Leafhopper Farm recently received a Forest Stewardship Certificate in King County, Washington State. My vision, as the steward of property in Western Washington, is to built fertility, diversity, sustainability, economy, edibility, and education for future generations. In restoring the landscape after many years of commercial logging and underutilized agricultural practices, Leafhopper Farm is making a commitment to bringing back a healthy canopy to what is a temperate rain-forest environment, while selecting productive food and medicine species of plant for human use, along with abundance to afford habitat for wildlife and a thriving environment for all who live on this landscape.
My passion for this work stems from a history of being on the land; especially forested places with creeks and special topographic characteristics. A place very close to my heart, where I spent a lot of time and a young person, and adult, is a box canyon in western Oklahoma.
These red sandstone walls and oak forest hold endless exploration and sign, from early settler’s graffiti, to wild turkey tracks and a bobcat family climbing up a fallen oak to ascend along the canyon rim at the edge of sight. This place is sacred, hidden, and wild. There is always a mystery to draw you in, a place never seen, haunting whisper in chattering dry leaves.
Durning my love affair with forests, I spent a decade in New England, walking old stone walls along forgotten homesteads of centuries ago.
The beaver dams and moos tracks in deep mud along spring snow melt path in Marlboro Vermont were a sanctuary through my college experience, and into my early 20s as I began to discover my love of wilderness skills and living. It was in the deciduous east coast forests, of beech, maple, and hickory, the old oaks, and birch, where I began to cultivate my nature awareness beyond childhood fancies. Proper naturalist training, and primitive living became a hobby, then curriculum, and finally; career.
With a new skill-set and the willingness to deepen my aspirations in nature education, I headed to the wilder west coast to take on a new bio-region; one of the most epic forests in the lower 48 states, full of monstrous trees, apex predators, and some of the most challenging conditions a human could face in survival training: The Pacific Northwest!
I’d never been in such a jungle, outside of a vacation in Hawaii when I was young. This mega-floraland fauna system caught me- hook, line, and sinker! It was love at first site, and I’m still on the adventure of a lifetime learning these woods and all the epic places around Cascadia.
One of the great things about Washington is it’s diverse bio-regions; from ocean to peaks, high desert to rain-forest, you’ve got it all in Washington. For me, the ocean is a mystery which will take years for me to uncover (with scuba certification planned), for now, I spend most of my time in the woods of the lower foothills, and sub-alpine regions of central Washington, with a little adventuring on the east side from time to time.
Pondarosa Pine Trees are close to my heart, and the sage of high desert in eastern Washington spoke very strongly to me, on an ancestral level. I spent a wonderful eight months wandering a predominately pine forest in the hills of The Okanogan. It’s a magical place, complete with alkali lakes found no where else on earth. This landscape was and always will be a special place in my heart, like the canyon back in Oklahoma from childhood.
In wandering through forest wilderness, one of the most epic experiences which I took part in was a winter migration through The Khoridol Saridag Mountains of northern Mongolia. This trek took me through pine nut groves, tamarack stands, and glacial peaks to Lake Holvsgo. We moved 2,000 animals over 3,000 meter passes on an eight day journey full of alpine and sub-alpine expanses of endless wilderness.
Mongolia was my chance to live and migrate with nomadic people who are still trying to live out their ancestral rhythms of seasonal survival. These hardy people live on the open landscape in gers, traditional “yuts” of the nomadic people of Mongolia. Leafhopper Farm has a genuine Mongolian ger for habitation on the land, offering the chance at experiencing this simple life in the round. My time with Mongolians taught me how little is really needed to survive in a wild landscape where inner-generational upbringing teaches the skills to co-exist in some of the harshest terrain on earth.
A final shout out to the forests of The Rocky Mountains. Kanosha Pass, near The Continental Divide and riding horseback around Lost Creek Wilderness with my friends at Columbine Ranch. That was a marvelous seasonal job working some of the most beautiful back country in central Colorado. From sunrises over South Park, to camping at the rocky outcrop of Tarryall Peak in October with only a wool blanket; The Rocky Mountains have been a recreational paradise and good host to this wandering spirit.
In my quest to cultivate relationship with woodlands and wildness, the forests have always embraced my longing for space and place. In watching Woodlanders, I was given a gimps into similar passions of woodland living and the intentional cultivation of rustic, traditional craft, and nature know-how. I am proud to be carrying on some of these skills, and continuing to re-discover old world knowledge and experience through my own journey of rewilding.
Stone, bone, wood, and shape, on the land, in my heart, imbued for all to see. A circle, simple shape, anchored in a place dear to me. Reflections on changing seasons, commitment to community, witnessing, sharing, understanding self. I can find it all here, share it with others, and invite the unknown. There are many ways to listen, and place invites such awareness. When you know where you are, the mind and body can be at peace. What blessings to feel stillness, with so much humility, gratitude for this time, thanks for the people and the places they tend through holistic harmony.
Today I took a wander near Skykomish, with my partner, in search of bears. There was a lot of great habitat on a steeper mountainside above the town. The National Forest there provides enough diversity to invite several of the shyer species which thrive in The Cascades. Black Bear are native to Washington, both on the East and West sides of the mountains. On the East side, I have seen more cinnamon or brown shades of bear, while on the West side, I see more truly black morphs of this species.
