Agroforestry in Fractal Environments

A recent 3 day workshop at the Grange Farm School featured an interesting combinati12440257_10154013385631823_8267778958275639379_oon of presenters and topics.  One was Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm, Restorative Agriculture Development Inc, and author of Restoration Agriculture representing a variety of techniques aimed at optimization of solar energy and water for food production.  The other was Spencer Smith of the Jefferson Hub of Holistic Management representing the details of an integral part of Restoration Agriculture: holistic planning both for finances and land management.

The combination of topics inspired workshop attendees to think outside their boxes and explore new ways of seeing the landscape.  My landscape vision was bolstered with an understanding of hydrology on the watershed scale, to the point where I now see keypoints, contours, and erosion and think to myself: how could we engineer a sequestration system that would help capture the free resources that fall from the sky and sink them into the land?

A few visits to our campus hillside helped us all to see that nature is fractal and understanding the patterns is the first step before implementing strategies.  The hillsides that surround the school are generally covered in oak savannah, with slopes and vegetation that are mirrored on our 4 acre knoll.  Management strategies identified for the Grange Farm School could be scaled up to the surrounding environment in a way that would capture the 51 inches of average rainfall and grow greener grass longer into the summer, perennial crops, or trees.

We identified a keypoint (P A Yeomans inspired) and used a laser level to flag our contour lines and parallels.  The group began to see where water could be stored and how gravity would take part in the passive irrigation system.  Next we learned about alleycropping and silvopasture- both concepts that will be experimented with on campus.

The weekend wrapped up with financial planning concepts that helped transform dreams into realities.  In order for these restoration agriculture practices to succeed, they have to pay, and only then can we expect large scale food production to shift.

The more we are able to think in terms of patterns and contexts, the more successful we will be at converting this planets’ resources into food sustainably.

Interested in learning more? The Practicum Student Program features lessons and tutorials on Holistic Management for land planning and finances, as well as hands on demonstrations of restoration agriculture.

Testimonial From a Former Student

By Matt Gal

I’m having trouble decidi10403290_290012034510957_5920299330697911524_nng if magic is the right word to describe my time spent at the Grange Farm School. It’s the only word I know that can accurately sum up the overwhelmingly beautiful, educational, and improbable experiences that I had there. I’ll start by freely admitting that I had no notion of what I was getting myself into when I found GFS through a lucky google search. I had never farmed before. I had never lived in the country before. I had never been west of the Rockies before. What I knew was that I needed an internship credit for my horticulture degree and I wanted to see what agriculture was like. So, what better way to learn about farming than working to help start a farm school?
Continue reading

Back on the Beat

Back on the farm beat while spring brings us sunshine and the urge of labor days in the field.  With my soil test in hand and a workshop with restoration agriculture monolith Mark Shepard in mind, I’ve followed some clues in the soil (low calcium, the need for better water penetration and tilth) along with the suggestions of A&L labs to apply gypsum with the near arrival of whale compost.  There is only so much one can do in a season to get the soil to the place one wants.  It takes careful observation and time to establish a system that makes best use of the water table, the biology and chemistry in the soil, and succession plantings that make sense and produce healthy plants while maintaining fertility and keeping the soil covered.  Observation, prioritizing, and timing frame the approach to getting a healthy garden rolling.  I’m in the middle of potting up my tomatoes and replacing them with flats of brassicas in my small hoop-house.  This is exciting.  In a month or so we’ll be eating some Black Krim’s and Striped German’s!  Got to get back to the beat so till next time enjoy the sunshine…

Baby Chicks!

Last week 48 chicks were born in our living room! Our hatch rate is improving as we learn the nuances of our incubator.. up to 70% from 60% last year. They are such cute fuzzy little dinosaurs. Currently they are living behind our workshop in Ohio Brooder boxes.IMG_4044

The Ohio Brooder was originally designed during WWII as a way of conserving resources while brooding chicks.  Find photos and plans online to see an efficient and inexpensive way of raising chicks!

