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We spent an interesting weekend in Staunton, Virignia this weekend. We were at a Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund fundraiser at Salatins’ Polyface Farm. It drew folks from the Weston A. Price Foundation community and the Paleo (“diet”) community. It was great to see two groups with a similar, non-conventional approach to food and farming come together to support an organization that works legally and legislatively to keep food choice legal. Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund has supported many career and hobby farmers in their quest to grow and provide wholesome food. It’s a great organization to belong to whether you buy your food from a farmer’s market or buyer’s club, have a small garden in your front yard, or are a full fledged food producer. They defend your right to obtain the foods of your choice, to exercise your Constitutional rights in this area whether you are a farmer or consumer.
Saturday evening we went to a showing of a screening of Kristin Canty’s (Farmageddon) new film series “Rockin’ Farmers” featuring Daniel Salatin, and a viewing of American Meat. “Rockin’ Farmers” was a great short about an up and coming farmer, and his unique niche in the family farm: rabbits. We’d add American Meat to our recommended viewing list. It was great to hear the maker of that movie, Graham Meriwether, who spent a great deal of time with the conventional farmers he featured, comment on why he felt those farmers had signed their Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods contracts. He pointed out after the movie that the industrial farmers were often times caught in the system. Even though they all recognized that large chicken and hog barns aren’t the best way to do it, they felt it was the only way to make a living (admittedly “of sorts”) at farming. He differentiated between the individual men he filmed and the larger system they were part of. The film presents a compassionate and balanced perspective on the tensions between industrial and non-industrial agriculture. It was telling that one hog barn farmer maintained that his conventional barn paid out best, but he ate pigs out of the “compassionate” barn where he feeds organic feed and the pigs have significant outdoor access because the pigs taste better. One of the things brought out in the panel discussion of the movie was the great need for more small, regional, non-industrial farmers. Most people felt there is demand. There are challenges to overcome, but America has the land mass to feed itself and export some food without round-up ready corn and concentrated animal feeding operations. What we really lack is people with the know-how to do it.
There are solutions to that problem. Internships and apprenticeships are one solution. There are some colleges with programs and courses on sustainable farming. Anyone Can Farm is another solution. A weekend training program can give you the tools to get started growing food for yourself and your family and neighbors. The best thing is what we recommended to one couple we talked to: just do it! Do something, whether it’s replacing one flower bed with nasturtuims and sweet peas or tomatoes, or getting 5 layer hens. Don’t wait till you have a 10 year plan and have researched everything and all possibilities. It’s great to be a part of the solution!
We recently had a Celebration of the Farm here, hosting around 230 people. The bunkhouse was full, the campground was nearly full with tents and various other campers. It was an exciting fulfillment of a vision.
Part of the Celebration was a Hog Harvest Demonstration. People watched and helped with getting a hog from the field, scalded and scraped, split, and in the cooler. Folks really appreciated the opportunity to participate in procuring their food.
Part of any stay of the farm is experiencing the whole farm. You can collect the eggs for breakfast, milk the cow for lunch, and, depending on the time of year, browse the garden for dinner.
We’re are into planning for the Hog Harvest classes this fall. The pigs are fattening. We’ve refreshed our skills. We have the housing ready for those who want to stay with us (at no extra charge). You, too, can milk the cow, collect the eggs, and learn how to make fabulous lard, bacon, and ham! Hog Harvest: coming soon!
Multi-modal learning means leaning with all your senses. That’s what an on-farm class is all about. Here are a few snapshots from our last class and the tips being the students learned with their eyes, ears, nose, hands, etc.:
Joe showing Remi how to pluck a chicken. The scalding water (to loosen the feathers) is about 140 degrees. The bird is completely dunked for about 20 seconds, then checked. Ideally the feathers pull out easily and leave the skin intact.
Jadwiga picked up quickly on cutting the back side of the bird open prior to gutting. We start about halfway between the vent and the breast cartilage, cut a slit down and around the bottom of the vent. You should have an opening big enough to stretch and allow your hand in to pull out guts, but not so large that the rear end looks skinned. The vent should come out with the guts. The tricky part is in not nicking the intestines. If you do, rinse with clear water quickly.
How to brood a brand new chick is not too hard, but requires a bit of know-how. They need 90 degrees and dry bedding for the first several days, and the temperature can back down from there. Brooding in July and August is, of course, much easier that in early spring or winter, but proper equipment and a well set up brooder can make all the difference. People can brood chicks in almost anything (and do!), but the key is to be able to expand it as the small day old chicks grow exponentially. Another trick is to shape the brooder, or add wedges, to make it have rounded corners. Chicks “pile” in sharp corners and simply rounding those corners discourages that tendency.
Assessing the health of your birds is important. Examining the manure for rusty or red spots is an easy way to catch coccidia before it overwhelms the bird. Coccidia is a protozoa that burrows into the intestinal lining, causing bleeding and scarring. It impairs the intestines ability to function and, therefore, the bird’s ability to gain nutrients from its food. When you process your birds, the quality of the carcass and the condition of the internal organs can also tell you about the health of your birds. Here the class looks at a not-so-healthy liver and a vibrant liver. This was the only poor liver we saw, so likely the bird was just not as constitutionally strong as the other birds and its liver had to work harder. Because it was the only one in the bunch, the birds were a healthy bunch overall.
Everyone’s favorite part of a class is dinner! You are invited to eat with our family for the weekend, enjoying lots of chicken and learning how you can utilize the whole bird at home.
There’s a Pastured Poultry class coming up July 19-21. We hope to see you there!
Our Pastured Poultry class in June featured an international flare. Two of the students had come all the way from Poland to learn how to raise animals on Pasture. Remi and his wife Jadwiga have worked with SAND International to learn vegetable production for many years. Now Remi wants to expand his hilly 9 acres on the edge of a small Polish town to include pastured chickens and sheep. They chose to attend an Anyone Can Farm class because we are located on about the same latitude so farming conditions will be similar. Remi faces other challenges that make sustainable farming appealing: his land is pretty much all fairly steep hillside, and gas is about $8/gal. so gas powered implements aren’t an economical option.
