Friday, October 31, 2008

More on the Farm Layout

Yesterday I asked for some advice and thoughts on building types. We are looking at the possibility of putting up a shed this fall and I'm having a tough time wading through the available options. So, I thought that today I would confuse the matter all the more and discuss farm layout ... in particular our farm layout and our thoughts behind what we are doing. With that in mind I put together this wonderful (just kidding) layout with the powerful tools included in Microsoft Word. First let me give you a quick run down of everything and then I share some of my thoughts.

Most things in the picture are pretty self-explanatory, but here are some specifics. The house faces the south and has a large sliding door that opens to a small storage area on the west side (there is actually a mudroom on the east side I forgot). The garden is positioned so that it can have some good morning sun and still be close to the house (the window above the sink looks out over it.) Just to the south of the "proposed fence" the land starts to slope away to the south and the carries on to the "future house?" location (we would have a walkout basement). The electric transformer is an immovable object, but there is enough room to drive around it. With the proposed spots the buildings would be open to the south.

Spot #1: This location is relatively flat and probably would require any grading before building. The upsides would be that it is close to our "future house" and that it would be a bit further from the road. The downsides are that it is a long ways from water at the moment and it would be difficult and expensive to build a drive to it at the moment. Ideally if we built there we would put a drive behind the house to get to it because we would like to leave the front of the house open for a yard. Going behind the house would me quite a bit of gravel and if we ever did build the "future house" would basically become obsolete because we would then just continue our current drive to the "future house".

Spot #2: This location has a bit of a slop to the north and slightly east. It isn't really steep at this point, but it would require some grading ... especially if we went with a carport or carport barn style structure. The slope along with the fact that it would be quite a distance from the "future house" are probably the biggest downsides to this location. The upsides would be that it wouldn't take very much rock to have a drive to it making it easier to get things in and out in mucky conditions and it is close to the water.

Spot #3: This one is kind of a compromise between the two (and it is literally between the two). While it is a bit further from water that #2 it is closer than #1. Plus, it is about as close as you can get to our electrical stuff (any idea of which would be less expensive to run, water line or power line underground?). The land here is relatively flat and wouldn't require much grading, but it might need a slight amount of leveling on the east side. The good things would be that it compacts our farm the most so we have a close walk to everything, it would take just a short drive extension, and if we did go with the "future house" it would be relatively close considering the fact we would turn our current house into some sort of storage/store/whatever.

There are a few factors that we realistically have to think about, but one big factor. The biggest thing is that "future house". That is something that would be way ... way ... way down the road. I'm talking 20 years or more most likely so at that point we might have had the time to build other buildings in different places for different reasons.

Finally, here are some of my thoughts on farm layout. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments and of course your opinion on which spot you like for a building.
  • There is something to be said about having your out buildings close to the house. The closer they are to the house the less you have to travel to do chores. Also, the proximity to an existing water hydrant is a good thing.
  • Arranging buildings with weather in mind is always import, especially on the top of the hill. We are looking at open front buildings (all three of our options) and it just makes sense to have them open to the south if you are going to have an opening.
  • We have 26 acres of pasture ground on our farm. The more we spread our buildings out, the less land we have for livestock. I want to be very intentional about our layout so that we don't waste land. Whichever location we choose for this building we will be utilizing the other area for grazing ... not for yard!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What to Do ... What to Do ...

For a little while now we have been debating shelters. Of course there is still plenty of work to do with our own house, but we are also beginning to think about some sort of barn or shed. With that in mind I have been doing a bit of research about what is out there and what prices may be. Basically we have come up with three options (building our own from materials on the farm is a fourth option, but not feasible this year). Option number one is to have another post frame building built. Option two is to have a three-bay barn built that is made from the same materials that you see the steel carports made from. And, option three is to just build a carport.

I think it is fairly obvious that the post-frame building would be the most substantial. But, that also means that it would be the most expensive. If we were to go this route we wouldn't be able to get as many square feet under roof for the amount of money we are able to spend this year, but it might be better for us in the long run. Our design for a post frame building would just be a plain three-sided shed open to the south. We could use it for hay, equipment, and to run animals in if there is one that needs some attention.

The second option is a three-bay carport barn. This is basically a free-standing building anchored to the ground with mobile home anchors that twist in. These buildings are built from 16 gauge steel for the frame and 29 gauge steel for the siding and roof (this is the same as our house). The building we are looking at would have a 14 foot wide bay in the middle flanked by 10 foot bays on either side. Also, the wall height in the middle bay would be 12 foot high. For about 6,000 dollars we could get 1,000 feet or so under roof.

