Extreme Makeover: Farm Edition

The old farm has seen better days.  Even the mailbox is broken.

The fences are in disrepair, the pond is nearly silted in, the pond dam is infested with minks, I have acres of Osage orange, honey locust and willow, the pastures have more ragweed and thistle than grass, the buildings are falling in, the well doesn’t work…I could go on.  Most of the issues I face are simply due to age.  Things get old and need to be replaced.  In my case, nearly everything needs to be replaced.  The good news is I catch a lot of sunshine and rain so building fertility shouldn’t be too difficult.

My family has owned this farm since the 1840s.  It is my turn to fight back the brush, tame the earth and hand it to the next generation more productive than when I received it.  You know, stewardship.  This is a job I volunteered for and accept willingly.  In fact, it is easy to make dramatic productivity improvements right now since all I have to do is open up the canopy to let the sun come in and manage rest and disturbance cycles.

Well, it’s not that easy. I put a lot of thought into which projects receive priority. I appreciate Geoff Lawton’s notion that I should put 30 hours of thought into an hour of work but I’m looking out my window at thousands of hours of thinking.

It is difficult, as Joel Salatin points out, to look at the landscape and ask it, “What do you want to do?” instead of, “What can I make you do?”  This hill is quite good at raising hedge trees.  Does that mean it would be a good place for an orchard?  It is a small hill sloping North, West and South with a spring in the SW corner just East of the White Oak.

Let me show you why this matters.  Here is a path the cows have carved on the west side of a hill between fallen limbs, hedge trees and multiflora rose.

I promise you the hill doesn’t want to be scarred this way.  I have to find a way to heal the scar.  I could hire a bulldozer to come in and remove all trees and stumps and sculpt the hill.  That would be a good use of my time.  However, it would leave the soil exposed just as the spring rains are coming in.  I think it is better to manually remove the trees, burning, chipping and piling them as I go, then build my temporary paddocks in a way that prevents the cows from beating paths like this one.  I want to use hooves as rolling pins.  Solar-powered, fertilizer-spreading,  rolling pins that replicate.

I will spend the rest of my life remodeling this farm.  Right now it’s all I can do to manage 20 acres.  Hopefully I’ll develop more skill at recognizing natural patterns so I can partner with, rather than fight, nature.  Wish me luck.

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