By Justen Deason
Once there was a land midst of the chaos
Floating like an island in old blood
People lived in peace, there was no hunger
Once there was a nation without soldiers
Never brought a war to other lands
For they had what it takes to lead a good life
They held hand in hand through all strife
Bringing love to shine brightly in all things
— modified lyrics of “Nabataea” by Helloween
Spring is here and with it agriculture is ramping up once more after working hard through the winter preparing for all things and running the greenhouse and winter markets. There are important reminders for everyone to observe at the end of this post, as well as a look at what is going on for our Food Sovereignty—the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
Ignacio Perez has rejoined the farm as the Director of Agriculture, and his fire and passion shine brightly. There has been an immense effort by Bryan Herrera, our new Outdoor Garden Manager, and Ignacio to clean up the surrounding Greenhouse zone and prepare the former Garden for strawberries, raspberries, asparagus and other crops. They have quickly broken a ton of ground with Tyler White Antelope’s help, preparing the main farm for all of our outdoor crops following Ignacio’s tried and true planting rotation, which should provide our community and markets with plenty of variety without excessive amounts of waste. His focus is on providing for the community with just enough left over for markets and winter preservation. Nature is unpredictable on outdoor gardens but I have the utmost confidence in everyone’s ability and drive.
Fourteen “WWOOFers” (http://wwoofinternational.org/) will potentially be joining us throughout the season to learn and help with the massive amounts of physical labor required. The tepee camp will be rebuilt as we are able. The maintenance team has come together to construct a solar shower for the camp, and a tepee-raising party is planned to invite the community to help with the effort of raising these structures back into their beauty. I intend to lead the effort of inviting the community on a few other occasions, as well, to help with the beautification and co-creation of this village over time. Stay tuned.
Derik Lane, our Greenhouse Manager along with Cali Ellis, Assistant Greenhouse Manager, Julie Wensel, Bryan, Ayla (Bryan’s young daughter), Ignacio and others continue to produce our wonderful vegetables, tomatoes, and lead the effort in starting and tending thousands of seedlings for the coming season, which they will continue to do up until the end of the season. Beds are continually turned, amended and replanted, fed by heavy wheelbarrows overflowing with beautiful soil. Hundreds of heavy pots are emptied, sanitized and renewed along with two weekly harvests that will likely ramp up to three or four, indoors and out. A busy year to be sure.
Nick Neider, Julie, Chris Browne and Jackie Alvine work hard each week preparing our produce for market and for the kitchen’s use. Our Farm-to-Table Burritos are a hit as are other value-added products being developed by Chef Barrett, Chris, Jackie, Marguerite Gillies and Derik, such as kale chips, pumpkin bread and other yummy treats. Cali and Nick have run the farmers markets with me for well over a year now, helping to build an increasingly loyal customer base.
On the 20th of March, I was given responsibility over the small and large livestock as Ranch Manager. It’s the hope of the Agriculture Team that by dividing the focus of its major pieces among those previously mentioned managers, greater attention and care can be given to each massive facet of the program as a whole. I will give this my very best, along with being on Sunrise Council and participating in Full Self Emergence this year. Thank you all for the recent words of encouragement and trust shown to me. I hope anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t mince or “honey” words often and value honesty and ownership from myself and from others. Please keep this in mind and hold me patiently through this year as I learn and grow into what culminates into being an entirely knew life compared to years previous.
Along with Chris, Jackie, Tina McReynolds and Tyler, we have already begun working hard to increase the productivity and health of the animals in our care. Many good ideas have been generated already and our focus will be the repair and restructuring of infrastructure to improve the visual beauty and functionality of day-to-day operations. We are looking at methods of improved nutrition, enrichment and implementing rotation of animals to ensure they get access to various quality forage and the overgrazing of our pastures is reduced as best as can be. We wish to utilize solar power and the now legal rain-catching, as well as reduce our dependence on vehicles and fuel. We hope to encourage native pollinators and beneficial wildlife such as bats and birds for insect control, fertilizer and overall diversity and stewardship.