Remi soaked in everything about chickens he could. A lot of the lessons were firsts for him! He had never slaughtered an animal before, never handled many of the power tools used to build the chicken tractor in class, and has never seen a diversified farm that strives to make everything compliment the whole. Remi already composts vegetable matter on his farm, so the compost piles and how we use the animal wastes to build compost that then makes better animal feed was of interest to him. He also made a point of discussing the pigs and the rotationally grazed cows with Mark. He even helped Mark move the cows on Saturday. He felt he carried enough information away from the weekend to start at home with his large plan for his small acres. The weekend was a success!
Hosting folks from Poland, as well as their American hosts who had experience in India, Liberia, and Poland made the class an educational experience for us, as well!
In this video, Mark explains what a Pastured Poultry class involves:
That is an excellent question and it strikes at the heart of basic pig husbandry. A strong immune system is the key to prevention.
2) Make sure your feed is separated from their dirty little feet as much as possible (they are pigs and can’t help it!).
3) If in doubt our first line is biochar (which Joe makes for us), which acts like activated charcoal and provides a double good when we’ve innoculated it first so that its full of good bacteria that strengthen the immune system.
The other thing to look at is your breed of pig. Heritage pigs of any strain have stronger immune systems than the hog house white pigs. They resist parasites and diseases that the others simply aren’t bred to resist anymore. It’s the difference between a layer hen and a broiler chicken.
Come learn more about good hog husbandry at Hog Harvest Days!
“How to raise an animal” isn’t just for the people who want to raise them. The class is also for people who eat them and just want to know more about the meat they eat. A Pastured Poultry class coming up! You can find out how to raise a few little ladies in your own yard, or you can figure out how to ask intelligent questions of your farmer and know something about the answers. One of our Hog Harvest attendees shared that that was the advantage to her: she could tell the processor how to cut her hog (purchased from someone else) and really know the cuts and what she wanted.
Here’s the skinny (411) on the Pastured Poultry class:
Frequently Asked Question: What kind of chicken should I raise for meat?
There are a few options now:
Broilers. These are a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed (Vantress, White Mountain Rock, etc.). They grow quickly, 6-9 weeks depending on how big you want them and how you raise them. They are not as hardy and need more careful brooding than the other types of birds. They are messier and smellier. They are not as efficient on pasture and do require grain feeding. That’s the downside. The up side is that they grow quickly so they are come and gone in just a couple of months. They do produce a nice, meaty carcass. They can be pastured (we have ours out), and do best in the contained “chicken tractor” because they are babies their whole lives.
Layer chickens/heritage birds. Roosters make great eating. There are “heavy” breeds and “light” breeds. You want a “heavy” breed like a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Black Sex Link, Black Australorp, or Rhode Island Red. Down side: roosters take about 24 or more weeks to reach a nice butchering weight and are not usually as fat or meaty as a Cornish cross. They don’t make the boneless, skinless breast type of cuts. They can be chewier or tougher than the Cornish cross birds and need a little different cooking technique. Up side: They have more flavor in the meat. The meat can be fairly tender if cooked correctly. They are better foragers and can grow well on alternative feeds and grasses/bugs/etc. The rooster chicks are often cheaper than the broiler chicks. These fellows
like to “free range” and can be contained in a tractor but prefer an open house situation.
3) Freedom Rangers. This is a new hybrid. They look like a layer rooster but grow quicker like the Cornish cross. Most people we know who have raised them have done so in about 12 weeks. They forage well and can grow on forage and also need some grain. They don’t get as heavy as the Cornish cross, but still have a nice double breast. They are a little more difficult to find as chicks but are becoming more available.
That’s the quick answer. We do have a Pastured Poultry class coming up soon: June 28 – 30. Some scholarships are available, so let us know if that would help you be able to come. Here’s Mark’s intro to the class:
Here’s a quick story from Peace News Network reporter Derrick Freeman:
There are two errors: 1) the hearing set for July 12 is at the Missaukee County Courthouse in Lake City, MI; 2) the place to donate to our legal costs is at Baker’sGreenAcres.com. Thanks for your support of Mark and Baker’s Green Acres!
Please do check out Anyone Can Farm. It’s our positive response to the punitive and restrictive actions of state governments to control what you and I can eat. The best answer to all the nonsense is to grow as much of your food as you can. If your lawn feeds you rather than eats your resources, what a great thing. If your window sills grow herbs and edible flowers, you come out ahead. For this season, Anyone Can Farm is focussed more on animal production, but while you are on the farm we can talk about and tour the biochar, permaculture activities and beds, compost, and gardens we have on the farm.
If you are interested in a class, but the cost looks daunting, we have a couple scholarships. Contact us if this would help you out. We’d love to use these scholarships and get you “growing your own!”
We are looking forward to a great permaculture weekend! Next weekend is “Pastured Poultry,” covering chick to freezer. Hope to see you here!
Anyone who’s raised animals very long can tell you that sometimes things go wrong. They aren’t really “Acts of God.” Things were designed to work a certain way and when it goes wrong it usually involves nature, as in “the nature of the beast” (literally). Animals have a way of looking at the world, and when they become difficult it’s usually because we aren’t understanding their viewpoint and meeting their needs. (Temple Grandin is a proponent of this if you want to read about it elsewhere.)
Last night was a case in point. Our youngest group of chicks is about 3 weeks old now. They needed to transition out of the brooder, but Joe didn’t have space until Monday and needed to let the next pen dry off before he moved them. They had sustained a couple of losses, but were generally doing well. Then, Tuesday morning, Keith came rushing in: “I have a BIG problem!” Apparently the thunderstorm the night before, or the humidity of the storm, or something caused these easily stressed birds to panic and they “piled.” They climbed on top of each other seeking comfort, suffocating the ones on the bottom. It can be ugly, but it’s their nature.
This started out as a group of 600 chicks. By the time Joe and Keith got it sorted out and various ones had revived once rescued from the pile, Keith counted 169 dead. Ugly doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.
