Everyone Breathes.

I have blogged about my town before-and painted it as a typical rural, republican, closed minded, insert right bashing epithet here, etc. And in many ways it is-we voted for Sensenbrenner (I can’t even type his name without shuddering) after all. But then I went to our village board meeting tonight, and I need to say this. I was wrong. Really wrong.

The main event at tonight’s Board meeting was to be a presentation of our village administrator’s trip to Sweden for a Sustainablility Conference. Now the fact that our administrator has enacted a Green Commitee and is going on trips to Sweden for Sustainability Conferences tells you alot about our V.A., Paul. He drives a Prius, pushes Rain Gardens; he gets it. But I thought he was a rogue. A loose cannon that had slipped thru on good interviewing skills or something. But here I am at a presentation with Paul and some Patagonia wearing Keen sandal sporting ex-Hippie (that’s a good thing with me) talking to us about their vacation. The title of which was The Natural Step. The first slide was one word: Holistic. I started fidgeting-that sounded waaay too fruity for these farmers. The next slide was Systemic. The presentation goes on without missing a beat to hit Global Warming, Peak Oil, and a poignant graph showing the Resource Funnel in a flurry of sometimes controversial data that left even myself a little breathless. After setting this doom and gloom backdrop, they then went into the slides from Sweden. Slides showing a McDonald’s that uses the waste heat from the fryers to heat dozens of homes, a Ford Dealership that uses lindseed oil in their hydaulic lifts, a wastewater treament plant that uses a wetland to cleanse 90% of the waste, and the other 10% goes into a processor that creates enough Bio Gas to fuel 75% of the local bus fleet. They showed us a landfill where only 4% of the incoming garbage actually hits the landfill-75% is recycled, 21% is incinerated in a 99.997% effecient process with the waste heat heating an entire town on 5 mile diameter loop of pipe. They then finished, after 30 minutes, with the 3 Legs of the Sustainability Stool: Economic Viability, Environmental Sustainability, and Social Justice. Then they turned the lights back on and opened it up for questions. I was impressed, but I honestly expected the board to eat them alive for wasting their time with this pinko commie crap.

Not only did the Board applaud, but they were smiling, nodding their heads-some emphatically-and thanking them for a great presentation. Let me repeat that: a great presentation!

I learned during the presentation that the hippie guy was actually our County Supervisor-and at least in our town, very well respected as a ‘Smart Guy’. I caught up to him after the presentation to introduce myself, and he really is the Real Deal: living in a Passive Solar home for 30+ years on a permaculture farm, and now touring the County and leading 10 week seminar’s to get us all to sign up as Eco Municipalities. I was blown away. The likelihood of us getting our new Firehouse LEED Certified is looking much, much better. I even talked to the Fire Chief, John, about putting in a biodiesel processor in the garage.

So after I met Greg, I went back inside and while the Board debated why the baseball diamond lights keep getting left on after games, I did some Big Thinking. How could I have been so wrong? Arrogance and elitism are a big parts, but also I think it comes down to the fact that these aren’t the kind of Republicans I am used to. I am used to economic upper middle class republicans looking to get richer thru tax cuts and don’t mind screwing the welfare Moms who should just stop whining and get a job anyhow; these types are more old school libertarian, small government types who had voted democrat for years until the Moral Majority brainwashed them. These guys are farmers, or sons of farmers, that didn’t fall too far from the nest (a good thing). They grew up on permaculture farms, only they never called them that. The fact that they turned every waste product on their farm into a useable product wasn’t a novel idea-it was how they survived. When Greg and Paul talked about turning the waste heat from a landfill into heat for houses it made perfect sense to them. These guys are tinkerers just like me and the common sense, nuts and bolts nature of these ideas resonated very well with them. Environmentalism is only an issue for the politicians, on the ground out here in Rural America, the Average American is ready. If we can show them that the economics are there, and they are, they are onboard for the Green Revolution. No one knows better how fragile the environment is than a farmer-everyone breathes. Our Green Commitee has their work cut out for them in research, but after talking with several trustees after the meeting, the Board will sign off if we can make the numbers work.

Reading about the Apollo Alliance in this week’s Nation they were talking about the growth of grassroots movements in environmentalism had given me hope. This week’s Village Board meeting has given me much, much more. I don’t care if we have already passed the point of no return on Global Warming. As a great man in a black vest once said: “They ain’t takin me without a fight”.

