Several years back there was a lot of talk about “peak oil.” I don’t hear much about it these days, the concept being that we’ve found the maximum amount of oil the planet has to offer and it’s downhill from that point on. Just the other day I read that the United States was set to become the largest oil producer in the world. Which only proves that what we “know” today is subject to revision tomorrow. I’ve always thought fossil fuel conservation and the search for and development of alternative energy sources simply made good sense not because we were running out of fossil fuel so much as the use of fossil fuels will always be accompanied by pollution of one sort or another. I’m also sympathetic to the argument that the draft horse still has a place on the farm of the future. My Amish and Mennonite friends prove this point every year; Wendell Berry fans note the great author of our times continues to farm with horses. Horses make such incredible sense on the farm – they are used to grow their own fuel, they set the pace of the day at a reasonable level, and they reproduce themselves. Have you ever seen a John Deere have a baby John Deere tractor?

I tried my hand a using draft horses years ago. Really didn’t know what I was doing, but that has seldom stopped me. In the end, I gave it up. It’s a club one must either be born into or be close enough to card-carrying members to ensure things don’t go sideways. I had a lot of things go sideways…

During the “peak oil” talk, another concept got floated in the alternative agriculture circles where I travel. “Peak water.” First off, I believe climate change is real, that human activity has sped it along it’s way, and that it’s possible to reverse it’s effects through regenerative agriculture. Yes, that’s a lot to get ahold of. Right now, I want to focus on water. With it, there is life; without it, death. The very first thing my kids learned about when helping on the farm was the importance of water. Animals can go hungry and be okay for a while; they’ll die quick in the middle of the summer without water. Part of having “eyes” on the farm is checking water levels in the dozen or so water troughs we have, regardless of whether it’s chore time or not.

As climate change continues to make wild swings in our weather patterns the need to secure water on the farm increases. Joel Salatin wrote an excellent article this month in The Stockman GrassFarmer on this theme. Joel wrote about the “commons” in relationship to water, the “commons” being those sources of water which we all share and how important it is not to deprive our neighbors of these water sources. This includes streams, springs, and aquifers. These are the things we all depended on to survive. It has been a battle for years to get farmers to stop watering their livestock in the streams and creeks. Despite all the best efforts of the USDA/NRCS, some still do.

Salatin focused on capturing surface runoff, building ponds and the like to hold water in reserve for times of need. Keyline farming is another concept along the same lines, following the topographical outlay of a field to plow in hold spots at the subsoil level, allowing water to be held in the soil rather than running off the land. Capturing all the water is one of the key concepts of Permaculture. It is also one of the critical issues for this farm as I move into this new phase of ownership/partnership. I look at my tenancy here as a partnership with this good land, this farm my family has owned for over 300 years. Like anything else, I will receive at the level I invest…


I woke this morning to the sound of…nothing.  Well, not quite nothing.  The wind was howling, but I expected that.  The region had been warned days in advance this wind storm would move thru – secure light objects, put weights on small pets, etc.  The standard stuff.  It also warned of power outages, the root of my nothingness.  A tree had taken out the power lines less than a mile away.

I didn’t mind the house being a bit cold.  Though I always make a hot breakfast, I wasn’t too concerned there either; granola is a good enough fill-in.  What really irked me was the cold coffee.  I drink it hot, no matter the temperature outside.  I’ll do ice coffee if it’s over 90F.  Today was definitely not going to be one of those days.  However, even cold coffee beats no coffee:  I sipped in the silence of my house, contemplating my morning work, wondering how the day would unfold.

I don’t much care for wind.  It tears stuff (substitute that other word) up. I’ve seen it tear the top off a barn, blow over trees, tilt barns over, and move chicken houses to the next field (I still wonder how the chicken house literally hopped the fence…).  My house occupies the high point off the Patuxent River.  At 160 feet above sea level, with few trees around to break the wind, this little hill I sit on can really get it.  The barns are situated in such a way as to create wind tunnels.  This time of year, the strong winter winds always blow out of the northwest and will nearly always follow a period of moisture.

The shingles from my house litter the yard.  The gutter on one of the barns has partially blown off.  The roof on the hay shed is peeling off piece by piece, flapping in the wind till all the tin has been ripped loose from the nails holding it to the sheathing.  Once one piece goes, it’s like a domino effect.  Pieces of roofing litter the field; the sheep keep their distance.

I’d covered the front end of the henhouse in plywood earlier this fall.  It now lies broken near the tree line.  The chickens will be alright, but we’ll use the back door to enter the house this evening for feeding.  All in all, I’ve lost a day’s work, in addition to the aforementioned damage.  And so I write.

My computer doesn’t always like the way I say things.  It is busy telling me I didn’t quite pay attention in Ms. Phillips’ English class.  Tough.  A farmer is only going to be so proper anyway.  I’m writing about wind, for crying out loud –  it’s not an orderly subject.

It will eventually die down; dry spells only last so long, flood waters eventually recede.  And we’re left with the clean-up.  As a country person, I do nearly all my own work – what I can’t do often gets left undone.  It is a defect, I know. The worst will always come first.

Eventually, I’ll walk thru my forest.  Trees will be down, firewood and lumber prospects.  I have a couple buddies with sawmills now.  Repair projects await.  If there is anything I’ve learned in this life, it’s the unpredictability of it.  I love this farming life, no matter the obstacles.