They cleaned up and Joe moved the chicks into the next pen. The chicks had been very stressed by now—big storm, moving, new and unfamiliar surroundings. Then dark descended. By their nature, they wanted the comfort of their big, solid walls and low ceiling. This big, open pen scared them. So they started to do what they do when looking for comfort. They started to pile again. The “Act of God” was that Joe, contrary to his nature, decided to check on them again after he was nearly in bed for the night, and came back over at 11:30. We lost about 10 or so birds, but that’s all. We gave them walls and a ceiling and rigged a heater. That was all they wanted, after all. We put more wood shavings over top of them once they settled in, shut the lights off, spread the last few who were determined to pile out to the edges, and said goodnight. By their nature, they don’t move much during the night. We’d provided the security they desired, with a little extra warmth to boot. That was all we could do.
I’m happy to report that we lost zero chicks during the night. At 6:30 this morning they were running around, chirping happily, drinking and eating and dust bathing. They were in and out of their security area and generally looked very happy with life. It doesn’t take much to be happy when your brainstem is bigger than your brain. Those of us with the cognitive capacity just need to slow down sometimes and consider the nature of things, and go with it.
Now, Kimi the bull-who-climbs-through-small-holes-in-the-wall is a story for another day.
Intro to Permaculture and Soils, this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. Come learn a new way to look at your “farm.”
Even though we’ve used many of the practices of Permaculture on our farm through the years, I’m just learning the formal principles. “Permaculture” itself is a bit tricky to nail down. One of the best, simplest descriptions comes from PermaculturePrinciples.com:
“Permaculture is a design system inspired by nature which is based on ethics and design principles that can be used to guide you, your household and your community ‘beyond sustainability’.”
In a nutshell, we observe and study nature and seek to use the natural systems we see to sustain ourselves now and in the future. Nature, be it a woods, prairie, or neighborhood is designed with unique interactions that perpetuate the system. Our job is to figure out how to do it purposefully. That’s where the Principles of permaculture offer a road map to set up self perpetuating systems.
In the Intro to Permaculture and Soils class Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf will give you all the principles and you will get to work through a project with them. Here is the first Principle:
Observe and Interact
This first step is the key to opening the door of permaculture. Joel Salatin was the first person we heard express this concept. He recommended taking a five gallon bucket out to the field and sitting for a while, watching your chickens, turkeys, pigs, etc. to see what made them happy and content. Do it at different times of day. Do it on different days. Then see what you can do to make your animals happy. Happy animals (not necessarily spoiled, though) are productive animals.
When you want to put in a garden or a new bed, consider what you want to plant. What soil conditions does it like? How much light does it need? How hot or cool does it tolerate? Sit and observe your yard, considering these things. Look for which weeds thrive–they can give you a clue as to what kind of soil you have. For example, if you see mustard or chickory, you likely have a “crusty” soil. Broccoli, cabbage, and vegetables of that family will likely do well there. Differing sources suggest various remedies, or you may consider using a permaculture approach and find out what likes that soil and would thrive there anyway. Observing and beginning to interact with the area will help you make decisions about what to plant where. The goal is to develop a system that will thrive with as little maitainance energy from you as possible.
I can tell you that this is a process. For example, the weeds got away from me one year in between the rows in the garden. I decided just to mow them so they wouldn’t go to seed. What I learned is that the mowed weeds helped hold moisture so that the vegetables did better in between waterings and needed less water. The next year I planted in beds rather than rows and Mark planted clover between the beds. This worked fabulously. The clover kept the weeds choked out and made a nice thatch that held water and protected all the worms and other soil life. The next step was mulch. Craig Schaaf, our Soils instructor, is the fellow we learned this from. We rearranged the garden into wider beds with a narrow walkway. We mulched the beds (learning a few lessons about that along the way, too–like how quickly a hen and 7 chicks can deconstruct the carefully strawed rows of potatoes) with straw and put cut grass from the lawn on the walkways. This was even better as the mulch brought the water retention right to the plants and provided cover and food for the soil dwellers. We’ve observed and learned that nature doesn’t leave soil uncovered. By imitating that one concept in the garden we have improved our soil and gained better harvests.
There are 11 more principles. A fun site to explore them is www.permacultureprinciples.com. A couple of sites where I read about weeds are: OrganicGardening.com and Everyday Gardener. However, there is lots of information on both topics if you google them. Penny will be sharing all the permaculture information and she and Craig will walk you through applying it in the Intro to Permaculture and Soils class. You get practical experience with your book learning! Hope to see you there!
Last night we attended a seed saving class taught by Craig Schaaf. In all the seed information, Craig slipped in some great soil information. As a seed saver, the mineralization of his soil is very important. A well mineralized plant is one that is grown in soil with plenty of trace minerals–not just the potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus that concerns most gardeners or farmers. A well mineralized plant is healthier, more disease and pest resistant, and produces a stronger seed. It’s fruit or produce tastes better and will keep longer. He recommends testing your soil through a lab like Biosystems: Soil testing and consultation services, who can do a trace mineral analysis for you. Trace minerals are the minute but essential nutrients a soil needs to have healthy flora (good bacterias and funguses) and fauna (worms, nematodes, etc.) that in turn help plants to grow strong, resilient, and productive.Kelp is Craig’s recommended all-purpose amendment. It contains about 60 trace minerals, all of which are readily available to the soil life and your plants.
One mineral tip Craig shared concerned heavy, clumpy clay soils. Michigan has clay areas interspersed with sandy stretches, so this is an issue here. When we were in Montana we encountered “gumbo.” That’s the heavy, clumpy soil that defines such soil. It is the stuff that gives you platform shoes on a rainy day. What this soil type is strong in is magnesium. That is a binding mineral. Calcium is the antidote mineral. They have the same polarity (and therefore attractiveness), but calcium is stronger and therefore limits the binding action of the magnesium. This is an example of how knowing the mineralization of your soil can make a huge difference in your garden.
Thought for the day: “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” Elbert Hubbard
Remember, Anyone Can Farm!
