Country Living Expo

Short of researching all the different aspects of rural life, where can you go to learn all the things you need to know to be self-sufficient? Yesterday, I had a delightful time at the Country Living Expo & Cattlemen’s Winterschool, where they offered all manner of classes and chances to hang out with the community. I took 5 of the 160 classes offered and I learned a lot, everything from acceptable business plan debt-to-income ratios to how to get your dog interested in catching frisbees. 

Oh, Max just turned around and said, “Catch what? I think not.” Ah, thwarted before I’ve even started.

The Sister got some great advice on growing giant pumpkins and how to rid the garden of tomato blight. She found a gentleman who knew more about maintaining pastures than God and they talked about small tractor attachments. Then I found her stuck with all the horse people, loathe to leave. I chatted with members of Slow Food Port Susan, talked with a horse trainer, bought a book about Open Gate Farm, petted an alpaca, admired the latest Massey-Ferguson equipment, (all our tractors are M-Fs), found an exciting new magazine (Grow Northwest), and noshed on Prime Rib followed by cookies baked by FFA members.

In stark contrast to all the political haranguing I hear on the radio or read in the papers, this event combined groups that traditionally sit on both sides of the aisle. Everyone learned so much and had a great time celebrating the country life, whether vegan or carnivore, conventional or organic farmer. We all play well together.

Every year, this expo grows by a couple hundred people. The interest in self-sufficiency and small farming is becoming much more prevalent. Whether it’s from the economic times or an interest in healthier foods, it’s exciting to see.

Broadband? What’s that?

After listening to the State of the Union address, and hearing the President’s mention of bringing broadband access to rural places, I have one question: what does he mean by broadband? If you can’t use Skype, is it still broadband? What about streaming videos, connecting to virtual private networking, or playing World of Warcraft? If you can’t conference online, what use is it for your small business or farm?

The President was talking about wireless broadband covering our rural spaces. Will it provide these kinds of services, the ones suburban America already enjoys? Satellite certainly doesn’t. Cellphone wireless won’t provide many of them, especially VoIP. In the State of the Union fact sheet, it only discusses high-speed internet, without giving specifications or a timeline of any kind.

It will be interesting to see how this initiative will take shape. Here’s my hope for the best.

Snow Musings

A number of my more geekish friends often ask me why I live so far out in the country. Why don’t I move closer to the city, where they have real amenities, like electricity and plumbing. (Ah, they kid because they love… Of course we have electricity and plumbing. We even have TV out here. Sheesh! The only thing we don’t have is decent internet access.)

Tonight, as I was taking the baby dog out for his last perambulation before retiring, it started to snow. Everything was quiet and dark, except for the little patch of light we were standing in. The snowflakes emerged from the dark sky and landed on my face, ever so gently. It was beautiful, watching them sparkle as they drifted down. I can’t tell you how many moments like this I have experienced out here in the country: deer walking into the pasture for a twilight snack, eagles down at the river arguing over a catch, onions growing huge in my little garden, the horses rolling in the summer grass and shaking their great blonde manes once they are upright. During our last cold spell, I would go out at night and stare at the spectacular Milky Way across a vast black sky. No one in the city can do that. It can’t bee seen from there.

It’s worth the long commutes and the expensive, almost inadequate access to the internet just to experience moments like these. Even though I’m certifiably nerdy, I know that sometimes reality on the farm is better than all the video games and high tech tools in the world.

Census of Agriculture – 2007

The USDA conducts a census of agriculture every five years, detailing the current state of food production at a national level. The latest is from 2007. Some of the statistics are surprising, even eye-opening. I find some of the charts especially intriguing.

The chart of Average Age of Pricipal Farm Operators shows that there are few farmers under the age of 55. This means that within the next 10 to 15 years, a large majority of farmers will reach retirement age or will get to the point in their lives where they’ll not be able to farm full time. What happens to their farms when that happens?

Young farmers (or farmer wannabees) can’t afford to buy or even lease enough land to make a living. They end up working at a job they don’t want to do in order to eventually have enough money to do what they want, namely, farming. Then they must continue working in order to maintain their health insurance and other benefits, while farming. Their best, most productive years, the 20s, 30s and 40s, are spent not farming. It’s unfortunate.

Two of the charts: Percent of Farms Operated by Family or Individual and Percent of Farms with High-Speed Internet Access, have almost an exact inverse correlation. It’s uncanny. If the land is primarily dedicated to small farms, there is no access to VoIP, online video training, or a whole host of tools that can really promote farms and make them more successful. This correlation does not hold true for large, corporate-held farms, however.

If you want to see more charts, go here.