Hiatus

I would like to apologize and explain my recent hiatus from this blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I was house- and horse-sitting at Garry Lean’s house. Between working on my classes and working with the horses, I simply was not able to spend any time on the blog. That weekend, I was also house- and farm-sitting at Russet House, leaving me little time to do anything between all the chores that needed to be done.

This past week has been a barrage of school assignments. I’m actually getting somewhat ahead, in preparation for Adar’s visit for the next ten days. Luckily, I now have every assignment that needs to be done during her visit finished, which will allow me to relax a little bit.

So, some of the highlights over the past couple of weeks…

1) I drove tractors! I ploughed the laneway at Russet House farm while Brian and Sylvia were away, and also drove them at Baxter Farms, run by Glenn Baxter who is the local tractor mechanic around here. I know this is a simple thing, but it was really a big accomplishment for me to begin my tractor learning.

2) I’m writing a crop plan. We are taking Market Gardening and Greenhouse Operations with Mark Trealot and the primary assignment in this course is to create a crop plan, which is the key piece of planning that every vegetable farmer goes through every year. It’s a lot of work, but saves a tonne of stress during the actual planting year. It’s nice to be able to look on a sheet of paper in mid-July and have it written out what you need to do, when your mind and body are already exhausted from all the stress of farming.

3) I’m learning about seed genetics. This is a really confusing subject for a number of reasons. First, there is a lot of biology involved which was never my strong suit to begin with. Secondly (and much worse), there is a LOT of misinformation out there. Seed genetics are closely tied to a lot of controversial topics in farming (GMOs, hybrids, etc.) and both sides of the controversy are very guilty of not giving honest information, which makes it very difficult to wade through it to determine how I feel about it all. I went to a Seed Saving course a couple of weekends ago which helped a lot, though admittedly it was talking to one of my instructors, Sue Chan, who was helping organize the event, who really made a difference. She’s AMAZING at explaining tougher topics.

4) It’s getting warmer! The tarp over my tent is a dark green on the side facing up, and with the changing sun, it is really heating up the tent. In fact, when I come home after school, my water, which will typically freeze solid overnight, is usually melted. I’m not sure how warm it gets during the day inside… but it is definitely above 0° C. Beautiful! I’ll have to turn the tarp over in the heat of the summer so the white side is up, but for now, this is perfect.

That’s all for now… I’ll have another post hopefully coming out tomorrow and then one on Wednesday…

Sincerely,

Adam

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On Shit

Note: If you’re enjoying reading about my Camp Life, I would like to suggest you check out my friend Spence’s blog, Rediscover the Wild in Wilderness. He’s also living in a wall tent (see, I’m not the only crazy one!) though he’s doing it up in Thunder Bay!

ed. I actually originally wrote this post a couple of Saturdays ago. It’s fairly normal for me to wait a few days between the writing and publishing of a post, to allow me a few read-throughs and edits before I publish it, though waiting over two weeks is strange. The reason I waited so long is because, through this specific post I use the word shit a lot. I’m aware that this word has a very visceral sound to it, and it can create a very strong reaction against it. I tried using other words, but none of them really fit. I suppose the reason that I prefer the word shit is because our reaction to the word is similar to our reaction of what the word represents. And that’s exactly the issue that I’m attempting to discuss here. That being said, if you dislike the term, I certainly would not be disappointed if you skipped over this post.

Shit is Old English. The word that is. Shit itself is probably much older. The word is Germanic in origin. Most of our cuss words in English are Germanic in origin. I was wondering about that. Turns out, when the Normans invaded what would become known as England, the Anglo-Saxon peoples that were living there at the time became a subjugated people. Anglo-Saxons of course, were Germanic. Their language became the language of the streets, the language of the uneducated peoples. Not like the Norman language, which was the language of the upper class, ruling elite. Thus, modern day English became a mix of French and German, with the lower class words becoming our cuss words. Technically, by cussing, you are celebrating the language of an oppressed people.

