I do not farm. Yet. At least by the normal definition of the word. What I do is more like gardening with the goal of eventually farming. My wife and I live in a very small cabin directly bordering a large reservoir in South Central KS, the reservoir that Wichita city water is harvested from. Interestingly, the city of Wichita has gone to great lengths to establish responsible care of the Ninnescah watershed and river, which fill the reservoir. They independently subsidize landowners directly adjacent to the river to keep their land in permanent CRP or grass, and encourage nearby farmers to use chemicals responsibly and to be aware of their effects on the watershed as a whole. For a city that is in other ways sort of sub-par in my opinion, I can at least be grateful that they’re taking good care of their water and a large chunk of land that extends across most of two counties.
The cabin is built intelligently, bermed halfway up the first floor on three sides, and wood heated. We cut our own wood in the state park, and I have no intention of ever heating any other way, just as I have no interest in living in any town or city, whatever size.
The reason why I do not yet farm is simple: Land. The price of land here has doubled in the last ten years, which I suppose is about the average across the nation. Farmland in this great Jeffersonian grid currently sells for around $2000/acre, which is great compared to almost anywhere else in the country, until you realize that essentially the smallest parcel you are likely to find for sale is 80 acres. Usually 160, a quarter section. The moment you are able to shoot or photograph a large whitetail buck on said land, count on the price going to $3000, since the rich non-resident hunters are eager to buy good wooded land and let it grow up into a huge brush heap so that they can be sure to shoot a deer the one weekend a year they’re in the county. For that matter, a pretty good chunk of the farmland in the county is owned by non-residents too, who in turn lease it to farmers who do live here. We all know why this is frustrating, no need to thresh it out here.
We are young, and we are working hard and saving money, and I have my eye on a piece of land about 5 miles down the road from the small town where my wife’s parents live, and where we both work. At home, the cabin, we have a small garden with all the typical garden vegetables (minus sweet corn, since I don’t feel like fighting the deer and raccoons), and in a couple of months, I will be planting a patch of barley to over-winter. I brew my own beer during the winter months so this crop will get used in 2012. We eat a lot of fish out of the lake, both of my own catching by trotline and fishing pole, and from our retired DWP fisheries biologist landlord, neighbor, and friend. He spends about 60% of his time hunting and fishing, the other 40% gardening, and frequently stops by with tomatoes, beans, and fish in the summer, berries in the fall, and Canada geese in the winter.
We eat well.
My wife is the grand-daughter of one of the early Wheat geneticists, and she has worked at the company he founded for the past 9 years. We are both actively interested and involved in wheat breeding, and our goal is to start breeding heirloom wheat varieties, along with other types of vegetables for the hot, dry climate and our local soil conditions. We know of no organic vegetable breeders or seed companies in our area, and we feel that localized, adapted seed is a needed component of a good gardening community.
For now, though, we’re limited to about one city lot, with restrictions on livestock due to neighborhood covenants, so we do the best we can with what we have and try to thoroughly enjoy it while also looking ahead to land ownership and the opportunity to expand somewhat into what might truly be called ‘farming.’

$7 corn, $4 gas

April 15, 2011

There is speculation that corn prices this summer may rise to an incredibly high $10 a bushel. Which means that if my brother and I planted our father’s vacant back acre to field corn this year, worked it and harvested it by hand, a relatively small, simple, easy amount of work, and even if we produced only 150 bushels on that acre, that would leave us with $1500 for having a casual conversation while incidentally pulling weeds a couple of evenings a week. On the other hand, if gas hits $4 or even $5 per gallon this summer, as would not surprise me, that would mean a cost of roughly $250 for the fuel for me to travel back and forth from our house to his a couple of days a week. Leaving my total share at more like $750. Still probably worthwhile.
However, I don’t think we’re either one going to do that, at least not this year. I’ll be working at Westbred a few days a week on field crew. On the other day or two per week, I’ll probably be fishing, as I have been quite frequently since the weather turned warm. There’s not a type of fish in the lake that doesn’t have meat on it, and although many people are uninterested in eating things like carp, buffalo, and drum, I find that they’re just as food-worthy as any other species. I found a muddy creek close to our house where the carp and catfish are especially thick right now, so that’ll likely be where a good chunk of our meat comes from in the coming weeks.
Otherwise, we are settling into life, which at times seems to violate my youthful ideals, and frustrates the hell out of me for brief periods, but all in all, we’re enjoying it. Some processes just take more time than I’d like them to. Exhibit A: Saving up for, Finding, and Purchasing Land. Life always seems to complicate budgets and savings plans, but we’re getting there slowly. The extra income I’ll be bringing home from Westbred this summer will certainly help things, just as it would help if I could stick to any one project for long enough to actually make money on it. In the past year, we’ve seen a number of ideas come, develop, and then stagnate: cheesemaking, wine brewing (I’m experimenting with beer now), moccasins, primitive self bows, and hide tanning to name a few. Most of these things I’d say I’m fairly proficient at, but I continue to lose interest once I figure something out, and I end up just making enough bread and cheese for us to eat, wine and beer for us to drink, etc. These things are all really good, and ultimately they probably still save us a marginal amount of money, not to mention keeping me busy through the week and giving me something to be excited about, if only briefly, but they are certainly nowhere near “income-producing.” Oh well. Life is good in the meantime, so who cares if it takes us several years to get the money together for our own place?

