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.


Whole Farm and Ranch Planning

Remember reading about our “Holistic Struggle with Star Thistle” a few months ago?  The Grange Farm School uses Holistic Management principles in decision making, and we recommend it highly to entrepreneurs, land managers, farmers, ranchers, and business owners!

Holistic Management International is providing two trainings in whole farm and ranch management at the Grange Farm School this Winter. Both series spend the first day introducing Allan Savory’s holistic decision-making framework, how it differs from how we typically make decisions, and how to use it to consistently make better decisions and plans for the land, people, and money involved.

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Grange Farm School Graduates: Graze Hard, Rest Well

The day before the second graduating class at the Grange Farm School received their certificates, gifts, and parting words of wisdom from staff, friends, family, and community members, the Grange Farm School took a field trip to the Mendocino Coast. There we learned from and herded approximately 400 of Leland Falk’s intensively grazed flock of sheep at Sea Ranch and met his grazing colleague Mark Biaggi.  Mark and Leland graze marginal pasture up and down the coast to mitigate fire threat and reclaim degraded soils.

The concepts behind holistically managed, grass based livestock rotation, inspired the theme of the graduation speech for the Farm School students:

Graze Hard, Rest Well.

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Behind the Scenes: Fallon Johnson

IMG_5381Fallon is a rare breed.  What incredible luck and serendipity that in her travels across the country, her explorations across the landscape of career paths and opportunities, she found us and set down her roots.  Hailing from upstate New York, Fallon has been slowly inching her way West working a myriad of odd jobs. Once she got here, she fit right in.

In our first communications back in November 2014, she began to describe herself and I thought this must be too good to be true. I was wrong. She is just this good:

IMG_0906I’m really interested in nutrition, art, animals, and living simply and sustainably. I love EVERYTHING, probably too much if you ask anyone other than me. I always go out of my way to help those in need even if I myself am struggling. I genuinely care about my neighbor and for the state of this beautiful earth.

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Chicken Pot Pie from Scratch… From Egg to Oven

This quintessential hometown dish has so many iterations, modern updates, and twists, it called out to us as the perfect challenge to serve at the 10th Annual Harvest Dinner this year.  Today chicken pot pies are too often a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle poured into a frozen pie crust.  We are setting out to build a chicken pot pie from scratch…

IMG_1202Step 1:  Maintain 95 degree brooding habitat for your chicks.  Feed them delicious organic feed, full of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Step 2: Raise these chicks until their feathers grow in (approx. 3 weeks) gradually reducing temperature in their brooding box until it reaches average outside temperature.  Stand back and try to imagine how these creatures once fit into a tiny egg! They grow so fast!

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Finally! Internal combustion engines make sense!


Suck, squeeze, bang, and blow: the four steps required to power a 4-stroke engine.  Mike Ott of the Mendocino Alcohol Fuel Group uses this moniker to make the mysteries of internal combustion engines easier to visualize. Intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust is the way Takashi Yogi, our resident Industrial Arts master, would teach it.  Having two instructors covering the basics is helpful as each description is uniquely heard by each student, plus it takes a few times hearing about a flywheel to really let it sink in!

SoIMG_2321 far I have built the confidence and skills to not only replace my brake pads but replace the calipers as well on my F150.  Next the U-joint holding the drive train in place had become so worn, the bearings dissolved into a gooey mess.  With Takashi’s help and a 4 foot steel bar to increase my torque, I wrenched the old U-joint off and installed a new one.  The concept of replacing a part is a pretty simple one when you see a diagram or picture online.  The hard part is when you are working with a machine that is decades old and rusted, and you need to know how hard you can pull, push, squeeze, hammer, smack, or wiggle before you break it.  I  learned tricks from Takashi that will save me hours of frustration.  I used a propane torch to expand metal in order to release a stuck bolt when the torque wrenches, vice clamps and penetrating oils don’t work. These tips and tricks give me much more confidence in my abilities as an amateur mechanic.

Maybe too much confidence. Today I made a trade for two 1984 Dodge Ram 50s, one for parts and one to fix up.  This is a truck that claims to get 35 mpg with a 4 cylinder diesel engine, and I think it  should be a great beginner overhaul.  I hope to get one of these trucks running as my commuter vehicle, and unlock the mysteries of my automobile from the inside out. Wish me luck!