On this wander, the hope was not so much to see a bear, but to follow its sign around the woods to see what it was up to. We were not disappointed.
fresh cambion feeding on the Douglas Fir Tree was our first flagging of active bears. In the lean times of Winter and early Spring, bears tear off the outer bark of certain trees to get at the sugar rich nutrients moving up the trunk to trigger budding out in Spring.
My partner explained that in our mono-culture plantings of Douglas Fir building timber, we’ve created candy stores for the bears to eat so much cambion, that their teeth rot out and the bears die. The trees are also girdled, causing vulnerability in the wood, which leads to early death. In the picture below, you can see a Red Cedar tree who’s cambion layer was predated by a bear. The tree managed to heal it’s outer bark around the feeding wounds, but not before bugs got into the heard wood. Now woodpeckers are after the bugs, and this cedar will weaken in time and die before it’s climax in the forest.
As we explored the woods, more and more sign was popping up, leading us through well used trails and recent cambion feeding sites until we came, rather accidentally, upon a cave.
There was enough bear scat in there to tell us it was a high traffic area where multiple bears hung out. Scratches on the rock walls told of claws and climbing around the stone face of the mountain. We scrambled out of there rather quickly to avoid an unexpected encounter and were relieved not to see any bear on our way back down to the town of Skykomish.
When you hold on tight, the worries melt away
like a drifting current on open stream
slipping through rock and sand with liquid splendor
beating simple rhythm of pleasurable companionship
hands folded into one another
growing lush as my cheeks blush
turning, we see eye to eye
in tipping back together, towards oneness
instability replaced with true love
I am blown out of the water by your heartfelt wish
Today I took a friend to visit a place I love tracking elk in the lowlands near Snoqualmie. We started by checking for tracks under a bridge by the river and then moved inland following established trails into the woods of the flood plain. Sure enough, there were some very fresh tracks in the mud and I made a bet with my friend that we could catch up to these animals and see them. Quietly we stalked along the trail, I led to keep on the trail. Indo was with us and some how, she knew to stay back behind me as I tracked a younger elk (the hoof was smaller) into the brush and along the river bank. We only had to go a few hundred feet before we both spotted that classic tan color against the darker wooded backdrop. The broad side of a bull elk is huge, even from many yards away, like the picture above. He was standing out, up on a mound above the brush, while a few cows began standing up from their lays in the bramble. It was not a surprise to see them bedded down in the early afternoon, especially as a storm was beginning to blow down from the pass and the weather was changing for the worse. They had been feeding that morning, browsing along in the thicket and enjoying the brief sun. I could see where the warm rays of light had dried upturned sand and mud in the fresh tracks earlier that morning.
We stood watching these magnificent creatures as they rose up out of the blackberry and began filing out, disappearing into the denser woods. Elk are very large, and heavy; but they moves silently away, giving no hint of their direction as we stood respectfully at a distance. Pressuring wild animals brings on stress, and in late winter, it’s the worst time to take up hot pursuit. Thats why elk season happens in late fall, when the animals have great forage and healthy body weight. The bulls are in rut and already chasing one another around. A smart hunter can wait for them without having to chase by taking advantage of their distracted state and laying low. We could have trailed after these animals, but seeing them from where we stood, I “shot” the bull with my camera and called it a successful hunt. If I had been hunting, my rifle would have easily reached that broad sided bull and meat would have been plentiful. This is how you can practice hunting techniques out of season, and brush up on your stalking skills. Just remember to give the elk space and not drive them on by chasing. We turned around after this encounter, and headed back to the car. I pointed out flagging (upturned bramble leaves and bent ferns) to my buddy on the walk out. We discussed other tracks and the possibility of more small bands of elk moving around in the area. At the end of that experience, we both agreed it had been a very special gift to see the elk so close. The trailing challenge enhanced my skill as a hunter, affirming my sign interpretation, and my prediction of the animal’s behavior. Yay elk!
Room With A View
Here’s a snapshot from my office at Leafhopper Farm. Outside, the sun is shining, which lures the mind into a false sense of warmth and enjoyment outside. As the sight unfolds, the icy grip of winter reveals her hand of frozen wonder. The raised beds outside lay dormant. Grasses hibernate under a blanket of frost and snow. Stillness settles over the land, all bound under the spell of winter.
Inside there is a spark of life, like every seed just waking after a long sleep. Literally, seeds are sprouting. I’m jumping the gun on starts this year, with hopes that a garden will produce twice as much this year before May. I’m reading a lot about companion planting and timing in a garden. There are enough established beds now to allow the main kitchen garden a year of cover crop rest.
Once again outside, Indonesia plays in the drive, working on a pig tibia with relish. Her energy this winter has been great. Last fall, Indo was diagnosed with Lymphoma. I’ve since put her on a regiment of venison dinners, CBD oil for pain. Her appetite remains steady, and movement is only slightly stiff in the back end. For a 75 year old dog with cancer; that’s not too bad a prognosis. I’m devastated, but also so grateful for the time we still have together. She continues to amaze and humble me every day, and remind me of the beautiful qualities of a simple life.
With a housemate now able to do animal chores in the morning, I took a brief trip up at first light to visit the mountains and get a run in on the snow which has come to stay for the winter.
