Monday, November 26, 2007

Newsletter 24

My work on the farm has transformed somewhat over the past few years. Now that our crew has more experience, the farm cycle seems to revolve on its own. This is good, as my body does not always cooperate the same way it did 10 years ago, and you won’t see me these days involved with all the aspects of the farm. Building this farm has left quite a few scars on my body. I don’t regret it, but it certainly is inconvenient when you need to ask the young guns (or Dave) to help you lift something heavy. Farming is hard on your body, and I serve as a living warning to everyone else on the farm. “Hey, if you don’t want to turn deaf by your forties you better wear these earmuffs,” which prompts anyone to carefully wear them. Actually, though the farm equipment is loud, it has saved me from wearing myself out completely. After I got my knee replaced, it was a godsend to be able to mechanically cut the lettuce and greens this year. But equipment can be dangerous – I almost cut my finger off when I simply stroked the band-saw of that same salad harvester by accident. Fortunately, I have never been in a serious farming accident – we are obsessive about farm safety – but equipment is still dangerous, and the only way to be completely safe is simply not to use it at all.
Having a worn-out body and being almost deaf comes with a few perks. You tend to turn more inwards, and your eyes largely compensate for what your ears lack in function. Also, when you can’t throw yourself into the physical aspects of the work, you have more time to reflect on what we do and when we do it. I have learned to see fields within a five-year context: three years back and two years ahead. What has happened in a field for the last three years determines what will happen to it in the following two years. Busy farmers can get too much in the moment, and are happy when they have just enough land available to get their crops planted. Whatever happens to sit idle might get treated to a green manure crop. As a result of being focused on just one aspect, those farms start showing signs of stress: A farm's predominantly breathing-out process – the produce and meat that leaves the farm gate and the cash coming back in to do it all over again – is affecting the overall health of the farm. Signs of this kind of stress include excessive weed problems, impoverished or abundant soil fertility, diseased plants and animals, decrease in habitat for beneficial organisms, etc. The farm is like an organism: It needs to be seen in its totality as one complex system whereby all the living components are tuned in to provide a balance in its metabolic and respiratory systems. The farm as a whole needs to breathe in and out, produce and consume in some form of equilibrium. You need time and experience to do this work; every farm needs a worn-out, almost deaf farmer like me to make sure this is given its due attention.
From the farm as an organism, we know that we have reached our limit on the amount of land dedicated to vegetable-crop production. No, we will not allow any more members to share into the bounty of this farm; there is a cap on our capacity. But the farm includes 285 acres, so there is plenty of room to become more productive in other areas. These days, we sell our hay and it leaves the farm. We would love to recycle more of it through our own four-legged animals.
With my focus on finding the balance on the farm, we have been making many adjustments. In my meditation on certain fields, I can imagine a certain crop to be grown that involves plowing, harrowing and seeding; but many of our fields are asking to be left alone, as in permanent sod. We could make hay on these fields or we could choose to pasture them. Once you put animals in a field, you need to observe how well the animal interacts with that field. The reason we purchased sheep was a result of those observations. The characteristics of most fields on the North farm make them unsuitable for large animals (with the exception of the hayfield on the further north side of this farm). The sheep proved to be a good choice, as they are thriving and the pasture has generally improved, due to the rigorous management-intensive grazing system that Jody employs. But as I looked closer, I realized that the sheep do have a one-sided impact on the land. If we do not want to run into long-term problems with either the sheep or the fields, we will need to balance the impact of the sheep with some other creatures. The sheep are spoiled animals and leave a lot of the taller grasses to be mowed by us. Over time, this leaves a layer of dead organic material on the surface of the soil which will make it less productive. Some kind of fowl needs to be introduced to these fields to scratch the dead grass out of the sod. This scratching allows new seeds to emerge, and the new plants will make for a more productive pasture. Also, sheep are notorious for having parasite problems. While rotational grazing is the best tool we have available against this problem, fowl eating the eggs of the parasites out of the sod will also be a great help. Jody and I have been toying with the idea of chickens, but neither of us is too excited about killing meat birds every six weeks, or being stuck with egg production after the vegetable season is over.
And then, there we were on Thanksgiving, sitting around the table eating our organic turkey from the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Eureka! Why hadn’t we thought of this before? Who says good ideas only happen when you meditate (I thought as I was stuffing my mouth with another bite of delicious sweet potato)? Turkeys follow the same cycle as our vegetables. You start the chicks in the spring to be harvested in the fall. As this is a relatively new idea, we will need to work out the details, but you can look forward to hearing from us on this: We are about to find a new avenue in linking you as the consumer to the health of the land by simply ordering your Thanksgiving turkey from the farm. We can solve many problems at once: We will improve the land and the health of the sheep, and have great turkeys to eat, while staying away from dangerous farm equipment. Oh, and as far as the turkeys purring, yelping, clucking, gobbling, and cackling – my hearing problem might come in handy again.


Friday, November 23, 2007


Hi, I'm Dave, Jody's dad. I do the construction work on the farm (2 days a week). Plumbing, wiring, carpentry, concrete work, whatever is needed. I used to teach (35 years), but no more! I'll keep you posted on what is going on with respect to construction on the farm. We just finished framing in doorways on the greenhouses and machine shed for new garage doors. We'll move to the CSA barn apartment next for inside framing, then wiring, plumbing, insulation, then drywalling. Then John can move in!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Welcome to the Roxbury Farm blog page. With this page we can update you about the happenings on the farm. You will be able to hear from other voices on the farm like Johnny, Justin, Dave, and Linda.

We just finished the indoor housing for the pigs. They are happily settling into their deep bed of straw. Soon the housing for the sheep will be finished, too. Then it is on to the apartment for Johnny.