How to Start a Farm with No Land and Little Money

I originally wrote the story below for the magazine Touch the Soil. Not everybody who worries about food security and is interested in doing something about it has access to plenty of land or money to buy land and necessary equipment. I was in this situation a few years ago and rather frustrated by it. Perhaps this story will give others some ideas, and I should note that Touch the Soil is a great source of information about the food system and efforts to transform it at all levels.

The publisher has given me permission to make the original article available on The Oil Drum.

I am the parent of two boys who attended Brookside Elementary School in the town of Willits, CA. On the first day of school in August 2005 I wandered to the back of the school yard and noticed that a one acre grassy field was essentially unused behind preschool buildings on the grammar school campus. From my knowledge of soils in the area I knew I was standing on a balanced loam, and within minutes decided it was an ideal site for a school farm specializing in vegetables and fruits.

A non-profit administering the adjacent Head Start preschool agreed to be the farm’s fiscal agent, and a local master gardener agreed to help me make sound decisions. I wrote a proposal to the school board for establishing Brookside Farm and the project was approved January 2006. The land was essentially free, but I had nothing else other than some ideas, a lot of friends, and interest in learning how to become a farmer. Not wanting to go into financial debt or spend a lot of my own money to do this, I started raising funds within the community. Local businesses helped with supplies. Local service clubs and individuals gave money. By December 2006 we had a very sturdy fence and cover crops sown. An orchard, berries, and table grapes were planted that winter. Following a CSA model, in early 2007 and 2008 we sold farm shares as our primary income. This year two of the twelve shares were bought by the preschool, with the rest going to private households.

[Image Caption: Soon after getting district approval for the project we made a big compost pile to "mark" the territory. Kids helped by collecting copious grass clippings and even had a little fun.]

I have many reasons for wanting to farm, but for the school system I focused on the need to improve student health and education. From my proposal to the district:

Educators are increasingly aware of how nutrition and physical activity influence the learning process. Students fed a balanced diet of high quality foods are more likely to be able to pay attention, cause fewer disruptions to others, and be ready to learn. Opportunities to develop sturdy bones, strong muscles, efficient hearts, balance and coordination also positively impact academic achievement. The common sense wisdom comes down to this: a healthy body is better able to support the development of a good mind.

School board members worried that I could burn out and leave a mess on their property. Until food is more highly valued, the risk of farm failure is real. I argued that this project would garner widespread community support, and provide a tangible economic return in the form of food. I believe a role exists for public institutions to add economic stability to local farms by seeing that they are valued not only for the food they produce, but for a variety of cultural, educational and environmental benefits.

[Image Caption: Riotous growth on the farm in late summer 2007 is contrasted by winter snows in 2008.]

The existence of a working farm gives school kitchens an incentive to incorporate fresher, healthier produce into their meals. My long term goal is for the farm to be fully supported by the schools, but the process of incorporating more fresh produce into busy institutional kitchens takes time. I regularly provided vegetables to the kitchens and asked what was most easily used. Clearly by now the kitchen staff desire to serve Brookside Farm produce, but their ability to do so varies. The smaller preschool kitchens have had no trouble including fresh veggies, whereas the elementary school cafeteria feels understaffed. The school cafeteria prefers items that require little preparation time, such as cherry tomatoes, while the preschool will use anything grown.

Students thoroughly enjoy visiting the farm. To improve their experience, I am working with the school’s garden-educator and a high school art class to produce a trail system with signage along the route. Signs will connect the activities and parts of the farm to basic curricula standards, e.g., concepts of numbers and distance ingrained by trail lengths; cardinal directions relative to the position of the sun in the sky; basic plant morphology and seasonal life cycle diagrammed, etc. A local foundation is funding a “Kid’s Garden” within the farm that will be managed by the garden-educator. Beds and tools will be tailored to their body size, and creative use of plantings can tie into specific learning goals. Here’s how I explained the educational value to the district:

Directly related to education is the fact that children are very tactile beings who learn faster and retain knowledge better when they are physically and emotionally engaged in the subject…a school farm provides a dynamic, living laboratory of objects and processes that lend purpose to the abstractions of the classroom.

As a biologist I am naturally drawn towards working with soil, plants and associated critters, but I became personally interested in farming through my understanding of the converging crises of resource depletion, pollution, and economic instability. Brookside Farm is also a demonstration project for methods of food production, preservation and distribution that don’t rely on fossil fuels, don’t pollute, and don’t damage soil health. This mission attracted the partnership of Post Carbon Institute, which supported the farm’s development by hiring my co-worker for nearly two years, Chris Hansen.

[Image caption: Chris Hansen does early season bed preparation while a gaggle of school kids visit during recess. Picture from late winter, 2007]

It is not a lonely farm, disconnected from the people it serves by distance and commodity markets, but a social hub. Students, parents, teachers, CSA members, worker volunteers, college classes, neighbors and food activists visit regularly. Harvest day is Tuesday, and in the afternoon farm members arrive for their produce baskets. At the same time, Brookside Farm serves as a distribution point for other CSAs selling meat, eggs, milk, cheese, grains, herbs, and olive oil from other farms in the county. Tuesday evening is a regular potluck at the farm. Wednesday mornings will often find my friend Sara slicing produce to fill the solar food dryers. I can expect Austin, a 17-year old independent study student, to show up once or twice a week in the mornings.

Because it servers so many functions and is still relatively new, Brookside Farm keeps growing. This year we installed an irrigation system. I placed four bee hives on site. Our perennial plants, such as culinary and medicinal herbs, are growing and need maintenance. A photovoltaic electric system is being erected. And we now have two vermiculture bins for composting food scraps from downtown organic restaurants. Not having grown up on a farm, all these projects teach me new hands-on skills. I am looking forward to constructing an equipment shed and a greenhouse as time and resources allow.

[Image Caption: The farm now has the capacity to produce about a ton of worm castings each year from local food waste, offsetting the import of fertilizer]

The substitution of fossil fuels for labor in agriculture has created an abundance of cheap food and a dearth of farmers. Part of my struggle at Brookside Farm is employing more labor intensive, but ultimately more sustainable, practices while still keeping the food in line with price expectations. So far this has meant that CSA share sales are less than the cost of production, with the difference made up by grants, donations, and a lot of volunteer labor. With the new photovoltaic system I will begin using more time saving tools that can run on renewably generated electricity, but many of these are capital intensive.

As a new farmer of course I have learned a great deal about the predilections of various crops and their pests. But what interests me more to consider is how my character has changed. As a farmer I am viscerally aware of my dependence upon forces beyond my control and at great scale. I now face the world with greater humility. When I plant a seed or a tree, I know that it will take time to bear fruit and this imbues me with greater patience. My body is required to get up and work day after day, and because I have a responsibility towards the farm I must maintain my health. Therefore, I have learned to work at a pace that is steady and earnest, not quick and exhausting. And although each winter I make plans about how the season will unfold and what my schedule will be, no year is average and I have learned to deviate from my path when appropriate, knowing that survival requires adaptation to reality. These lessons are as good as anything I learned while still in school.

Final Note: This article was written a few month ago. I am now selling shares and planning for the 2009 planting season. Worries include the potentially severe drought in California, opportunities include installation of a 14,000 gal water tank to collect rainwater from adjacent buildings. From June through September last summer the farm used 25,000 gallons of water. A big change this year is that the Farm Manager (that would be me) is getting paid.

Hi Jason. Thank you for a wonderfully uplifting article. Last week I hit the wall with a lot of paradigm shift issues. This has given me heart and helped me come out of a funk.

In a practical sense, this seems to be a blueprint for things to come in education. Well done for bringing this to the fore.

There's a print my Mom always keeps around..

"When life doth fail to satisfy, there is always the garden!"

Jason and others might be interested in this ......

Jason, how much student involvement is there in the summer months, you know, when the kids are on summer vacation? Was the fact that the kids are gone during a large period of "farming time" ever an argument by the school against using the plot as a farm?

I can't comment for Jason, but the "off season" for school is a problem - but it is a problem that can be solved.

I love this key post - it demonstrates the Baby Steps we need to take to make our communities less dependent on outside sources of food.

As for the criticisms down thread:

1. Is this a "Farm" or "Garden" ??? Who Cares. It's a START. I think Jason and company are doing the best they can with what they have available at the moment.

2. Labor availability (volunteer or paid). At first, many people love the idea, but lose interest when it is time to do the work... So plan on this and adjust for it. You migh have to start smaller, or recruit more people than you realized. Or find a better community to work with (this may involve the inconvenience of relocating, but hey, that's better than being on the menu later when your present dimbulb and lazy community is starving).

3. Use of fossil fuel-powered equipment... Get the garden/farm started, then try to wean yourself off of fossil fuels and onto animal (including human) power as time permits. There are a few people out there besides the Amish who still know how to hook up a mule or horse to a plow - find them and learn from them.

4. Interpersonal issues (e.g. late returns of tools; the inevitable, "it's MY WAY (Airdale's way) or the Highway" attitudes of volunteers/paid help), etc, etc. This is an issue on the farm or in the office... get used to it.

Over time hopefully you weed out the malcontents and egos and end up with a group of reasonably helpful, good-natured people and a few odd balls you can all learn to tolerate.


Its an extremely satisfying thing to visit and live well with ones neighbors out in farmland in smallish communities.

I can remember very clearly when living with one of my aunts and uncles back in the 40' aunt grabbed up a grown hen and put it in a gunny sack...told me...Son lets take a walk,,we walked down the country land and about 2 miles to a neighbors farm where she was giving the hen to another farmwife. That farmwife gave her some things in return.

We walked back home after we had a good visit, ate some dinner and they chatted a long time.

Very pleasant to interact in a good neighborly fashion. I miss those kind of experiences. Now everyone has some vague agenda that doesn't include such. Some keep bad dogs to keep people away. Some are drug addicts. Some are theives. Some have nothing to trade and don't want to. You can get run over by wildly driven pickups with ignorant teenagers at the wheel.

So much has changed. So much will have to change back if possible.

Working with others. Yes but will they cut your throats late at night to take what you have? Who can you trust then? Its going to be hard to work out for back then we were all 'related' to one and another and trust and honor were held in very high esteem.

Read that last sentence above once more. Trust and honor.

If a man said he was going to do something ,,then he DID IT.

Today they will screw you over for a dime and laugh at your back as you walk away.

All this stuff about 'we can come together'?....yeah..sure.....



Lets not oversell the past as something of idyllic nostalgia that no longer exists. There are good neighbors today just like there were in the past. Just like there were really bad neighbors in the past as there are today. I am sure you can remember some of those as well.

My grandfather on my mothers side was a farmer in Wyoming. He got along well with some of the neighbors. Others tried to kill him and his family (the Johnson County Cattle Wars if you want to Google it). He carried a gun on his hip at all times clear up into the mid-1920's.

In the sixties two of our otherwise friendly neighbors decided they liked each other so much that they took to shooting at each other. The winner dragged the loser into the back of his pickup and drove 60 miles into town and dropped him off at the hospital. Just being neighborly you know.

Generalizations are generally mistaken aren't they?



Yep everyone sees life different. What is truth then? Of life?

We didin't live in the old west. We lived in about the center of the USA.

Are there good people out here today? Lots of meth heads,crack heads and the crimes now as opposed to when I was a child are far far off the scale.

I won't belabor the point. What I posted was clearly not a generalization. It was my experience/s.

Idyllic nostalgia. Well when one gets a bit older sometimes thats where your reality seems to be. But more and more I think of that past returning as this nation and the world shuts down.

So I speak of it. Much like I guess those in the FoxFire series of books did. All those people in the FoxFire series are now dead. Wigginton captured them perfectly. And he did us a favor to do so before they and their remembrances passed away.

Many here have no clue as to how it once was. A few do. I think I am one of them. I get a lot of emails that are very positive so I continue.

As I replied to another detractor yesterday who spoke of Verificable Facts vs beliefs....this is Campfire and Nate Hagens stated that a lot would not be 'hard data'. ....

So I disagree with Jason and his depiction of 'farming'...when its really 'gardening'. What is the problem with that?

I spoke of trust and honor in the past. We lived by it. I think if you look closely as where you live and the past you might find it the same. Don't know your age but what I wrote is the truth for I experienced it. Did you or are you passing on what others said?


"In the sixties two of our otherwise friendly neighbors decided they liked each other so much that they took to shooting at each other".

In Great Britain and the continent this activity was refined to duelling. I love the diversity of viewpoints on this website! And f#*$@ being p.c! It is time for a little anarchy and, as someone has mentioned, perhaps a revolution is needed!

For those interested in gardening the commons there is a good article on land use reforms at

Go at this, you drummers.

"In the sixties two of our otherwise friendly neighbors decided they liked each other so much that they took to shooting at each other".

In Great Britain and the continent this activity was refined to duelling. I love the diversity of viewpoints on this website! And f#*$@ being p.c! It is time for a little anarchy and, as someone has mentioned, perhaps a revolution is needed!

For those interested in gardening the commons there is a good article on land use reforms at

Go at this, you drummers.

Why so bitter?

Where's the love?

Every extra day alive is a good day, so why have such a po attitude?

Power Down, you'll live longer.


Judging by YOUR posts I think you have the roles reversed.

I read YOU as a very very bitter man and screaming out at those on TOD with extreme negativity.

Airdale -hey man,,,if you read WTF I post you will see that I am powering down. I think your msg is getting a bit stale myself. I have only read it about 300 times or more. "Power Down"...

Yup. Yup.

Your way or the highway, as others have said.

A sad and bitter old man, not surprised you view the whole world is against you. Not surprised the youth of today have no use to learn from the elders.

BTW, female.

Sad and bitter? Your are now into character assassination.

MY WAY is when I am head of household and we have to live by somebodies rules. Its not going to be what Oprah says. Its going to be me for I would be the one who does the hardest work and have to plan.

