Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

What is in the pasture?

In General Farm News on August 23, 2011 at 5:38 pm
The Flock flocks to Myles.
A young goat, with young goat thoughts…

2011 is pretty much the same as 1869?

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm

No, not 1969, but 1869?  At our farm?  Yes. A bit.  We raise most of the same breeds of animals that were common to New England at that time. They are eating similar feeds to the feed that they would have eaten then, although from a slightly larger “footprint” — in 1869, the feed would have undoubtedly come from the farm itself, or at least Shelburne the town. Our feed comes from New England at the farthest, and Shelburne or our farm at the nearest.  We use the tractor very seldom.  That is probably not such a great thing, but it is more authentic to “old-timey” farming.  We have found that the Deere is a fine tractor, but it is just not the right size for our needs on our little farm. It is too tall for the short places, and the loader is just a bit too wimpy to move round bales safely.  So instead, we roll them by hand.  And we shovel tons and tons of manure by hand. It is back-breaking work. That is authentic to 1869.

And then there is this wonderful little book that I have been skimming.  I love reading about agricultural practices hundreds of years ago. This accounting is from 1869.

I decidedly disclaim to be an agricultural teacher.  On the contrary I am always a learner seeking for the most profitable and therefore the best modes of agricultural practice.  It is true that I make public my facts and practice and sometimes venture an opinion; but I hold that it is good for agricultural progress that we should make known and compare, and thus derive profitable information from each other. Of course, such a system is unpalatable to those who wish to make farming a hole-and-corner business, and shade it from the light of observation; but the time for that is gone by, now that we have good roads, railways, penny post, and a rapidly growing agricultural press, in which we may all meet, discuss, and compare. As I have already said, I am always a learner; and I assure those agriculturists who profess to be displeased with my practice, that if they will point out how I can improve the gains on my farm, I shall not only feel much obliged to them, but will at once adopt the practice they recommend, and so increase the money in my pockets.

(Page 53-54, commentary section on TIPTREE HALL, PAST AND PRESENT, from the Book Profitable Farming By John Joseph Mechi.  Note: Tiptree was an experimental farm in Kelvedon, Essex)

Tiptree, Messing Maypole Mill c1955.  (Neg. T116021)  © Copyright The Francis Frith Collection 2005. http://www.frithphotos.com

(a photo of Tiptree Messing Maypole Mill in the UK, circa 1950’s)


A learner. A listener. A farmer. That is a sentiment that I have read time and time again from farmers/journal-keepers/authors in the 19th century, right up to today.  In fact, that is what we are doing today.

My husband and farming partner Myles is at a Farmer’s Market (Charlemont, Saturday’s from 10-2) and talking to other farmers there,  discussing what has worked on their farm, what was a bust, and figuring out why farming in Western Massachusetts is what it is.  Occasionally a customer comes by and joins in on the conversation, or asks about the delicious and local foods offered for sale.  The discussion continues.  Often customers have a farming background, or grandparents who used to farm.  We have picked up some great snapshots of what it was like to farm at a specific time and place from these exchanges.

Connecting over food, whether it is “only” raw and uncooked, or a fully prepared meal, is unlike anything else.  Add to that some farmers who can tell you all about how that food was created, and everyone is sure to come away feeling good.


Now for that history part: 1869 in the US…a few highlights that will impact farming in the future:

  • Transcontinental Railroad is completed
  • U.S. wheat growers produce 290 million bushels, up from 70 million in 1866
  • Daily weather bulletins are inaugurated by U.S. astronomer Abbe Cleveland, 30, the first U.S. Weather Bureau meteorologist

Now for that current situation: 2011… a few highlights:

  • Massachusetts Agriculture has been experiencing a Renaissance during the last few years. Consumers are increasingly buying local. This is good news not only for local farmers but for the Commonwealth as a whole
  • The price of wheat is up 78.13 percent over  the past 12 months and still going higher
  • From 2007 until 2011 Corn futures prices averaged 455.48 dollars reaching an historical high of 795.50 dollars in May of 2011 (caused by: droughts and floods)


There is plenty to discuss.