Farm fantasy camp
September 24, 2014 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Tried CropFit?
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:49 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you the farmer? (Withnail and I clip)
posted by dougzilla at 3:52 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Wombat has dreams of a rural idyll, lounging on the verandah sipping Chardonnay as the hot sun ripens the grapes.

Fortunately, I was once counseled by a wise old farmer. "Never buy work," he said.

To buy a farm (or a vineyard) you are acquiring several hundred thousand dollars of debt in exchange for long days of hard, dangerous physical labour for less than minimum wage.

Never buy work.

But I'm glad some people do.
posted by Combat Wombat at 3:53 PM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]

Do you get to have big sheds, but nobody's allowed in?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:05 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Some of my friends host WWOOFers periodically. When I find myself chatting with one of the WWOOF interns I often ask why they got involved and if they are planning to run a farm themselves.

So far I've not talked with anyone interning in preparation for starting a farm, but I think if someone wanted to put a lot of money and time into getting into farming it would be a great way to give it a try first.

Similar sorts of things apply to starting a bed and breakfast or opening a restaurant. Just staying at a b & b or eating at a restaurant doesn't tell you nearly enough about what's involved.
posted by yohko at 4:06 PM on September 24, 2014

So you want to be a farmer...

Great, now I have "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" stuck in my head.
posted by The Tensor at 4:07 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heh, I bought my first videogame console (NES) with the proceeds of grueling days composed of, among other things, "rock duty" (we called it picking rocks). It beat detassling corn. That I spent the next several months playing Super Mario Brothers exclusively because I couldn't afford another cart tells you something about how itinerate farm work paid. Apparently growing up a hick confers the unexpected side benefit of preemptively wiping out any future romantic notions about farming.
posted by nanojath at 4:07 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Farming dreams are a modern seduction.

Farming dreams are an ancient seduction.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:10 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

Who's a jammy bastard?
posted by rustcrumb at 4:11 PM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

From the article: Is it for everyone? Certainly not. Even Shute, who spends her waking hours advising would-be farmers, admits that some of the most enthusiastic rookies aren’t going to like it. Farming is arduous and monumentally stressful, with a payoff that can be thin at best.

This is great. I love love love everyone who wants to back to the land and have a farm, but articles and programs like this are really needed to dispel all the romantic notions people can have about what it actually means. It's not just the work and the marginal payoff, it's the razor thin edge of making it and not making it, between all the expenses and actually having revenue. It's sitting in a calving shed at 3 AM wondering why there's no water in the pipe and praying that it's not a broken pump because you just can't handle any more unexpected expenses this year and it's only March. Meanwhile you're also thinking you need to call the vet for this cow you've got your arm half-sunk into, you've got a few missing cows that someone needs to go find, and winter is still horrifically here, so it looks like you're going to need to buy more hay because your hay yield was so sparse last summer.

And you watch as your next door neighbor sells his 4 generation old ranch because he can't take it anymore due to his only son getting killed when he rolled his truck while pulling a load of hay, and it gets subdivided into a few "farms." Then you watch people buy them with these ideas of their own farm and things like CSA, and one day they wander by wondering why there's no water in the ditch, with no concept of water rights or drought, and it breaks your heart and makes you furious at the same time. And your only daughter thinks oh my god I HAVE to go to college.

I admire anyone who goes to it and sticks it out. Glad there are resources out there for understanding what that entails.
posted by barchan at 4:13 PM on September 24, 2014 [31 favorites]

Here's a great AskMe comment on this.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Never buy work," he said.

I take that a step further.

"Never lift anything heavier than money."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

Over the last few decades, the global trend in developed nations has skewed towards bigger, more consolidated farm operations. Yet here in the U.S. — where the vast majority of our 2.1 million farms are classified as small (in terms of sales) — there has also been a steady increase in smaller, community supported agriculture (CSA) farms.

