"How do we get our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students to care about farming?"

 When a question this specific happens twice in the same day, I sit up and take notice.  A couple of days ago I did an interview with a Florida college student whose questions included this one.  Then later in the day I had a visit from faculty and the  public relations team of a Cincinnati school where I'll be speaking in April, and they asked the same question.

 I do not live in the world of higher or secondary education.  My cocoon, if you will, revolves around the farm and our highly engaged young people on staff and internships.  Most of the people I engage with are interested in what I do.

 So these questions popped my little bubble.  I thought people were coming around to the importance of stewardship, food, and farming.    It shows how easily we become myopic, enjoying our tribe, living in our little world.  How quickly we can forget that my blog has a few thousand followers but Kim Kardashian has millions.

These questions, coming from folks who live in mainstream academia, speak volumes about the hubris and techno-cult of modern orthodoxy.  We have plenty of work to do.

 How did I answer them?  Here it is. 

 We live in an age of techno-worship, where drunken hubris leads many to think we'll finally and completely cut this umbilical cord that anchors us to ecology:  soil, plants, animals.  That we think we can levitate into Star Trek fabricated pill nutrition indicates not evolutionary advancement, but devolutionary ignorance of life's foundational building blocks.  The only way a civilization can enjoy the luxury of STEM advancement is in a bountiful nest created and sustained by landscape stewardship.  Absent soil, water, and breathable air--the commons--STEM won't have a place to operate.

 I am profoundly frustrated that folks on the inside of the STEM bubble apparently disregard resource stewardship--unless it involves some high tech machines or software.  Driverless tractors and infra-red cameras mounted to drones do not ultimately caress our ecological womb.  Caring farmers do.

 Would you be happy with a robotic marriage partner?  Will the earth be happy with robotic caretakers?


How hard is it to raise some chickens in a portable shelter?  I'm amazed at the number of people stymied by something this simple.  And so it was a joy to receive yet another testimonial yesterday from a fellow who decided to take the reins of his destiny into his own hands.

He built a 56 square foot portable chicken shelter (I'm guessing it's 7 ft. X 8 ft., although he didn't say) and has 14 chickens in it.  Want to know the coolest part?  Total cost of materials:  $3.40.  Yes, you read that right.  The decimals are in the right place.

For less than one latte at Starbucks, this guy's in the pastured chicken business.  Kudos for his ingenuity and for refusing to be a victim of time, money, and lack of expertise.  You don't have to know everything to start.  We don't know much about anything when we start--talking, walking, pooping (where to put it).

Life's great adventure is starting.  Just start.  You can't Google experience, so just start.  For a little bit of time (what are you going to do with it anyway, watch TV?) and a cup of jo, you can be up and running with your own chicken enterprise.

Chickens are not real demanding.  They need some shelter, predator protection, something to eat and a bit of water.  They don't need laundry done or dishes washed or toilet paper.  Compared to kids, they're much simpler. 

The portable shelter offers ease of entry to poultry; housing does not have to be expensive or complicated.  Chickens will enjoy their $3.40 scavenged-together scrounge shelter just as much as a Taj Mahal coop complete with paint and toys.  Chickens really don't care what it looks like; all they care about is functional.

I'm sitting here typing this wearing my "I LOVE CHICKENS" t-shirt, so this is an appropriate posting for today.  They're fun, ultimately utilitarian--what else works happily all day eating garbage and giving one of life's most perfect foods, the egg? 

What's keeping you from building a $3.40, 56-square-foot portable chicken shelter?


A friend called me yesterday from a consulting job in Florida where for a week he's been developing an alternative fertility program on a massive billionaire's estate.  Yes, you saw that right--not millionaire, but billionaire.

The family trust now operates the outfit but the infusion of money makes everything alarmingly uncreative and bureaucratic.  I have no animosity against rich people; most are wonderful folks who worked harder or more cleverly than average.  I do not adhere to the idea of ill-gotten gain.

What embroils the spirit, however, is that when wealthy people buy land--as if land can ultimately be for sale, but that's another topic for another day--invariably all the principles that made them wealthy get thrown out the door.  Suddenly they turn into country clubbers, hire groundskeepers and build white picket fences, buy expensive tractors and get all their information from the government extension service.

As this friend began describing the hundreds of thousands of wasted money and the reluctance on the part of employees to embrace anything creative, my thoughts wandered, as they invariably do, to the many hardworking, faithful, creative young people I encounter who desperately want to farm but don't have money.  It's as if some great dystopian fairy sprinkled land ownership on moneyed people who don't have a clue about stewardship, and withheld land ownership from those who would steward it best.

I've decided that the best advice I can give to any rich land owner is to simply step away and offer the land to an enterprising young person.  If the young person fails, offer it to another.  After a couple of rotations, you'll find the right match.  My daughter-in-law, Sheri, has started an international farm matchmaking service called  Some wonderful success stories are coming out of this service.

