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Barefoot Farmer

Barefoot Farmer - Jeff Poppen

The Barefoot Farmer (Jeff Poppen) uses his farm (Long Hungry Creek Farm) as an example in demonstrating good farming principles. The landscape and atmosphere of the 21st century is leaning away from a small farm economy, bucolic scenery, sustainable agriculture and homegrown meals. The health of ourselves and our environment can only be enhanced by a reliance on local small farms for our needs. To learn more about these principle join Jeff Poppen with his weekly column - Barefoot Farmer.

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Communication and Intelligence PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppens   
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

By way of introduction, Steiner indicates what is most important to agriculture. Instead of talking about the chemical and physical components of something, he asks us to look carefully at how human beings live. We find a considerable degree of emancipation from the outer world, but this is less so with animals. Plants are still embedded in and quite dependant on what is occurring in their earthly surroundings, still very much a reflection of the universe.

An example of this would be that plants can only breed at specific seasons, animals have a boarder range, and humans are totally emancipated from the annual cycle. The point here is that plants reflect directly the celestial positions, where as in animals it is less so, and humans appear quite free in regard to heavenly positions. I say appear because astrology certainly questions this. Nevertheless we are much freer than plants, whose growth requires very specific seasons.

The first thing we need to take into account is the extremely important role silica plays, silica is a combination of elements silicon and oxygen, and makes up one half of the earth’s crust. Quartz, sand and many rocks are primarily silica, and so are computer chips. Why is silica so important?

Communication and intelligence are the answers. Fungal hyphae, the underground parts of fungis, are tubes made of silica. They are the roads, so to speak, that allow live soil nitrogen to be transported into the plant. Silica-rich, fungal hyphae unite the plant root with distant soil particales, nutrients and water. They are also called mycelium.

When a plant needs nitrogen, or any other element, a signal is sent down to the root. Bacteria and fungi living on the roots help the plant get what it is needing, in return for their food, which is what sloughs off of the root as it is growing. It is a symbolic relationship in healthy soil. Every plant species has specific microbes that colonize their roots, and make sure the plant grows well.

Not all nitrogen is the same. Live nitrogen in the form of amino acids is the most easily used by the plant. This comes from the living beings in the soil, from the microscopic to dead bugs to earth worm castings. Just the right amounts are whisked away up the silica-rich tubes of the fungal hyphae and into the plant.

Silica has an antagonist, nitrate. This is the dead nitrogen. It takes then times as much energy (sugar) for the plant to use. Nitrates harm the soil fungi, and repeated use causes fungal populations to decrease.

Live nitrogen in a plant means more sugar. W hen our kale grows with amino acids nitrogen, the sweetness is astounding. If the compost was too fresh, or it rains heavily, nitrates get into the kale and it doesn’t taste as sweet. Soil life is capable of utilizing a portion of the 1400 pounds of atmospheric nitrogen in the air above every square foot of soil. But nitrate nitrogen destroys these nitrogen-fixers and the fungal transportation system made of silica.

This is why organic farmers do not want water-soluable nutrients in the soil. They wont use fresh manure or chemical fertilizers, but rely on the wisdom of nature for growing healthy plants silica is responsible for the communication and intelligence between plants, fungi and the soil.

What moves the nitrogen-rich amino acids and other nutrients through the silica-rich fungal hyphae transport system? Calcium is the prime mover, and is always bound up with other elements. It grabs whatever the plant needs and gets it there. Calcium and silica are the great polarities in nature, with the plant in between. Clay in the soil mediates the forces of these two poles.

 
Spring Into Action PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gabby Cook   
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I have onions on my mind, with potatoes close behind. Three boxes of Copra, and one each of Candy and Patterson, get sorted first. About 20% are too small for the field, so they go into a bed to get bigger before transplanting. The rest are awaiting proper field conditions. A box of leeks also wants to get planted.

In our rotations, onions follow potatoes. Two fields get chisel plowed as soon as soil can be worked in the spring. On the first pass I run lengthwise, and then soon afterwards it gets cross plowed. A field for the other spring vegetables gets the same treatment.

