June 2000 - Vol. 30, No. 6 - Cover Story
want to use uncomplicated, diversifiedmachinery. We use machines that can loadlogs, gravel, compost and hay. Maybe weload logs slower than a guy with a $50,000knuckle-boom loader, but that’s single-useequipment. I load logs with my truck, thentake them to the band saw to make value-added lumber.
Getting to a more basic, soul level, I’mgoing to address an important issue all par-ents have to face, especially the dads, be-cause this is more a dad problem and notso much a mom problem. Pause a momentand consider how many of us either haveor are fussy dads.My dad was a journeyman pattern mak-er, and I still have his toolbox and hand-made wood tools. They made wooden pat-terns to pour carburetors. Can you imaginecarving molds for steel pieces out of wood? He was a woodworker par excel-lence. He could make grandfather clocks,furniture — you name it. I couldn’t do anyof that. Daniel is a much better carpenterthan I. But do you know what is one of the most gratifying things in my life? Myfather never once complained about my87-degree angles. He never complainedabout something 2 inches higher on oneend. How many chicken pens would I haveexperimented with using my rudimentarycarpentry skills if I was afraid while build-ing the first one that if it was just a littleout of square I’d get fussed at? Bless hisheart, he never complained. Because thereis one principle and that’s function; if itworks, that’s good enough.Dads, we have to let our children goout in the shop and bend nails — yes,waste nails and maybe our favorite board.I’ve seen 30- and 40-year-old sons whodon’t feel the liberty to take a board off the lumber pile without asking dad. That’sa tragedy. I know it’s a dad problem. I’vewatched guys my age inherit farms in their20s and lose them in 10 years. I’vewatched innumerable guys my age whoreally would like to have stayed on thefarm but didn’t. And I’ve watched lots andlots of parents of my parent’s generationwho had children and none of them areon the farm. Separate dad and mom andask, what happened? Mom will tell you,“He was too hard on them. Nothing everpleased him.” If they did a good job, thatwas expected. You’re supposed to do agood job. But boy, bend a nail or driveover a windrow wrong, or plant that rowof corn a bit crooked, and you listen. Ihope we all take this to heart. It is such acritical lesson. I know there are excep-tions, but most of the time at least onechild will stay on the farm if they feelthey’ve got a fair shake. It starts young.It has to be fun, too. It can’t be all work.Why do people not want to farm? It’sdrudgery, it’s dirty, and it’s noisy. But wego to the woods and create pastures withpigs. Instead of bulldozers, you just let thepigs go in — these are honest-to-good-ness bush hogs — and you can plant smallgrain in there. If you don’t think it’s fun,you haven’t had a 12-year-old boy take a5-gallon bucket, stick it over the snout of a pig, grab on to the bale, jump on that300-pound pig and go, “high-ho silver”down through the corn. Let me tell you, itis fun, it’s exciting. It’s a whole lot morefun to do tillage and environmental work this way than it is watching how dad actsafter going down there with a tractor andrunning a stump through the tire.
MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL
A farm has to be beautiful. Here is alittle rule of thumb. If youtake people around yourfarm and you have toapologize more than threetimes, you’ve got seriousproblems. If you’re em-barrassed about it, think about what your kids feel when theirfriends visit. Our farms have to be beauti-ful, aesthetically pleasing places whereour children love to entertain. If it issmelly, dirty and noisy, and a dead animalgets hauled out by the barn, and the toma-toes have blight, it’s a problem.Kids get turned off to sickness and dis-ease; they really don’t like it. Watch a childwhen you’ve tried to save a calf and it dies,or they watch a cow go down, or yourchild’s first garden has five corn plants andthree get blown over in a windstorm. It’snot fun. It’s devastating. I know we don’tneed to shelter them from all the trage-dies of life, but in the big picture, you cantake some bumps in the road if that’s notthe norm.
We use portable electric fencing onsome land about 11 or 12 miles away torun stock cattle. This is something thatDaniel has jumped on as an opportunityto expand our land base. And there’s roomto grow. The agriculture/economics de-partment at Virginia Tech has just releaseda study that says in the next 10 years, 70percent of Virginia’s farmland is going tochange hands. It’s the beginning of an op-portunity that we haven’t seen since Pa In-galls took the family out the Oregon Trail.All this unused land owned by people whodon’t know what to dowith it. The average turn-around age for a farmetteis five years. This is cre-ating unprecedented op-portunities, but the mod-el has to be there in orderfor our children to have the desire, the sav-vy and self-confidence to tap these alter-natives. We have 100 cows on
/4 acre aday; it’s aesthetic, it’s pleasing, it’s fun,and it intensifies the production on thatacreage.
Stock cattle are one of the many aesthetic and fun aspects of Polyface Farm.