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…

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