Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 5 Book Report

Last night I finished reading chapter five of Gene Logsdon's book, "The Contrary Farmer". The chapter was simply titled, "Water Power", and was what I would consider a more philosophical (like the whole book) chapter than a practical chapter. But, it did bring out some good points to consider and Mr. Logsdon gave a big plug for living in the Midwest ... which made me happy!

The opening paragraph sums up the theme of the chapter:
"As an agronomist what plant nutrient is the most important, and you will be treated to a short course on nitrogen, phosphorous, potash, and a host of trace minerals necessary for plant growth. As a farmer that question and he will unhesitatingly answer: water."
Water is a very important part of your farm. It is important for your crops, it is important for you livestock, and one could argue that it is even important for you lifestyle (ponds, creeks, fishing, sitting and watching, etc.) Mr. Logsdon touches on all of those important things in this chapter along with touching on some ways for the "Contrary Farmer" to make money from their ponds, creeks, or marshes.

As I mentioned he makes a great plug for my homeland, the Midwest. He concludes that the reason America is such a great agricultural country is not because of anything we have done as people, rather it is a combination of a large amount of wonderful soil and just the right weather. It is like those two have combined in a perfect storm to create amazing farming potential. But, he admits that he often hears of people who say that the would rather farm in the West or the New England area. Mr. Logsdon presumes that this is because the Midwest is considered the corn belt and that it is not to be taken over by "cottage farmers", as he calls them. Well, I say take over the Midwest "contrary farmers". Let's make this perfect storm of land and weather work for us!

According to Mr. Logsdon water is a major thing to think about when you are choosing your farm. Is there too much water? Not enough water? What are you going to do with the extra water? Where are you going to get water if you need it? Those are all things that need to be thought through when you are purchasing land. He discusses the usefulness of tile in your fields and also the wisdom of just letting land go to wetland if there is no way tile can drain it out. That is one thing that the conventional attitude in the Midwest has done. We have tried to drain everything so we can plant corn and beans everywhere in perfectly straight lines, and then when the rains come we fret and worry about the flooded wetlands in our fields!

A couple of interesting things that he touches on that could be useful for the "cottage farmer" are the uses of wetland marshes and the importance of mulching. I have known the importance of mulching to help keep water in. In fact we tried to make sure our garden received plenty of mulch this year and we would like to do an even better job next year. Whether we are selling produce or just using it for ourselves the garden will be a very important part of our farm, so it is important that we make it as successful as possible.

But, the idea of using wetland marshes for income was something I hadn't thought through all the way. Of course I know that they can be beautiful things to look at with their diversity of plant and animal life, but Mr. Logsdon also throws out a couple ideas for making them profitable if you live in the right climate. Who new that you could grow cattails and sell the seed heads to fancy restaurants? Also you can collect the rhizomes and make flour from them. Of course you may have to create a market for that! Wild rice is another option if you live in the right climate. Maybe you couldn't raise enough to market, but enough to add to your families table would be a good thing. If have have spring fed ponds or creeks Mr. Logsdon tells about a "contrary farmer" he knew that made some side income from growing watercress. He goes on to mention a whole host of other ideas that could provide a possible side income or food for the families table: waterlilies, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, muskrats, mink, ducks, duckweed, peat bog products, milkweed, and even crayfish. As you can see there are quite a few possibilities ... you just need to think unconventionally!

I believe the overriding idea in this chapter is the importance of water for practical applications. But, Mr. Logsdon also writes about the beauties and wonders of water on the farm in general. Maybe his thoughts are best summed up with this quote, "Without a pond, a farm is sort of like a village without a church." I too enjoy living by the water and seeing the beauty of creation that it brings. Water provides so much life and enjoyment on the farm I can't imagine living anywhere in the country where it is scarce!


Yeoman said...

Logsdon's book is a great one. I'll have to dig my copy of it back out.

Likewise, Wendell Berry's books are must reads.

Xenophon said...

You neelcted chapter 4!!!

Anonymous said...

I have a book called "Alcohol Can Be A Gas", by David Blume. Blume calls for biofuel farms that provide alcohol fuel to the masses.

He describes the great potential of cattails for producing alcohol. For instance, with corn you can get about 275 gallons of alcohol per acre. But, with cattails, you can get from 7000 to 10000 gallons per acre!

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