I have been totally slacking on the blog and I am due a follow-up to A Hare Raising Proposition but, recent activities and developments have rendered me WAY too busy and exhausted. Before I let inspiration fade, I do need to form thoughts into words regarding these recent developments.
One of the primary considerations one must take into account when making the decision to farm (or any other agricultural pursuit)is where to be located. The further away from a major metropolitan area, the more abundant and affordable the land. The downside is the distance from the target market. If you’re raising produce and other products to sell, you will have to take at least a day a week to either attend a farmer’s market or deliver to a drop off/pick up location. If you’re a highly productive farmer with the reputation that demands a loyal customer base, you may have a follower or two who volunteer to deliver to a co-op or even better, a number of customers are willing to drive the 20, 30, 50 miles to make their purchase live and in person on the farm. Now there are farmers who have been able to convince their customers to come out to the middle-of-nowhere and do business on the farm but, that’s after a few decades of fanatical prophesying the horrors of industrialized/compartmentalized/criminalized/mechanized/homogenized/pasteurized food production (see Joel Salatin). But by the time a substantial enough customers are willing to make such a pilgrimage, the farm has marketed him/herself so well that he/she has become a household word in nearby communities and markets or restaurants are vying for the farmer’s fare.
When we started searching for our farm home, we looked at nearly every 10+ acre piece of property for sale/lease/rent within one to two hours of Atlanta but still a reasonable distance for me to drive to work at the fire station as well as keeping relatively close to my oldest son who lives in Douglas County. This had us following a Northwest arc from Canton to Rome down to Carrollton. We saw several possibilities, but we shied from them all for various reasons, but the primary one was that the drive to work would be detrimental to farm progress, because my job requires me to on duty at the station for 24 hours. It simply wouldn’t be realistic to expect to get much done before leaving for work as my shift starts at 7 and a one hour commute really means leaving at 5 a.m. to ensure being on time. The other consideration was the fact that Katie and the kids would be on the farm alone.
When we landed on our present location, it dawned on me that the biggest benefit was to be located IN my target market. We would be as convenient as the big box super markets. This has been evidenced by the number of inquiries we received in the few months we’ve lived here. The demand for fresh, nutrient dense food is greater than we can hope to meet any time soon. I regularly hear exclamations of surprise and excitement that there are farm fresh eggs available right here in Marietta, GA! We also get requests for milk, fruits, veggies and even rabbit meat but sadly, we have a ways to go before we can regularly meet these needs. There is constant work to be performed just organizing all the junk the farm already had on it along with the junk we brought with us. The barn and sheds are all in need of repair, we had to break ground for a garden (my tiller’s engine seized) by hand and then add caring for all the critters – not to mention the yungins! I stay busy with all this for two days, then I’m off to the fire station which is less than 12 miles away. When I’m there, Katie lives the life of a modern, lone pioneer woman taking care of the homestead on her own, but I’m just minutes away, her family is close by and being close to everything keeps her from being isolated.
It goes without saying, our methods are as far from what is considered conventional as East is from West. After watching a short film on organic gardening called Back to Eden, I doubled my efforts to acquire wood chips for composting. I scored a deal with a tree service company who was clearing right-of-ways in the area. I told them to bring me all that they could, and they did! Every time a truck would pull in to offload, I’d feel just a little giddy at this free resource that was being brought to me. After about a month and 15 loads or so; I declared us full, thanked the driver with a glass of milk and then continued with life.
A hidden blessing we discovered on the farm was an abundance of wild blackberries. I became determined to pick everyone that I could for us to sell and preserve. On my second day of picking, I was out in the pasture battling the brambles for those sweet plump berries when I hear someone yelling my name. I stepped away from the hedgerow and looked up towards the house and I see Katie coming through the gate holding something in her hand. Even from a hundred yards away, I could tell she royally ticked off. In our decade of wedded bliss, I’ve managed to invoke such fury a few times and my stomach sunk as I searched memory for what I must have done to put her on the war path. As I walked toward her, I could make out that she was carrying a piece of paper. “This was on the front door.” she said. We never use the front door. I took the paper which had printed across the top in HUGE BOLD LETTERS: Notice of Violation. It seems we had been visited by a Cobb County Code Enforcement Officer, or C.E.O. as I now prefer to say. It seems that a neighbor had become concerned that we were operating a commercial wood chipping/mulching operation in a residential area. No land in Cobb County is zone agricultural that I know of and our farm is what’s left of open farm land that over the years had been hacked up into parcels and sold for subdivisions. The last remaining 7 acres didn’t get paved over thanks to “The Great Recession”. On the notice, it stated that we were in violation of the county code that governed land zoned R-20. In the zoning, it states that residential properties (including us) may only keep lawn furniture and fire wood outdoors. This means that we would need to disperse, move or otherwise get rid of our piles of wood chips as well as move all of our lumber, buckets and other various “stuff” into a storage building. So much for cleaning out the barn and sheds. After speaking with the C.E.O., he assured me that having a small family farm is great and fine, but I’d have to adhere to the zoning, regardless of how much land there is.
So now rather than picking berries, we’re slinging wood chips. I decided to just spread them and give them away to anyone who’d like some. I could rent a loader and stockpile it all in the loafing shed in the pasture, but I don’t want to spend the money or track up the land. So rather than composting, it’ll just slowly decompose and hopefully still achieve the desired results. Since we won’t have the time to harvest the blackberries, I decided to just open our pasture to anyone who’d care to come and pick. So many people couldn’t believe that I wasn’t charging a price. I told them that a donation would be fine and we’ve had folk give us cash, a share of what they picked, granola, even some trout filets. Other good folks have offered their help in spreading the chips.
Throughout this, I couldn’t help but to think back to the days of my youth when in elementary school, we sang a song by Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”. The version we sang was only the first two verses and it’s the version most people are familiar with. But Woody didn’t write a feel good song. He had written a protest song about inequality and social injustice in America. There are two verses that few know and they go like this,
- As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
- And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing.” [In another version, the sign reads “Private Property”]
- But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
- That side was made for you and me.
- In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
- By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
- As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
- Is this land made for you and me?
- Well all this, coupled with how our food system is controlled/manipulated/regulated, our government subsidizes commodities, picks winners and losers, and makes bed fellows of lobbyists and special interests left me wondering if we are or ever will be as free as we’ve been told we are.
- Here’s the Boss.