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Posts Tagged ‘farming’

By Jeff Woodburn

In 1948, my grandfather paid 55 cents for a dozen eggs to serve at the Whitefield eatery that still bears his name.  That was whopping price, when you consider that back then, the average family earned less than $10 a day or the equivalent 17 dozen eggs. It is easy to see why so many housewives became part-time poultry women, and how significant this money was to the local economy.

In the first half of the twentieth century, eggs and meat poultry were essentially local enterprises. New Hampshire had many thriving poultry and egg businesses, much of them conducted by small backyard operators. In 1910, the poultry business was New Hampshire’s most profitable agricultural product worth $35 million a year. For generations, a small flock of hens produced a steady flow of extra income that contributed to the family and local economy, and the excess was quietly tucked away for a rainy day or a special occasion.  While the “egg money” was built on adherence to harsh frugality, it also made possible the, ever so rare and minor, indulgences. As the “nest egg” grew larger, it became a source of assistance known only by the beneficiaries.  How many financial storms were calmed, kids sent to college and church collection plates filled by the egg money? Beyond the extra cash, keeping chickens provided children with meaningful chores that taught responsibility and the value of work.

Today, grocery store eggs sell for just over $1 a dozen (if factored for inflation they’d be nearly $7), and anyone who raises hens will tell you that it is impossible to produce eggs at that price. This phenomenon repeated itself across the grocery store shelves, and now we can enjoy a full stomach for a smaller percentage of our income than at any other time.

For thirty years, we’ve been fat and happy, living off a diet of cheap food produced by distant, faceless corporations encouraged by large taxpayer subsidies to replace age-old wisdom with trendy technology, brutal efficiency and, most importantly, an endless supply of cheap oil and corn.  The system worked so well that it drove food prices so low that most small-time growers and farmers figured out they could buy food cheaper than making it, and thus destroying an otherwise healthy, sustainable and satisfying culture.

The system looked good from afar, but, as we eventually learned, it was far from good.  The true costs of cheap food are now clear: an unhealthy, risky food system that is imploding our health care system and wasting vast quantities of oil, creating endless generic sprawl, jeopardizing rural economies as well as polluting our environment.  What is most disturbing is that our tax dollars are promoting this policy, so in essence we’re paying people to get unhealthy and then paying their health care bills. An alarming 80 percent of our total health care costs are consumed by of a fifth of the population.

Changing the way we eat will be as difficult as changing our agriculture and food policies, but there are signs of hope. President-elect Obama seems genuinely committed in both in his politics and own health habits to the initiate a change in our food policies and take on the giant agribusinesses that shape it. That along with a strong, grassroots commitment to local food could be the perfect ingredients in a recipe for change.

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By Jeff Woodburn

Every Saturday on my way to the dump, I pass by David and Andria Craxton’s organic farm, Roots and Fruits. From the road, I peer through the towering evergreens that are like the curtain that hides the true identity of the great Wizard of Oz.

I wonder how Farmer Dave pulls it off – producing so much food with such little impact on the environment. He’s the area’s most prominent and prolific gardener, yet he forgoes many of the most basic modern tools that seem to be a necessity to most small backyard growers and farmers. He feeds many of us through his stand at Lancaster’s Farmers Market (each Saturday morning), but consumes relatively little fossil fuels by practicing sustainable, organic and local agriculture. His wisdom and success lies in listening to the land.

Craxton has been called the King of garlic. After all, he produces 25 varieties of garlic on his 12 acre farm on Whitefield Road in Dalton. But, that is tip of the ice berg (lettuce,) he also turns out some 200 different variations of three dozen fruit and vegetable crops that range from lettuce (10 kinds) to potatoes (22 kinds) to hot peppers (11 kinds.)

Last fall, I let my wonder get the best of me and invite myself over for a tour. Along the way, I get a tutorial on organic gardening and local food. Farmer Dave is a quiet, reflective man with deep thoughts and few words. His wife, Andria, on the other hand, uses her artistic photography and poems to vividly communicate their shared passion for the land.

Dave’s three decades of “playing in the dirt,” have not muddied his agrarian idealism, adherence to ancient farming principles or creative curiosity. If there is one guiding principle at the Roots and Fruits Farm, it is that product cannot be separated from process – even if the process is backbreaking (or as Dave calls it “time consuming.”) He uses a broad fork to open up the land instead of a rotatiller. He cuts with a scythe, rather than a weed whacker. The key, he says, is to “work the land in a gentle way” and build the soil by enriching it with good compost and rotating crops. This year the Craxton’s installed 8 solar panels that further reduce their electric consumption by one-third.

Wholesome, flavorful and nutritious food can’t be forced on the land. “You have to train yourself to hear,” he says, “The land tells me what to grow.”

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