It’s a Long Walk

My oldest and I attended the Southern Indiana Grazing Conference a few years back. First, I want to express how valuable that conference was to me personally. Every speaker gave me pages of notes I still act on. Gabe Brown was one of those speakers. Just as a side note, Gabe mentioned that cows have legs and a little walk does them good. He grazes through the winter but if the cows want a drink they have to walk back to the barn.

Walk.

CowsWalking

If nothing else, it helps their digestion. Might work for you too. Maybe you should go for a walk. The netting you see in the picture above is for the chickens. That’s not the cow fence.

My cows don’t have to walk too far. Just through a couple of small valleys and they only seem to make the trip once/day. They mostly just drink from a stream that is somehow still running when it’s below freezing out there.

They were just hanging out today. Mrs. White is a noisy cud chewer. (Mrs. White has red on her face. Look, man. I don’t name them. The white one is Snowball or 13.)

I want to make a note about the heifer dust. It’s looking a little…erm…firm. I’ll have to keep an eye on that and may need to up the protein somehow.

The title of this post was inspired by David Allan Coe. It’s a long walk to Nashville. Just FYI.

Dear Charles,

In Sunday’s Reading Journal I mentioned that Julie and I could only even attempt to farm because I have an established career off-farm. I am my own financial backing. I know next-to nothing about marketing, herd management, and grass management. Farming is so much harder than it looks in a book. But we are learning. We are living on-campus and paying for our education. My off-campus job requires me to sit at a desk in the air conditioning for hours on end, 5 days each week solving challenging tech puzzles with people I consider friends. I suppose there are things I could have done to accelerate our farm’s earnings but I’m OK with moving slowly…adapting my lifestyle as I learn.

But I almost missed it.

I got tired of tech. Long, late nights and listening to morning radio as I returned home for 2 hours of sleep then back to it again. On-call rotations working with remote technicians in remote places. No sunlight. Cubicle hell. Low pay.

But I enjoyed woodworking. I made bookshelves, a hutch for our kitchen, beds for my kids, crown molding…I wanted to work in a wood shop. Surely that would be better than working in a data center for another minute.

I met a man who owned a cabinetry shop nearby. He spent quite a bit of time with me on a Tuesday evening and was probably late for dinner. He said he could tell by the sound his equipment made whether or not the employee was running the machine at capacity. He explained to me that he would be happy to hire me but he hoped I would reconsider. I would be better off, he said, to stick it out and apply myself in my career. In time it would bear fruit.

That was 2003. I would like to thank Charles for his advice.

Dear Charles,

You were right. I will never know what could have been and I don’t care. I have no regrets (about that decision anyway). I continue to do a little woodworking as a hobby but stayed the course in my career. And, surprisingly, I’m not unhappy.

Some of this is because I have simply decided to be happy where I am. …to grow where I am planted. But some of it is maturity. I live in a dream world…on my family farm with my wife and children, next to my parents. I don’t think this could have happened if I had given up on my career.

At what I feel was a critical point in my life, you gave me the push I needed. I stuck it out. I studied. I worked. I did what you said I should.

And, at least to this point, I am winning.

Thanks for the help.

Chris Jordan

My job can’t make me happy. Neither can my farm. I have to make me happy. Most of that is a simple decision.

Will I ever farm full-time? I think so. But I can’t make that leap immediately. I have a lot of learning and growing to do. Biological processes take time.

But wait! There’s more.

It is true that Julie and I are only here because I have a job. But Julie and I are also only here because Julie doesn’t have an off-farm job. If you ever want to make me angry ask, “Chris, does your wife work or does she stay home?”

Julie does more before 9 am than most Army folks do all day. Julie makes everything work. Chris is just a worker. Just like his job, Chris has to wake up every morning and make a decision to continue in his relationship with Julie. Chris has to make decisions to keep strengthening bonds and support, encourage and enable her in her work. I choose how I feel about Julie. And I choose to love her. Every day.

I could continue listing factors that make living here possible but that has nothing to do with Charles. Today I was thinking about Charles.

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?
Yes.

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.