So right now? Yes it is my way. When I was building my 4500 sq ft loghouse was there anyone else telling me how to do the work? No.
So no preaching please. Please go find someone else to bark at.

As a woman I guess that in your opinion this is being MCPiggy but really I don't give a rat's red ass what you think.

Go power down your hubbie instead and quit whining that PowerDown mantra over and over. Everyone gets the message.

Airdale-BTW male

Hey airdale, this thread kinda points out some of things you talk about. Chuckle. Youngsters don't really quite get, that after years on the land folks like you and Todd and myself end up with a large pile of grit as part of our soul. Here on my 60 acres, I am the dictator. What I say goes. You're right no one told me how to build my house. Didn't have much help hammering those nails either. I decide what to plant and when to plant it. There are no rules here but mine. There were quite a few people who laughed at me when I started, now they are asking if I have room.

There are people who talk, and there are people who write, and then there are people who do. We end up to be a pretty crusty crew, life does that. Quite short with words sometimes. Not a real "feel good" group.

But we old guys are still risk takers, not all, but some of us who speak up here, I disagree with some of the things Airdale has posted, and Todd, but you know what I expect if you put us in the same room with some good burbon, we'd have a hell of a time. We could do that even 10 years from now.

I'm a guy who can fix things, like Todd, like Airdale you have to learn that skill, I build what I need. Not always the best but it will suffice, it will do . Tybalt reference there.

So do you always do it right, no, I'm already burning next years wood. Adding it into the dry I had for this year. We got pounded up here this winter. Bitter cold and more snow than I remember. First year in 20 that I have shoveled off the roof. The driveway is like a tunnel. And I shovel it. Getting to be no place to put the snow. So this spring I cut some more, I like cutting wood, kind of like eating peanuts, just one more. Splitting means I don't need a Doc. Last time I was checked I think around 58, I had the cardio system of a 30 yer old.
I actually like splitting wood. The details go away, it's you and the axe and the chunk of wood.

The air is there, there is sun. You breath deep and swing.

Just filled my jim beam airdale, tip of it to you and todd.

I have the stars at night and the wind in the trees and I am a rich man.

Don in Maine

I feel exactly the same, guys. I built the first two houses my family lived in myself. From scratch, alone except for a small crew helping to mix and place the concrete for the foundation walls, and a hired hitchhiker for a week to help pound all the nails to fabricate the trusses. While working a full-time shiftwork job. (I know, a varied history, too complex for here).

To the woman above berating us for "my way or highway" attitude, I can only say that a) such a decision hierarchy was an absolute survival necessity for our family when we were growing up. b) Mom, a well educated smart individual in her own right, also completely agreed with it and never felt it an imposition that I know of.

The reason for the process is the necessitiy for significant and important long-term planning without the time-waste of "concensus-building" or whatever process management consultants are currently pitching to keep spoiled brats happy. The organizer has to know that if their plans depend on a particular fence being mended or a field being weeded by a specific date and time, that the job will be done without question and with minimum discussion. Its a position of respect that is earned by the results achieved, and can as well fall to a woman as a man depending on a family's dynamic. And the woman I've known in the position are often just as demanding as any man, example my grandmother after my grandfather passed on.

You got it man.

As for when I was building my loghome, my wife was always going off on long visits out of state. After 10 years she decided she didn't wanta live on a farm and she told me she didn't like Ky either.

I did a lot of 'off hand engineering ' to lay up 6x14inch roof beams, spliced in place, over 60 ft long and 20 feet in the air. Block and tackle work.Valley rafters same size. Driving 8 inch spike pole barn nails with a sledge.


Hey Don(we say hey here instead of Hi),

Well heating season here on my place is over for the year. It gets down to the lower 30s at nite but I got lots of down comforters and so I don't light off the heating stove. I got thru with about a cord of wood. Still got some left and plenty more to gather up this spring.

I too love to split wood. Over the years I have picked up a fair number of double bit axes. Lately I went with one that had more heft(weight) and a bit broader head. With this axe I can finally split well seasoned hickory. Too light an axehead and you are just wasting your time.

Skills. Yes and this is where the younger folks are going to be in trouble. They never used their hands that much. My son is an example. He doesn't know the correct manner of loosening a bolt.I found him once putting his whole weight behind a sparkplug on my VW bug...Tightening it!!!! when I told him to pull them.

Once he took a wheel off without using a jack. He said"you never told me to use something"....ahhh his mother raised the boy you see.

A farmer/landowner who lives the live must have a big kit of real skills. If you have stock you also gotta give shots, pull calves,treat pinkeye, and clamp young bulls or cut them. Know how to build fence, winter over cattle, fix all your implements, be a good welder, on and on.

Jim Beam? Try some Evan Williams. Nice to costly. Nice smooth taste , at least for me. Four Roses is my favorite but only sold in Ky. Maybe Indiana. No where else AFAIK.

We are all rich men who have learned to be content with living well and appreciating the work to make it so.



I am a woman - single mom. I was cutting my front lawn when I first moved over to this area and one of my neighbours came over and told me how to properly cut grass. I listened politely (he's my neighbour after all) but when he left I continued on my merry way. My son - at that time 6 - said "mom you're not doing it like he said" I replied "nope - my lawn, my reasons for cutting it the way I do - nothing he said changed my thoughts on the matter" I hate to say it but I think I am an old coot myself (cootess?) I do any work or renovations around my house - I use my sons for muscle but mostly I design the jobs around my strength. I find I have less and less patience with folks who helpfully come around and tell me how to do things without first asking why I am doing things the way I am. I probably get a bit more of this than you because I am a woman.

I really think some of the cootism comes from being responsible for the welfare of yourself and others. In my home most things are discussable, compromisable, negotiable. But when necessary none of that happens - and it is my word that goes. I have to keep the big picture of everyone's welfare in my head - so I get to make the hard decisions. That's just how it is.

Or maybe not - either way I agree with Don - the sun, the wind and the stars - watching my boys play rugby, the dog snoring in the sun. Life is good


Hi airdale,

My little 'happy post' above aside, I understand your points and worries.

The majority of the time I feel little else than frustrated - pounding my head against the "wall of paradigm shift issues" as thaicoon put it, and feeling like I live among several thousand adult-sized children.

Right now I am considering taking my own advice about moving to a different community. My current community seems too heavily damaged by our braindead culture and there is precious little time for "baby steps" anymore.

I haven't seen a great amount of student involvement, especially in the summer. A school staff person is working on developing a "Kids Garden" within the farm site and that should increase student activity.

The students return to school the 3rd week of August so there's plenty of activity for them to see. The district didn't want the farm unmanaged during the summer, but since the farm mostly pays its own way by selling CSA shares I am there during the summer most days.


I hate to call bullshit on this but you never mention Harry's equipment: his BCS tiller or his tractor and equipment without which my understanding is your "farm" wouldn't be crap. Now, it's not good enough to finally acknowledge Harry. Harry lurks here but doesn't post so I'm trying to be his voice. You are implying that you pulled this off like magic. TOD readers wouldn't know that Harry and I have regular conversations on the phone so this isn't something I dreamed up on a snowy day. Nor would they know that you have been less than reliable on returning his equipment when you said you said they would.

It is time for you to get off your high horse.

Sorry for the rant.


Take your meds.

This reminds me why I love The Oil Drum.
Come for the articles, stay for the crazy.

Great article Jason.

For all the no fossil fuel purists, I'll be writing one on how to plow fields using your teeth and your bare feet.

It has nothing to do with being "purist", which you use here pejoratively, which is rather ridiculous, but has to do with best practices. I would prefer you do some research on no-till so you can see that it eliminates much of the labor of farming and gardening while sequestering a lot more carbon by not using engines and not turning the soil.

Or you can just join the long list already in this topic and be an arse.

WTF is wrong with people in this thread? (Rhetorical question.) Look, people, Jason appears to be a great guy and is doing some great work, but he isn't a saint. A little critique should be welcomed, not treated the way it is on this topic.


I am studying no-till methods. Soon I will have a no-till roller made for breaking down tall cover crops. I hope to use these in the fallow areas and keep the annuals out competing the perennials. I have also used sheet mulching, but this only works in spots. It is hard to imagine how much cardboard inputs are needed to cover half an acre.

Unless you have had experience with the fescue it is difficult to understand the importance of tillage in my situation. If I had animals I could use serious over grazing to take care of this but the farm is not at the kind of scale to permit this type of management. Once the grass is gone, my methods are fairly low till. I use a broadfork for aeration when needed, then surface cultivation with hand tools. Finished compost made on site is liberally applied. Cover crops that are easier to remove, such as fava/bell beans are my preferred in areas that I will put into vegetable production each season.

Maybe Harry has some animals!

Hey Jason,

Thanks for this and all your other responses. Your work is appreciated, but time is short so I comment where I think a point is worth making. I tried to use such caveats as I thought useful in my original post, but seem to have not taken them far enough.

Continued success,


You say you're sorry, but the tone of your post suggests otherwise and is further not really in the spirit of the campfire. If you want to point out that some tilling and mechanic work is a necessary part of medium-scale gardening, by all means, do so. But couldn't that have been done without dragging this personal stuff into it? Couldn't you have contacted Jason in some other means?

Jason- kudos. I know of several people in my own neck of the north looking to start similar projects and I can't tell you how helpful it is to have examples to point to.

Wow. Really embarrassing (and not to Jason).

Really, "take my meds", et al. Jason, had an idea which could only come to fruition by someone supplying "reality"; a major tiller and tractor and associated equipment like a PTO tiller. No one went out there with a shovel and hoe and turned the ground to plant the crops. The world is full of people with ideas. I would have really been impressed had the ground been prepared with a draft pony and a one bottom plow.

I'm sure Harry will take your comments into consideration when Jason asks the next time. And, yes, Harry is a real person (and his real name) who Jason and I know well.


I agree about the personal element; it serves no purpose. However, you bring up some good points:

1. Would this garden ever have gotten off the ground had it been necessary to turn the soil by hand? Seems not, so that absolutely should have been mentioned. It's a deal breaker.

2. I have a problem with any farm being called "organic" when the inputs to the garden are not. Machines are not organic.

2b.To my mind, a great deal of learning was lost in the rush to get a sellable product up and running. Perhaps that's the reality and is unavoidable, but gardens take work. It's good for students to realize that.

3. This isn't really an example of what is suggested at the beginning. It's not how one can start a garden cheaply, it's an example of how to get a social/educational program started cheaply.

Still and all, this is a great example of creating a community space, bringing people together, etc.


2. I have a problem with any farm being called "organic" when the inputs to the garden are not. Machines are not organic.

The hoe is a machine - acts as a simple lever in a few cases. Same with a shovel. I'm not sure what kind of machine a plow is, but I'm sure there is a way to slap a machine label on that.

About the only way *I* am aware of to 'till' the soil without human intervention is to have a grand earthworm population, place organics in excessive abundance to keep the worms fed, then never, ever compact the soil where the plants grow/earthworms are "tilling". I've seen it done - but it is resource intensive and most of the organic material you feed the worms comes to you via the hydrocarbon economy. Lub. Rubellis would be typical, but Enestia Hortenis or with enough organics Enestia Foedita will eek out a living. If you never dip below 45 degress Peredox evactius (and if I cared I'd look up the correct spelling.)

'I'm not sure what kind of machine a plow is,'

Inclined plane. It's mobile instead of fixed.


I would have said a wedge and lever. Either way, a plow is definitely a machine.

As to Todd's comment about the idea not being able to come to fruition without the tractor and tiller and that the world is full of people with ideas, I disagree. Yes, lots of people have lots of ideas, but it's only a few that actually put them into action and bring people together to actualize the original concept. If Jason really was the person who started the ball rolling, he deserves the lion's share of the credit, and leaving out a specific thank you in the article to the guy with the tractor doesn't minimize what was done.

I would like to thank a hundred people personally but hard to do in an article for a magazine limited to ca. 1200 words.

There are misunderstandings, then there are rude responses.

Yeah... most people call a hoe a machine.


Got attitude?

Yeah... most people call a hoe a machine. Bull.

Are you smarter than a 4th grader?

Examples of class-3 levers are: a fishing pole, hammer, baseball bat, hockey stick, golf club, tennis racket, shovel, pitchfork, hoe, broom, tweezers, ice tongs, and your arms and legs.

Got attitude?

Only when smacking down the stupid.

2. I have a problem with any farm being called "organic" when the inputs to the garden are not. Machines are not organic.

That's a pretty excessive definition.
I think you have to draw the line somewhere. Yes, machine tools have FF inputs etc.. but we're pulling ourselves out of the muck here. Nothing's going to be sparkly clean (especially in a garden).. we can just try to keep moving towards certain goals..

Jason Wrote:

With the new photovoltaic system I will begin using more time saving tools that can run on renewably generated electricity, but many of these are capital intensive.

For now, isn't it a pretty good start to define 'Organic' as having gotten rid of the chemical additions to the soil? After all, the word is a misnomer from the get-go. All growing things are Organic.. we're really just trying to make them 'Clean and Healthy', too.


Sorry, but I stand by what I said. My critique is not of Jason, but the definition. Since we *can* do it without machines, why not? In fact, I would not consider anything that uses machines and FF's *in* the garden organic. All the more so since no-till is the better goal since it releases less carbon and helps makes one's farm/garden a carbon sink.

Finally, I *did* include a caveat which *should have* precluded your need to respond.



In fact, I would not consider anything that uses machines and FF's *in* the garden organic.

Umm, Wouldn't that make organic gardening completely impossible?

Ironically, fossil fuels, if Im not mistaken, contain carbon compounds.
Organic chemistry is the study of the properties of the compounds of carbon that are organic. What could possibly be more organic than oil?

