I mentioned in my first post in this series that we knew nothing about farming. This did not stop me from acquiring every homesteading book I could find. Before we moved onto the farm, I checked them out at the library. I practiced making cheese, making my own butter, and making yogurt at home. I know that these are not “farming” skills per se, but they felt like “homesteading” skills to me.
I read every Joel Salatin book I could get my hands on and my husband and I even went to hear him speak when he came to Portland. We went on one local farm tour to learn what a farmer who had apprenticed under Joel Salatin was doing on his farm. Before we purchased our farm–put down our hard-earned cash on a downpayment–this is pretty much all of the education we had.
I really don’t advise that you follow in our footsteps!
Right here–I’m already going to get into my Advice for Wanna-Be Farmers. Learn, learn, learn! Visit many farms! Help farmers butcher chickens, care for an orchard, milk a cow–do whatever you can!
After we purchased our farm, we did try to learn more. We paid some people who had raised pastured chickens for a few years to train us how to use a plucker and a scalder. Guys, we should have done this in the beginning, before paying for a farm. It is difficult to learn and do all at once. There are only so many hours in the day, and you can only learn so much while you’re trying to raise animals and keep them alive.
Most jobs require training before you get started…
I consider farming to be the most important job on the planet after being a parent. Nourishing the world is kind of a big deal! Doctors and nurses (good ones) might be 3rd on my list of most important jobs. Think about how many years a doctor goes to school! I don’t even know for sure anymore, but is it something like 7 years? Maybe you know…I suggest wanna-be farmers take at least a full year, or maybe several to learn this oh-so-important job that they are about to take on.
Learning from books (alone) can be expensive…and devastating
We learned in a book that it’s good to put chickens in an orchard, because they will eat the bugs and then there won’t be a need for spray. GREAT! We wanted to grow an orchard on our farm, and we wanted to do things as organically as possible. We bought 14 fruit trees and planted them. We were so excited! We set up a perfect space for them and thought carefully about where each tree would go. We had apples, and cherries, and pears and plums. YUM! We put up electric netted fencing around the new baby orchard we had set up, and then put our bug-eating laying hens inside. Guess what they did? In a matter of DAYS they destroyed our brand new trees. We had no idea that chickens love to eat the bark right off of the trees. They were especially fond of cherry bark, and totally killed our brand new trees. We didn’t know that we needed to protect the bottom of the trees, or just maybe let the trees grow up a bit before we let our chickens have at ’em. Had we learned this information from a farmer instead of from books, maybe we would have avoided this expensive mistake.
Books are GREAT, but they aren’t everything
My Dad used to say “there’s book knowledge, and there’s life knowledge.” I thought this came from the fact that he didn’t go to college, and yet still knows a lot about a lot of things. I did go to college, and majored in English, where I read a ton of books. I felt like that knowledge was pretty valuable in my life. I believe that books are valuable resources and tools to capture so many great ideas, facts, and methods. Having books on hand as resources is incredibly important! And yet, when it comes to farming, my Dad was right: “there’s book knowledge, and there’s life knowledge.” Guys, to be a farmer you need that life knowledge. There are so many details about farming that you have to learn by seeing, touching, doing, and by talking to the people who have been doing it for years and who have oh-so-much experience. One more thing to note is that I found most farming books to be shallow and not detailed enough to really teach a beginner how to farm. I found myself wanting more information, and I felt frustrated that they seemed to assume prior knowledge. So, books are good, to an extent–but mostly? Learn from farmers, and from working along side of them.
Please trust me on this one, guys. I know how easy it is to become excited at the thought of owning your very own land. I know all of the ways that you can convince yourself that RIGHT NOW is the perfect time to buy a farm. Here are some of the reasons that I came up with in my own mind right before we bought our farm:
The market is good for selling our house RIGHT NOW, and our home value might drop tomorrow!
The farm that we want is bank owned and a good deal RIGHT NOW, and tomorrow there might not be another deal like this.
Our kids are getting “older” (8, 7, 6, 2) and are going to be used to living a neighborhood if we don’t move to a farm RIGHT NOW!
Our kids are getting “older” and I want their childhood memories to be ON A FARM, so we have to move RIGHT NOW!
I don’t like our city’s public water supply (in that particular city it was coming from a river which another town’s sewage was being dumped into…Oh yes…SO healthy…!). We need to move RIGHT NOW to be able to live on well water!
Can you see yourself thinking up reasons to move onto a farm today, tomorrow, or quite possibly next Tuesday?
Here’s the thing: when you move onto a farm, and you own it, the burden is real. The burden of debt is real (assuming you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to place down on a property, debt-free). The burden of ownership and maintenance is real. The burden of having to make this farming life work or else is real. Imagine what the “or else” might be with me for a minute. Or else…you’ll go hungry? Lose your farm and all of the equity you poured into it? People will say “I told you so”? What is the “or else” for you?