The chisel plow needs new points. A wire brush cleans the bolt threads to make their removal easier. The lower one comes off first because it’s more worn. I position myself and have to use my legs to break it loose. Oil helps.

When the bolt spins, a crowbar is used to pry the shoe tight. Plow bolts have no head to hold, so pressure is kept on their square shoulders inside the shoe. I wish I had a third hand. Eventually new shoes relieve the dull shoe blues.

Now I can really plow deeply. I am watering the crop this summer by opening up the soil now so that the spring rains soak into the humus. Soil surface management will follow to keep that moisture available for later. This is the key to farming without irrigations.

The potato field was composted and rough plowed last fall, I level the land by chisel plowing lengthwise. More compost will be put on this virgin field before I cross plow it deeply.

A light drizzle threatened to halt progress, but then stopped for just enough time to let me finish. Despite great odds, things do get d one on the farm. I stir up some horn manure and barrel compost and fling it on the freshly worked soil to help enliven the microbial activity which will later supply nutrients to the crops.

Rain comes that evening, so planting is delayed. This gives me time to make sure the farmall cranks up. I also noticed a tree fell and took down the fence, so maybe that will get mended before the cows notice it. They are paying close attention to their nine new calves and the last of the hay rolls. Their messy feeding spot will soon be piled to make next year’s compost.

It’s mid-March and nothing is planted. But the train has started to roll. Most of the gardens are busy growing cover crops of wheat or crimson clovers and are best left alone until the end of April. Cold frames are being prepared for an early April sowing of tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds, and a sweet potato bed will soon be created.

Spring is in the air. Daffodils, also called buttercups, have been blooming since January, and dryland fish are considering jumping above the forest floor. We are patiently preparing ourselves and our land to spring into action.

 
Gardening PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppens   
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I love thinking about land use and talking about gardening. It would be a laugh to say I’m taking these things more seriously, but I am getting paid to do them, now. The dire stresses on our society, health and environment from corporate food systems compel me to help start small organic farms and share my 40 years of ridiculously stupid gardening mistakes, and here is how I go about it.

After sniffing the air and glancing around a new farm, I sit down and interview the landowners. They are the most important part of land use. I save walking the farm for later, but first I need to get to know them and what they want.

I may ask “Why a re you incarnated on earth now?” in an effort to draw out a mission statement. Before I can help them achieve their dream, they have to verbalize it. We will discuss the belief systems they rely on for their decision-making, so the base care values that will dictate land use surface.

Specific goals become apparent as we work our way to a vision of the land ten years from now. A list is formed of likes and dislikes, which will help us keep their quality of life in mind. Finally we picture the other people involved, their present and future resources, and what they want to produce from the land. Now lets walk.

The land has been used for many centuries. Native Americans ringed unproductive tees, so the Eastern Hardwood Forest contained mostly mast-producing species like oak, chestnut and beech. They also cleared land for crops. European settlers cut down the forests and made pastures for livestock and much more cropland. Thinking about land use has been going on for a long time.

Most forests are whatever is left after several removals of eh best lumber. I observe the prevalent plant growth and not non-native invasives running amok. I usually explain how to rid the woods of poison ivy, which is by cutting the hairy vines off of the trees. Possible woodland crops are Shiitake Mushrooms, or herbs like ginseng, golden seal and black cohosh.

Most pastures are under grazed, an unusual concept for many new owners of land. Soils are formed from grass plants being grazed and then resting without grazing. Too much of either destroys the soils productive capacity. Of the farm has cleared land, it needs cattle. Their proper management supplies the fertility necessary for the whole farm.

Most garden spots are compacted, and now we discuss soil tilthe. Again, it is the grass plants that create good tilthe, it cannot be done by tillage. We till in a way that destroys the tilthe as little as possible. A rototiller is the worst, and most common, implement. I much prefer plowing slowly for preserving soil structure.

As we study the plants, nutrient deficiencies become noticeable. Remineralization will likely be required, so we look for sources of lime, rock phosphate, granite meal and other rock dusts. I’m a fan of kelp and I love compost. Manure, leaf mold, rotten wood chips and old hay can be found and used to improve the biology on the farm through composting.