The trek starts at a creek where tresses carry the trains on through deep woods and wild rivers. Here, the county road ends.
Alderleaf hallway ascending in dusted crust. Machines, snowshoes, and sledding tracks cover a forest road. After climbing a few hundred feet in elevation over a few miles, the forest cuts revealed their climactic beauty.
Across the river valley, another ridge line extends southwest to the left side of frame. From the road on right, more mountain peaks appear atop each other to the horizon.
Sustainable Small Farm Class Final
So, I’ve been in a Sustainable Small Farm class from Sep-Dec 2016. It was a great lesson in what to do and not do with the farm. I don’t think it was a waste of my time, but there was a lot I already knew. What I did take away from the class was the awareness that farmers are being taught to artificially look at their land as flat pasture. We assume row cropping and square grazing are applicable to place, which in the fertile bottom land is true, but what about the majority of us who live on hillsides with marginal soil? Well, there are many opportunities to grow food in this sort of space, but it does not fit the profile of “farm” according to the University studies and so, we never talked about it in class. What a loss! For my final presentation, I chose to expand the class awareness to Agro-Forestry, a food production model I’m using at Leafhopper Farm.
This approach assumes you live in a place with forests, like the temperate forests of Western Washington where I live. It was amazing to continually hear talks about soil and grass, when we live in a rainforest. I didn’t quite understand why this model was being pushed, besides the fact that that’s where all the research has been done, what’s known, and assumed you can only really grow food on flat, drained, and well lit areas. *sigh* Yes, that model does mean high yields, but for how long? Eventually, you drain the soil of it’s nutrients and have to add in new matter to boost fertility. In a forest, this is done renewably by the trees in combination with an intact ecosystem. To me, true sustainable agriculture works with the ecosystem which already exists in a bioregion; for Western Washington, that’s a predominately evergreen forest. Why then are we pushing fields?
Cleaning land is an outdated model that pushes more outdated views about how to grow food. Forests are hugely productive, and we could enhance this ecology by inner planting our own food crops in a mindful way. Some trees can be selectively harvested to make clearings, allowing full sun for the more established varieties of crops you are used to seeing in stores, but the majority of your agriculture will be in a forested environment where layers of canopy enrich the production of your soil, diffuse rain more efficiently, and offer a wider range of products. So why is this not being at least mentioned as a possibility in our ag classes? Maybe because you would not need all the additives the big ag industry keeps pushing? Maybe we’d have a more human scale way of harvesting which phases out machines? Maybe then local production and neighborhood food security would outweigh box store shelves full of empty calories?
When I presented by 6 min talk about agroforestry, people really took note of this option. Many came up to me later asking why they had never heard of this method of production before and I told them I wondered the same thing. Perhaps our agricultural models are still functioning under so many false pretenses, we’ve forgotten what’s actually attainable in our native soils. We’ve layered all this data gathered from traditional large scale farms in lowlands with cleared acreage and tilling methods. This habit of getting stuck on one process is a human vice which spans more than our food system and it’s hampering our development as a species. We cannot survive if we are unwilling to evolve and improve our world.
Today I had the pleasure of hearing Warren Brush of Quail Springs CA speak about permaculture. It’s taken 6 years to finally meet and connect with this amazing man and I was so happy. Thank you WAS for the opportunity to meet the man who inspired me to throw eggs in my pond to encourage water collection and the springs on my own land to flow. Apparently that’s a tradition in some cultures, and stems from the egg as a sign of fertility.
Warren is a great story teller, and I have heard a lot of his tales shared around the fire at Anake. It’s been strange not being able to get to Quail Springs to see the great permaculture community growing in California. Most Anake graduates get the chance, but in 2010, there was a 1,000 year flood on Warren’s property and our class did not go to the site. The next year as an apprentice, I suffered the death of my maternal grandfather and was in Oklahoma when the class made the trip. Now I have come to meet the man who will be teaching permaculture at WAS for the next few years and I hope that Leafhopper Farm can become part of the permaculture experience for this learning community.
In my Sustainable Small Farms and Ranches WSU extension class right now, we’re learning about subjects like tractors and organic certification. The information is same old techniques which are not very sustainable in my experience, and, though organic, still have the feel of monoculture. To “farm” is becoming a bad word, and I can see why based on the outdated practices and limited scope of food production coming out of universities today. Though permaculture is just the relearning of our ancestral skills, the cultivation of land is controversial, and should be waded into slowly, and with intension.
At Leafhopper Farm, I hope to demonstrate alternative cultivation practices which reach into another time when people were stewarding place, hunting, gathering, and cultivating the land to better the environment and enrich all life and habitat. The idealism is not gone yet, and I hope to continue on this path of abundance in life and work here on the farm. I will keep using farm as part of my language, to help redefine what farming can be in a more diverse and abundant environment where row cropping and chemical sprays go extinct.
Home Alone, or am I?
The weekend of October 14, 15, and 16 is bringing high winds and heavy rain. They are pounding the roof outside at this moment, I am so thankful to have a dry shelter in this house! The worst of the wind is not expected till Saturday, but I’ve already got things tied down, put away, and stashed in dry spots under cover. The animals are tucked in, fed, and watered. The trees dance back and forth in the wind, and I hope they keep dancing without a slip or a fall. Our trees are big, and even branches can cause a lot of damage.
