This week I continued with Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield. I also read World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today by Richard Maybury and started The Man With Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse. The last is a collection of unrelated short stories. I have not finished it but I will. My week ended almost as fast as it began so it was a bit of a scramble to do any reading at all.
Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield
I’m going to skip what I covered last week and just dive into new quotes. Here’s one…speaking about not using chemicals and working to balance the soil health and mineral content:
Insofar as the garden is concerned, I am convinced that preventative medicine is more effective than patent medicine and for three years no one at Malabar has eaten sulfur or arsenic or rotenone or D.D.T., or any other poison contained in the dusts and sprays which are the patent medicines of the plant world. I also believe that the people and the animals on the farm are getting their minerals and vitamins through the food they eat rather than in pills and capsules taken to cure poor eyesight, tendencies to colds or “that tired feeling.” I know that the animals at least have shown a remarkable response in health and vigor and breedability.
Hmmmm. Health. Vigor. Breedability. Hmmm. Seems like I know more than a few couples who are having fertility issues and football game commercials seem more concerned about the bedroom than my wife is. Better not go there. I’ll stick with my cows. Our soils are thin. Our fertility has been hauled off of the farm in beef and bones for…well…centuries. Hay? Gone. Grain? Gone. Calcium in milk? Well, I guess there has been some lime added to the farm. But looking at our cows, looking at our forages…not enough. My goodness! Fescue didn’t stand a chance where fertility was high. Clovers come in hard where we spread a little lime. It’s amazing. But we’re talking ongoing recovery. Ongoing. Still happening. It’s visible but soil health is not what it could be. So my cattle conception rates are not what they could be. My milk production is not what it could be. My animal health is not what it could be.
Mable got sick this fall. In part because she is not well adapted to standing in freezing rain for three days straight. But in large part because I was not addressing her needs at a nutrition level. She is a HEAVY milk producer. Did you see I used all caps? HEAVY! She gives more so she needs more. And I failed her. In some way. But part of my failure was a failure to provide healthy soils. Things are getting better. There’s a great coating of manure on the pasture where the cattle have strip grazed. I have a plan to apply lime. We have a feedlot full of manure, at least a foot deep, from years of prior cattle. These are the blocks that will build future health.
Bromfield talks about how important barnyard manure is to boosting organic matter and soil fertility. In fact, you need the organic matter to make nutrients bioavailable…to harbor life forms that will concentrate and accumulate what you need for later. And it’s happening. But too slowly.
I need to feed health. To my family. To my cattle. To my soil. If I get the soil right, the rest is covered.
Take Home Messages:
I don’t know what else I need to say. I think that’s the take home message for the entire book. Make the soil healthy. Feed health. Done.
World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today by Richard Maybury
This is one of the Uncle Eric books. Never heard of them? Well, let me change your life. You can start reading these anywhere but do yourself a favor and read Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?. Our kids are reading through these books as part of our home school and I am reading with them. I strongly encourage you to read these books. Books should challenge and change the reader. These are no exception. Let me give you an example from chapter 17. These books are written with the voice of an uncle writing letters to his nephew.
Chris, sometimes Americans are told they must send their sons and daughters to war to protect our access to oil sold by other nations. This oil is regarded as a “vital interest” and is, therefore, thought to be worth American lives.
Rarely does anyone ask the question, how much blood are you willing to pay for a barrel of oil, and are you willing to pay with your own blood or only with the blood of others?
Besides, if a regime that hates the West captures an oil field, what are they going to do with the oil, drink it?
They can get little benefit from it unless they sell it.
They might somehow charge a higher price, but the question then becomes, are you willing to die to keep the price of gasoline down?
Did you get upset and stop reading that? Why are you upset? Isn’t that what books are supposed to do?
Maybe you’ll like this one better:
When historians examine wars, they rarely look at the people who found ways to stay out of them. To me this is strange. I think one of the most important lessons that history should teach is how to stay out of wars. What skill could be more valuable?
I know conflict resolution is high on our list of things to teach our children. They already know how to fight each other. They have to learn to live and work together. And that’s hard. Why is it any different at a national level?