When we bought our farm, we knew nothing.
I really mean nothing. My husband grew up on a very small piece of land where his family ran a small grocery store with homemade donuts and ice cream. They had 1 cow, and at one time, a goose his dad wrote off as the “alarm system” for the store. My husband didn’t learn how to butcher animals, or tend to a garden, or how to manage a bunch of baby chicks on that small piece of property. He was not prepared to be a farmer.
I grew up in a neighborhood with a swimming pool filling most of our backyard, watching Little House on the Prairie nearly every day after school. As entertaining as Little House was, it did not prepare me, at all, to farm like Ma and Pa Ingalls did. The only pets I had as a kid were a couple of cats (over time), a bird, a mixed breed dog named Buddy who pushed me into our swimming pool one time, and a tiny Pomeranian named Taz. None of those animals required a brooder, heat lamps or electric fencing. I grew a couple of tomato plants with my mom one summer in high school, and that was the extent of my entire gardening experience. I was not prepared to be a farmer.
The problems with learning how to farm after buying a farm:
When you finally buy your farm, you will want to dive in and do it all! You’ve dreamed of raising chickens, and ducks, and geese, right? Ok! Search Craigslist, or the hatchery websites, and buy your birds! But….Do you know what to do with them? Do you have any idea?
And when it comes time to cut the hay, because the field is tall and you can’t even find your kids in the giant grass…or the baby cow that escaped…do you know what equipment you will need, how much it costs, and how to approach the job? Do you know the right time to cut the hay, and how many times people cut hay in your area? Do you know how to store hay?
Have you ever built a fence? What about electric fencing? Do you know how to build multiple types of fencing, in case one type does not work for your animals? You might need to build a new fence quickly in order to contain livestock, and you won’t have time to study how to build each type in the moment.
What will you do when your baby calf chooses not to nurse and keeps escaping your fencing? Do you know how to encourage it to drink its’ mother’s milk? And if it won’t, do you know what you will feed it, where you will get it, and how you will go about it?
Do you know anything about your local invasive weeds and what to do about them? We had blackberries and tansy weeds all over our farm. Tansy can kill livestock and an over-abundance of blackberry bushes are a waste of good farm land. We didn’t have a clue how to get rid of Tansy or acres of blackberries.
When it comes to butchering your livestock, do you know how to do it? Do you know what equipment you will need? Do you know other people who will do it if you cannot? And, do you know the right time to butcher the animals? How will you find out how much a pig weighs, or if your pastured poultry is large enough to butcher?
These are just a few examples. Trust me, there are oh-so-many more I could share with you!!! When I say that the learning curve was steep on our farm, I am not joking. We moved onto the farm, dove in to farming, and had to learn every single bit of it as we went along. It was tough. And expensive.
If you don’t know how to do things correctly or in the right timing, ultimately, it will cost you more money. It will also make you feel like a failure, as we did many times.
My Advice for Wanna-Be Farmers:
Learn, learn, learn!!! Get to know your local farmers and help them. Farmers need help! Most farmers will welcome someone wanting to come help them. Ask if you can come on butchering day and learn the tricks. Ask questions. Weed their garden. Feed their pigs, House/Farm sit for them while they take a break away from the farm. Feed their chickens and learn to milk their cows.
Take any agricultural classes you can take at your local colleges. Attend farming clubs. Near our home there is a monthly club for people who raise bees. Attend these kinds of clubs and get to know the people who are already doing what you want to do. Learn how to trim an orchard, how to extract honey from a bee hive, how to clean a chicken coop, etc. Absorb as much as you can before you invest any money into farming on your own.
You might be saying, as I did, back then: but I don’t have time to go help other farmers right now. If you are saying that, you probably do not have time to be a farmer, and you should not buy a farm. If the lifestyle of farming is important to you, make time. Drop your extra activities, find a different job that takes up less of your time, and go help a farmer.
After you have spent quite a bit of time helping other farmers (at least a year or two), before you buy a farm: consider renting a farm. I know that renting is not as appealing as buying, but please trust me. I’ll touch on this more as this series continues.
It is commonly known that what a pregnant mother eats can impact her growing baby. What we don’t often consider is the nutrition the expectant mother had as a child–and what her parents and grandparents ate before her. Do these foods impact the health of her unborn child? What about that child’s future children? If Dr. Francis Pottenger’s Cat study applies to humans, then yes, what the generations before us ate matters when considering the health of our children and grandchildren.
When I first heard about Pottenger’s Cats, honestly, I wasn’t all that interested. I care about nutrition and studies in nutrition, I just don’t care about cats that much. I’m not sure when that started, as I used to have my very own Himalayan mix cat named Twyla when I was in high school. Maybe it was when my mother-in-law decided to raise and breed Norwegian Forest Cats and added a “cattery” onto her home. She loved her cats…and they smelled. When I think about Dr. Pottenger’s study of 900 (!) cats, I can’t help but remember that smell. Regardless of the smell, the study he did with cats is quite fascinating–and I think you will agree.