Finally, we could go basic and just have a carport put up (something like 18x21). Of course this wouldn't be able to hold very much, but it would go up quickly (the same as the barn) and not cost quite as much. If we went this route then we would probably need to build something next summer. Of course we could always use this somewhere else because it would be portable I think.

So, what do you think? Go with option one that will give us a smaller building, but it will probably be pretty sound. Do option number two that will give us room to grow into and take away the need to build right away next year (I'm not sure about the durability of this ... it could be great). Or, just do the third option and go with the carport. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Follow Up on Yesterdays Post...

Yesterday I mentioned an article from the New Farm website and threw out a few quotes that I found interesting after one quick read (I didn't have much time for a post yesterday ... so I just threw that up). If you didn't have a chance to read the article I would encourage you to do so by clicking on the link above. But, I also said that I would take some time to day to share a few thoughts that I had after the article.

The folks at New Farm asked one of their interns (who worked in the communications department) what it might be like if she and another English major (like herself) were asked to start an organic farm. It seems that they told her that she would start with $10,000, internet access, five acres, and the friend. What followed was her thoughts on whether or not they could make it ... in a nut shell she felt that it would be tough to do and probably take several years of failure to make a profit (something Rich addressed in the comments yesterday).

The author said,
"I can see that farming is a huge undertaking, and I simply don't possess the skills or knowledge to pull it off. Interested as I may be in the concept of organic farming and feeding people, the scope of work that would be required by such a mammoth task would be too daunting."
I have often said (I have heard it lots of places) that you have time for what you want to have time for and money for what you want to have money for. For example people who complain about never having enough time find the time to watch plenty of TV, or people that worry about their lack of money somehow can find a way to have a few cell phones, internet, satellite TV, and much more. To an extent if you want it you will find a way to have it.

Now, I'm not saying that is true with everything because I'll never be a starting shortstop for the New York Yankees (something I would like), but it is often the case. When it comes to farming I think it is something that is obtainable. Of course you have to have certain abilities and there will always be people that are just GREAT farmers, but if you have the passionate desire to pursue a life in farming I think it can be done ... no matter how daunting or mammoth the task may be.

I do believe that the author was right on when she talked about how she would go about things if this was something she was going to do. She mentioned that she would read as much as possible, try to learn from others doing what she wants to do, find classes and other educational resources to help, and learn from the mistakes. That is a lot of what we are doing as we continue our journey into the life of beginning farmers/home builders/everything else.

One last thing... Up in the introduction to the article the editor's note says,
"Her things-to-learn list and honest assessment shows the wisdom of a prudent person recognizing that this is one undertaking where experience and confidence are the foundation for being able to use even the best information and financial incentive."
I think that is a very true statement ... as long as we understand that experience and confidence can be cultivated. I have life experiences that lead me to believe that I can tackle tough problems and think on my feet. Those may not be farming experiences, but they can help me as I grow into farming. Also, I have confidence that I can learn and can succeed if I am willing to sacrifice, work hard, and be humble.

I agree that becoming a beginning farmer is a very tough "row to hoe", but I don't think that means it is impossible. At least I hope it isn't impossible...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Farming Isn't That Easy...

Here is an article I found on the New Farm Website titled, "Too Tough a Row to Hoe". It was written by an intern working at the Rodale Institute and I think is rather eye opening. I don't really have time to tackle it all today (farming and working really is time consuming), but I wanted to throw out the article for you to read if you are interested and then compose some of my thoughts for tomorrow. I really do think though that this article and what it has made me think about is really the core of "The Beginning Farmer" blog. So, here are a few quotes from the article that really stuck out for me. Check them out, check out the article, and let me know what you think...
  • "So I can’t really fathom the struggle I would go through if you ordered me to start an organic farm with five acres, $10,000, internet access and a fellow English major for a partner. I can see that farming is a huge undertaking, and I simply don’t possess the skills or knowledge to pull it off."
  • "I would have to make a transition from student life in the academic world to that of a farmer facing complex decisions that determined income."
  • "I would need to learn everything from scratch, from when to plant crops to figuring out a crop rotation to what equipment I would need to buy."
  • "Studying is all very well but it can only take you so far. The rest you have to figure out for yourself, on your land, asking new questions when new thing come up. My guess is that even if I worked hard and most things went as well as could be expected, it would be several years of failures before my small organic farm saw any success."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Just In Case You Didn't Hear...

Okay, just in case you didn't see it on my wife's blog or in the comments section of the last post here is a link to the little piece from this weekend. It is kind of an interesting deal because I suspect I spent about an hour talking, and then the recording guy probably spent another 30 minutes just getting sound. After all of that it was condensed and stitched together into the few minutes that you can listen to online. So, the big question is how many people listened to my rambling about the chicken in the muddy pigpen or heard me trying to keep our dog Sophie from eating the microphone...