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The Hybrid Conundrum

Thanks to E4’s recent post I’ve been thinking this over for the past few days-thanks for forcing me to better clarify my thoughts.

Current Hybrids must be a transition to the Green Economy-give us enough time to switch off of oil. I think of them as analogous to a nicotine patch for a smoker: they give us time to get healthy while allowing us to be civil enough to live with. The 5 years I will have my Insight will give me enough time to get my PV/Wind array up so I can start generating energy. California Cars has converted several Prius(es?) to plug in capability and they essentially use no fuel for the first 30+ miles (on lithium batteries), when they then switch to normal hybrid operation. It is like having an electric only car for 95% of your driving, but still having the unlimited range (and darn good PZEV rating) of a hybrid. The cost is steep now ($35,000 for a new Prius + conversion), but the economies of scale should help.

Of late I’ve been looking harder and harder at biodiesel, or another monicre it is adopting: grassolean. The fact that the Someday House will most likely have a legitimate need for a truck of some kind is most likely the impetus for this, but even before that my discovery of the Biodiesel Processor had stirred yearnings to make my oil gas. We looked hard at a TDI prior several years ago, when I was first tempted by the hybrids, but our concerns over high sulfur fuels and the health risks of particulate emissions steered us clear. With the rising wave of biodiesel research and products my reservations are almost completely gone. It is now literally possible to create enough fuel for a typical American family on their own property for about $.70 gallon, the fuel is essentially carbon neutral, the particulate and most smog emissions are drastically reduced. And when the oil is gone-you are still truckin.

I have a friend at work whose husband is looking closely at building a processor, and with their third child on the way they are looking to upgrade to a larger vehicle-and they are thinking about getting a diesel Suburban to complement their TDI Jetta. My knee jerk was that this was a massive step back, but is it? E4’s recent post about the Jevons Paradox has got me thinking. If my friend gets a Sienna Hybrid minivan they have no impetus to reduce consumption, and are still using 500 gallons of petrol per year. Put him in a diesel Suburban, and the fact that he will need to spend the time making his own diesel (I am assuming he will stick to his guns on biodiesel) will give him significant reason to question the extra trips-it takes a few hours work to make 50 gallons of biodiesel-not that bad, but certainly more time than a 10 minute fillup at the BP station. Secondly diesels last for frickin ever, so that cuts the resource allocation for the next vehicle down by 50-100%: if he keeps it several years longer than a hybrid. Food for thought.

My dream car, and hopefully in the next 5 years I will see this happen, will be a small diesel (think TDI) plug in hybrid running on lithium ion batteries. I want 30-50 mile range on electric,
and full biodiesel capability. That way I can make both my diesel and my electricity. I might even settle for an E-85 plugin in hybrid if I must compromise. An E-85 capable Prius+ from CalCars would use 30 gallons of actual petroleum gas to go 20,000 miles. (20,000/100mpg*.15). That is unbelievable. What completely chaps my britches is that the technology is there! There is no waiting for hydrogen, relocating commerce into the suburbs, or installing PV cells on every house-though the latter two need to happen sooner not later.
This can happen people! Call your Congress Person today.

Post Script:
I think we all know Who Killed the Electric Car. But some saint (Silicon Valley) has come around and raised Lazarus from the dead. Check out the future of Electric Cars. The Tesla at left will take a Porsche 911 0-60 with zero emissions. Maybe I can race again after all…

Chrysler and several European manufactures are also working serioulsy on prototypes.

Raingarden:Plant a garden for the Planet!

Our city government is slowing going raingarden crazy. With the help of the Rock River coalitions Rain Garden in Every Community, we have at least 5 gardens up and running in our little hamlet-with many more to come. In this post I will do my thing: talk theory, give practical advice and pepper the post with links to a small fraction of the fantastic resources on the web to save you some time on Google.