I was thinking these thoughts on Saturday (ed. January 18th) as I was mucking out horse and cattle stalls at a nearby farm. One of the advantages of living on a farm, one of the many advantages of living on a farm, is that the farmers know other farmers, farmers who always have a job to do for somebody with a strong back and a set of work clothes. On Saturday, I worked on the farm of Garry Lean (pronounced Lane). He’s an organic farm inspector and a trainer of other organic farm inspectors. Interestingly, I also met him several years ago in Thunder Bay when he was leading an organic certification seminar.

Mucking stalls is hard work. It leaves you tired and sore, and is an incredible work out. But that’s why I love it. I love cleaning shit up.

I first cleaned shit with Roots to Harvest. This is an amazing program that I was so incredible thankful to work with for the summers of 2011 and 2012. I’m not going to go into many details here, but at its most basic (and, in all honesty, too basic) form, it’s a program that gets teenagers to garden and farm. Throughout the summer, these youth get to work at many farms in the Thunder Bay area, and almost without fail, one of the key jobs is cleaning up shit.

Horse shit.

Cow shit.

Sheep shit.

Duck shit.

Rabbit shit.

Chicken shit.

Its funny to see youth come to terms with this. Often times, when first beginning the summer, the idea of cleaning shit is anathema to them. Their reaction makes sense. We don’t really care for our shit nowadays. We have elaborate systems to deal with it, systems which magically take our own shit and send it elsewhere. On a farm, at least on a small-scale one, there is no elaborate system. On a small-scale farm, the usual system is a pitchfork, a wheelbarrow and the aforementioned strong back.

As the youth are digging out the shit though, something happens. Suddenly, it becomes fun. I’m not exactly sure why that is. The work is hard, the days are usually hot and oftentimes, especially with the powerful ammonia pockets that often form in compacted sawdust, the lungs and eyes are burning. Normally, this is not a situation that leads to fun. My best guess is that there’s something almost liberating about being able to play with shit. Its a chance to actually get paid to break one of society’s biggest taboos.

On a small-scale farm like Garry’s though, shit forms another purpose. Shit is amazing compost. There are so many chemical and biological processes going on in it, it adds beautiful health to any soil. Its may be the biggest reason to have animals around a farm. I’ve heard of herds of cattle being used in areas that are suffering from desertification simply because their shit brings valuable moisture and microbiological life to it. Shit is actually restoring land!

After I cleaned out all the stalls, I went home to my tent. I don’t think I’ve described my toilet facilities, but I use a sawdust toilet. Basically, I shit in a bucket and cover it with a layer of sawdust that masks the odour while also helping with the composting process. When the bucket is full, I bring it up to the compost pit in the barnyard and empty it out. In a couple of years, that shit becomes beautiful soil!

In 1907, F. H. King toured farms in China, Japan and Korea. He described his findings in the book, “Farmers of Forty Centuries.” Apparently, farmers there had farmed the same land for 4000 years, and the soil was still incredibly productive. To put this in perspective, the United States has lost one third of its topsoil since it was settled. To be fair, China is, lately, also doing really bad in the soil building process. What was one of China’s big secrets that F.H. King had discovered?

Apparently, the Chinese knew about how amazing shit was! In fact, it was considered a gift to take a shit when you visited somebody else’s house! You were giving them the gift of fertile soil. Brilliant!

Harry Stoddart, author of “Real Dirt: An Ex-Industrial Farmer’s Guide to Sustainable Eating” and, more importantly, one of my instructors, describes peak phosphorus. I’ll let you read the book to find out more, but essentially, his argument is that we, as humans, are running out of phosphorus to put on fields, phosphorus which must be mined and transported thousands of miles from mine to farm. Meanwhile, we are each shitting out phosphorus into our elaborate systems where it ends up being “disposed” of.

Gene Logsdon, author of “Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind,” argues for another huge source of shit! In America, there are 73 million cats and 68 million dogs… which every year create a total of 190,000,000 tonnes of shit. Think of all that amazing fertility that is being thrown away every single day.

