Sunday, January 18, 2015

Investing in Permanent Infrastructure

I suspect that if a statistician moved into our house to figure out what stirs conversation about the farm between Mark and I, they would find that many times it starts with a discussion regarding a capital purchase.  Mark will present his idea (which by now he has learned to carefully craft before bringing it forward in order to have a much better chance of early positive reception) and I will respond accordingly (which by now I've learned to do very carefully so as not to 'crush dreams' and instead, encourage spirited conversation) and then the discussion will grow from there, spreading to cover anything and everything and often topics that we've been wanting to discuss, but haven't made the time for, or thought of in the quieter moments.
Lately we've been talking a lot about our livestock rotation plans and fitting all the pieces together this coming summer.  With the sows both farrowing, we'll have more pigs than ever and they're past due needing to be moved to a new section, but we've never done a real temporary, or frequently-moved set up for them before, which we'll have to if we want to move them out onto a more established, nice pasture that we want to not tear up too badly.  And the cow needs to move to a new pasture before we get a parasite problem happening there.  And finally, the chickens need to shift around a bit, and perhaps separate the hens and meat birds.  Anyway, many options and much to discuss so that's been on the table quite a bit lately, but doesn't mean we're not talking about those other 'investments' and purchases as well.

Without talking in length about it, sometime in the last couple years, we mutually agreed that while all the wonderful infrastructure in the world would certainly make things easier and many times more efficient, there a couple pieces of infrastructure on the farm that although may be aging, don't need to depreciate so quickly and actually make more difference to the day-to-day operations and overall goals of the farm; it's us.  Mark and I came out of the gate from school, charging ahead at full steam, confident in our knowledge and curious about where it would take us.  With every conference, webinar, magazine and book that we read, it's clear that our own knowledge base, experience and relevant research will be what keeps us competitive.
But we've felt over the last years that we were starting to farm ourselves into a rut.  We had figured out how to do a few things really well and had sort of stopped innovating in a big way.  We are constantly changing small things to make our lives easier, but weren't breaking ground with new ideas, crops, rotations, livestock, value-adding, etc. and immediately recognized this as a problem, given agriculture today and our need to be diverse and 'innovative'.

So Mark enrolled in the Atlantic Agriculture Leadership Program and has been doing courses and traveling over the last couple years.  And then this past fall he went to Ohio to take in the Acres USA conference.  I've been doing lots of bedside table farming, enjoying lots of books and cultivating lots of ideas, but not necessarily breaking any new ground.

We made a leap and an 'investment'.  In me.  I'm going to a Polyface Farms Intensive 2-day Seminar down at the farm in Swoope, Virginia.  In July.

If you haven't heard me talk about Joel Salatin, you haven't spent much time with me, as I've been reading him, watching him and listening to him for years now and implementing parts of his practices in what we do.  I've read most of his books, including Pastured Poultry, Holy Cows & Hog Heaven, Family Friendly Farming, Folks This Ain't Normal, and more.  He's not without controversy, but I think the best minds probably aren't.  He writes like he talks and he speaks with an eloquent passion that makes even his detractors sit up and listen.

Here's an overview of what I've signed up for:
"Two out of every three years, Polyface offers this two-day, six meal (it’s worth coming just for the meals) intensive seminar limited to 30 people in order to maintain intimacy. If you ever wanted to go behind the scenes with the Salatin family, this is your opportunity. We actually process chickens, process rabbits, go up the mountain to see pigs, discuss water systems and road building.

We go to one of the rental farms to talk about mob stocking and land lease options. A silviculture session accentuates good forestry management. We mill a log into lumber on the farm’s bandsaw mill, and talk about adding value to woodlots.

The first evening Joel presents a Relationship Marketing session until dark, highlighting the current techniques the farm and its collaborators use. This is a hands-on, in-the-field learning experience in which the how-to is smothered in Southern hospitality"

 It's not cheap and even though we used AirMiles to book the flights, I recognize the significant investment this is for our business and I am thrilled for the opportunity.  As I said to Mark when I was carefully presenting my idea (haha!) I feel like I could spend a few months in a classroom taking a course, but would still get more out of two days of hands on learning from a farm and farmers whose model I want to emulate, or at least implement many parts of. 

It may not be everyone's dream to travel to Virginia in July to kill chickens, but I am losing sleep I'm so excited (ok,there's so much more than that, but it makes it sound extra funny when I say it that way.).  Am already planning our own chicken killing chicken CSA break around it and canNOT wait. 

So that's my big news. You can relax now Mom.  :)

With this excitement fueling my farming train, I anticipate that my brain will be more awake and will have more to say and will hopefully fuel my blogging train.  

(For those with no background on this you can check out a little information about the farm here :  or just google Joel Salatin and watch one of hundreds of youtube videos of him and the farm.)