The Wheelwright’s Daughter

February 27, 2011

O, withering sailor bones,
You came floating like an autumn leaf on the breeze to my harbor.
Suddenly the waves quit crashing and the winds grew calm when I found you
I was skipping stones with the fisherman’s children,
And we carried your broken body up the hill and through the yews to my cottage
And like a pile of bones, dead still, you’ve lain in these threadbare blankets for a couple of days

O, withering sailor bones,
There was a haze of delusion in your eyes and you spoke as if I had ceased the storm
Who is this queen of which you spoke when you broke the sweat of fever dreams?
Come now, swallow this tea of service-berry and catmint leaves
The winter has come o’er the far side of the mountains, silhouetted by the sunrise

There’s nobody here but our families,
Generations of children grown up to make more
Blacksmiths, coopers, and cobblers and millers and joyners and weavers of tapestry
We have no queen and we have no God, just a blanket of snow over juniper needles
And the old growth canopy under which we lay our heads…

This is one of the songs from the new album, Califia that O’ Handsome Navigator is working on, planning to start preliminary recording in March.

My wife, Kelsi, and I floated away from ‘our’ beach early this afternoon, into heavy fog that prohibited us from seeing anything more than 10 yards away. It was the first day in a couple of months at least that the lake has been thawed enough to canoe, with the recent unseasonably warm weather (approaching 70 every day for a week in the middle of February). The water was glassy calm, and for the first time, we headed straight out from shore, headed towards the opposite shore, just far enough away to easily see the tree line on a clear day. Maybe a mile or so.
As we paddled up to the opposite shore, my first realization was that this side of the lake looks a whole lot less inhabited than the side we rent our house on. The second realization was something like this:
“See that little bend in the trees there? That would be a great place to put a house. And this little cove here would be great for swimming with kids. Deep enough, but not to steep of a drop off. And around the two neighboring points? Great places for trotlines and fishing, good trails to trap along. The soil looks great to garden. There’s about a 3 acre clearing here, we could put a goat pen over there, a workshop here,… …. etc., etc.

Am I predisposed to see every open piece of land as a possible building, gardening, homesteading site? Or is this place just particularly becoming? Is it a problem that I see a piece of land in terms of providing for my family, rather than the more abstract notion of “nature”? Is it bad that I see a healthy looking patch of cottonwood, ash, cedar, osage orange, mulberry, and think-the dead-falls over there would be enough to keep us warm through each winter, with enough good furniture wood to keep me busy with projects…Is this where people began to think of land as a commodity? Or am I just at the stage of animal life that necessitates burrowing in or building a nest or den of some sort to protect one’s mate and young?

February 10, 2011

So, here we are. We want to live in a real world, a sane world, a world that is equally respectful of all people, all animals, plants, and the living breathing organism we know as the Earth. And we have essentially no idea how to build this world from the materials we’ve currently got to work with. How to we approximate sanity within a system of insane disregard for the well-being of the earth and everything contained by it? How do we buy land without borrowing money in a system that presumes debt as a prerequisite for land-ownership? How do we raise children to think for themselves, to be critical of the deluge of information waiting to tell them anything and everything they’re willing to belive, within an educational system that demands nearly every moment of their childhood and adolescence and, in return, prepares them for a ‘career,’ fairly thoroughly avoiding the awful mess of teaching them to think, to be good humans, rather than good employees. What are we to do about a population that is completely and utterly dependent on fossil-fuels and electrically powered technology, ridiculously removed from the basic processes of providing their own food and shelter in the most primitive way? The further we go along this path, the less we’ll know about how to take care of ourselves.
Why should I be required to purchase a government health insurance plan if I don’t want one? Why should I have to pay social security, if I’d rather save that money privately to support myself after I’ve retired? Why should my future children have to spend their childhoods studying for standardized tests, to assess their ability as indentured servants to a social and economic system that they may or may not even be interested in being a part of?
And yet, here we are. And how do we get where we want to be?

