What Does the Back to the Land Movement Really Mean?

There has always been a subculture that has embraced a more simple, less Capitalistic way of life. canning 002Henry Davis Thoreau popularized living a quiet, “well contemplated life” that is still in vogue today. The 1960’s saw resurgence in rejecting the vices of city life and Capitalism as many thousands of Americans fled to the solitude of the country. Today, the back-to-the-land movement is as powerful and romantic as it has ever been, but the character of the people is somewhat different.

There are several factors contributing to the current back-to-the-land movement, such as the enduring desire to live a more honest, satisfying life. Living in the cities, even with the comforts and conveniences takes a toll on humans. It is a harsh and hurried life, made even faster paced with all the modern high-tech tools. Life has not gotten easier, in fact, juggling the mounting daily demands and distractions, is making life more complex and exhausting. Many Americans dream of changing their fate; slowing down; living a richer, more meaningful life, but do not know how to break away.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

People who are successfully living a rural life are the people who have learned to live a more simple life before they moved to the country.  Many people begin by changing the way they think about goods and services. They bake bread, without a bread machine. They learn to water-bath can and then gain the skills to pressure can. They might learn to hunt and harvest animals in season. They shop at second hand stores and yard sales, before going the big box stores and buying new, overpriced, cheaply made products. You cannot expect your life to change by moving. Your life changes, when you change.

The “I can’t” people will not be happy in the country, where every day is a problem solving quest. It is not enough to have land and change location. Thinking has to change. Homesteading is living as a producer, not a consumer. You cannot continue to consume very far, beyond what you are willing and able to produce. Food production should be a very high priority. This includes preserving food seasonally for year round use. Sewing and knitting are also very useful skills. Building and using tools will allow you to create and repair the structures on your property.

Equally important is learning to be part of a community of rural.  You must be willing to go beyond dreaming of the life you want in the country and become that simply, hardworking, salt of the Earth, type of person.


Do Vegetarians and Vegans Have Claim to Moral Superiority?


We have a ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where we proudly produce pork, lamb, beef and poultry. We have experienced the disgust of many vegetarians and vegans who feel eating meat is evil and inhumane.  And I agree. It is hard to take a life so that we can live.

Many religions have prohibitions against certain foods, especially meat. Jews are forbidden to eat pork. Hindu are prohibited from eating beef. Some Christians don’t eat meat during Lent. Buddhists have a variety of eating beliefs depending on the sect they follow. The Mahayana tradition strictly prohibit eating meat. Japanese Buddhists believe Buddha eat meat and that being vegetarian is optional. Tibetan Buddhists believe that vegetarianism is unnecessary. Additionally, some Eastern Buddhists believe that they should never eat a plant if eating it takes its life. So vegetables like onions, carrots, and other roots are never eaten.

So, is eating meat morally reprehensible if eating root vegetables are seen as taking a life? After all, life is life. Either you have respect for all life or you don’t. Meat might seem higher on the torture scale since there are eyes and consciousness staring back at you. But doesn’t the carrot feel anything as it is wilting in the sun, hoping it will be stuck back into the dirt. We have to be honest and acknowledge that we take the life of many other living things to sustain our own life.

There are things I don’t like about that reality, but in truth, if we didn’t raise our animals the way we do, someone else would raise animals, just for profit and never consider the wellbeing of the animals. Of course, I’m taking about factory farms, where most people in America get their meat, eggs and dairy products from.

All of our animals are grass-fed and grass-finished, but the pigs are given additional barley to increase their protein intake without giving then any corn or soy, which is the industry standard. Many years ago we made the decision to not feed our animals corn or soy, organically or conventionally grown. Americans eat a very high percentage of corn and soy in their diets, and our meat does not need to contribute to this over consumption. Corn and soy are used to feed all factory farm animals not because it is healthy for them but because it is cheap, easy to store and easy to transport.

In 2013, 77.7 million acres of soy and 97.4 million acres of corn were planted in the US alone. Now honestly, how many animals have been displaced and probably died because of the loss of habitat? How many more animals, mostly fish and aquatic life, die because of the fertilizer and pesticide running off the field and leaching onto waterway?  While I’m on the topic, I might just mention the fossil fuels it takes to plant; spray; water; harvest; transport and process all the corn and soy. Where is the moral high ground again?