Continue reading

Ode to the New Sheep Door

The dark’d come, and the gang was away,
so Daniel was on duty to put the sheep in the hay.
He filled up the tin bucket with alfalfa pellet
and shooked and shaked it like a vigorous zealot.
The sheep raised their brows
with looks of keen satisfaction
and Daniel thought, “this is it! the moment!
The precise, proper reaction!”
So he led them on gamely
into the coop once for chickens
and they followed him lamely
like some good accounting on Quickens.
Kumquat and Canteloupe and Valla all trotted, with
Morgoth and Bjork and Swams, into spaces alloted. Continue reading

Starts Beneath Your Feet

Tuesday March 8, 2016

My soil test is in the mail but I’ve already spent timeIMG_0751 with the clay loam, by hand and satellite imaging.   There is a rocky swirl across the field in the likeness of a yang or a ying.  I took two tests, one from the wide, circular part of the paisley and another from just beyond the whip of its tail.  My first thought is that there is less organic material in the rockier part but I’ll wait for the test to see what the lab coats say.  In this area, heavy in displaced river rock from floods of the past, there is a case to be solved.  Something’s not right in that part of the field.          Continue reading

Checking for Chicks

Last Thursday night, the over-wintering team at the Grange Farm School came together for a delicious family dinner. It sometimes can feel like a group therapy session when we are all finally able to sit around the table and talk and laugh after a long week. While it was not exactly a fancy candle lit dinner, we all had candling on our minds.
For the past 10 days we have been incubating 75 eggs laid by our heritage Buckeye hens. Our living room has been constantly abuzz as the machine keeps a temperature of 100 degrees with 40-50% humidity. Every four hours you will hear a loud thud as the machine rotates the eggs, ensuring that the outer membrane doesn’t stick if left in one position for too long.  Continue reading

Farm Noir

Tuesday March 1, 2016
I’ve always been fascinated by detectives, the fantasy ones; the sly and slippery desperadoes of black and white; the colorful truth seekers of noir stories and films.  At heart, the lonely eye is in service, he will help you discover that which you most desperately want to know and he’ll do it for cheap.  I oftenIMG_4324 feel like a farmer-detective investigating the farmicopia of 21st century food.  I want to know the truth of a life dedicated toward food production and I’ll work for cheap.  It just so happens that food has been around for quite a while and that those in charge of its production models and distribution have power over those that don’t.  Attempting to farm now has its difficulties and they mirror those that existed way before organic was an issue.  Food is the heart of a civilization, and we live in an age of feed and fix, the heart is in cardiac arrest.  It’s the food and pharmaceutical 21st century.  It also turns out that before it becomes food, its alive and survives in a complex ecological and social relationship just like us.  To understand this is the job of the modern farmer.  Being a farmer-detective, my job at the Grange Farm School is to follow the leads provided by a team of fellow detectives.

Gratitude and Short History for the Granges

The Grange Farm School would like to extend a HUGE thank you tGrangeo the Aromas Grange and the Sebastopol Grange who joined Little Lake and Anderson Valley Granges by donating funds to our scholarship program. These Granges are actively empowering the next generation of food producers! We owe so much to our surrounding community and Granges for being the support and motivation needed to launch this school into its’ first few years.

Continue reading

Nice to Meet You

Tuesday February 23, 2016
This is the first installment of my farm journal here at the Grange Farm School.  My name is Joshua Sternberg and I’ll be putting thoughts and observations to the page while farming apIMG_4213proximately an acre of land in Willits California, a small town filled with aged homesteaders, more recent urban expatriates, political dissidents, and passionate supporters of the next generation of food producers.  Our farm is on a historic ranch where an alternative lifestyle was forged during the era of conscientious objectors and Vietman. The alternative and conscientious continues amidst the spirit of John Jevon’s Golden Rule Garden run by Ecology Action and the fledgling force of the Grange Farm School.  There is a fervent feeling amongst all members of the community that we’re doing the good work that needs to be done.  With this history in my tail-wind I’m starboard forward into the sea of farming and activism.

Continue reading