As for machines, humans are themselves self replicating biological machines.

BTW Hoes, rakes, shovels, screws, windmills etc...are machines whether you accept that or not. Would you exclude them from your perfectly pure concept of what can be used to make a garden an organic garden?

How about if we only make these implements out of bamboo? Would you be OK with that?
Or maybe a rechargeable solar powered weed whacker.

I guess you might butcher a neighbor or two for their femurs and use them to poke holes in the ground, that might pass for organic tool use as opposed to machine use. As long as you don't use them as, (god forbid) levers or for some other *EEEEEVIL* mechanical advantage.

Lighten up a bit there Bro, we may be in for a rough ride and a little mechanical advantage may not be all that bad eh?

Another arse. This whole topic thread is setting records for ass hattery. Amazing.

The choice to use engines in your gardening/farming is just that, a choice. It is one that can be unmade. We have no choice as to how the hoes and shovels we need are made unless we make them ourselves. That is not *possible.*

Do you get it? The concept of choice and possibility vs. lack of choice and possibility?

Look, if you people don't get that 1. reducing our use of carbon is important and 2. sequestering as much as we can is important, then I don't know how to help you. That you treat someone pointing it out the way you are in this thread says much about your commitment to change and your willingness to turn on others for ZERO reason. I'd hate to see what happens to you foul tempered folk when the going gets rough.



Sheesh, Why don't you go have a nice cold beer or something! Did you you read the part where I say lighten up bro. Granted the way I say things can be a bit abrasive. I was trying to be sarcastic and funny to make a point. I'm sooo sorry, Not! However I prefer to call a spade a spade or a machine a machine...I'm also a realist. I also have a tendency to have more respect for statements that use precise language and logic. I didn't think what you said was up to par in that regard. It may just be me.

Yeah, I do get it I really really do! Did you read about the project I'm working on. Do you know how much fossil fuel I use or what my carbon footprint is, compared to the average person it is way way way below the average. However it is not zero and it will probably never be zero no matter how much I may wish it to be so. That is what is *NOT* possible at least not now given our present reality.

Do I think we should all be using fossil fuel to power an air conditioned monster SUV sitting in the hot sun in the drive in lane at your typical MickyDee. NO! However if I had the option to use a small fuel efficient diesel powered tractor to till a field, would I do it? You betcha I would and I think I would still sleep pretty well at night. Is that going to make my gardening or farming *NON* organic? I really don't care.

Anyways I'm personally looking at hydroponic systems and am willing to use solar and wind to power the necessary pumps, would you want to argue that pumps are machines and they shouldn't be used because of that?

Yeah someone will probably have to use fossil fuels at some point to make the pumps, wind mills and the PVC pipes for the system. If you have a bamboo farm and can float the poles down the Intra Coastal waterway on a oxen pulled barge so I can hand make the pipes for the irrigation system let me know, OK?

Cheers Bro and *DO* lighten up and try not to be so holier than thou with your extreme resistance to what can and can not be considered organic, I for one kinda think it misses the point.

Condescension + lighten up does not equal anything other than arrogance.

Not impressed.

try not to be so holier than thou

I wasn't.

with your extreme resistance to what can and can not be considered organic, I for one kinda think it misses the point.

No. I understand Jason's circumstances and *already* stated he may have faced constraints (which he has articulated), so nobody but you is missing the point.

I will repeat: time is short.

Let me clarify: Rather than jerking ourselves around with half measures, we are at a point where anything other than going full bore is essentially suicide. Thus, where and when I can, I try to point this out. Sorry you don't see the urgency, but telling someone falling off a cliff to hang on for a sec and just chill makes no sense.

Perhaps you feel you have done all these great things and are in position to know better? Well, the science tells me there is no time. Please forgive me if I ignore your advice in the face of unfolding catastrophe.

That said, we appear to be on the same side in general, so give it a rest, eh?


That said, we appear to be on the same side in general, so give it a rest, eh?

Alright, done :-)

I could add all sorts of other inputs. It would be an interesting thing to do. We used some kelp meal, some alfalfa meal, some oyster shell. Sometimes we'd haul stuff to the farm in a pick up truck since my bike trailer capacity is limited. The irrigation system used included polyethylene pipe about a foot deep. We rented a trencher to install it.

Good questions, but it wasn't the point of the article which was more about the general idea and how the sociopolicial process to get it done unfolded.

Since we *can* do it without machines, why not?

Go ahead. Show how without broadfork, hoe and other simple machines.

Again, how does being an ass help? I have already stated that the generally perceived concept of "machine" does not extend to what are generally considered "tools." At least one other person has pointed this out to you, so you have decided to be an ass on this point.

What, exactly, are you hoping to achieve? (Rhetorical. Could not possibly care less.)

The One Straw Revolution - M. Fukuoka

It can be done - whether it is reasonable in this situation is the other side of the coin.


I'm going to leave all this here - this type of interaction is going to be common in post-peak life - even around campfires. And for the record, Jason just reprinted what he had in that journal - I had asked him for content and he spent the time to format it, etc. This is unrelated to borrowing a tractor, etc. In retrospect, perhaps a title "How to Start a Farm with no Land, Little Money (and Using a Borrowed Tractor)", might have been more pithy..;-)

A few further short remarks:

-Todd, you probably could have made the bulk of your comment offline, especially because of the spirit and intent of Jason's essay and efforts, and the community here. But I imagine all us clueless youngsters trying this out when we were taught that other things were important occasionally irk you old-timers who have sweated out the kinks for years.

-Social capital is going to be an important asset. We hominids are extremely tribal.

-This is example of wide boundary analysis. How much do fossil fuels and embodied energy in tools and machinery subsidize even our seemingly renewable plans and infrastructure? Where we draw boundaries of analysis is key.

Cheers all - in the widest of boundaries, we are all on same side here..

Nate - I think that (like so many) you overestimate the bad feeling in the exchanges above. Typing at a keyboard is a rather frustrating experience which evokes exaggerated expression by way of compensation. I'm sure if the jokers above were having this discussion all sat round a pub table with Jason the secret tractor-hirer, they'd all be best mates in no time.

What's altogether worse are phoney fantasy communities of those who are over-preoccupied with consensus to the extent of driving out discussion and challenging thoughts. An example in point is the crazies whom I tried to help in starting up a Transition group in Birmingham (uk). Among other things I prepared a document on roles which explained WHY the number of treasurers had to be less than two (yes, ground-breaking rocket-science!). But one of the leading lights nevertheless insisted that we really had to still have a group discussion of the option of having co-treasurers, as if there weren't enough real problems to swamp us. This embodiment of what Rob Hopkins fantasises to be the "genius of the community" has in eight months achieved such fantastic things for the uk's second city, as three film shows, a bbq, and a come-to-meet-Rob-Hopkins event. These people are not going to make it beyond the first week or so of reality intruding.

Agreed that there is going to be a lot of tense argument in future scenarios, but that is another matter with another set of people, not analogous to this on this page.

Todd, I agree that explicit credit to other people involved in the project would be beneficial, as would a note about the fossil fuel inputs, but your addition of bile is like peeing in coffee to make it taste better. Having been involved in a community garden, I also understand that there are always folk who disagree with one or more aspects of the project and let that fact fester until they can share little good. I've helplessly watched it destroy several clubs.

Like you, I would have also been impressed with the use of a draft pony and plow. Really impressed. In fact, your comment about pony and plow has pushed me off the fence. We are putting in a large garden plot this spring and, although I was going to borrow a tractor to do the prep-work, I bet I could get a local fellow to plow it with his draft horses. This could even have branding potential if we are lucky enough to have produce to sell.

I have ponies (large ones 1/2 draft) but no plow or buggy. My friend and colleague Kenneth Mulder runs the farm at Green Mountain College where they grow the food for student cafeteria (an increasing %) from non-fossil methods (oxen) and are documenting the process/yields/results etc to make the model more scalable.

There are numerous Amish around here so I am going to add 'horse-attachments' to the inhumanly long to-do list.

Synchronicity! I spent my 1st 2 years of college at GMC, and just this morning I was wondering whether or not they still had all that farm acreage, or whether they had built over it by now (I've heard they expanded). It was the first time I thought about that in a long time.

I'm glad to hear the farm's still there.

A team of draft horses is in my future, but they just aren't justified as of yet. A trio of draft goats will probably appear in the next year. For our own needs, the goats will do just fine (and produce milk and meat). If we try to make a profitable business of the farm, the horses will be able to earn their oats.

I mentioned this before here, but a few years back I volunteered for a week two consecutive years on an organic farm in north-central British Columbia that used draft horses for much of their cultivation and bed preparation in five acres of market garden. The horses weren't really justified for the market garden operation but had been used for logging during the winter before team and teamster retired from that line of work. They allowed me to harrow with a Percheron named Jenny. I was horrible and didn't make a straight line that day, but it was all it took. I was hooked and longingly await taking the reins again.

That reminds me, I should probably get Canada's medical system working on my fairly serious horse allergy soon.

I liked this post about Mammoth Jacks by Gene Logsdon.

“Mammoth jacks are what you breed mares to, to get the big draft mules,” he explains in a now kindly voice. “Mules are sterile and they’re smarter than horses. They will quit working when they get tired, whereas you can work a horse to death. And a mule won’t overeat and founder like a horse will. But I don’t raise mules either. I just raise jacks and jennets.”

Father, Farmer, Engineer, Drummer, (Doomer?)

I actually looked into horse drawn equipment but it would have been extremely difficult to obtain, and the animals would have been driven a long ways in a trailer to perform the work, and most of their feed is brought in by truck, etc....

Maybe some goats could help with the fescue.

This might be an option. I am starting to work with the high school ag program and we could consider using goats for part of the year. They just better not ever escape their tethers!

Have you considered Yaks? You can saddle 'em up, use 'em for work, and even shave 'em.

Plus they take diverse solar energy and concentrate 'em (yak poo) for your garden.

Have you considered Yaks?

Yaks don't do well at lower & warmer elevations. Also, traditionally the Abrog Pa people of Tibet pulled yak hair out by wrapping it around a stick, rather than shaving it off. They believed (correctly or not I don't know) that shaven yak hair would split when felted.

This is true. Yaks not suited to our climate region. And I don't have the room for them at the site.

Hi Todd,

I'd like to try something, namely, "translating" what I hear you saying, into a "model" that is designed to facilitate people hearing each other's feelings and needs, without shame or blame. (References and further explanations at,,

There's a lot to it, and I'm not all that experienced. May I use your post as an example?

I'd welcome your feedback on specifics. Like...are any of my "translations" accurate? And are the "requests" meaningful and would they satisfy you?

Here goes:

"I hate to call bullshit on this..."

When I read this post and saw no mention of Harry’s equipment and his other contributions, I felt dismayed, and perhaps a little helpless. Dismayed, because I value the contribution of my friend Harry, and a little helpless, because I don’t know of any way to give voice to my feelings and concerns that is both authentic and, at the same time, conveys the strength of my feelings and values. ; i.e., I have a need for emotional safety in our conversations and a need for authenticity, both of them together.

Jason, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to write up an additional section that describes the contribution Harry made?

Second, I have a need for honesty and completeness when we relate topics of agriculture to fossil fuel use. I again felt - dismay, and a little bit of (anger – as a “sign of unmet need”).

So, I guess what I'd like to see at this point is – would you be willing to write up an account of the way that equipment and fossil fuels were important to this project? I’d like it to include perhaps an account of the total FF use, and, perhaps, if you have an idea, of how many “machine-hours” were required to bring the project to completion.

This would help me because it would give a more complete account of the ways we currently depend on FF, and thus it would ease my concern that people would think this could be done just as easily in a time of FF constraint. This last point is a real concern to me. I have such concern for the well being of people who are unfamiliar with “peak oil”. I’d like to help, and for me, this means, giving as complete an account as we can manage.

Finally, I feel that I also contributed, in a small way and I’d like to have acknowledgment for this.

And, one more thing – Harry told me about your not returning equipment at a time (according to him) you’d agreed upon. I didn't think of saying this to him at the time, but I’m wondering if you’d be willing to perhaps take initiative and talk to Harry about it directly?

Thankyou for giving the spoilt child it's lolly Aniya, a reward, which will only encourage bad behaviour in the future.

For the record: Thakyou Harry, your kind donation of physical plant enabled a creative intelligence to begin manifesting humanities golden future. We are all sorry if there was some inconvenience involved in that sacrifice.

I disagree, Earnest. Todd's response, and then yours to him "Take your meds" were both kneejerk, and probably pretty ineffective because of it.

Aniya and many others have obviously thought Todd went over the top, and she was trying to find a better way to get people to have their say without all this adolescent chest-thumping. Todd is a good poster, but this issue has him cranked up. It's worth figuring out a way to not lose ground every time there is a difference of opinion.

Aniya's link points to the 'NonViolent Communication' website, and they use some terminology that can be awkward if you're not used to it.. but it's clear that some of our disdain for such an approach is that we have become extremely aggressive in our use of language, and so working to give both sides their time can feel way too 'moderate and considerate' for our overly sharpened fangs. We do have to find and rebuild the tools that will let us work together and get past the rough spots.

While he did mention 'community involvement'.. it's rough when your credits miss important nods.


I want to thank Aniya for her thoughtful and helpful response.

I wonder if we don't have several issues floating around here at once, all of which we might agree upon once they're untangled.

1) It is a good thing that unproductive land was made to bear wholesome fruit, which was made available to schoolchildren who might not otherwise have had good vegetables to eat.

2) The author of the original piece should have been more specific about the nature of the petroleum-based inputs to the garden, considering the nature of this group. But the overall import of the piece was uplifting, and the majority of readers were happy to read it.

3) The "calling bullshit" post had a tone that was not particularly helpful, but the post as a whole was useful in raising the issues concerning fossil-fuel inputs to the garden.