Ready to raise your own chicks but needing the birds?
Tomorrow (April 30) we will be receiving a handful of layer chicks. If you are interested in any of them, please give us a call or e-mail so we can reserve yours for you.
We will be receiving broiler chicks at the same time. If you can get them same day or next day, we let them go for $1.40/bird.
Our scalder should be fixed by the end of the week, so we’ll be back in the processing mode again very soon.
Let us know how we can help you!
The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
Bill Mollison (from the permaculture.net website)
I’m learning what permaculture is. This is a course that will be taught by someone else (Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf), so I have a functional knowledge, but not the technical knowledge needed to teach it. In many ways, it seems to me that permaculture is what our great grandparents did, whether they lived on a city lot or an 80 acre farm. They studied their situation, which included the land, the climate, their social situation (this was important in the water sharing west as well as the urban areas), and their total resources. They figured out the best way to get the most production, both food and financially, that their situation would allow. They sought to work with the land as much as possible because they didn’t possess the petroleum means (tractors, fuel, fertilizer) to force their will. This is, to my understanding, the essence of permaculture. It’s the construction of a productive system that uses the components to benefit and sustain each other.
On our farm, we graze animals to build the soil to grow healthier plants to have food to graze the animals on. For our efforts we get meat, milk, and eggs. Plus, the animals provide the raw material for compost to enhance the soil of our garden so we have good vegetables. Any organic “waste” from the butcher shop or milk processing (such as whey when I make the family’s cheese) goes back into the system one way or another. This is one example of permaculture.
Since soil is the key to growing anything, it is a critical component in building your permaculture system. Craig Schaaf is an experienced farmer and respected teacher of this kind of agriculture. Craig has modeled his farm on Eliot Coleman’s work, focusing on soil building to achieve amazing harvests from small spaces. Craig will be teaching us how to use what’s naturally available to us to build a well mineralized soil that can support intensive planting.
This is a class that I anticipate will be of great use to beginners who just want to know where to start. I recommend it as the starter class if you’ve never grown a thing in your life. Permaculture ideas provide an umbrella for you to understand sustainable, organic type farming. Soils are the foundation of all growing.
I also anticipate that this class will be full of information for those of us who have been growing all sorts of things for most of our lives. There is a lot to know about permaculture and soils and building a sustainable system. Your farm or garden will benefit from your time with Penny and Craig. We will be inside learning the basics, but also out in the field applying what’s in the books. In this class you can learn:
- Principles of permaculture – your guides as you observe and plan.
- Ethics of permaculture – how to apply the principles to your land and your life.
- Soils – applying permaculture to the foundation of all that you will grow.
- Design – Planning your food growing enterprise with permaculture principles and ethics in mind.
Hope to see you here! Introduction to Permaculture and Soils
Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon in Cadillac, sitting by the lake, chatting with passersby. It was the kick-off for Transition Cadillac’s “200 Yarden Dash.”
I saw a couple clever ideas I thought I’d share. Vickie Purkiss was demonstrating this modified raised bed. It’s made from hay, although she said straw was recommended. She added the dirt and compost mixture a couple of inches deep. Then she planted the cabbages into the dirt. The plants were wilty because they were in a cold breeze and weren’t used to the outdoors, but she said she’d had good success with this method before.
These are very basic outdoor plant beds. One lady I talked to lives in an apartment, but wants to grow more of her family’s food. They have a small yard and are going to have a few rabbits and use one or two of these beds for vegetables. They won’t have to dig up the yard for their garden, and the beds are easily mobile when they move.
The class that seemed most appropriate for many people just starting out was the Soils and Permaculture Class. Soil is so basic to any food enterprise, whether it’s vegetables or animals. It’s important to learn about managing it well no matter what you want to do. Permaculture is a fancy word for getting an overview of your property/area and figuring out how to manage it as naturally as possible. This class is a good overview and basic skills primer for all the other classes. Plus, you can see how we use it with both plants and animals and can figure out how, say, 5 layer hens in your backyard can be used to benefit your lettuce and beans or begonias. It’s a great beginner class, but I’m looking forward to it as well. You can follow the link to learn more about it, and sign up with “buy now” button.
Hope these ideas help spark some thoughts on how you might “farm!”
Jim, almost 4 years old, announced last night at 9:00 that he wanted a plant. He wanted a pot with dirt and a plant for his room. I convinced him to wait for tomorrow with difficulty–4 year olds live very much in the moment.
Today Rachel helped him make a planter. They put some bean seeds in the dirt and watered it. Jim couldn’t be patient, though, so his obliging sister got some basil and sage from my planters and fixed his up. He was happy.
We just hope his beans sprout quickly!
Anyone Can Farm–even 4 year olds.
A well tended soil can boast a million species of bacteria in one gram–and that doesn’t count the fungi, molds, worms, and other creepy crawlies. This is a “living” soil. All these small inhabitants perform myriads of functions that maintain or grow the soil itself, feed plants, and exchange, sequester, or release nutrients and atmospheric gasses. These functions are all crucial to us.
Unfortunately, the folks who have developed our agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides since the 1950′s looked primarily at the plants growing on the surface. They got very good at feeding plants, killing weeds, and annihilating creepy crawlies. They neglected the life under the crust, to the great detriment of the soil. Farmers and gardners are facing the need to use more and more fertilizer and pesticides to get the same results because the soil is dead or dying and unable to truly nourish the plants, leaving them weak and vulnerable. Some weeds are even beginning to show resistance to Round-up.
All is not lost, though. You can grow soil for your plants, whether it’s lawn, flowers, or vegetables. There are two things to look at in a shovelful of dirt: minerals (the building blocks of life) and living creatures (the vehicles and factories for moving, storing, manufacturing, and making the minerals bioavailable to plants).
