Reading Journal 2015 Week 5

This is turning into an endurance race and I’m stretched a little thin. To help with the time crunch I have started getting up at 4:30 but making myself go to bed at 10. I may have to start staying up 30 minutes late though. Another thing I am doing is allocating blocks of time for specific activities. Not really my bag but it seems to work.

This week was particularly tough because of the programming book I included. The book is great and easy to understand. Knocking out 4 chapters/day while writing out all the code? Not easy…even though I came into this experienced. Next week I plan to back off a bit. A reader recently sent me a link to Henderson’s Farming Manual and that should do for the week. Want to read it with me?

Skip around if you want but please take a moment to read the “Article You Hafta Read” section below.

Born Again Dirt by Noah Sanders

What is the book about?
It’s kind of a Bible study, kind of a lecture on proper Christian attitudes on the farm. Kind of a book about Christian life and attitudes. Kind of a book about permaculture that doesn’t say the word “Permaculture”.

Is it a classic?
No. Yes. Maybe. Honestly, I would have a better idea on this one if Julie had read it with me. This is a discussion book, not one to read in isolation. I had a hard time narrowing down the favorite passage section because I kept finding ideas I wanted to run with. Not that these ideas are necessarily new or profound but the book lays the ideas out neatly and in a way that begs for discussion. So fun to read? Yes. Good for discussion? Yes. Food for thought? Yes. Classic? …maybe.

Will you read it again?
No. Yes. Maybe. I think I will refer to it from time to time. More later.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?
Um…I would have been happy to borrow it. I’ll probably loan it out. Maybe it won’t come back. Maybe it will. Not too worried.

Can you relate a favorite passage?
I list this passage in direct contrast…or maybe in support of…hmmmm. I’ll try again. I list this passage to accompany the ending quote I used last week when discussing Gladwell book (Outliers). Sanders says the following:

If you are a farmer, then you realize that you aren’t in control of everything that affects your farm. Rain, hail, drought, disease, and pests can impact the production and fruitfulness of our farms, and we can’t do anything about it most of the time. Even if nothing ever went wrong, we still can’t take credit for things going right. We can’t make things grow. We can plant seeds and care for animals and water the ground, but unless God causes increase we won’t accomplish anything.

As Christian farmers we must recognize that we are completely dependent on the Lord to make us succeed. A successful farm comes not from our own strength or skill, but from God blessing our faithfulness.

Arkush said that’s fatalistic and pessimistic, belonging to a feudal system. I mean, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” My farm is not mine. I just get to use it for a while. “Everything in the Heavens and the Earth is yours, O Lord. We adore you as being in control of everything. Riches and honor come from you alone and you are the ruler of all mankind; your hand controls power and might and it is at your discretion that men are made great and given strength.” It’s all his, man. The cattle on a thousand hills. The gold. All of it. And anything I do I do in his power.

So do I agree with both thoughts? Um… Well, you know, either you believe in God or you don’t. If you do believe in God, what kind of a god is God? Is God the kind of deity standing idly by as we spin out of control, are we pets to be looked after or are we companions to be blessed? I choose the latter. Any post-creation example in the Bible of a miracle requires action by man. The widow had to get jars and pour oil. Noah had to build the ark. Seriously? Did God need some dude to build a boat to save animals? Moses had to keep his hands up. Hands. Someone had to get jars of water for Jesus. Why didn’t Jesus just miracle up some bottles from a future French vineyard? Because we have to do our part. There isn’t much I can do to make a seed sprout…short of making the conditions right. And I’m not sure the Chinese proverb listed by Gladwell contradicts the book of Proverbs…”All hard work leads to profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Back to the book.

This sounds familiar:

the income for the average farming family is now the same as for other farming occupations. However, the study admitted that eighty-seven percent of their income came from off-farm jobs!

The author is referencing a publication from 1997 called Rural Conditions and Trends but I can’t seem to dig it up. But I don’t doubt the trend but I’m not sure it’s honest. There are all kinds of distortions in these figures. Let’s go a little different direction. Where I live the average age of farmers is above 65. Why is that? Is it because nobody younger wants the farm? That doesn’t appear to be the case here. Plenty of kids Julie and I went to school with are still working on their family farms…but they have businesses of their own. Often they haul grain or rock so their occupation is “Truck Driver”. The oldest in the family typically owns all of the land and has a big life insurance policy to help manage the transfer.

