Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rustling Leaves

That's one of the "hats" I wear during this season: leaf rustler.

On beautiful sunny Indian Summer Sunday afternoons, people all over town rake leaves and put them in bags out by the curb. The city has a yard waste collection and composting program, so on Monday morning the trash trucks canvass the city picking up the leaf bags.

On Sunday evening, the leaf rustlers--I know I'm not the only one, I've scoped out a likely pile and found it gone before I can get back with the truck--do their work. Monday mornings are good, too, if you can beat the city trucks. So far I haven't been organized enough to try to actually research their routes, but I'm sure it would make me an even more effective leaf rustler.

My "new" ladder rack (acquired second hand a few months ago) is great for hauling leaves. When I let down the side panels that I installed for hauling sheep, I can stack the bags higher than the cab and still not worry about losing them. Leaving a trail is the sign of an incompetent (and criminal) leaf rustler.

Why collect leaves? They are one of the main sources of organic matter and mulch on my farm. They are especially good for "germination mulches" for small-seeded crops like carrots and greens, because they are light and shade the soil well. They also nestle down in between small seedling nicely...I can sprinkle them over the top of a bed, and they'll work their way down. It's also easy to mulch around individual plants in densely planted beds, such as garlic or onion.

I also use leaves as bedding for the chicken coop, and as a short-term solution to particularly muddy chicken yard conditions. Chickens love to scratch around in a pile of leaves! They will shred them in nothing flat.

In recent years, the city has mandated that only leaves in compostable paper bags (or trash cans) will be picked up. There are always a few folks who don't realize this and bag in plastic anyhow. I especially treasure these black plastic bags of leaves. I place them in the bed lanes north of overwintering beds of green such as spinach, and they create a mild microclimate for the bed. They block the north wind, and the black plastic absorbs a fair bit of heat during the day. It's also possible to lay a panel of lexan over them to create an informal cold frame environment. Then in the spring, when the protection is no longer needed, the bags of leaves are right there ready to mulch the bed.

My stockpile of leaves for next season will also provide some insulation along the north side of the barn this winter. I've erected a cattle panel about 6' north of the barn, parallel to the wall, to form a leaf bin. Much better than previous years where I've just pitched them out the side of the truck into one of the fallow garden blocks...then ended up with a lingering mess of torn and decomposing bags to clean up in the spring before I can plant those beds.

I try to empty out the paper leaf bags into the bin as I haul them home, and neatly refold the bags. I give the bags to folks that don't have a lot of money to spend on expensive leaf bags...especially those who'll let me know when and where they've just raked a yard full of leaves. One leaf rustling partner is a homeless man who's just started a yard raking service. Riding the bus back downtown after his first job, he mentioned to me that he'd just found out about the paper bag requirement AFTER bagging the entire job in he was going to go back and rebag them the next day. I was happy to save him the effort. I'll be taking him the paper bags from tonight's haul...30 good ones, and 2 with only small holes from sticks.

I happen to attend a meeting every Sunday night on the far side of town, so on my way home I drive through the best leaf-rustling neighborhoods, where I know I'm mostly likely find good leaves conveniently placed....

Hah! You thought leaves were leaves, not much to it!

I don't want leaves that were picked up with a lawn mower--you never know what lawn chemicals have been used.

I don't want leaves from yards with dogs--dog poop is yucky--or yew hedges--yew clippings are toxic to livestock.

Some trees make better leaves than others--sycamore (especially), catalpa, and cottonwood leaves are so big they are annoying for mulching small plants. Oak leaves don't crumble very well so they can blow a lot, but they break down slowly. Elm, maple and ash are my favorites because they crumble nicely, pack down, and decompose well.

Some include too many annoying seeds or pods, like sweet gum or sycamore balls, catalpa pods, etc. Redbud leaves are great in many ways, but then I end up with so many baby redbud trees in the garden, and it always bothers me to kill them because redbuds are pretty much my favorite tree, but I have to kill them because there are just so many..... Elm, ash, and maple, on the other hand, inflict their seeds on the community early in the year, so there generally aren't many mixed in with the leaves.

I look for groups of bags that are placed near the curb in neighborhoods where the houses aren't too close to the street...I don't want to make folks nervous that I'm right up near their house. And I never go more than a few feet into someone's yard. That tempting pile of bags behind a tree near the house might be reserved for someone else. I only want unwanted leaves.

