I’m Giving Away a House

Dateline: 29 July 2008

In a previous blog essay titled, Room & Board For The Birds I told you about how I provide nesting boxes for bluebirds and swallows around my garden, and how they return the favor by eating insects.

That story got me to thinking that I have a brand new copper-top Peterson bluebird box that I made a few years ago and never put outside. I thought it might be neat to have a contest and give the nesting box away to someone. So that’s what I’m going to do.

It so happens that my Whizbang book sales are typically slow in July so I’m launching this little contest as a fun way to maybe boost the number of books I sell.

This is how it’s going to work: Buy a Whizbang book (titles and links are below) direct from me during the month of July and your name will be entered into the contest, which will be a drawing. Your name will be put on a slip of paper and into a hat. At the end of the month we will draw a winner out of the hat.

You will be entered in the drawing once for every book you buy. So if you buy ten books (or 100) your name will be put on that many slips of paper and put in the hat. On August 2, 2008, we will have an official drawing here at the international headquarters of Whizbang Books. I’ll post the winner’s name and the state they live in. Then I’ll mail you (if you are the winner) a copper-top Peterson, which you will love and cherish for many years to come.

The picture above is of the exact birdhouse I will send to the winner of this contest. I just hung it on a post in my garden for the picture. Here’s another picture:

By the way, that copper top is heavy gauge copper. So this is an “investment grade” birdhouse. With the way copper prices are going up, that roof alone could be worth a hundred bucks in another year or so.

In the event that you are among the millions of people half-dozen people who already own every single Whizbang book I’ve ever written, that is no problem. Just buy more books to give to your friends and family. Books make really fine gifts.

Links to all my Whizbang books are below. If you click on a link, you will learn about the book, how much it costs (remember that all prices include first class shipping), and be directed to information about how to purchase it.

Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker

Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Chicken Scalder

Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Garden Cart

The Complete Guide to Making Great Garlic Powder

The Herrick's Homegrown Story: A Garlic Powder Profits Report

Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian


P.S. The birdhouse is fairly heavy and I don't want to pay any more for shipping than I have to so this contest is only for folks living in the lower 48 states of the U.S.A.


Dateline: 28 June 2008
Updated: 26 April 2013

As the price of gas and diesel fuel soars ever higher, there is a lot of discussion about the huge profits being made by big oil companies. People are angry with the oil companies. People are angry with government. They are angry with oilman politicians like George Bush and Dick Cheney. There is a lot of anger going around.

Well, of course there’s a lot of anger. After all, the traditional American expectation of perpetual prosperity is gradually turning into an economic nightmare. But, unlike a bad dream, this is reality, and a harsh reality at that.

Personally I am far more concerned with the huge profits currently being made by big agricultural industries (BigAg) than I am with BigOil. Food is an absolute necessity for every human on earth. Oil is not.

Food production and distribution is, of course, intertwined with fossil fuels, but not inextricably, Believe it or not, civilization can (and will) survive without an overabundance of crude oil. We have around six thousand years of pre-oil human history to prove that. People are resourceful. They can adapt to such changes. At least some can.

But food is another story. There are currently millions of people in the world facing significant hardship, malnutrition, and even starvation over this matter of food. Why? Because they and their countries are dependent on BigAg’s food, the cost of which is rising at alarming rates. And all the while, the BigAg corporations are making record profits.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that industrialized farming and food production is all about feeding the world. That is a serious misconception. The large global corporations that manage the vast majority of food production and the flow of food to markets are not humanitarian agencies. These behemoth corporations exist for the sole purpose of making money. Everyone needs food and the Industrial Providers do not give it away.

Cargill, a major player in the global food oligopoly realized a $2,340,000,000 profit in 2007. That was a 36% increase over the previous year. Cargill has its tentacles on many links of the food chain but receives its greatest portion of profit from commodity trading. In the first 3 months of this year Cargill reaped 86% higher profits over 2007 from its global trading in agricultural commodities. It’s hard to lose money in commodity trading when you have almost monopolistic control over a huge portion of the world’s food supply.

Record profits were also raked in by another BigAg corporation, which also happens to be the second largest grain trader in the world. US based ADM had 2,200,000,000 in profits in 2007, up 67% from 2006. This year’s profits are even higher.

BigAg’s game plan has been to consolidate their control over global food markets by destroying the centuries-old indigenous agricultural systems of every nation, and to make those nations dependents of BigAg. They have done this in recent years through NAFTA, the WTO, and World Bank collusions. To an alarming degree, this takeover of global production and distribution has been successful.

The BigAg corporations have usurped the food sovereignty and security of Mexico, as I wrote about in this essay. They have done it in Haiti, the Philippines, Western Africa, South America, and elsewhere. Through devious manipulations over many years, a cartel of corporations has gained global food control.

Now, as people in these nations can hardly afford to buy food from the Industrial Providers, the food corporations are bringing in their greatest profits. But it isn’t just people in developing nations that are hurting. People in this country are also finding it increasingly difficult to afford food. You already know that.

People the world over are clamoring for governments to help them deal with the food crisis. What will governments do? In many instances, they, and numerous sincere humanitarian agencies, will buy food from the Industrial Providers to give to needy people. But that’s only a temporary expedient, not a lasting solution.

My whole point here (aside from ranting) is to point out that the so-called “green revolution” of industrial farming that so many people look upon with praise and admiration has not been all about feeding the world, as some claim. That’s hogwash.

The “green revolution” which created an agricultural system dependent on big machinery, high debt, pesticides, genetic chicanery, synthetic fertilizers, and massive amounts of fossil fuel, is about the corporate food oligopoly getting maximum control and making maximum profits.

And global food shortages, whether real or manipulated (I’m not entirely sure which it is—probably a combination of both), are being utilized by BigAg to increase their profits. It’s all about BigMoney.

In response to the current world food crisis, some people are calling for a new “green revolution.” Their definition of which is more industrialization, more control by the industrial providers, more dangerous dependency on the cunning Food Masters. This is foolishness to the point of even more extreme dangerousness.

In the final analysis, industrialized agriculture has no viable solution to the problems of world food security. That’s because industrialized agriculture is, itself, the most significant part of the problem. True solutions are not found in predatory and destructive paradigms. Lasting solutions can only be found by going outside the industrial box.

I plan to have more to say about “feeding the world” in an upcoming essay.

Note: America’s second largest oil company, Chevron, took in 18.7 billion dollars in profits in 2007. The company will make even more this year. I realize that far surpasses the profits of BigAg. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that BigAg makes it’s BigBucks through morally corrupt business practices, and wields far too much power and influence in the world

Room & Board For The Birds

Last summer I observed an amazing natural drama being played out in the field across the road from my house. A great many swallows (easily hundreds—maybe even thousands) showed up for two days to feast on a pestilential quantity of small white moths.

The moths were flitting all over the field and the swallows were swooping and swallowing for hours. There were so many birds over the field, flying and swooping in graceful arcs from all directions, that I was amazed none of them collided with each other. Maybe some did.

The two electric wires that span from pole-top to pole-top down the road were lined with so many perching swallows. All the while, birds were leaving to feed and others were returning from feeding forays to perch and rest. It was as if a whole vast community of swallows had gathered to harvest the field together. And, surely, they were having a good time of it.