If you haven't had a chance to listen and would like to just take THIS LINK and then click on the little player above my picture...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Something for Those that Direct Market

Thanks to the folks over at Farmers' Markets Today magazine I am learning lots of great things. One of the latest things that I have found browsing through the pages of the September/October issue is a short column about an online publication called, "Cultivating the Web", from It looks like a wonderful resource for small farmers who are looking to expand their markets, build relationships with their customers, and connect with new potential buyers.

The entire publication is online in the from of a .pdf file that you read on your computer. I should also point out that it even loaded fairly well on my non-high speed internet. This neat tool seems to cover everything from blogs to Flickr and of course the old stand-by ... e-mail! I haven't had a lot of time to read the entire thing yet, but if you have a rainy day this weekend (or sometime in the future) I encourage you to check this out.

Friday, October 24, 2008

National Public Radio?

Okay, just let me say upfront that I'm not usually one to toot my own horn, and normally I probably wouldn't mention this until after I really know that it happens... But, there is a possibility that I will be on the National Public Radio show "Weekend America" this Saturday. Like I said, normally I would just like to wait and make sure that it shows up and then just send a link to where you can listen online, but now that we are living the life of "slightly faster than dial-up" internet I realize that listening online isn't really an option for every one.

Here is the deal. Weekend American is a show that is carried by quite a few public radio stations across the country, in fact you can see if there is a station near you by checking out this list (notice not many stations in Iowa...). I don't know exactly when I'll be on, if I'm even on at all, but I do know that I spent some time recording an interview earlier this week and had to send in a picture.

The short interview will include some "sound bites" from the farm and a bit of me talking about farming, faith, and the upcoming election. But, really I'm not sure what they will pick out because we talked for quite awhile and I believe they are going to condense it down to just a few minutes. Hopefully it is a neat little deal...

So, there is your heads up... If it really happens I'll post a link whenever it is available. In fact I'll probably have to listen online because I don't think I'll be able to pull in a station at the farm!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Few Thoughts on "Harris on the Pig"

Whenever my wife sees this book she has to make some comment about "Harris" and why he shouldn't be on a pig ... but, I digress! This really is a book that I have throughly enjoyed reading, probably because it was originally published in 1883. Old books in my opinion are great, and in many cases better than things that are being written now ... of course we are still learning lots of great stuff these days that is being written about when it comes to agriculture... What I'm trying to say though is that it is a really good book, and if you haven't checked it out yet you should.

Here are a few things I have especially enjoyed in the last couple weeks of reading:
  • There is a great chapter discussing the construction and design of pig pens and piggeries. Although I may not be up to building anything like the book suggests for our pastured pigs I do love the suggestions about construction, layout, and even materials. It is also great to see the images they have included of the different layouts and the reasons for the designs.
  • The various discussions and dissections of the different feeding experiments is priceless information. Although the scientific procedures of the day may not be quite as stringent as today the various feeding trials reported on in the book are great and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to feeding. I would have to say that it really made me want to look beyond the "normal" pig ration to see what else is available in my area.
  • One last thing that has been especially informational were the chapters on different breeds. Mr. Harris broke the chapters down into sections on American Breeds and British Breeds. I think it was very helpful to read a little bit about the development of certain breeds and what specific things they were going for in those breeds. This is great information to have today when you are selecting pigs.
I know a few others who read this blog have read the book, so I would be interested in hearing some other thoughts on the book as well. Are there anythings in particular that you really took away from the book or enjoyed?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Combination CSA Subscriptions

Even though we aren't at a place where we could support supplying a CSA with meat (both in production volume and storage capabilities) I am becoming increasingly interested in the idea of joining with other farms to create a CSA subscription that includes vegetables, fruits, herbs, eggs, beef, pork, poultry, and more. It just seems like it would be a great thing for all of the farmers involved and for the consumers. This way people could pick up a box of food that includes much of what they need for a diverse number of dishes. They could have pork one night, beef the next, a veggie meal following that, and even mix in some poultry. The possibilities are endless!

But, what really got me thinking about all this was the article I read about Marin Sun Farms from California, the subsequent comment on that post from "The Farmers", and now an article that I read in "Farmers' Markets Today" (FMT) magazine (that newish publication I think you should check out).

The article in FMT talks about a group CSA in the Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh area of North Carolina. This CSA is set up so that the consumers have a choice of participating in any combination of the three options they offer. You can purchase a produce share, a meat share, and a dairy share for various prices and then combine them in any way you would like.

Of course I have no practical working experience with this, but in my mind it could be a good marketing tool for the different farms involved because it will expose them to new potential customers and in turn open up new sales. I could also be a great way to sell some of the things that you seem to have a surplus of (that is what the Marin Sun Farms article was about).