Quiet, well-lighted side streets with plenty of vacant curbside parking are good. I don't want my truck to be rear-ended, but I like to turn the lights off so as not to disturb neighbors. I always try to park legally and politely.

Unfenced yards are good--I'm less likely to disturb a dog who will drive me or its owners crazy.

Ritzy neighborhoods are more likely to have lawn services come rake; the companies usually haul off the leaves themselves. So even though yards are big and promptly raked, there may not be many leaf bags to rustle.

What about my own leaves, the leaves from all the trees at the farm? It depends.

The sheep vacuum up a lot of the leaves in the areas they graze. They love fall leaves!

The front yard is increasingly dominated by a sycamore that grew from a seed about eight years ago. So one last lawn mowing mulches up the huge (up to 14" across, I kid you not!) tough leaves and they enrich the soil in the yard. Today, a friend looking for exercise came by while I was gone and worked this wonderful transformation in my absence...a relief (releaf?) to have that off my "to-do" list, though I would have enjoyed the task whenever I'd found the time.

So about the only raking I do rake is the driveway and patio/porch area, where the leaves otherwise build up into messy drifts that later decompose into havens for next spring's onslaught of elm seedlings. And I generally wait until all the leaves have fallen (so I only have to do it once), and the ground is frozen, and it's too cold to do much else...which sometimes means I do the raking with a snow shovel.
But only because I don't have time. I like raking leaves. But usually, this time of year I'm too busy rustling others' leaves to rake my own.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chicken Heaven

When we moved the portable chicken house to the garden and set up a huge pen all around the dead tomato plants, I thought I was creating a "chicken heaven" where they could scratch and eat and rummage to their hearts' content, freely ranging within a safe 6' chain link fence. I ordered nearly $100 worth of netting to cover the coop to discourage the hawk that's already eying his new buffet.

And the chickens were, for a few days, very happy indeed.

But what an odd sight greeted me as I opened up the chicken coop this morning...four chicken carcasses in a row, evenly spaced along a bed lane in the chickens' new run in the tomato patch. A quick search revealed three more carcasses and a pile of feathers that I know were formerly attached to the rooster, Beau, who was nowhere to be seen.

I suspect a skunk.

As members of the weasel family, they share a propensity for gruesome mass murders like this--apparently killing for joy, and eating only the heads. One head was severed but near the body, most of the other heads were missing entirely. Who needs TV?

My method for disposing of chicken carcasses like this is to let "The Community of Life" finish what it started. I think of it as a midwestern version of "burial at sea": I take the carcasses out to the far end of the pasture and throw them over the fence into the tallgrass prairie of the CRP/wildlife area. And I speak to the creatures out there, all invisible but nevertheless most likely aware of my presence. And I tell them:

"All you predators! All you skunks and coyotes and foxes and raccoons and oppossums and weasels and badgers! Listen! I'll bring you the parts that I can't use. But I buy the feed, and I need you to let me have the ones that I can use. You are welcome to them when they are back here but stay out of my space."

Which somehow is at least a teensy-tinsy bit comforting. And, you never know. I've learned through working with Toss and the sheep that animals really DO pick up a lot of one's intent from spoken words, somehow. So it MIGHT help. It probably can't hurt, at least.

They are invariable gone within a day or two, just a few feathers riffling in the breeze, caught on a tuft of grass.

The walk back from such a "burial" always has a strange, unburdened feel that seems unjustified, undeserved...perhaps a glimpse of what true grace might feel like. There is nothing more for me to do for the dead. Nothing at all. I have given them back to their Creator for His own purposes, relinquished them to His care.

On the way back, I look at the grass newly sprouting on the north pasture (is there brome? is there wheat? I can see both wheat sprouts and wheat seeds, but the brome I see looks mostly like annual downy brome ("cheat" grass), not the desirable perennial smooth brome. But, it's hard to tell at this stage (and without my reading glasses. Bifocals are on order and should be in later this week, hurray, I'm really looking forward to renewed efficiency in reading and other forms of close observation).

Though it's so cool this morning that he's moving pretty slowly, I catch the slight motion that tips me off to a dung beetle. This species cleverly looks like a couple nuggets of the sheep dung it's diligently trundling off to its stash. I don't see them very often, but I know they're always hard at work on the farm.