WTH is a Raingarden?
The raingarden is any intentional planting to slow runoff and increase rainwater percolation into the aquifers. Runoff is a significant problem that goes hand in hand with Sprawl-we take good permeable soils from farmland and forests, and cover them with impervious surfaces like houses, concrete, and lawns (the average high % bluegrass lawn is so matted with roots and compacted that it has almost as much runoff as concrete). This leads to significant problems with increased flooding in the short term and in the long term, those millions of gallons of water are flowing downstream instead of slowly filtering down to replenish our aquifers. Plus the environmental damage done by covering our impermeable lawns with more fertilizer and herbicides per acre than the worst industrial farm is immense. Those chemicals runoff into our streams and lakes where the fertilizer creates algae blooms and the herb/pesticides wreak havoc on the ecosystems and poison our waters. Raingardens planted along side driveways, slab porches, and
under downspouts halt this runoff and the light soils and deep roots of the perennials allow the water to trickle back into the earth. Our gardens, plus our rainbarrels hold 2500 gallons per event and once the plants are up it will be transparent to he casual observer-and pure eco-beauty to those in the know. Our small (6′ diameter) established raingarden waters birds, looks beautiful throughout the summer with varied bloom times, and this year hosted a monarch butterfly catepillar on the milkweed-all with zero human input after the construction!

Sweet! How do I build one?
Raingardens fall into two broad types: ‘planned’ gardens and engineered soil gardens. Both rely on an appropriately sized garden that is set into a depression 4-6″ lower than the surrounding ground to stop runoff and allow the water to percolate down. The planted rain garden relies on specially chosen plants (here’s a great list for the upper Midwest) that can handle both being submerged and temporary dry spells-and they sink roots down deep. How deep? A Purple Coneflower grows about 3-4′ tall, but will sink roots down 10-14′! Every day those roots expand and contract-creating zillions of small passageways for water to penetrate the earth. Most often these plants are native perennials and need no chemical fertilizer (compost is always welcome!) and very little additional water once established unless you are in severe drought. Engineered soil raingardens achieve the same percolation, but use more manual labor. Instead of digging the depression down 4″-go 18-36″ down, and then backfill with a mix of 25% sand, 25% Soil, and 50% Compost (very rough percentages are fine). Then plant the garden as you would any normal garden bed, or even lawn as long as it has a low (well under 50%) bluegrass mix, however the lawn will impede the percolation quite a bit.

Here are some great resources on Raingardens:
Wisconsin DNR-WI is raingarden crazy and their site is great!
The Raingarden Network-the name sums it up!
The Prairie Nursery-turn key native plant raingardens-for a price. Great place to generate ideas. PN supplied the plants for our larger raingarden, though I just picked my own based off plants in their garden mixes. Great people to work with.

Learnings from our gardens:
> Don’t skimp on the sedges and grasses-they are integral for soil stabilization and weed suppression a 1:1 ratio of sedges/grasses to flowering plants is ideal.
>Perk test your soil before you plant. Our first rain garden was a rain ‘pond’ due to a 3′ thick layer of clay under the topsoil. The roots will eventually break that up-but in the 3-4 years that would take we would have bred 16 million mosquitoes. Solution? I dug a 12″ wide hole 4′ deep with a post hole digger and filled it with compost. It nows drains in 2-3 days (ideal) and not 2-3 weeks (mosquito nursery). Perk tests are simple-dig an 18″ deep hole and fill it with water-if it drains more than 6″ in 24 hours your fine. If not, you need to engineer the soil or make the garden much broader and shallower to reduce standing water.
>Keep the gardens 10′ from your foundation to avoid seepage issues-you want the water in the well, not your basement! We just dig a slight swale leading from our rainbarrel overflows to the
gardens and line it with rock.

Finally-something is better than nothing. If you have a dense soil and don’t have space or money for a 500 sq ft garden-do what you can. Even modifying existing gardens by adding a slight external berm on the down side of a slope will have benefits that will literally begin to heal the Earth. Native plants are the best, but use what you have if need be-split your perennials and start a garden with what you have and can take the extra moisture.

We plant gardens to surround ourselves with nature’s beauty-with a Rain Garden you can also help heal the damage our race has done-and leave a better Earth for our children.

Be the Change.

Media for a New Millenia

After my soapbox speech about effeciency I see the tide is coming in for my proactive eco evangelism. The preachers in the Church I grew up with are committed to spreading the Good Word to save all of mankind. So am I.

Apathy is endemic on the Left-once you eat the forbidden fruit and let yourself believe the reality that our Pax Americana is built on a societal system that is consuming resources faster than it produces them, that my generation is the first that will not leave a better world for their kids; once the scales fall from your eyes it is overwhelming. I had the wonderful opurtunity a few weeks ago to hook up with some old college friends in Chicago. They have both spent time overseas they were commenting about the wastefulness of American Society, which was all the in (not that I need an ‘in’ to go off) I needed to talk for the next 30 minutes about my gardens, my hybrid, the ideas I’ve garned from the new eco-media, and the possibilities of Real Change in our lifetime. Sarah was blown away-called me inspiring and told me to be a professor (we’ll see if that seed bears fruit 😉 ). In the days before our conversation they had gotten into a vortex of the Bad and the Ugly-not enough oil, too much carbon in gaseous form, air and water quality going to crap, and the worst of all: people not caring. Joe asked me how I could possibly be so optimistic-my answer was simple: I have children. If I can’t believe we can change I might go insane.