Bird activity like that is indicative of a healthy and properly functioning ecosystem. It is also a testimony to how wild birds can be a help to mankind in the work of stewardship. That is, of caring for the land in a responsible, sustainable manner.

Where did all those swallows come from? How did they all know an abundance of food was presenting itself in that field at that time? There are so many mysteries like that in the natural world. But this isn’t really a mystery because I know what happened. All those birds were alerted and invited to the feast by the two swallow families that live in nesting boxes by my garden.

For at least the past ten years I have had four bluebird nesting boxes around my garden. Every spring, we get one or two bluebird couples and the other boxes are settled by swallows. Both birds are a delight to have around the garden. They sing and swoop, raise their clutches of young’uns, and keep watch over my “crops.” They earn their keep by eating insects.

You gotta love birds like that. And if you’re a serious gardener, I dare say, you gotta provide homes for birds like that.

Here’s a picture of one bluebird nesting box that is beside my garden:


If I am weeding or otherwise working in my garden near a nesting box, the birds are not happy with me. But I can get remarkably close and they’ll still tend to their parental duties of feeding their chicks. I like to think we are friends. We have an excellent working relationship. But if I sit eight feet away from their nest with a camera, waiting to take their picture, my friends do not cooperate at all. Would that I could get a picture of mother bluebird standing on the top of her home, gazing across the garden. I can see that scene and enjoy it myself, but I can’t seem to get a picture of it to show you. The best I’ve been able to do is get this photo of a swallow peeking out the “front door” of its house:


The house shown in the above pictures is a Peterson bluebird nesting box, which is considered by many bird enthusiasts to be the best ever bluebird house design. My boys and I made a bunch of them years ago. The Peterson is easy to assemble and will last a very long time.

My bluebird houses have copper-clad roofs. They are high-class domiciles. I don’t suppose the birds care about things like that, and that is a credit to their species. Even still, I like a copper-clad roof because it should last a very, very long time.

If I ever own more land, I will most assuredly make lots more bluebird nesting boxes and place them around the open fields or larger garden areas. I love the idea of providing homes for these beautifully created creatures, and getting their help with insect control in return.

Build the nesting boxes and the birds will move in. It’s as simple as that.

You can get free Peterson bluebird box plans here: Free Peterson Bluebird Box Plans

Meeting Michael B. & Company

Today I did something kind of different. I had lunch with Michael Bunker.

He and a couple of men from his Christian agrarian community in Texas drove up this way to visit a friend, sick with cancer, in Gettysburg, PA. Pennsylvania is just below New York. So I drove south for a distance and he drove north and the four of us had lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

For those who don’t know, Michael Bunker has a blog called “A Process Driven Life” where he writes about his Christian and agrarian convictions and the life his family leads “off grid” in the rural wilderness of Central Texas.

Those who have read his blog know that Michael isn’t afraid to speak his mind when it comes to matters of his religious faith and the doctrines he believes in. As a result, some people find him contentious and provocative. That’s understandable. But, personally, I enjoy reading his perspective. He often gets me thinking about things I should be thinking more about. Most of the time, I agree with him.

I happen to think Michael’s two essays on Biblical agrarianism, Agrarianism vs Urbanism and Towards a Biblical Agrarian Culture are particularly good.

We had a nice visit over lunch today. I did not find Michael contentious in the least. It was a pleasure to meet him and his traveling companions, Joseph and Chris. I learned about their community and the things they are doing. I learned that Texas has no state income tax, and property taxes in his area are next to nothing. If you want to build a house, or anything else, in the county where Michael lives, you don’t need to ask permission of the government. Wow. Texas sounds like a whole nuther world from New York. And land is relatively cheap down there too.

Of course there are drawbacks...like rattlesnakes. And, unfortunately, they are going through a drought these days.

If you’d like to see a picture of me and Michael and Joseph (Chris is behind the camera), go to this link: Me and Michael Bunker

By the way, Michael is also editor of a web site called Biblical Agrarianism.com.

James Howard Kunstler on The Future of Agriculture

There are people who I suspect make a good living off of gloom and doom prognostications. They write best-selling books with all the evidence to back up their claims. They give speeches. They tell us with certainty what’s going to "go down" and just how bad it’s probably going to get when the disaster strikes. There were several such “experts” during the Y2k scare. They were all wrong.

James Howard Kunstler is a current doom & gloom celebrity. As a “Peak Oil” prognosticator, he has a big following. His credibility comes from his ability to write in a compelling manner. And it comes from the fact that what he has predicted appears to be coming true.

If we are indeed in the beginning stages of a Peak Oil crisis (what Kunstler refers to as the “Long Emergency”), life as we have known it in the industrialized west is, undoubtedly, going to change. Actually, I think it already is changing. Will it change as radically as Kunstler postulates? Probably not. But if it’s half as bad, it’s going to be significant. And, like I said, the guy appears to be right on so far.

In a recent editorial in “The Daily Reckoning” Kunstler writes about the flooding in Iowa and equates it to a “wet version of the 1930s Dust Bowl.” He predicts changes coming to agriculture. Here is an excerpt:

[We currently have] an agribusiness model of farming cranked up on the steroids of cheap oil and cheap natural-gas-based fertilizer. Both of these "inputs" have recently entered the realm of the non-cheap. Oil-and-gas-based farming had already reached a crisis stage before the flood of Iowa. Diesel fuel is a dollar-a-gallon higher than gasoline. Natural gas prices have doubled over the past year, sending fertilizer prices way up. American farmers are poorly positioned to reform their practices. All that cheap fossil fuel masks a tremendous decay of skill in husbandry. The farming of the decades ahead will be a lot more complicated than just buying x-amount of "inputs" (on credit) to be dumped on a sterile soil growth medium and spread around with giant diesel-powered machines.

Like a lot of other activities in American life these days, agribusiness is unreformable along its current lines. It will take a convulsion to change it, and in that convulsion it will be dragged kicking-and-screaming into a new reality. As that occurs, the U.S. public will have to contend with more than just higher taco chip prices. We're heading into the Vale of Malthus - Thomas Robert Malthus, the British economist-philosopher who introduced the notion that eventually world population would overtake world food production capacity. Malthus has been scorned and ridiculed in recent decades, as fossil fuel-cranked farming allowed the global population to go vertical. Techno-triumphalist observers who should have known better attributed this to the "green revolution" of bio-engineering. Malthus is back now, along with his outriders: famine, pestilence, and war.

We're headed, it seems, toward a fall "crunch time," and that crunching sound will not be of cheez doodles and taco chips consumed on the sofas of America. I think we're heading into a season of hoarding. As the presidential campaign moves into its final round, Americans may be hard-up for both food and gasoline. On the oil scene, the next event on the horizon is not just higher prices but shortages. Chances are, they will occur first in the Southeast states because oil exports from Mexico and Venezuela feeding the Gulf of Mexico refineries are down more than 30 percent over 2007.
You can read the whole editorial at this link: ”Status Quo-Oh” by James Howard Kunstler

Garden Salad Flakes:
Rick Machados Great Idea

Dateline: 25 June 2008
Updated: 27 April 2013

Much of the “good life” revolves around good food. I define good food as fresh, wholesome, and homegrown (or locally grown) without the use of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals. Good food is food that not only tastes good but is also a powerhouse of natural nutrition.