I'm not in favor of handouts--struggling is good.  But the access to land issue is huge, not to buy, but to just get a toe hold, an access point.  Literally thousands of properties, if not hundreds of thousands of properties scattered around the U.S. are owned by wealthy folks who simply have no desire or knowledge about ecologically regenerative production agriculture.  Meanwhile, often within walking distance, passionate young people desperate for a toe hold can't seem to get access to a square foot.  As one who yearns for better land stewardship and next-gen germination, I've come almost to despise these wealthy country club estates as resource disrespectful.

I confess to wrestling with resentment at the seeming unfairness of it all, that we have resources misused, abused, and disappreciated alongside young people ready and willing to pour their lives into healing caress. 

Where are the wealthy land owners ready to give a young person access to land?  Where?


A couple of sharp enterprising young men visited last week, one from Ireland and one from Australia, both Nuffield Farming Scholars.  This is essentially a British affiliated agriculture Rhodesequivalent scholar.  We've had several visit over the years and they always bring European cutting edge ideas to Swoope.

If you have enough travelers stopping by, you can be a hermit and still cosmopolitan.  Sure beats fighting the TSA, but I digress.  These fellows are both at the end of a rigorous academic agricultural degree and therefore have their pulse on the latest trends and thinking.

We discussed many topics, but the one that caught my attention was their offhanded remark that the trend lines indicate mandatory epidurals for calving cows.

Another one of the insane anthropomorphic concoctions coming out of the urban disconnect, the thinking is that since human women experience pain in childbirth, cows must as well and therefore need relief from their anguish.  Where will this misplaced animal worship end?  And what about deer?  Rabbits?  Squirrels?  If we can't eliminate their pain, we should exterminate all the animals so no pain occurs.

They projected in the not too distant future regulations requiring anesthetics for animals birthing to protect them from the physical suffering such activity creates.  Now folks, I've been around lots and lots of cows giving birth.  I've assisted many when they couldn't quite do it on their own.  I've also had still births and kept the cow and live births but lost the mother.  All of my assistance has been to help life win.  Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't.  Life is precious due to struggle.

Juxtapose this idea with the two New Zealanders who stopped by a few years ago in October.  Over dinner, it dawned on me that they were in spring lambing.  These farmers had more than 3,000 ewes.  I exclaimed:  "You're lambing!  What are you doing here with 3,000 ewes lambing?"

Their matter-of-fact answer was one I've never forgotten and often repeated:  "If we were there, our quality of life would suffer because we'd be out there trying to help every one having trouble.  Every year at lambing time we go away to insure we don't go insane or commit suicide, so we'll still enjoy the farm.  When we go home, the ones who got it done bring their lambs to show us and the ones who couldn't have been handled by the buzzards.  It's the only way to have a sustainable life."

I ask you:  Which of these two positions contains more common sense?

By the way, if you find this blog interesting, please share it with others.  I'd like to see hundreds of thousands wrestling and thinking about these things.  Thank you.


By now, if you're up on  the news, you know about the undocumented farm worker who killed Miss Tibbetts while she was out jogging.  Today's headlines are digging deeper into the situation and wringing hands about half of all American agriculture workers are undocumented, or illegal immigrants.

Of course, all the solutions I've seen are related to easing H2A temporary worker paperwork to let more in.  I'm certainly in favor of legal immigration rather than illegal immigration.  Iconic sustainable agriculture guru John Ikerd once did a speech about the importance of maintaining communities and used a functioning cell as his jumping off point.

The only way for a cell to stay healthy is to keep in what's supposed to be there and keep out what's not supposed to be there.  The cell wall is both a security and protection, the first place of defense, for the internal cell community.  With that in mind, I would suggest that over running a community with anything foreign is a risky procedure.  I've always said that a business that can't or won't hire its neighbors is fundamentally dysfunctional.

Interestingly, nobody wringing his hands about this murder and the tragedy of the undocumented worker is mentioning America's cheap food policy as the fundamental paradigm that starts the domino effect.  A cheap food desire drives policy throughout the culture. 

When you couple that with a welfare state that takes from workers at the point of a gun and gives hard earned income to folks unwilling to work, the dysfunction simply compounds.  The orthodoxy is that Americans won't do this kind of work.  I say that if Americans couldn't get a free ride on the backs of the workers, they current parasites would do that kind of work and would be grateful to get it.  I'd like some of these welfare parasites (not all of them are, but enough are to taint the whole system) to follow me around for a day.  The last week as I've been prepping this new property to receive cows tomorrow morning, I've been tackling brambles, osage orange, honeysuckle and multi-flora rose with a chainsaw.  And I've sweated enough to make my pants wringing wet all the way down to my knees.  And someone thinks the increase of that effort should go to some lazy American?  I beg your pardon?

One of the reasons the food from our farm carries a higher sticker price than what's at the grocery store is because we pay enough to ourselves and staff to keep toxins out of our community cell.  That's a stability and security benefit in which our customers invest.

What's wrong with that?


For those of you who do not live here in the Shenandoah Valley, I apologize for what might seem like a localized post, but it's really not.  The context is that normally in August, we're extremely dry; the grass is brown and crinkly under foot.

