February 2011 Archives

The Stonehenge of Snowmen

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Feb 2011 on the pond

For the very first time ever, I went to the pond by myself on a weekend. The kids were too tired to join me and, frankly, I didn't twist their arms. I try so hard to spend my weekends with my kids, but I needed a bit of time to myself. So I strapped on the snow shoes and headed down to the wildlife area alone.

As I snow shoed over the tops of the 5 foot high cattails I saw the remains of our snowmen from the trip there a few weeks ago. They were melted and the drifts had formed around them, scouring the ice bare.

There is something thrilling about finding the signs of people who passed this way before us. I remember the first time I came upon a rock stile in the wilderness, you know those stacks of rocks that mark a trail. I thought I had come upon an altar of some kind- a holy place. And maybe it was.

Those historic remains are all around us here in Big Stone County-- so many farmsteads that were once small, diversified farms. There are still standing windmills, barns, chicken coops, well hand pumps, wooden granaries and outhouses. To me, it is a comfort to see these sites on the land. Like those rock stiles that mark a way that someone went before me.

And there were our snowmen like yet another a historic relic on the prairie. A happy reminder of good times past.

Ag in the Middle

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Blizzard Prep

The term "Ag in the middle" is given to farms of a certain size... Say 250 to about 650 acres. That's too small to justify the bigger, better, faster machinery. Yet too big to be a hobby. Lately it seems like we're In the middle of blizzards, decisions, arguments, and cold weather that seems to have no end (-11 and dropping right now).

You know, I sometimes stop and think that I wouldn't have to be in the middle of any of this. We are farmers by choice. I suspect most farmers are. But we had a comfy, easy life in the City. Double incomes, high end neighborhood, and I could bike or bus to work. And we left it by choice-- to farm-- to raise our kids on a farm-- and to create a legacy of healthy land and community.

As Mike and I were walking back to the house after getting the snow blower back on the JD 4440 (a tractor in the middle-- middle size and made closer to the middle of the last century than today) we talked over what to do with that north 40. "We came here to create a legacy for our kids" I remind him. "For whatever reason that just doesn't seem to figure in as much now" Mike said. And he's right.

Now that we're 3 years into this, we have to farm for us. This farm has to be what serves our wants and our needs. When we left the city, it was a dream. On this bitter cold night, it is reality.

We are late in making decisions for a 40 acre parcel that will be first year organic transition. Do we go for the short term, highest potential financial return for the coming field season? That would be planting some high density non-GMO corn. Or do we nurture the soil and plant some oats for hay (feed the cattle) mixed with some legumes for green manure? That would set us up for some better weed control and greater fertility for a future crop.

I suspect if we were conventional farmers the choices may be simpler- corn or soybeans.

And just when I was starting to feel whiny and overwhelmed by all of it, I remember to go outside to stoke the wood boiler. Outside in the pitch dark, I rake the orange coals and fill it up with wood. I take a walk down the driveway in the still, arctic air. The lights from the farmsteads around us are just blazing in the crisp, clear air. I can see stars crazy low on the horizon- unnaturally low. The Milky Way and stars are so bright they are making reflections on my glasses. I stop and the stillness is absolute and complete. Sunny nuzzles her nose in my hand. A person can be overwhelmed with the raw, unfiltered awesomeness of just being. Present.

A jet flies high across the sky. I watch it blinking, passing over and wonder if anyone on that jet to Seattle or Vancouver, BC is looking down on our dark and lonely land. They have no idea of what this place holds. Probably couldn't imagine how it feels to have the veil of modern life pulled and to be alone on a dark starlit prairie on frigid night.

I'm thinking we'll go with the corn.

There and Back Again

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Capitol by night- Feb 2011

I've been on the road for the past two weeks for work. Hard to write about Resettling Big Stone County when I haven't seen the place. Part of those travels included an amazing few days in DC to learn and practice leadership in the political systems (meaning any place really- right?).

I got stuck in a snowdrift on my way out of Big Stone County. You can see in the picture below that it is a wide open, lovely and lonely landscape. WDC, at least for me, brought every comfort of the 21st century- ideas, people, art, sculpture, fine cuisine, and inspiring public places like the war memorials and buildings on the mall.

On the way home out of Reagan National Airport I had the full body scan and a full body patdown. I'm going to side with former Gov. Ventura-- this is the prices of a secure nation? Call those TSA guys "freedom fondlers." Ewwwww. It's just a creepy experience.

It giddyingly good to be home. Sledding down 20 foot snow drift with my boys, playing Snorta after dinner, and today off to a 5th grade girls basketball game in the morning, and to UM Morris for a live Prairie Home Companion show tonight.

There and back again. The contrast between these places make each one all the sweeter.

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Our road by day-- Feb 2011

We're Green-- but this is annoying

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Family Farm game by John Deere

Ok... I will totally own up to having Cabin Fever due to having kids home for 2.5 snow days, being completely snowed in, minus -18 outside (not counting the wind chill), and we've had a sick kid for 5 days now. So I may be a touch, well, crabby.

So yesterday I played two rounds of the John Deere Family Farm game and was annoyed to the point of shouting at the game.

**Note- my children are blessed beyond belief with doting grandparents, aunts and uncles who lavish them with very cool gifts. So that gratitude aside, I'm giving a game review from my perspective**

Being called 'Family Farm', you would think there would be some reference to family or farm legacy. No. The point is to buy and sell seed (you can't save seed or fuel or buy from a neighbor). No collaboration among players. No animals allowed on the farms. Objective is simply put as: "Be the player with the most assets (Land and Money)." Yeah- that's what inspires me to farm.

This game should be called "Industrial Farm." When I pulled the "Land Speculator" card (sell your land at speculative prices!!!) I yelled for my husband and threatened to throw the game away.

Now don't get me wrong-- we're a brand loyal, Green Tractor family. There is one Oliver from the 40's or 50's and a Cockshutt tractor from before that. But the only tractors that rumble and move on this farm are John Deere.

As it happens, I'm spending a chunk of today writing about farms in Minnesota. 81,000 of them. Of those, only 2.4% are larger than 2,000 acres. Fastest growing segment is 99 acres or less. Our own farm is among the "Ag in the Middle" group in that 320 acre range. Granted, the number of farms our size is decreasing (from 47% of total farms in 1997 to 42.6% in 2007) but still makes up the single largest segment of farm size in Minnesota.

So come on Big Green-- give us a fun game that let's us have a real family farm, with connections to our neighbors and communities, that allows that a farm might actually have some animals like chickens, pigs, cows, and hell yes even a turkey or two. Playing John Deere's Family Farm makes me not even want to farm.

If you want a fun farm game. I suggest Farm Monopoly. Even though the original Monopoly was conceived as a slap in the face to the banksters responsible for the Great Depression, Farm Monopoly actually makes a person want to farm.

I am so putting this game in the trash (or maybe burning it to be sure it doesn't fall into someone else's hands), assuming the weather lets up and the kids actually go back to school. Bah!

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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