4) There is some issue about the loan of a tiller and/or other tools, which is a personal matter between people whom the vast majority of readers do not know and whose particulars are not germane to the discussion at hand.

Does that, more or less, capture how most of you feel about this?

Absolutely, Well put. thanks!


I have been participating in a NVC class at my church for several months.One of the things I have been struggling with is the "real world" application of four key concepts of observations, feelings, fears, and requests. Thank you for providing me with such an example! You have shown a great deal of empathy in your reply for both parties.

I enjoy the idea of assisting a school district and community in creating a gardening environment like this. What an incredible learning experience for all concerned. I would like to hear additional updates as the year goes by.

Hi Aniya, thank you so much for doing the NVC take on Todd's response. I am touched that you took the time and energy to do that. It certainly helped me. I hope it helps others too to communicate honestly yet compassionately. Best hopes for NVC (non-violent communication)!

Oh jesus, let's sing Kumbaya to. Group Hug?

Don in Maine

No, I've got some of that good stuff like what Aniya has. It'll make you say those things.


The point of nonviolent and clear communication is to figure out what we agree on, and disagree on, so we can stop wasting time arguing about things we agree on. Jason has now clarified the fossil fuel inputs to the gardening project, which was important; if his old man had owned the Massey-Ferguson dealership for LA and he'd used five thousand gallons of gasoline to do the project it really would have been bogus, no? Now the question before us is the real question; is a garden that uses five gallons of gasoline really an organic garden? I think it is, given the current state of things, but that's just my opinion.

As an aside, if there were some 'good stuff' that would make people talk as clearly about their concerns as does Aniya, I would recommend that it be generally distributed...

I think this is fairly easy.

His garden is 'organic' BUT I don't see it as being 'sustainable'.

Using fuel,offsite inputs,etc is not sustainable. You grow using others inputs instead of your own.

Sustainable, for the long haul , means what comes strickly from your own land. If you can make ethanol and use it and not deplete the soil then its sustainable and if you can make pesticides on site then its sustainable but not organic.

All the EI of the EROEI equation has to be strickly onsite. If you take nutrients from elsewhere then your not being sustainable.

The hopefully rising fertility of your soil has to be of your own doing and if its instead depleting then your going to not survive on IT.

That input that sustains have to basically derive from the sun's energy. Photosynthesis that is. Pasture grows, cattle eat it, manure the ground, enrich it over time. That is one equation. Others involve woodlands and what you can take from the woodlands and not deplete it but it continues to increase thru wise woodlands mgmt. Same as grasslands mgmt. Same as soil mgmt. Same as water mgmt.

The earth gains and not loses in total. Everywhere.

Here in the good ole USA we deplete the soils and woodlands and ship out grain products overseas and remove the worlds supply of chemical inputs over time till everything is depleting rapidly and then we die off or learn wiser usage of this planet.

To me all this is rather simple but hard to live. Yet one surely can do such on his own land if he has the knowledge and skills.

If he can't then he is living unsustainabily.

This doesn't mean one can't barter and trade but overall even then there must be gain and not loss in the system. Input is taken and used and the output returns to be recycled and the sun's energy make for the slight increase over time. Well actually vetch say grows rather fast...its an excellent scource of nitrogen. It takes it from the air. It then puts OM(organic matter) back into the soil but there will or should be a slight gain overall. For the sun's energy and those laws of 'Thermodynamics' say so..or others here say that.

Sun gives up energy. Trapped here on earth. Stuff grows. We eat. We return to the soil. Our bones,flesh,etc. We take nothing away but help it along wisely....however now we are ruining it.

Ruining the earth and now the payment time comes due. We are living in that time right now and seeing the visible results. Its bad and will get worse. Very few will be able to reverse their lives of incredible consumption and waste.

Airdale-payment time has arrived-get sustainable as much as you can,capture the sun's energy directly with PV panels, solar heating etc. It can be done. Not in the cities or burbs though. That way is death. (Note: No facts were VERIFIED in comment post. I am just stating MY OPINIONs) For what its worth..and I doubt that means more'n a spit of tobacco juice afterall. So its MY WAY ALL THE WAY!!
You can go your own WAY.

I would love to collect the feces and urine from the people who eat the food I grow. A bit unpractical at the moment, but you and I are in basic agreement over what would be sustainable from a biophysical perspective.

I don't have time to write that up right now but it would be interesting. For some more background on the reasoning behind this type of agriculture that addresses many of the issues brought up I would lead people to this previous article.

Thanks for re-articulating Todd's comments. I don't tend to take much of this too personally. Given my level of community involvement, I've been on the receiving side of the full range of emotions. Sometimes I do dream of being a little hobbit and having lots of green-clad land near a peaceful village. I am most certainly not any kind of wizard.

Todd, it's not clear what your real complaint is, other than equipment not being returned at specific times. It seems there are other issues at play here. This kind of post detracts from the example you have been trying to set; I'll assume you had a particularly bad day.

If you are aware of Jason's use of fossil fuel powered cultivation and harvesting equipment, and petroleum fertilizers/herbicides/pesticides, then perhaps you should explain. The use of a tiller to break tough sod is appropriate in my view, and doesn't in any way detract from the generally low use of fossil fuels for the other aspects of the gardening endeavor.

Jason, you might mention how your approach reduces the amount of fossil fuel normally used in industrial agriculture. The use of local draft horses might be just the thing to really garner attention.

Will, this is not a reply to you specifically, just a point to jump in somewhere in this bizarre thread.

The use of petroleum powere equipment in local farms orfood producing gardens is being way over blown as an issue here. The primary goal of local food production is to reduce food miles and therefore save FF. You need to do an EROEI analysis to determine if it is profitable to use the tractor or not.

One of the few reasons I support bio-fuel development is forteh use of such in agriculture, whether at the local or broadacre level. We need to test the sustainability of every input into the farm and not just take a nostalgia trip to draught horses and stump jump plough.

Powering down is a process from where we are now to wherever it is we will meet the sustainability threshold. This threshold may include the use of a lot of the technolgy we have today while useless high FF dependent processes, like 40 tonne semi-trailer loads offood trucked in from all over the continent, will be jettisoned.

It's not just about sustainability, it is also about carbon sequestration. See my other comments.

There are THREE aspects of The Perfect Storm, not just one or even two. Three.


Carbon sequestration may be an intersting by-process of farming or gardening but is well down my list of reasons to do it. Bio Char at an industrial scale makes more sense for carbon sequestartion as it locks up the carbon permanently. Rotting organic matter even if it is two feet under the soil, still IIRC, emits CO2.

A life cycle analysis of Brookside Farm would be great. I don't know what the carbon balance is. It is something beyond me to do. But MOST work is done with hand tools. And MOST fertility is generated from onsite compost. And ALL food is eaten within a few miles of the farm. And I USUALLY ride my bike to work and when doing errands.

Compared to the typical veggie operation this is probably an order of magnitude improvement in emissions per pound of produce or whatever metric would be helpful. Is it a net carbon sequestration? I really don't know. I mght want to try some biochar to make it so.

I have a tractor, used to have several. Its what we used to use for tobacco farming. An Internation Harvester 140. A nice easy to use economical tractor.

However I use it very little in my garden for this reason.It compacts the soil.

I instead use S. Solomons techniques. Pathways and raised beds and hills. I do use the tractor for other things since it has a front loader. Can pull a disc. Get a log out of the woods.

Don't know the EROEI but I will eventually have to retire it. Thats ok.
I can live without it. But for transitioning I use whatever gets me where I am headed. Have a 300 gal farm fuel tank on a stand. Buy when gas is cheap.


I think you're right about "powering down" being the critical issue here. We, as a society, will have to move from where we are now to the sustainability threshold. Biodiesel tractors will probably be an aspect of starting farms for some time, for breaking soil, working Indore style composing on a large scale, etc. The Cuban model comes to mind... there will be cars, probably. Just not many, and very old, and restored by genius mechanics who can make water pumps out of tin cans...

When the farm broke ground we used a tractor that one of the school board members, Bob Harper, borrowed from a friend.

Since the site is full of some kind of fescue, the grass came back strong. The local rental center let us borrow a rototiller for a weekend and we went over it all again.

The grass came right back. We removed the now weakened sod by hand from there and made a big pile near the back stop. This goes into compost heaps but is still significant. We used a Glaser wheel hoe for that job and broke it repeatedly. I eventually got a strained shoulder and poor Chris took on more than a fair share.

The next season begins and we are still clearing grass by hand with the Glaser hoe. We have learned not to let the Glaser hoe go up against the fescue and use an adze for the clumps of it. Now Chris is the one with the strained shoulder, so we borrow Harry's tiller, which is an extremely good walk behind and use it for a while to till about half the site.

I didn't know he was upset by that. I called and asked him if he needed it back right away as the job was taking longer than expected. It was extremely useful. We went through a few gallons of gasoline with it.

This winter I had a small tractor come in and disc about half the annual cultivation area. Mike Curry did this job and I paid him $60 for it. Then I broadcasted cover crop seeds. These were seeds we grew out last year, then harvested and cleaned by hand.

Now everyone knows how many times mechanical, fossil-fuel powered tillage has occurred. I do this work right under the eye of the whole school, so there are no secrets and while I certainly would like to "get off the sauce" completely it is quite true that I have not yet done so.

Options for clearing out that perennial sod are limited. I have tried all non-herbicide ways I can think of.


Heck I sow fescue. Heck of a good pasture plant if you can keep it free of the endophyte that sickens cattle or makes them unthrifty.

Fescue will grow where others die out.

What you needed to do was use a moldboard plow to turn the sod over. About 6 to 8 inches. This would create temporarily an imprentatible layer of sod that the garden roots would have a problem with until it rotted then you gain the benefit of that nutrient return.

What you should have done is cut it for hay. Very very close. Then after the hay harvest immediately plow it. Disk over the top of that.
Plant on it.

But you will have some fescue seeds that will still try to sprout. These you take out when very small. Hoe etc. Keep at it and soon you will have sprouted all the seeds buried in the soil.

A rototiller just stirred up the top of the soil and exposed more seeds to sprout.

Rototiller are pretty useless. A very small 'pull type' disc of about 6 to 8 ft..maybe even not that wide can easily do more and cheaper work than a rototiller anyday. You can work up just the surface and not destroy the tilth.

I prefer a 'subsoiler' for destroying hardpan. Or a plow layer that has become established.


I am not a big fan or the rototiller either, but tried to keep it only a few inches deep. I also don't like over turning the soil because it disrupts fungal and other biological associations so much. Most of what I am doing now is trying to use shallow cultivation, such as a small disc like you mention, and then the hand tools. Then manage cover crops to out compete weeds, as well as compost tea applications for moving the biology towards preferred species. The seed bank is quite large, as you can imagine. I may work on getting an electrical pull system with a small disc when necessary. Capital, time and sorting out these trade offs is a great challenge. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

That's the most hopefull bit of reading I have come across in years. So full of Service and Community.

Gardening (farming) truly is a marvellous teacher of Life and giver of hope.

Thanks Jason you have really brightened up my day, now I'm going to put in a crop of dwarf beans and harvest chillies, capsicums and tomatoes.

Jason, I thank you as well. You seem to be one of the few posters here on the Oil Drum that has hands on real life experience and knowledge in life sciences who can offer a practical blue print of how things might evolve.

I myself am currently in the brainstorming phase of possibly floating the idea (no pun intended) of starting a hydroponics vegetable cultivation project on the roof top of a local hospital.

The idea is to provide fresh vegetables for the hospital, maybe sell some surplus but also involve the local community's participation. I'm located in south Florida and think that we should be able to pull this off without the need to build full greenhouses.

I have spoken with a local hydroponics store owner who suggested special shading nets might be sufficient to keep the plants from the full brunt of the Florida sun.

I have also been to seminars for learning about rain catchment systems, we have a heck of a lot of water pouring off roofs and going to waste here in the rainy season. Ironically since we are near the ocean we still get plenty of rain though our water comes from severely strained aquifers and we are officially under drought.

Another idea related to rain catchment might be to use this water to wash the salt out of Sargassum weed and other algae that washes up on our local beaches to then process this in a compost pile for fertilizer.

Well, these ideas may not even come to fruition but you have to start somewhere. This post in particular struck a nerve with me and gave me a little more hope that I'm not just one more person having crazy thoughts. I'd much rather be one of the people doing something practical.

However in my day job as someone who trains my company's customers and implements software it is my job to help people make paradigm shifts, so I happen to know first hand how very hard it is to convince people that sometimes change is beneficial.

As they say you can lead the horse to water but you can't force it to drink. I'm hoping the horse might be getting a little thirsty.

"Another idea related to rain catchment might be to use this water to wash the salt out of Sargassum weed and other algae that washes up on our local beaches to then process this in a compost pile for fertilizer".

When I lived on the sub-tropical coast of eastern Australia, I used bullweed that was washed up on the shore on my mandala permaculture garden. Dragged it home off the beach, soaked it for about a day in fresh water, then rinsed it, and applied it on the garden. Has lots of nutrient goodies, especially iodine. Also served as a long lasting mulch cover.

I never tried composting it. I thought that the tough cell structure might take too long to break down in the heap. I am not familiar with sargassum, so I won't comment on it's composting suitability.

I have a big doubt about using sea-weeds for soil-enriching. While not expertly sure, my impression is that most sea-life has substantial sodium content in its cells, which can't be soaked out. So you might be adding too much sodium to your soil.

Kelp meal is a pretty standard soil amendment. Salt build up is usually a problem in areas using hard irrigation water during dry summers with not enough winter rainfall to flush out the excess salts. Where I live that shouldn't be an issue.

Congratulations ... we need more of this

I know first hand some of the issues in such an undertaking

"A school farm specializing in vegetables and fruits" is amazing ... you are one of only a few that I know of doing something like this.

