F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Winter Wheat Experiment

My winter wheat is now fully headed out. I planted it September 9th last year. I also planted spelt, but it has not headed yet. My planting methods for grain are crude but effective. I tilled the ground as well as I could and then broadcast the seed by hand. My throwing arc is getting better and it really is not too difficult to get good coverage. After sowing, I set my tiller on the shallowest setting and tilled in the seed using my tiller's second gear. I like to till in second gear anyway as I think it lowers the risk of tiller sole (i.e. the hardpan you get 6-8 inches down when you till too much at the same depth), but going faster also makes for less footprints in the fresh soil. The spot where I have my wheat was newly tilled from sod last year, so there is quite a bit of new organic matter for the soil bacteria to munch on. There are also some spots of poor germination because of the low, wet spots. This is just a small plot, only 2500 square feet, and I only expect a bushel (60 pounds for wheat) out of this experiment. When I did spring wheat last year, harvesting was not a problem, using only a small sickle and tying up the grain into shocks. I pulled a wheelbarrow along as I cut and the wheelbarrow held about two shocks worth of grain. Tying up the shocks with a wheat stem worked well. Threshing by hand was a pain and I finally used a lawnmower to shred the shocks and I got a very low percent of cracked grain. I winnowed out the grain by hand using a house fan and pouring the grain back and forth between two containers. I am looking at getting an electric chipper/shredder for easier threshing. It is not necessary to bring the machine to the grain; it is only necessary to bring the grain to the machine. I already have a hand grinder and if this experiment is successful, I will have to get a pasta maker. Then we can have homegrown pesto on our homegrown pasta.

You too, can grow your own grain. This might become important in a year or two.


Dining With Michael Pollan

Toni and I regularly eat a late supper. She works long hours as a social worker and I am always "on" with farmwork, housework, computer work, etc. I also get stronger as twilight comes on, what the Old Norse called "kveldulfur" or "evening wolf." This is nothing to sneeze at, as I am nearing 60 and being tired in the middle of the day is a common occurrence. Anyway, last night KUOW, one of the Seattle radio stations, had a replay of Michael Pollan's talk in Seattle on January 12, 2009. Since I read his last three books and Toni and I are actively involved in the same proselytizing, we made supper and ate while listening to his talk. Our menu hit several points he made in his speech (basically a recap of his latest book, In Defense of Food). There was the red wine (the French paradox), fresh Brussels sprouts and boiled potatoes (eat mostly plants), grass-fed hamburgers (stay away from corn-fed beef), homemade whole wheat bread (do for yourself), and pumpkin pie (take a cue from the Native Americans and adapt it to your needs). A wonderful repast - the conversation and background were sparkling.

Okay, now to a single crux point. One of Pollan's rhetorical flourishes was to ask, "How do we change the western diet without changing western civilization?" The answer is, "We can't. Nor should we." Western civilization is one of the major problems in the world. Over the last 40 years, as a "dirty hippie," street radical, homeless ragamuffin, ski bum, circus ringmaster, medieval armor-maker, archaeologist, word processor, law school student, grad student, anthropology instructor and now sustainable farmer, there have been several constants in my worldview. One of these is that state-level societies are the real problem. Clan-based societies never really marshall enough resources to change the world in such a dramatic fashion as we have witnessed in the last 150 years. Only civilization could produce industrialism. A return to tribalism is now being identified as a key to the conflict in the Mideast and the greater Arab world. Obviously, there is a pushback against western civilization, as well as an implosion since it just doesn't work. Ancient civilizations required slaves and our modern civilizations are built upon the energy slave of petroleum products. This will not last and civilization itself seems doomed. So . . . Is this a bad thing? I didn't think so in the 60's and I don't think so now. We can hasten the demise of western civilization by not eating a western civilization diet. The idea of eating as a political act has been hammered to death over the years, but it still survives. Like tribal and clan culture, eating food (not food-like products) will survive the collapse of western civilization. Many people look for a seamless transition from our current troubles to a localized community. It's not likely, so amongst the joy of eating good food, we should keep our wits about us and try not to get hit by the debris of the crumbling western empires.

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