I would love to hear any more thoughts on this subject if you have any. Or if you have any experience about how it has or hasn't worked let us know!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Small Farm, Diverse Farm, and Working Farm...

Sorry for the late post, but I was busy wrapping up some loose ends with our old house today and getting the last things off of the property. I don't have much time for a full on post today, but encourage you to check out the Epi-Log later today for a new post and if that isn't enough for you then you need to check out this article from Sustainable Farmer:

"Neil Kentner banks on historic breeds to sustain Wynsmoor Manor"

They have a nice article, a video, and some good links!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is Crop Ground the Next Shoe to Fall?

That is actually a topic that I have been wondering about lately (especially sense I purchased land towards the top ... although ours isn't good row crop ground). Yesterday I was checking out Allan Nation's blog and ran across his thoughts on the farmland price run up and the possible run down. Take the link above and scroll down to the post titled, "Is Farmland the Next Asset to Collapse?" from October, 13th.

Basically Mr. Nation writes that the cash rent will actually be the first to go because of the falling grain prices (he mentions $3.50 and $8.00 for corn and beans respectively at the moment, which is about or slightly less than the farmers would get for selling right now). If those lower prices hold (really no telling what it will do, but if the markets stay down than they might also) then it is going to make it a little difficult at times to pay the current cash rent prices with the income you make from an acre of corn/beans.

Mr. Nation theorizes that then we could see a drop in land prices in around 2010 or 2011... I'm not sure where I land on all of this, but I know that I have talked with quite a few people about it from time to time trying to get a handle on the subject. On one hand many of the farmers that I talk with don't think there will be quite the bubble burst as there was in the 80's farm crisis because there is a bit more capital behind some of the purchases today. But, on the other hand there is beginning to be a sense that $8,000 an acre and up for crop land might be a little too high in the long run.

I know what I would like to see happen ... I wouldn't mind seeing things just kind of hold steady and then bottom out in about ten years. That would give us some time to gain a little equity and savings and then swipe up a little more land when the price is right! But, I'm not holding my breath on that one :)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Baby Beef and Dexters...

I wrote a post for the Epi-Log that will go up later this morning about Marin Sun Farms in California. The cool thing was that they have a meat CSA that helps them do a better job of selling the entire animal and allows them to have consistent sales. But, there was one quote that struck me while I was reading the article in, "The Stockman GrassFarmer" that I didn't touch on in the Epi-Log post.

Specifically the qoute was, "He is currently experimenting with harvesting beeves at weaning as 'baby beef' to get their carcass size down to a more customer friendly size".

The first thing that popped into my head is, "that is exactly what a finished Dexter is ... a customer friendly size!" Of course I do understand that he will get to that size much more quickly with baby beef, but Dexter owners can reach the same "perfect carcass size" by finishing their beeves, marketing the meat as meat with a great flavor, and all along mantaining a small buy very useful breed.

Like I said, I understand the differences, but I also see this is as a great way to market Dexter beef for consumers. I continue to become more and more interested in the idea of a meat CSA, even to the point of combining pork and other meat into the monthly packages (I think they may do that at Marin Sun). I'll have to do a little more research into this...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bye, Bye, Barns...

I'm not sure how I missed it, but there was an interesting article in the New York Times (that is why I missed it) on page A1 about Iowa's vanishing barns. But, in reality the article is about more than that. It is about the size of today's Iowa farms. It is about the young people who desire to farm but run into brick wall after brick wall. It is about the older generations who are now involved in the larger farms, but still see that there may be something wrong. In a nutshell it is kind of the same thing about large farms vs. small farms that I have written about before on this blog. But, since I have been blasted a time or two for writing those things I'll just leave you with some interesting quotes from the article ... including quotes from regular ol' Iowans.
  • "What had in the 1930s been an ordinary farm here — 80 or 160 acres and a few cows and sheep and chickens — is today far bigger and more specialized to pay for air-conditioned, G.P.S.-equipped combines and tractors, so much fuel and the now-skyrocketing price of farmland."
  • "All of that has left some of Iowa’s youngest, newest farmers doubtful that one could make a start in farming anymore without roots and connections and land dating back, say, to the W.P.A. era."
  • "“We just don’t neighbor like we used to,” said Donald Wedeking, 81, of Nemaha (A “Mighty Small Town,” as its sign somewhat ambiguously promises), who grows 830 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, far more than his family once did."
  • "These days, a farmer’s land can stretch into thousands of acres. When the W.P.A.’s writers came through, they wrote that Iowa had 221,986 separate farms on land totaling more than 34 million acres. Today, on only a little less land (31.5 million acres), Iowa has just 88,400 farms. More than half the farmland is owned by people 65 years old or older, an Iowa State University farm economist says, and about half of that is owned by those 75 or older."
  • "But the notion that young people, lured by big cities, have left purely by choice is not always so. On a gravel road near Albert City, a machine — some surreal cross between a spaceship and a gargantuan Transformers toy — suddenly appears in the distance. Cars pull over to make room. It stands 19 feet off the ground, its gaping boom, full of insecticide to battle the aphids in soybean plants, jutting out 90 feet. This sprayer ($168,000, used) is the latest tool in the kit of Josh Bellcock, 31, who farms 3,000 acres with family members. Without his family land and his longstanding ties to older farmers who live here (and from whom he rents land) Mr. Bellcock says he probably could not succeed as a young farmer starting out. Not now."
  • "“I’m pretty lucky,” Mr. Bellcock said. “People aren’t willing, unless it’s a family member, to go out of their way to help someone else.”"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marketing to Chefs

