Learning from a Master

Cathi with Brisk and Solven

I had a wonderful time visiting with Dr. Doug Hammill and Cathi Greatorex in Eureka. I was able to meet their fabulous horses: the Suffolk Punches, the Fjords, Misty the Clydesdale, a Welsh pony, and Cody. We then had “dissolve your spoon” coffee (my favorite) and talked about internet tools and teaching about draft horses.

One interesting aspect to younger farmers is that they are treating new technologies much as older folks treat indoor plumbing or lawn mowers, as just another tool. Since they’ve grown up with it, there just isn’t a technological divide in their minds about how to use it. So, when they want to find out about a subject, what’s the first thing they do? They look it up online. Periodicals, which have been the traditional way to advertise farming services, are not the first resource for younger farmers although they do read them for a deeper understanding of things. To pass on the type of skills Doc Hammill has about draft horses to a new generation, an online presence is almost mandatory. Social media skills are rather important, too.

Doc with Kate and Ann

Doc driving Kate and Ann

There are several websites devoted to young farmers, including Greenhorns, Earthineer,  and the WA Young Farmers Coalition, (click on the Small Farm Resources link above for more on these). I encourage those who have years of experience to try to reach  them there. Cathi mentioned one thing keeping folks from enhancing their online presence: they simply want to be outside farming. Their passion is not sitting behind a computer screen. It’s riding behind a horse, plowing a furrow. It’s planting or harvesting. It’s not learning html. Are there any shortcuts to getting your business online? I think so, and I’ll share what I have learned in a later post.

Doc and Cathi have many great stories to tell (and if you attend one of their workshops, you’ll get to hear many of them). The best was this:  Amish kids have discovered battery-powered LED lights and have been adding them to their buggies. There’s nothing stranger than seeing a pimped-out buggy going down the road, lights a’blazing.

If you want to learn more about working with draft horses or perhaps attending one of Doc Hammill’s workshops, go to: Doc Hammill Horsemanship. He is the best trainer I’ve worked with.

The Project, with Details

A few posts ago, I mentioned a thought I was having about exploring the world of rural broadband in the West. That idea has now officially grown legs and is rattling about the house, searching for loose change. It’s time to get crackin’.

The main intention of this project (and it really needs a decent name) is to see how rural broadband is changing the nature of farming, ranching, and small town businesses. Some things to consider are:

  • How is the lack of broadband access holding some communities back?
  • Is there a substantial economic component to having broadband access?
  • Does the nature of farming techniques change with greater connectivity?
  • Is online learning, telecommuting, or social media helping rural economies? 
  • Are small farmers and rural businesses more empowered to influence the political process because of high-speed internet? 
  • Are you able to do more because you are connected? If you aren’t connected, how does that affect you?

In other words, does rural connectivity change the rural experience?

I plan, during the month of June, to travel through the following states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Oregon. While there, I’d like to interview any small farmers, dairy folk, ranchers, rural high-tech companies, local broadband providers, or rural businesses (especially those who cater to any of the above) to find out how they are using, or can’t use, broadband internet access. I want to do two things from those interviews: create a book and start a podcast series.

If you’d like to be interviewed or if you have any suggestions about a good person to interview, please contact me. My email is geek1@geekinthecountry.com. I can also be reached at @ruraltechgeek on Twitter or just leave a comment, with your email address, on this blog post. Suggestions for a good project name are always appreciated.

I look forward to postulating many pithy questions…