I don’t think I am deluding myself, though sometimes that rings more true than others. The media onslaught of Doom and Gloom is immense. To keep optimistic is the challenge. In my fight against Apathy I surround myself with a litany of media sources that are allied with my vision of a Better Future. Here is a sampling.

Music
Music is the single biggest tool in my box to fight apathy-music is incredibly powerful in mood management and I dose myself daily. I created an iMix this morning of some of my favorites and titled it Brave New World. If you don’t want to check it out, here are a list of artitists whose lyrics are powerful agents of change:
Ben Harper “My Own Two Hands” is spot on-if this blog has a theme song-this is it. “Better Way” is a very close second.
Dixie Chicks I don’t like country… at all. But we bought “Taking the Long Way” and recommend it to just about everyone we meet. These Women are powerful, deserve our respect and apologies; they have Character that I can only dream of.
Dan Zanes Got Kids? You NEED Dan Zanes’s “House Party”!! “A Place for Us” has so many good lessons for people of all ages that it still chokes me up. Great quality folk that our kids simply love.
Pink If you haven’t heard “Dear Mr. President” yet, grab some tissues and give it a listen. If I get complacent, one listen and I am back in the fight. Her videos and this song give you a glimpse of how poitical she really is.
Clutch Alright-I admit this is a stretch, but their two latest songs “Bottom’s Up, Socrates” and “What would a Wookie Do” are political enough to allow me to squeeze them in here. Admittedly, if you are not a gungho Clutch fan these might not be for you.

Books
I will go mostly for authors here-(reading a book a week makes the list get long), but will start even bigger picture. Last year I was begining my house building research in earnest and after my third or fourth book realized that they all shared the same publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing. Whether it is building, gardening, permaculture, or Guantanimo Bay they have a book for you. Either get it straight from them, or buy it from the book store to vote with your dollars.
Dan Chiras. This man forgot more about ecological building over breafast this morning than I may ever know-but by reading his numerous books I can hope to narrow the gap. Pleasure to read and the ideas will blow your mind. Chiras gives me the tools to Be the Change. Thank you Dan.
Toby Hemingway He wrote Gaia’s Garden and started me down the road to permaculture. My debt to him is immense.
Paul Hawken Author of Natural Capitalism-not really the best way to cheer yourself up, but has a major effect of convincing one that the emperor has no clothes. Green Economics from poeple that aren’t quacks.
Elliot Coleman 4-Season Harvest helps me in two ways. First it expanded my gardening techniques and will allow me to get more meals per acre. Second, he is invaluable in giving me solace that their are people out there fruitier than I am. Coleman is great to read and is helping us remember the kind of gardening society has forgotten in less than 2 generations and can give us a real answer to local food production.

Organizations & Websites
I’ve mentioned most of these at one time or another, but there are some new additions:
www.HybridCars.com is a great way to keep abreast of the hybrid scene, and get a feel for what models are due to hit market and when-like the Toyota Sienna hybrid minivan due next year… a Full Size minivan that gets 40mpg and is SULEV? What took so long!!!
Journey to Forever Interested to see how their project goes, but their site is a vast wealth or research and articles. They keep popping up in my searches if it has anything to do with sustainability
EcoWise Great Source for Green Building/Living Supplies
Real Goods If it is for sale, and helps you minimize your footprint, Real Goods probably sells it.
Great one stop shop for energy poduction, storage, etc.
Patagonia We are gradually switching over our wardrobe to hemp and organic as we replace the clothes that no longer fit our post weight watcher bodies. Patagonia makes durable, great looking, organic clothes for really large amounts of money. Watch the sales or REI’s clearance racks to get the organic hemp jeans for less than $80…
Hannah Anderson Committed as a corporation to making 10% of their line of children’s clothes organic. Their oko-tex certification lets us rest easy that our kids are wearing safe clothes. We keep finding their founders Gun & Tom Denhart tied to charaties that we support. Their clothes are pricey, but literally last for generations (I am not kidding) and our kids are getting 2-3 seasons out of each. Plus Mia is getting better than our retail (she is really good at sale shopping) on them on E-Bay due to an insane resale value once our kids finally grow out of them.
www.EarthDay.net Great way to stay intouch with the movement.
www.Bioneers.org Love the title! Trade the covered wagon for a biodiesel Jetta and help lead the nation to the next frontier! The reality is a little fruity at times, but I’ll thing macro here.
EPA-sustainability style Good to know that at least a miniscule fraction of the government is working on the Right Stuff.

