Koinonia Farm Part 4

My last 6 months or so at the farm were full of ups and downs and lots of confusion as to direction for where my life was headed in the near future.

I was doing much of the same type of stuff that I was used to doing around the farm, just doing it in slightly different ways as I and we learned from mistakes and experimented to get things to go more smoothly.

Alot of what alternative farming / permaculture / sustainable agriculture is about is experimentation and making mistakes and then doing things differently based on what has been learned.  There is not just one way to do permaculture, it looks different everywhere that it is applied.  For example, the idea behind the eggmobile was great.  The chickens would follow the cows in their grazing schedule and clean up after them and both species would benefit (cows would be more healthy because the chickens would get rid of parasites in the manure and chickens would be more healthy because they would get alot of high quality protein from the parasites that they ate out of the cows manure).  The problem that we ran into one day was when a pack of feral dogs came around and killed 6 chickens in one day when the chickens were out picking through the cow manure out in the pasture and eating the grass and stuff.  We didn’t have anything to protect the chickens during the day from the local predators, so we had to change something or we were going to lose a lot of chickens.  Until we could figure out a way to protect the chickens so that they could follow the cows, we had to move them to a more secure and safe location.  So… we built a stationary chicken house and fenced in an area around it for a chicken yard.  We chicken house and yard were right next to the garden and the fruit tree orchard so that we could periodically let the chickens into the garden to clean up any crop left overs and debug the area.  The chickens could also be let out into the fruit tree orchard to eat fallen fruit, grass, and bugs that were in abundance and then they could be closed back into the chicken yard at night so they would be protected from predators.  This set up was pretty sweet because the garden and fruit tree orchards were getting the benefits of the chickens eating lots of bugs and fertilizing the area and the chickens were getting a lot of really good food.  The only problem was that they quickly ate up all of the green plants in the yard and it would become a pollution problem with too much of their manure unless we added some cabonaceous organic matter (dried leaves, woodchips, etc.) so that the manure wouldn’t start to smell and cause health problems for the chickens.  One of the things that we could have done to put the chickens back out in the eggmobile would be to get some portable electric netting to set up around the eggmobile so that the chickens could go outside during the day and eat grass and pick through the cow manure and be protected from ground predators because of the electric netting.  The electric netting costs a little bit of money, which we didn’t really have at that point, so that would have to wait until some time in the future.

During July and August, I spent most of my time working on the fence for the cattle pasture.  We put up a perimeter fence around an 80 acre field, which would be the basis for the new grass fed beef business.  And we picked the hottest, most humid months of the year to do it…  Digging post holes in south Georgia in the summer was pretty difficult.  I was probably drinking about 2 gallons of water a day and I was sweating so much that my cell phone got water damage.  I would basically be drenched to the point where I could wring out my shirt and pants within 20 minutes of working in the heat of the day.  I would be mid to high 90s and 80 to 90% relative humidity for much of the day and out in that field, the only shade was from my straw hat.  We dug the majority of the holes by hand because the tractor that we were using the dig with broke after about the first 200 holes (we put in something like 1200 posts).  We always had at least two people working together and we had fun even though it was really hot and the work was really hard.  We got into a lot of really good conversations and got pretty close to each other when we were working together on that project.

I went to a friend’s wedding in Indiana towards the end of the fence building project and my parents came to the wedding also.  It was a good time and my parents noticed that I my muscles had gotten a lot bigger because of all the hard work I was doing.  It was really great to work another thing from start to finish.  I designed and planned almost all of the fence project and then, along with a lot of other people’s help, built it.  There is something very satisfying about being a part of every part of something: from idea to design to construction to use.

Other stuff that I was a part of was getting more cattle, more pigs, more chickens, more geese and ducks, and growing more food.  All through the process of raising more animals and growing more food I was starting to desire to do things in a different way than even we were doing it at Koinonia.  Even though the cattle were eating the stuff they were made to eat: grass, we still had to have the fence.  The fence was made of black locust posts that were naturally rot resistant so we didn’t need any of those horrible chemicals that get used on pressure treated posts but we still had to truck them down from north georgia.  The fence wire was made of steel that was made somewhere far away and then trucked to us from there.  The way that we were doing this grass fed beef thing was so much better than the way that the factory farms were doing it, but was there a better way that was even better for the animals and for the environment?  Did we even need to have the animals in the first place?

I had similar issues come up in me about the food we were growing.  We were planting more seeds and growing more food for us to eat that was really healthy, but the seed was trucked to us from far away and we were sometimes using a tractor to cultivate the soil before we planted the seeds.  Did we need to use the tractor?  Did we need to cultivate the soil?  Did we need to get those seeds from far away?  Or could we have saved the seeds from stuff that had been grown previously, and planted the seeds in a way that didn’t require the use of a tractor, and maybe even planted the seeds in a way that didn’t even require us to cultivate the soil.  I was reading a couple of different books at the time that suggested that we could do things differently, it would just require thinking about it a whole lot more and getting the timing down with natural rhythms.  The books that I was reading were: The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, and Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende.  I would highly recommend both books to anyone.  The One Straw Revolution described a different way of looking at and doing farming.  Fukuoka, through lots of experimentation and thought and work, found a way to grow rice, winter grains, vegetables and mandarin oranges in a way that required no soil cultivation and no composting and he got yields that were on par with and sometimes greatly exceeded the yields the other common methods of growing those same crops.  And, unlike the other common methods in which the soil quality either stayed about the same or declined, with his methods, the soil quality increased every year.  He used only manual labor and simple tools and lived a very simple life, but was very happy.  Better Off was about the authors experience living in an Amish-like community for a year.  The community used no electricity and no motors.  They used horses to cultivate the soil and grew all of their own food and some extra food to sell to buy some extra things.  These books described real examples of living in a way that required no fossil fuel and no tractors and the people were happy.  I was very attracted to these ideas and these ways of life and was becoming increasingly disconcerted with the way of life at Koinonia.  I loved the people, I liked most of the people most of the time, I liked what I was doing, but I thought that it could be done a different way, but I didn’t know how to do it, and I didn’t think that the people at Koinonia would want to change as much as I felt that I wanted to change.  I wanted to try to live without fossil fuels, without electricity, without motors.

I went back and forth about wanting to leave Koinonia and wanting to stay, but I eventually got to the point where I felt called to go and travel around in search of a different way to live.  I knew I would miss the people at Koinonia and that I would be missed, but God was calling me somewhere else, and I decided to follow him and find out where he was calling me.  I left on December 23rd, 2009.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Zatch on March 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Hey buddy, if ever in your travels you find yourself in Portland, I’d be happy to host you. Let me know – glad to hear things are going well. – ZD

    Reply

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