I often recommend utilizing the neighbors’ cattle, tractor and organic matter. Let them run their livestock on your land, and manage hay fields, in return for some old manure and plowing your garden. A few baskets of tomatoes later on will sweeten the deal.

We’ll have to fence out deer, and think about other varmints. Looking at slope, aspects and sunshine, we’ll pick spots for an orchard, berries, vegetables, flowers and cold frames. After considering bees, chickens and larger livestock, I’ll try to talk them out of horses. Markets, machinery, buildings, labor and management may not be as fun as gardening, but it would have behooved me to think about them long before I did. I want to shorten the long learning curve (and wrong turns) I’ve traveled on.

I follow up with more thoughts in a week or two, and continue to help when needed. Introducing them to books, people and organizations, I try to draw them into the circle of new age, old time farmers who are changing the way we look at food and land use.

Gardening is fun to teach, because people really want to learn about it. They ask a lot of questions as I discuss minerals, tillage and biology. Varieties, mulching, weeding, insects and many other topics and techniques get covered. By building up our soil humus, we’ve grown 5 to 8 acres of vegetables with no irrigation for decades, and I love sharing and learning with others.

This year the classes will begin on Sunday, April 21, between 1 and 4 pm. We’ll hold them at Green Door Gourmet, which is on River Road, off of Charlotte Pike, exit 201 from I-40, west of Nashville. We also take interns on our farm in Red Boiling Springs, for a few days up to a few years.

Let’s fill up Middle Tennessee with organic and biodynamic farms and gardens for better health, meaningful work, and a clean environment. Although becoming a “local food” town, Nashvillians probably get less than 2% of their diet from local organic farms, we are on the right track and still have a long way to go.

 
Chapter I PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppen   
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

After gratefully appreciating the hosts of this lecture series, the first thing Steiner makes clear is that no one should talk about agriculture unless they have a sound basis in it, and really know what it means to grow grain, potatoes or beats. He includes the social aspects, the organizational aspects, and the economic principles.

The social aspects of agriculture are mentioned first, and echo Tolstoy’s observation that the people involved are of the utmost importance. Society in rural areas develops out of families. Everyone knows each other and their peculiar talents, habits, and personalities. This allows for an equitable distribution of work and goods because it is all on such a small, community-based scale.

Agriculture and civilization grew up together and remain inseperable. In several passages, Steiner describes himself as a peasant, and honors the wit, observational skills and instinct of country people. He goes so far as to credit his education more from this than the extensive academic training he consquently acquired.

Recent history suggests that when peasants move to cities, the practical intelligence they bring with them creates an economic boom for that country, lasting approximately two generations. We saw this in Europe during the industrial revolution, later in America and now in Asia. Education removed from agriculture loses its sound basis.

How a rural society takes care of itself remains best left to those who are farming there. Humbleness, compassion and practical sense become ingrained in one who cares for land, plants and animals. Not that something can’t be learned from urban environments, but social aspects are generally kinder in the country, and best left up to them.

The same is true or organizational aspects of a farm. It seems obvious that those who are in constant touch with the land should be the ones who know what to do. Again, insights gained from the synergy of city talent (with roots inevitably in farming) can be gleaned through by farm organizers, who can use what they need.

But it lowers quality, happiness and health for non-farmers to organize farms. The detrimental effects of agribusiness demonstrate this quite clearly. Organizing for short term profit rather than long term sustainability creates disorganization on farms.

Look at the word organize, and you can find organic. Life arises through organization. Who will best organize a farm so it consistently yields high quality crops and remains able to do so with a minimum of inputs? The farmer will.

The economic principles in farming also need to remain in the hands of the growers. They are the ones who know how much it costs to grow it again. Too much interference by middlemen, marketers, and giant corporations is always paid for by those practicing agriculture.

Supply and demand create price fluctuations that don’t reflect the costs of production. First and foremost this must be covered. Farming need not be gambling. Once the farmer is fairly compensated, then and only then should others concern themselves with the price of farm products.