My neighbor passed away and in his will he leaves 177 acres of farmland to our High School with the stipulation that the land "must be used for Agricultural Education"

He also leaves a $3 million trust fund for maintenance.

Perhaps we can share notes ?? I am just over the mountain from you.

Not to let Cally get all the Laudits, Portland Maine is in the house, too!
The Most Beautiful Community Garden in the Country

The expansion also included a pretty sizable school garden for the East End Community School across the street (in the background of the photos below- you can just make out the solar panels on the top of the building), and a small orchard of apple and pear trees- a pet project for Jeff Tarling, the City’s Chief Arborist and one of my heroes here in Portland.

(The Solar Panels are on this school as well, and they have applied for a Wind Turbine permit. Apparently, the big-block apartment building that is the eyesore of the Eastern Prom has been the only opponent, citing that they don't want to have to look at such a monstrosity.)

Wow! What an opportunity. I'd love to connect with you. Email me at the campfire at address please.

Excellent project, Jason. Your approach should be valuable in not only training schoolkids in valuable life skills which they otherwise will have very little chance to acquire, but possibly also in encouraging knowledge transfer from some retired senior farmers in your area.

BTW, I've just come across this very interesting small windpower company MotorWave, who, among their other excellent designs include a wind powered water pump which might be quite useful in use of the rainwater you plan to store. It's a Hong Kong company, but they have N American dealership(s). Advertising at $750 ea for 20 litres / min. Looks like the pump would do better moved down lower to the water surface, but that should be a simple modification using the standard "suction rod" concept from the old farm windmills from pre-electrification days just by rotating the pump and gearbox 90 deg and extending the suction rod and a support.

Their wind generators also look like an excellent design concept. Hopefully they can survive long enough to get them widespread. Also doing wave generation systems, now available.

I must also confess to being somewhat chagrined to see yourself and several posters apparently considering the expertise of older farmers being of no use to you. I think you're undervaluing their potential contributions. I for example can still clearly recall us operating the farm where I grew up with no auxiliary power but that of horses, no chemicals and no chemical fertilizers. Does the fact that we had horse-drawn manure spreader, potatoe planter and digger, wheat binder, hay mower, plows, diskers etc. mean that our expertise is not sufficiently "culturally acceptable" for you? Too mechanized? These machines have been in service on farms since long before fossil-power became available to farmers, and I can see no reason they cannot continue to be useful even if fossil fueled machinery becomes unavailable. The farming techniques used then, with obviously some modifications for knowledge gained since, should IMHO still be valid and you would likely find, be a lot more productive with identical inputs given the expertise of people who've learned their application from forebearers who had no alternatives. eg. how many of you would consider planting a mixed crop of oats and peas at about a 50-50 seed by weight ratio? It provides a very healthy feed crop for animals with the added protein of the peas, the peas if innoculated carefully will fix nitrogen and provide it to the oats, while the oats provide an excellent climbing frame for the peas to keep them up and dry for harvest. I've never seen it suggested in any "scientific" or "organic" expert's literature but my father AFAIK developed the technique himself while farming as described above. There are hundreds of other techniques which have been passed from generation to generation and are rapidly being lost. Being snobbish about "organic" is foolish. If what you want is sustainable, these people really knew how.

Hi Len
I like your peas and oats combination. A friend of mine routinely grows his oats this way. Of course oats like buckwheat help to make phosphorous bio-available to plants. Since 95% of all nutrients have to go into the plant in a phosphate form. Phosphorous is crucial.

As I have been learning, phosphorous above a ph of 7 binds with calcium (calphos) another reason why the ideal ph for most crops is 6.5. The slightly acidic environment helps minerals to break down.

As Eric Blair said:

"But science has this to say on the topic:

Fungi obtains sugar from the plants roots and the fungi breaks down Phosphate rocks into P for the plant. The fungi also helps bring water to the plant (the fungi acts like an extension to the root system) When one has "free" P to the plant, the plants don't need the fungi and that disrupts the soil food web.

So yes, there is a difference."

The operative fungi are known as mycorrhizal fungal organisms. Sir Albert Howard in his Agricultural testiment was keen on composting systems working in order to feed those symbiots. mycorrhizal fungi when planted with trees will dramatically increase the survivability of little trees. And it is clear to my way of seeing things that mycorrhizal fungal organisms should be understood as intrinsic to the definition of 'humus'.

The problem with 'chemical' or synthetic chemical fertilizers (as I understand it)is that whether its the salt formation or the fact that it burns up the organic matter (read 'humus') is that for the short term there is a great boon to growth and quality. The problem is the medium to long term -organic matter levels fall and once they drop below 3% then disease and other problems like insects start showing up (they are trying to save us). If you are feeling up for a challenge I would suggest that as few as 2 crops grown with 19 19 19 will throw your potassium levels so high that you will have a wonderful time playing a game of tug and war with broadleaf weeds that want to re-balance the soil. Fertilizers come first then comes the 'cides' (herbicide/pesticide)as Dan Skow from International Ag labs has been teaching (source Acres U.S.A. Read up on the joys of toxic rescue chemistry)

I think I could find more than a few agronomists that would take issue with the notion that chemical fertilizers are identical to compost or manure in their effect in the soil and for the health of the plants. In fact a quick test of how you should feel about chemical fertilizer is to note how your lettuce turns brown and rots in 3 days. Food should for the most part de-hydrate not rot (calcium absorption helps to dictate storability). If you are planning on a root cellar then if you want to use 'miracle grow' you will find it to be a miracle if any of your produce keeps versus spoiling. One could, however; on say, virgin soil ( a forest now cut down) grow high quality high yielding crops using chemical fertilizers. The problem however is that this is not sustainable over anything but the short term. As the orchard growers of yesteryear found out but didn't immeadiately see the connection between the initial boon to their harvests and the later connection with insect predation (about 10 years)the result of the attack and consequent diminishing of the organic matter in the soil from the chemical fertilizers. The salts formed by the consequence of irrigation and chemical fertilizer use are now coming into the plants. Thomas Pawlick in his book: 'The End of Food' records that tests done in the U.K., Canada and by the U.S.D.A. show that sodium levels in tomatoes have risen about 200%.

Routine use of chemical fertilizers leads to phosphorous run off into the streams and then into rivers or lakes where many cities source their water. The phosphorous binds with the fluoride (added to help your teeth) a dominant halogen. According to an article in Acres U.S.A. this will interfere with your thyroids ability to produce thyroxin which we need to metabolize sugar.

Nutritionally you can test and show nutritional superiority to 'organic' produce. Use your taste buds a higher brix is evidence of phosphorous functioning properly and of minerals being assimilated into the produce/fruit.

Unfortunately 'organic' has become a toxic word with certifying shenanigans, in the attempt to help out the food monster machine that is destroying the planet. By defining organic in terms of 'inputs'.

What many people fail to understand, no doubt due to poor reporting, is that organic is more than the u.s.d.a. definition. It is about the cultural (agri-'culture') practices. Ccpo draws a distinction between how the crops were grown and this is a great point. Len I use horses and horse drawn equipment (as well as modern) and agree with you about this. In fact with the advent of hydraulics many newer very efficient horse powered machines are possible.

It is true that there are unwanted salts in typical agricultural grade fertilizers. They are usually sulfate and chloride. The sulfate can be from ammonium sulfate or superphosphate. The chloride is from potassium chloride, the usual form of potash.

Another unwanted chemical is biuret, a contaminant in urea.

Fertilizers that minimize unwanted salts are:

mono-potassium phosphate
mono-ammonium and di-ammonium phosphate
potassium carbonate
potassium nitrate
low biuret urea
ammonium nitrate

In areas where reailnall is less than 30 inches per year, irrigation water usually contains a lot of dissolved salts. Couple that with the low leaching and you get salt buildup, which will eventually render the land unfit for cultivation.

Len I use horses and horse drawn equipment (as well as modern) and agree with you about this. In fact with the advent of hydraulics many newer very efficient horse powered machines are possible.

It is also possible to run ICE machinery on bio-gas or gasogenes, and Home Power carried an article a while ago about some folks who electrified a pair of low-slung tractors and ran them on PV.

I think I could find more than a few agronomists that would take issue with the notion that chemical fertilizers are identical to compost or manure in their effect in the soil and for the health of the plants.

About the only way I can see this argument working is with folar feeding. (Spraying ammonia directly on the plant leaves)

I am not sure where anyone gets the idea that I don't listen to older farmers. In fact, much of what I do is listen to a local master gardener who is 64. I also get visits and hand written letters from a local farmer who is probably in his 70s.

Ideally a vegetable farm like this is connected to land with animals on it and can take advantage of them is many ways. I am constrained by the social context around me as much as anything. Neighboring land is fallow, or used for soccer, or has lonely riding horses on it.

It is easy to discern from this Wiki site that there is simply no difference chemically between the phosphate compounds delivered to plants from "organic" manures, bird guano, or industrially processed phosphate rock. It's all some combination of other chemicals combined with a (PO4-3) ion. The other chemicals may be amonium (NHx), Hydrogen H, Calcium Ca, Sulphur S or others. The industrial process of adding phosphoric acid extracted from mined apatite usually to ammonia, additional phosphate rock, or sulphuric acid produces exactly the same chemical as is made available to plants from organic manures, a water solulable PO4 anion. Anyone who thinks "organic" fertilizer chemistry is magically superior to pure industrially produced fertilizer chemistry is mistaken, though there is a possibility of both processes introducing additional undesireable elements to the food chain if improperly handled, and the industrial processes do clearly have long-term sustainability issues. However it seems clear that many people believe there is sime sort of intrinsic superiority to "organic" farm products beyond simply the issue of future sustainability, a definite mistake.

Anyone who thinks "organic" fertilizer chemistry is magically superior to pure industrially produced fertilizer chemistry is mistaken

Sure, because magic does not exist.

But science has this to say on the topic:

Fungi obtains sugar from the plants roots and the fungi breaks down Phosphate rocks into P for the plant. The fungi also helps bring water to the plant (the fungi acts like an extension to the root system) When one has "free" P to the plant, the plants don't need the fungi and that disrupts the soil food web.

So yes, there is a difference.

Yes, inorganic phosphate inhibits mycorrhizae. You have to be careful with it. What I do is apply inorganic phosphate to blue grama pasture, mow & rake the hay, compost it and apply the compost to the garden. This brings up the issue of power equipment in gardening & small-scale farming. Once the soil has achieved good tilth thru compost amendment, it doesn't need power cultivation. No-till methods can be employed or a spading fork can replace the tiller. But how do you bring the soil up to this level of tilth without the addition of sufficient compost? I may not need a tiller but I DO need a tractor for mowing & raking the hay, and a pickup for hauling it. Providing sufficient organic material by hand would be an enormous undertaking.

No, one does not "need a tractor for mowing & raking the hay, and a pickup for hauling it."

Many hours of a misspent youth were on what is called a horse drawn sickle mower. Can be pulled by anything, operated by the wheel contact to the ground. A liitle seat to ride on so as to be able to pull the lever and lift the blade when making a turn, and to engage or disengage the sickle bar from the gearbox.

Same with the rake. Ever hear of a horse drawn Dump Rake? Again, can be pulled by anything, goes across the field at a 90 degree and you ride it to work the lever to dump when in line.

Same for hauling the hay.....

And BTW, to the other posts, anything other than your hand, used to do work, is a TOOL, not a machine.

Power Down.

And BTW, to the other posts, anything other than your hand, used to do work, is a TOOL, not a machine.

Really? The science books of grade school disagree with you.

A ramp is defined as a simple machine even.

This is really quite interesting piece of information about the relationship of fungi and roots! Anyone has any further source material on this, readable by the average person?

Here are some references re: inhibition of mycorrhizae by P:

Amijee, F., Tinker, P.B. & Stribley, D.P. 1989. The development of endomycorrhizal root systems. VII. A detailed study of effects of soil phosphorus on colonization. New Phytologist 111: 435-446.

Asimi, S. Gianinazzi-Pearson, V. & Gianinazzi, S. 1980. Influence of increasing soil phosphorus levels on interactions between vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae and Rhizobium in soybeans. Canadian Journal of Botany 58:2200-2205.

De Miranda, J.C.C., Harris, P.J. & Wild, A. 1989. Effects of soil and plant phosphorus concentrations on vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae in sorghum plants. New Phytologist 112:405-410.

Guillemin, J.P., Orozco, M.O., Gianinazzi-Pearson, V. & Gianinazzi, S. 1995. Influence of phosphate fertilization on fungal alkaline phosphotase and succinate dehydrogenase activities in arbuscular mycorrhizae of soybean and pineapple. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 53:63-69.

Lambert, , D.H., Baker, D.E. & Cole, H. 1979. The role of mycorrhizae in the interactions of phosphorus with zinc, copper and other elements. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 43:976-980.

Menge, J.A., Steirle, D., Bagy Araj, D.J., Johnson, E.L.V., & Leonard, R.T. 1978. Phosphorus concentrations in plants responsible for inhibition of mycorrhizal infection. New Phytologist 80:575-578.

Mosse, B. 1973. Plant growth responses to vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae. IV. In soil given additional phosphate. New Phytologist 72:127-136.

I don't know much about this myself but Joran Viers, County Extension Agent - Horticulture, Bernalillo County Extension Office, Albuquerque, NM, goes so far as to recommend that NO P fertilization should be resorted to, due to P's inhibitory effect on mycorrhizae. I don't know that I'd go that far myself, but one must be careful when it comes to inorganic P.

You can download Fukuoaka's Natural Farming at the Soil and Health Library here:

The main page is here:


That's 220 pages of book. On a brief scan it appears he lumps together all "scientific farming" as just Liebig's principles.
No mention of (other) soil minerals more widely.