You can have your soil tested for mineral content by special labs, but keep in mind that different plants like different things. If you want high production from your garden plants (as a market gardener would), this is worth the investment. For a home gardener it can be simpler. The answer is compost. Compost is decomposed organic material. It is full of the vitamins and minerals from the material it was made from. You can add certain amendments, which we’ll cover another time (and for sure in the Soils and Biochar classes), but compost all by itself can be complete enough for most gardening. Compost is becoming easier to find all the time, but it’s also easy to make. We’ll cover that in class, too.
How to encourage “life?” Compost actually comes with the biology that made it. It is usually already alive with the decomposers of the soil. In addition you can add worms, leaf mold (a great source of nutrients and fungis and molds), and a 5 gallon bucket (or lots more) of dirt dug from a woods.
Biochar provides the perfect environment for encouraging a living soil. Charcoal in various degrees has been used by native cultures and third world farmers for centuries. It was discovered in the Amazon and provided the native tribes a way to grow food for a huge population on what is otherwise very poor soil. Biochar is the carbon carcass or organic material. Usually it is from wood, but can be made from bones, plants, or anything dense and organic. It is produced at high temperatures (much hotter than your woodstove or grill) so that the impurities and toxic gasses are consumed and what is left is very pure. The flora and fauna of your soil love to take up residence in the millions of apartments comprising the biochar. Nutrients can be stored and slow released as plants need them. The char will also act as a sponge for water so that the effects of drought are mitigated. This is most obvious in poorly nourished, arid soils. In good soils, you should find you need to add less compost or other amendments over time.
Here is a photo of our field trials with biochar. This was sweet corn planted in the field. It didn’t get water other than rain and dew. The yields were better from the corn on the right – bigger ears, better filled out. The biochar corn stayed green longer into the fall, making the earless stalks better fodder when we grazed them off. The beds were treated the same other than the biochar. This wasn’t an exactly scientific study, but it provides good anecdotal evidence for the effects biochar can have.
Soil is a living thing, not just dirt. You can have soil that will grow nutritious vegetables with the addition of compost. Plus, by adding biochar you can supercharge your soil. We can show you how!
References: National Geographic: A Cubic Foot
You can also read more about biochar on Baker’s Biochar.
Wondering what you’ll learn about Pastured Poultry? Check this video out:
I’m working on the Permaculture and Soils course today. Here are some thoughts from Penny Kriebel, who will be working with Mark to instruct the course:
“O’k Permaculture Design, Penny Krebiehl:
Taking a permaculture course can be very inspiring, and for me and many others awakens a whole load of creativity, positivity and eagerness to be a part of the solutions for our world. I took my first permaculture course in 2005, with several more to follow. Why did I repeat a permaculture course? I wasn’t “held back” nor did I fail the course, I decided to continue my study and apprenticeship and because of the value of learning from many different teachers. Each with a shared permaculture language, yet, like the Baker family with their experience in farming and animal husbandry, shared their own passionate understanding and skill set.
In 2009 I traveled out to NY state and completed an intensive and incredibly valuable Permaculture Teacher Training with,Dave Jacke, author of Edible Forest Gardens. Since that time, I’ve also worked alongside of permaculture teachers, Peter Bane, author of Garden Farming for Town and Country, and Keith D. Johnson, who are also editor and co-editor of the Permaculture Activist Magazine. I feel honored to continue my study and practice of permaculture with a plethora of experienced teachers and students and have only named a very few here, but definitely recognize and credit them with being amazing, inspiring mentors, and while feeling very, very grateful.
Through the years of adopting my own permaculture life-style practice and then starting to teach, I realized that permaculture was more than just gardening and it could be used to really transform our lives and transform our relationships and turn us all into happier, healthier people. I’ve always planned my “career” and paid work around the needs of my family, and included my own children in the design of my working hours. Since 1997, I’ve worked at and tweaked a creative curriculum which has ultimately taught permaculture to children as young as age five, through college age. I’m pleased to say that in teaching my most recent permaculture design course in North West Michigan in 2012, I was able to work alongside of a remarkable group of adults, upwards to 69 years old.
Much information about permaculture is available electronically, in books and published on the web. But honestly, the most valuable learning experiences have happened when I’ve been immersed in a learning and sharing community that an on-site permaculture course offers. The people part of learning permaculture in a class or workshop setting is a way to consciously mimic what happens in the natural world, and has proven over and over again to be an amazing adventure in knowledge-based skill sharing.
In permaculture design we try to turn around the limiting factors of a system, so if we’ve got something that’s limiting us it becomes one of the aspects we pay attention to in our design. This is where we ask – how can we use the permaculture principles and design in all areas of our lives?
I’m pleased to be invited as a part of the Anyone Can Farm teaching staff and share whatever I can of my passion and learning of Permaculture Design.
Check out the class, which runs May 24-26. Hope to see you here!
Thank-you for participating in our Indiegogo challenge! Everyone who gave, shared the message and link, or has volunteered in other ways–you are a hero today. We have $12,837 to put towards fixing up the Bunkhouse, furnishing bedrooms and meeting rooms, getting water and bathroom facilities to the campground, and developing the course materials. You are part of the solution, part of the 2% of the population involved in agriculture. Congratulations!
We’re coming into the final stretch. As of right now, 9:03 pm on April 3, 2013 we have 30 hours to go in our Indiegogo challenge. We decided to do this fundraiser to help really kickstart the school. We are passionate about our mission to help people learn to grow food where ever they are. We’re going to go forward no matter what. But it’s nice to take the leap in good form. I wrote earlier (“Life“) about why we started this project. The same scenario that inspired our desire also left us somewhat handicapped in the funds department. So, we turned to all of you to participate in this grand vision.
It’s been a great 44 days. I’ve learned a lot about marketing (“it isn’t what you earn, it’s what you learn” for sure). We’ve met a lot of food growers and would-be farmers. We’ve had lots of opportunities to share our vision, and whether or not someone helps through Indiegogo or comes to a class, if they are inspired to start growing food we’ve succeeded.
Still, this is it. Every dollar helps us grow more farmers, put food producers around every corner, and give everyone ownership in our food system. Thanks for your help if you contributed! Please keep sharing and help us make this a productive last day!