Is...anything in this sentence true? I really don't know. I was under the impression everything was the opposite of this:

A. Worldwide there are lots of subsistence farmers.
B. In the US most food comes from industrial farms and smaller farms are shrinking every day.
C. CSAs are basically just farms that deliver to customers and there are very very few of them.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:40 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, my dad fell victim to this. It's actually why my parents got divorced.

See, back in the 70s/80s there was a whole "back to the land" thing kinda like this going and he went for it hook, line, and sinker and started talking about going off the grid and "living off the fat of the land." My mom wasn't a huge fan of this but he charged ahead anyway. He eventually took the money they'd saved for a starter home and instead sunk that into six acres in the middle of bumfuck nowhere without telling her. Then, he had his parents move down and bought them a trailer on the land in the middle of bumfuck nowhere without telling her.

One weekend, he took her for a drive out to the boonies and pulled into this deserted hunk of land with a trailer on it and announced proudly that they were going to be farmers now. She--my mom--would support all of us--my dad, his parents, and me--on her salary--public school teachers in the South in the 80s didn't make a LOT of scratch--while he and his parents got the farm going and then lived off the fat of the land.

She wasn't especially thrilled by this plan and told him she wanted a divorce on the spot.

If you're wondering how it went, they made it through part of one growing season before it turned out that farming was hard and sucked and they stopped and went back to work, though they'd periodically decide now they were REALLY going to do it and buy a tractor or something and try for another growing season or something.

I would periodically get roped into this as a child, where I immediately learned the lesson that farming is hard and sucks.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:44 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

"Farm apprenticeship is like a well-rounded liberal arts education. In just one summer, Hill Hollow’s interns will master a survey of baseline skills, like planting, harvesting, weeding, feeding animals and collecting eggs. They’ll also pick up some next-level lessons, like protecting crops from roving deer, chicken evisceration and rounding up runaway pigs."


I have a Ph.D. Not in agriculture, by the way. But as a small farmer, I have chased my pigs all over the neighborhood, made my child stand near the road and gobble to call turkeys back home, removed testicles from rooster carcases, and helped castrate piglets. But the oddest skill I have learned? I can impregnate a pig.

A story from last spring: Those ears. Those snouts. Those tails. Every time I bring home a new passel of piglets, I watch their noses, learning to root; their ears, perking up at the call of "Treats, piggies!"; their cobby bodies, racing through the grass, hooves flying. They snuffle through the straw in their hutch and hide in the long weeds. They arrive here in this state of joy, weaned and ready to explore their new world. How can I keep from smiling?

The newest piglets, Dapple and Ginger, were no different, although because of the increasingly cold weather and their size (somewhere around 35 pounds) we chose to keep them in a barn stall for a few weeks, at least until we could get their small shelter up and weatherproofed. With the exception of Ginger's Big Day Loose in the Neighborhood, the girls have done well, growing into their Duroc/Ossabaw heritage and remaining as sweet as they were the day they came home. Just bigger. Much, much bigger.

Earlier this month, the girls hit their version of puberty. In addition to anatomical swelling, they were happy to see us -- and not just for our marshmallows. Ginger, usually lumbering, was flirty; upon seeing my husband and I approaching her sunny spot in the straw, she got up, ran in circles, and kicked up her hooves. Dapple was more me-too than ever, pushing her sister aside in her demand for ear scratching. The theoretical possibility of inseminating them suddenly had a deadline. (And how my husband cackled when he signed me up for the swine semen supplies catalog. The good ladies at the local P.O. have no doubt seen their share of unusual mailings, but I suspect they'll be laughing over this one.) We consulted the calendar, he made some calls, and lo, a mysterious package appeared almost three weeks later.

I think the words "FRAGILE" and "BOAR SEMEN" might have been responsible for the speed with which the UPS man ran back to his truck after handing it off to me.

Things I did not know:
* "Percheron" is the name of the sire. Not, in fact, a mistake in species/shipping.
* The best container for packaging boar semen turns out to look like a tube of clear caulk.
* A turkey baster is not enough; the best tool for the job turns out to be an 18" spirette, possibly because you might want a little distance from a pig that didn't get wined and dined first.
* There is a big difference between cooing over the notion of piglets and, um, coming to terms with the fact that you are currently holding a tube of boar semen in your hand and that you actually have to go use it.