In prepping for the inevitable power outage, I’ve gathered extra water from the tap in large glass jars, and started rain catchment with extra buckets so I can still flush a toilet if I need to (our water pump is electric). I must admit being a little nervous; though I’ve been through a few wind storms before, this one is the first of the year and it’s big. Well, the weather on the news keeps hyping it up a little, but I am watching the gusts and hearing the rain and know its a fall shake up for sure.
I caught myself feeling a little sorry for myself over being in the house alone to ride this out. Well, Indo is here with me standing strong, or in this case, relaxed and happy by the wood stove just chillin’. But I am not alone on this land and that’s good to feel. I’m thankful for Kat, Julia, and Alberto, who are all around and supportive. Kat even texted me yesterday to check in about making sure things on the farm were battened down. I appreciate having supportive friends here with me and that makes it easier to shake off unwanted nerves. Everything will be good, even with the wind. And if the power goes out and we all need to crowd into the house for warmth and company, that can happen too. For now, I’ll make the rounds checking on all the animals, and keep busy with the work and rhythms of the farm.
Sno-valley Tilth hosted Revathi, founder of Reviving Earth, an Indian organization which helps farming communities devastated from natural disasters recover their land and replant using organic methods of restoration and agriculture. She is gaining steam across the Asian and Pacific costal communities with wonderful results. Here is a link to more information about the program: revivingearth.org I was inspired to go to her talk after reading about her own discovery of the natural world. When she was young, Revathi had polio and could not walk. She spent many hours in her chair watching birds, her one source of entertainment in a home with no T.V. or internet. She learned a great deal about avion behavior and noticed that some of her favorite species were disappearing. She began to research possible causes and learned about bioaccumulation. She noticed that the farmers in her village sprayed lots of pesticides on their fields, which killed insects, but also the birds that ate them. She began a lifelong mission to educate farmers about the harmful side effect of the harsh chemicals that hurt not only her beloved birds, but the very people using the chemicals to save their crops.
Though her own independent research, Revathi came up with natural alternatives which mimic nature to keep things in check. She observed how mother nature had an answer for every imbalance, using biological solutions that most Indian farmers had forgotten through generations of industrial control. She reminded us that Indians have been farming for 10,000 years, yet today, they know less about their craft than ever before. That’s thanks in part to industrialization saying chemicals are the answer, hand in hand with a lack of education. Revathi is doing what she can to re-teach what mother nature has given and empowering people to cultivate abundance without the use of expensive commercial products. Her work is paying off, and for the farming communities of rural India, Indonesia, and other island nations of the Pacific, the abundance is clear.
It was wonderful to hear her stories of transforming people and landscape by observing and understanding the natural world. She told a beautiful story which I will share now:
The lifecycle of a butterfly can teach us many things about the power of mother nature. A lowly caterpillar crawls around the ground, eating everything in site and destroying the crops that feed others with their insatiable appetite. Soon, the worm gets so fat, it can barley carry it heavy body across the land. Then a sudden change happens in this lowly insect. It stops eating, builds a humble home out of its silk, and meditates in stillness. Mother nature sees that this once over consuming caterpillar is now sitting in reflection and rewards the now peaceful spirit with a set of beautiful wings to carry its self gracefully through the air. The butterfly emerges from its cocoon to travel from flower to flower, no longer chewing up plants, but instead, siping politely with its straw, the sweet nectar of the flowers. But it does not take the nectar without fair exchange; as the nectar is consumed, pollen is traded, giving genetic diversity to the flowers to help them create seed for new generations of plant to come. When you take you must give something back, in balance with the laws of nature, so that all may have enough. Mother nature is abundant and diverse, and she rewards all who keep balance and reflect.
This story reinforces my own belief that conspicuous consumption puts us and the world we share out of balance. In India, powerful corporations take the heirloom seeds from rural villages and burn them to keep people from planting future crops of their native varieties. Then treated seeds, too expensive for farmers to afford, are offered at 500% mark up. The people must then barrow money from manipulative lenders, not regulated banking systems, as rural India has none. The borrowed money cannot be repaid at the usual 60% interest, and so, the farmers often commit suicide to absolve the debt. It’s a startling, but very real problem in these rural communities across Asia and the Pacific. Predatory lending is not a stranger to us here in The United States, and even “regulated” banks are guilty of such manipulation. The patenting of life, which allows Monsanto and other corporations the right to take what was once native seed, and put a patent on it, then make is unaffordable to the farmer is criminal. It’s not just happening in India, but around the world. What Revathi is teaching translates just as sharply to English, and American farming practices. If we want to live in an abundant world, we all have to give fair exchange. This is what nature teaches, and it would behoove us to all take a closer look at the balance of our natural world.
Today I pulled in my medicine wheel rocks to bring the circle a little closer. The move comes as consolidation and acknowledgment of self driven goals become manageable through smart design. In making the circle a little smaller, I invite closer observation and easier maintenance of the space in which I tend. The land cannot shrink, as space is space, and boundaries are drawn by bigger wigs of the state, but mental maps are always fluid, and in building on a constantly changing field, moving markers comes easily.