Looking at the dung beetle makes me aware of the numerous small diggings in that area. These little angled excavations, not much larger than the dung beetle, are probably the work of Mr. Skunk. Not finding the hoped-for worms or grubs, he decided to raid the coop.

It's a hungry season. The Easter Freeze seriously affected the crops of nearly all wild animal foods...nuts, acorns, fruit of all kind, and I see it reflected in the wildlife around the farm. The squirrels are the hardest hit, and the biggest problem. They have now devoured three plastic trash cans that I used to store a corn/soybean mix for the sheep, the first somewhat slowly a few weeks ago, the other two just overnight in the past few days. I've never had a problem with this before, only with them harvesting my apricots and english walnuts before they're ripe.

They are a tough adversary, powerful little beasts. "Tree rats", one friend calls them. Their aeriel agility makes them an especially difficult foe.

I've set a couple live traps in the barn, after purchasing several galvanized trash cans for feed barrels. I'm also considering the pellet gun option, though I don't think I have a lot of time to devote to hunting them. I do entertain fantasies of eating them, if I ever catch them. After all, they're eating my expensive grain, not to mention the trash cans.

Why not just trap and release? Isn't it cruel to trap and eat them? The cruelty was the Easter Freeze, destroying their food supply, creating this famine that drives them to seek unnatural foods. The reality is that there is currently a huge gap between the number of squirrels running around, and the amount of resources available to support them. That situation will improve, in this season, only by me purchasing feed for them (which will just explode the population next year, and recreate the same situation next fall even if we have a good nut year) or by the population being reduced. If nothing is done, they will continue to desparately try to get at any perceived food source, chewing through incredible (and expensive!) obstacles to get at it. Then they will die of starvation, exposure, disease brought on by malnutrition. Somewhere in there they will devour the buds and strip the bark of the trees in mid-winter as the sap begins to flow. But nevertheless, despite their damage to facilities and depredation of trees, many will die.

It seems kinder, less violent, better stewardship, to simply and quickly take their lives before they are starving to death. Then those that remain (trust me, there will be plenty!) will be more in balance with their habitat.

Yes, I am playing God in their lives, deciding when they should live and when they should die. And I'm really a bit uncomfortable that I get to have that power. But somehow I was born a person, and they were born squirrels, and that's the luck of the draw. And I fear we're really a pretty good match for one another. My victory is far from assured, despite my opposable thumbs.

So what about the chickens? What is my role as God there? I can do what I as I am by circumstances. There is often no one home to close the coop up at night since the visiting Christian brothers and sisters left; hiring someone would be prohibitive. Perhaps I should find new homes for them...but predators may claim them there, as well.

Life is fragile and sometimes too short. No matter which side you're on.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


My wonderful current housemate will be leaving probably in December, no later than March.

Sigh. Time to write housemate ads...again....

Time to put myself and my values and my quirks and my way of living under the spotlight of applicants' questions. Time to balance prudence with being vulnerable and honest. Time to ask a new crop of applicants the same old questions, hoping this time I'll be able to discern the honest answers encoded in their carefully-worded responses. Time to reassess my expectations of the people who reside and/or work at the farm. At what point do I mention that I identify as bisexual, since my current situation of unrequited love is likely to be long-term? How hard and fast IS the media ban? Is it OK if someone agrees to just smoke outside? Could a vegan and I really cohabit peacefully long-term?

It's always a growing experience--every ad-writing, every conversation, every interview. It always gives me a new understanding of my way of life, the farm, my values and beliefs, and mostly my ever-increasing separation from "the world." I genuinely enjoy getting to know the various folks (and their various children, animals, significant others, etc.) even though they decide it's not quite what they're looking for...or if they think it's what they're looking for but decide it isn't, after all, after they've paid their deposit and I've pulled the ads, but before they move in.

But it's always frustrating. The people who would thrive here are few and far between, and even ads with the scary "No TV" plainly stated seem to draw a lot of responses from people who just don't "get it." "But that doesn't include sports games, does it?"

What I really want is to find people who are willing to commit to living "in the world but not of the world" here with me longer than a few months. At least committed enough to stay for more than a year. People who aren't plugged into the media OR the unsustainable fairy-tale way of life that the media promotes. People who want to live simply, who value cooperation and communication, who can "live and let live" when faced with the little irritations that are bound to arise between folks who share time and space on a sustained basis. People who are willing to be changed and challenged by living here, who are ready to take a bold leap in their lives and set out on a path that includes some of the stepping stones that I've already laid over the past 10 years of seeking an increasingly sustainable lifestyle here at Pinwheel Farm.