Please add a comment if you have a favorite book, tune, or website that helps you stay positive-we can all use the help!

Beo goes off.

I am different than most people, and I have come to terms with that-its OK. There are a few kindred spirits at work, though. One of these was recently promoted, and the changes to him are shaking me. I had always respected the fact that he drove a 13 year old Civic hatchback-lovingly maintained for almost 200,000 miles. We swapped battle stories from our door to door campaigning in the ’04 elections, compared compost bin plans, and talked the environment. I understand that with his promotion the desire to reward himself was strong, so when he said he had been car shopping I was not surprised. I was, however, surprised at the Acura TL he drove home, but more so by his arguments that the 255hp Accord Hybrid ‘didn’t have enough power’-his last car had 90hp! I didn’t push hard at all because as a very recent owner of a Mitsubishi Evolution 8 sports car, I had no moral ground to stand on and I realize that some of my current fervor is a ‘born again’ kind of thing.

But just this week his wife was out East on business and their other car overheated enough to total the motor. We talked thru the options-and I was thrilled to hear that they were considering a Prius-which seemed a perfect fit to their family of 3 with no dogs. The next time I saw him he was leaning more to the Highlander Hybrid-I cringed a little inside. Why did he feel he needed an SUV? But at 33mpg and rated as a SULEV vehicle I was still gungho-it would be a great example to his upper management peers. When I saw him the next day they had opted for a Honda Odyssey minivan because it had more room. He must have seen my face fall a little, because he added that he felt he was just going to sit out the whole hybrid generation and go straight to Hydrogen.

If it was intended as a conciliatory gesture it failed. There is little that will set me off more than the Bush/GM funded Hydrogen Fuel Cell smoke screen outside of someone clubbing a seal in my presence. I snapped-I shouldn’t have, I report to this guy after all, but I barked off something about how, maybe, just maybe his 5 year old son might drive a fuel cell car before he dies-and that it was our generation that needs to change. It proved nothing, didn’t make me feel better-a futile gesture.

Maybe it is the sting of my outburst, or the daily reality of the string of little compromises that takes an eco conscious person from a Prius to a minivan in less than 48 hours. But what I can’t shake-its been 4 days now- is that if even the eco aware won’t change in the face of the reality of our unsustainable culture, how will I convince my truck driving neighbors? What hurts is that the change need be so small as to be almost invisible. Here are some figures:

  • If we raise fuel efficiency standards in American cars by one mile per gallon, in one year, we would save twice the amount of oil that could be obtained from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
  • Raising it by 2.7 mpg would save enough to eliminate all the oil imports from Iraq and Kuwait combined
  • Raising it by 7.6 mpg would save enough to eliminate 100% of our gulf oil imports into this countrySource: Environmental Attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The technology is there, and it would be seamless to the average American. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid goes 0-60 in 7.3 seconds and can tow 3500lbs-the Camry seats 5 adults comfortably but still gets 40mpg-the Accord does it for about 35, but with 100 more hp. All of them are 25-50% more efficient than the cars they replace.

Hybrids cost more-I get that, but credits work: effectively removing any price difference. Now I am going to vent because our government won’t let the credits work. We bailed out GM and Ford when we gave them a tax credit for their behemoth Tahoe’s and Expeditions back in 2000-3, allowing small business owners to effectively write them off in the first year of ownership basically $30k+ per vehicle in subsidies. And instead of taking those years to start making smaller cars, the idiots made bigger ones with more bling and are now about to bankrupt the blue collar middle class of America when their domestic operations go down in a Zepplin of financial woes. So what did we learn from that? The answer is depressing: in the 2005 Energy bill we literally penalize carmakers for designing more fuel efficient vehicles in two ways. First the credit is based off the gallons saved, not actual MPG. So the Highlander SUV, getting 33mpg (vs 18 of the non hybrid) gets twice the credit (about $2600 [remember the $30,000 Tahoe credit?]) of the Pruis getting 60mpg. Think of it this way-if I modify my Insight to get 50% better mileage-effectively putting me into the 100mpg range, I save about 130 gallons of gas. Take a Silverado pickup and make it get 20 instead of 14 and you save over 400 for every 20k miles driven-all because the hybrid Silverado still uses 5 times more gas than my Insight.