Meanwhile, I've found this book
and its first chapter looks unusually sensible. A colleague has claimed it is totally simplistic but failed to produce any evidence or reasoning for that view. I'd be most interested to hear what others here might think of it.

I've threatened to do a post on it. So I'll carry through the threat after I find the crate with my fungi books (so I can quote chapter and verse) and I'll include in it a memory dump of vemipost (and include the tax law on it - due to scams in the past like B&B worm farming is not something one can expense)

Without chemical fertilizers several billion of the population would not exist. Africa is a good example. Africa’s soils are depleted, similar to what the rest of the world was like before chemical fertilizers.

It is hard to recycle all crop, human and animal waste, and importantly, all bones. Not doing so is going to be the end of the human era, probably within two centuries as deposits of phosphate are exhausted.

Phosphate rock is used by some “organic” farmers; however, it contains harmful cadmium and uranium. Ordinary chemical phosphate fertilizers contain fewer contaminants than phosphate rock, but are still not contaminant free.

Chemically purified fertilizers are available from several suppliers such as Hafia and Scotts; however, you need to get a product sheet on each particular fertilizer. Most of the water soluble fertilizers like Miracle Grow are pure. Scotts Champion is available in 25 lb bags form nursery supply companies and is more affordable than the small quantities of Miracle Grow, etc. I regularly use Hafia mono-potassium phosphate in 50 lb. bags and potassium nitrate also in 50 lbs. (A few bags of each make an excellent long term survival kit.)

The purity of fertilizers can be checked at web sites run by the states of Washington and Oregon:

High levels of phosphorous in the soil encourage growth of all kinds of organisms, including those that fix nitrogen.

Phosphate rock is used by some “organic” farmers; however, it contains harmful cadmium and uranium.

Some greensand is better than others. When sugar (HFCS) contains Mercury - and that is considered acceptable - SOME level of contamination will happen.

High levels of phosphorous in the soil encourage growth of all kinds of organisms,

Given it is part of cell walls - such should not be surprising.

Oh, and thanks for the links.

Most of the water soluble fertilizers like Miracle Grow...

Miracle Grow isn't all that soluble. I've found this out the hard way, by mixing it in a bucket then pouring it into an elevated drum of a gravity fed drip irrigation system. Even tho I mixed it well, undissolved Miracle Grow clogged the filter. Filters can be rinsed but had the filter not caught the particles they would have plugged the emitters, which would have been a real problem. Peters brand is no better than Miracle Grow in this regard, btw.

The minor elements in Peters, Miracle Gro, Scotts Champion Sierra,etc. are not very soluble. They typically claim about one pound per gallon, and that usually requires a lot of stirring and possibly letting it stand overnight. Warm temperature greatly improves solubility.

I don't have any problem dissolving mono-potassium phosphate and potassium nitrate.

"Without chemical fertilizers several billion of the population would not exist. Africa is a good example. Africa’s soils are depleted, similar to what the rest of the world was like before chemical fertilizers".

Australians, who also face the water scarcity horseman, take note......

I enjoyed reading about your experience.
Here in Japan all elementary schools (as far as I know) have small fields and the kids raise tomatos (1st graders), cucumbers (2nd graders), etc...My daughter in the 4th grade did okra this year. The teacher of each class is in charge of each class's field and the students go out together to weed, water, draw pictures of the plants at various stages of growth, harvest, etc.. The fields are small (I wish they were as big as yours!) It is very basic but the point is gotten across.

Have you considered rabbits, chickens, or a goat? Here lots of kindergartens and elementary schools have small livestock and the kids have to take care of the animals. A goat was just donated to my son's kindergarten. There is also a huge cherry tree that all the kids enjoy when it's cherry season.

This kind of thing can really take off and become a wonderful opportunity for everyone to learn. Actually, I knew nothing about growing okra but my daughter explained what they had done in class and I learned.....good luck with this project and I hope other U.S. schools try it!

Jason, excellent use of an unused grassy area. There are many 10,000s of McMansions on 3-5 acre lots in my area that will undoubtedly have large gardens planted on them at some point in the declining oil production future.

It's also great to show youth that food doesn't magically show up at the local supermarket, that it requires forethought, preparation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, preservation, and storage in order to provide a year 'round food supply. A few filberts, jujube, and/or grafted heartnuts (or english walnuts) might be another use for the garden's northern border or other unused space.

I think this is just a stepping stone to a more advanced form of local food production. When there is no fuel for machinery, synthetic nitrogen, newly mined phosphate or a copious water supply the system will have to be nearly closed cycle. However it will also have to be far more productive than volunteers pottering around with hand tools.

The signs point to increased use of hydroponic and raised bed gardening in enclosed buildings. Tillage and weeding will be either eliminated or done with low powered machinery on tracks or gantries. Water and nutrient loss will be minimal. Animal protein will come from fish, milk goats and chickens tied to the nutrient cycle. Instead of schoolkids turning up at recess or unemployed people dropping by to lend a hand the working hours will be regular and properly rewarded. Employees will live within walking or cycling distance since these farms can be set up on abandoned suburban blocks.

I believe much of this could take place on its own without government intervention. What I'm saying is that future food will have to come from a new form of commercial agriculture. Volunteers and backyarders will never be productive enough.

damn, your crystal ball is clear today.

What about all the electric pumps required for hydroponics? I assume your enclosed buildings have transparent roofs to let in the sun? My little hydroponic tomatoes need fresh water nearly every day...I'm not sure how I could reclaim that at all.

If the power need can be scaled right down photovoltaics could do the job. My garden shed has a single solar panel on the roof connected to a lead acid battery inside. In turn that powers a pond pump though I may have to change the type (from impeller to diaphragm) as the pond dries.

I've partly solved the nutrient cycling problem by means of terraces. Any overflow from tomatoes in the shadehouse seeps down the fruit trees at the next level below. A more sophisticated system might take nitrogen rich water from a fish pond to the tomatoes then recycle it or use it on trees. However like shadecloth or polycarbonate roofing sheet it all takes money. Payback time could be years with vegies so cheap at the supermarket for now anyway.

What about all the electric pumps required for hydroponics?

Consider killing 2 birdies with one stone. Use air bubbles to pump the water.

Someone please tell me if I am wrong.

He started with one acre belonging to a school.I read over a couple of times and never saw where it expanded to more than the initial one acre.

Pardon me but one acre is NOT a farm. Its a garden.

I had a farm of over 100 acres but I retired and now just raise a garden of about 1/2 acre. Enough for me to work manually. But I do have more than just one acre of land. So I can grow comfrey and grow other forms of nutrient inputs. Raise chickens,and other stock for manure inputs. A farm is well rounded with many different areas of endeavor that lockstep together to make it all sustainable. Sheep perhaps,cows, the needs dictate..for me maybe just a run of chickens. For my children and wife live elsewhere so my needs are reduced. But for one starting out and younger one acre is pititfully small and IMO unsustainable in the extreme.

For a family to survive (after the meltdown or on your own totally) it takes more than one acre.

If this essay is directed towards getting folks into a garden or gardening this it is doing its job. But its certainly NOT farming.

For me the 'farm' is defined as something a family owns,lives on and runs. Its not really a Big Ag enterprise where many acres are rented and huge equipment is used to delete and raze the soil. That is an enterprise of somewhat debatable values.

The word farm is badly used IMO. Used by land 'operators' who use the term to gain a reputation they do not deserve and a means of hiding behind reality, gaining prestige they do not deserve and flying false colors. Big Ag is big agriculture. My grandfather would sneer at it.
Its not feeding aught but the barges and rails that take it to the BIG FOOD conglomerates and overseas.

Real food grown on your own land, saved and preserved , consumed to allow a family to live healthy lives and hopefully improve life in all aspects as it continues forward.

Life on a real farm is not running to the burbs and malls to buy your food. Its not using the government to hand out money or subsidies.
Its not a lot of things. What it is is not easy to define in todays environment and deceitful lifestyles.

For me its a memory and something I am still trying to return to.
I am slowly getting there. Powering down gradually. Transistioning as I can. Its hard to give up modern appliances.

So far as my gardening I am going to continue to use my little IH 140 tractor until fuel runs out then go it the old way.

I don't think that I could work with others in such a project as Jason has. I am not that easy to get along with and it would have to be done my way. My way period. Thats the way my grandfather did it. Its like a bit of an empire, ruled by the father. That will not set well with todays culture, neither would a 'real' working family farm. Thats why there are so very very few of them I suppose. Mom doesn't wanta do those chores. Heavens no. She wants perhaps a few 'Country Living' magazines to go with her flea market 'Tater Bin' and a couple oil lamps and the quilt on the sofa.

Airdale-what happens when there is no School or school children? No 'investors'?

Is there in fact a clear demarcation between a large garden and a small farm? Sometimes when I think about these issues, and the kind of activity I'd like to get involved in, I don't know whether I should be talking about "gardening" or "farming".

I don't wish to play semantics.

A garden is grown on a farm. Or used to be. Not grown in 'Big Ag (farms?). Nope.

You CANNOT have a farm then in a garden.

If you have one acre you are definitely NOT farming. Your gardening.

Isn't this rather obvious?

To those who do not farm, have never farmed, have never walked over a farm,,etc...........might want to use different terms and evade reality.

Now you can be a cattleman(but your really a grasslands manager for the cows just take your product to market in a mobile form),but I doubt a cattleman would want to be termed a 'farmer' neither nor a 'manager',,,again they want to wear the big hat and pretend.

Most farmers around here used to raise some cattle. Some hogs. Some chickens. Some row crops. Some hay. BUT along came Big Ag and pretty much destroyed those endeavors.

Now most smaller farms are rented out to rowcropping Big Ag Land Operators....who are NOT farmers. They just want to steal the title and thereby gain favorable attitudes towards themselves.

They are really in many cases "land destroyers" but of course they prefer to not garner the negativity that goes with such...hence they use the term FARMER.

On the Schedule F that they file the term used is either Landowner or Operator....A landowner can have an agreement with a Operator as to cash rent, differing share, and so forth like 1/3 or 1/2 and so on.

In sharing sometimes the Landowner is at risk. If not at risk,,such as full rent then he cannot file a Sch F..since he has no risk.

Of course rules are broken for the landowner will keep an old rundown tractor and 'pretend' that he is doing something by running a bushhog ocassionally. He also deducts many 'expenses' like gas for trips if he doesn't live on it.

I have done it all those various ways. I preferred to go with a 50/50 arrangement but the 'operators' screwed me over time and again and again. They have absolutely zero qualms about lying and cheating. They are no different mostly that the financial whizzo boys that have put our backs to the wall currently.

With the upcoming crises we are going to see turmoil in Big Ag. Real trouble. It won't be pretty.

So the answer is quite obvious. Go back to REAL FARMING. On a more sustainable and personal basis. Get the hell out of the cities and burbs if you already own some good land.

If you don't? Well you will have to make some very tough moral decisions as to theft,trespassing,breaking laws,stealing and so on.

If you squat on land that isn't yours? You might get in trouble.

I don't make the rules. I try when possible to live within them. Long ago I kicked the 'operators' off my farm. They were running it into the ground in order to maximize their ROI. I have never regretted it.

Airdale-again....One Acre does not make a Farm.

I don't wish to play semantics.

A garden is grown on a farm. Or used to be. Not grown in 'Big Ag (farms?). Nope.

You CANNOT have a farm then in a garden.

If you have one acre you are definitely NOT farming. Your gardening.

Isn't this rather obvious?

To those who do not farm, have never farmed, have never walked over a farm,,etc...........might want to use different terms and evade reality.

Thanks, airdale, I appreciate the distinction. Most certainly a community garden effort, which this sounds like, is a different enterprise than a farm and I'd imagine involves a somewhat different start-up, organization, etc.

What's interesting also in this thread are the people handwaving the distinction. The posters here appear to be mostly professionals, engineers, academics - I'd be willing to bet they expect terms to be defined a little more precisely in their own disciplines. Why do they think it's nitpicking when the field under discussion is agriculture?



I can understand your perspective. Both of my parents were raised on farms, and I run a 10 acre sheep 'farm'. Most people are familiar with home gardens, which are normally small plots, a couple of hundred square feet being on the large side in most suburbs.

In rural areas, larger gardens are common. The farmer next door to me had 10,000 sf garden that provided much of his summer/fall fare and filled his root cellar every winter. Our own garden is only 2000 sf, if you don't count the three-sisters and melon patches.

But since we each bring our own perspective, sometimes we need to refer to sources besides ourselves to effectively communicate, such as this dictionary entry for "Farm";

1. a tract of land, usually with a house, barn, silo, etc.,
on which crops and often livestock are raised for livelihood.
2. land or water devoted to the raising of animals, fish, plants,
etc.: a pig farm; an oyster farm; a tree farm.
3. a similar, usually commercial, site where a product is
manufactured or cultivated: a cheese farm; a honey farm.

You are thinking of #1 with much larger acreage. Others could be thinking of #2 or #3 (vegetable farm). So we all can use the same words, though it helps to understand how those words have different meanings.

I run this operation as a vocation in which people pay me to grow food for them. I take the job seriously. I plan how much of what I want to grow for their CSA baskets, then I implement that plan, adjusting along the way.

I don't have the space for animals, so must use my bike to pick up off farm inputs and I raise worms with these. This is my animal manure. Best I can do given the space constraints. Wish I had more space but the baseball and soccer fields are still in use. If the state budget stays bad perhaps the school will be shut down. Then I could get more space and raise a goat. THEN it would be a FARM. Phew.

Jason, you Californians are laughing compared to the UK where our genius leaders invented the idea of selling off all our playing fields for developers to build on. (Plus over here due to the shortage of guns we'll all have to strangle one another instead.)
PS- Airdale can't possibly be as hard to get on with as certain thoses who are confident that they aren't hard to get on with.
PPS- and I agree with Airdale that this article is multiply in breach of the Trades Descriptions Act.