The medicine wheel has been on this land for three and a half years. It was initially built as a grounding space for my energy and thoughts. I encourage people visiting the land to come here for meditation, intension setting, and for ritual. All of these practices are an important part of self care, and thinking about direction is always good. The cardinal points are mapped out in this circle, along with the ordinal points to create eight directional focuses on this wheel. As of this morning, (9/28/16) the directions are slightly shifted clockwise (east) about 15 degrees for declination. As we all should know, magnetic north and true north are different.
In the ancestral learning that I embrace, the wheel of direction, called medicine wheel in my own vocabulary, symbolizes many things; time, the journey of life, seasonal shifts, along with personal strengths and weaknesses are mapped in a continued circle. Each direction has meaning:
East-awakening, start, birth, vision, and excitement
South East- childhood, learning, apprehension, and blocks
South- work, focus, energy, drive, and production
South West- self care, cleaning, reflection, and mid-summer
West- harvest, mastery, teaching, and community
North West- ancestry, heritage, generosity, and place
North- leadership, fire, big picture, survival, and stamina
North East- trickster/transformer, the witching hour, ceremony, and the scout
These are just some of the examples I hold for each of these directions and what this circle means to me. I find, it helps to have a place to go to on the land where I can sit and reflect, dream, prey, and meditate. I direct this energy through my own being and into the land where I stand. Everything is so deeply interconnected, there is such a richness in sitting with this wonder.
The medicine wheel circle is well tended and enjoyed. I hope that as more community grows around Leafhopper Farm, more people will add their intensions to growing place around this medicine wheel. I think of all the wheels I’ve tended or been in and smile, knowing there is so much power in collective and action to be had from those willing to walk this circle with strong intension and forward vision. This is not a religion, but a mindset for holding place and space clearly.
Back to School
Leafhopper Farm is growing fast, as expected with intensions of abundance and fertility! The land is humming, jiving, and thriving. Animals are fat and happy, crops are harvested and preserved, and the fruit trees still have sweetness on the stem for more fall picking. Two more interested WWOOFers have shown up, both hoping to live here through the next few seasons as they begin their naturalist journey at Wilderness Awareness School’s Anake program. One of my current renters, an old friend from Dallas Texas, has written up a cut flower business plan which will start this fall with a few covered plantings and a green house. These are all dreams come true for this farm and the good stewardship of the land.
For me, there is a lot of new knowledge coming in, both in land “management” (stewardship), and big picture thinking for farms planning further down the road. I’ve been watching development in and around Duvall, the incorporated town who just recently stretched an arm to within a half mile of Leafhopper Farm. Now, this growth is unavoidable, as we make room for an exploding population which must consume to survive. The demand for fresh, locally grown, organic food grows with that population, and this farm is in a perfect place to meet some of that need.
The blessing of expansion is a double edged sword. While there are more mouths to feed, making the production of food a priority in the county, there is also the consumption problem. More and more people build houses, take away wild spaces with their development, add to the pollution, and often disregard their sprawl and how it directly effects them and those around them. This is where the mission of Leafhopper Farm comes in. To demonstrate sustainable living, with the intension of producing abundance for those around us, including the wildlife and habitat which already exists in this space, we are conserving, rehabilitating, and enhancing. These are all practices which anyone can implement at home with the right planning.
That planning comes in many forms, from the experimental, to the established methods used by our ancestors as they developed their own relationship with what was a much wilder space long ago. Through the generations, many different approaches to farming have been used, for better or worse. I come from Oklahoma, a place known for its devastating environmental consequences when a lack of planning and understanding brought about harsh realities, like The Dust Bowl. This man-made catastrophe (like climate change today) taught farmers that without understanding the land and its needs, great harm can come to place when it is carelessly abused for commercial profit.
Today, most farmers can agree that good growth takes healthy soil, the basis for all agricultural production. Now, some might bring attention to aquaponics or commercial grow rooms, but that water and nutrients used to feed the plants and animals still comes from the land, some where. I am less impressed with these methods, because they demand a lot of external resources and shipped in supplies, which is not sustainable in the end. A seed put into nurtured soil on a landscape that is care for and tended with intension is still the best solution for all involved; from the plant, to the farmer tending it, to the animal or person eating it. This interdependent relationship is crucial to everyone’s survival, and it’s about time we as consumers start taking a closer look at just what it takes to enjoy all the perks of modern day convenience.
For me, the owner and operator of Leafhopper Farm, that closer look comes in the form of education. I am educating myself though practice, and now, classroom time with experts who have studied agriculture extensively, now realizing how important sustainable methods are to the effectiveness of growing food for humanity. Washington State University has an extension program called “Sustainable Small Farms and Ranches”. The class is hosted right down the road form Leafhopper Farm. I have enrolled in this class, with intensions to enhance my own understanding of agriculture and then to put these lessons into practice on my own land.
Our first homework assignment is to read all about soil. The basic premise of this lesson has been about growth in post WWII agriculture with the advent of chemical additives and huge agro machinery. This unsustainable shift has been the downfall of our food production. Nature takes thousands of years to build up good top soil, but man though with all his mechanized know-how, that he could beat nature by controlling everything on an industrial scale. The result has been disastrous, and now the numbers show just how detrimental our embrace of the military industrial complex has been. More is not always better, and quality sacrificed for quantity leads to unviable product for all. Food has no nutritional value, soil is dead, and our landscape is awash in petrol chemical pollution which will continue to seep into the food and water consumed by future generation the world over.