The morning after the package arrived, we checked the gilts again. Ginger's estrus was waning, and we had missed our chance. Dapple was ready. So my husband drove some T-posts about a pig's-width from the side of the pen, zip-tied a small piece of hog panel as a wall (parallel to the existing fence), zip-tied a gate at one end, and ran a clip-on chain across the other end of the chute.

Dapple was happy to get an extra serving of breakfast all to herself and dove, snout first, into her mash as the chain was clipped on behind her. She didn't notice the cleaning of her nethers, or their lubing, and only put her head up for a second as the spirette went in, though I did cheat a little at the last instant and threw a marshmallow into the bucket as insurance.

The key, at least from my end, was to keep her calm and more or less still for the five or six minutes it took my husband to remove the cap from the semen container, fit it into his end of the spirette, and gradually squeeze its contents down the long tube. If you have tried to entertain a crying baby, you may have some feel for the increasingly desperate speech ("Who's a good Dapsy? You are! You are! No, no, no, sweetie, nose over here, come on. Oh, look, MARSHMALLOW!") and the power of a yummy snack held just out or reach, but not out of sight or smell. I got mileage from rubbing coconut-creme marshmallows against her nose for 15 or 20 seconds at a time before feeding them to her, all the while saying "How much longer?" and "How much is left in the tube?" and "You're such a good girl!" The hairy moment came in the last minute or two, when Max the Wonder Dog (eater of turkeys, slayer of barn mice) leaped into the pen and snouted his way into the feed bucket so he could get some treats too. I looked at myself in that moment, assisting with insemination while simultaneously hip-checking a second 250-pound pig away and throwing sweets to the dog, and decided, on second thought, that this was probably not the time to make a sweeping judgment on the state of my life.

Spirette removed and gate opened, Dapple wandered off to do her pig thing and Ginger sniffed the ground for extra feed. We were relieved. That went...well. Next morning, we repeated the process, having crossed the AI Rubicon from "Oh my God, you must be kidding" to "Hey, we have a few minutes -- let's do another dose." Good thing, too; if she didn't catch pregnant, we'll be placing another order and assembling the gear. And there's Ginger to do as well.

My fingers are crossed. For nursing babies, for the first wobbly rising to their feet, for the sight of joy on the hoof.

Postscript: The first four piglets, Dapple's, arrived in mid-June. We celebrated July 4 with a dozen more from Ginger. Whee! Because, as a liberal arts grad, I believe that lifelong learning is a joy. And now I can add pig AI to my skills list.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:45 PM on September 24, 2014 [190 favorites]

FFS monkeytoes publish a memoir already so I can buy it. I could read your farm stories every day.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [22 favorites]

My dad grew up on a farm, my uncle still runs it in eastern Ontario. He was a dairy farmer, now he just does cash crops.

About 25% of the work of a dairy farmer seems to be managing manure. Another 25% of the work is milking, half the work is raising crops to feed to the cows. But it is literally a ton of shit work.
posted by GuyZero at 4:59 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Super timely as I have been idly contemplating the purchase of a small coffee plantation and idling away the rest of my life only earning enough from it to support my workers.

i fucking hate coffee please talk me out of this
posted by poffin boffin at 5:03 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

These stories remind me of the "You know how to make a small fortune in the light aircraft/wine/boat/resturant business?

First, start with a large fortune..."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:06 PM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

I grew up working farms and even I'm not immune to this dream. The difference is that for me the dream is like 10 goats, an acre of hops, and enough income from another source to pay someone to take care of it for me.
posted by 256 at 5:15 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I once asked my dad why X ranch down the road seemed so much more successful than everybody else. (I found out later the owners were the heirs to a very large, extremely recognizable company.) I was, after all, being raised in the culture of "you can accomplish anything you want if you just work hard enough." And I knew how hard everyone worked, so why didn't everyone else have what that ranch had?