My point is that we as a society, really need to start dealing with out shit. We are getting to the point where we really can’t keep on trying to get it to disappear. We can’t afford to keep flushing it away and hoping that somebody else will deal with it. Shit is one of the best sources of fertility that we have, and considering the state of our topsoil, we need every extra bit of fertility that we can get. We need to get out shit together. Because if we don’t, we may be in deep shit.

Sincerely,

Adam

Introduction: Part 3 of 3ish

Wow. It’s been too long since the last update. Winter has begun up in Thunder Bay, and as such I’ve been feeling a little bit rest-full as of late. I ask for your grace dear reader when I inevitably miss an entry or two.

Sometime in either late December or early January (depending largely on weather and on my post-Christmas-dinner coma) I’ll be heading onto a one acre field on Russet House Farm and laying down a wooden floor. Upon this floor, I will be erecting a wall or prospector style tent, which will form my accommodation for all of 2014.

I should at this point give the kudos (or possibly the blame) for this idea to Nick Cotter and Brad Farrish, two good friends of mine who proved that it could be done when they pulled it off over a winter semester a few years back. When I was considering this possibile living scenario, both were invaluable for encouragement and advice, and I probably saved myself a fair bit of trouble by listening to them.

The tent is large. 14 feet by 16 feet large. I really struggled with what size of tent to get. The major disadvantage of a tent of this size is that I’ll never be able to use it for backcountry winter camping, at least not without a snow machine and trailer with which to pull it. It is just too heavy for a toboggan. The big upside for me is that it is so big that it will be extremely livable. I can even put a full sized mattress in it (somethings that I’m definitely planning on doing). I decided that, for my immediate purposes, it was best to go with something that will give me room to move about, that enabled me to have guests over in relative comfort, and that was large enough to help me avoid feelings of claustrophobia.

My tent was made by Capital Canvas, a company based out of Victoria, British Columbia. Other than some issues with shipping which have since been resolved, I have been really impressed with the quality, service and price ($1400 for the tent, poles, an extra tarp AND shipping… considering how heavy the tent and poles are, the shipping could not have been cheap).

I picked up the stove this past weekend when I attended the North House Folk School’s Winterers’ Gathering (more on this soon!). The stove was made by Don Kevilus of Four Dog Stoves. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him several times over the last few years and I have a lot of respect for him and his craft. The stove is the biggest one he makes, something that will be very helpful keeping me warm throughout the winter and includes a four gallon water jacket which fits on the side so that I’ll always have hot water on hand (more than enough for a cup of tea and some washing water).

I was really hoping to post a picture, but the tent is currently drying in my basement and I was too tired to set it up. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of pictures in the new year. I have also decided to begin a new series next year, highlighting the more technical aspects of some of my equipment, where I’ll also share some very exciting news about a great partnership that I’m in the process of finalizing.

Next week, I’m going to be beginning a couple other series, and will also be reminiscing fondly on this year’s Winterers’ Gathering. That’s right… possibly THREE posts! (Though when I say that… I’ll probably cut it down to two.)

I hope you are all able to enjoy the snowy weather this week, that is if you’re living in a place that has snow. If not I will gladly enjoy the weather for you.

Sincerely, Adam.

Introduction: Part 2 of 3ish

I’m a firm believer that one of the largest problems facing modern agriculture is the recent loss of the rural culture that was so prevalent for much of human experience. Of late, there has been massive urbanization throughout the world, with the result being a chronic shortage of people left in rural areas. There are a myriad of reasons for this, which I won’t go into today, but the shortage of people in rural areas, coupled with the growth of the consumer culture has largely devastated most rural  communities.

I’m really cognizant of the fact that I am heading into rant territory, but please bear with me. I promise I will not actually rant, but will only skirt the line momentarily.

I believe community is important for all people in all places and at all times. I believe it truly allows us to be fully human, in fact it is required in order for us to truly experience all of human existence. I believe however that it is especially important in rural areas.