The Promise of Winter

Buffalo Peaks

Buffalo Peaks

The temperature is dropping and the Mosquito Range is dusted with snow. I love to watch the seasons develop. The sunrises are never pink in the summer or fall; but winter is looming very near.

Other people measure the seasons by the date; here the only thing that measures our life is the weather. When snow is on the ground, it is winter. When the rains fall every afternoon, it is summer. Fall and Spring are a gentle blur of summer into winter and winter into summer.

We basically have three season here: prepare for winter, endure winter and recover from winter. Mornings like this cause me to take a deep, ragged breath, because it is the warning of the harsh, bitter-cold conditions that are about to overtake us. We are helpless against the brutal hand of Old Man Winter.

There is a sense of sadness over the many things we had planned to accomplish before another winter engulfs us and humbles us. But, things are undone as usual. Things to regret and things to look forward to in the coming warmth of the sun, so many months away.

Even the animals sense the excitement and disappointment of the imminent “last call,” before the cold sinks into their bones and they somehow find the strength to endure the torture of agonizingly long nights and heartbreakingly short days. Their undercoats are growing as they gradually prepare physically and mentally. The dairy cows, mules and burros that have been content with the freedom of the pasture now find their way into the barns where they can find comfort and warmth. Their actions change as the position of the earth moves to prepare for the seasonal swap. They see the pink sunrises and understand the complexities far better than I do.

For us, the freezers are full of all the meat we will need for a year. The canning jars are stuffed and sealed with the fruits and vegetables we will enjoy until the next harvest.  The firewood is dumped in piles waiting to be cut and stacked as we need it for cooking, hot water and the gnawing need for warmth.

So the time of preparing is almost over and he time for enduring is upon us.

Misquito Range

Mosquito Range

Organic! Hummmmmm!


Another Disappointment and Another Opportunity!

I just learned something I never know before. Did you know that Certified Organic Fruits and Vegetables are sprayed or dipped in chlorine to disinfect them?  I don’t buy or eat conventionally grown food, if and when I can help it.  I always buy organic seed to grow, for some of the same reasons. I believe organic is better for the environment and also for us, but in the case of seeds, they are hardier. Most plant seeds are grown in spoiled rotten conditions. They are babied to produce the highest number of seeds from each plant that is possible. Organically raised plants are not babied, they are grown in harsher, real world conditions. They are selected to survive the conditions they will encounter as organically grown plants, you know, exposed to pests, fungi, dense planting to reduce weeds, realistic amounts of water. Real world conditions.

But  what is the journey that brings these organic, nutrient dense, powerhouses to the stores. It is a story full of romance and sadness. I have become disillusioned with organics and the more I know the more unhappy I am to pay the premium prices. Let me start my rant by saying that they are better for the environment since they are grown without all the “cides”: pesticide, herbicide, fungicide that lead to genocide. That is a good thing. Also, let’s not forget the organics are not allowed to be GMO’s. For me, that is huge. I have never consented to being a lab rat.

But my disillusion has been born from other issues surrounding organics. I have never liked that organics have chased the money and followed the conventional market in lock step with imported, out of season foods. For all that might be saved without the “cides”, is negated by the fossil-fuels needs to grow and harvest on a mega scale, truck, ship and train the food all over the plant. And if the food is out of season, no worries, it’s summer someplace all the time.

And today, when I discovered that Certified Organic fruit and vegetables are disinfected with chlorine or another approved chemical, I feel I am nearing the end of a tortured relationship. I am not going to throw the Certified Organic chlorinated lettuce out with the e.Coli, but this has really forced me to gear-up my game. Next summer I am going to start growing our food with a passion and energy I have not exerted.

The Journey Continues: Where do We go from here


New Barbados Blackbelly lamb: A good omen.