But we've had lots of rain recently so the heat and moisture have combined to create an aggressive late season grass growing bonanza.  As I've been out and about recently, I've been struck by the amount of grass people mow.  Of course, the reason I've been out and about is to set up a new property to graze the grass and of course moving our different herds on these properties. 

My time is obsessed with how to move the appropriate cows around on the different properties to utilize this flush of forage, to not mow it mechanically with petroleum, but mow it with herbivores, the ultimate solar-powered pruner.  When I see the acreages mowed for lawns--many literally acres--I'm struck by how much underutilized opportunity exists.

America has 65 million acres of lawns.  Nothing pleases Monsanto more than to hear people voice concerns about overpopulation and running out of food.  When people fear, they swallow anything for security--chemicals, genetically modified organisms, nanotechnology, etc.  As long as people embrace and repeat the running out of food theme, the industrial agri-complex is there with a life saving rope.  It's a hangman's noose if you look closely, but nobody looks closely because they're too busy grasping it for security.

Just imagine if all lawns were turned into gardens?  All ornamental trees turned into fruit and nut bearing specimens?  And hedges turned into grape vines and thornless black berries?  The truth is that except for dairy and meat, every urban area could feed itself from its own local greesnpaces.  A couple of exceptions exist, like New York City and Los Angeles; perhaps Chicago.  But they are rare.  And even they could make a big dent.

Folks, we are not running out of food.  We are running out of stewardship.

Do you garden?


The data is building.  Since 2013, American farmers have seen a 50 percent drop in net income.  In 2018, farm net income will be the lowest it's been in 12 years.

How would you like to go back to what you were earning 12 years ago?  Or how would  you like to see your earnings drop in half since 2013?  Can you imagine if paychecks for attorneys dropped that much?  Or electricians, or janitors, or school teachers?  Can you imagine any profession besides farming that would see such a drop and not make front pages of newspapers?

What's tragically funny is listening to the pundits trying to figure out why.  Many reasons exist:

1.  Increasing cheap imports (up from 11 percent to 22 percent of total food consumed in the U.S. in the past 30 years).

2.  Increased input costs--energy, seed (patented life), machinery, fertilizer, chemicals, labor, insurance.

3.  Increased repair costs--computerized tractors are too sophisticated to be fixed in average farm shops.

4.  Increased inputs--pharmaceuticals, paperwork for regulatory compliance.

5.  Increased percentage of the retail dollar going to processing, marketing, and distribution.

Back in 1950 an agricultural economist guru named D. Howard Doane wrote a book titled Vertical Diversification.  He pointed out that in the food supply chain, the farmer is not only at the end of a long whip, but is the only one in the chain who can defer significant expenses.  He can not pay himself and family help.  He can leave the barn unpainted another year.  He can limp along with the old truck one more season.  The other businesses in the chain have to maintain their equipment, pay their workers and paint their buildings in real time.

Farmers have been deferring for a long time and are running out of deferred expenses.

Those are all reasons.  What's to be done?  The single quickest and most efficient pathway out of the problem is direct marketing and on-farm, or at least farmer-owned, value adding.  Both of those, however, are anathema to the agri-industrial complex and their minions in government agencies, from the school lunch program to the USDA to the FDA.  So until one of the pundits dares to suggest that farmers be allowed easier and efficient access to their neighbors with food, we will continue to see the erosion of the historic family farm.  We will see farmer suicides, already 5 times higher than the per capita rate of ANY OTHER U.S. OCCUPATION, continue to escalate.  In short, the answer is freedom, not agencies.  The answer is the much-maligned right of private contract, not grants, subsidies, and the farm bill.

How would  you feel if your paycheck dropped 50 percent in the last 5 years?


Soft.  The word conjures up all sorts of things, from toilet paper to skin to kind words spoken in love, as in the proverb "A soft answer turns away wrath."

It's also perhaps the most important attribute of good soil.  Hard soil--not good;  soft soil--good.  Yesterday I was putting in some electric fence on a brand new property we've rented near Middlebrook.

We use 3/8 inch rebar 4 ft. stakes for the posts.  A yellow insulator and 17 gauge aluminum wire make a wonderful portable fence capable of retaining a whole herd of cattle.  We are finishing up our first rotation through this property.

About 50 acres are gentle and rock-free enough to mow for hay; the rest is craggy and not conducive to machinery.  Our intentions were to get onto this property in May but all sorts of delays ensued with electric company service and we finally got there with a herd in early July. 

By that time, of course, it was what people call "blown out."  Since no animals had been on it since last fall, it was a wild profusion of grass, weeds, and clovers.  In order to get through the whole property quicker, we mowed what we could so it could grow back sooner--restart the biomass accumulator.  The unmown portions, of course, we're grazing with mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization.

The last couple of weeks we've had good rains and grass is growing beautifully.  Here at Polyface central, we can push these rebar stakes into the ground by hand--no pounding necessary.  Soft soil.

Yesterday I needed to put in a couple of cross fences across the hay ground we'd mowed a month ago and the soil was like concrete.  Pound, pound, pound.  In order to move the herd over to those paddocks today, I need to put an ally from where they are to where I want them to go.  That ally traverses the ground we did not mow, that had this voluminous vegetation on it--what most folks would consider an eyesore and weedpatch.  What we grazed.