Our days are still very busy between work at the church, still moving and packing, and farm work. But, since the majority of the stuff is moved and we are all sleeping on our beds in the new house I finally have some time to do a little reading. An article that I read last night about marketing to chefs and restaurants came from "Farmers' Markets Today". You may remember me writing about this publication just a little while ago (I also just realized they had a little blurb from a blog post that Kelli did over at Sugar Creek Farm!).

This article in particular is the type of article that really draws me in because it was written by a farmer on the front lines, so to speak. Sarah Aubrey was writing from her own experiences and I thought that she had some good points about marketing to restaurants in metropolitan areas. Although this isn't something I'm ready to do right now, it is something that intrigues me ... especially on the co-op level. I mean what if a few Dexter beef producers in Iowa were able to market together...?

Ms. Aubrey has this marketing to chefs thing down to five easy steps (well, relatively easy that is). Step one, "Preparation". Step two, "Prospecting". Step three, "Meeting the Chef". Step four, "Closing". And, step five, "Retaining the Customer". I won't take time to re-write the article (you should check out a subscription to "Farmers' Markets Today"), but I will high-light a couple of the main points.

First of all under preparation she talks about tying to market what you have plenty of. In her case she said it was ground beef. The idea is that your steaks may be very good, but if you can't produce enough to keep a chef supplied than there is no point in marketing it. Also, it may be a good opportunity to find a different market for something that you usually have difficulty selling. Good thoughts.

I also appreciated her advice when it came time to meet the chef. Even though I'm a people person this seems like something that would be intimidating because you are trying to sell a product to a person who is probably very particular. But, she offers up some simple advice about when to contact chefs, what to bring, and what to say (give a good story about your farm and product).

I really do appreciate these kinds of articles in a publication like this! I think this could be an endless resource for those farmers that do direct-marketing so I encourage you to check it out and support it if you like!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hey, Things are Looking Good...

Yeah, it is kind of nice to see how things are coming together with boxes being unpacked and the old house starting to empty out. In the words of the guy from "The A-Team", "I love it when a plan comes together." But wait, that isn't the only image of our house right now...

The kitchen is starting to look good ... the rest of the house on the other hand is going to take some work. The good news is that we will get a dumpster in soon so we can start cleaning up the construction mess little by little and that the house will get put together. For now it will just take time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still Moving...

Have you every watched the "Story of Stuff"? Well even though we have tried and tried to take more stuff out of our house than we bring in it always seems like we are fighting a losing battle. And when you move everything is magnified! So, today we went back to the house in town and continued to pack up and move as much stuff as we could. Most of what was moved today ended up in the "shed" portion of the house or at the church, but there was still plenty of stuff destined for the house.

The good news in all of this is that my family (dad, step-mom, brother, sister, and Autumn) were able to come help us sort though it, load it up, and unload it. They were a great help with the moving and with keeping the kids occupied.

But, as always there is a down side ... today it was the rain. Living in a construction zone in the rain is not fun because there is no grass ... just mud. But, moving in a construction zone that is all mud is even worse. Then you have to add in the fact that we moved in the dark and on the side of the house with no hope of light... Well, let's just say it was exciting!

On the plus side, we still got the chores done and my dad and I went in the dark to pick up a bale ring that I had purchased a few months ago. He needed it to feed some round bales to the Dexters that are still living down at his place. We will see how the round bale thing goes... neither of us have ever been big fans of the large rounds, but they were available.

I'll try and take some pictures of the house tomorrow. Right now it looks like a mountain of boxes with no hope ... but, I know things will shake out soon enough. Thanks for putting up with the random and somewhat boring blog posts lately. But, in reality this is all part of starting a farm from nothing and trying to do it on a shoestring.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Free Stuff Available...