Recently, I was driving across Ontario and was blessed to see a group of (I believe) Old-Order Mennonites doing hay. They had two teams of horses pulling the wagons and at least six people loading the hay onto the wagons. I compare this to how most modern farmers do hay, which involves a lot fewer people and a lot more tractor, and the difference is startling. Though I do not believe the Old-Order Mennonites are perfect, I do admire the importance they place on building community, especially through the discipline of work. I would also suggest that a lot of how they farm is incredibly sustainable, and has proven so over a long period of time. I believe there is more than just a coincidence there.

When I first thought of moving to Lindsay, I wanted to take part in building community, in a number of ways. I’ll discuss more of these ways in future posts. One way though that I wanted to build community was to find people I could live with. People who I could learn from, both within agriculture and also in other ways. Our homes are the building blocks of community. From there, from the everyday working out of daily lives, community begins.

While I will relate more details next week, I am happy to say that I have met an incredible family who have agreed to let me stay with them… a family from whom I will learn a LOT from! Let me say that I am so incredibly stoked to be able to get to know them next year.

And no. They are not Old-Order Mennonites.

Introduction: Part 1 of 3ish (con’t)

First of all, a very happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. Having worked in the gardening/farming world now for four years, I’ve spent a lot of time considering this holiday, which, for the record, may be my favourite holiday of the year. Like many people, I spend the time leading up to it counting my blessings and realizing how thankful I have every reason to be. I won’t create a full list here, though I think there is merit for taking the time to write that stuff down. Rather, I will share one specific thing that I’ve realized I am very thankful for, something that I never thought of before I began farming.

As I mentioned last week, I love farming and all the physical and mental and emotional work that goes with it. And so, this Thanksgiving, this harvest time… I’m thankful the growing season is finished for the year. This may seem bizarre, after all I’ve been waxing on about how much I enjoy working the fields… but right now, I’m looking forward to not have to pick and pull and bend and sweat and to being able to have dirt-free hands and… I’m looking forward to the blessed rest from farming that autumn and winter bring. And I’m looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Also, a very special shout out goes to my Mom. Who “liked” my last post on The Facebook.

And herein begins this week’s post…

Starting next January, I will be attending Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario, for their one-year, post-degree program in Sustainable Agriculture. I like saying post-degree as I feel it lends an extra element of credibility to my choice to go back to school. “Sure, I’m going back to school… but this time, it’s a post-degree program. Kind of like a PhD.” I also like saying it’s for sustainable agriculture since it makes me look especially hip and earthy. Certain segments of the population actually think I’m a hero for wanting to becoming a farmer. Another segment (largely though sadly made up of disillusioned farmers) thinks I’m quite stupid for doing this. In a way, they’re both right.

The program itself is a one-year program, as mentioned above, which is nice because I am getting old(er) and don’t have the interest to spend too much more time in school. The first semester seems to be a bit of an introduction to sustainable agriculture, which is nice because the word sustainable can mean a number of things to a number of different people. The second semester is an internship on a farm of my choice. The final semester is spent figuring out all the really exciting details, such as legal and business matters. At least that’s my idea of what it will be like. I suppose I’ll find out more in January.

Back in 2011* I decided to tour the program while on a trip to Uxbridge to visit my family. I managed to sit in on a lecture and meet and chat with some of the students. It was a very exciting time for me (the lecture was on sustainable grazing methods… I remember this because I am a dork. I actually still have the notes I took that day. See? Dork.).

Afterwards, I went on a private tour of the campus, which has a lot of really interesting sustainable systems (green roof, living walls, massive composting system, gigantic wind turbine/sundial…). The gentleman leading the tour was one of the primary administrators/founders of the program, so it was a great opportunity to ask all sorts of questions.

That’s when I knew I would be attending in 2014. I’m going to be a farmer!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Adam

* I’ve been trying to figure out what year I toured their campus and met the students and the program administrator/instructor… I thought it was earlier than this but it must have been this year… I believe it was late spring/early summer.