I can almost buy the argument that getting people to change the culture of buying vehicles too big for them is too much to ask, so giving them a bigger incentive to switch to a more economical version of a car too big for them will save more gas-most of these people (like my friend) will never buy a Prius. But the law goes asinine when it cuts the credits in half once a carmaker sells more than 60,000 autos that qualify. So a carmaker like Toyota that spent hundreds of millions in marketing, R&D, etc to create an incredible car that people love-each one saving 2-5 tons of CO2 and 500-1500 gallons of gas annually-and we pull the incentive from them if they actually catch on. Lobbyists are killing our country.

1 mpg saves ANWR, 3 mpg saves our troops in Iraq and 7 mpg pulls the money from terrorist funding or at least misogynist regimes.

I know not every one can afford a hybrid, but if your drive a Flex Fuel Vehicle-and millions do- switch to E-85, if you drive a diesel find some B20 (dealer links here) or make your own (driving on B100 makes my hybrid look downright dirty), if you drive a Pontiac, or regardless of what you drive, try incorporating some of these tips from the guys at www.hybridcars.com into your driving. The average hybrid driver becomes 25% more effecient regardless of what they are driving-habits matter a lot:

  1. Don’t speed. Driving 65 mph instead of 75 mph will increase your fuel economy by about 10 percent. Pride yourself on being a slowpoke.
  2. Avoid “jack rabbit” starts. Flooring the gas pedal wastes gas and leads to drastically higher pollution rates.
  3. Anticipate stops. Think ahead to anticipate stops so your vehicle can coast down. Accelerating hard and braking hard wastes gas, increases pollution, and wears out your brakes.
  4. Keep your tires properly inflated. For every 3 pounds below recommended pressure, fuel economy goes down by about 1 percent.
  5. Avoid rush hour, if possible. Stop-and-go driving burns gas and increases emissions of smog-forming pollutants.
  6. Travel light. An extra 100 pounds in your trunk reduces fuel economy by about 1 percent.
  7. Combine trips. Warmed-up engines run more efficiently and generate less air pollution.
  8. Leave off the air conditioning, if possible. AC increases fuel consumption, increases smog-forming NOx emissions in some vehicles, and can involve environmentally damaging fluids. At high speeds, open windows increase drag; use vents if possible.
  9. Check your own fuel economy every few weeks. If you notice the numbers slipping, then think about how your driving might have changed, and consider getting a tune-up or an oil change.
  10. Drive less. Give your car a rest by taking public transportation, riding a bike, or walking. The exercise will do you good.

Be the Change.

Beo’s Birthday

Saturday, July 8th, is Beo’s Birthday! Many happy returns to a great husband and Daddy.

Power to the People

Gardening takes work. In fact it takes alot of work when you are first starting. That-along with the ability to witness the miracle of nature, was, initially at least, what may have proved to be the most attractive aspect of it for me. Having to postpone our acreage and having sold my first beloved race car I needed to blow off some steam. But now, having installed our lawn, 500 sq feet of raised beds, and several thousand sq feet of perennial and native gardens I know that my mantra of hand tools only will need some tweaking if we are going to go to a bigger scale. I simply won’t have enough time to hand till 3 acres of garden if I am to garden as intensely as I plan. Either I can’t plant 4 crops a year, or I will need to augment my labor with something other than blood, sweat, and callouses. I see 3-4 major avenues:

Draft Animals
If you are interested in running a farm on draft animal power there is a great resource to be found at Rural Heritage. Horses are the obvious choice, but the obvious has never sat well with me. The main reason I am not keen on horses, is that I view them as the mammal equivalent of hybrid roses-they take a whole lot of pampering to stay in peak health. They are expensive, eat alot, don’t handle weather extremes too well, and a most likely too big for even the larger of the micro farms we are considering. Mules/Donkeys seem to be more my speed. They aren’t terribly particular about what they eat, they are tough as nails, and are sized closer to what I am looking for. Plus, they get alot of bad press and I have always liked the underdog. If we somehow fall into a chunk of land on the higher end of our wish list ( 7-15 acres) I can seriously see us doing this. There are still companies like I & J Manufacturing out there making new implements for horse drawn farming-catering mostly to the Amish, or Amish at heart. There stuff looks legit and the price, when compared to normal PTO implements, is very reasonable. Any way we go I am sure we will use our animals in some way, either training a whether goat to pull a cart of one of our llamas to pack.