I haven't had any time to take any pictures because we have been in all out moving mode, so this will have to be one of those pictureless posts. But, I am glad to report that along with moving three loads of stuff from the house (a load consisted of a 6x12 Uhual, a Chevy Astro, a small car, and the big old church van) we were able to get some important jobs done today with the help of Becca's family. They helped put up some plywood in the storage area so we are slightly more mouse proof and plant the important flowers that we dug up from the old house.

But, I still haven't mentioned the free stuff... This is the way it is. If anyone would like anything for free they can just show up at our house in town! Yes, we had two extra weeks to move, but in those two weeks we had to decide if we were going to do some more major packing or if we were going to get the house more prepared. We decided to go with more house work, and I'm glad we did, but that meant that not everything was in a box.

We are now left with a house that seems full of stuff, but really isn't too full ... it just appears that way. Today my family is coming up to help and hopefully we can get most of it gathered up and out to the farm because we have to be out on Tuesday. And to tell you the truth I just want to be done!

As a funny aside it was my week to give the message at church and I just happened to be talking about materialism and giving. The idea was that the best cure for materialism was giving. I reminded the people that if they weren't sure whether or not they had been sucked into the materialistic trap a time or two all they needed to do was MOVE! Than you really see how much junk that you feel like you "need" to have.

Let me just say I am humbled again, and re-energized to live a more simple life. One of those simple things I enjoyed today was seeing the chickens wandering around the farm. We finally we able to let them out of their mobile pen because we are going to be around all of the time ... it was a great thing to see!

**Sorry for the rambling post, hopefully we'll be back into a better routine by the end of the week.**

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Moving and Threshing...

Well, since I am moving today and setting up the new house I'm missing out on seeing my cousins Minneapolis Moline threshing machine working at the local pumpkin patch. Oh well, there will be time for that later... For now wish us luck and enjoy this threshing video.

Friday, October 10, 2008

And So It Begins...

Today and tomorrow are going to be the super-duper moving days as the Book family heads out to their new home (which is in various states of done-ness depending on which room you are in). With that in mind I hope that you understand if today's post and tomorrows posts are a little anemic. In fact since I'm blogging from the farm now on my Verizon internet it is even kind of difficult for me to leave you with a video to watch!

So, I'll just let you imagine me working hard carrying boxes and furniture ... and packing stuff also. And, if you are in the area feel free to come lend a hand ;)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

More On Salatin's Custom Abattoir

We are beginning the big move today, so I gotta let you know that things will be a bit brief this week because of all that we will be up to. But, I did want to follow up a little bit on the news that Joel Salatin and a couple of partners bought a custom abattoir. In fact they bought the abattoir that Polyface Farm has used for quite awhile. In part they bought it because they didn't want to lose such a good source so close to them, but also it seems because of an investment opportunity.

I wanted to follow up because a few weeks ago I asked the question, "Is Polyface farm still the small family farm that Mr. Salatin wrote about earlier on?" I purposefully did not offer an opinion either way because I really had none, but rather I asked the question because I figured it would be a question that would come up among those that disagree with his farming methods or that he really is "making" it on the farm (they argue he makes money off the farm).

Well, recently a fequent commenter, Mellifera, posted a link to a fairly long Mother Earth News question and answer article with Mr. Salatin that covers quite a few different topics. Also, Mr. Salatin wrote more about their new business endevor in the latest issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer". It seems that it is as much as an investment as it is an opportunity to save an abattoir that they use. He doesn't think he will be spending much time there himself (because he would blue up on the regulators!), but they do think it is business that can be profitable in and of itself.

Polyface Farm sure is growing...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

You've Gotta Love Electricty...

Nothing says "beginning farmer" like counter top, outlets, and cabinets. But, truth be told those are a huge part of our farming venture right now because with out those things it really would be "like" the pioneers. And, those are the things that I have been working on the past few days out at the farm. We put the cabinets in a little while ago, but just this past Monday we threw the counter tops down and really got after the wiring (with some help from friends of course). I have got to say that I'm really excited that we now have outlets where there just used to be wires sticking out, and that we can now plug stuff in and leave the breakers for those circuits on! Hey, I even used the switch to turn the hall light off last night...

But, really it is doing tasks like I did today (and the help of a great community of believers committed to serving each other) and others involved in our home building that has made farming on 40 acres possible for us. While it isn't a lot of land it is a great start (better than many are able to start with), and if we weren't constructing a house we wouldn't have been able to afford this much land. Scrimping and saving since we were married, having family and friends that are willing to help, and our own sweat equity has made this dream possible.

For example, a 40 acre farm, with a house and some buildings, in a county south and west of here (where land is a slightly lower) is listed for $225,000. I know that might sound good for some, but in our area and with our budget (remember ... just one paying job in this family) that is out of the question. In fact if we just go a few miles to the east of our place there is a chunk of bare land listed for $160,000. That is for 40 acres of a similar timber to tillable ratio as our farm.

