NEWS & BLOG

Traditional Countryside Skills in Chagford

Traditional Countryside Skills in Chagford


Howdie Y'all,


I'm writing to you from outside Missoula, Montana, less than 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Since last Friday I have driven over 2,500 miles through ten separate states and across three time zones. This country is enormous! Fortunately I had some help, my good friend Reuben who works horses in Belgium flew out to meet me in Vermont last weekend and helped with the driving. We were on the road for 12 hours a day for four days straight but the novelty still hasn't worn off - there is so much to see.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to spend a day at Essex Farm (www.essexfarmcsa.com), a 400 acre CSA in upper New York state that supplies a whole diet share to 90 families a week. I spent the morning helping to get the shares into the packing shed and in the afternoon I was given a team of Belgian draft horses and an apprentice and went off logging in the woods. It was fantastic to get involved with a CSA on this scale and to see how they have gone about scaling-up their horse-drawn cultivation systems. We had great fun in the woods in the snow and ended up warming ourselves up by riding the horses back to their pasture as the sun was setting - a truly unforgettable experience. 

On Saturday I went to the NOFA Organic Farming conference at the University of Burlington in Vermont that was attended by several hundred farmers, growers and food & farming campaigners from across New England. I was selling The Land magazine on behalf of the Greenhorns and met hundreds of interesting people who had a lot to tell me about the differences between organic farming here in the U.S. and in Europe. I gave a talk in one of the sessions about what we do at Chagfood and the emerging CSA movement in the UK and even managed to attend a session on traditional farm worksongs where I learnt some classic New England ballads and shared some agricultural Devonshire folk songs. 

On Sunday morning I picked up Reuben and we began the great drive west. On Monday morning we stopped off at the Pioneer Factory in Dalton, Ohio, where we were shown around by a couple of very enthusiastic Amish chaps who were very excited to hear about us using the Homesteader in the UK and spent a long time looking at photos I had brought along of our horses and our bed systems. They invited us back for the Horse Progress days they hold each year and were very keen to keep in touch about ways they could adapt and improve the Homesteader for a European market. The highlight of the visit was watching an automated welding machine they have built - its not all brimmed hats and beards!

The rest of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent driving across the mid west grain belt. Although there wasn't any grain in the fields this time of year we got a good impression of incredible scale of production here. We also passed hundreds of abandoned homesteads, many of which we stopped to look at, highlighting that not so long ago there was a thriving agrarian culture here that has been replaced all too quickly by seas of maize and soya beans.

We arrived in Missoula on Wednesday afternoon an hour before I had to give a talk at the university of Montana. We met some great people at the university and were invited back to stay with some horse-powered farmers just north of the town. We arrived late at night and were blown away when we woke up in the morning and looked out of the window to see several 8,000ft snow covered mountains rising up from the fields behind the house. Yesterday we were taken on a tour of several Amish farms in the valley where we were taken in by the Amish community and shown a massive range of tools, horses, harness and equipment. I had a go with several teams of horses, mostly big Percherons out in the fields and even had a chance to drive a traditional Amish buggy on the roads! I've bought a hat and decided to grow a beard, though I'm still not convinced I could find enough work for 10 children. 

Today we drive west again to Walla Walla on the western edge of the Rocky mountains and, believe it or not, another horse-powered farm http://www.welcometablefarm.com/. Next week its all about the west coast and Washington & Oregon states which, I've been told everywhere, is the most beautiful scenery in the country...

Until next week.. y'all take care now..