Involving the community
We want to develop ways to involve the community in certain functions that make sense. Jackie is working on halter-training the llamas so they can not only be moved easily and safely to places we couldn’t otherwise herd them to, but also allow greater community interaction with them and open the doors to other fun and even profitable activities.
We intend to increase our revenue from beef, eggs and, potentially, lamb and pork in the far future with ideas to generate additional income from our animal allies.
Tyler and I plug away rebuilding new, longer-lasting fencing as well as hanging gates in needed places and fixing our various outbuildings and other things. Chris is developing a compost system so manure can be utilized in our garden. We expect to increase egg production significantly, with Tina already playing a pivotal role in improving our methods and the cleanliness of her clucky sisters.
Brian Mullen, from the Maintenance Department, and his wife, Michelle, have already done so much to help educate us and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. I have often seen this man working late into the night and donating his time or tools to help our community.
Big thanks to Director of Operations Keahi Ewa, too, for her leadership and guidance on the Ranch’s behalf.
Bryan Herrera has offered to help us take a look at planting new fruit and nut trees for beauty, produce, windbreak, shade, shelter and improved water retention and fertility. I believe Chris and Jackie already have a couple dozen fig trees started! They have also faithfully kept the sunny johns (outdoor compost toilets) empty and functional throughout their time here and keep the vermiculture (worm farm) running.
I am looking into how to utilize animals to reduce our labor and gas needs while giving them forage and entertainment in the process, thus increasing their health, happiness and taste. I hope to borrow Mercedez Neill’s little piggy, Winston, at certain points for experimentation. I am also hoping to greatly increase the financial sustainability and versatility of our sheep herd and use them to graze large portions of the property inaccessible to the cattle in the hopes of reducing hay costs and promoting the land’s health as well as their own.
The male llamas will be protecting the sheep when we have them in mobile runs, as they are excellent guards and can stay with them exclusively through the night.
The llamas are going to be sheared for summer as this is required for their health. They are native to the High Puna, a notably windy, cold and harsh part of the high Andes mountains. If anyone is interested in working with this wool, I have two antique spinning wheels for us to use, and Soma, Courtney and LeAnn are avid fiber artists, as are others.
We are all very excited, and I believe we will accomplish many great gains and create many new wonderful things.
Llamas are guard animals for a reason; they will fight bears. Seriously, I watched them chase off a mother and cub last year while I was running to assist them. Don’t piss them off. If they spit at you or pin their ears, that’s their way of telling you to leave. Respect their power and appreciate their affection when given. You will be rewarded with increased trust.
Though there are defined departments holding focus and accountability, the Farm is not a divided entity. Most in our agriculture program have worked throughout our different food production systems and we often pull together in combined effort to help with various tasks. Our food systems grow increasingly cyclical. Whether it’s plant trimmings used to feed chickens or sheep manure composted to fertilize the garden.
It’s going to be a great year, and I hope everyone is as excited for it as we are.
The Agriculture Team asks the following be strictly observed
For now, children younger than 16 cannot roam the farm or its roads without clear adult supervision. We are running a LOT of heavy machinery and trucks every day at a fast pace. Heavy machinery has MANY blind spots, moving parts and often throw debris. Please be mindful of your pets as you walk them.
No one should ever enter the greenhouses without explicit permission given the same day for that day. We love showing people; just ask!
Please don’t walk on tilled fields. Even if it looks like dirt, it’s probably just been planted or seeded or aerated.
The perimeter gates on Turkey Run Road between us and Eden Valley have been closed, as has the straw bale access gate, the Greenhouse gate at night and the Chalet (at Sylvan Dale’s request). This is our safety net for the animals as they become much more active as the weather warms up and tasty grasses sprout around them. Any gate found shut must be promptly shut (AND LOCKED via chain or metal clip) if opened: even if no animals appear to be contained by that gate. If a gate is found open and you have even the slightest desire to close it, you will never be faulted for closing a gate. If you open a gate and cannot relock it, please seek immediate help. You will be thanked for your observance and protection of our animals.