So, it seems that counter tops, outlets, cabinets, and a whole bunch of great friends are really valuable when it comes to a beginning farm. In fact I would say the great friends willing to help are more valuable than any "beginning farmer" loan that we didn't qualify for or any other governmental assistance.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Farmers' Markets Today Magazine

Recently I was contacted by someone who works at "Farmers' Markets Today" magazine after I wrote a Epi-Log post about some of the magazines out there for the homesteader types or the wanna-be-homesteader types. Well, yesterday I received a sample issue of the magazine and I liked what I saw. Plus, I liked the fact that it is based out of the town where I spent the first 21 years of my life ... Cedar Falls, IA!

It really is a fairly new publication, only debuting in June of 2007, but I think the have done a wonderful job putting it together. Plus the subject matter is right up my alley and I love the fact that they do a really good job of going straight to the source when it comes to their surveys, articles, and more. Another great thing about this magazine is I believe it can help direct-to-consumer farmers all over the country share ideas and things that are working for them. Every other business sector has a "journal", so why not the small-scale direct marketing farmers.

You, can check out their website linked above for more information ... but, here is a sampling of what is in the issue I received.
  • An article about mobile food sales and deliveries.
  • A neat little piece about a blueberry association that's members work together in marketing and more (really cool idea ... any ADCA members want to jump on this)
  • Tips on buying a used tractor online (I could have used this earlier ... although I'm pleased with ours).
  • An article about pricing strategies at farmers' markets.
  • And of course there is a whole lot more that I didn't mention.
I encourage you to check this neat magazine out and even give it a try if you would like!

Monday, October 06, 2008


Dexters are either going to be black, dun, or red (in order from most common to least common). On our farm we have both black and dun and we absolutely love them... But, why not have all the colors? That is the question I asked myself when we got into Dexters, so even though I said that I was done buying cows I ended up getting a nice little red heifer this weekend. Her name is Grandma's Jasmine and she is from Grandma's Dexter Farm near Toddville, IA (north of Cedar Rapids). We picked her up on Saturday and she is already settling in to her new environment as the first Dexter on our new farm.

One of the reasons that we decided to purchase her is because our herd bull, Hershey, carries a red gene (he is dun). Now that we have a red heifer on the property we will have a chance to have some red calves most likely beginning in 2010. Of course I doubt we are going the seed-stock route, but is nice to see the various colors in the herd and if we did want to sell some heifers at some point we could have a nice variety ... maybe

Also, we were able to put a halter on her at Dan's farm so I plan on working with her this fall and training her to lead. Hopefully we can show her next summer at the ADCA annual meeting that will be in Fort Dodge, if nothing else it will give me an excuse to go out and mess with the cows a little bit more.

So... we have pigs, chickens, and now a Dexter on our new farm. This week we will begin moving in and need to be totally in by the 14th. After that fencing and preparing for the baby will be our priorities. Hopefully we can find time for it all!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Follow Up to Yesterday's Post...

Yesterday I wrote about the $313 crop base payment that we were going to receive. Politics, subsidies, and current farm policy aside it really is money that we weren't planning on getting. In fact when I went in to sign-up the women at the counter actually said something along the lines of, "it's not a lot of money, but its nice to get something without having to do anything". Of course that isn't an entirely true statement because people are giving something to receive this payment...

Well, to be completely honest it is money that we weren't expecting to get and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the whole subsidy thing. All of those things were churning through my mind lately and it seems they were running through my wife's mind as well because we have kind of come to the same conclusion.

If this is money we weren't expecting to get why don't we take the opportunity to give instead of just buying something for ourselves or for our farm. It might seem like a little out of the box, but we like the idea! I'm not completely sure what we will come up with, but since we are involved in this farming thing my vote is to buy some animals for people through Gospel for Asia.

**I should mention that I'm not advocating that everyone does this with their subsidies, that is up to every ones own viewpoint ... this is just something cool we could do because ours really isn't that much

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thank You New Farm Bill...

Sorry for another late post... I just wanted to take a moment this morning to say thank you to the United States Government, the taxpaying people of America, and all those who worked so hard on the 2008 Farm Bill. It is really wonderful to have people so concerned about the agricultural community in the United States that they find a place in their wallet for us lowly farmers ... errr ... landowners. I mean I can't believe how gracious everyone is to find some spare change for little ol' me!

**end of sarcasm**

Really, I don't know all of the ins and outs of the 2008 Farm Bill, but there are plenty of interesting things that I'm learning about now that I'm a landowner. For example we recently received a call from the FSA office in our county telling us that we had until September 30th to sign-up for our crop base under some new provisions in the new Farm Bill.