I would just like to someday go through two years at the farm with the same cast of characters, and have a break from the relentless training!

The thing is, it takes a whole year to get a feel for the system of living in this house on this farm, because it's so different in each season and it's so different from most people's experiences in the that rat-race world out there. The first season is necessarily a HUGE learning curve...but then after that it really IS easier, the various routines and seasonal transitions become woven into a familar, comforting, reasonably predictable way of life.

Because it's different, there is a lot of just outright training at first. Sadly, many folks never make it through the initial training. They run away shrieking about how bossy and controlling I am. But what else can I do but teach, teach, teach? Here is how the high-efficiency front-loading washing machine must be operated (or it voids the warranty). This is why you should check with other residents before doing more than one load of laundry on a rainy day (there is limited clothesline space in the basement, and no one's clothes will dry if it's overloaded). The towels fit in the drawer when they are folded this way but not when folded that way. The basement door needs to be latched so the dog won't sneak in there and get stuck (she won't make a sound to let anyone know she's there, and I'll spend hours searching for her at chore time, meanwhile she'll be beside herself because she wants to obey my summons but can't). This is how the woodstove must be operated (to minimize the risk of chimney fires). This is how firewood must be managed, to be able to operate the stove properly in extreme conditions. Trash must go out for Monday pickup, and if it isn't picked up for any reason it must be brought back in or the City will pick it up Tuesday and we could be charged for fraudulent use of City services (don't ask me why their employees can't distinguish between bright blue trash bins labelled "Honey Creek Disposal" and big forest green trash bins labeled "City of Lawrence"). Parking is only in designated areas to keep farm access clear (no matter if you're just going to zip into the house and back...the feed truck is coming down the street NOW and he's not going to want to back all the way down the driveway to let you get out of his way...and yes, the fire trucks did need to get back there once when I wasn't home). How the recycling guy wants us to prepare recyclables (hey, he's doing this for barter, let's make it easy on the guy).

That's the most basic level of training. For so many folks, it goes much deeper. They have to learn how to hang laundry effectively, how to tie certain knots, how to work garden hose quick-connects, how to build a certain type of fire given certain materials, how to manuever the trash cart on a gravel surface rather than concrete, how to wash dishes by hand, how to sweep a floor clean.

The reward is a satisfying, increasingly self-sufficient, affordable way of life. A way of living that is less likely to be upset by power outages, lost jobs, truckers' strikes...let alone global warming, peak oil, economic depression, etc. A way of living that is often overflowing with a certain type of wealth that money can't buy and words can't adequately describe...a wealth that is rooted in right relationships with God, with His children, and with His creation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Real Estate

I've had the sheep flock enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapie Identification Program for a number of years now. It requires a modest amount of recordkeeping, and provides me with free ear tags. Plus, I know that I'm doing my part to help eradicate this devastating prion disease (similar to "Mad Cow"). And, it gives a certain amount of credibility when I sell breeding stock, which I occasionally do.

The system gives my flock a "status date" which marks the earliest date at which all ewes in the flock began to be recorded, inspected and found free of symptoms of Scrapie. Buying a ram from off the farm doesn't change my status date, but buying a ewe would change my status date if the ewe were from a farm that hadn't been in the program as long as I have. Follow that?

Earlier this week I faced a real dilemma.

A neighbor who has been one of my best friends and extraordinary sheep mentor ever since I bought my flock decided to take a break from raising sheep for a year or two, to catch up with other things in her life (like her pretty new quarter horse colt). Her small flock of pretty-much Suffolk sheep has been carefully selected for meat production and mothering ability for the 18 or so years she's had them, and before that they were selected for many years by some older folks out near Alta Vista, Kansas, whom it turns out I know pretty well from Contra Dance activities (it's a small world). A few weeks ago, I sold them a side of lamb descended from their middle-aged daughter's childhood flock.

My friend keeps a closed flock (as I do), and we both have tested for most of the nasty "hidden" sheep diseases like Ovine Progressive Pneumonia. So we don't worry much about biosecurity when we go back and forth between the two farms. I do her sheep and horse chores for a couple weeks every year, and she's been a great help at lambing time and on the rare times I've needed to go out of town for a day now and then (prior to my sabbatical). We figure whatever germs one farm has, the other probably already has them.