If you have time and construction skills, we are doing a work bee this Saturday. We’ll feed you good food! Please call and let us know if you can contribute that way.
Remember, Anyone Can Farm!
I just realized how we, with our bitty bank acount, can become part of the “2%” in the U.S. Here’s some fun history on chickens, with the answer at the bottom:
* For centuries, cock fighting was one of the main reasons for keeping poultry.
*Prior to about 1910, chicken was served primarily on special occasions or Sunday dinner. Poultry was shipped live or killed, plucked, and packed on ice (but not eviscerated). The “whole, ready-to-cook broiler” wasn’t popular until the 1950s, when end-to-end refrigeration and sanitary practices gave consumers more confidence. Before this, poultry were often cleaned by the neighborhood butcher, though cleaning poultry at home was a commonplace kitchen skill.
*In the 1930′s to 1950′s, 1500 hens was considered a full time job for a farm family. In the 1950’s egg prices plummeted, so farmers began multiplying the numbers of birds in the same space to maintain profits. They put 3 hens in cages where there used to be one, then they started stacking them. Chicken meat and egg prices dropped making them common rather than luxury items. Many family farms left the chicken business. This began the transition away from family farms to the modern corporate farm.
*A back yard hen can lay eggs for up to 3 years. A commercial hen house hen lays for only one year before slaughter. In 1900 a hen produced about 85 eggs/yr. Since then hens have been bred intensively for egg production, nutrition has been scientifically formulated, and living conditions tightly controlled. In 2000 she laid about 300 eggs.
*There used to be two kinds of chickens available: roasting or “spring” chickens (young roosters) and stewing hens. They were byproducts of the egg industry and gave value to the full spectrum of production. Roasting chickens are now a whole breed of chicken (the cornish crosses) and stewing hens are only occasionally available from small farms.
*In 1900 the U.S. population was about 76 million. 33 million (44%) were involved in agriculture, with about 5 million farms producing eggs. In 2000 the U.S. population was about 280 million. 5.6 million (2%) were involved in agriculture. In 1900 90% of the eggs were from flocks with 100-300 hens who foraged for most of their food. In 2000 90% of the eggs produced in the U.S. were from commercial “battery” hen houses.
You can be part of the 2%! Raise a few hens in your own backyard, or buy eggs from someone with a small, well tended flock. Come see how!
Around our house, coloring eggs is a different experience. We only use our own eggs, so our “canvas” comes in all shades of brown, with a few blueish ones thrown in for good measure. The kids hunt through and find the lightest colored eggs they can, but sometimes it’s fun to see how the colors look on the darker eggs, too. This year I learned a bit about food dyes, so I was inclined to go with more natural methods of dying. The thought of infusing that nasty dye into the eggs after we so carefully kept the hens didn’t set well. I may still try it–just for fun–but we were busy with other things and didn’t end up doing it yet. Here are a couple of links if you want to try natural egg dying: Chai Tea Infused Marble Easter Eggs and Onion-Skin Easter Eggs.
We like all the color in the egg basket. Each breed of layer has it’s own shade of egg. We always have a handful of Araucana hens in the flock because they lay the distinctive blue, rosy, or green eggs. I learned in researching this that we actually have Ameraucana or Easter Egger chickens. The distinctions are important to breeders who maintain specific characteristics to keep their breed distinct. For my purposes, though, I just want pretty eggs. Plus, most of the hens I’ve gotten have been a lovely paisley pattern in various color schemes. The hens are as pretty as the eggs. They are hybridized for their pretty eggs, so they don’t lay as consistently as the other breeds. They just make a nice presentation.
For good layers we have Isa Browns and Buff Orpingtons. Isa Browns are light, spindly birds, but they lay a lot of brown eggs! They are bred to convert feed into eggs very well. Because they are light they can fly over fences niftily. To stop that we clip the feathers of one wing. We’ve also found that hens that free range don’t bother the fence so much in the winter. They aren’t in the habit, so they don’t tend to be as bad about it. The Buff Orpingtons are a quiet, gentle bird. They are a “heavy” breed, so they develop more body than the Isas. They do lay light brown eggs well and have more tendancy to “go broody” (want to hatch eggs). We got them to experiment with letting them hatch out chicks. We’ve had other breeds, but only have these two at the moment.
The Pastured Poultry classes will focus more on the broiler chickens, but we’ll talk about layers and you’ll be able to see how we run them. Layer hens are a great addition to any back yard. Come and see how you can have your own “Easter eggs” year round!
The chickens are in full production mode right now. Our twenty or so hens are laying about 20+ eggs a day, and I know the Araucanas are not pulling their weight. Chickens are a great place to start with livestock. They are easy to acquire, easy to keep, and are generally accepted in most urban situations. There are two basic types: broilers and layers.
Broilers are cornish hens crossed with another breed to produce the double breasted, fast growing meat bird. They are not genetically modified, just very hybridized (specialized through breeding). Every now and then we’ll get a genetic throw-back–either one that favors the cornish and stays small or (less often) one that favors the other breed crossed in with less breast meat and a touch of color in the feathers. If you see “cornish hen” in the store, it is no longer a true cornish hen. It is merely these cornish crossed broilers processed at 3-4 weeks of age instead of the 7-9 weeks it takes for a full grown bird.
Laying breeds of chickens have a lighter breast and more dark meat. They grow slower but are meant for egg production, not so much meat production. They make fantastic tasting, super healthy meat, but don’t pack it on like the broilers. They are more aggressive (not necessarily mean, just active) and can forage effectively for food. They can thrive on what they forage, especially if you get an older “heavy” breed (good for eggs and meat).
Here are a few “fun facts” about chickens:
The average hen lays 300 eggs a year.
The record for multiple egg yolks in one egg is nine.
A chicken needs to eat approximately four pounds of feed to make a dozen eggs.
If a chicken has red ear lobes, it will lay brown eggs if it has white earlobes it will lay white eggs.
Chickens will lay fewer and fewer but larger and larger eggs as they grow older.
Newly laying hens and menopausal hens will sometimes lay shell-less eggs and misshapen eggs.