In permaculture, the problem is the solution. For sustainable agriculture to work, we have to scale back, slow down, and observe what nature has already built in to our environment to tend to its self. With a few simple shifts in practice, soil can be rehabilitated and enhanced for the betterment of production and long term sustainability. I’ll be reading all about that, with the intension to enhance what’s already in place here at Leafhopper Farm. It is such a comfort to know that this mindset of organic practice is center stage in agricultural education, at least in Washington State, where progressive minds are thinking about the future of humanity and a successful relationship with nature, who is our provider.
Home State, and a place with a lot of good wilds if you know where to look. There is windswept plain, but also oaky oasis, some lazy rivers, sand dunes, twisting canyons, and lots of red earth. The weather is particularly diverse, and in late summer, afternoon thunderstorms can be quite entertaining. Often, if you’re watching clouds form, you’ll see that turbulent weather over you soon enough, but sometimes, you’re up wind, and the site before you, unfolds as great theater.
Weather in Oklahoma is not taken lightly. There is a tendency towards sky watching, and certainly a lot of canvas above to cover. Meteorologists take advantage of generous heavens, inventing Doppler radar to see the grander site from above as well as below. The Central Plains offer not only sky space, but also climactic turmoil, which invites winds to take unearthly form. Tornados are a thing of beauty, in all her most terrifying awe. On a stormy day, it’s always a comfort to see rainbows.
In the red clay, animals leave awesome tracks. The pictures above right, show two diverse substrates; sand, and mud. Top tracks are small for this specie, but the shape made by some very unique toes makes the identity of this animal clear. Armadillo is a mammal with hard armored plates on his back which form a shell. They can swim, but prefer the well kept lawns of people with a grub problem. This animal’s powerful claws dig into rotted logs and under dense shrub root to find tasty insects in all their stages from egg to beetle or worm.
The bottom track looks like a little copy of my hand. This animal uses its hands like a second set of eyes, and has a crafty nature to match its intelligent senses. Raccoons are infamous in our lives as pest and menace, but more often than not, it’s our own carelessness to blame. The black and white bandit face of our adversary only adds to our demonizing of a creature misunderstood. Raccoons are extremely adaptable and able. They have five fingers, no thumb, but grip to open anything. This serves them well in aquatic environments full of muddy silt and bivalves galore. These fishers are just at home in the canopy, grabbing fruit and nuts with enthusiasm. Trees are often a home, and our attics become perfect substitutes when forests are cleared for development.
Many species in Oklahoma are crepuscular, because summers are very hot. This year, 2016, the summer was magically wet. I use magical to describe this rare treat, because wildflowers have bloomed and the tall grass is still sweet with green life. Usually in August, everything is brown and yellow, staved off the waters of life and baked under a merciless sun. But when the rare rains flood in, this barren land transforms into a lush paradise of plant and insect, feeding the greater web of the complex chain of life.
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Wheat Worth It?
I planted some grains last year, seeding before winter with some, while waiting till early spring with others. Now the harvests are starting and I am learning many things about grain and how much goes into cereal crops.
Last night I found this video about Wheat: https://youtu.be/F4VoVLlyuS0
It’s a very informative film, done by The Discovery Channel, so we already know there are many ulterior motives, none of which have anything to do with actually discovering much beyond cereal at a box store. Consumer targets are regularly subjected to commercial agriculture’s message of what to eat and how great processed food is in busy lives of hard working people who cannot bake a loaf of bread any more. People used to have skills which directly advanced their survival through methods of self care and awareness of place. People were out on the landscape, experiencing the world through all the senses, and understanding subtle reflections from nature, like bird language.
Now, most people would hear a bird and know it was a bird, but rarely will someone know what kind of bird, or more importantly, what kind of signal the sound communicated. My grandfather would sit with me on the back porch in the 80s, teaching me what different calls meant for each bird. He had been a Navy Man in WWII, and business owner in Oklahoma. Yet he could tell me what bird was calling and why, and he knew when it was going to rain, even when things looked blue and clear. I thought he was a human barometer, well, I was right, in fact, we all are. We’ve just turned off our sensitivities to live in the world today.
Wheat is to us, much like the bird song, background noise. Bread is everywhere, we expect it, or we have a dramatic physical reaction to it which makes us intolerant, and then we struggle to find food in a gluten world. Revolutions started because of a lack of what is a staple diet for many cultures. Because wheat is highly adaptable, like most of our cereals, it can grow almost anywhere. All grains (which include beans and seeds) are valuable commodities in the global market today not because of their overall nutritional value, but because of their mechanized handleability and long term viability.
This is the great food illusion which keeps us fed on what’s making us sick. Grains are harvested by a machine, running back and forth while pumping diesel exhaust all over the place or they are run on biofuel, which is also a farce. Using our food as fuel makes a loaf of bread too costly. Agricultural industry loves turning plant into fuel, as it looks ecologically better on paper and a car commercial, but the fact is, when corn and wheat go to fuel economies, the food economies, which are built on those staple crops, become unaffordable to many.