I've often bought a ram lamb from her to use just for one breeding season, as a "terminal sire" with ewes from which I wasn't planning keep replacement ewe lambs. Her ram lambs throw great, growthy market lambs when bred to my ladies. I've kept back a couple of the resulting Suffolk cross ewe lambs over the years, and have been pretty pleased with them though they tend to be a bit bigger than I like for handling.

One year, quite a while back, her ram died suddenly right before her breeding season (which is a little earlier than mine). Since biosecurity wasn't a concern, we hauled my registered California Variegated Mutant ram, Donatello, up to her place for a few weeks. He was delighted, needless to say.

I consider Donnie to be the foundation sire for my this point, I only have one ewe that doesn't have Donnie blood. He not only had good conformation and a wonderful fleece, he had an excellent disposition and was easy to handle. He moved well for the dog (unlike one of my current rams, Dudley, who acts like a stump and refuses to move even when Toss "grips" his nose). He had a mild distrust of human beings and always tried to keep a few ewes between himself and me (unlike my other current ram, Buddy, who has tried to kill me at least 4 times in the last few weeks).

To avoid excessive inbreeding, Donnie made a one-way trip a number of years ago. His beautiful, soft, multi-tone gray tanned hide lives on my favorite rocking chair. But he is still very much alive at Pinwheel Farm. Many of my best younger ewes go back to Donnie on both sides--line breeding is when it works; inbreeding is when it doesn't. I've done a lot of line breeding in the Donnie line.

I brought home two lambs from that cross of Donnie onto her Suffolk ewes: Corrie (short for Corvus, since she was black as a lamb, and there was already a "Raven" in my life at the time), dark gray and a great milker, who became a foundation ewe for the folks who bought my best dairy sheep when I went on sabbatical; and Sitting Bull (he literally sat like a dog when we tried to lead him to the truck to transport him to my farm). Sitting Bull was a disaster of a ram. Every lamb he sired was hard to handle--excitable and jumpy. You could actually tell who had sired a given lamb that year just by picking up the lamb--if it fought like the dickens while you held it and ran away when you put it down, it was Sitting Bull's. If it just sat there patiently while you vetted it, then stood there a minute before walking away, just to be sure you were really done, it was Future's. In S.B.'s second breeding season, it turned out that he was determined to savage his ewes--not just typical jostling and butting, but violent repeated lunges that seemed likely to end in serious injuries and/or a structurally damaged barn. That line has been "de-selected" from my flock, as I find that temperament is often largely inherited...the above-described paternity test was an important cornerstone of that realization.

My friend kept two ewes from the Donnie/Suffolk crosses: Magpie (named for her black-and-white ears...we now refer to any ears with that pattern as "Magpie ears") and Little One. Both had far nicer wool than the typical short, somewhat coarse Suffolk wool.... I've brought Magpie's fleece home from Barb's shearing on several occasions. Blue Jay and Stellar, Magpie's daughters, were eventually added to her flock. A third, unnamed Donnie granddaughter was also kept.

(By now you are really wondering about the title of this entry....)

I got an email from my friend the other day. She would be taking the last of her ewes to the sale barn in a few days. Did I want any of them? The Donnie line, perhaps? At sale barn to nothing for older ewes like these. She'd even discount them, since she wouldn't have to pay the sale barn commission.

I know they're healthy, in great condition, ready to breed to the ram of my choice. They'll live long lives and produce mostly twins and triplets. But...the catch is, my friend isn't enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapie Identification Program. So purchasing these ewes would basically throw the past 8 or however many years of recordkeeping, inspections, etc. out the window. My "on-paper" status as a reputable breeder of healthy livestock would be lost. I'd start from Square One.

On the other hand, if I didn't disregard the VSIP rules and buy the ewes, the Donnie line from her farm would be lost.

And I almost didn't buy the ewes. I almost let the artificial rules of the program, the temptation of that long-held status date, send my friend's carefully selected Donnie line to the sale barn.

But I stopped to think about what's REAL.