Many of the farm wives around are school teachers or nurses. They are the primary source of off-farm income. What happens to the on-farm income? It gets plowed back into the farm to lower the taxable income. New trucks, new tractors, new buildings…it seems the worst thing a farmer can do is show a profit. Of course 87% of income comes from off-farm! Just like the average age of farmers, we haven’t identified a problem…we have identified a strategy. I’ll hit this topic more personally in a bit.

Here’s a gem:

I believe our farms should be homes that are beautiful and fruitful, not just workplaces where we also live. Many times our farms can take over our lives because we never leave our work and go home. We tend to work all the time because we live where we work. However, as good as work is, our lives are to be primarily relationship-oriented (God and people), not work-oriented. Therefore we should view our farms as, first and foremost, our homes, and not a production factory where we live.

Who should read this book?
There is a lot here and this isn’t one to skim lightly through. This would be a great thing for a farming couple to work through or maybe even share with a Bible study group. Especially a group with little or no experience with sustainable farming practices.

Take home messages:
The chapter on marketing and pricing is very good noting that

A good steward doesn’t waste or just retain his master’s property – he adds to it.

If we aren’t seeing increase …well? We might as well put our money in a hole in the ground. And Jesus said that behavior isn’t rewarded.

If we were doing our job of honoring the Lord the Earth would be beautiful, fruitful and habitable. My farm is a reflection of my efforts toward God’s design. Yipe! He quotes a lot of scripture in this book…all of it pointed at me.

One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
Proverbs 18:9

And just go ahead and read Proverbs 24:30-34. Go ahead. Then come tour my farm. See my thorns, weeds and weak fences. My failing buildings. My junk piles.

I have some work to do.

Hello World!: Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners (Second Edition) by Warren Sande

Let’s go to Christmas of 1994 together, shall we? Julie’s parents bought a 486 computer with 4 MB of memory and a dot matrix printer! It even had a “Turbo” button! At the time memory was something like $100/MB but we needed more…somehow. We had trouble getting Warcraft: Orcs and Humans to load if we exited Windows to go back to DOS. The solution was to put a menu in the Autoexec.bat. We gave it 20 seconds to choose to boot to DOS with anything unnecessary stripped out of the boot cycle or just to boot to Windows. Our problems were solved. And it was all magic in the land before the Google.

This book took me back to that time. That level of excitement. Even one of the games I played at that time. I can’t tell you how much fun I had playing this book…I mean…reading this book this week. I want to be clear here, I started off working through 4 chapters each day in this book but that pace could not be maintained. There is just too much work required of the reader. I did not finish this book but I will. One week just isn’t enough time.

What is the book about?
Breaking python programming down into bite-sized portions while making it interesting and available to the uninitiated.

Is it a classic?
No. Things change too quickly in tech. This book is pretty awesome though.

Will you read it again?
Only as my kids go through it.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?

Can you relate a favorite passage?
Chapter 10 makes a clone of Ski Free! I spent hours playing Ski Free more than two decades ago and had totally forgotten it.

Who should read this book?
Anyone who wants to dip their toes into a deep body of water. Might be dangerous out there. Might be fun too. Adventure awaits! Make it up as you go along. I recommend it for 14+ and work through a chapter/day, repeating most chapters and giving a little cushion of time. Give yourself 2 months to really get it done. This is not a novel. You have to re-train your brain.

Whatever you think of Heinlein, programming a computer is on his list of things everybody should be able to do. This book is a great place to start.

Take home messages:
Programming doesn’t have to be boring.

Article You Hafta Read

I imagine you, reader, want to ask me a question. Maybe something like this, “Chris, this is a farm blog. You use your farm blog to discuss your efforts to inspire your children to advance your ambitions and make them their own. Why do you talk so much about computers?”

I’m glad you asked. Are you ready for my answer?

I know which side my bread is buttered on.

With that introduction, I think you should go read this article then come back for some more thoughts. If you don’t want to click I’ll summarize. The author is, appropriately enough, a writer. She is discussing how writers afford to write and the dishonesty with which they address that very subject. Let’s apply that to farming.