Keeping this review short, this is a book you can read in an afternoon but you will revisit later. The information presented will need to percolate over time. And it comes with a sprinkling of H. L. Mencken quotes. I love H. L. Mencken quotes. For example:
Democracy is the theory that common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
Or this one:
All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.
I encourage you to read Maybury. I also encourage you to read Mencken. Let me know how that turns out for you.
This Week in Media
This week’s The Beginning Farmer Show is pure gold. He presents an article that basically says there is no money in farming and you shouldn’t buy the lie. Ethan doesn’t respond to the article so much as just discuss it with the audience. Let me repeat the quotes he offers about how to make farming pay. First from You Can Farm by Joel Salatin:
Farming is not a “thing.” It is a life, and a business. Plenty of farmers are awaiting the magical “thing” to become profitable. We make all sorts of excuses to explain why the farm isn’t doing very well and why we need to drive in to town every day for that steady paycheck.
Well, that cuts to the bone. I find that I agree. Entirely. And I want to explain, I, Chris Jordan, in no way feel entitled to own a farm. I don’t deserve to be a farmer just because I want to be a farmer. I work my tookus off…seriously, there’s not much back there. I owe a quarter of a million dollars to a bank. My list of excuses for leaving the farm is one item long. The bank and the tax man need dollars…and lots of them.
But hang on a minute. I don’t feel entitled! Family farm or no, I’m here because Julie and I made some very serious sacrifices to make this happen…and continue to. And it may not work. You know that dream of living in the country and having a horse and a couple of chickens? A place of your own where you can get away from it all? Look more closely. Yours is the last house to have power restored when there is a power outage. The last road to get plowed during a snowstorm. Yours has the slowest internet imaginable and no cell coverage. You have to drive 30 minutes to buy toilet paper. It seems that there are a lot of new farmers who are quickly discouraged and cry out in a loud voice on the internet, “It’s not fair! I deserve to farm!”
No. It’s not fair. Businesses fail every day. Talented bakers flop because the whole town goes paleo. That’s life. At some point SQL Server database administrators will no longer be needed. I may script myself out of a job. Yup. Why would anyone think farming would be as easy as dreaming?
So the other quote Ethan shared was from The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon.
…do not try to make your entire livelihood from the farm, at least not at first. Do like almost all our ancestors did, even in pioneer times: Pay for the land with a job not directly dependent on the farm’s income. Even a casual reading of rural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth century shows that almost every farmer financed his initial land purchases by earning money in a hundred different ways – from teaching to blacksmithing to carpentry to working as a hired hand.
A decade or more ago I read Fields Without Dreams by Victor Davis Hanson. He talked about the necessity of at least one family member working in town to keep the farm alive. Got that?
Salatin is an exceptional marketer. Exceptional. He gets out there and moves product. And he is also an exceptional worker. His hands are big and meaty and calloused.
He gets it done and he gets it sold and keeps his nose to the grindstone. There are no vacations, no fancy cars and no off-farm work. BUT he didn’t have to acquire the initial land. His father acquired the land while working off-farm. That is no secret. But it is a key point that I think Logsdon makes clear. I have heard numerous ranchers say that cattle can either pay for the farm or cattle can pay you but cattle can’t do both. That may be a little different when cattle are $2.45 but what happens when cattle are $0.60?
So I continue to work in town.
Ethan also quoted from Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard, a book that has lingered on my bookshelf unread for at least 6 months. Maybe a year. That may be next week’s book.
I may also read Robinson Crusoe with the kids. I discuss marginal utility frequently and Crusoe economics is a great way to illustrate it…along with the notion that profit is measurable and savings are desirable even if you are alone in the world. If you haven’t heard of Crusoe economics previously, you’re welcome. Then again, it’s a little like taking the red pill…you can’t un-take it.
Well, you made it to the end. I appreciate that. I really do. Maybe I should break this into several Sunday posts rather than one lengthy marathon of a blog post. Let me know what you think.
Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.
You opened a can o’ worms with me this week. I have many thoughts coming out of your reading. I haven’t read Bromfield, but what you quote seems to be the beginning of other ideas regarding farming or not farming. Even ties in with Salatin.
