Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Logs to Lumber: Old School, Part 2

Working a horse in the woods provides students with the insight into historic logging practices as well as the practice of modern restorative forestry. Here, a student removes two stems which will be processed for sugarwood. Working together, the driver, swamper, and horse effeciently extract the logs with a minimum of conversation. As part of the Agriculture Power Systems course, students are developing an appreciation of and requirements for different traction options on the farm and in the woods. The last step of the "logs to lumber" process is to harvest sawlogs and take them to our portable sawmill.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Logs to Lumber: Old School, Part 1

As part of the Agriculture Power Systems course, students experienced firsthand the process of felling and bucking trees using the technology of the late 19th century--the crosscut saw and the single bit axe. Early settlers to the region were faced with the challenge of clearing land for agricultural purposes, procuring construction material for the home, and income. In this segment of the course, students gained an understanding of the hard work required to successfully fell a tree in the desired direction and then buck the stem into useable lengths. Tomorrow, students will harness the horses and twitch the logs to the sawmill where we will turn our logs into lumber.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Field Trip Fun

...nothing like a little humor as we unload from a van ride. Today, students visited two small vegetable farms, Bub's Best Produce and Wildbranch Farm. As the second week of the summer farm program draws to a close, students have been exposed to many experiences related to the craft of farming--both positive and negative--it is nice to see that none of them have lost their sense of humor.

Driving Journal 1

A few days ago I had my first session learning how to drive horses. At 8:00 in the morning we headed out to Rick's house, and led the horses out from the field. I tried somewhat unsuccessfully to absorb all the names and parts of the horse and harness, but I think I got the general idea. (I did get the knot down, though, and used it to tie up the cow yesterday for milking.) We simply practiced ground driving, without any implements, which was tricky enough. At times driving horses can start to feel like driving a car, pulling two lines instead of turning a wheel. It's similar, but really the horses only go anywhere because they decide to. It might feel like I have control over where they go, and if I push on their bodies they do generally move away from pressure, but if at some point a horse has other ideas there's little I can do about it. They're pretty big. That's the whole point. My job as driver, it seems, is to convince the horse to decide to walk where I want him to go. But to do this I have to act like I know what I'm doing. I don't. Pete, of course, knows exactly what's going on. I feel like even though I try to fake being sure of myself, he's still thinking, “Dude, you don't have a clue.” Which is mostly the case, for now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Driving Journal 06-19-08

This morning I met Rick Thomas at the farm. I was alone, my group partner Zarren is still recovering from a nasty illness which has beat him into submission; hopefully he will recover soon and be back to his normal, hard working, self. Rick was riding Carson, his least seen horse on the Sterling property, who can get easily startled when his daily routine is changed. For the class time Rick brought out Pete, one of the common faces around Sterling nowadays. He taught me how to tie a quick release knot when tying a horse to a hitch, grooming, commands on how to go, stop, turn and back up, and how to keep them calm when walking outside. Horses are prey animals who are always suspicious of the surrounding world, ready to run from possible predators at a moments notice and it is your job as the owner, and companion, to ensure the horse that nothing will happen to it. The terminology is a bit tricky the first time around, but if we review it each time we meet there is no doubt that I will be able to remember what each part is called, for the horse and its equipment.

Morning Commute

My commute is seldom boring, I harness the team around 6:30 a.m., hitch to a vehicle, and head off to work at about 4 miles per hour. Here, gridlock is defined by a white-tailed deer running across the road at the same time my friend's tractor is moving feed for his dairy cows. As you can see, the view is amazing, the air is clean, the sound of trace chains rattling along puts my mind at ease. The College is about 4 miles away where our students are preparing breakfast and getting organized for the work of the day--work that will include these two horses.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Washing Fleece

Today, students and interns worked with Jeff Bickart to clean fleece recently sheared from our sheep flock--the fleece will be dried, carded, and spun. During the summer farm program, sidebar experiences such as this fiber arts workshop randomly occur as faculty enjoy sharing their hobbies and passion with students.

Fleece Processing

Interns Nina and Katey and summer farm student Alison scrub fleece in preparation for the next stages of fleece processing. This spring, our flock was sheared and the fleece will be used primarily during the Fiber Arts course taught during the Fall semester. Processing our own wool, the Sterling College farm demonstrates a "closed loop" system as we strive to model the use of sustainable resources.

Driving journal 6-17-08

Yesterday, Alison and I hung out with Pete and Rex—Sterling College's draft horse team—and learned how to harness them and attach an implement. It'll probably take a few more times before I get it down, but it was pretty manageable. I'm excited to learn the lingo so I can talk about this stuff without sounding like an idiot.