The long and short of it is that because we own 40 acres of land (26 acres of which are "tillable") we are entitled to some money. $313 to be exact for our corn base, soybean base, and wheat base. We have 14 acres (I believe) included in our base so it works out to roughly $22.36 per acre of the base. And to top it all off we don't have to do anything to receive that money. We don't have to plant crops, we don't have to have a management plan, and we don't have to have them inspect it. All we have to do is own it.

So, why didn't I turn it down? I would like to think that I would turn it down on principle ... and maybe at some point I will, but for now we took the payment because of the future sales. Although the base isn't important to us it could possibly be important to someone down the road if we had to sell and then it could make a difference.

It is an interesting provision in though...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It May Be a Little Late For This...

It seems that no matter where you turn the only thing you can hear about right now is the financial "crisis" (yeah, I put that in quotes because I just don't do financial "crisis'"). I hear about it on the radio, on TV, through the internet, at church, around town, and just when I thought I had found a safe place I even found Allan Nation writing about it on his blog! But, I suppose it is a pretty big deal even if I haven't been following it too closely so I was interested to hear what Allan Nation had to say on the subject.

Of course you can read about it by checking out the blog for yourself, but I'll give you the basics right here... There is some bad stuff going on out there and lots of investors have lost theirs (and other peoples) money. A lot of that investment advice seems to be coming back empty right now. But, if people would have just focused on getting out of debt then we wouldn't be in the place we are right now.

Okay, that is my over-simplified summary of his short post, but I do think it has some good nuggets for agriculture and beginning farmers. First of all it points out that it is a crazy world that we live in and things are likely to change all of the time, so we need to be diversified and prepared for change. I am already seeing posts and comments pop up over on the Epi-Log about people planning on buying less expensive food, eating out less, and so on. So, things change from time to time and that leads to changes in the lives people live.

But, I believe Mr. Nation's short posts also underlines one of the most important aspects for agriculture and beginning farmers (and everyone else) ... minimize debt. Of course there is a time for it (that has been hashed out on here before), but that doesn't mean we need to go overboard with it. My wife and I are in debt for the first times in our lives right now and although it was a little scary we do believe it was a wise choice. The thing about it though is that while going into debt to buy land and build the house we have tried to minimize the amount of debt we have at all costs.

We have only borrowed money for the land and the house and will be putting in infrastructure as we have money, time, and resources. This means everything won't be set up right away and we will have to improvise in some areas, but it also means we won't be saddled with debt that comes calling for payments! I have mentioned before that we have tried to purchase this place just like we would if we were buying our first house in town for a growing and active family. In our case we just have a REALLY BIG backyard where we can keep cows!

I'm not sure what is going to happen through all of this, and on one hand I don't really care because I have bigger fish to fry. But, it does remind me of my old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Opps... I Forgot to Post!

Last night we spent our first night at the farm. It was more like camping than staying in our house because we slept on an air mattress on the cement floor, but it was still great to spend the night out there an get a taste of what it will be like in just a couple of weeks. But, in all the commotion of sleeping out at the farm and working late putting in the flooring I just realized that I forgot to post! It is pretty unusual for me to have such a late post, but I'll take a quick break from work at the church to update you on the happenings at the farm.
  • The new closing date has been set for October 14th. As soon as I get at least one room completely covered with flooring (and we have the outlets installed) I'm going to start taking over boxes and just stacking them up. If I can get the flooring throughout the house by the 14th then all the better!
  • Sometime this week I'm going to have to take an afternoon off to put up a small paddock for a couple of Dexters. I tell you more about that a little later.
  • If you follow my wife's blog you will know that all the doors and closets and the trim that goes around them are all done. All that is left is the baseboard (need to get the flooring done) and around the windows.
  • We still don't have the chimney installed yet for the stove, but I do believe we have found an Amishman that will come up and do the work for us so that we know it is done right and that we won't have a leaky roof.
  • Our pigs are growing well and should be ready to process in just a few weeks (I'll be sending out information for those interested this week so shoot me an e-mail if you would like the information). They have been a bit cantankerous lately though by knocking the plug out of their waterer. I'm not quite sure how they are doing it.
  • The tractor is mostly up and running at this point with all new hydraulic hoses, new rear tires, new oil, and a few other things. Now I just need to get a new belt (because it broke) for the power steering unit and we are good to go.
  • Once that belt (mentioned above) is fixed I'm going to spread the gravel out on our drive a little more and get a HUGE dumpster out there to clean up all the construction mess. I can't stand the piles of garbage we have now!
  • Whew, there is a lot to do in the next couple of weeks and beyond, but I have to admit that I'm mostly loving it.
Sorry for the late post, and I hope everyone is having a great day...
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