Chickens will lay more, larger, and stronger eggs… if they think the day is 28 hours.
The largest recorded chicken egg weighed 12 ounces and had two yolks.
The record for egglaying belongs to a white leghorn that laid 371 eggs in 364 days.
Americans eat 80 pounds of chicken per capita, which is more than beef at 63 pounds per capita. That translates to about 8 billion chickens a year.
The longest recorded chicken flight was 13 seconds and a total distance of 301. 5 feet.
A Chicken can run about 9 miles per hour, a human can usually manage 12-15 miles per hour.
Chickens have a different alarm cluck for different predators. They have about 200 different vocalizations all told.
A chicken’s heart beats 300 times a minute (about 4-5 times more than a human).
The chicken has been domesticated for 8,000 years.
Hens are very protective of their young. Being called a “Mother Hen” is a good thing!
Hens lay eggs just fine without a rooster. Secure hens lay more eggs. A rooster provides protection in a pasture/forage situation.
A laying hen is called a pullet for about the first year of life. Hens typically begin laying eggs at about 20 weeks of age.
Most hens lay for about two years, but can continue at a lesser rate until 3-4 years old. They can live for a couple of years after that.
Hens require light to lay eggs. Decreased winter daylight, as well as temperature extremes, stress, seasonal molting, or lack of proper nutrition can affect how many eggs a hen lays.
A broiler chicken’s brainstem is larger than its brain, and its brain and brainstem are smaller than its eyeball.
Come check out how you can have chickens in your backyard from start to finish! The Courses page describes the classes and the Calendar page tells you when we offer the course and has a button to sign up. We hope to see you here!
More in a garden grows than what the gardener sows.~Spanish proverb
Our children like to help us in the garden. Really. When they are about 2-4 years old. That’s the age when they plant corn seeds in the green bean bed, hoe up the fledgling lettuce, and weed out the carrots by the handful. They aren’t exactly helpful, but as they tend my garden I am planting seeds that I plan to cultivate over the seasons. These little starts will bear fruit eventually.
I know this because I see it when I look at their healthy little bodies. I know it when they proudly serve their Dad the carrots or zucchini they helped pick for supper. I know it when they distinguish between cucumbers and pickles. I know it when the older children team up to make sure the green beans get picked and ready to can so we can eat them in the winter.
We’ve found that some of our most enthusiastic visiting helpers are kids. They are curious about life. They are able to really do things and understand that what they are handling–plant or animal–is life, is food, is a part of things. Kids love life. They like to help with the baby animals. They enjoy learning where the food on their plate comes from. They even often like the processing, seeing how an animal is put together, how it works, why it does what it does.
Some of the lessons in Nature’s garden aren’t so enjoyable. Perseverance when you face of a row of weeds. Gentleness when you’re in a hurry to move the chicks. Patience when the calf won’t suck off the bottle right and butts you in the stomach and slobbers all over your back. Courage when the chickens you tended twice a day for two months have to be slaughtered. Compassion when the family dog is old and sick and suffering and needs to be let go. Self-control when the pigs get out for the third time and won’t go back in. These are the hard lessons.
Our children are our future and the investments we make in them by connecting them to their food is beyond measure. Even if it’s just a planter or two, or only for a season, the experience of growing and eating real food plants seeds beyond lettuce and tomatoes. We feel strongly about this and invite kids who are capable to attend Anyone Can Farm classes. We want to grow farmers!
Contact us if you are interested in bringing your children along with you. Help make this available to the next generation by sponsoring someone on this website or through our Indiegogo Challenge. Thank-you in advance for investing in the next generation of food producers!
In the last week I’ve seen two comments in which people felt that they could not farm. One gentleman lives on an incredibly tight budget. I’m not sure what the second gentleman’s reason was. I was left wishing I could send them more than an encouraging text message. Anyone can farm! Anyone can raise a small amount of food to supply themselves with at least some amount of fresh, nourishing food.
Here are some of the challenges we know of and suggestions for overcoming them:
1) “I don’t have any space! I live in a high-rise apartment in New York City, or an inner city apartment in Grand Rapids, MI, or a dorm room at the University of Botswana.” If you have a window or patio, you can grow fresh herbs, lettuce and greens, maybe even a tomato plant or two. Plants don’t need much space and many varieties can tolerate relatively little sun. In many inner city areas gardens are springing up in abandoned lots. Building owners are allowing their apartment renters to build rooftop gardens. Planters come in many sizes and shapes to fit the needs of renters who can’t change the landlords landscaping. The only limit on space is your imagination. This site will give you some clever ideas.
2) “I don’t have money.” If you choose to begin a new garden or add lots of amendments to an existing garden, you can spend a lot of money on your veggies. However, a leftover cottage cheese container, dirt from anywhere you can dig a hole, and a one dollar (or less) packet of seeds can yield many dollars’ worth of lettuce. Growing food does not have to be complex or require much that you don’t have.
3) “I don’t know how to grow anything.” Seeds want to grow. Some are hardier than others, but nature wants to bless us with what we need: food. All you need is a container, dirt, and seed. Put it in a sunny place, water it, and keep an eye on it. There are many places on the internet where you can find tips and advice along the way. Many areas have gardening groups. Many states have a university Extension Service that can advise you on building raised beds, caring for potted plants, or starting a garden. You can attend our permaculture and soils class, with the added bonus of free follow-up phone or internet consulting. The best way to learn is to do the thing.
4) “I live in town and it’s not allowed.” Easy answer: rabbits. I’m told that during WWII, rabbits were popular in France. The Germans were taking all the livestock. However, rabbits were easy to hide, reproduced fantastically, and could be fed scraps of anything fruit or vegetable. They are quiet and don’t smell much if you keep them properly bedded. They produce a super healthy meat and are known to have the best feed conversion (amount of feed in to pounds of food back out) of any animal. A couple of other options:
- If people can have flower beds, why not vegetable beds? Many of the vegetable varieties have lots of color and add texture to a bed. And the neighbors really don’t mind when you share some with them.