After hammering those stakes in on the hay ground, softness of the soil underneath where we had grazed and not mowed was beyond comparison.  I almost didn't even need the hammer it was so soft.  The difference occurred literally a couple of feet across the fenceline--one side hard as concrete; the other soft.

Few people realize that soil can change that dramatically in literally a few inches, depending on management. What made the difference?  It was all that cellulose, that biomass accumulation, that unsightly cascade of carbon:  tops, roots, seeds, moles, voles, spiders and a host of other critters.  The prairie is a marvelous thing and built all the richest soils on the planet, using herbivores as pruners and predators as movers.  The same principles work today if we can duplicate them, and therein lies the mandate of my life.  Soft soil.

Where was the softest soil you've ever experienced?


We're enjoying our summer rite of passage:  peaches.  Last week Teresa and contacted the orchard near Harrisonburg (30 miles north of us) to order our peaches--about 10 bushels for us and others.

We scavenged some boxes and headed up to Showalter's orchard.  Anticipating something as special as fresh tree-ripened peaches is hard to explain.  Each summer we do the phone call and trek and each summer we get beautiful, tasty peaches.  Only twice have they had a complete crop failure; otherwise, it's peach heaven.

Backing up to the yawning garage door with Tonka (our little Ford Ranger pickup) the farm coziness envelopes us.  Vegetables and trees grow right up to the parking area.  This ain't Wal-Mart.  It's a nest of smells and sensory delight.

After some quick howdy-dos, we get down to the business of transferring the peaches into our boxes.  The Showalters dutifully, like a setting hen, watch over the proceedings and pluck out anything with a blemish, replacing it with more sound fruit from another box nearby.  Within a half hour, the transfer complete and invoice paid, Teresa and I head home with our bounty.

I've selected a prime peach for the journey home and push it into my face like a soft children's toy.  Juice runs and I don't care.  Summer is now here, and complete.  This year's crop is spectacular--large and juicy.  We come home and divvy the boxes to all the people who wanted to piggyback on our trip.  That's right; spread the joy.

Teresa paws through all of our boxes, separating almost ripe from less ripe.  Since last week, she's canned more than 50 quarts of peaches.  It looks like one more processing go and we'll be done for the year.  As I tote them to the basement storage shelves, I think about winter, snow, bountiful suppers and . . . summer peaches.  Does it take some effort to do this?  Yes.

Is it worth the effort?  Yes.  If you've never eaten fresh tree-ripened peaches, or your own jar-canned fruit, you haven't lived.  Food is life.  Food is a great investment.  For us, the peach trip is just one of our summer rites of passage.  Until that trip, we haven't experienced summer's fullness.  Thank you, Showalters, and thank you, peaches.  Yum.  I'll remember you when the snow flies.

What is one of your summer food rites of passage?


By now most of you have probably heard about the $289 million jury awarded damage settlement against Monsanto on Friday.  In the first of some 4,000 pending cases against Monsanto, a high school groundskeeper named Dewayne Johnson, 46, alleged that Roundup contributed substantially to his non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  His case went to trial first due to his severe health condition.

Roundup and its main active ingredient glyphosate, has been a Monsanto staple for 40 years and has received every regulatory green light imaginable.  Of course, after the verdict, Monsanto said it would appeal and pointed to 800 scientific studies, the EPA and the National Institutes of Health as corroboration that the product is safe and does not cause cancer.

The plaintiffs, of course, are salivating over the prospect of 4,000 more cases, even prophesying that Monsanto will not appeal.  That's silly.  Of course Monsanto will appeal, and likely will win.  Much hinges on use according to the label, and Johnson did not take the precautions written on the label.

The case may eventually come down to internal memos, much like the fall of the tobacco companies finally came down to cancer cover-ups.  According to some reports, the discovery process for the case unearthed internal documents that show Monsanto knew Roundup causes cancer.

Another interesting element from the case is the little-known reality that when government agencies test these toxic brands, they do not test them in combination.  In other words, Roundup is not just glyphosate; it has other chemicals to encourage penetration, desiccation, or whatever.  In the U.S., combinations are not tested; only single chemicals.  But of course, chemical cocktails are the norm; to not test the combination, or the cocktail of the final product is simply asinine.

Having been in front of a jury and a participant in the antics of modern American courtrooms, I can assure everyone that this case is not the end of Monsanto.  Johnson will not get the money.  It is far, far from over. 

At the risk of being perceived as the only person in the world unsympathetic toward Johnson (for the record, I believe Roundup did in fact contribute to his illness and feel terrible for him and his family) I'm dubious regarding his testimony that had he known it was carcinogenic, he would not have used it.  Witnesses are groomed and prepped to play to the jury.  Listen carefully.  I would not use Roundup, period.  Lots of people wouldn't.

At some point, people must be responsible for their decisions.  I don't trust Monsanto, so I don't use their products.  I don't trust McDonald's so I don't use their products.  I don't trust Chick-fil-A, so I don't eat there.