Well, it is true! We have officially downsized all the animals here at Windkist Ranch. We are blessed to have found good homes for everything we gave away. Now what? Well, I have been taking an Organic Vegetable Production course from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It is my understanding that they are considering a Bachelor’s Degree in Sustainable Farming, fully online. When I was searching for a course that would give me the farming skills needed to produce a large amount of winter feed for our animals, this was the only US course I found online. I was hesitant, having spent the past year and a wad of money on two locally offered Permaculture classes and I the fact that I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped for, given the price. But I took a chance and I can’t say enough about the quality of work and assignments; the professional, experienced instructors; and the amount of details and depth of material covered. It is a 3-credit college course, after all.

Now, instead of stumbling along once again, this course has shortened the learning curve and given us some valuable knowledge to move forward with. the Spring of 2014, we are going to plant a cover crop on about 5 acres, using a no-till approach. We are looking for simple farming implements that we can pull with our 1947 Ford 8N tractor or possible a mule. The no-till system will be perfect for our windy conditions and the brittle, fragile environment of our Rocky Mountain tundra. Assuming the cover crop grow, we will plant turnips, mammoth beets and barley in the Spring of 2015 and put in a few more acres of cover crop. We have a 1/4 acre kitchen garden, which I have had varied success with over the years. But between the Permaculture and the UMass course that garden should be provide a cornucopia of food from now on. I’m already eyeing more Ball jars, never a bad problem to have, is it?

Root vegetables and grains that can be dry-farmed will meet all of our animals winter needs. The roots, along with their tops, will provide nutrients and variety to our sheep, pigs, dairy cows and ducks. The barley can be ground or sprouted and fed to all of these animals too. And mixing them in the cold, harsh winter will provide our animals so much more than meeting their feed needs, it will provide them with variety and comfort. 

To get this process going we took soils samples and water samples to a lab in Alamosa. In a few days we will have the results that we can then use to make seed selection that most closely matches our conditions. To be truly sustainable, we must grow seeds that will survive in our soil conditions with the minimal amount of amendments. Formulating a plan was a big step and new we are off and running.


The View of Mt. Democrat from Windkist Ranch

Mt Dem

It won’t be long now until all of the Mosquito Range will be covered with snow and beautiful like this picture of Mt. Democrat.  This summer has gone by, far too quickly, with too many things left undo.

Anyone that has studied basic biology has probably learned about the four stages a butterfly goes through on its way to maturity. A butterfly starts out as an egg that hatches into a larva that we recognize as a caterpillar. The larva becomes a pupa or chrysalis and finally a beautiful butterfly emerges and flies away. Within this metamorphosis is a message for us in how we live and grow throughout our human lives.
We also begin our lives as a humble egg that grows into a child. Over the course of time children grow into adulthood but for many of us that is where the transformation ends. We understand the responsibilities and duties of being an adult, but many of us never enter the chrysalis stage. We all go through the motions without much introspection of our life, our contribution or our purpose to the greater good. We wrongly think that because we are grown up and have the ability to reproduce we are butterflies. It is impossible to become a butterfly without going through the chrysalis stage.
When I decided to change my life I didn’t  realize I was still in the larva or caterpillar stage. I had a wonderful education, a Masters degree; a job I liked; family all around me. At the time it seemed a perfect picture. I wanted to move and challenge myself to try something new, but I didn’t understand a new live would give way to a new me, my butterfly self. Americans have so many external forces setting benchmarks that determine when we have realized our fullest potential. These touchstones of self identification include the car we drive, the neighborhood we live in and the income we earn. In America there are three classes of people: the haves, the have-nots and the pretenders. The vast majority of Americans fall into the pretender’s category as we desperately try to buy our way clear of the have-nots. Debt is not prosperity.
What is needed in our lives is the honesty and clarity only revealed through the insight gained during the chrysalis stage. Henry David Thoreau underwent his chrysalis stage at Walden Pond where he discovered a truer meaning to life and the depth of purpose we are all called to if we have the ears to hear. Arguable Thoreau had less external distractions than any of us do today, so simplifying his life and refocusing his future may have been an easier undertaking, but the need for us to find our true butterfly self has never been greater. We cannot continue on our current paths as blind consumers, workaholics and material dreamers.
The time for introspection in now. The time for clarity is now. To change tomorrow, we must change ourselves today.