Fresh salad greens rank near the top of the hierarchy of nutritious foods. Leaf lettuce, chard, kale, beet greens, and spinach are incredibly good foods. Can anyone tell me of a food that is more healthful than such salad greens?

If everyone ate a homegrown salad of mixed greens every day of their life they would have less health problems and more vitality. We all know that, yet who does that?

Most who are cognizant of the goodness of salad greens crave them out of season and enjoy them in season. But, for a variety of reasons, as the garden season rolls on, we don’t eat greens as much as we thought we would in the winter. That’s not good, and if your mother isn’t around to remind you, let me clearly state: “You should be eating more salad and less of that other stuff.”

Now, having said that, I want to tell you about a remarkably good idea for easily incorporating greens into your diet all the year round.…..

There is a fellow by the name of Rick Machado out in Southern California who is an innovative small-scale farmer. One of Rick’s goals is to “farm at the most basic, simple, uncomplicated, non-mechanical level possible.” Another goal is to “work to make a profit, believing that the only way to keep the family farm is to make it pay for itself.” And yet another goal is to “confidently promote farming as a viable profession for anyone who wants to make a difference.” Words like that inspire me.

One of Rick’s innovative farm ideas is a product he calls, Garden Salad Flakes.

Garden Salad Flakes are a mixture of dehydrated greens. Rick harvests, washes, dries, and packages the small flakes in re-sealable mylar bags. Then he sells the product to health-conscious people, like me.

I bought a package of Garden Salad Flakes from Rick because I was so intrigued with the goodness of the whole idea—especially when I read the following information from Rick’s web site:

Hearing about a new procedure that tests foods for their antioxidant power called The ORAC test, we sent a small amount [of Garden Salad Flakes] to a lab in Massachusetts. Antioxidant capacity, they told us, is more than just vitamins. It’s a combination of everything contained in the food. And they “score“ each food; so that when you buy fruits or vegetables you know which ones have the highest amount of antioxidants in them.

Prunes score the highest with 240 ORAC units per five grams. Raisins are next with 120 ORAC units per five grams. Kale is the highest vegetable scored with 65 ORAC units per five grams.
Our Garden Salad Flakes came out with an amazing score of 2450 ORAC units per five gram serving. That’s right, two thousand four hundred and fifty. The antioxidant capacity is off the charts. Can you just imagine the nutritional benefits of taking just one tablespoon a day?

Is that amazing, or what! After I bought one package of Rick Machado’s Garden Salad Flakes I bought another. Then, when summer rolled around, I dehydrated large quantities of my own homegrown greens.

The package of Garden Salad Flakes that I bought from Rick lists the following greens as the ingredients: “kale, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, amaranth, quinoa, chard, wild chicories, carrots, watercress, several asian greens, red and green mustard, beets, mangels, alfalfa, red clover, wheat, barley and oat grass, lettuce.”

Personally, I’ve dehydrated spinach, kale, dandelion, chard, parsley, nettle, and lamb’s quarters which is a prolific and nutritious weed. I dried the greens in the same electric food dehydrators I use to make my garlic powder. Then I packed them into canning jars. When I want to use the greens I rub them through a screen sieve to separate out the hard stems. Here’s a picture of some of my greens on a screen over a bowl.


That flat screen is only for illustrative purposes because I couldn’t find the bowl-shaped sieve that I typically use. I have some spinach, Kale and chard on there. It’s all green but the chard has a little red. Here’s a picture of a spoon-full of my homegrown dried greens:


For individual flavor, I like spinach and kale best. Dandelion is, of course, very bitter but an incredably healthful green. I have a whole jar of dried nettle from 2006 and have yet to use any of it. By the way, the dried greens are perfectly preserved and will keep for years. And, dehydrating at low temperatures preserves more nutrients in food than any other food preservation method.

Rick says six good pinches of his Garden Salad Flakes a day equals one big bowl of salad greens. So, if you mix a spoonfull of the flakes with some applesauce or yogurt, and swallow it down, a whole bowl of salad greens springs back into shape in your stomach. Imagine that!

Few people who grow and preserve food from their garden consider drying salad greens. But this idea is so easy to do and so good for you, that I think more people should be doing it. But first, why don’t you order a package of Rick Machado’s Garden Salad Greens and try them for yourself. Here’s a link to his web site: Garden Salad Flakes from Machado Farms.

In closing, I’d like to ask a final question of you. Which do you think would be better for a person’s general health?: A synthetic, multipurpose, manufactured vitamin pill, or a spoonful of dehydrated homegrown salad greens, with 2,450 ORAC units?

Farming Without a Pickup Truck

My first truck was a basic Ford F150. I bought it used from my father-in-law when I was just getting started in the building trades around 30 years ago. It had a standard transmission so I had to learn to use the clutch and shift gears.

I loved that truck and remember thinking to myself that I would always drive a pickup. I saw pickup trucks as essential vehicles, not only for a carpenters but for anyone who lives in the country, especially farmers. I’ve never known a farmer that didn’t own a pickup.

I drove that first truck until it was well-rusted and mechanically worn out, or so I thought. I ended up selling it to a guy in my town who drove by and saw the vehicle parked in my side yard with no license plates. He did some engine work on it himself and drove it another two years. I admire guys who can do that with a rundown machine.

There would be more trucks: a Chevy S10 and then a Ford Ranger (which I flipped over and wrecked on a patch of black ice one winter morning). Then I bought another Ford F150 (again with a standard transmission, of course).

That second F150 would be my last truck. I drove it until it rusted out so badly that it wouldn’t pass inspection. The motor still started and ran great, and the heater was awesome, even with the cab so ventilated with rust-holes. I ended up giving that truck to a homesteading friend with some acreage. It was a good field truck for a year or so.

Since I was no longer doing carpentry work I couldn’t justify owning a truck any longer. I bought a SUV because it would transport the whole family and get me to work in the morning over unplowed winter roads. For hauling, I bought a 4ft by 8ft trailer and put a hitch on the SUV.

The SUV was a gas guzzler. I got rid of it a year ago and bought a fuel-efficient Honda Accord. It will pull the same 4ft by 8ft trailer and we use it all the time around here. It’s not nearly as nice as a pickup but it is economical and practical.

I have related all of this as the lead-in to something remarkable that a friend of mine recently told me.

My friend is an organic farmer with 200 acres. He owns the land on both sides of a rural road for a mile-long stretch. His home and barns are near the center of the property. There are fields and woods and a stream flowing through the property. It is a beautiful farm and well cared for.

My firend the organic farmer told me that his father bought the land that makes up his farm back in the 1940s. He actually purchased four adjoining farms over a period of time to get the 200-acre parcel. His father farmed the land his whole life and left it to his son when he died a couple years ago.

My friend, a man now in his 60’s, farms the land his father left him and here is the remarkable thing: My friend’s father never owned a pickup truck all the years he farmed.

How in the world can a farmer farm without a pickup? Well, my friend says his father was very thrifty and never saw the need for a pickup. He was able to utilize the family’s one car (a big sedan) for his farm needs. On occasion, he was known to transport a calf in the trunk. Larger farm supply needs were delivered by a local farm supplier.

This man’s father farmed for decades without a pickup truck.

I am not relating this story to say that farmer’s do not need pickup trucks. My point is that I think there are a lot of things in our lives that we assume we must have, but we really don't. This story challenges me to take a closer look at things that I've always thought were a necessity. Are they really?