At some point people can't go blindly through life assuming someone else will make all their decisions for them.  If everyone were in my tribe, we wouldn't have Roundup; we wouldn't even have Monsanto.  Will someone please pay me for thinking clearly and acting soberly?

Japan does not recognize emotional suffering in any litigation, period.  And Toyota runs circles around American companies who are hamstrung by our victimhood mentality.  Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.  Assuming hitting Monsanto with $289 million award will make things fair or right doesn't deal with the ramifications that it just made things much more difficult for me to get you a glass of raw milk or a pastured chicken.  Unintended consequences occur in many areas of life, and tort litigation is one of the biggest.

Any person in the world could find somebody who did them wrong, who complicated their life.  So who do I sue?  Johnson could have read all the reports I've read that make me believe Roundup shouldn't be on the planet.  But he didn't.  All the women still taking their kiddos to McDonald's--they could read the reports I've read about factory farming and the despicable nutrition--have you seen the documentary SUPERSIZE ME?  The information is there, and it's available more now than ever.

So put down People magazine, turn off the TV, and join the lunatic fringe.  Each of us is responsible for our decisions.  To say we're not puts the whole society and certainly the innovative fringes, in jeopardy.  If you've never been sued, you probably can't wrap your head around my position here.  Just wait until you're sued.  You might change your tune. This blog is for thinking people who dare to open their minds to alternative views.  I'm no friend of Monsanto, but I'm also no friend of a system that assumes we're not responsible for our decisions.


Have you ever been sued?


After the umpteemth conversation with urbanites this week, I thought about sharing some critical barnyard truths.  People are so far removed now from agrarian understanding that it's nearly impossible to imagine what goes through their heads.  This is not meant to be condescending, but enlightening.

For example, Saturday I had yet another conversation about horns on cows.  Horns and antlers are different.  Antlers are solid; horns are hollow.  Both male and female bovines grow horns; being horny has nothing to do with what's on top of the head; it's what's between the legs.  Bovines who do not grow horns are called polled.  Most modern cattle are polled.

Years ago, farmers wanted horned cattle in order to put harnesses around them for draft power.  Today, horns are considered a liability in most quarters, except for biodynamic practitioners, who view horns as antennae to absorb cosmic energies.

Bottom line:  a bovine with horns does not tell you a fig about bull or cow. 

Second, chickens don't need roosters to lay eggs.  Just like women, hens lay eggs just fine by themselves; but they aren't fertile.  If you want to hatch eggs, you need a rooster; but you sure don't need a rooster to make eggs.

My favorite:  chickens don't pee.  Birds combine their urine in their poop and it all comes out together in one glob.  Chickens don't even have a stomach.  They have a crop, which is a fermentation holding sac, and then a gizzard, which is a grinding pouch.  After being ground--yes, literally with rocks--the slurry goes directly into their intestines for absorption. 

So whereas a cow has four stomachs, a chicken has none.  A pig has one.  That's why anatomically a pig is closer to the human than any other animal. 

Since urine contains the lion's share of the nitrogen, a key fertilizer, chicken manure is said to be hot (7:1 carbon:nitrogen ratio) whereas horse manure is said to be cold (25:1 C:N ratio).  It all has to do with where the nitrogen is.  So the next time you need to ask a thought-provoking question, ask this:

How do you keep a chicken from peeing on you? 

Answer:  They don't pee.  Hee!  Hee!  Hee!


Yesterday I decried the rampant economic segregation occurring with discriminatory rural internet access.  Today, I want to bolster the point with a story of corporate concession.

Our county has a Little Debbie plant (I think one of 4 in the U.S.).  It uses 1.5 million pounds of sugar a week (more pounds of sugar than pounds of flour).   Did you get that sugar amount?  A tractor trailer holds a little under 50,000 pounds of freight.  So 1.5 million pounds would be about 30 tractor trailer loads . . . A WEEK!  Sugar!

Talk about a societal health risk, this is it.  When the plant moved into the county, the county gave them everything--nice big entrance, road upgrades, a cheaper water hook up than the average residential home, and a promise that all spouses of managers moving into the area who worked in education would get a job in the county school system.  Deferred taxes.

In its red carpet roll out for big business, the county overlooks the contribution of many small businesses.  In aggregate, the small businesses employ more people and create more economic activity than the big ones, but they don't have a voice.  Or maybe I should say we don't have a voice. 

"Well, get organized," you say.  My response:  "When?"  By the time I comply with regulations and trying to make a living with half my income confiscated in taxes to give concessions to huge corporations and build schools so kids can leave when they can't access the internet, I don't have time to organize everyone.  I joined the Chamber of Commerce about 10 years ago thinking maybe that would give voice, but it's a shill for big business and doesn't do squat to actually help with problems.  So I dropped out and was branded "not a team player."