The truth is, even though my friend has never filled out the paperwork or had the State vet come out to her farm, her flock is just as healthy as mine. I've been there. I've cared for them year in, year out. They show no odd behavior, they have no visible signs of the disease. They live long, productive lives before they are culled to make way for younger ewes. I've bought her cull ewes to augment my own culls that are made into the fabulous mutton and pork summer sausage that I sell from the farm and at Farmer's Market, and the inspector at the processing plant has always passed the carcasses.

And the ESTATE that was at stake? The genetic heritage of the Donnie line, an inheritance that, once lost, could never be regained.

A choice between my reputation on paper as a breeder, and my competence in the sheepfold as a breeder.

I chose to invest in the real estate. My VSIP status date is now 11/5/2007. Magpie, Little One, Blue Jay, Stellar, and their nameless companion who insisted on being part of the load are now in my barn yard, complaining bitterly about their change of circumstances and waiting for my friend to come get them. Seriously, they know which gate they came in and they want BACK OUT that gate. It's crossed my mind to see if they'd find their way home if set free (it's only four miles) but there are some nicely landscaped (i.e. tasty) yards and some busy highways between here and there....

If I can just remember during daylight hours, I'll post a photo of them soon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Culture Clash

I received a promotional mailing from one of my credit card companies the other day.

It got my attention, all right. And I didn't just pitch it in the trash, as I generally do. But did the marketing staff get their money's worth from this campaign? Not from me, at any rate! I've been glancing at this letter for several days now, and every time I just have to shake my head.

Apparently the Chief Executive Officer of this company thinks it worth his while to send a "personal" letter to me just to tell me that I can choose from "more than 150 free card designs." That was worth the environmental cost of an envelope, a piece of paper printed in , and postage--not to mention his time, and that of his secretary, staff, and ad agency.

So I can "find the one that's just right for me."

This "will make using my _____ Card more fun!"

Either the CEO or I, or both of us, have gotten really out of touch with some sort of reality.

I've never EXPECTED using my credit cards to be "fun." Nor "exciting" nor anything but expedient. Yes, there are times when having a credit card makes it easier to do something ELSE that's fun, like have a roof over my head in Vancouver. But it is simply a means to an end. The physical act of using it is pretty neutral, unless circumstances or the environment (a sullen clerk or a frigid night at the "pay outside" gas pump) make the overall experience unpleasant.

How on earth would a fancy picture change my credit card experience? Am I going to take it out of my wallet and admire it from time to time, instead of looking at my grandkids' photos? Heck, I don't even do that (I do have ancient school pix in the front of my little pocket calendar...but I hardly ever even look at the appointments I write in there, let alone look at photos. I can see my loved ones perfectly well in my mind's eye, including their endearing gestures, AND hear their voices).

Would a fancy picture impress the computerized pump at the gas station? Would I thereby get an extra $.02 discount per gallon like I do when I show it my grocery store discount card? Hmmm...don't think so.

I guess the occasional live clerk might see it--but mostly it seems like I'm expected to "swipe" (when I was young, that meant to steal) my own card in an upside-down-and-backwards position where only the post of the check-writing shelf could possibly catch a glimpse of my fancy card. And generally, the clerk and I are looking mostly at each other, smiling and chatting. If the clerk looks at my card, it's to examine the signature...which is on the side of the card without the pretty picture!

I just don't get it.

Maybe people want fancy pictures on their credit cards to somehow communicate something about who they are (or think they are, or wish they were) to the rare clerk that actually looks at the card? Is a fancy credit card a new, subtle way of flirting with the waitress when I pay for a meal? Does a personalized credit card add to someone's sense of identity? My personal sense of identity and self-image is grounded in who I am inside, the relationships I have with God and with others, and the big, long-term goals towards which I use my time, energy and money.

Maybe some people find fun in spending money they don't have, or in buying things they don't need?

A lot of my reaction to this letter is related to my "take" on the word "fun." "Fun", in and of itself, simply isn't a big motivator for me. Lots of things are "fun" for me, but the "fun" aspect is a fairly insignificant part of why I do them. I do things because they are meditative, like sweeping up the flaxen curls of wood shavings from a friend's workshop floor. Or physically and mentally challenging, like rearranging all the fences and gates in the sheep handling area in the barn, so that everything fits around the posts, all the gates swing in practical directions, the space can be converted to easily accessible lambing pens, and the sheep will want to move through it according to my wishes. Or necessary, like switching out summer's automatic stock tank water valves for winter's tank de-icers and short fill hoses with "quick connect" fittings so they can easily be drained with each use. Or because the end result is something I want, like baking bread pockets stuffed with blackbeans and pork, or building a fire in the wood stove.