We hitched up a chain harrow (which acts to spread nutrients around the pasture and destroy parasite eggs) and drove that around for a while. We learned how to negotiate turns safely by always walking on the outside of the turn, and we started to get a general idea of what it feels like to control a working horse.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Field Trip: Butterworks Farm

Today, along with the participants in the Rural Heritage Institute, our students enjoyed a farm tour at Butterworks Farm. Students enjoyed time with Jack as he explained the making of his wonderful yogurt. Upon their return, students enjoyed our favorite lunch of the week--leftovers! This afternoon, students helped Angie and Beth transplant crops and direct seed more beans.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Michael Pollen, Thunderstorms, Potatoes and Rural Heritage

Tuesday night, we loaded into the van and drove to Burlington to hear Michael Pollen speak about his new book: In defense of food. The students were treated to a solid lecture about global food systems, sustainability, and the importance of being purposeful about food choices. During the evening, a large thunderstorm blew in with a great display of lightning and a very heavy downpour over Lake Champlain. Back at campus, the tent village withstood the strongest winds with no damage.

Today, Armone used our "new" cultivator (1914 McCormick Deering #4) on the potatoes. The horses stepped nicely around the young sprouts and the crop shield only damaged a few spuds. Working the foot treadle is complicated as there is much to think about and do while the horses are moving down the rows.

Paul Ferrari and I presented a workshop on the use of animal power for traction on the farm to about 25 participants of the Rural Heritage Institute being held right now at Sterling. For more information, check out the links on the front page of this blog and click on Rural Heritage Institute.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The three H's: Hot, Humid, and Hazy

"Off and running" might be a good analogy for our first day; not much down time as we are in the midst of seedbed preparation, cultivation, transplanting, direct seeding, and hay machinery maintenance. In addition to working, classes are underway and the evening hours are spent reading Coleman, Miller, Wessels, and a host of other great authors.

Sunday night, our students witnessed a solid demonstration of "Kingdom weather" as a thunderstorm arose to our north with a splendid display of lightning--the storm stayed to the north and we had only a bit of welcome rain. Students are getting comfortable in the tent village and small kinks are being worked out in our community structure and function. Mary has provided wonderful food for the first few days and the students seem to appreciate the love and concern she has for their nutrition.

Monday, Students worked through an introduction to Organic Crop Production with Heidi and Jeff and spent some time with hand tools in the garden. In the afternoon, Pete and Rex were harnessed and students enjoyed a light-hearted drive around the Common.

Tonight, students will travel to the University of Vermont to hear Michael Pollen describe his new book: In Defense of Food.

The heat is scheduled to break tonight, thundershowers are in the forecast and some drier, cooler weather is predicted for the next few days-might be heading into our first cut of hay by next week.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Arrival Weekend

It is finally here, arrival weekend. Many long months of planning, recruiting, reading applications, preparing seeds, plowing fields, and planting are now behind us; in front, 10 students eager to learn our style of "new economy agriculture" (President Will Wootton's words). The faculty are very excited, what a strong group of educators committed to small-scale farming and farm education. Tomorrow night, our welcome potluck features home-cooked lasagne with farm-raised beef, greens from our local gardens, fresh baked bread, fresh strawberries and shortcake, and whatever else faculty can gleen from their early gardens. As I prepare for the journey ahead, I am reminded of work done by John Cavanagh who works in the important and emerging field of energy conservation: "No domain of the global economic activity does greater social, environmental, and political harm than today's dominant energy systems, from source to waste". I hope that as the summer progresses, our small program can ask some hard questions about the coming challenges to our food system, energy resources, and personal footprint as we embark on a 70 day expedition into the realm of sustainability and ultimately survival of our planet.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pigs in the Woods

Our breeding sow, Betty, and her new beau, Roger, have now been moved to a small section of woods. Following their time rooting about near the lower garden, they seem happy and content to forage, sleep, and, well, procreate. Betty's offspring will provide nourishment to the college during the fall. Betty is a great mom and good friend, this will be here third litter. Indicative of her mixed breeding, hybrid vigor shines through in her babies. Betty loves to be scratched with a lawn rake, her ears flop back-and-forth as she coos with pleasure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cucumbers and Squash

Today, Heidi and Angie transplanted all the cucumbers, winter squash, summer squash, and watermelons from the greenhouse into the growing beds. Following torential rains last night, the soil was heavily saturated therefore the plants were mounded into hills. To prevent early pest infestations, the plants were covered in Remay. The weather is changing, a strong warm front is pushing through tonight and tomorrow with predicted highs into the 80's by the weeks end. Excitement is building as the beginning of the summer agriculture semester approaches.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Garden Update

Along with two interns and one student, Heidi Wilson (garden manager) completed the transfer of all the tomatoes from the greenhouse to the growing beds. In addition, another 100 lbs of seed potatoes were planted bringing our total potato volume to about 300 lbs. The weather has remained cool although a change is on the horizon as rain and warm temperatures approaches from the southwest.

In the Circus Patch Garden, Pete and Rex (our draft horse team) completed a final disc harrow to knock down emerging weeds and prepare the seedbeds for dry beans. Heidi is happy with the progress of transplanting and direct seeding and reports that we are on-schedule.