I don't want to play on a team that stacks the deck against innovative small businesses.  So here we are, with sporadic internet access.  I just read a piece today about the history of American agriculture and it pointed out that rural electrification paved the way for today's efficient farmer.  I suggest that high speed internet is today's rural electrification.  The longer we delay, the more disparate rural income and opportunity will be compared to urban, and that puts authentic food and fiber production in jeopardy.  Believe it or not, in many areas of the world where people wonder when they will have enough food to eat another meal, their internet access is much superior to ours.  Maybe Bill Gates could put that on his philanthropic agenda.  If the county forgave my taxes for 10 years, I could afford to put in high speed internet.  But dopey me, I'm just a small business.

What would you launch if you got tax forgiveness for 10 years?


I'm not a big governmenter, by any means, but I admit to becoming more and more vexed with the disparity to internet access between rural and urban sectors.

Our county in the last couple of years has spent some $100 million on new schools, but most of the county struggles with internet access.  Many of these students come home to either dial up or half-way internet access.  It's slow.

We see it every minute of every day on our farm where we're trying to handle customers' credit cards or use Skype or any other form of high tech tele-communication media.  We have a wi-fi arrangement, supposedly the best available, that costs us about $4,000 a year, but it's a Model T in a Corvette world.

It seems to me like the powers that be, if they want to invest in the future, would first invest in good high speed internet so county businesses could prosper.  That would create the tax base to fund the schools.  Funding the schools is getting the cart before the horse.  It would be like in 1900 building a school without an access road.

Taking care of your people, these days, includes making sure they can access the internet to transact business, network with their city customers, and not have a highly prejudicial and discriminatory on-line access.  Economic segregation is just as debilitating as racial segregation.

You would think that a country that can finance star wars and space trips to Mars could figure out how those of us who live in the country could get some decent internet access so we can handle the folks who venture outside the city in search of authenticity and connectedness.  If we can spend billions on a "no child left behind" boondoggle, how about spending some on "no country business left behind?"  Fair is fair.  Tomorrow, I'll do a post on corporate subsidies.  Our government officials don't mind spending money; they just spend it on pet projects.  The rest of us can go take a hike.

How would you like to spend $4,000 a year on 1/15th the speed of most urban service?


Last year I did some seminars in Bulgaria and this morning, a delightful couple who attended one of them visited our farm to see up close and personal what they had only been able to experience via pictures during my presentations.

Although Bulgaria was not part of the old Soviet Union, it was as close as possible without being a formal member.  When the Communists took over, they confiscated all the land because private property was taboo.  In 1997, with governmental change,  that land could be returned to its rightful owners.

After 50 years, however, those original land-owning families had had children and grandchildren.  This young entrepreneurial couple is trying to lease land but the leases are hampered by protective regulations in Bulgaria's land return policy.  For example, one acre is owned by 67 people scattered all over the world.  To have a lease longer than 1 year, this couple must get signatures from all 67 descendants of the original owners, which of course is impossible.  In order to rectify the sins of confiscation, the culture is bending over backwards to make sure every square yard to which someone has historic ties is returned to its rightful owners.  But after two or three generations, that's easier said than done.

Cultural contexts are fascinating.  I asked them what they saw as a solution.  Quickly, they replied "taxes."  Now I'm not a fan of taxes, but as it turns out, agricultural land is not taxed at all in Bulgaria.  The result is that all these multiple owners have no incentive to do anything with it.  The unsettledness of the land ownership, then, continues unabated.  Nothing moves and much of it sits idle since ownership costs nothing.

They said the second farmland is taxed, all these descendants who own fractions of the pie will either sell or buy to get things settled.  Until that happens, the economy continues to stagnate, entrepreneurial farmers don't have access to land, unemployment remains rampant and city folks spend exorbitantly for food.  They said the country needed leaders with enough backbone to push through a tax on idle farmland.  Then all sorts of things would happen.

Isn't it interesting to listen to someone else's problem?  It doesn't make ours go away, but it sure puts some things in perspective.  When you realize that all of this was done due to confiscation of private property, it makes you understand how terrible socialism is.   Today, we have way too many folks dancing with socialism.  I wonder how they expect to eat?

Have you ever voted for a socialist?


In France, the 18,000 butchers across the country have asked for additional security because their establishments are being  vandalised. 

Fake blood and spray painted graffiti with the phrases "meat is murder" and "stop speciesism" attributed to militant vegans and vegetarians have these butcher shop owners concerned.  This is symptomatic of a gradually militarizing anti-animal movement in rich countries.  It's not a problem in poor countries, where a glass of milk or a chicken leg are precious and folks are grateful for sustenance.

No, this movement is a rich urban phenomenon, perpetrated by folks with a holier-than-thou attitude and not enough brain-feeding essential fatty acids to think clearly.  That Italy outlawed vegan diets for children should speak some sense into this urban disease.  Italy realizes that kids denied animal proteins actually don't function very well intellectually, emotionally, or physically.

It's one thing to deny your own body its essential fuels once you're old enough to make that decision.  It's quite another to deny your children or someone else's children the essential ingredients for healthy bodily function.  In France, consumption of red meat is down 20 percent in the last 5 years.  Other countries, like China, India, and Japan, are consuming more as affluence increases.