Dr. Pottenger’s study came about quite by accident, as he was originally studying the cats to learn more about Tuberculosis sufferers. He had his cats on a cooked meat diet, and when he was given so many cats that he couldn’t keep them all fed, he got raw meat scraps from a local butcher. He noticed improved health, decreased mortality, and shinier coats in the cats that were fed raw meat.
The cats were then divided into groups. Each group was given the same base diet for ⅓ of their total consumption. This base diet included raw meat, viscera, bones, raw milk and cod liver oil. The other ⅔ of the cats’ diet depended on which group they were in. The six different groups were fed either: raw meat, cooked meat, raw milk, pasteurized milk, evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk. Dr. Pottenger followed these cats for over 10 years and observed multiple generations.
The second and third generations suffered the most…
The first generation fed on these diets had some differences, but the greatest differences were seen in the second generation and third generations. Dr. Pottenger saw differences in the cats’ skulls, size, coats, tendency towards asthma, gingivitis, ocular issues, etc. The cats who were fed evaporated milk had “chronic passive congestion of the liver” and “gaseous distention of the small intestine.” The cats who were in the worst state were fed sweetened, condensed milk. These days, this diet might seem like torture to feed a cat–and yet, consider the corn syrup-laden foods that are fed to children every day in America. These cats had enlarged spleens, no intestinal tone, engorgement of the uterus, extremely poor quality fur, etc. I think it is interesting to note that Dr. Pottenger observed social changes in the cats as well. How many kids do we know who are hyperactive or who don’t seem to understand social cues? Diet plays such an immense role in these kids’ lives.
Infertility….from poor nutrition?
The most depressing part of all of this, to me, is that the third generation of the cats who were fed poor quality diets could not reproduce and repeatedly birthed stillborn babies. I personally know too many women who have faced infertility and the immense tragedy of giving birth to a stillborn baby. I had my babies too early (one at 26 weeks), and wish I had understood these things so much earlier. If Dr. Pottenger’s work with cats applies to humans, and I believe it does, our nutrition, and the nutrition of our parents and grandparents, plays such a significant role in our health, the health of our children, and our ability to even have healthy children.
Reversing the damage…
The good news about Pottenger’s study is that he was able to restore health in the cats by feeding them proper nutrition. For the cats, this meant that the majority of their diet was from raw meat or milk. Humans are not identical to cats, and I am not proposing that humans take up a carnivorous raw meat diet. I think it is important that as humans, we eat optimally, and include plenty of grass-fed, pastured meat and dairy in our diet, a healthy amount of saturated fat, and carbohydrates from colorful vegetables. It took 4 generations to completely reverse the effects of poor nutrition in Pottenger’s cats! We can read this and give up, because it feels hopeless. OR, we can determine to change things for our progeny today, by eating proper nutrition and training our children to do the same. This is what I intend to do with the information from Pottenger’s cat study. Overall, despite the cat smell I remembered as I learned about Dr. Pottenger and his 900 felines, I learned a lot, and I intend to make changes in my life based on his studies and to encourage others to do the same.
Does it matter anymore, if you’ve already had children?
You might be wondering if it really matters anymore, if you are past child-bearing age? Who cares what you eat now, right? You won’t be producing any more children or grandchildren. I considered this argument, because I am 40 years old and I’ve already had my children. Here’s what I decided: my kids watch what I eat. My grandchildren, someday, will watch what I eat. Our food, our recipes, they become a part of who we are as a family. Food makes up the family culture in so many ways. What are our holiday traditions? What do we pack when we’re eating on the road? What smells are coming out of our kitchen & will remind them of home when they are older? Even though I will not have any more children (in my womb, anyways–maybe through adoption!), my choices today still impact future generations by the examples I set.
Dear older people who say that this “gluten free” thing and all of the food allergies are “Just a Fad”
I get where you’re coming from. People in your generation didn’t have these issues, so you can’t even comprehend why my generation needs to avoid gluten & many other foods. Much like Pottenger’s cats did not have many issues in the first generation, you did not suffer from the refined flours and sugars and packaged foods you ate. However, the second and third generation, fed the same junky diets, suffered immense health consequences. We are those second and third generations of what you ate–and we followed in your footsteps. We ate the packaged food, the junk food, and oh-so-much sugar compared to the generations before you. Just like you did. This–these food allergies–the gluten intolerance–they’re real, and they’re because of these generational choices. (And increased environmental toxins, but let’s not get into that right now). Please be kind to younger people, and do not call eating gluten-free “a fad.” It is insulting and rude to call it a fad. These younger generations are plagued with so many more health issues than you or your peers probably faced, and all they (we) are trying to do is learn how to live a healthy, optimal life. Can you join us, encourage us, and recognize where our health issues came from? <3
How will this knowledge change you & the way you choose to eat?