Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ruminating Mother Earth

June 20 2012

It’s been a few weeks since I attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, WA. I’m still mulling over all the new/old ideas of today’s homesteading practices, those spaces where technology and timeworn wisdom merge. Common sense living excites me, and it should. We live, shop, and work in a world that sometimes seems illogical to me.

The highlight of my fair was listening to key note speaker, Joel Salatin, owner and operator of Polyface Farm. I first learned of Joel through Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan brings Salatin’s character to life. I felt star-struck meeting the farmer in person, like I was inches from touching a favorite movie star or 80s rock god. I wasn’t alone. I looked around the audience of fans occupying only the front half of their seats.

Too late to find a proper chair or space in the bleachers, I scooted to the very front and sat on the cool concrete at the base of the stage. Sometimes it pays to be a late bloomer. I was close enough to reach out and tug on the seam of his Wranglers. And just in case you’re wondering, I resisted. I sat with ears, heart, and mind wide open, ready to catch any bit of wisdom he dropped my way. It’s true. I have an infatuation, maybe even a bit of a farm girl crush on the man.

Joel is a more mature man, and by that I mean way more mature than me. He must be close to my father’s age. He dressed in denim on denim. I don’t think he knows or cares that the decade for denim shirts with blue jeans is long gone. There is nothing fashionable about Joel, and he doesn’t have that tall-dark-and-handsome look that usually holds my attention. It doesn’t matter. He’s got my attention. Charisma and intelligence ooze from the moment he grabs the mike to the moment he waves that farmer-in-the-field goodbye. I’m enraptured.  

He spins a yarn, telling the story of grain from field to thrashing to fermentation to mill to table. He visits the labor intensive methods of historical grain production, a time when grain was far too valuable to feed to animals, when grain was used to feed people and herbivore ate grasses and chickens cleaned up scraps.

Joel Salatin thinks in systems or logic loops. He discussed actions and reactions of moving away from common sense farming. It doesn’t take long and I’m making my own connections and formulating loops in my own head to improve my own homesteading practice.

I experimented with one of his systems-approach ideas six months ago by wintering my chickens inside my greenhouse instead of the coop. The added light extended their egg laying. Chickens fed on kitchen compost, breaking it down at rocket speed for added soil enhancement. Grubs and slugs and spiders and all things crawly cut my feed bill in half while producing some of the best flavored eggs ever. Perhaps the greatest benefits materialized this spring with hundreds of vibrant tomatoes and tomatillos springing up, volunteering to be this year’s bumper crop. These same tomatillos are taller than me now. Indoor beds took little turning to prepare for the seasonal plantings. Cutworm, aphids, and white fly are at an all-time low. Nitrogen rich soil, naturally fortified with chicken poop produced the earliest cilantro and basil.  

So, now I’m thinking bigger, thinking of expanding the system to include aquaculture, adding trout or catfish or even freshwater prawn to the creatures and plants that rely on one another for my family's dining pleasures.

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