Walk Behind Tractor
Reading Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest and his recommendation of the Mainline rototiller led me to do a quick study of walk behind tractors this morning. For less than half the price of a small farm tractor you can get a 8-14hp walk behind tractor, with implements, from BCS thru their distributor Earth Tools. The tractors run about $2-3000 and can run anything from very heavy duty cultivators, 1/2 ton payload side dumps, to everything needed to bale hay-cutters tedders and balers. A big draw to these for me is that they are available with diesels, allowing me to farm, small scale, with biodeisel and be almost as carbon neutral as with a mule (we’ll leave out manufacturing emissions here…). A medium duty BCS deisel tractor with a full bailing set-up will come in under $13,000. Not sure why I would need to bale my own hay, but I figure it is a good estimate for a tractor and several implements-leave out the baler and use it for only cultivating and mowing and it looks more like $6-7000 . I see this as a decent compromise between draft and modern farming-but as with all compromises it ends up missing out on the simplicity, silence, and sustainability of the draft concept, and the ease of work, upkeep, and flexibility of the the small tractor.

Small Scale Tractor
I agree with Gene Logsdon on many issues, and on the issues of farm machinery especially with his belief in the usefulness of a front loader. In my mind, if I am going to run a farm that has animals bigger than goats I would greatly appreciate a loader for no other reason than the manure work. On top of that, I think it would be incredibly useful for building projects, felling trees, etc. Problem is that neither a horse or the BCS comes with a loader. I saw a Kubota tractor making short work at a neighbors project this morning so I checked them out, and dang are they pricey. A used L series tractor with a loader and under 1000 hours seems to be running for about $11-13,000, and the implements are about $1-3000 each. And that is a small tractor!!! Ag-King makes a deisel (go bio!) tractor that is very similar for about $3000 less-though still as much as I paid for my used hybrid car. This is where I see the whole sustainability piece falling apart-a $16,000 tractor w/cultivator with a $400/mo payment means that I have to plant alot of radishes! The Amish resist the tractor with very good reason-it leads to unhealthy escalation.

All this talk of increasing work load and added complexity is perhaps hasty. Have I inadvertently stepped onto a slippery slope? What I dream of is micro farming with my own two hands. At my current pace I am going thru a garden fork a season: snapping handles seems to be the most common issue though the digging end has fallen off at least a tool a year (including one of my hoes this weekend), even buying the ‘best’ contractor grade ones at Menard’s. These tools are simply not up to the task of intense gardening I am doing-basically small scale farming. Using high quality tools on my race cars made difficult jobs, not only easier, but in many cases like suspension removal or tranny work, safer and perhaps even possible in the first place. Why would gardening be any different?

Quality Hand Tools
I am discovering that here are tools, like these from DeWit, out there made the ‘old’ way that may allow me to bridge the gap. These are forged to be incredibly strong and durable, plus they hold an edge. One of the myriad things we have forgotten about gardening is the usefulness of a good, sharp tool. This morning I went and purchased a file to take the ‘edge’ of my ‘contractor’ hoe from a 3/16″ flat ridge to a decently fine point. Instead of pulling off the tops of the weeds weeds and making me swear in frustration it now sliced weeds cleanly just below the surface. Human powered tools such as the Wheel Hoe might be all that I need. For about $165 you get a chassis, and the respectable variety of implements are a reasonable $60 each. Figure $400 for a complete small farm kit. They look dubiously light duty, but I have seen them in use on a local organic CSA which gives me confidence-and on prepared soil with good tilth they should be fine. Finally if I need to do large field work I have always dreamed of scything. Maybe I read too much Willa Cather and Robert Frost, but the thought of slowly working my way across the acres, cleanly cutting the grass and laying in rows as my grandfather did makes me get all gooey inside. For this there seems to be only one real source-aptly named the Scythe Supply. They take it so seriously that every snath is custom cut to your measurements. I love artisans!!
Maybe I can hand till those acres after all…

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