Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reading Materials

Before we started the farm, Jenn and I did a lot of dreaming about how it would look for us to be farmers, and how exactly we would go about it. As such, we read a lot of books and magazines that are dedicated to the type of farming we dreamt of, that being, small family farms. When we started looking for materials, we were surprised. There is a lot of literature dedicated to the vocation of small or family farming. At first, we picked up a lot of books at our local libraries that were pretty antiquated, but still address the critical issue – our dreams. One such book was “Five Acres and Independence” by M.G. Kains. We rarely refer to it now, but it was a great starter book. We gleaned a lot of good information about all kinds of livestock from the “Storey” guides, which are advertized in nearly every farming, homesteading, or specialty magazine ( . Also, there is a magazine called “Countryside and Small Stock Journal” ( that is always loaded with interesting ideas, though more from an “individualistic” homesteaders point of view than that of a CSA or community perspective.
When we visited our first CSA farm, and asked if there was any good literature that they could recommend, they insisted that “You Can Farm” by the legendary Joel Salatin would be the most inspiring book we could read. Inspiring does not necessarily translate in “how to” but it certainly gets one started in the confidence department. After reading Salatin’s story of success, you will feel that successful small farming is within your reach. Salatin has written numerous other books, he writes for Stockman Grass Journal, and does numerous workshops around the nation. His farm, Polyface, is also open to visitors. In fact, if you google Salatin, you will see that he is the author of many articles and books dedicated to issues ranging from starting your own farm to quasi-rants against government regulation. All of his work contains a lot of truth, and it is not a truth that he maintains between the lines. Sometimes, he can be a little tough to swallow for just that reason.
For basic backyard poultry, and more, find a copy of Andy Lee’s and Pat Foreman’s “Chicken Tractor: A Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil.” Even Salatin refers to this book as a classic in small farming “howtoitedness.” Undoubtedly, if you want to start with layer hens or meat chickens, there is an overwhelming amount of literature available, most all of it useful, and available through library systems.
As for magazines, other than Countryside, we read an occasional issue of Stockman Grass Farmer which has PDF’s available at, as well as a plethora of small farm and grazier related books for sale. SGF is highly informative, but for our needs, a little advanced, and targeted toward larger scale operations.
I highly recommend “Farming Magazine.” Jenn and I ran across our first issue of this magazine while attending Ohio Yearly Meeting in Barnseville, OH. We fell in love with it, as it is dedicated to exactly the same kind of farming and lifestyle that our family is. We forgot about it for a short time, then googled it and asked the publisher for a sample copy. We then felt we wanted a subscription, but put it off until yesterday, when we were visiting with some Amish friends. They also had a subscription, and loaned us a copy. I ordered our subscription today. It has articles from Gene Logsdon (google his name for some great titles), and has had many contributions from Wendell Berry. It is an Amish publication, but is not overwhelmingly (or even marginally) religious. It is just very simple, very well written, and very in-tune with those who see farming as a vocation. In fact, most every title I mentioned in this blog views farming as a family centered vocation, just as Jenn and I do. Find out more about “Farming Magazine” by getting basic information from a basic website,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sowing Pasture

We have received our first income for the year, having sold three shares at this point, and the investments have allowed us to begin building toward the season. The first task was to build a brooder for the chicks we will be raising this year. As mentioned before, we have been brooding some of the chicks in Rosa and Micah’s bedroom. You can imagine the troubles created by that arrangement. So, we built a brooder out of wood and hardware mesh. It will be strong enough to keep cats and raccoons from stealing the chicks, and has taller sides to keep the breeze out. We can now start our chicks outside in the garage.
We also purchased pasture seed, which we plan to sown as soon as the winter thaw comes around. We were able to get a locally produced mixture from a small area business. If anyone is interested in sowing pasture, this is what we have found – shop around. Of course, Tractor Supply Company had the most inexpensive mix, but that store is not locally owned, and they don’t have mix in stock until spring. Many seed specialist businesses, whether locally owned or not, are really very expensive. We called the local cooperative as well. They wanted $225 for a fifty pound bag of standard mix. And, last season, when we called a family own seed business I Zeeland, when I asked for an inexpensive pasture mix, I was laughed at for having “crazy ideas” about how pasture should be grown. The dealer also informed me that fifty pounds of pasture seed would cost us $270. This season, we went to Rhino Seed in Bradley, just up the road, and received our fifty pounds for $122. Serendipity baby!
We have money in our account to build the new chicken tractors for the year. This season, we will use PVC pipe instead of wood. I don’t know if it will be less expensive (probably not), but they should last longer. The wooden tractors we made last season, will do well to last one more year.
As an experiment, Jenn and the kids have borrowed an incubator, and placed some of our Americauna eggs into it, hoping they will hatch around the 11th. Of course, Jenn will be in Mexico then, so I will be stuck with the experiment. Fortunately, we gained pretty valuable experience a few months ago after a broody hen hatched a few for us and we had to take over their care.
So long for now, and consider purchasing a share for the 2010 season.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January means it's time to start farming

Now it is January, and we are beginning to get excited about getting things going around the farm. We have asked a few folks to serve as board members, as we are going to submit paper work in order to gain Michigan non-profit status. This status won’t mean very much for this year’s work, but it may be important a few years down the road when we begin to expand and adjust our goals to meet more need in our community.
After the papers are filed, Jenn and I will suggest a share price, which right now looks to be about $425 for the whole season. We will provide eggs every two weeks, 60 pounds of pork, six chickens, and hopefully, new for this year, turkeys. We are hoping to sell twenty shares this season, an increase over the thirteen we sold last season.
What needs to be done in January, or , what we hope to accomplish if we get some early shares sold, is to make our new chicken tractors (a new design for this season), construct a brooder, and purchase seed in time to plant new pasture during the January thaw.
One of the things we have already done is to file a DBA (doing business as) form with Allegan County. This means that you will be able to write checks to Sandhill CSA as well as to Scot or Jenn. Last year, we had some problem cashing a few checks because of our failure to register as a business. What all of this means, is, we are a legitimate farming enterprise in the eyes of the state, and perhaps, more legitimate to potential shareholders who might be leery of writing a check to a person instead of a business.
As a point of interest, I thought I’d share some of the major points of our non-profit plans with you, so you get an idea of what direction we are presently taking the farm. These are the suggestions we will be taking to a board when it is established:

Article II
The purpose or purposes for which the corporation is organized
A. To foster strong relationships between urban and rural communities through non-profit community farming and healthy food.
B. To educate diverse populations about the importance of locally grown food, family farms, and personal relationships to the stability of local economies and healthy communities.
C. To develop a not for profit breeding program for heritage breed livestock.
D. To educate interested adults and children about the intricacies of micro-farming, and livestock and pasture management.
E. To provide a percentage of Sandhill CSA harvest to low income families or shelters.

Thanks for reading. Now that the holidays have past (The Quakers are not supposed to celebrate holidays), we will begin the work of preparation and be updating you all on the progress we are making as we draw closer to the fun of the farming season.