I am the seventh generation on this farm. You know how much money and land I have inherited to get here? ZERO. I took over a crappy, smelly, leaky, drafty farmhouse on a farm with porous fences, failing pond dams and pastures filled with cowpaths and thorny trees. This wasn’t a working farm when I took over. This was a big hole that eats money.

My farm is sponsored by my incredible job in town. A job that requires me to continually update my skill set or they will pull their sponsorship. My farm is also sponsored by my job in Florida…a job I do on my vacation time…another job that will pull my sponsorship if I don’t stay certified in my tech field. Yeah. My farm is also sponsored by some other work I do on the side here and there.

The author above says she is largely sponsored by her spouse. I feel the same way. In addition to everything else she does, Julie runs the farm when I’m at work. But it doesn’t stop there. Mom and dad are always around. Dad checks chicken water, waters rabbits, owns tractors I don’t and lets me use them. And it doesn’t stop there. I have somehow managed to surround myself with supportive, caring people. Did you read above where I said, “Julie’s parents bought a 486 computer…”? That computer is a big part of the reason I have the job I have (and a big part of the reason their youngest son has the job he has). And they buy chicken from me!

But having people rooting for me isn’t enough. I still have to do the work. I still have to code. I still have to build fence. I still have to be loving toward my wife and repay the investment others have made in me.

Someday someone might ask, “Chris, how did you build the farm into a dominant, interplanetary enterprise?”

I will answer “I surrounded myself with loving, encouraging people, worked hard at my town job and read like it was going out of style. We also lived on less than I earned and reinvested all farm income.”

This Week in Media

On the topic of 100 hour weeks I found the following video.

…figure out if something really makes sense or if it’s just what everybody else is doing.

If you have read my blog for any length of time at all you know I am constantly wrestling with my own motivations. I thought this was a powerful video.

You should take the approach that you are wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.

Just watch the video. I can’t transcribe it all.

Please give me some feedback on this post. I read a lot. Like, a lot, lot. I like to share with my readers when I find a book that helps a farmer out. But I also like to be entertained so I include links to movies and music. Fun books too. Please let me know if there are questions I can answer for you or if you have any suggestions to help make this format more meaningful.

Also, let me know if you are doing any of the reading with me…even if you are running behind. Share your favorite quotes. Tell me if I missed the point.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.

8 thoughts on “Reading Journal 2015 Week 5

  1. Thanks for recommending George Henderson books. I am currently reading them, and really enjoy the information they contain. The link below has three of his books (free download) –
    Farmer’s Progress -. The Farming Ladder and The Farming Manual. I also found some good books on building a earth dam and soil management. Please send me the titles if you find other good books listed on this site. Some of the books took a day to receive the download link.

  2. I’ve visited Noah’s blog on and off for a few years (Redeeming the Dirt). He always gives me pause for thought. I knew he had a book out, but yours is the first review I’ve read of it.

    Looking at the excerpts from The Farming Manual, I realize I read it years ago when I did my own George Henderson marathon. Guess I’ll be revisiting that one!

    The article by Ann Bauer was good. Really good. I’ve noticed the same thing when some successful people are explaining their success. Elon Musk was interesting – lots in that video that I’ll have to chew over. I’d never heard of him before. He’s definitely worked hard and taken big risks.

    On a much smaller scale, and in a somewhat contrasting philosophy, I offer you a young entrepreneur who is a sort of relative of mine – his grandfather and my grandfather were first cousins. I haven’t seen Andrew since he left high school, but when I talked to his Dad about him a year or so ago, I got the impression that the family think Andrew just got lucky. There is a very high value placed on post secondary education on that side of the family, and he most certainly bucked that trend.!/transcript

    The only book I’m reading with any dedication just now continues to be “How to Be a Victorian”, which is good, and highly readable, but not quite excellent. Worth finishing though.

    I was just given an old copy of “The Harrowsmith Reader II”. This is an anthology of articles from the 1970’s organized under the following headings: Country Life, Shelter and Energy, The Garden, Husbandry, Rural Arts and The Pantry. Published in 1980. Harrowsmith was a Canadian magazine for back to the landers (think Mother Earth News in the early days), which eventually morphed into a country lifestyle glossy before it withered and died a few years ago. In the beginning, though Harrowsmith was packed with great stuff, and was widely considered a first go to resource for all things homesteading. Can’t wait to dip into this.