Agrarianism Reborn

Dateline: 20 June 2008

Allan C. Carlson

[A]t this very apogee of the mega-farm, something new—and yet very old—may be stirring. Industrialized farming appears to be “pregnant”: not with some newly bioengineered chimera nor with the latest super-machine, but with agrarianism, a humanistic approach to agriculture that would re-attach people to the soil. The farming future may not lie with the consolidators, speculators, and agribusiness. Rather, it may lie with the resurrection of a family-centered agriculture. On the surface, this would seem to be among the least likely of twenty-first-century possibilities. All the same, as the land-use expert Eric Freyfogle enthuses, “agrarianism is again on the rise” and “agrarian ways and virtues are resurging in American culture.” Oddly enough, there is evidence to back up these claims.

Those optimistic words come from a Spring 2008 article in the Intercollegiate Review titled Agrarianism Reborn: On the curious return of the small family farm. The article is authored by Allan Carlson, one of my favorite faith-family-and-agrarianism writers. Carlson wrote the book, The New Agrarian Mind. Here are a few more quotes from the beginning of Mr. Carlson’s excellent article:

What is agrarianism? The poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer, Wendell Berry—America’s leading agrarian voice—describes this worldview as the countervailing idea to industrialism.
Lynn Miller, publisher of Small Farmer’s Journal, says that agrarianism rets on two principles: “First, provide for the family [from the farm] and second, always be looking for ways to help family, friends, and neighbors.”
Agrarianism means reinvigorating the household as “a center of economic productivity,” restoring women and men to their natural and necessary tasks.
As the price of fossil fuels soar, as the costs of farm machinery become prohibitive, and as the machine-driven depopulation of the land nears its end, a deeper accounting grows necessary and the reality of limits returns. Agrarians insist that a new agriculture, resting on respect for these limits, is the only alternative.

After presenting evidence to support his thesis of agrarian renewal, Carlson presents some “Troubles and Dilemmas.” Under that heading, he states that the current agrarian revival has “its weird elements. Most of them cluster around the concept of ‘biodynamic’ farming. This approach counts Rudolph Steiner as its architect.” Then the author goes on to explain what he means by “weird elements.”

Other problems and possible solutions are presented. One solution I think is a particularly good idea is that of prohibiting corporations from owning farmland.

In the end, Carlson concludes with these words:

…the American countryside is now in the early stages of ferment. Old dreams and old ways, mixed with new tools, techniques, and opportunities, have given fresh life to the agrarian spirit. A way of life preserved through the twentieth century by sectarian religious groups such as the Old Order Amish has found new energy and new recruits in the opening years of the third Millennium. The prospects for building a well-settled landscape of productive homes rich with the laughter of children seem more promising than has been the case for decades.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Looking Back on Three Years of Blogging

Three years ago today I posted my first entry to this blog. I started blogging with the idea that I would share my thoughts about Faith, Family, and Livin’ the Good Life. My essays have ranged from personal and reflective, to instructive. In short, I write about what interests me. My underlying intention has been to present my life and my beliefs as a testimony to God’s goodness.

I am a Christian. My faith is central to who I am and how I think. Therefore, it is central to this blog. I am also an agrarian. Put the two together and you have a Christian agrarian. I believe Christian agrarianism is the Biblical imperative. I believe the “good life” is found within Christian agrarianism. I could have called it the “abundant life.” That might be a more appropriate description of what my family and I experience here on our little 1.5 acre homestead. It is a life full and rich with the blessings that come when Christian agrarianism is deliberately embraced and pursued.

My Christian agrarian worldview is distinctly different from the worldview of our mainstream culture. And it is often very different from mainstream Christianity. Those who pursue agrarian-centric Christianity are, to one degree or another, separatists. We endeavor to resist the syncretism that invariably happens when Christianity blends with ungodly modernism. Separation from such things is, of course, what Christians have been called to do from the very beginning.

A person recently asked this question in the comments section of this blog:

”Can you tell me what a Christian agrarian is? I never heard that before.”

My response:
I suspect you have never heard the term "Christian agrarian" because the mainstream media has not reported on it and there is no organized national association that puts out press releases, and so on and so forth. It is a quiet, decentralized, grassroots movement and that is, in my opinion, best. You can learn a great deal about Christian agrarianism at this essay which I wrote awhile back:

What is Agrarianism? What is Christian Agrarianism?

I am opinionated but I am not a contentious person. I'm not looking for an argument and I almost never speak out in this blog against the beliefs of others. I simply share with people about who I am, what I believe, how I live, and why I live this way. Nevertheless, some people have taken offense at my words, especially in recent weeks. Here is a comment from a person who read my essay, Hope For a Troubled America and disagreed with what I had to say:

”Hope comes to our country when we recognize that we are all humans and fellow citizens first. There lies our unity under our secular Constitution. All you seem to want to do is separate people into heathens and 'true Christians'. That is your right, but the fact is your faith is a minority world-wide. If you cannot love your neighbor unless he is a Christian, I don't have much faith in you.”

And here’s another recent comment posted to my essay, Boys Will Be Warriors (Part 1):

”I feel the need to state that you have a right to your perspective, but to me, you and your ‘agrarian Christianity’ are disturbing… I have seldom read such a load of hogwash. It’s interesting (to a limited extent) to follow your convoluted logic. Your ‘strong,quiet hero full of testosterone’ is just a jumped-up fantasist.”

Obviously, such people have deep-seated differences and, I dare say, they have significant misconceptions about what I’ve written. But that is to be expected. Frankly, I’m very surprised that, three years into this blog, I have not received more criticism.

Three years ago I felt strongly that the world (certainly the U.S.) was in the beginning stages of significant transition. Our pagan, debt-based, fiat-money economy was faltering. If past history is any indicator, such a system must inevitably fail. Today, people are really feeling the decline of the American dollar. We are just beginning to reap a harvest of financial hardship.

Three years ago, the Industrial Monster, fueled by the free flow of plentiful, cheap oil was threatened by the problem of demand outpacing supply. But only a few people seemed to understand this. When I told my friends about Peak Oil they listened politely but didn’t believe a word of it. Even still, with the price of fuel skyrocketing, if I mention the whole Peak Oil situation, they still don’t believe a word of it. The masses just don’t get it. Or they just don’t want to face up to the reality of it all, even as the scenario is unfolding.

I have been a vocal critic of Industrialized Agriculture (a.k.a., Big Ag) from the beginning. Agriculture was the last segment of our culture to be industrialized and it may well prove to be the most foolish of industrial endeavors.

In an early blog posting here—before food shortages and ever-higher food prices became front-page news—I wrote the following in an essay titled, Food Independence Under God:

”The probability of Peak Oil, and the assurance of higher energy costs means that food from the corporations will be more expensive. Beyond that, natural disasters (including pandemics) and geopolitical happenings will make some or all corporate foods unavailable at times and in places. Disruptions in the food supply could be minor, short-lived and localized, or they could be major, long-lasting (even permanent) and widespread. To depend on the Industrial Providers in the face of this reality is foolishness.”

Then, later in the essay, I had strong words—words that I still firmly believe:

”For Christians to put their full faith and hope in the provision of this industrial [food] system that is in total rebellion against God is akin to participating in the rebellion.