Steiner affinity with Goethe surfaces when he mentions influences coming from the entire universe affecting what people erroneously consider to be self-contained entities. A pre-requisite to understanding the biodynamic method is the realization that all things in nature are interconnected. Instinctual knowledge reflects their truth, and science seems to be coming around.

For example, the rare English Bluebell is now known to acquire 15 different species of fungi to be present in the soil for it to grow. Some of these fungi stretch out for miles underground. Construction at a distance of five miles from the patch cuts off the fungal hyphae and kills the English Bluebells.

The inter workings of nature are the study of farmers, centuries of observation have led to crop and animal rotations, the proper utilization of the various species and the secrets of manuring. The introduction ends with more pouring out of gratitude and the notion that the instincts farmers had were quite specific and reliable. They were part of the interrelationship in nature.

 
Barefoot Farmer’s Long Hungry Creek Farm PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Poppen   
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It was 20 years ago today, the newspaper gave me the new name. I write about my compost pile, but I’m guaranteed to raise a smile. So may I introduce to you the farm you’ve known for all these years, Barefoot Farmer’s Long Hungry Creek Farm.

We get by with a little help from our friends. The farm runs on love, from my best friends who work here with me, to all the helpful neighbors, eager apprentices and appreciative customers. Would you believe in our farm at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.

Picture yourself on a farm in a garden with berries and trees and vegetable crops. Beautiful flowers of yellow and green towering over your head must be a row of sunflowers. Newspaper columns appear every week waiting to take you away, into a world of organic living and caring for the landscape.

It’s getting better all the time. Our soils are getting better with gentle tillage, remineralization and biodynamic compost. I’ve learned how to improve the soil tilthe and humus, raising the sugar content of the crops so that insects and diseases don’t bother them.

I’m fixing a hole where the cows get out and stop my mind from wondering. Where did they go? Agriculture requires cattle, and I’ve been chasing mine around for forty years. They are teaching me about rotational grazing. The realization that ruminants excrete more fertilizers than their own crops require gave rise to the domestication of animals and the dawn of civilization.

They’re leaving home after living together for so many years. This log cabin has been the home of my family, and a bunch of friends. Most recently, I’ve been blessed to have two young grandchildren staying here with me and helping with the chores. We are all leaving this home, and four other families from our neighborhood are leaving their homes, too.

For the benefit of the chicken fight there have been shows at night several times. From the benefits in Nashville to out gatherings at the Armour Hotel, donations and support have poured in. the common threat has brought a diverse group of people together. As one of the community members said “The chickens came and families had to move, but we have made lifelong friendships. We won!”

We are talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion. Lots of people are realizing the environmental and economic disaster that the corporate control of food has caused, but many are still unaware. In our local history, gardens and small farms created a culture around meals that also generated income and caring for the land. Healthy farms won’t want CAFO’s, gas fracking and other menaces threatening Tennessee.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more? Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64. Farming requires long-term thinking. We make decisions based on what will be happening on our farm twenty years later, not by sacrificing the future for short-term profit.

Lovely Rita by the creek, give us a wink and make me think of you. Hundreds of students and thousands of visitors make their way to the Long Hungry Creek. Many have fallen in love here and consequently we’ve had several weddings. Farms are for people, protecting nature and building a future.

Nothing to do to save the farm put your arms down. Going to work, got weeds to pull, it’s a hoedown. I’m going o move into the old Purcell house on Heady Ridge, after we fix it up. I will live again on the big farm and have my good mornings near the chickens, pigs and cows. As for the 40,000 chickens 450 feet from where I live now, the Tysons executives were certainly correct when they told me, “It will stink.”

We’re Barefoot Farmer’s Long Hungry Creek Farm, we’re sorry but it’s time to go. We’d like to thank you once again. The tremendous empathy and compassion you all have given me in the last two successful years has touched my heart. It has given me the strength, courage and hope to continue to work for a healthy agriculture throughout Middle Tennessee.

I read the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who had a farm. And though the news was rather sad, I just had to laugh, I saw the photograph. A giant CAFO dwarfed Tennessee’s most famous gardens, with three hundred acres where it could have gone. I’d love to turn you on to homegrown, organic produce, an d help you learn to grow your own, without the Beatles.

 
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