Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Short History of Shady Side Farm With Some Philosophy Sprinkled In

We are working on updating our website, and so part of my homework is to work up a short history of the farm, as well as other fun assignments. You get to read my rough drafts and comment on them, if you choose.

There are many ways to farm, and we've tried several of them. Despite the awful effects in the 1980s of the "Get big or get out" motto, early in our farming career we couldn't see any other way. But getting big didn't really mesh with our dreams. We didn't have a ton of money, and we had no desire to get over our heads in debt. We knew we would rather farm than manage employees. Our idea of a fun time didn't include dealing with paperwork all day long. We wanted a good place to raise a family. We wanted to be connected to the land and to our community. We consciously stayed small, but farmed conventionally, using the tools of modern agriculture.

In an effort to make a living wage, we diversified. Part of our reason for diversifying was to try to survive--maybe if we had many projects going, some would pay off, despite a wet spring or a dry summer or a harvest failure or a hard winter. And part of our reason was a natural progression as we learned more about soil health and the importance of rotating crops and animals.

As time went on we tried very hard to do a better job with what we were growing and raising. We developed a growing awareness that the ground under our feet is a living entity, and that much of what we call health springs from healthy, working soil. We switched from more harmful chemicals to less harmful chemicals. Then we switched from less harmful chemicals to no chemicals and began transitioning to organic farming. We continued to become more intentional about crop and animal rotation to ensure healthy soils, healthy plants and healthy animals.

So now here we are--farming organically and biologically. Certainly we haven't arrived in the sense that we know what we're doing and do it well. We joke that we find new ways to screw up every year. But we are pleased with where we are, even so. The sheep and cattle graze part of the farm, followed by corn, then beans, then grain. Each year finds us working within all four of these categories in different fields. We are excited about the nutrition, taste and sustainability of the food we grow. We offer our food at three different farmers' markets in the area, and sell our food through two online food hubs that operate in the West Michigan area.

We have a lot to learn yet, and continue to struggle with the weather, marketing, crop yields, cash flow, exhaustion, weeds, and relationships. But there is a sense of satisfaction that permeates our days and draws us onward.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stopping Traffic -- A Mini Sheep Drive

Today we worked with the sheep. We sorted off the larger lambs and put them into their own group. If they haven't already been weaned by their mothers, they will be weaned now. 

Here The Farmer and one of his side-kicks are pulling out a few of the largest lambs, already big enough for freezer camp. 

The plan was to move the lambs across the road to a recently-cut hayfield. We've never put sheep on the south side of the road, mostly because we don't have any fence there (other than the little pasture right by the big red barn). But we also haven't done it because we haven't needed to.

This year it's different. We haven't had rain, and it's dry here. The pastures are in definite hold pattern--not growing at all. Moving the lambs across the road is a decision we made partly out of desperation.

We set up temporary fence from the sheep barn, were we sorted the sheep, across the road to the big red barn and the small pasture. The lambs will spend the night there. Here is the first attempt at getting them to cross the road.

Almost there! It was going good. But because not all of them came out of the barn together, these brave adventurous lambs decided to go back with their other friends. It's at this point that we had to lay the fences down and let a car ride over them to get through.

The second attempt had everyone out of the barn.

The Farmer quickly shut the door and both he and our daughter followed close behind, driving the lambs slowly.

It never pays to be in a hurry with sheep.

Maybe this time...

And we made it!

We will let them settle down in this small pasture for the night. It's very hot, and they can enjoy some shade by the barn for the evening.

We will move them to new pasture tomorrow. Today was enough work for all of us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Beans Are Making Progress!

We've been busy! We planted some of the beans later than we would have liked this year (due to a wet spring and some slow shipping of bean seed). But we are happy to report that the beans are coming along nicely for the most part.

The Yellow Indian Woman beans just after they popped out of the ground...

 And Black Valentine in blossom...

These are Jacob's Cattle with blossoms and small beans forming.

We could use a bit of rain right now. The beans are doing well, but one of the fields is a heavier soil (clay) and is baked to nearly concrete stage with the heat and dry weather.

The weeds are somewhat under control, thanks to starting with clean fields, cultivating regularly, and LOTS of hard hand-weeding by the family. We are hopeful...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Organic Pesticide Photo

This isn't actually a photo of organic pesticide. It's a photo of a bit of a wildflower strip that some Michigan State University students planted on our farm several years ago. The Farmer calls it the Predator Feeding Sanctuary.

Planting it was part of a study on whether planting habitat for beneficial insects helped with pest control. I don't think I ever heard any definitive results on the study, but it's the loveliest pest control I've ever seen.

Last year I made the mistake of treating this area as part of the rotational grazing plan. We didn't see many flowers. This year we're leaving it alone and it seems to be doing just fine. And I did see a ladybug (considered a good insect) on one of the bean plants while I was weeding yesterday...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Post

"But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields." --Ecclesiastes 5:9

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