Obedience to God calls for breaking the ties that bind us to ungodly industrialism. Obedience calls for us to grow our own food. This is why God himself showed Adam how to plant a garden. And God says that if a man does not work, he should not eat. Do you see the connection?”

One of my earliest essays was titled, The Industrial Providers. I removed that essay and several others when I published them in my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. But in celebration of three years of blogging, I have reposted the essay to this blog. You can read it here: Industrial Providers: Understanding The Oligopoly

I have used this blog to present Christian agrarianism as the proper response to pagan industrialism. More than a proper response, I believe it is also the proper “antidote” for the many failures of industrialism. Bearing that in mind, I have tried to inspire and encourage others to return to rural-based, faith-and-family-centered, debt-free, more-self-sufficient lifestyles. I've heard from many readers who have done just that, and I have been encouraged as much by their testimonies as they say they are by mine.

I’ve also heard from many people who feel convicted to pursue the Christian agrarian lifestyle but are discouraged by their inability to do so. They have a vision of what they would like their lives to be like and are discouraged because they can not attain it. To them I always say the same thing: Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have, as the Lord leads you, and be content in that. Christian agrarianism is not a destination as much as it is a journey. And every journey begins with a step, followed by another step, and so on.

Another reason I’ve blogged these years is to chronicle the exploits of my sons as they grow up. One day they will be able to read the essays and look back and better understand the wisdom of this way of life. There is, after all, no better way to raise children that in the agrarian paradigm.

I have written here of my own vision to one day own a larger section of land, debt-free. That vision is still there. Until it comes to fruition, we live "the abundant life" on the 1.5 acres God has given us, and we are ever so thankful for it.

Long-time readers may recall the time when we almost bought the old Grange Hall property near our home. I was even going to get a mortgage, something I have never done and have been opposed to my whole life. As the deal was progressing, the bank decided to change the terms and I came to my senses. Looking back, I think I wanted to “help” God fulfill my vision. That would have been a mistake. So now I continue to work and save and wait.

Speaking of working and saving, when I started writing here three years ago, I did not intend to discuss my part-time Whizbang Books business. But I eventually did and it has proven to be a wise business move. The Google search engines are good to me and my Poultry Processing Essays in particular get a lot of viewers.

An offshoot of the Whizbang Books business has been my 17-year-old son Robert’s, internet business of selling rubber poultry plucker fingers. In the past year and a half, Robert has sold tens of thousands of plucker fingers and has shipped them all over the world. Better yet, he hasn’t spent a cent of his profits. He told me he would like to buy land with the money one day. At the rate he is going, that goal is a possibility. Perhaps we can combine our savings and purchase land together. Wouldn’t that be something!

So blogging has opened up opportunities that would never have otherwise happened. And blogging here has been quite an adventure. I have met a lot of wonderful folks. The most amazing thing has been meeting relatives I never knew from both sides of the family. And it has been so neat to hear from readers who read my Tribute to my Grandmother Kimball and either commented or sent me e-mail letters saying that they remember my grandparents.

It is interesting to note that I came to blogging after being inspired by Scott Terry’s Homesteader Life blog. I found my way to Scott’s blog after reading Rick Saenz’s blog Dry Creek Chronicles. And I came to Rick’s blog after receiving a copy of his “Draught Horse Press” book catalog in the mail. I did not order the catalog. I must have been on a mailing list he used. That catalog was the best “junk mail” I ever got.

Do sequences of events like that happen by chance? Does anything happen by chance? I don’t think so.

By the way, “Draught Horse Press” has become Cumberland Books and now sells all my Whizbang Books.

Bloggers come and bloggers go (does anyone remember Farmer Buie?). We all have our season in the sun. One of these days, I will move on from blogging. I don’t know when that will be. I still feel I have a lot to share and say. Maybe I will blog until I die. Maybe that won’t be long. I really don’t know. But I’ve had a lot of fun sharing my “ruminations” here over the past three years, and, Lord willing, I will continue the dialogue in the days ahead.

Thank you for joining me in the journey.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Yesterday morning early I was working in my garden. A half hour before it was time to get ready for church, I started feeling poorly. My joints started aching. I got chilled. It was pushing 90 degrees outside and muggy and I took a steaming hot bath. Then I went to bed with several blankets and a down sleeping bag over me. It was some sort of a virus. My temperature went to 102. I felt real bad the rest of the day and night.

Today I took a sick day off from work. I was useless. I spent a good part of the day dozing in a recliner. I felt like I was an old man. This afternoon I spent some time in my shop filling orders, in super-slow motion, for chicken plucker parts and books.

Fortunately, I don’t get sick often and I’m feeling a lot better this evening. I think I’ll live.

But I’m feeling overwhelmed. There is a lot going on around here and I’m falling behind with some things.

Therefore I have decided to take a little break from blogging. Just a little one. I’ll be back on June 18th. That day will be the three-year anniversay of The Deliberate Agrarian

See you then.

Horse Sense in the 21st Century

It is a hot and muggy Saturday afternoon. I was out in my garden early this morning and worked until the heat was unbearable. After lunch I took a nap. Just an hour nap is enough to recharge me. I’m waiting for it to cool a bit more this afternoon before heading out to the garden again. That’s my idea of a perfect summer day—up early and in the garden, then take it easy for a few hours before heading back out until dark.

The siesta time gave me a chance to read some of my latest issue of Small Farmer’s Journal(SFJ). The oversize quarterly publication is devoted to farming with horses. But even a guy like me, with no horses, and no farm, can get a lot out of SFJ. There is enough gardening and other homesteading information to make the subscription worthwhile.

Besides that, I really enjoy seeing and reading about agriculture that is sustainable in the most successful sense of the word.

A highlight of each issue of SFJ is the editorial by Lynn Miller. Here is an excerpt from his latest:

With every passing day the food supply is thrust deeper into uncertainty what with wars, famine, pestilence, weather changes, corn ethanol, fuel prices, banking insolvency and government meddling to name but a few concerns. The agribusiness community, as orchestrated by multinational corporations and the USDA, continues to mess up farming in ways which can only be described as stupidity and shortsightedness feeding greed. The result? Big farming is collapsing in on itself. So the truly independent small farmer, with increasing success supplying his or her own needs while selling direct to local markets, is in the catbird seat.

Rather than to technological or biological innovation or industrialization or to commercialization, the future of agriculture belongs to mastery of the craft... It is virtually impossible to realize mastery of the craft of farming from the position of large-scale industrialized agriculture. Appropriate human scale is of paramount importance, scale and independence. The truly independent small farmer is the new farmer.

Those are the righteous words of a contrarian farmer. To many, Lynn Miller and his fellow horse farmers are akin to half-baked Don Quixotes tilting at windmills. But the stories in every issue of SFJ are not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. They are stories from and about people who have been, and are being, successful at the craft of farming, without being dependent on BigAg. Here is another excerpt from Mr. Miller’s editorial:

I recently heard a Midwestern commodity farmer speak of the phenomenal potential this year’s crop had to either make him rich or destroy him. Growing corn, soybeans, canola, and wheat, he needed 25,000 gallons of fuel for the year’s tractor work. He had contracted for $3.79 a gallon. And he spoke of his chemical fertilizer bill going from $400 to 1,100 a ton, “If the crop does well and the prices hold up, we’ll make a lot of money. If anything goes wrong, we’ll be destroyed.”