Now in my own kitchen, I’m still using bought flour, usually organic, but sometimes not organic, but “no-spray” local flour when it’s available. In my reading: “Home Grown Whole Grains” I was inspired to try my hand at a personal crop of grains. Most of the wheat, rye, and oats were planted last fall during more earthworks. Other grains I’ve been trying out come from a friend who gave me his prep seeds before they expired. The winter rye did not come up, but oats and wheat did. I cut my first stalks in mid July with a new scythe. It is not the best way to feed a nation, but to explore the possibility of producing some of my own grains, or utilizing more nutrients in fresh plant matter.
That’s one question to ask about highly processed grains; how long since the harvest of this crop? It’s a question about any food, because we can accept that the nutritional value of food deteriorates from the moment its life ends. Cell decomposition cannot be stopped, even if frozen. The value of our food is constantly compromised, this in turn, malnourishes those who are forced to buy more processed foods due mainly to availability and cost.
Scale is another culprit of compromised nutrition. The industrial revolution taught us that bigger was better, and the pay off, prosperity. Population growth has fielded a commodity bonanza. Mother nature has been amped up by synthetic syrups and storage in treated space to prevent rot and insect predation. In massive grain silos, this “food” sits, sometimes for years. When you see grains in a highly processed meat product, like chicken nuggets, the flour is just that, a filler, with no real nutritional value. What does that say about our industrial agriculture?
There are many people who see the unsustainable practices of outdated technologies and are taking action. I’ve felt called to grow plants and raise animals on a small scale, feeding a few, but the food I give is fresh, nutritious, and ethically grown without harm to the land it comes from. Bread is a luxury to a Cascading Foothills small farm, but perhaps, in combination with some wilder relatives like dock and plantain, there might be enough grain to give us a hardy loaf or two from time to time. Perhaps if the wheat, rye, and oats continue to seed out on the land, a natural diversity of grains will thrive on the pastures where rotationally grazed animals will take in fresh grains from the field, instead of form a bag from a silo, from a field one hundred miles by rail.
Reflections on The Netherlands
Just outside Amsterdam, there is the town of Muiden. In that town, there is a street along one of the main canals, that eventually leads to a medieval castle. I took this photo of a beautiful hedge by the fortifications. It is very managed, though recently established with young hawthorn, as a restored wall for a medieval kitchen garden. Note the solid brick work on a path just to the right of this hedge, a well used walk, and designed to also support the weight and space of a vehicle. The hawthorn trees have been sculpted back with electric hedge trimmers. This is a man-made hedge that is maintained in a highly used space. It looks great and will never see direct contact from livestock or wild browsers. The hawthorn will produce fruit and provides habitat for smaller animals; especially birds and insects.
The fortification at the mouth of The Vecht River, an arm of the greater Rhine, is all part of a manmade waterway, including canals and locks to move boats along very active shipping lanes which bring goods and services to smaller towns further inland and have been for hundreds of years. Since The Dutch began manipulating land to build territory and control trade, they have been scuplting space, reclaiming land from the sea, and making as much use of that space, as nature will allow.
The landscape and history of The Netherlands is such a part of the experience in this place. I spent a lot of time in Ezinge, a small, but ancient town in the provence of Groningen.
This picture shows the most southern part of the town, and there is a lot of information, depicted. This mound of land, which the entire village built off of, is old. You see, Ezinge is the oldest continually established village in The Netherlands, and when you start looking a little deeper into this landscape, you’ll see why. Just over to the left of this photo is The River Reitdiep. There is a dyke keeping its waters from flowing into the surrounding towns, but this river is a little special. It was still walled in by dykes, but remains in a wandering path of bends and curves. If you look at a map of The Netherlands, you’ll find this is really the only river where this natural shape remains. The Reitdiep, like most land below sea level which has been reclaimed, no longer floods directly inland from an open sea.
In stone age times, people did not form permanent habitat in flood prone areas. Deeper inland in The Netherlands, you can find prehistoric man’s presence at heritage sites where great stone hunebedden “giant beds” of The Bell Beaker People c. 2800 – 1800 BCE.
As trading grew and land became scarce, any hillock that did not become inundated in winter was inhabited. Villages formed on these wierdes, or mounds of earth, which were added to as population grew. Here’s where some great permaculture starts working. These wierde communities built up their mound around a central pool wide enough to catch rainwater, and deep enough to filter brackish water from seasonal flooding through groundwater springs. The pool was used by everyone, including livestock, but as villages grew and got savvy, they stretched land out, putting each house near the spring, and putting their barns and livestock further back, towards the more vulnerable side of the lowlands. There animals would graze and drink from slews dug to direct floodwater off fields. The barns would still be on higher ground to protect the animals during the worst of the flooding. Villages began to look like wagon wheels with each homestead as a spoke around the central freshwater source. This continued till Roman times.
When Christianity came and churches were built, the best land of each village was selected. Pools were filled in, as dykes had gone up to keep out sea flooding, and people could spread out more, moving away from a central well. The early dykes allowed man to curb nature’s hold on the earth, and move the waters into more advantageous canals for transport and irrigation.
This dam controls the flow of an entire estuary within Lauwersmeer National Park, a World UNESCO site. On the right you see the estuary, on the left, Wadden Sea, just inside The North Sea. Under this hill is a mass of brick, back fill, concrete, and engineering feats of incomprehensible magnitude. I highly suggest you take a moment to go look at The Netherlands in google maps and see how one country holds back the tide.