My dad replied dryly, "Because they don't have to make a living off their ranch."
posted by barchan at 5:15 PM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

i fucking hate coffee please talk me out of this

As long as you have a verandah, a seersucker suit, and a Panama hat, you'll be fine.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

The difference is that for me the dream is like 10 goats, an acre of hops, and enough income from another source to pay someone to take care of it for me.

That sounds perfect! Goats love hops!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Poffin I have the same dreams except it's weed and instead of small profits I become a weed tycoon like the bad guy rancher in every cowboy movie.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:36 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is always a certain type of Guy who wants to go out on his own and be a substance farmer with no knowledge or idea of what that actually entails.

Look, in a world with a great social safety net, basic income scheme, and lots of heavily subsidesed industrial farms ( with robots!) to ensure everyone have access to fresh-ish produce ( not just corn and corn byproducts) I fully support people going out and having hobby farms cause they LIKE DOING IT and maybe they join a program where they can pay for the cost of production and everyone wins. But right now, in America where it stands, where one wrong step or one bad month or one sudden sickness can ruin an entire family, it seems like a disastrous choice to make.

Granted, there are few choices you can make that aren't one 400 dollar debt away from ruin.

It's the same fucking thing, if Americans actually cared about families they'd fund reproductive health and child care. If they actually cared about small towns and local businesses, they'd be a push for legislation to help them and not huge multinationals. If we really did did care about preserving farming traditions and food quality, we'd have region and method controls.

But we don't, that's not what we care about, and push comes to shove the system is designed to punish anyone who strikes out on their own.
posted by The Whelk at 5:38 PM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]

I become a weed tycoon like the bad guy rancher in every cowboy movie

ok what if i lease u some land then 30/70
posted by poffin boffin at 5:46 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dad replied dryly, "Because they don't have to make a living off their ranch."

There are a number of those around here. One way to spot them is by the quality of their fences -- no one who is making a living from a piece of land has the time to have every inch of fence perfectly painted, straight as an arrow, and with hired contractors out doing repairs all the time.

Is...anything in this sentence true? I really don't know. I was under the impression everything was the opposite of this:

A. Worldwide there are lots of subsistence farmers.
B. In the US most food comes from industrial farms and smaller farms are shrinking every day.
C. CSAs are basically just farms that deliver to customers and there are very very few of them.

A) Yes, but that bit is talking about the developed world, where the trend is indeed towards consolidation.
B) That is true -- it's probably like the 80/20 rule or 95/5, with the vast majority of production coming from big operations, but the majority of legally registered farms (because there are big tax advantages to being a "farm" even if you produce nada) are small hobby operations.
C) CSA-ish arrangements are a great way to make a hobby sized operation come closer to paying for itself. Some are serious, viable businesses, but like farms overall many are just there to make the owner happy.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

These stories remind me of the "You know how to make a small fortune in the light aircraft/wine/boat/resturant business?

First, start with a large fortune..."

Sagan: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:05 PM on September 24, 2014

For me the dream is — and promise you won't laugh — Christmas trees.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:12 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

ok what if i lease u some land then 30/70

Sounds good oops my henchmen burned down your house
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:13 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is...anything in this sentence true? I really don't know. I was under the impression everything was the opposite of this:

A. Worldwide there are lots of subsistence farmers.
B. In the US most food comes from industrial farms and smaller farms are shrinking every day.
C. CSAs are basically just farms that deliver to customers and there are very very few of them.

Well, taking it in reverse order:

C. There is more to CSA than just farms that deliver. This looks like someone taking an earnest stab at the CSA question and the short answer would seem to be that it's complicated, but clearly yes there has been a dramatic increase in the last decades, but even if the arguably inflated Federal number of over 12K were correct it would be only somewhat over half a percent of the 2.1 million total cited in the article.
B. You're not wrong but this doesn't contradict what the article says, which I would guess comes out of this survey- the majority of farms by number are small, but sales of large farms dwarf those of small farms, overall the total number of farms and farmland have decreased but small farms have seen gains.
A. The articles says this is for developed nations so the subsistence farmer issue is probably not as significant.
posted by nanojath at 6:16 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

In New Zealand there is an annual "young farmer of the year" competition that gets broadcast on national television. I grew up watching it and it cured any romantic ideas I had about what goes into farming.