...If he does well, he will be able to pay down the farm mortgage some, replace the pickup truck, and payoff his enormous production credit loan. His corn was all being sold for ethanol even though he thought this was wrong and worried about the world food supply. And the pressure to do well was causing him to reverse certain soil conservation practices he believed in.

Measure that story against the organic horsefarmer who, on his 160 acres, maintains his crop rotations, plants his own seed, does all his field work with six home-raised Belgian horses, and measures his purchased inputs in the hundreds of dollars rather than the tens of thousands. This man knows, with current commodity prices and whatever weather mother nature throws at him, that he will be able to paint the barn and house this year and help his son get a start with a farm of his own. A true applied definition of prosperity.

Home Again & About Cheerfully Slitting Chicken's Throats

Gee but its great to be back home
Home is where I want to be, yeah.
I’ve been on the road so long my friend....

The lyrics from that old Simon & Garfunkle song were going through my mind today as I was heading back home from Albany (see yesterday’s blog for details).

I used to have that song on a cassette tape. But back in the mid 1980s Marlene and I contributed all our rock music tapes to a Halloween-night church bonfire. It was a small mountain of worldly music that went up in smoke that night.

Compost Temperature Update
I got home early this afternoon, gave Marlene a hug and a kiss and, shortly thereafter, went out to check the temperature of my compost pile. I made it four days ago, before I went away. The temperature of the pile was 65 degrees when I put it together. This afternoon it ranged from 100 to 110 degrees, depending on where I stuck the 20"-probe of my handy-dandy compost thermometer.

According to the thermometer package, 100 to 130 degrees is the “active zone.” It’s a good temperature for rapid composting action. If it climbs up to 130 to 160 degrees, it’ll be in the “hot zone.” When/if it gets to the “hot zone” I’ll be the “envy of backyard composters everywhere!” That’s what the package says.

I don’t care much about being the envy of backyard composters. But if this all works, I’ll give some more details and maybe my experience can be an inspiration to others who want to successfully compost (no, I will not be writing a book about how to compost).

Adopting James
When I got home today Marlene informed me that James and a couple friends were helping a nearby farmer repair his hay wagons. Then she told me he was out until 10:00 last night helping another farmer replace the bearings on a piece of farm equipment. The farmer told Marlene he wants to adopt James because he is such a good helper.

Butchering Chickens Gets a Lot of Attention
In my previous blog I told you about how my blog, How to Butcher a Chicken got a favorable mention in a Slate magazine article about urban farming. Well, today I checked my site meter for that blog and was astounded. As of 8:00 this evening, 2,516 people had visited the blog and there had been 11,072 page views. Prior to yesterday I was averaging around 110 page views a day. That is absolutly remarkable. I’ve never had so many visitors at any blog I’ve written. Now, if every one of those people decided to buy a copy of my plucker plan book....

My Most Popular Blog Essay
The most visited Deliberate Agrarian essay I’ve ever written, by far, is this one: Backyard Poultry processing With My 11-Year-Old Son. Today I got this comment in response to the essay:

I’m all for “urban” farming, and being more in touch with our food production, but there’s something very disturbing about an 11-year-old cheerfully singing bible songs while slitting the throats of small animals. Why should you be proud that your son enjoys this step? This seems so wrong. Shouldn’t there be some degree of reverence and respect paid to these animals who are giving their lives for you to enjoy a meal?

My response to that was as follows:
Reverence? If you mean by reverence some sort of spiritual regard or worshipful attitude towards chickens, my answer would be absolutely not! My family does not worship the creation. We do not thank the bird for giving us its life. We worship the Creator. We thank God for the chickens He has given to us. Taking a chicken's life is not a sacred thing to us. It is just a matter of harvesting a crop.

As for "respect" for the chicken, yes, we very much respect the birds. Part of of our God-given responsibility as caretakers of these creatures is to treat them with respect and give them a good life.

As a matter of fact, that's why we raise our own poultry--because we want to eat meat from birds that we know have been raised in a healthy environment with good food and a respectful degree of compassion. Our chickens get fresh air, sunshine, bugs and fresh grass to graze, a balanced feed ration, clean water, and a lot of "personal" attention each day. They have a good life.

And when their life comes to an end, we treat them respectfully by killing them without a lot of trauma. How many chickens die with someone talking to them and singing Bible songs? That's a bad thing? I think not.

As for cheerfully slitting the bird's throats, the point is not that my son enjoys the task. What he enjoys is being a useful part of a distasteful (none of us LIKES butchering chickens) but necessary job here on our homestead.

And, yes, I am extremely pleased that my son is such a willing and responsible helper in this work.

Are you suggesting that we should assume a somber attitude while processing poultry in the backyard? Well, what 11-year-old boy would want to be a part of that? We can have fun at this. There is no wrong in that.

I suspect that you have not butchered many chickens in your life. If you did, you would be better able to relate to what I'm saying. After you've "processed" your first hundred, it's no big deal.

That response to my essay is the tip of a sizeable discussion about killing chickens at the Slate Magazine Article. I did not read all the discussion but I read some entertaining commentary there about how “evil” chickens are, and that killing them is as justifiable as killing Nazi war criminals.

New Plucker Movies on YouTube
With that fast wireless internet in my Albany hotel room I was able to check out YouTube for any new Whizbang Plucker movies. There are a couple and they’re pretty good. Here are links:

Whizbang Plucker Movie #1
Whizbang Plucker Movie #2

Ian Paisley Sermons
I stayed in a hotel room for three nights and didn’t once turn the television on. My laptop computer with fast internet allowed for plenty of constructive perusing. I stopped by Sermonaudio.com and downloaded a bunch of sermons for later listening. Two of the sermons were by Dr. Ian Paisley. The name was familiar but I had no idea who Ian Paisley was when I downloaded his sermons. If I lived in Ireland, I would have known who this man was.

Today on the drive home from Albany, my coworkers in the front seat listened to rock music on the radio while I listened to Ian Paisley preach these two sermons:

The French Reformer John Calvin
The Scottish Reformer John Knox

I must say that Mr. Paisley has a way of delivering a sermon that holds my attention and is glorifying to the Lord. In the sermons about Calvin and Knox, Paisley portrays both men as evangelists. Paisley himself is, among other things, an evangelist.

Ian Paisley’s Wikipedia biography (click on his name above) is most interesting. He is a controversial person. Has anyone else out there listened to this man’s sermons?

No Bread This Year
A lot of people at the Skaneateles Farm Market are going to be missing Marlene’s home-baked bread this summer. She has decided, after eight years of baking for the market, to take a year off. We have a lot going on around here with our older parents and busy kids. And she plans to focus more on canning and freezing food from the garden. Marlene will miss the market (and the extra money), but can get back into it any time. I, for one, am glad to see she is taking a break.

Upcoming Blogs
I still intend to blog a how-to about a very nifty way to cook whole grains. And I’m thinking about maybe writing a blog essay about how to solve all the problems of Industrial Agriculture. ;-)

Ruminations From Downtown Albany, N.Y.

I am writing this blog installment from the seventh floor of the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Albany, New York. This will be my third night here in New York's capitol city. I am here as part of My Non-Agrarian Day Job. Tomorrow, I go home, and I’m glad of it.

I don’t really like to travel, especially for my work. I don’t like to be away from home, and my family. I like my home. I like the little portion of earth God has entrusted to me. My home, humble though it may be, is my kingdom. It is where I belong. I am a homebody and that's the way I like it.