On our farm, we produce 5 times more beef per acre of pasture than the county average.  And we do it without planting seeds, buying chemical fertilizers, or eroding soil.  Raised in nature's image, livestock are the most healing and nutrient-dense food item on the planet.  Raised against nature's template, they're the most devastating.

That the anti-meat movement maker no distinction between ecologically-enhancing production and ecologically-damaging production speaks volumes about its underlying cultishness and absurdity..  Eventually all those young disciples will reach middle age, unable to think or walk.  Then the rest of us will have to decide what to do with them. 

Do you know a recovering vegan? 


Anyone keeping up with the state of the ecosystem knows that bees are in trouble.  They're like the canary in the mine.  Some might argue Monarch butterflies are, but for now, let's focus on bees.

One out of every three morsels of food you and I eat owes its production to bees.  We're all quite familiar with the common culprits:  pesticides and chemicals in general, tiny parasitic mites, and climate change.  When winters are too warm, bees come out of their hives and burn up precious energy flying around.  They go through their honey stockpile too fast and then starve to death before new blossoms come out in the spring.  Warm winter days are death on bees.

But I want to point out another issue you don't hear much about.  That is the wholesale movement of bee colonies for pollination.  Most people have a warm fuzzy feeling about this, like isn't that the coolest thing, to bring in a tractor trailer load of bees from 500 miles away to pollinate oranges in Florida or canola in Alberta? 

We have this naive response to massive bee movement that indicates a cheerleader mentality.  "Oh boy, here come the bees!  Bees to the rescue.  Rah, rah, rah, go get 'em, bees!"

Actually, bees are extremely territorial.  They don't like to move.  They like to stay in one place, becoming more familiar and acclimated, passing down heritable adaptation from season to season, offspring to offspring.  Why must we move thousands and thousands of hives around the country like this?

Because we've monospeciated and monocropped our practices to the point that we don't have a sustained flow of blossoms to feed the bees all the time.  Without flora diversity in the ecosystem, it can't sustain year-round pollinators.  It's feast one day, famine the next. 

The next time you read or hear about bee yards being transported for pollination, don't cheer for the bees; shed a tear that they've been ripped away from their home and transported overnight to some unknown place where they must learn to navigate new routes from home to food.  This whole procedure is just one more assault on our friends and allies in nature.  That we disrespect them with such wholesale abandon and paint this as a productive, salvational procedure, should bring us to our knees in repentance.

Yes, it's amazing they still function.  Yes, it's amazing that any of them survive.  Yes, it's an amazing service.  But moving nests around indicates famine in the countryside.  Instead of rejoicing over our cleverness and the bees' resilience, we should be repenting in sackcloth and ashes, eating instead food from farmers who diversify their systems and enjoy weeds in their fencerows.

Do you have sugar on your dining room table, or honey?

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As if people aren't confused enough with labels, a group of farmers are launching a Real Organic add-on label because the USDA Certified Organic label is in disrepute.

The U.S. is the only country certifying hydroponic (growing produce in solutions without soil) production practices as organic.  In the animal sector, producers routinely defy the pasture access requirements without consequences.  So the whole government program is dubious.

Now, to counteract an untrustworthy system, these folks, many of whom are my friends, have decided to add yet another label to ensure authenticity.  Just imagine what this is going to look like:  a package of green beans with a USDA Certified Organic label  and then next to it, a Real Organic label.  In the next bin over, a package of green beans has only USDA Certified Organic; one label.  What is a person supposed to think, faced with these packages?

In order to get the Real Organic label, a farm must first play the government game and be USDA Certified Organic.  Not only is that a lot of paperwork and expense, but it gets squirrely out the other side.  On our farm, we turn compost with pigs:  we call them pigaerators.  If we took the government certification, we couldn't do that because all the compost has to reach  It's like salvation by denominationalism.

Do you trust labels?at least 140 degree F.  That's too hot; it cooks out half the microbes and goodies.  So being government certified would make our soils less fertile. 

That's just one of many problems with organic certification.  Be watching.  You're going to see a plethora of new labels hitting the market.  Rodale has one.  Allan Savory has one.  More are on the way.  It's like salvation by denominationalism.

Do you trust labels?


Food and fiber go together like peas and carrots, but we seldom discuss fiber in the same breath as food.  Fiber went out of vogue once synthetics came into being in the 1950s.

I had a wonderful conversation today with Francis Chester, founder of Cestari Sheep and Wool Company.  Perhaps the finest quality wool and yarns in America are born and milled just a few miles from our farm here in Augusta County, Virginia.  He's been doing this for 50 years and has a real passion for natural fiber.

He said that in 1950 the U.S. had 54 million sheep.  By 1970, that number was down to 5 million.  What happened?  Synthetics.  Spandex.  Nylon.  Lycron.  Polyester.  This is not to demonize or castigate artificial fibers, but I think it's good to point out what a loss this was to agriculture.

When we lament struggling farmers, this is part of the culprit.  And once something like this is lost, it's hard to regain.  Today, 80 percent of all lamb eaten in the U.S. is imported from New Zealand and Australia.  New York City alone eats 28,000 lambs a week.  The whole state of Virginia only produces twice that amount--enough to feed NYC for two weeks.

