I dream of plowing the lower 40
I’m Just Sayin’
by SHEILA SMITH
You and I both know news stories are not always exciting.
Have you ever picked up a newspaper, saw ‘millage rates’ in the headline and thought, This story is going to be so entertaining!?
No, you have not. I know this because I write and proof those millage rates stories, and I assure you, they are not exciting.
Every now and then, though, I am privileged to write a story that makes the wheels in my brain turn.
Last week, while planning stories for an upcoming special supplement to the Jennings Daily News, Harvest, I had the chance to visit a local farm.
“This guy grows his own food and meat. It’s like one of those super healthy households,” said Editor Rebecca Chaisson while eating a Lucky Charms cereal bar. “He’s got cows, goats, bees –”
“Bees?” I asked, suddenly intrigued.
“Yeah, he’s a beekeeper, too,” she said, nibbling on a marshmallow shaped like a rainbow.
Fun fact about me: I love bees. I have since I was a child. I think they are beautiful and fascinating in so many ways.
It only took the mention of bees and I volunteered to visit the farm in place of Chaisson.
“I love bees!” I exclaimed. Then I clapped my hands together and squealed, “And goats! I love goats!”
“Fine,” Chaisson said, dusting crumbs from her shirt. “You do the story.”
I really didn’t know what to expect, mainly because I have no deeper knowledge of farming than the following: There are animals and grass; lots of manure; a tractor; fences; I eat stuff that comes from farms; and farmers wake up really early. The only thing I knew for sure that day was I was visiting a farm, so I needed to change into boots.
As I made my way onto the farm, I was greeted by the owner, Warren Hoag, who was in the middle of cooking a lunch from his own backyard.
“Have you ever had grass-fed beef? I’ve got some pork and beef patties – all grass-fed – that I’m cooking right now,” he said. He also had some fresh vegetables cut up and ran down his menu for the day while pouring me a glass of fresh cow’s milk.
I had a bite of a patty, a few slices of cucumber, tomato and watermelon and a small glass of milk. All of it, might I had, was delicious.
I learned a lot in the two hours I spent on the farm, which you can read about in the Sunday, July 15 edition of the Jennings Daily News and our upcoming Harvest section. I was surprised by the simplicity of it all, really: it truly depends on Mother Nature and her helpers for survival.
On five acres, Hoag rotates goats, cattle and chickens, and those animals keep the grass growing healthy without any need for chemicals or pesticides. The heart of Hoag’s farm is the grass, he said, and keeping it healthy keeps the animals healthy. Without going into detail (though the two news stories written about the farm tour do go in-depth), Hoag’s farming approach is simple: let nature do what it was intended to do. The goats eat the weeds; the cows eat the good grass; the chickens devour insects and worm larvae and spread the manure that fertilizes the grass; the lack of insects and worms keeps the grass healthy and the cattle from needing medication or grain; in turn, all of the animals are free of chemicals and when it’s time for them to hit the dinner table, they are free of a lot of the junk we know is in most of the meat we buy at some stores.
His gardening approach is much of the same. Why grow your fruits and vegetables using chemicals when you can use Mother Nature and have healthy produce filled with nutrients? Instead of buying bags of fertilizer or bottles of weed killer, the Hoag family uses its own compost, consisting of leaves, animal waste, and rotting produce from the yard.
One day – at least in my cluttered collection of ideas in my mind – I would love to have acres filled with animals. For now, though, if I want to try the Hoag approach, I need to dabble in gardening.
“Do you garden?” Hoag asked during my visit.
“I try, but mostly I kill plants,” I said. The only thing I don’t have trouble keeping alive, actually, is weeds.
“Anybody can garden,” he told me. “Just a few basic things to learn, and you’re good.”
So late Friday afternoon, not so long after I left the Hoag farm, I decided to start a compost pile. I located a spot in my yard and decided that is where my gardening adventure would start.
It’s going to be a while before anything hits the ground, though. While walking through my yard, I realized that the usual piles of dead pine needles and leaves were gone. My well-meaning brother-in-law and nephews had recently raked and cleaned my yard, and there was not one stray leaf or needle available for raking.
I threw the rake onto the ground and stomped to the house.
“I want to make a compost pile,” I fussed. “I want a garden. I want to be a beekeeper. I want a farm.”
I guess if I want to learn to be a gardener, and maybe one day have a farm, the first thing I need to learn is patience.
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