Starting Seed, Again.

January 16, 2011

I am wearing short-heeled cowboy boots almost daily now. I think its indicative of the fact that I’ve pretty much given up on being cool. I haven’t been to a bar except to play a show in months, haven’t bought beer in even longer. I typically see about 5 people per week, one of them being my wife, one my boss, and the other three my parents and brother. And its really been pretty nice.

This coming week, I plan to start some tomato, pepper, and onion seedlings for later transplanting in the garden. Earlier in the fall, my brother was kind enough to help me haul a couple of loads of manure and composted straw from the far corners of the county to our rental house, almost exactly at the South East corner of the county. We laid out the cardboard I had collected before my truck died, enough for about a 20 foot square, and piled the manure and straw compost on top of that. I have several big bags of last year’s leaves and grass clippings waiting, about 5 bales of brome hay, and a whole bunch of discarded, but unused potting soil from my wife’s place of business that will all get dumped and spread on this little garden plot in a few more weeks, around the end of February.
This area will be for above ground plants. I won’t bother with many tomatoes, because our landlords truck-patch tomatoes to sell at farmers markets, and we get as many as we can use. I do really like cherry tomatoes though, which is something they didn’t grow last year, and probably won’t this year either. All the root vegetables, and some of the big space eaters (squash, melons, etc) will get planted in a separate tilled patch of our very week, slightly acidic, very dry sandy soil. I’ll work a few of the bales of brome hay into this in early spring too, just for a little extra organic mass. And any compost I can muster from the past year.
Our goal for this year’s garden is to grow a year’s supply of food for ourselves. We’re not shooting for any surplus.

Today, I bought a stick of Red Oak lumber with which to make my first two bows. I have not decided if I’ll buy or try to make my own arrows traditionally, but I do feel that if I am going to eat meat, I should be hunting it myself with technology I’ve made myself and understand completely. Otherwise, I feel I should become a vegetarian. I am also planning to set at least one trotline for fish through the better part of the year.

In closing, an unrelated point. Here is the mission statement of an organization I’m looking to start:

“Our mission is to provide a dependably peaceful, healthy, encouraging home for ourselves, our families, and our community. To encourage each other toward greater self-knowledge, creativity, philosophy, and understanding. To provide a place and a context to revive dying arts in need of preservation, and to encourage meaningful personal exploration and expression through music, art, food, literature, etc. We wish to do this in a way that makes a positive impact on our environment over both the short and long term.”

Church (continued)

December 9, 2010

Today, the same Jon and I went for a 20 mile bicycle ride. I think in the past 9 months, I have probably ridden about 5 miles collectively. Obviously, my legs will be sore tomorrow, but my passion for riding (and for physical challenges in general) has been violently rekindled.

We also talked at length about the topic of the need for a feeling of spiritual community. My wife and I agree (I think) on a large life goal: we want to find a small town to live in or near, a place where we feel we could make a significant contribution, a community that we could be part of. Kelsi is a pretty talented visual artist with a gift for interaction with people en masse, and a passion for teaching. So, the obvious thing for her to do in life is to teach art, to encourage people in this stifling culture to express themselves artistically, to expose that most vulnerable part of themselves that is best harnessed with creative mediums.

I am very passionate about food production and music, and would like to encourage people in whatever way I can to play music and grow their own food. This could take the form of weekly musical get-togethers (hootenany’s, you might say) and a community garden project, or some form of instructional gardening, cooking classes, a community cannery, etc. etc.

Essentially I’m talking about opening a community center of sorts, except that many of the activities would likely take place in our home. Along with all of this, I would like to see a community of religious tolerance and interaction that would transcend individual belief to encourage everyone equally as human beings. We could have meditation meetings, yoga instruction, Koran, Bagavad Gita, Bible studies, etc. etc. Anything to open a dialogue between different belief systems, to encourage everyone to respect everyone else for their underlying humanity. After all, almost everybody has the same core values, regardless of doctrine…

Church

December 7, 2010

This morning, I had coffee with my friend Jon, at our friend Chelsea’s cafe in town. And from our conversation, I realized this: I am in need of a church, of sorts. I’m fairly uninterested in what I would consider to be religious belief, and only marginally more so in taking part in an organization of people who are foremost likeminded in this particular category, to the extent that most organized spiritual groups seem to want to be. That said, I enjoy being around people who have┬áput considerable thought and exploration into their beliefs, whichever ones they’ve chosen, and I like discussing such things to some degree.

