the proposed local law, I find it incredible that the board would even consider passing the law. I hope the local grapevine is wrong. But there are few secrets in a small rural community.

The next board meeting is December 20th. I will be there and I will report on the outcome here.

In the meantime, with the Amish on my mind, I was Googling my way around the internet and I happened across a most curious web site called Upstate 2050. The subtitle of the site is Fragments From Possible Upstate Futures. The site is a collection of possible news reports from Upstate New York, 43 years from now.

Now, let me do some quick calculating here… Lord willing, I will be 92 years old in 2050. And 43 years ago it was 1964. The world was a much different place when I was six years old, and it will be a much different place in 2050. The continued growth of Amish population in upstate New York (not to mention other areas of the country) over the next 43 years will, no doubt, have a profound effect on those areas.

Here is the text of an “Upstate 2050” report titled, Amish Upstate, posted on September 24, 2007:

After the 2020 census, it was painfully clear that most of Upstate was losing most of its population rapidly. Businesses had left cities, and people had followed. The only stable institutions seemed to be universities, which remained as attractive as ever, but weren't generating new jobs.

One group of residents was growing rapidly, however. Amish communities had started moving into New York in large numbers around 1970, and continued immigration from Pennsylvania combined with their ability to make tired farmland prosper and a high birthrate to create new agricultural communities. They weren't the only farmers in New York, but their numbers grew and grew.

The combination of collegetowns and Amish produced some cultural conflict, but the two groups agreed quickly on food: the Amish produced mostly organic food that fed their neighbors and even a substantial chunk of Downstate.

Amish communities had less demand for social services, reducing the need for government in some parts of New York, and as their numbers grew, the places where they lived were able to reduce their service levels and even their taxes. Roads decayed quietly under the wheels of buggies, and small towns returned to their historic role as centers of agriculture. A few roads and railroads connected the old cores of the Thruway cities with the collegetowns in the countryside, but even they were much quieter, returning to levels of traffic not seen in a century, back in the 1950s.

I don’t know about you but none of that sounds too bad to me. Fact is, I love the idea of peaceful, quiet, Amish communities, and small towns returning to their role as centers of agriculture.

But if Fusco’s Law passes in Locke, NY, the Amish have said they will have to leave. I hope they won’t go far. I live in Sempronius NY, right next door to Locke. I’d love to have Amish families for neighbors. I could care less if they hang their laundry in the front yard or recycle old house trailers into hen houses. They are frugal rural people working hard to make a living and a life close to the land. They deserve a better welcome than they are getting with Fusco’s Law.

Click HERE to check out the web site, Upstate 2050

Broken Limbs & Grant Gibbs

Dateline: 1 December 2007

Aspiring small-scale farmers can learn a lot about how to make a living and a life on a relatively small section of land from Grant Gibbs' advice and example. (Grant is pictured on the far left)

A couple blogs back, I made an offhand comment about the documentary film, Broken Limbs, and Grant Gibbs, a man who is featured in the film. Now I am going to tell you more.

I purchased a copy of Broken Limbs a few months ago. It is a low-budget but fine-quality independent film about the decline of small apple farms and traditional apple agriculture in Wenatchee, Washington.

Wenatchee’s once prosperous small-scale apple farmers have, in recent years, been hard hit by consolidation and globalization of agriculture. What small farm in America has not been negatively affected by consolidation and globalization?

This story of the decline of small apple farms in the Pacific Northwest is poignant and heart wrenching. It is an emotional experience to see a family lose their land, their home, and their way of life, as does one family featured in the movie.

But this is not a documentary of despair. It is one of hope and promise. After showing the dismal economic reality of debt-bound, small-farm agriculture that relies on the selling of its crops at commodity prices to survive, the movie offers a solution.

The solution is presented by professor John Ikerd, a learned man with an incredibly perspicacious grasp of the historical, political, economic, and social dynamics of agriculture. Ikerd also has the ability to speak clearly and compellingly about the problems and solutions.

Professor Ikerd makes it clear that industrial agriculture is rapacious and unsustainable. He repeatedly states throughout his vast body of writings (see link below) that in order to be sustainable, agriculture must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible. He has termed this new vision of sustainable farming as New American Farming and those who pursue it are New American Farmers. Ikerd says:

“The kind of farming we’re talking about in terms of sustainability requires the creativity, it requires the imagination, it requires now determining what you can do in terms of recreating agriculture in a particular area.”