On a much smaller scale, your first image when you hear of The Netherlands:
This beautiful historically preserved wind pump in Liden, a town just north of The Hague, is another engineering example that paved the way for settlement and agricultural mastery of The Netherlands. If you look just to the right of this wind pump, you see this:
A canal which, if you look closely, stands above the houses in the background. The second story window of the furthest house is at eye level with the water, held by a dyke. And this wind pump moves water into the canal from other fields further left in the landscape. The pumps kept water out of neighborhoods and pushed the overflow out through the canals towards the coast. This is how most of The Netherland’s coast has been settled, though much of it stands below sea level.
But in the town of Ezing, there is no wind pump, as the village was built up on the mound. And in the picture I posted back at the beginning of this writing, you’ll notice how high the mound is, because from the West, almost a third of the original mound’s mass has been removed, creating the dramatic rise. Much of the soil was sold off as rich topsoil in the 1920s, until strange finds attracted archeologists who began studying and digging at Ezinge for over two decades. Museum Wierdenland holds the finds and tells a great history of the area from 600BCE on.
Though a lot of The Netherlands journey in settlement of a seemingly uphill battle, where the landscape, in this case is anything but. Somehow they managed, and, for better or worse, nature was curbed through channels and dams, which put the wild spaces into managed habitats which are still in practice today.
One particular park stands out, Koekamp, which is on the edge of a private estate right in The Hague. Here you can gaze upon captive red deer, spotted deer, and a variety of water fowl. Just looking at this enclosure, I can see there is overgrazing. Though the park does look manicured and under control, the habitat is completely denude of everything not fenced. The animals look physically healthy, and you can see they have endless hay and some grain feeds at least once a day. However, the ground is bare and eroded. This is not a healthy landscape, and potentially, a lot of The Netherland’s landscapes which look very pastoral and manicured, are actually monoculture and barren.
Though personal garden beds around homes are full of flowers, there are no wild places for pollination fields, outside a few parks and protected areas which are isolated islands in a large landscape of pure cultivation. In the cities, much of the ground is bricked up, creating flooding issues when hard rain falls. The Hague flooded while we were further north on my visit. What if some of that brick was pulled up and replaced with drainable ground again?
Dutch master works of pastoral landscapes are famous around the world, and protected as heritage sites in the country. Cows and sheep graze along the dykes and people enjoy seeing them there. It is a cultural tradition for large dairy farms to be prospering in the country side, and city folks flock to said country on bikes in good weather, looking to see their landscape as it has been for the last few hundred years.
Even from the highways, between cities, the countryside everywhere looks like this. The fields are picture perfect, the red roofed barns peek out of dark green oases where a woodlot stands on the north side of the farm as a wind break, and other smaller trees and tall shrubs create a privacy screen around the farm house. There are left to grow tall as weather breaks, and traditional trees like willow and hawthorn are still planted. But there are some missing environmental pieces that must be addressed if agriculture is to continue, not just in The Netherlands, but across the globe.
The Dutch have shown us how to control an environment, taking what was once a threat to domestic life, and made it a woven piece of cultivation and transportation of goods and people around a small country. The Netherlands is a place where elements could not keep people from making a life out of what nature gave them, by using manpower to shape the landscape into workable soil and home. Even now, many conservationists are working with land owners and The Dutch Government, to improve habitat and bring natural areas back to the diverse ecosystems they can potentially be, with the management of human interference to make a country viable in world markets today.
Sunset On Back Step
fading red step
of treated lumber
stair to back porch
cement stoop, facing west
looming Douglas Fir framing
dipped horizon beyond forest
her colors peak
white and gold light caress
grey cloud hedge
wisps of feathered wing
In working to build this landscape into a thriving space for small farming endeavors, a lot of inspiration has led to bits of reflection and poetry which offer a more personal glimpse into the life of one woman’s journey into holistic cultivation. With encouragement from followers of this blog, I give space to express a little more of the rawness here at Leafhopper Farm.
April 18th, 2016
In Washington state,
if you live west of our Cascadian gate
you’re in the Mists of Avalon
and by springtime each year
you know that summer is near
warm sunlight will soon return
April showers bring May flowers
and indeed, Hawthorns are blooming
but the rains never came,
a heat wave put records to shame
one afternoon, it was 90 degrees
late April should be our last freeze
in one week, the Cascade range lost 20% of her snow pack
climate change deniers never looked back
and the rivers on the east side are flooding early
drought fires last summer, worst on record
pictured truth, a thermometer measure
it’s an anomaly
temperatures rising, it’s feeling quite nice…
till there’s no more ice
the death toll is already climbing
flooded cities like Katrina in New Orleans
but hurricanes are small beans
a drop in the bucket,
compared to oceans rising several meters in decades
deniers keep building up barricades
but Venice is sinking
so is Malta,
and most of Bangladesh
End of Day
the leaving means coming home
last light in spring sky, of color
reflecting off sheet metal roof
lavender purple clouds to earth
light in window at the door
calling frog from pond below
apple blossom does smell sweetly
in evening dew set to rest upon it
her cold damp kiss goodnight
marked hands show the work
there is great passion in this heart
strong grip on vision
steadfast will for life’s adventure
tending with gentle intent
warrior queen with a mission
plant, germinate, grow
cycles of stewardship
the return in fulfillment
I love this!