Fences by their nature seem very calm and placid but often will bite you when accosted. Barbwire in particular is known to be venomous, nomadic and gains effective camouflage as it ages. Fences are also an illusion. They work because it’s easier for the animal to stay on their side than to make the effort to get somewhere they think might be better. Food, water, forage and rotation are our four-legged kids’ drowsy babysitter. There is no agricultural fence impervious to a determined animal. Never lean, pull, climb or encourage animals to rub on them. This is called “pressure.” Continued human pressure always results in animal pressure, as they pay constant attention to what’s going on around them. A small sag caused by reaching over and petting a cow quickly becomes 007’s next chin scratch and Big Red’s next step-over point followed by her eight homegirls. Seriously, I love them, but they’re like super-smart, vindictive toddlers held in by baby gates. They can and do love to explore their world. I fixed a breach once, whilst a few of the girls clearly protested my barricading of their newest venture point, then they immediately wandered off to poke other parts of the fence upon its completion.
Please ask before borrowing anything. Please. Please.
Kids younger than 16 should never be inside an animal’s paddock without adult supervision present.
Never, EVER chase animals or force yourself upon them. If an animal moves away from you, the physical interaction is over and the being is asking for its space. Be still and it will likely come back, when you show restraint.
Trust is our greatest tool in working not only safely (for us and them) with these beings, but smoothly with the least amount of stress possible. Trust can be lost very quickly from one bad interaction with a human, and this trust is the reason we are able to use passive husbandry techniques rarely seen in the agriculture world. It can take months or even years in some cases and a lot of effort on our part.
Please never feed ANYTHING to the animals that hasn’t been researched and approved by Jackie, Tina or myself. This is really important. Two lambs died last year because a mom stopped producing milk, likely from being fed too much excess brassica (kale, broccoli leaves, and many other things in that family). The internet apparently says it’s OK in small quantities, but who knows what that amount really is per animal?
You can give any animal hay from your hand but only a handful at a time. Please don’t feed the animals armfuls of hay without consent. We watch our animals’ moods, weight and hay cost very closely and this throws off their routine and our ability to monitor them accurately.
Understand that adult rams (male sheep) WILL defend their ewes and lambs, and they could take Tyler and me in a bar fight. Animals don’t follow our logic; they have their own sound thinking. Entering an enclosure is an immediate challenge to dominance and extremely suspect, at best. Respect must be given and interaction thought through carefully. NEVER scratch a ram on the head. It stimulates their headbutt response. Scratch under the chin. They seem to like that. The ewes and lambs will usually only approach if you are quiet and still.
Cattle are the most dangerous animal we possess. The younger ones get rowdy at sudden movements, causing them to randomly jump, kick and routinely challenge us to spare. When a cow spars it swings its head like a club; they routinely plant forehead-to-forehead and see who can “sumo” the other one backwards. Many of our large females challenge us daily, too. This is an example of human-to-bovine miscommunication. What looks like a courteous bow for a head scratch and an unwillingness to move is actually the “defend yourself” offer for a friendly spar that can turn serious when a female is in heat or upset about a lack of dandelion snacks. If they shake their head at you a lot with a slight back step, they’re asking you what you’re made of in a South Boston accent. It’s often playful, but I personally wouldn’t want to wrestle an 800-pound toddler.
This is the double-edged sword of our management style. Because we work them without force and show them so much affection, they view people as a strange cow and include us in their pecking order. It’s an honor, to be sure, but a dangerous one none the less.
If one starts running, many will, and they love to throw their heads and high-kick on their way by. Don’t get smashed between a vehicle, fence or post and a massive fuzzy tank.
Don’t walk quietly up behind one and scratch its butt. When startled, most of them will throw a swift and STRONG kick to the groin, gut or kneecap.
Please respect their power.
Please come love the animals. So many of us, myself included, enjoy watching and interacting with them. The more they trust people, the easier they are to keep safe and healthy and thus happy. We want everyone to enjoy them. Just respect their nature and be observant of how they are able to communicate with us.