“There are literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of farmers across this country and around the world that are thinking in different ways. They are working thinkers, thinking workers if you will. These are the New American farmers”

After introducing professor Ikerd and his ideas about New American Farming, the movie introduces some New American farmers, one of which is Grant Gibbs. Gibbs is the real deal—a successful, small-scale, diversified, organic farmer with 30 years of experience behind him.

From the movie and this internet article I learned that Gibbs owns 80 acres of land, 60 of which are wooded, in Chelan County, Washington, 100 miles east of Seattle. The Gibbs farm produces cattle, hogs, chickens, vegetables (2-1/2 acres), fruits (apples & pears), Christmas trees, and timber (he has his own sawmill). Gibbs markets his farm products direct to neighbors, through farmer’s markets, and to food co-ops, all within a 20-mile radius of his farm.

Here is an interview excerpt from Gibbs on the Broken Limbs DVD:

My main thing in farmin’ is to farm food for poor people. Organic food for poor people. I’m not trying to hit the higher end Microsoft spectrum of high end incomes. Let some other organic grower do that. I want to grow organic food that people in Chelan County can afford.”

From the documentary we learn that Gibbs does not abide by commodity pricing for his apple crop. He sets his own price and holds it. When the commodity price once dropped to $21 a box, Gibbs refused to sell his crop for less than $26 a box. That was what he needed and if he didn’t get it he figured he would just feed the crop to his hogs. Out of ten small-scale-store customers, eight stayed with Gibbs and paid him the $26. That kind of story underscores the value of relationship marketing.

Gibbs lives simply and debt-free. He says, I live within my means. I farm within my means. In an interview segment on the DVD titled, “Grant: On Living Simply,” Gibbs says:

“I’m not plugged into the mass media and all the pressure from the outside, say it be a chemical company or John Deere tractor company, or Monsanto, or whoever. It does not matter. I’m not plugged into any of that. I’m isolated from it. And if I want to drive a 1969 pickup ‘till I die, I’m gonna do it. There’s no pressure for me to go get an F350, 1999 Powerstroke Ford diesel. I don’t want it and I don’t need it. I don’t need the debt. I don’t need the higher license. I don’t need the higher insurance. All that would drag my farm profit down, right? We’re selling this whole apple crop out of a pickup that only cost $300.”

Gibbs built himself a solar log home with wood from his property, and no bank loan. It took him three years and cost $18,000. We get the impression that Grant is a multitalented and capable man, much like the yeoman farmers of old. Sitting at the kitchen table of his solar log home he tells the interviewer:

“I got the skills, mechanic skills, I could be down in Wenatchee diesel mechanicing for some truck shop down there. I could be a welder/fabricator over on the coast doing, you know, fabrication work. Or I could be a Wyerhauser forester. You know, I got all these different things I could do. But I’m not a money-driven person. I’m a happiness-driven person. And happiness to me comes from being on the land, and working with the land.”

Gibbs is an endearing example of the New American Farmer. His objective is to create a farm that suits his land and takes care of its own needs. He believes he is close to being completely self-sustaining on his property. The biggest threat to this is the rising cost of property taxes.

One of the greatest things about Grant Gibbs is his desire to teach others what he knows about sustainable agriculture. For the past twelve years he has hosted seasonal interns at his farm.

“I want to teach these kids how to grow a crop without going to the credit union to borrow the money. I want to teach them how to save the seeds if they want to and not have any money in growing it other than the fuel to turn the soil [and] make the seed bed.”

If I were a young man again, with my life ahead of me, and a desire to learn and establish myself on the land, I would find my way to Grant Gibbs’ farm and learn from this man. Such apprenticeships were not around when I was 18 years old and yearning to be a farmer, but not having any idea how I could possibly make it happen. Gibbs is doing something remarkable on his small piece of the planet. He appears to be a fine example of the pioneering New American Farmer

If you have an interest in New American Farming, I encourage you to read the internet writings of John Ikerd. One of the bonus features of the Broken Limbs DVD is a keynote address by professor Ikerd.

To learn more about the documentary, click here: Broken Limbs Documentary Movie

Updated Information

You can now watch the documentary online at THIS LINK. (Grant Gibbs is featured at 37:28  to 44:15 in the 57-minute movie)