What I’m looking for is a group of people who value their time in life similarly, and a sort of planned place and time that all of us could come together and spend a little time encouraging one another in our various pursuits. I’m not looking to change the world through organization, very much the opposite. But I’ve been feeling lately that what I am doing is, frankly, unimportant, and I’d like someone to tell me that it matters. I’d like some inspiration or some idea of a way that I could contribute positively to the greater society, helping to make people aware of the things that I think I am possibly more aware of than the average person. Ideas?

Wood Cuttin’ Time

October 17, 2010

Yes, yes, its that time of year again. The time for cutting wood. And this year, its all together a different experience. These past days, with the first hint of autumn crispness in the air, I have been cutting by hand, just like last year. The difference is, I’m now using a canoe for the majority of the distance hauling the fuel home. In the morning, coffee in hand, bow saw over one shoulder, I stroll back through the woods to the lake shore where I (usually) leave the canoe. There are a couple of places around the lake where deadfalls tend to wash up during floods, and it is these spots that I’ve been primarily focusing on, picking through the dozens of whole trees that have been discarded there by the 500 year flood this spring (of which we seem to get one about every 2 or 3 years lately) to find timber that is a) small enough to cut by hand, b) solid enough to justify it, and c) preferably hardwood, but definitely not elm, as it is hard to split, burns poorly, and smokes heavily.

With the bow saw, I cut timber into 6 or 8 foot lengths, and bring 5 or 6 of these back to our shore in the canoe at a time. I then have to┬ámake about half as many trips back and forth from the beach to the house, since I can balance one of these long lengths on each shoulder, if they’re small enough in diameter. Once I get them up to the house, I cut them down to burnable lengths, split, and stack them under the eaves of our sortA-frame cabin.

I have been canning vegetables and fruit as well, but between these two activities and cooking/cleaning house, most of my time is accounted for. It is a peaceful life, and I am very happy, excitedly planning next year’s garden, thinking of building a cob bread oven, a smoke house for fish preservation, and possibly getting a hive of honey bees, though not sure about this yet.

I am learning to make cheeses and yogurt, going to start making our own butter soon. I ordered some brewing supplies yesterday to try a few more batches of hard apple cider this fall. It’s one of my favorite beverages, especially the homemade variety, a close second to a nice fresh glass of raw milk.

Also, apologies to my new wife for not mentioning our wedding in the last post. We got married on September 12, and it was wonderful.

Conundrums

August 21, 2010

My truck is dead. A few days ago, it started running a little bit rough, but it didn’t seem like anything to be too concerned about, so I changed the spark plugs, ran an injector cleaner through it, and it seemed to get better. Yesterday it ran great. This morning it started hard, like it was starving for gas, but once I got it running, it sounded and drove fine. Tonight, on my way back to the base for work, it started running super rough, and within about a mile, lost all power, and apparently overheated pretty severely, without setting off a heat light (no heat gauge in the dash). Smoking heavily from the valve cover seal. No compression. We towed it to my dad’s house where it will sit at least for tonight, ’til i can get back to it tomorrow to see if there’s anything more to be done.

If not, I will either have to buy a very cheap car or truck, or borrow money (i hate this idea, but will live with it if i have to). I have my eye on two possibilities: 1) a 60’s model Chevy Apache, which is a pretty big truck, would get horrible gas mileage but would be capable of quite a bit of hard heavy work. 2) a VW Rabbit pickup, which would be sweet and cheaper to commute with, but much smaller and less capable of big stuff. or possibly 3) an early 00’s model F150, which I’d have to borrow quite a bit to buy, but which would probably last for quite some time and is in very good condition.

Regardless, i have chosen to see this whole situation as the universe or God or whoever telling me not to worry so much about money, and, wherever possible, to live a lifestyle that is not so completely dependent on it. At the moment, I’m pretty much broke, and am making just enough to continue going to work. Its starting to get a little frustrating. But not to worry. I will make something happen, which really means that I will chill out and have a cup of tea or two and wait for something to happen…

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