Friday, September 17, 2010

Breaking chains

Sabbath eve, September 17, 2010

Rain shortened my workday, once again, at least until the necessary evening chores came along which must be done regardless of weather conditions. Earlier, I saw one of our goats in labor. I moved closer to discover that a kid was already out and moving so I left the nanny alone. About thirty minutes later I saw the kid stand and nurse. I failed to notice another kid had been born and lay dead on the ground alongside the nanny.

Had I been there for the second birth, the kid might very well have been saved. Sometimes whether an animal lives or dies can be as simple a matter as removing a piece of the sack in which they are encased to allow the baby to get that first breath. Here’s what’s certain. I was not there. The animal died. Once dead, there is no bringing that dead animal back to life. At least one of the neighborhood coyotes will eat tonight.

Leah is out in the rain moving the nanny and the surviving kid to a stall so they won’t have to stand in a wet pen. Left out, even with the protection of our pack of livestock guard dogs, there’s a chance that one of literally thousands of coyotes in the immediate area might sneak in and snag dinner in the form of the surviving kid.

This morning I read a blog where a woman complained about having to go out and milk her goats. For her, buying and raising goats seemed a good idea until she realized that her spouse and her children would not drink the milk, nor are they interested in helping milk goats. If you have any kind of job at all or a government check, if not, it’s cheaper and easier to buy milk than it is to extract your own from an animal. Milk animals, be they cows or goats, must be tended to twice a day, even if milked just once. There are no sick days, bad weather days, weekends, holidays, or excuses unless you have someone to fill in, and apparently she doesn’t.

I’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. People leave the city for a homestead with some idyllic notion of their own little house on the prairie and soon find themselves in a hell of their own making. They plant seeds, hoping to grow things organically. Bugs eat the crops, if not, then weeds take over, if not that, some other impediment arises. If by some minor miracle they do manage to overcome all these obstacles and get food grown, they discover growing and harvesting food by hand is brutally hard work and the produce must be picked on time and immediately processed or it begins to overripen or rot in short order.

Then excess crops get harvested, more than can possibly be processed, given there are only 24 hours in a day, so the homesteader decides to try and sell some of their hard earned produce.

People say they want organically grown food but they don’t want to see a bug bite or any other blemish or imperfection and they want the food dirt cheap. In other words, they don’t really want organically grown, hand harvested food. They want something labeled organic that looks just like the shit sold in the grocery store and are willing to pay a few extra cents to get it. The vast majority, even if they buy “organic”, buy at some megastore that will not purchase raw food products from small scale producers. If you’re sitting at a farmer’s market selling stuff, you’re not at the farm taking care of the plants and animals in your charge. Most of those that do sit at farmer’s markets make their money fucking farmers out of their crops. Either you sell these middlemen stuff dirt cheap, less than the cost of production if your time is accounted for, or they go buy produce from the same place the big stores do, except they get the lower end stuff, repackage it and sell it as homegrown produce.

It takes time to do things by hand which, unless a person has a cache of money put aside, cuts into other money making endeavors which tend to be hard to come by anyhow if you live in what I would consider a favorable spot for a homestead. When raising food produced or gathered by hand, you’re competing with what amounts to foreign slave labor. By slave labor, I mean working your ass off for less than $10/day.

I could not do what I do if I didn’t have the family support of others that derive income from non-agricultural ventures. In my case, that help came in the form of a windfall that evaporates by the day. The vast majority of those that work on a farm, even of the mechanized and most modern variety, have similar arrangements. Either they inherited their land and/or someone in the family goes to town to earn money to pay bills.

When I pay someone to hand harvest crops, I lose money. Every time, without fail. And old saying, which is a whole lot less funny than it was the first time I heard it: If you want to make a small fortune farming, start out with a big fortune.

If I offered all the corn three field hands harvested today instead of the money I paid them for their efforts, to a man they would decline the offer. If that corn was all they got paid, they wouldn’t be back to work tomorrow. What they earned in wages is more money than the corn they picked can be sold for, if they could sell it at all (and that is highly unlikely). I’ve gone as far with this endeavor as I can. The rest of the unharvested corn the combine missed will be plowed into the ground.

Economic chains have forced farmers to mechanize, cut costs and grow Frankenfoods. We waste significant amounts of the food that we grow. Breaking these chains seems near impossible, but we had better figure out how.

Lives depend upon it.

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