In eight years, my job has taken me away from home like this less than once a year. I would not take a job that requires a lot of travel away from home, unless there was no other option. There is no amount of money that anyone could pay me to be always on the road, away from home. A million bucks a year? Nope. For a million I might leave home and be on the road for a month. That I could do. But not for a year, and certainly not for a career.

And you couldn’t get me to live in a city for any amount of money either.

But there is one good thing about this place. They provide high speed wireless internet service. I don’t have that at home, yet. Now I can listen to Sermons Like This on the internet.

I’m in Slate Magazine
I’m mentioned in an article in Slate magazine today. The author of This Article says my blog, How To Butcher a Chicken is “great.”

That’s really nice. Thanks L.E. Leone!

Squash Hunter
I recently found my way to John VanDyk’s web site and got a good laugh out of THIS.

The Biblical Case For Beards
Michael Bunker has been writing about beards and how, Biblically speaking, godly men should have them. It is some thought-provoking exposition. I did not realize that shaving of the face and head was a practice in many pagan cultures throughout history. You can check out his “Beard Sermons” HERE.

Only in recent years have I grown a beard, and I happen to like having a beard. One reason I like it is that it is something distinctly manly. You don’t see women with beards. Women can’t have beards. I can. So I do.

Growing a beard for reasons of conscience is something I have not thought of before, but it appeals to my manly, anti-modern-culture inclinations. It makes sense to me.

I’ve told Marlene in the past that I want to grow my beard so long that it blows sideways in a strong wind. But, for now, I keep it trimmed.

Remembering Vietnam
On Memorial Day last, Marlene and James and Robert and I went to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall in Waterloo, N.Y. It is a 1/2 size replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C.

More than 58,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War. There were 350,000 casualties. As we looked at the extensive display of photos from the war, and then the wall, I tried to remember why all those brave people died, and I couldn’t remember. I don’t know if I ever knew.

So I did an internet search of “vietnam war why.” I came up with This Web Page. I don’t think any of the reasons given there are good enough to justify all that bloodshed and death of Americans.

More and more, I am wondering why Americans are dying in Iraq. I’m not a supporter of this war. I believe in fighting and dying, when needed, to defend your homeland and your family. But I don’t see where that’s happening.

Whizbang Cart Goes “Hollywood”
If you haven’t yet seen entry #2 in the Whizbang Garden Cart Contest for 2008, Check This Out

Prince Caspian
I rarely go to the movies, but I recently took my family to see the movie, Prince Caspian. I have never read C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I’m not a fan of fantasy stories, Christian or not. But I liked the movie.

I liked the part where the little girl, Lucy, stands at the end of the bridge. An army of evil warriors, mounted on horses, with their armor and weapons, are entering on the other end, with the intention of crossing. Lucy pulls from her side a little knife and confidently faces them. It is impossible that a little girl can withstand such an army.

But then, Aslan, the lion (representing Jesus Christ), walks into view from behind Lucy, and stands by her side. I won’t tell you what happens. Suffice it to say that Lucy has reason to be confident, not in her own ability, but in the ability of Aslan to help her.

The other part of the movie that I found particularly delightful was in another scene when Aslan sends the trees in a forest to fight in a battle. Is it possible that Jesus Christ could send trees into battle as it is depicted in this movie? Well, I happen to think so. And though I will never see such a thing in real life, it is wonderful to consider.

Before I left home to come to the big city of Albany, I made a compost bin and heaped it full of material to compost. I have made plenty of compost over the years, but never with a nice wood-sided compost bin. And I've never layered in the "ingredients" just so. And I've never actually taken my compost's temperature. But I am now doing all these things and it's downright exciting. The day before I left home, I made the pile and took its temperature. It was 65 degrees. Has it been starting to heat up while I've been gone? I'll find out tomorrow. And I'll tell you all about it someday soon....

The "Smell" from a 7,800 Cow Dairy

The largest dairy “farm” in New York State is in my county, not too many miles from my home. The dairy reportedly has 7,800 cows. Do you know how much cow manure 7,800 cows produce in a year? I’ll tell you: 157,156 TONS.

When I worked on a dairy farm thirty years ago the farmer had around 70 cows. Once a day, the farmer and his sons (and I) cleaned the manure out of the barn. I thought that was a lot of manure. It went into a manure spreader and was spread on one of the farmer’s fields, every day. What does a so-called farm with 7,800 cows do with all that waste? It is liquefied and pumped into open-air lagoons until it is spread onto the fields at some later date.

A recent article in the Syracuse New Times newspaper has this to say about manure lagoons from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which is what any factory-scale dairy farm is:

You can’t see manure lagoons from the roadsides, but you can smell them, and the dangers of their fumes have been documented. A 2002 study by the University of Iowa and Iowa State University examined the impact of aerial ammonia and hydrogen sulfide on residents living near industrial hog farms after former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack requested information on their public health impact. The researchers noted that aerial ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gas—both routine CAFO emissions—are poisonous in high concentrations, causing sinusitis, asthma, chronic bronchitis, inflamed mucous membranes of the nose and throat, headaches, muscle aches and pains in those who live or work nearby.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents local, state and federal agencies, cites manure-pit emissions containing hydrogen sulfide and ammonia for the deaths of at least two dozen people working or living near the operations in the Midwest over the past 30 years. “The release of toxic substances from manure in amounts dangerous to human health is not a theoretical exercise—people have been killed,” said the NACAA’s Catharine Fitzsimmons, in testimony before the U.S. Senate on Sept. 6, 2007.

A June 2006 fact sheet put out by PRO-DAIRY on health and safety issues describes hydrogen sulfide as “a poisonous, acidic gas that can kill in a matter of seconds,” “accumulates in low, confined spaces” and dissolves “rapidly in eye moisture and in the respiratory tract.” Yet the DEC does not closely monitor toxic emissions from livestock farms.

DEC spokeswoman Lori O’Connell says the fumes are regarded “as either ‘trivial activities’ or as ‘fugitive emissions’ in the case of outdoor manure piles and waste lagoons. Both of these designations have the effect of relieving farms in New York from needing an air permit or minor source registration.”

If you’ve never lived near a CAFO you might think all that stuff about adverse health effects from “just a farm smell” is a bit overdone. But if you lived near a 7,800 cow dairy, and the toxic emissions from such a concentration of animal waste was making you and your family sick, you’d think differently.

That is exactly what has happened to the 7,800 cow factory farm in my county. Read this excerpt from the same article:

If you ask Fred Coon, Strecker’s 82-year-old father, why he’s missing his lower eyelids, he will tell you about the time he “got my eyes poisoned.” “It was a terrible process,” Coon says. “I was raking leaves by the barn, and my eyes started stinging. I came inside and looked in the mirror, and there were a million little tiny blisters over here, and here,” he says, pointing to the magenta tissue his lower eyelids used to cover. The blisters burst and became infected, prompting doctors to amputate the thin flaps of skin containing them.

Neighbor Connie Mather, a perky former schoolteacher from Philadelphia who owns a property around the corner, also had a run-in with the blisters. In her case, they converged on the inside of her throat and nasal passages. But Mather had another cause for alarm. In 2004, a medical expert diagnosed her teenage son, Samuel, with irreversible brain damage caused by exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas.

