Life and Farming a Step at a Time

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We live and farm on 106 acres of steep hardwood rangeland (mostly oaks). Less than a quarter of that is viable for agriculture; besides, we want to keep the remainder undisturbed as much as possible. A variety of creatures live here – our domestic animals include sheep, chickens, two dogs, two house cats, and a fluctuating number of barn cats. Our wild co-habitants include mountain lions from time to time, coyotes, bobcats, deer, feral hogs, foxes, skunks, raccoons, squirrels and smaller rodents, occasional weasels, turkeys, hawks, and numerous other birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, etc.

There are those who urge us to cut down the trees, tear up the hillsides and put in wine grapes. After all, we live in the heart of grape country and the northern California wine industry, and that’s where the money is. Growing fresh produce, it’s true that we’ll never get rich, but we are content raising healthy food for ourselves, for sale, and to give away.

Farming this way requires us to “recycle, repair, and use up.” We’re fortunate that my late father-in-law Murph was a saver. Anything that could be useful, he put aside for some future project. He tore down houses for the lumber and other building materials; when he pulled out fencing, he stacked the posts and rolled the wire. There are buckets and cans of screws, nuts and bolts stored in the woodshed, rolls of electrical wiring, stacks of various sized lumber from 2x4s to heavy planks. Before we buy “new,” we always check what’s here already.

For example, some old steel fence posts, pieces of heavy hog-wire fencing, and some twine provide the new peas with a perfect climbing frame. We use those giant-sized tin cans to guard newly planted tomato starts from insects, rodents and birds. Some of our raised beds were framed up with old railroad ties.

Certainly it’s not always the easiest way to farm. Sometimes I just wish we could go to the hardware store or the farm supply and buy just what we need. But when I see my mother-in-law’s living room floor gleaming in the sunlight, I remember my husband and son working those old boards, fitting them together, sanding them smooth again. Once they were refinished, the floor was beautiful. Something that would have been thrown away became useful once again. Sustainable living, sustainable farming … one step at a time.