What makes these things "more fun" to me? Certainly not a fancy credit card! Things like choosing to do the stock tank changeover on a gorgeous, relaxed, warm Indian summer afternoon, instead of a cold blustery one when I'm in a hurry. Having a good sturdy broom for the sweeping, nice pans for the bread so it doesn't stick. Talking out the details of a project with a clever friend, or the Border Collie, when I'm building something.

Thankfully, very little of my hard-earned money was spent on this credit card promotion. I virtually always pay my balance in full each month, to avoid paying finance charges.

Avoiding finance charges: I guess maybe that's the part of using a credit card that I find the most "fun."

If you got the same promo letter, I'd love to hear your point of view, especially if it made any sense to you. For me, it just made me feel like a stranger in a strange land...but then as a dear friend once bluntly stated, I'm "just not American." Somehow I've just quietly drifted away from my native culture over the years. The farm has a lot to do with it, but then so does being a radically conservative Christian. Over the years, I've thought a lot about how my daily choices, actions, words, purchases, etc. either reflect or contradict my real values. And I've increasingly made choices based on my values. Over time, it adds up to something rather remote from the "norms" that the media reflects.

Come to think of it, having lived most of my adult life with minimal influence by the media (TV, radio, and magazines especially) might have something to do with it....

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Expensive Leap of Faith

Photos: (1) Pinwheel Farm driveway and "Industry" (white--the current farm house). (2) The "Two Little Houses" which will eventually end up with proper names. (3) The "Brown Barn" in Embers Woods, with glimpses of Pinwheel's "Green Barn" and other outbuildings through the trees.

After talking over the fence since the mid-90's, and negotiating by mail, phone, and in person since early 2005, Bob and I finally signed the contract for me to purchase his property to the west of the farm.

This more than doubles the amount of debt I'm carrying.

It only adds an acre to Pinwheel Farm.

It will drastically increase the unpredictability of my cash flow and work load, since it includes two very run-down rental houses with histories of BAD PLUMBING.

So how does this deal make sense, anyhow?

But no matter what the out-of-pocket cost to purchase this property, it is cheap compared to the consequences of someone else purchasing it. A nice little subdivision next door, while perhaps more attractive in a magazine-picture kind of way, would inevitably create problems at the farm. First, the loss of the grove of trees--hence to be known as Embers Wood, after the man who planted the trees--would significantly change the microclimate of the farm, increasing summer evening temperatures at the farmhouse drastically since the trees proves several hours of late-afternoon shade. Then "city-folk" neighbors would inevitably find something to complain about from my operations...the rooster's crow, the barnyard aromas, the clutter of a working farm. Security lights would interfere with photosensitive beings' natural rhythms. Spray drift from chemically manicured lawns would affect my tomato crops. The pressure for me to be incorporated into the city--something I want to avoid at all costs--would increase.

Aside from avoiding the nightmare of a housing development next door, the acquisition of this property opens up some really exciting possibilities for Pinwheel Farm's future.

First, a circle drive will be put through, extending the farm's existing driveway through Embers Wood and back out to North Street on the west side of the rental houses. No one will ever have to back down my long, curvey driveway onto North Street again! Deliver truck drivers will rejoice.

The property features a nice big metal building, the "Brown Barn," at the back, just a few yards from my main lambing area and existing "Green Barn". The expanded area for hay and feed storage, animal housing, machinery, etc.--with easy access for delivery trucks--will be an immediate asset. In the long run, part of it will be converted to a horse barn, an critical step towards my long-time dream of farming with horses.

Embers Woods will be a lovely place for visitors to park in the shade, have a picnic, let the kids play on the playground that will be built there. Better parking will make on-farm retail sales more convenient for everyone.

The two rental houses open up many possibilities for a small intentional community to arise "around" Pinwheel Farm in the future.

Buying it is a huge leap of faith--the next few years will be intense, as I work off-farm to pull this off, and concurrently build the farm business AND renovate the rentals. But the rewards should be great, for the future of the farm and its entire community of life, especially our human residents, visitors and customers who support the farm in so many ways.
Your suggestions, ideas, prayers, energy, business, and support of any kind are welcome as we embark on this new journey in the life of Pinwheel Farm.