The physical competition sometimes involves building fences, running auctions, digging, driving tractors, and so on. But the game-show style questions section has a gazillion boring questions on things like accounting, soil ph, quality control and accreditation, management of employees, marketing, etc.

And I recall from some years the prizes were sexy things like a year's supply of fertiliser.
posted by lollusc at 7:26 PM on September 24, 2014 [7 favorites] one who is making a living from a piece of land has the time to have every inch of fence perfectly painted, straight as an arrow, and with hired contractors out doing repairs all the time.

Oh, man. if that ain't the livin' truth.

Add to that shiny, relatively new equipment and no crap pile of old parts and spares a real farm has lying around.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

the prizes were sexy things like a year's supply of fertiliser.

I have 10,000 pounds of (free!) horse manure coming later this month. SEXY!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:17 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

"How else ya gonna lose it all like daddy did?
What else will make sure you leave nothing for your kids?
Its too late now, you know it is, you might as well admit
That you're a barely floatin', sentimental, masochistic mess
And that despite all the statistics and the advice that you get
You will always have cows around."
posted by drlith at 5:39 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I too have ridiculous dreams about country squiredom however, being the child of immigrants with ancestors who were subsistence farmers, that dream follows my dream of winning the lottery (particularly improbable since I don't play). Enough money that the annual interest suffices to staff the place with folks who know that they're doing and cover the operating costs of the farm since it certainly wouldn't make any money.
A few dairy cows; some sheep and angora goats; and my real joy, draft horses. Nothing that needs to be killed (squeamish and vegetarian both).
posted by Octaviuz at 6:24 AM on September 25, 2014

I had dreams like this once. I was going to own an alpaca farm with some chickens and goats and a few crops.

I am 43 years old, I have a full time job at a university. I currently own 1/4 of an acre, 5 chickens and 7 raised beds for veggies.

This morning I got up at 4:45 a.m., showered and dressed for work, put on my muck boots and went out to the coop to water and feed the chickens because I had a late meeting last night and wasn't able to do it when I got home. Changed my shoes and went to work. I am out of chicken feed and today, on my way home from work I have to pick up another bag. Thankfully, I got up early on Saturday and cleaned the coop so I don't have to do that this weekend. Two weeks ago we had a 4 day streak of 105 F temperatures so almost everything in my veggie beds is dead (tomatoes, peppers, cukes, basil, chard, and two pumpkin vines). Managed to save the last of the watermelon, herbs, eggplant, artichokes and one pumpkin vine. This weekend I'm going to pull out everything that's dead, start my fall/winter garden and hope it doesn't go over 100 degrees again this fall.

I absolutely LOVE this stuff. LOVE, love love. But if I had one more thing, say, having to live off of my crops or two goats that needed to be milked and fed and kept away from every living plant and impregnated every so often to keep the milk going there is no WAY I would be able to keep up.

Kudos and peace to all farmers actually making a go of it. It is hard, hard work.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:20 AM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Where I live, (greater DC area) farming has become essentially a supporting business to the tourist trade.

My wife and a girlfriend last weekend went on, of all things, a Groupon tour of a nearby dairy farm. They paid to tour this place and buy cheese. I was like, fuck no, I grew up on a dairy farm. If I ever get near one of those places again, they're paying me. But you know, you have fun.

But then looking at the pics she snapped on her iPhone, I realized this really wasn't like any dairy farm I'd ever seen. Way too neat and picturesque. I don't doubt that they make cheese, but the only way they're solvent is because they can get people to pay them to come see what a farm sort of looks like and pet a cow and buy cheese in their shop. The facilities have definitely evolved under that pressure into something that looks more like what you'd like to imagine a farm looks like than real farms I have known. Note also we don't have children and she claimed there were only a few kids. This was mostly adults who were there because they wanted to be there.

