Reclaiming land from industrial horticulture, or factory growing (as I call it) is a daunting process. Our plans have the locals rolling their eyes. Why would you want to grow beef on grass when they get nice and fat (read obese) on corn. Whole generations of people actually think that a cow will go all scrawny if you let it graze grass and nothing else. That if it is not fed antibiotics with its water it will get sick. They have been convinced that grass fed beef is tough and inedible. Lean is bad. Healthy is a gimmick. And why grow your own vegetables when it is so much cheaper to buy a frozen pizza at Walmart? Yet growing food on your own farm to feed your family is not some new idea. This piece of land had been feeding people for generations. All food was organic until after the 20’s!. All farms had their own pig, chickens, beef, their own milk cow and enormous vegetable gardens.
I have an old poster for the sale of some stock from the farm we live on now. As I understand it Bert (My husband’s Great-Grandfather ), became ill, could no longer farm and sold off his stock (not the land), he died shortly after in 1921 and his wife Emma took over the cropping with the help of hired men and her sons as they grew. The barns and home fields still housed a few animals for the family table, the horses that were used on the farms grazed along side the beef cows. Big vegetable gardens grew close to each of the houses. The food was canned(bottled) in big glass jars some of which I have in my pantry. They were running a sustainable farm before the label was even invented. They took responsibility for feeding themselves. Here is the poster for the sale:Later, after the second world war with its warfare chemicals looking for a new home (i.e. fertilisers and pesticides), then aided by the corn subsidies of the 70’s. Big horticulture took over these small farms. In came the big machines, cutting a swathe of corn and soya bean rotational cropping through the small farms and systematically abusing some of the best growing land in the country. The barns were gutted and used to house tractors and combine harvesters that grew in size like Palmer’s, A Fish out of Water and they are still getting bigger. The animals were herded onto concrete pads and fed corn. The hogs jammed into sheds and fed corn. Sheep almost disappeared from around here completely. A huge percentage of the land is rented out to the big croppers who own the big machines that grow the corn. It is corn, beans and a little wheat absolutely everywhere around here. That is all.
Ironically I am surrounded on FOUR sides by this low protein, high yield, genetically modified field corn. With a wee lane to drive in and out.
I cannot see out. Yet there is no food in these fields. I cannot make a meal from what is all around me. It is a constant reminder of how a destructive trend can be so insidious in its pretty-ness. Look how green and healthy it all looks. Don’t get me started!! This is where High Fructose Corn Syrup, a banned substance in my home and a proven cause of obesity, and all manner of other icky food stuffs, comes from. OK I will stop now. Rants take up too much space! Below: TonTon helps show how tall the corn is.
So we are slowly breaking in new ground, acre by acre – year by year. Replacing the corn that we have no use for, our cows are not fed corn at all and nor am I. We have three acres in grass around the house already and below you will see our next two reclaimed acres. Sown in three different kinds of grasses and two kinds of clover. Our first task in reclaiming the land is to begin to build some topsoil. Millions of years of topsoil has been tilled into the air in only the last few decades, so building the soil back up is going to take some time and a lot of cow manure and compost. We have let the grass grow tall so what the stock doesn’t eat will be knocked down covering the dirt and encouraging micro-organisms and worms and new growth. Once again this will take a while. Daisy and friends are doing their best.
As you can see we are still fencing. We use recycled old power poles. Here is the old barn, which is needing a lot of work too. Our John’s Grandfather ripped the South side out to fit a combine in there. As we find the old gates, smaller doors, windows and interior timbers. We are not building it new, we are building it old and solid. Another long project.
So now you may be getting a feel for our mission. ( I ‘m sorry but we have to get serious every now and then) We are developing the strong sustainable cycle of growing and feeding and composting that will heal the ground and grow our clean food. I don’t mean that to sound so airy fairy. It really is much simpler than that. It is ordinary really. Simple.
I will talk more about the sustainable cycle next week. I will leave you with a shot of my kitchen door. And I am NOT a hippie. I can wear short skirts and high heels with the best of them!
Now I am going to go and work in the garden, in my short skirt but without the heels! Well maybe in the heels just to prove a point. Trouble is the pointy bits sink into the ground!
Tomorrow we will do breakfast. Thanks for dropping in again.
Cecilia, it is wonderful to read your posts! I was sent your link from Chrissy, a friend of yours, a fellow New Zealander, who I worked with in Bangkok, until June of this year. My husband and I are now starting our own small farm, and are doing it in the exact way you have been describing! We are taking it slow and figuring out many things as we go. We have land in the Ozark Mountains in Flippin, Arkansas. We, too, are beginning to clear land and build our soil. I am so enjoying your blog and getting many useful tips from you. Thank you so much! Diane
I’m glad that heels are still on the agenda C
Heels are mandatory for the lady gardener- evidently heels aerate the sod too.! Poor old sod!
Hats off to you and your family for ‘reclaiming’ the land back to the way it should be used for!
Are you really aiming for 90 head of sheep?! I have nothing but applause and respect for your plans, it makes perfect sense just this crazy ole world is too messed up to realise. All the best to you and your family for your perfect farmy. 🙂
No, I do not have that kind of space, we will stay very small just feeding ourselves and the families! c
That was another wonderful post 🙂
Joining your blog readership some months after you began, this is my first visit to this post after being directed here yesterday. Interesting stuff and I can see why you get so incensed about the virtual monoculture in your area – GM too!. I also get incensed about farming techniques here, but for different reasons i.e. that the land is no longer used how it was intended to be.
After people were cleared out of the Highlands in preference to sheep generations ago, the government decided to provide small portions of land (crofts) for a teeny, tiny rent as a way to attract people back. Like in your part of the world, these people had a few sheep, a couple of cows maybe and chickens for their own use. They grew oats for the beasts and potatoes etc. for themselves.
As old crofters died, their families moving away, land came up for grabs by the remaining crofters. Nowadays, crofting is a whole different beast. Heavily subsidised, sheep and to a lesser degree, cattle, are the order of the day. No, oats or potatoes – it’s easier to buy them from the other side of the country by the lorry load. (Carbon footprint?) Very few of these crofters use all this accumulated land and it shamefully becomes covered in bracken and gorse. It makes my blood boil to see mineral-rich, volcanic, valley-bottom land producing NOTHING, just because of an originally great idea not being made to evolve by the powers that be. Annnnnnd although this land is rented, the tennents are alowed to sell up to three plots of land per croft for the purpose of house-building – and making a small fortune of course. But that’s another matter, worthy of its own rant!
You’ll probably delete this from your comments but that’s fine, as it made me feel better just telling you about it!
No No I would not think of deleting this, I had no idea that this was going on.. land doing Nothing! It would make my blood boil too, I hope other people get to read your rant, we need to know what is happening all over the world.. thank you christine for writing this for us.. c
Great post C . I too have only recently joined your blog so really good to get a bit of history to your home on the prairie. A wonderful and simple lifestyle – if only more people were interested in following this way of life. Will make your posts a part of my daily routine from now on – so glad i came across it. Really love the old barn – i am part of a group that cares for and maintains historic huts and homesteads in Kosciuszko Park in southern NSW, Australia. These were built when stock was grazed in the high country many years ago and form part of the history of the high country. cheers and hugs to all the animals – especially littlle Marcel , the survivor.
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