Here’s what the article says about Fred Coon’s property and the neighborhood since the 7,800 cow Willet Dairy has taken “dominion” in the town:

[His] land has been in the family since the 1800s. Coon still sleeps in the house he built in the 1940s. His late wife, and Strecker’s mother, Pearl Coon, spent her last days here. In the good old days, the air here smelled like lilac trees, flowers grew in the garden and marathon barbecues brought the town together, Coon remembers. They even had neighbors. But that was before Willet expanded. Now they’re surrounded by Willet on three sides.

“I’m just angry they took our lives away,” Strecker says. “I can’t even get a friggin’ clean glass of water.”

Strecker and Mather tried complaining about Willet to the state DEC, Office of the New York State Attorney General, New York State Soil and Water Committee, Cayuga County Health & Human Services Department, former New York Governors Eliot Spitzer and George Pataki, the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, federal and local legislators, the New York State Police, the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Department, and the Genoa town supervisor. To no avail.

“They all say they’ll ‘look into it,’” Strecker says. “Nobody cares.”

This, my friends, is but one example of Frankenstein Agriculture.

Industrial agriculture like this dairy (and so many others) destroys the environment and rural communities. The earth was not created to handle animal concentrations of such magnitude. When the “smell” from such an operation is bad enough to harm the health of people living in the neighborhood, something is seriously wrong.

Yet, people will justify this kind of agriculture because it produces affordable milk. If they lived next to a CAFO, they would think differently. Oh, and by the way, this particular farm received a million dollars in USDA subsidies over a ten year period. Subsidies (I feel compelled to remind you) are our tax dollars which were given to this farm.

You can read the whole newspaper article here: Sour Milk: Big-box dairy farms bring manure & misery to some Central New York communities

The Elements of Agricultural Sustainability

Dateline: 2 June 2008
Updated: 26 April 2013

I have been reading the book Food, Farming, and Faith by Gary W. Fick, a Cornell University professor. Chapter Twelve of the book is titled, Agricultural Sustainability. Citing the results of two different studies, professor Fick presents eight elements that define agricultural sustainability. They are as follows:

1. Relative independence from industrial and technological inputs.

2. Decentralized or more local production and management.

3. Community as opposed to a competitive orientation.

4. Harmony with nature instead of control.

5. Diversity instead of specialization of enterprises on individual farms.

6. Restraint reflected through consideration of environmental and social costs and cautious application of new technologies.

7. Quality of family life.

8. Spirituality as motivation for the way they approach farming.

Regarding element #8, Fick writes:
Many of the writings of Wendell Berry (cited elsewhere) have clear themes related to values or religion. Fellow agronomist Roger Elmore wrote an article about the interplay of religious worldviews and the processes of agricultural sustainability. He concluded that the moral or religious aspect of agriculture is very important but largely ignored in many of the secular models of agricultural development. This is confirmation that the spiritual component often has not been acknowledged.

In other words, a person's worldview (their fundamental beliefs about what is right and wrong and which motivate their actions)is an integral part of their attitudes about what is the right and wrong way to farm. So, people who have a sincere concern for sustainable agriculture are motivated by their religious beliefs. That certainly applies to me.

I think those eight elements that define sustainable agriculture are worth giving a lot of thought to. You will notice that they are pretty much the exact opposite of the elements of industrial farming. The two just don't fit together.

Introducing Lucy & Susan

In our 28 years of marriage, Marlene and I have owned two dogs. The first, Pilgrim, a mixed breed mutt, showed up on our door step as a wee puppy one chilly autumn morning. I devoted a chapter titled “The Life & Death of a Good Dog” to Pilgrim in my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. Those who have read the book will surely not forget that story and how it ends.

Our next dog was (and currently is) Annie, a mongrel we acquired from the pound. Annie has been a wonderful dog but she is now old and getting more feeble all the time. That said, it has been on our mind to get another dog to replace Annie when she is no longer with us.

People who live in the country should not be without a good dog. To my way of thinking, a good dog is a dog that lets you know when something is not right on your property. If a vehicle pulls in the driveway, a good dog will announce the visitor. If a rabid raccoon wanders into the backyard, the dog will let you know. If someone is prowling outside your home in the night, a good dog will give you time to load your gun(s). A good dog will also help to defend you and your family against wild animals. It will also deter such critters from foraging in your garden, or the henhouse.

A good dog will not normally wander beyond the boundaries of your property without you. A good dog will do what you tell it to do, or not to do. A good dog will be tolerant of children and protective of them. A good dog will not bark endlessly for no reason and jump up on cars or people.

As we have considered these things, I decided that our next dog should be a red Blackmouth Cur hog dog. We have no wild hogs to hunt here in central New York state but there are woodchucks (a type of groundhog and raccoons, which can be formidable opponents. The hog-hunting cur looks to me like a dog’s dog through and through. But Marlene had other ideas.

She wanted a beagle. And she didn’t just want one beagle. She wanted two beagles—so they could keep each other company. Beagles were a hard thing for me to feature because they are a far cry from a husky cur. Never in my dog-owning dreams would I have ever considered owning a beagle, let alone two.


That, my friends, is a picture of Marlene with her two beagles. The one on the left is Lucy and the one on the right is Susan. They are six-month-old purebred beagle sisters. Their names come from the two sisters in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books.

We have had these dogs for a week. I do not know yet if they will be good dogs, but they are showing promise. For example, they have learned the single-word command, ”Git!” I taught it to them after they nonchalantly wandered into my garden, stepping on fragile seedlings. I taught them by saying ”Git!” in my dog-commanding voice and immediately throwing some clods of soil in their direction.

Marlene read in a book about beagles that they were developed as hunting dogs for Royalty. I like that. They do have the nose of a hound, and appear to have little fear (except when I yell, ”Git!”).

[NOTE: This paragraph has been removed to avoid problems with overzealous DEC officials (see comments)]

The beagle book says that if you work a full-time job and keep your beagles penned up all day, they will not be good pets. Beagles need action and attention and space to run. They are country dogs, which means they don’t usually do as well in the cloistered environs of suburbia (neither do I) . So our location should be idea for Lucy and Susan.

The biggest concern with getting puppies was how well Annie would accept them. Well, Annie is not pleased with the little additions to our family. The first time we put the three dogs together Lucy and Susan ran right up to Annie. She barred her teeth and barked viciously. The puppies backed off. We scolded Annie. Lucy & Susan returned to mill around the Big Bad Dog, all playful like. Annie stood, towering over them, her teeth showing like an attack dog, growling low, with saliva literally streaming out of her mouth onto the puppies.

It occurred to me that six-month-old beagle pups are about the size of a big woodchuck (Lucy is 16 pounds and Susan is 14 pounds). Annie has killed a lit of woodchucks in her day.

But after a week, Annie is getting more accustomed to the beagles when they run up to her (which they continue to do). She still bares her teeth, growls, and occasionally snaps at them, but she no longer salivates uncontrollably. We’re making progress.

It turns out that I like these beagles (so far). Like everyone else in the family, I give the new puppies a lot of love and attention (when I’m not in my garden). I can see that beagles have a lot of good points. And I’m thankful this whole dog thing turned out the way it did. It could have turned out a lot worse... For example, Marlene could have decided that she wanted a couple of poodles, or chihuahuas.