Letter from a Prepper – How to Fail at Farming

I mentioned in my first post in this series that we knew nothing about farming. This did not stop me from acquiring every homesteading book I could find. Before we moved onto the farm, I checked them out at the library. I practiced making cheese, making my own butter, and making yogurt at home. I know that these are not “farming” skills per se, but they felt like “homesteading” skills to me.

I read every Joel Salatin book I could get my hands on and my husband and I even went to hear him speak when he came to Portland. We went on one local farm tour to learn what a farmer who had apprenticed under Joel Salatin was doing on his farm. Before we purchased our farm–put down our hard-earned cash on a downpayment–this is pretty much all of the education we had.

I really don’t advise that you follow in our footsteps!

Right here–I’m already going to get into my Advice for Wanna-Be Farmers. Learn, learn, learn! Visit many farms! Help farmers butcher chickens, care for an orchard, milk a cow–do whatever you can!

After we purchased our farm, we did try to learn more. We paid some people who had raised pastured chickens for a few years to train us how to use a plucker and a scalder. Guys, we should have done this in the beginning, before paying for a farm. It is difficult to learn and do all at once. There are only so many hours in the day, and you can only learn so much while you’re trying to raise animals and keep them alive.

Most jobs require training before you get started…

I consider farming to be the most important job on the planet after being a parent. Nourishing the world is kind of a big deal! Doctors and nurses (good ones) might be 3rd on my list of most important jobs. Think about how many years a doctor goes to school! I don’t even know for sure anymore, but is it something like 7 years? Maybe you know…I suggest wanna-be farmers take at least a full year, or maybe several to learn this oh-so-important job that they are about to take on.

Learning from books (alone) can be expensive…and devastating

We learned in a book that it’s good to put chickens in an orchard because they will eat the bugs and then there won’t be a need for spray. GREAT! We wanted to grow an orchard on our farm, and we wanted to do things as organically as possible. We bought 14 fruit trees and planted them. We were so excited! We set up a perfect space for them and thought carefully about where each tree would go. We had apples, and cherries, and pears and plums. YUM! We put up electric netted fencing around the new baby orchard we had set up and then put our bug-eating laying hens inside. Guess what they did? In a matter of DAYS, they destroyed our brand new trees. We had no idea that chickens love to eat the bark right off of the trees. They were especially fond of cherry bark and totally killed our brand new trees. We didn’t know that we needed to protect the bottom of the trees, or just maybe let the trees grow up a bit before we let our chickens have at ’em. Had we learned this information from a farmer instead of from books, maybe we would have avoided this expensive mistake?

Books are GREAT, but they aren’t everything

My Dad used to say “there’s book knowledge, and there’s life knowledge.” I thought this came from the fact that he didn’t go to college, and yet still knows a lot about a lot of things. I did go to college and majored in English, where I read a ton of books. I felt like that knowledge was pretty valuable in my life. I believe that books are valuable resources and tools to capture so many great ideas, facts, and methods. Having books on hand as resources are incredibly important! And yet, when it comes to farming, my Dad was right: “there’s book knowledge, and there’s life knowledge.” Guys, to be a farmer you need that life knowledge. There are so many details about farming that you have to learn by seeing, touching, doing, and by talking to the people who have been doing it for years and who have oh-so-much experience. One more thing to note is that I found most farming books to be shallow and not detailed enough to really teach a beginner how to farm. I found myself wanting more information, and I felt frustrated that they seemed to assume prior knowledge. So, books are good, to an extent–but mostly? Learn from farmers, and from working alongside of them.

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Robert lives in Santa Fe. Colorado. It's where he continues to prep himself and others for what's to come. He teaches survival courses since 1985. After working as a consultant for various Survival Tv Shows, Robert decided to move his practice online and start collecting his stories and skill sets into preparedness lessons for real life emergency scenarios, and especially, for real people. His articles on bushcraft and outdoor skills have been published in national magazines and will be the subject of his next book: The Proper Prepper. When he is not doing that, Robert is happily working on his farm. Which is not only a hobby, but the way he chose to live his life.


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