Airdale fumed:

I am not that easy to get along with

No! Really?

I'm glad to have him around.  Not only is he a font of hard-won wisdom, he makes me look affable by comparison. ;)


This is the first time I have usage of the asine happy face smiley creatures on TOD. Lets hope it is the last time.

A waste of bandwidth just to put up a piece of trash. For what purpose?

I hate those things. I refuse to stay on Forums where they are used. The worst are the ones clicking beer steins together.

Sheeeshhh using smilies to communicate. A new low.


Chill out please Airdale! I for one thought it was funny even though I too would very much not like to see any more "smileys" on here.

And the real painers are the people who are not only not easy to get along with, but who are convinced that they are (easy to get along with).

A very nice uplifting article Jason

I accomplished just about the same thing. In the late 1980's out of work and money I took a labor job on a ornamental plant nursery and began to farm during spare time a small section using company equipment and supplies. Within 4 years I was self supporting and hired first employees. After 7 years we began to gradually take over cropping and replace operations with our new product. Now we produce native plants for restoration on 60 acres and 12 to 18 employees. I made a nice job for myself and a pleasant place to work.

The key to all of this has been markets. You cannot consider your ventures a success unless supported by income only. Although perhaps community subsidy of such ventures are a good way to make a hands on safety net for people needing work and income. During a recent trip to Sao Paulo State, Brazil I witnessed community vegetable farms, orchards and even a brown sugar/ethanol plant.

My success has been because of a speciality market I detected and targeted. Going head to head with agribiz and imported goods is going to hold such ventures back until we (collectively) come to our senses. Until then, I suggest you , as I am now working at to find specialty products that fit your mission and have demand to allow you to increase production and income.

I think this makes interesting reading. Looks like several of us are involved in similar initiatives so a detailed, step by step "how-to" article would be great.

On the topic of farm vs. garden - I am not sure there is any value in downgrading what we do, when it is such a clear example of swimming against the tide. To me, a farm is something that feeds others, while a garden's main purpose is to feed the family. Even that definition may be too strict: we have the term "subsistence farming" to designate the action of growing food for one's own family only. Airdale is defining all food growing by the standards of today's American "farm", precisely the one that has created "a dearth of farmers". Having a one acre growing area called "farm" right next to a school is a strong statement that growing a significant amount of food can and should be done by anyone with an interest.

I have some specific questions, as I am involved in starting a "garden" on school grounds in the next 18 months. I have received advice to start simple (one local school grows only spinach and pumpkins, in their third year I believe) - but is that a "garden", or a "window box". Is some purpose defeated? Also, It seems teachers are concerned that we will add complexity to the curriculum by encouraging weaving in the garden to the study of plants, insects, whatever (as in, more work for them).

It would be helpful to break down the issues to address. For example, coordination, volunteers, water, compost, manure, interface with classroom, with school cafeteria, CSA option, etc...

Good luck with your project!
Here it's pretty much a standard part of the curriculum and the teachers have to teach "in the field" as it were. I think they don't mind. Everyone seems to like a chance to get out of the boring classrooms....

The point is that everyone can really learn from the experience. The kids talk about what is going on in the fields. Discussions get going and awareness is increased.

Some people who get exposure to farming (or gardening!!!) at school (whether they're volunteers or students or teachers or parents) will learn and some may choose to do it on a larger scale privately somewhere else later. Also they may need to do so. The experience they gain is something that may be a real help to them later. It is just a start but it is a great place to start.

The parents aren't involved here in the school gardening-farming effort except some families volunteer to do watering over the sunmmer vacation. I would like to be more involved but the school's fields are so small that there is just enough work for the kids and the teachers. Anyway, I have my own little veggie patch that keeps me busy.

Jason, Excellent post. I found it very useful and informative.

Lengould and Airdale. Seems like you are beating up on Jason a little unfairly. I too consider myself a farmer. Perhaps you remember my article that started off the Campfire series in Dec. I don't remember you hitting me upside the head as not being a farmer. I "farmed" 2 acres last year and will "farm" 3 this year. What makes me a farmer and not Jason? I work at it full time and he does not? But then I know a lot of "farm" families with very large acreage's that make a lot of their money from off farm work. Are they farmers or not. Is it the size of the acreage that makes you a farmer? Or the intent of what you are doing? If all you are doing is growing food for yourself are you not then a farmer? That would leave a lot of our ancestors out of the group I guess as they often only had enough for themselves. Just a bunch of gardeners! Move along. Nothing to see here.

I went back and read Jason's piece a 2nd time and reviewed it one more time. I cannot see in it where the interpretation came from that he disparaged older farmers or held their expertise as being of no value. Perhaps he has found, as a start up farmer, that obtaining information on farming from older farmers is very difficult. Farmers are extraordinarily busy people and, as a general rule, do not feel like giving a lot of their precious time to beginners. I have gotten the distinct impression that most of them feel that "newbies" like myself and Jason are not going to be around long enough to pay much attention too. On top of that they do not as a rule ask others how to do things and want to do it their way (or the highway, as Airdale clearly stated). Not to many people would come back more than once after having been hit by an attitude like that.

Though I have tried many times with older farmers I have almost never had any in-depth conversations on farming and farming techniques with any of them. I would love to. But it does not seem to happen. You learn from your parents and relatives, perhaps a few friends, books and by experimentation. If you are young you can intern on a farm or hire out as a general worker and learn by doing. I would bet that there is no one alive today, or who was even alive 40 years ago, that "invented" a new way of farming. Maybe a new way of saying describing it though. All farming was close to being "organic" before approximately WWII so we sort of shoot our forefathers in the foot when we rag on organic techniques. It is nothing new. We have just provided a modern set of definitions to age old practices.

Perhaps Airdale, Lengould and any other posters who have detailed knowledge of how things were done in the past could spend a few weeks writing up a Campfire submission on how to farm and be a farmer the old fashioned way. I do not jest or say this to provoke. I would really like to read what they know and ask questions. I have a shelf of books from authors like Eliot Coleman, Grubinger and Jevons. I try their techniques and suggestions all the time. For some reason many of their recommendations do not seem to work all that well. Tell me why. Am I too inexperienced to figure out what they mean yet or are they leaving out half the details. Help us new "farmers" out. We might be the only ones left in a few years to feed the masses.


Hi Y. I hear what you're saying and do sympathsize. Regarding "Howto learn", I sympathsize. Honestly, I'm no good at it myself, especially the very exotic (and difficult) skills involved in animal care excellence. I can organize a crop planting and harvest, do the economic calculations required to determine optimum tradeoffs regarding field crops, but haven't a clue how my older brother is able to recall the lifetime breeding history of every ewe in a hundred head herd, who its parents were and their strengths and weaknesses, how well its lambs performed three years ago and any medical ailments it may have ever had and how to optimally treat it. He's continued on successfully farming to now being retired with just a 200 head herd of brood cows which he keeps in/near the Alberta foothills as simply a hobby along with a half-section kitchen garden in the prized heavy loam south of Calgary. I'm sure he knows the names and parentages of every one of those 200 cows. Arggg. I can't do it, so took a scholarship to honours math and physics and haven't gone back, though in many ways I really miss it, the sense of accomplishment each day, personal control and responsibility.

Could we (myself or my brother) go back to near-subsistence on a pre-fossil farm? Sure, we know all the issues, what works, what doesn't and why. Labour efficiency tradeoffs of various crop options etc. How to bring a set of farm animals through a 7 month winter where temperatures can drop to minus 40 for weeks at a time, etc. (You haven't lived untill you've been asigned to draw water by hand from a hand-pump well for a herd of 50 cattle through a northern Canadian winte. Bring your axe) I wouldn't starve (probably), he'd thrive.

Don't know for sure, but I do know that the knowledge my brother carries is what it used to take to survive and succeed, and I don't have very much of it.

A while ago a Canadian cable TV channel ran a season series based on the concept of two selected volunteer couples pioneering for a summer on a homestead in Manitoba, a bit north of Winnipeg. Rich flat land, enough trees to provide fuel and building material. An ideal setup. The selected couples were chosen for their survival skills, knowledge of subsistence and pioneer period ag. techniques, authenticity etc. A very good process I thought. They were provided a spring start in an area with a fair bit or clear land and some woodlot, provided the same sort of basic startup materials which new settlers could have expected if they'd planned well, and a video camera to record with. No other contact.

Basically, they chose to plant potatoes the first summer to make up the buk of their winter food. They hand-dug the planting, but were caught by an unusually cool wet summer. The potatoe crop completely failed and one of the two men on the team had to be evacuated to an emergency ward with heart failure. They just didn't have the skills. Wouldn't have survived the following winter in a real situation.

Now I think about it, I believe they failed to consider the drainage requirements of potatoes. Potatoes really don't like having their feet wet, especially in a cool weather climate. Blight. Dad used to have a large wing-shaped cultivator foot he could mount on place of the plow furrow on the horse-drawn plow, and it would "hill" the potatoe rows. And / or it would be my and my two brother's and a sister's job to manually hill the rows with hoes (in addition to pulling any weeds and picking off all parasitic insects which we were trained on very young.) He also always planted potatoes on light, well-sloped hilly sandy loam areas with excellent drainage. I recall first seeing these pioneers planting the potatoes on what looks like very poorly draining bottomland and thinking "gosh, we would never have planted potatoes like that, no hilling, heavy mucky soil, no slope to it." They might have made a crop if they'd treated the rows almost like individual raised beds, as we used to do. Then digging the potatoes in the fall re-levels the topsoil in preparation for next year's rotation.

Another item that occurs to me is how great a contribution our mother made to the farming team. She was a walking repository of critical botanical information, identifying diseases and pests, how to counteract them with resources at hand. Mom and Dad seemed to have their particular areas of speciality, and would easily refer questions from one to the other depending on their understanding of the knowledge base involved. And both, in their prime, could out-work anyone else though mom is a slight pretty english girl who likes to dress up for church (she'll be 90 next month). She fed the family winter and summer with all vegetables and fruit from the gardens she operated near the house (except for the staple potatoes which dad grew in a few acre field for our own use and for barter). An excellent and creative cook who might begin a desert preparation by assigning one of us to hand-crank the cream separator to provide the fresh unpasteurized cream base for her wild strawberry sauce over white cake specialty which I still think I haven't seen surpassed. Raspberries, currant bush rows, wild blueberries. Carrots, beets, beans, peas, every sort of vegetable, carefully preserved for winter using only a wood stove and a pressure cooker. Homemade soap. Homemade bread, always fresh and delicious. We used to make our own tallow candles. Hand-driven washing machine for clothes. Mom occasionally provided wine with a special dinner, wines she'd made herself from locally natural fruits. She knew how to collect salad greens from a wide variety of locally indigenous plants and serve them skillfully. She could produce a splendid meal from whatever was on hand t a moment's notice, because Dad, being very gregarious, was always inviting other families over and travel being so difficult, whenever anyone arrived it was inevitably unannounced (no telephones) and they were certain to stay for at least one meal. Just a wonderful irreplaceable resource.

On hand tools, we even used a hand-cranked sheep shear to collect the wool from the sheep herd. That was a bicep builder, though I haven't kept them (the biceps). Had a stand with a crank and flywheel, and a mechanical driveshaft with three universal joints going out to a cutter head on the clipper.

One additional point. One of the greatest difficulties of that lifestyle is dealing with cereal grains as food. Prior to mechanization we really had no way of preparing cereal grains wither for ourselves or for animal feed. Feeding even oats or barley uncrushed to cattle, horses or pigs amounts to a great waste, they'll often simply excrete it unchanged. Makes chicken feed. One we got our first tractor, we immediately got a grain crusher, essentially a steel-plate grinder. I experimented several times with collecting flour from it and getting mom to bake bread with it. That worked fine, though it was course and not up to mom's standards so she'd use purchased flour. This is a niche problem which subsistence planners should deal with.

Thanks. This is the way I'd like to see this thread take off!

I am pretty gregarious and like to ask questions. Sometimes other farmers are extremely generous, sometimes I get a very cold shoulder.

There are also chasms in farming philosophy. Is food a commodity? Is bigger better? Organic methods...ever try them?

I have even been surprised at how I can talk to a farmer for half an hour, think they are incredible and know much more than I do, and then, low and behold I find I can teach him/her something. I have a doctorate in biology with an emphasis in botany and this really does come in handy sometimes. Plant anatomy, breeding systems, identification of pests or weeds, the theory of plant growth behind pruning methods...all these I can get cognitively much easier than the typical farmer.

How to farm asks Wyoming.

A good question and the resulting reply from me at least would be more of a sort of Chautauqua(sp) or long country store. Too long for a comment post to go into too much detail.

But the flavor of it is something perhaps I can impart. I'll give that a shot and leave out a lot of details.

The first thing one is aware of is your kinfolks. In the case of kids its your cousins. They played a tremendous role in my farm life. Then my uncles and aunts who were still on that farm. But mostly my grandfather and grandmother. I know now that my grandfather was maybe half or quarter Cherokee Indian and the rest Slovenian. My grandmothers ancestors fought in the Rev. War,a Captain and a Colonel. Another fought with D. Boone in Ky. Another who came here to this county was given a military land grant of 1,000 acres for fighting in the War of 1812.

My Grandfather,he knew how to do things that were beyond my comphrension even now. Make a boat paddle with a pole and piece of broken glass. Weave a bullwhip. Catch fish easily. Plow all day with a mule or a drawn sickle bar mower. I loved the old man but he never showed much open affection in return.