I’ll have to look for the Maybury books. Out children are grown, but that doesn’t mean I should stop learning. Wars are created for many reasons and too often the real reasons go unmentioned. Our son certainly had a different view after he came back from Iraq and it wasn’t because of atrocities. The culture of how decisions were made soured him and this continued until he left the military.
My wife and I have had what I call the Salatin/Logsdon debate. Expend all your efforts and work on the farm as Salatin says, or work off farm to establish the farm as Logsdon avocates. No answer at this time, though working off farm seems to be the direction we are heading as we have no land, or have access to land but no living quarters. Building a tiny home trailer and living on family land seems the direction.
The Victor Hansen referral sent me scurrying to look up more of his books. We live 40 miles away from where he farms. what he describes is an everyday sight. His book Mexifornia is another step in describing what farmers and others deal with in the Central Valley. I now have many more books to read.
Gaining Ground is one of our favorite books. Pritchard is more in the Salatin school and this books shows his progress towards that end. I’m interested in what you think of this book.
3rd paragraph should read ” as Logsdon advocates.” My fastidious former English teacher took a break.
I didn’t catch it. There’s a great Mencken quote about wasting time learning the wrong things. Instead of learning critical thinking skills we focus on spelling in school. After we master spelling we can focus on capitalization. That’s all we need. If you dig up the actual Mencken quote, don’t take it personally. He’s exaggerating the point…the lack of critical thinking.
On the topic of spelling, The Hoosier Schoolmaster makes light of spelling bees saying the people of the countryside were illiterate but could all spell. LOL
I found Hanson when I read Who Killed Homer?. That book is worthy of your time…more than Farms Without Dreams. I haven’t read anything else of his.
I told Mr. Salatin that we felt Logsdon gave us vision, Salatin gave us direction. He put our legs under us. Joel looked at me funny when I said that.
I don’t think the two differ all that much. Logsdon is talking about paying for a farm. Salatin didn’t pay for a farm. He lived in his parent’s attic and farms his mother’s land. And I think that’s great. Somebody has to pay for the farm. Go read J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur. You have to have a job. The Mennonites around us all have farms and businesses. I’m not sure which is the side job. College professors write books on the side. School teachers often have summer businesses or jobs. It is historically unusual to stop working at 4 and watch TV until it’s time for bed.
We just finished a fun book that your kids might enjoy (no Minecraft, but there is a LEGO question): http://www.amazon.ca/What-If-Scientific-Hypothetical-Questions/dp/0544272994
The Maybury book looks interesting. Living outside the US as we do, we are part of a population that sees intervention and other global issues slightly different than Americans do, but we certainly have our own biases, and it’s always good to get our heads up out of the rut and take a look at the world from a different viewpoint.
I too thought Ethan’s last podcast was excellent. I would add that Salatin certainly has some off farm income – out of choice, at this point – his speaking engagements, which take him off farm roughly half the year. In my opinion, the fact that he does this in no way detracts from his identity as a successful farmer. One way to look at it might be to say that he’s making use of a skill or resource related to the farm, in the way that my buddy Bryce who grows grain on contract for local brewers uses his equipment to do custom work for other farmers, while he’s waiting for the grain to grow. He might as well keep busy and earn a few shekels at the same time. There is also the fact that some off farm jobs provide pension and benefits (health insurance, dentist, etc), something which again, some farmers may choose as a priority worth fitting into their farming life. There’s also Jean-Marc Fortier: http://www.themarketgardener.com/about-jean-martin-fortier/
I’ve read Gaining Ground, I’ll be interested in your take on it when you get time to read it. It’s good, but it’s not what I thought it would be. Back then, I was looking for info on pasturing and all I saw was his opinions on marketing. Now if I read it, I’ll probably see everything he has to say about pigs. I got a little hung up on the small stuff when I read it, too – his style didn’t flow well for me – because he writes it like a story of his farm, I expected a smooth chronology, but it jumps around. Just me being picky. I’m fussy about spelling too.