Also, out in Bath County is a very nice B&B called the Fort Lewis Lodge. Highly recommend their food, BTW. The place was apparently started by a couple idealists fresh out of college in Ohio who moved to rural Va. and bought a farm. They ran it as a farm for a couple years and realized it was gradually going to drag them under. So they set up a B&B on the property and that's making money hand over fist. Now they run the B&B and farm the land as kind of a hobby on the side, or perhaps to lend authenticity to the business.

That's apparently what you have to do if you want to operate a small farm these days. Most actual small farmers from where I grew up have to work shit jobs like everyone else to get by these days and do what they can on the weekends.

Ghostride the Whip: I kept expecting your story to be like one of those reddit or 4chan things that would eventually reveal itself as the setup to Green Acres.
posted by Naberius at 7:41 AM on September 25, 2014

I bought 7 acres last year to bring our holdings to 10 whole acres of my very own thorn-riddled hay pasture.

I dreamed of chickens, pigs, goats and a huge garden.

Since I don't have a tractor, I had to hire someone to till the garden before we could plant. Ex-boyfriend has a manic streak and started sowing flats of every tomato seed I had stashed back in February. We ended up with a huge, mostly tomato-based garden with tons of waste.

But! I had planned ahead! Last year I invested in some red worms. In March, we bought chickens. In May, our first pigs arrived.

The animals have done a great job with the waste. The first two pigs are going to the locker on Sunday. The hens have been laying since July and I have six dozen eggs from the last seven days sitting in my fridge, needing a home.

I was hoping to market garden and get into selling herbs - and not gonna lie, I'm still hoping that. As a sideline. A hobby-ish thing that makes enough money to maybe pay for some fencing. But I have a stack of receipts from the last 9 months that I don't even want to look at because I know math and I have a sneaking suspicion that my pork is going to end up being something like $9 a pound, and each one of those six dozen eggs (and the new dozen they're making for me today) something like $1.50 apiece.

Still, when it's a supplement to your grocery bill and not your only means of sustenance, it can kind of be a tiny bit idyllic. The hens are funny and torment the barn cat and make dust baths in the greenhouse. We had the thorny field brushhogged last week and have been raking six or seven barrows full of thorny hay into the pig pen for bedding, and if you think a pig in shit is happy you've never seen a great fat pig rolling around in a haystack and grinning.

I've eaten enough meals this summer that came wholly from our farmlet to know that it's deeply satisfying to produce one's own food. But we have two incomes and paid-for land going into it, and we still can't afford our own tractor. At best, it will eventually help offset the costs of feeding three teenaged boys in a decade.

Until then, I'm going to learn how to make hard cider from all our apple abundance. I've never gotten tipsy from my own homegrown anything before and I have a feeling it'll add to the misty Green Acres daydream of farm life. At least, it'll be a nice treat the next time I have to spend an afternoon chasing pigs and mending fence.
posted by annathea at 8:39 AM on September 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

I keep wondering if you could build a designed set of small farms/villages on a couple of sections. (This intersects with my socialist fantasy of having a no-fossil-fuel commune made up of semi-private land holdings, so don't mind me. )

Anyhow, there's a pent-up demand for back-to-the-land small farming opportunities! Why not consciously design and build something that supports this need? For example, get a bunch of people together and buy a couple of sections. I'd say people could see this as an investment opportunity and either bring money or participate directly. If you want to participate directly, here's a contract that outlines your responsibilities to the community and vice versa. There might some allowances for people who want to contribute only labour.