- Same is true for chickens. Hens are docile, quiet things—avoid a rooster. Share the eggs now and then. Keep the chickens well so they are not a visual or smell nuisance.
- More and more cities and townships are allowing people to have small animals (chickens, rabbits, even sometimes goats, sheep, and pigs) as long as they are managed well. It’s worth putting together a plan and working for your right to farm.
Anyone Can Farm is here to help you around the obstacles. We can give ideas, help you locate resources, and teach you how you can begin growing your own food or expand into other growing areas. Plus, we’ll give you follow-up support after a class because we want to help people succeed. Sign up for a class and come see us!
Remember, Anyone Can Farm.
P.S. Check out how you can get a free class through our Indiegogo Challenge!
I was walking the other day: the sun was shining but the wind was blowing cold. I could feel everything starting to move like a sleeping person about to wake up. What was sleeping is ready to spring up and get going! But now, on the 21st of March, it’s still under snow. So it waits, building energy, getting more restless, until we get some warmer weather and it can explode. Spring is coming, no matter what it looks like outside yet!
That makes me think of dirt, garden seeds, compost, cleaning animal areas (to start composting), and seeing familiar faces come up the driveway again to buy chicks or deliver chickens for processing or purchase some rich, biochar laced compost. I’m ready to see the farm bustling. In the last year we’ve met so many more people who are raising their own food for the first time. Folks looking for compost for a garden. Young moms and dads bringing 10 chickens for processing because they wanted to try their hand at healthy meat for their under-5 aged children. It’s exciting. They have “spring energy” about them. They are ready and willing to get up and do something, and often all they need to really run with it is a little help.
If help is what you need: ideas, where to start, how to build something, we are here! In May we have two pastured poultry classes, a biochar class (you get to make a retort), and a soils and permaculture course (you can grow vegetables anywhere). The Courses tab contains descriptions of the classes. The Calendar tab tells you when the class will be and has a button to help you sign up for the class you want. There are “free” classes available as perks on our Indiegogo challenge. Check it out, donate, share it so your friends can come with you, and let us know which class you want.
Spring is coming. Let’s go!
I’ve heard that smell is closely linked with memory. Ever noticed how that works? You walk in someone’s house or a restauant, take a deep breath, and Grandma comes to mind along with a flood of warm and cozy feelings. Or have you walked past a gentleman and gotten a whiff of a certain cologne, aftershave, or maybe just “old gentleman.” You want to giggle remembering a fun time with a Grandpa who smelled just like that.
One of the participants at our Hog Harvest Days this fall came, in part, for such a reason. He remembered his grandparents preserving pork outside refrgeration, in their cellar, and wanted to learn to do it. He recalled how they boiled the pork–in July by his memory–and rendered the fat. Then they put the pork pieces in crocks, poured the rendered fat over it, covered it, and made him help carry the crocks to the cellar. The smell! He remembered the overwhelming smell of boiling pork in July as horrible! (You can read an account of someone who really did this on the Hillside Homestead blog.)
As she was out and about she saw an Eriobotrya japonica tree. It was covered in ripe fruit. She remembered how her mom, back in Brazil where she was a girl, would make jelly from this fruit every year. It took 2 people peeling the fruit for 4 hours to produce a dozen little jars of jelly. It was young Cristine’s favorite jelly. She was inspired.
She asked the landowner if she could pick the fruit. She carried the buckets home and worked at peeling and cooking them. She’d never done this before, but memory served her well! It was good. She exchanged her little jars for donations and shared the donations with us. This is her message to us, and I pass it on to you:
I am sending you this email to keep you encourage that we can make a lot out of very little with hard work. Never give up!
I was thinking philosophical thoughts tonight.
This isn’t planned to be a philosophical blog. I get the Baker’s Green Acres blog for that. Usually. But tonight I was thinking about what we’re doing, why, where I fit in, what I want from this life journey right now. Life. That’s what a lot of my thoughts boiled down to.
This Anyone Can Farm Academy idea was born out of a negative, life sucking situation–sort of like the torture contraption from The Princess Bride. Very much like, actually. We were stressed. Life was all negative. There was a tangible enemy we had to defend ourselves from. Fear is a weapon for That Which Hates Life, and it was present in our lives. Hate, Confusion, Frustration, and Anger are companion weapons that were keeping us company in varying degrees.
On the other side of that was the Generosity of so many people who gave encouragement, prayers, and money. There are people who continue to help us participate in the bigger picture of where we as a people and a country are going–which gives Camaraderie and Perspective. These things are antidotes that give Life.
We are eternally grateful for those who have been Life to us. A simple “thanks” can’t possibly suffice. So, we felt that the best way to tip the scale for ourselves and as many people as possible was to share the ability to nurture Life. Growing soil, nurturing plants, husbanding animals are skills and knowledge connected to life. Even knowing how to butcher an animal in a way that honors it’s gift is valuable. We decided, around the campfire with some friends, to give back.
That’s the heart of Anyone Can Farm: to empower as many people as possible in the art of Life. Teaching people how to produce food for themselves, real food that will nourish your body and bring life to your spirit in the process. There is something about dirt and plants and animals that connects us to something primal and “real.” Something alive.
There are those who would take Life, try to control what you eat, how much, offer a pill to antidote the
effects of their version of food. We want to give Life, enable you to grow some kind of food that will bring health to you.
So, that’s my philosophical soapbox. As they say in Fiddler on the Roof: “To Life!”
One of the reasons we started Anyone Can Farm Academy was that we get asked questions about farming all the time. We like to share what we know. Hopefully that helps people avoid some of the bumps we’ve experienced and gets them eating food they grow faster.
To that end, Mark has discovered a way to make his fantastic phone a tool that benefits yous. It takes video and can upload it to Youtube! He is making little videos regularly, while he’s out doing what he does every day, to answer questions you are asking us. Here is one of those videos: Mark on biochar
Send us your questions! We have a list of them that we’ve been asked over the years, but Mark would like to talk about what you want to know. We want to hear from YOU!