What he did was show us the way to do things. We were almost totally self-sufficient then. No autos. No tractors. No ice. No electric. Three mules and the implements and a wagon. He had 7 sons and hired them out when others asked. Usually hired means 'traded out work' and sometimes staples. Money I never saw. Also had 7 daughters.

But we lived as I saw it very very good. Work was hard but if you didn't know 'lazy' then you thought it was normal.

We had chickens,geese,sheep,cattle,mules and hogs. We raised corn and a huge garden. Cut and pitchforked hay and stored in the loft. Put potatoes under lime in the corner of the barn. Along with the corn on the ear and in the shuck. Raised tobacco sometimes as well.

I would visit with my kinfolks and play with my cousins. The roads were shaded by massive trees. Honeysuckle grew rampant. The air was like perfume. We would pick berries. Play childs games. Eat well. Sleep well. Grow strong. Some Sundays everyone would come and visit and sit around. You never worked on Sunday if you could help it.

Now I live a few miles from that old farm. In the county I was born and raised in. I can go over these roads and recall much of my youth. I can still visit many cousins and laugh with them. Talk about old times. Go visit them when the go to the hospital.

I am kin to many people here. My ancestors came here around 1820 and thats on all sides.Cherokee Indian, Irish, French Flanders and Slovenia. My mother is full Irish. I am I guess maybe 1/4 or 1/8 Native American depending on some research I haven't completed as yet. Lots of folks here have some Native American blood. Some Choctaw. Most Cherokee.

We have IMO some of the best soil anywhere. Copious water. Perfect climate. Lots of lakes and creeks and rivers. Four rivers meet nearby. Tennessee,Cumberland,Ohio and Mississippi. This is called the Jackson Purchase as General/President Jackson got it from the Native Americans who had it and decided to move on.Sometime after the massive earthquake of 1812-1814.

Life on the farms that I knew was very good.

Can I tell you or anyone 'how to farm'? No. Its all in the doing of it. Not in the telling of it. But I hope I have given you a view of how it was for me. Even during WWII and the end of the Great Depression. It was always good.

I am a very healthy person due to that environment and lifestyle.

I never look back with sorrow or regret. I hear of others who had misery or hardtimes on farms way back. I never saw that. Perhaps it was our soil and climate and other factors.

Since the men , like my father , were all gone off to the war, my models were the oldtimers. My grandfather,grandmother and all the rest around here. I learned to live by 'Their Code'. Your word needed to be true. You were judged by that. You need'nt to lie. You just told it the way it was.

This is the way I lived all my life. I took a lot of heat for it. I had many career appraisials when my mgrs told me I had to be a 'team player'. Yet when someone had to fly off to a corporation somewhere to fix their mainframe, I was usually picked. The rest of the 'team players' weaseled out. The reason I went was I had 10 years of field experience in customer accounts.

But I retired and sold my small horse farm in Lexington ,Ky and moved back to this one to live out my life. And try to return to what I knew and loved.

I am sucessfully doing exactly what I want to do. Each and every day. All I own is paid off. I only have one CC acct that I owe on.

This is the way I see it and this is the way I do it. I do have a lot of electronic toys though. This was my profession. I can let them go though but while they are still working then I use them. I also repair and consult on others equipment. I can do that as I wish or not. My choice.I have a homestead exemption on my place so I pay no property taxes. I pay some Federal but no State since pensions are not taxed here.

One last thing. Around here if you get sick and bedridden you can expect the women around here to bring you a lot of covered dishes. There is still some of that type of lifestyle going on. We are fond of our churches and a lot of social life goes on there. Dinners and so forth. Lots of good singing and preaching. We are not like the big city church people. We are quite insular. I don't go anymore as much as I used to and not as much as I should. But one varies on that and no one hounds you about it. Your reputation is what you must preserve. Its sometimes makes a lot of difference.


My Grandfather,he knew how to do things that were beyond my comphrension even now. Make a boat paddle with a pole and piece of broken glass. Weave a bullwhip. Catch fish easily. Plow all day with a mule or a drawn sickle bar mower. I loved the old man but he never showed much open affection in return.

For many centuries, the previous generation generally had it rougher than the succeeding one. The old salts would commiserate over how hard their life was and how soft the current one's was. Just like you say above, your grandfather had a much tougher life than you. And he sounds like he was a tad crusty, to boot.

My father if alive now would likely be 10-20 years older than Airdale/Todd/Don. I'm probably closer to your age than he would be. I was a frequent visitor at the farm he grew up on(and the farm my mother grew up on) while I was growing up, and heard the stories of what farmlife was like before the tractor, when they finally got a car, how they dug out a hillside to layer in straw for a poor man's root cellar, learning how to manage and care for a draft team, hunting for squirrels and rabbits with a single shot .22, collecting wild pawpaws, etc, etc.

Let's not be hard on those who are trying to turn things around, and educating the youth of this country. Their generation will see (are seeing) the downturn towards simpler times. Instead of sniping, let's take the youngsters (who haven't been yet) out on snipe hunt. Share your knowledge. Exchange ideas. Kumbaya? Sure, I sang it around a campfire and I'm not ashamed to admit it. And I'd sing it again, because I'd rather get along with others than not. The elders of each generation can come to be perceived as crusty old farts, or purveyors of wisdom. ... Our choice.

Thanks for the encouraging story.

I will be attending a "community visioning" workshop next week with our new city commission. To their credit, the two new members have teamed with one of the old to nudge the old domineering city manager out and are making real efforts to open up to more community input.

I plan to take the opportunity to push for a community garden. I am under no illusion that the town will suddenly put one in the budget, but I do want to get the idea out there. The schedule/agenda appears pretty vague at present and I doubt I will get more than just a couple of minutes - so here is my request for all reading this;

If you had 2 or 3 minutes to promote the community garden idea to an audience who may not even know what a community garden is, what would you concentrate on?

I greatly appreciate any and all ideas. I'm going to post this over on the drum beat as well.

Community gardens are very popular in Boulder - you can google "Growing Gardens" and see how they summarize their mission. I garden there (2 plots, total 400 sq ft) because my HOA won't allow fences (see below) and we have deer and rabbits. Also, there isn't a spare sunny 400 sq ft around my home. What I have enjoyed is the chance to share culture, knowledge, and the fruits of my efforts with my "garden neighbors". Somehow, many of the people who garden near me are also known to me from other parts of my life, such as my street, my kids' school, etc... In addition, Growing Gardens promotes many programs to empower marginalized groups, with disabled gardens, youth groups growing and selling produce at the Farmer's Market, a Peace Garden for children, and educational programs concerning compost, beekeeping, and many others.

They are places where kids can putter around and see food growing. There are limitations to this, for example - I am not sure whether it's Boulder or community gardens as a whole - there sure are a lot of rules here, from keeping your kids within your own (fences not allowed here either) plot, or the recurrent "weedy warnings" some people get, where they threaten to take your plot away if you don't pull your weeds by a certain date. Still, on balance, It satisfies my need to learn a little about growing food; to grow some affordable roses, zinnia, organic strawberries, garlic, better peas, beans and carrots than I can find at the market, and some corn my kids can eat right off the plant.

Hello, Jason---

Thanks for an interesting post. I’ve often looked at the elementary school across the street from us and thought how great it would be to have something like this. (We don’t have an acre, but there’s a good sized lot that is unused.) I realize this is a reprint of an earlier article, but if you have time to answer questions, or to write an expanded piece, I think it would be useful to have more specifics. Most especially, how do you get people on board? For example:

1) How did you get the non-profit to agree to be the farm’s fiscal agent?

2) How did you approach local businesses for supplies and service clubs for money?

3) Were there parents of children in the school who objected? How were their concerns met? I’m thinking especially of the bee hive. People are so protective of their kids these days. I’d be willing to bet that in some places, if even one kid is allergic to bee stings, that would be enough to put the kibosh on the whole thing.

4) What about aesthetic appeal? Anybody complain about fences, etc?

I’m thinking of the resistance we’d likely encounter here to something like this. Our neighborhood association is on a tear recently about enforcing deed restrictions that prohibit fences and sheds. At this point, there is no reasoning with them. Several of us have asked that they draw up guidelines for such structures, rather than prohibit them outright. The answer is a loud “no” before you can barely finish your sentence.

So we’re on to civil disobedience now, with several of us putting up picket fences and staple gunning chicken wire to them. It’s impossible to even get a garden started without fences – there are so many rabbits and other critters around here.

What I’m getting at, in a long-winded way, I guess, is that it sounds so easy in your article – this happened, then that. With little if any resistance, which is unlikely the case in many places. Just realized – Willits – is that one of the “transition towns”? Maybe that’s why you faced little resistance (if you did).

Best graf – and expresses much of what I feel, too:

As a new farmer of course I have learned a great deal about the predilections of various crops and their pests. But what interests me more to consider is how my character has changed. As a farmer I am viscerally aware of my dependence upon forces beyond my control and at great scale. I now face the world with greater humility. When I plant a seed or a tree, I know that it will take time to bear fruit and this imbues me with greater patience. My body is required to get up and work day after day, and because I have a responsibility towards the farm I must maintain my health. Therefore, I have learned to work at a pace that is steady and earnest, not quick and exhausting. And although each winter I make plans about how the season will unfold and what my schedule will be, no year is average and I have learned to deviate from my path when appropriate, knowing that survival requires adaptation to reality. These lessons are as good as anything I learned while still in school.


1) In a small town you get to know people. I used personal relationships backed by common interests and simply asked. I don't recall the details. It was "a big deal" that came naturally.

2) I wrote a letter that had official looking letter head, showing this was a non-profit type service project. Then I went into stores and offices and asked for donations. Many local business people have school kids so they loved the idea.

3) The school newsletter had a questionaire for parents. No objections came in. All 60 odd responses were positive. I presented at a PTO meeting. All teachers signed a letter of support that I had circulated. I'd go out to coffee with the principal and we'd talk it all over. I wrote a rather lengthy report, got draft comments and rewrote with their questions addressed specifically. Just a lot of common sense leg work. Everyone seems thrilled to have bees around. They visit the clover in the lawn, the flowers by the bus stop, the Madrone trees on campus, etc. We may get an observation hive next year.

4) We make sure to demonstrate quality in all our work. Top notch fencing, gates, and other infrastructure. This is a public site and so we try to keep it looking good. We want the kids to see what quality looks and tastes like.

Little resistance yes. Lot's of support. It was truly a no brainer. The biggest issue is convincing the powers that be that you won't drop a big mess in their lap. By the time I did this project I was known at the school and around town as a dedicated community volunteer.

Eating Your Veggies: Not As Good For You?

"more than three billion people around the world suffer from malnourishment and yet, ironically, efforts to increase food production have actually produced food that is less nourishing. Fruits seem to be less affected by genetic and environmental dilution, but one can't help but wonder how nutritionally bankrupt veggies can be avoided. Supplementing them is problematic, too: don't look to vitamin pills, as recent research indicates that those aren't very helpful either. "

This is a really under appreciated area of research. I used it during my discussions with the school board. Growing food in great, live soil should produce excellent nutritional quality and density.

RIP southcentralfarmers - sadly destroyed in the name of "progress" by money and political ambition.

And on a more hopeful note The Learning Garden is at Venice High School, and has a growing section specializing in medicinal herbs.

Wow. Long time lurker, first time commenter. I usually head to TOD for insightful articles and thought provoking discussion. This is a topic that I am actively researching currently, so you can imagine my surprise when I discover that this thread has become a forum to air personal grievances. Not to diminish any of the substantive issues raised in the outbursts above, but honestly, not everyone who subscribes to this blog is part of your clique. Please find a different mechanism for working through your legitimate differences.


Thank you so much for writing this. It was very hopeful, interesting, and I loved the educational aspects -- plant morphology, numbers, seasons, nutrition, and so on.

Which reminds me of when I volunteered in West Oakland schools. One day I came in with vegetable seeds and a wide variety of lettuces in a flat I was about to transplant. Several of the children thought the lettuce was prettier than flowers, and all were delighted and amazed that the very tiny carrot seeds would grow into carrots.

On a butterfly garden where kids were reluctant to help, I found the trick was to turn gardening into a game -- I gave points for the largest rock, the most rocks, and the prettiest rock.

Suddenly everyone wanted to participate -- hope you've had similar experiences with children in Willits!

Alice in Oakland

Are there any "Sustainable Organic Farmers" ?

What if the states occupational programs started to train folks to be farmers ?

A lot of politics in the school system ...

Young adults are mostly not into becoming a farmer

you can imagine what an ongoing battle this is .....

I don't do a lot of work with the kids directly as the school has a garden educator. But they do come out to the farm and say "Hi Farmer Jason" in unison. I walk over and talk to them, pick stuff up and do a show and tell. I planted a lot of aromatic plants and they seem to really appreciate sampling these, some pledging to save in their pockets for their parents to enjoy.

I wish teachers would understand how much this kind of experience can help with learning. The human brain needs nature rich stimulation for proper development.

I wish teachers would understand how much this kind of experience can help with learning. The human brain needs nature rich stimulation for proper development.

Hi Jason, wish you all the success. Rudolf Steiner who founded biodynamic farming observed the same and founded Waldorf schools premised on the notion that the 'Jeopardy' approach to learning is a poor choice versus a context which he felt the farm provided.
Information can then fit into a framework. Since food and it's production is one cornerstone of our lives and is central to good health your project can grow in many directions. Helping children to have a greater connection to how and where food comes from is a great contribution to their lives.

Awesome job Jason.

In Portland, Bright Neighbor is connecting people who live in downtown buildings with city dwellers who have land to share. I have seen lawns get converted to all-out urban homesteads within the city - complete with water catchment systems integrated into yard-based gardens.

Keep spreading the word!

YouTube of urban farming:

YouTube of Neighbor bartering:

Neighborhood farming is another great way to go.

Since we are sharing videos, here's a Peak Moment production about Brookside Farm: