AERO Ag Task Force Meeting

The Vegetable Field at the end of July.

The Farm will host an AERO Ag Task Force meeting Friday, September 25. I mention it now so you can mark your calendars. AERO is the Alternative Energy Resources Organization based out of Helena, Montana. This is the organization's 35th year of developing sustainable solutions and building strong communities with their work in renewable energy and regenerative agriculture. I'm in my second year of serving on the board.

The Ag Task Force is a forum for AERO members to discuss issues regarding food and farming. September's meeting will include conversations on raw milk policies in Montana, foodshed mapping, and a Food and Ag Blueprint. If anybody has issues they'd like to discuss at the meeting, leave a comment on this blog post or call the AERO office at 406-443-7272.

Stay tuned for more details leading up to the meeting. Hope to see you there!

Water, Gravity, and a Shovel

It's irrigation season. All around me, the neighbors are running their wheel lines and center pivots. Here at Prairie Heritage Farm, we have flood irrigation - essentially the practice of using gravity to move water across the surface of a field. It is a very old method of irrigation and requires no external power (no pumps, no motors) besides a little bit of hand work with the shovel. The water is dammed from the main canal which fills in a ditch running east and west. Through a series of dammed and undammed culverts using boards and hand-set canvas dams, the water is moved to the proper series of ditches that will flood a particular field. My 15-acre field is the furthest from the main canal, so the water had to first travel east, then dammed so it would travel along a northern ditch, then dammed again to head northeast and east along the southern edge of the field. All along this ditch, I would set a dam then cut out sections of the ditch to allow the water to flow through a portion of the field.

Me setting a dam.

I would then walk the field to monitor how far the water had traveled, moving the dam and digging new cutouts when the water from the first set had reached the end of the field. I continued this - set dam, dig cutouts, monitor, move and reset dam, etc. - until the whole field had been irrigated. It was basically a great way to play in the water and mud.

A set dam.

One downside to flood irrigation is crops can suffocate if water stays on the ground for too long. The head of the field slopes slightly west, so no matter where my dam was set, water tended to pool in my milk thistle, especially the closer I got the dam to it. This is what happened:

Drowned milk thistle.

Community and Economics

Sonora Heritage Wheat

I stumbled across a great article this morning, but before I post the link, I want to explain how I came across it. Courtney and I had the privilege last fall to attend Terra Madre, the Slow Food conference in Turin, Italy. Now I'm on their email list and get a newsletter from time to time. The latest newsletter has a link to a video clip of the conference. In the clip, the filmmakers were talking to a man named Sandor Katz, a "fermentation fetishist." I looked him up and came across his website, Wild Fermentation. It was on this website I found this article by Charles Eisenstein called "Economics of Fermentation."

I explain all of this because I'm often struck by how I stumble across wonderful things on the internet by way of one link leading to another to another. Of course, the flipside is the major timesuck that is the internet when one link leads to another to another to another without coming across much of value.

But I digress; back to the article. It really struck a chord with me because I've been thinking a lot about ways to make our farming venture more viable, namely by adding value to the crops we grow. I'm growing ancient and heritage varieties of wheat and enjoy baking, so naturally I've thought about creating an artisan bakery where the grains are grown on the farm and ground fresh by us. But where in my day would I find the time to do something like this? And for it to make any sort of business sense, I would have to scale up my baking to have enough rolls and loaves of bread to sell, which would mean purchasing large mixers, a big enough grinder to grind the flour we needed, a commercial oven, getting the permits necessary (and stainless steel equipment) to be legal, finding a storefront, etc. There goes the fun of baking.

For me, the article was a good reminder to be careful. It also was a great piece on the nature of money and what we've lost in our communities over time.

Mouse Ain't Got Nothin' On Me

The latest in the Mouse vs. Farmer Showdown 2009. Be there.

Men vs. Swiss Chard

A lady came up to our farmers' market stand today and saw our chard and nearly lost it. She said, "Men used to make me quiver. Now it's the Swiss chard." I kid you not.

Unfortunately, men, we ain't got nothing on Swiss chard.
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