Thursday, May 22, 2008

An Appeal

Please keep Pinwheel Farm in your thoughts and prayers in the weeks to come. A potentially disastrous scenario is unfolding.

The nearby City of Lawrence is proposing to run a large water main through the middle of my pasture and my CRP/wilderness area. The proposed alignment they showed me this afternoon would destroy the very fences my apprentice and I were building this afternoon, and restrict my access to half of my pasture during construction. Yes, that's a good observation. I'm not IN the City, so why do they want to put a water line here? Do they even have the right to, if I don't agree to it?

I don't have time for this. I need to be planting my crops, building my fences, managing the rotational grazing system to improve the pasture. I don't have time for meetings, phone calls, emails. Yet I've already spent fully 5 hours focused on this project that isn't mine--NOT counting the time I've spent talking to friends and family, writing this blog entry, or the other e-mails I've written tonight.

I need your help, in whatever way you can offer. Help getting my farm work done, to make up for time lost to meetings and phone calls. Someone to find me a cell phone with a good hands-free system that works well in the wind, so I can work and talk at the same time...and teach me how to use it. Expertise in various, ag economics, fencing, rotational grazing management, business issues, the value of local food production and sustainable farming. Little stuff, like printer paper and ink and gas money, that can nickel and dime me to death. Meals. Moral support. Prayers. Ideas for how to minimize my losses if I can't get them to take their pipeline somewhere else. Networking. Letters to the editor, to City staff, etc. if this becomes necessary.

Why did they decide my farm was the ideal location for their water main? Because on the map it looks "undeveloped"--i.e., not a lot to be damaged by bringing in a bunch of heavy equipment, therefore not a lot of restoration costs. No roads. No buildings.

In reality, the farm is a 12-acre ecological "machine" or "factory". Every part is interdependent with every other part. The number of sheep that I have require the full use of the pasture. Less pasture equals less sheep, unless I feed them expensive (and less nutritious) purchased feed...and then I can't market "pasture-fed lambs" any more. Fewer sheep doesn't mean less work and less profit, it means the same work and no profit because much of the labor is "fixed costs". it takes the same time to move the fence for 10 sheep as for 20, and a minimum 21-day rotation is still required to conrol parasites. Fewer sheep mean less waste hay mulch for the garden, hence purchased inputs, more labor or fewer crops.

If the sheep don't graze an area, it reverts quickly to woodland...mostly scrub elm. I'm still struggling to revive the pasture after the tenants overgrazed it, then failed to controll the elm trees.

My sheep operation is not something that can be temporarily moved to a remote location. I need to be there every moment I can during lambing. I need to tend them several times a day. I need to hear their voices if they're in trouble. I am milking some of them right now. I need the infrastructure of the house, the garage, the old barn, the new barn, the working chute, the loading ramp, the llama, the Border Collies. It's not a laptop, it's a mainframe.

Fewer sheep means I couldn't supply all my customers. Those customers will go somewhere else for lamb, and probably not come back. So when I rebuild the flock, I'll have to rebuild the customer base. Again. I am still rebuilding it from the fiasco of the tenants during my sabbatical.

The fences aren't "legos" that can be pulled part piece by piece...the farm's whole fencing system is a single system electrically. The high-tensile wire is stretched continuously around two sides; cutting a gap for construction equipment would require rebuilding hundreds of feet. To my knowledge, this is the only green-cote high-tensile woven wire/high tensile electric sheep fence in Douglas County or maybe even Kansas. I built it painstakingly with the help of consultants in Iowa. I don't think the Yellow Pages will turn up a fencing contractor with any experience in this specialty area.

This system and I have worked together for 12 years now. I could not be doing what I am doing right now--working off the farm, rebuilding the farm, and farming--if most of what I do on the farm wasn't established procedures that require little thought. Taking away half of the pasture for a season or more (because it takes more than one season to establish good pasture) would be the farm's equivalent of a broken arm or leg. First I would have to learn to compensate for the loss of its use, and function at a much lower level for a time. Then I would have to re-learn how to use it when it became available again.

I have long envisioned the farm as an ark. Partly because it's a huge project attempted by one quirky visionary person at the direction of God! But mostly because it's envisioned as a refuge for the natural community of life in the face of a wide array of environmental challenges. These many species can shelter here, and breed, and survive to repopulate the surrounding area if folks ever stop paving things and start growing trees and grasslands. So running a pipeline through the middle of the "ark" is like, well, running a pipe through the hull of a ship. It will be awfully hard to keep it afloat and repair it at the same time, meanwhile taking care of all those animals.

It's a discouraging prospect. Especially when I was just feeling that by the end of this season I really will finally be on top of a number of things that I've struggled with for the incomplete rotational grazing fences we are just now completing.

Thanks for all your support. I am creating and operating this farm for you, for our children and grandchildren and future generations. I am doing it for the wildlife that make it their home. But I can't do it alone. Your help will make it possible.

I can be contacted at, or by phone 785-979-6786, or by U.S. Postal Service at P.O. Box 1561, Lawrence, KS 66044.

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