Set up a rental/purchasing centre to buy equipment and supplies in bulk, and figure out a schedule of work so that everyone can get their fields plowed at the right time etc. Encourage & educate people to plan their crops and work to avoid getting overwhelmed and to produce two kinds of outputs - food that can be used directly by the community, and stuff for market. The theory is that if you can work together to feed the community (or at least build a subsistence base) people will see the value of diversity. There's a whole lot more, and I know I've skipped over lots of important details, but I wanted to paint an overview.

What got me thinking about this was a series of articles complaining about Hutterite communities in western Canada a few years ago. The specific complaint was that Hutterite populations and land holdings were growing, while other farmers were suffering because of low crop prices and high interest rates. (Never mind the fact that in some colonies people refused to have their pictures taken for driver's licenses and got away with it! The nerve!)

But the economics of this are pretty straightforward - people work together and don't waste money, and they save hugely on land and equipment purchases. Where one medium-sized family farm buys their own equipment, especially large tractors and combines (an example of something that is very expensive, requiring a mortgage, and sits idle for most of the year), Hutterite farms share that same equipment among many families. They buy effectively and avoid paying interest, which can be a big component of regular farm expenses. Is it any wonder that this lifestyle is economically more efficient than "secular" private farming? (I know there are lots of issues with religious indoctrination, education, etc., and I know they really are Communists. That's no reason not to learn from them.)

Why not try to build something like that as a secular experiment in group farming? At one level, what's the difference between people getting together to design something like this, and an agriculture corporation with large land holdings? (Capital, but leaving that aside for the moment -- I warned you it was a fantasy.)
posted by sneebler at 9:23 AM on September 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oddly enough there are sometimes zoning restrictions, even on rural land with regards to having multiple houses on one piece of property. Friends of mine did try to start a farm with two other families and in the end they were done in by zoning restrictions in addition to changes in feeling on the part of all the participants. The religious factor is a huge element in keeping groups like the Hutterites together.
posted by GuyZero at 10:03 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by Sophie1 at 10:30 AM on September 25, 2014

My family has been farming in western North Dakota for four generations now. My dad and uncle got rid of the pigs and chickens in the 50s and converted to just grain, buying more land. It's still going. I just helped my cousin move a combine, two trucks and a pickup for harvest (which is running really late up here). It's somewhat less work than it used to be with no-till crops, but the hours can still be ridiculous and this year most of the crop was totaled out in a hail storm. That's not the first time that has happened.

It gets into your blood though. I have had desk jobs all my life and in the spring I still get the need to smell soil getting turned over to seed.
posted by Ber at 1:07 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my grandfathers grew up on a not-much-more-than subsistence farm and ditched that life as soon as the Navy trained him to be an electrician during WWII. "It's a lot easier to make a living with your head than your back" he would always say. But he always maintained a basic garden out back with turnips, collards, mustards and such. Stuff that grows well in lousy, sandy, hot southern soil. I got the bug (and gave it to my wife) and have always had a bit of a garden. These days it's a collection of raised beds in my urban back yard. I still grow a bit of what granddaddy did out of habit, but I find lacking the 40 acres and all that, the best use are the "additives" that really make a our cooking sparkle relative to grocery store bought: heirloom tomatoes and lettuces, different herbs (esp basil & cilantro), peppers of many types, etc.
posted by kjs3 at 8:06 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to interject that I'm one of MonkeyToes' customers and her pigs are delicious. Highly recommend the bacon and the southern sausage. I've also called dibs on publishing her memoir so don't get any ideas.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:11 AM on September 27, 2014

I'm not one of MonkeyToes' customers, but she taught me a new word today. Apparently a "gilt" is a young sow! The masculine form is "galt", and my Dic says it's "obs. exc. dial." (obsolete, except in dialect), but I no longer feel confident that that's the case.

A "gilt" may also be a thief or burglar, so watch out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:45 AM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I realize I'm late to the party here, but - I think next time I have a package to ship and I'm worried about it getting beat up during shipment, I'm going to plaster it with stickers that say "FRAGILE - BOAR SEMEN".

I know that back when I was working for the Big Brown Shipping Company, I would have given extra special care to a package like that.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:34 AM on October 8, 2014

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