    • The BBC farm shows were on Youtube way back when the internet was free. I miss those days. Your comment of good but not quite excellent seemed to apply. The shows missed the sense of community that would have been necessary in that time but were still pretty cool.

      • So a couple of links are still working. The producer of the very first series “Tales From the Green Valley – set in Elizabethan times in Wales, Peter Sommers, has posted his series on Youtube, so I imagine the link will stay for as long as he wants. It was an independent production done for the BBC. The rest of the series were done by BBC.
        The current/most recent series, Tudor Monastery Farm, is currently available from a local education/publicly funded TV channel here in BC:
        That’s too bad about Edwardian, Victorian and Wartime Farm. I guess I’d better request my library to buy the DVDs, then I can watch them again sometime.

  3. I have to say that this post and the one after it caused quite a discussion in our house that finished nor resolved itself yet. We are in the midst of rearranging our lives. It’s a bit like a do-over. So posts like these two give us many things to talk about in making our decisions. This includes the possibility of moving to another state and really starting over. Thank you.

    Born Again Dirt is something I want to look into. Definitely will be reading his blog some.

    The Elon Musk video was fascinating and made me think. It’s interesting to note that we have been to Silicon Valley recently a few times and the preponderance of Tesla cars is surprising. I can think of only one other place I’ve seen one. He must have found something that works. His ides have made me want to jump right in and make some wholesale changes in our life, but because it involves other family members one must tread slowly and lightly.

    The Bauer article and your writing about the Sanders book is what really sparked discussion at home. Much of the talk revolved around how, if you only make 13% of your income from farming, then you need to farm another way. Salatin and his ideas came up more than once. I liked your observation about the off farm job being a strategy that enables people to farm. I’m curious about your further thoughts on how to make farming pay. Bauer’s thoughts reminded me of the old saying about some people, “He started life at 3rd base and actually thought he hit a triple.”

    Thank you, again.

    • The 87% of my income number was not calculated nor intended to be taken too seriously. But it’s probably not far from the mark. Maybe more like 95%. My farm production does not cover my farm payment at this time. We are too small. But our herd is growing. We seem to be stuck at 150 laying hens, not because we can’t sell the eggs – we can – but because we don’t want to wash and pack more eggs.

      We are still fine-tuning our processes. Julie tires of the grind…moving chicken tractors and butchering chickens and moving feed sacks…hard work for anyone, more difficult for a slight person like her. So we backed off on broilers last year. Less garden last year. Less of a lot, really. More focus on our family. Making sure we are being strengthened by the effort all of us are putting toward common goals, rather than torn apart by a father who pushes everybody to meet his demands.

      That’s a big part of the change of the blog’s focus of late. I can push to have a business…a business I think can be really successful OR I can focus on maintaining and strengthening relationships with my family, believing that the business will take care of itself in time if I invest in the kids now. So that’s what I’m doing. We are making farm payments. We are improving our pastures. We are learning everything we can about agriculture, marketing and customer service so our kids get a flying leap…so they can start life on third base. I don’t know exactly how this will play out. I really like Gordon Hazard’s deal of buying his kids 100 acres and setting them up in the cattle business. I hope I can hook that up.

      Between now and then I have to work hard…both on and off the farm. And a big chunk of my on-farm work has to be making emotional investments in my family. I would Julie without the farm but I won’t farm without Julie. (That sounded better in my head…making Julie a verb. But I really can’t imagine what it means to Julie. Hmmmm.)

    • My employer in Florida drives a Tesla S. I have a few comments on that. The man does very well in business and tends to buy what I consider to be big, expensive things. But from his perspective, he has a certain income level and buys for value. He argues that the Tesla is something I should own, even at my income level. No oil changes. No gas bill. He admits the current price feels high but he was happy to make an investment in early technology…he bought his two years before they were released.

      But also, what a car! Wow! It’s a rocket, man. And it seats 7. Comfort, comfort, comfort. And acceleration. If you ever get the chance…

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