Francis told me growing up in Italy, his family had sheep and vegetables.  One day, as a little boy, he went out and saw that something had eaten all their green beans.  The next morning his dad came in carrying two rabbits.  The culprits.  

"I didn't hear you shoot, daddy," said little Francis.

"I didn't.  I brought them down with a stone," said his father.  Turns out that shepherds grew up learning how to throw stones accurately to kill or chase away predators.  They became quite the marksmen.  His dad had nailed these two garden marauders between the eyes,  a stone apiece.  David and Goliath?

As he was telling me this story, I couldn't help but think about the times I've witnessed academics and high tech folks speak condescendingly of farmers as dolts and hillbillies.  But some of the most laudable skill I know resides in the hands and wisdom of supposed country bumpkins.  Don't sell us country folks short.  We know how to do a thing or two.  Long after an EMP takes out the power grid; long after smart phones die and self-driving cars run amuck, we'll still be making cheese, milking cows, raising chickens, and cooking on wood fires. 

What country skill do you wish you had?


   Last weekend I spent time with a great friend doing a fundraiser presentation in Oregon for Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

   For two weeks, she's worn a blood sugar monitor on her arm.  She's not diabetic.  She just wanted to see how it fluctuated throughout the day.

The one big thing she found:  stress made blood sugar spike.  More than food, more than sleep.  And the lowest consistent readings?  Right after yoga.  In fact, once she saw the trend, she made a point of meditating for 10 minutes post stressful incident, and the sugar came right down.  If she went to bed with it high , she woke up with it high.

Perhaps when the Bible says "let not the sun go down upon your wrath" it has more truth than we realize.  If she meditated and calmed down post-stress, she could see it drop and stay low.

I know an elderly guy who is diabetic, takes shots, etc. and his wife is often frustrated because sometimes when he cheats on his diet, his blood sugar stays fine, and when he doesn't cheat, it spikes.  Could it be that stress is playing a bigger factor than we realize?

As the individual wellness monitors of all kinds become more ubiquitous, I think we'll see more and more of these personal ahas as we trace physical responses to psychological and spiritual occurrences.  This kind of thing bothers me because I'm not a calm person.  I'm a Type A git'er-done guy who likes to see chips fly and jobs accomplished.  I get really stressed around lazy people, inefficient people, and careless people.

Fortunately, that's balanced with a lot of alone time out in nature, on the farm, quiet, beautiful, harmony.  When he coined the term "nature deficit disorder," Richard Louve was certainly onto something.  May the birds drop your blood sugar.

What do you do for stress relief?


Today we finished mowing hay at a new property we'll be managing with a partner landlord.  This makes the third property now that folks have purchased within a few minutes of our farm hub so we can manage it and they can have the pleasure of owning a piece of property that's healing.  We take these partnership seriously and graciously.

I haven't mowed much in the last couple of years so it was a great delight to spend a couple of hours jostling around on the tractor, ear plugs firmly in place, enjoying this process of putting by for the cows.  Since it's so late in the season and hot, the bugs that inhabit tall, thick grasslands are more prolific than normal.

What wants to eat these bugs disturbed by the hay mower?  Barn swallows.  This property has a nice-sized shed for storing hay and an old bank barn, both of which are full of barn swallows.  Relatives of the purple martin, these beautiful little acrobats offer continuous entertainment around the mower.  Down in the depths of that thick grass and clover, bugs, voles, mice and snakes make leafy tunnels and villages.  The community network built and developed by these critters down in that deep forage is quite spectacular.

But along comes the mower, ripping it all apart, destroying homes, nests, and feeding areas.  Hawks and buzzards come to feast on the exposed small mammals.  But the star of the show is the barn swallow because they operate best in tandem with the hay mower.  We don't have any cabs on our tractors, and part of that is to connect as closely as we can to the work we're doing.  Part of that connection, in this case, involves partnering with these aerial gymnasts.  Attracted by the bugs jumping up from the mower disturbance, barn swallows swoop in to inhale thousands of bugs in mid-air.

It's one of the most pleasurable wild interactions in my life.  The barn swallows respond to my mower and for that period of time enjoy more easy food pickings than at any time of the year.  I've never seen one so bloated with bugs that he couldn't fly; somehow they know when to quit.  But I guarantee you they talk about that day for a long time--the day the mower came.  They dive with such precision that you almost feel like they're going to run into your head.  I can almost reach out and touch them they dive in so close.  To have two or three dozen of these beautiful little birds swarming around you for hours on end is unspeakably entertaining.  Who needs video games when  you can have this kind of responsive interaction?

Isn't this a great picture of life, the tension of gain and pain.  Yes, the mower inflicts pain on lots of things, but it provides sustenance for livestock in the winter and satiates barn swallows like nothing else imaginable.  I really can't think of much of anything that would be considered gain that doesn't also require pain.  A good marriage requires me to let go of some of my selfishness.  A good grade requires more disciplined study time.  Job advancement requires learning and attention to detail.  Good food requires spending a little more money.  So here's to the barn swallows; today was their day.

Can you think of other pain-gain tradeoffs?