Traditional Countryside Skills in Chagford

Traditional Countryside Skills in Chagford

Chagfood's (the organic 'community supported agriculture' [CSA] scheme) manager Ed Hamer, is in the USA researching how small growers and CSAs there, use horses as part of their low impact growing. Chagfood already works with horses here in Chagford but this 5-week research trip will enhance the project.

Here's the first of Ed's blogs about his trip:

I arrived last Saturday into New York JFK airport hoping to get onto a train to Hudson (5 hours north) to collect a delapidated 4WD Subaru for my 4,500 mile road trip across the States. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find the lovely Annmarie from the Greenhorns waiting for me who took me briskly to a car hire company and rented me a brand new Hyundai for the job instead - which was nice! Despite my better judgement she also persuaded me to stay at her house in Broklyn for the night which was relatively painless for a Devon boy in a big, big, city....

On Sunday I left early and with the help of a TomTom I managed to negotiate my way out of the mother of all cities and find the interstate north and headed to the first farm on my trip; Natural Roots CSA in Conway Massachussettes ( The farm is run by David Fisher, his wife Anne & their two children Leroa & Gabriel. It is a self pick-up CSA that supplies vegetable shares for 250 people from seven acres of field-scale vegetable crops from June-December each year. I arrived on Sunday evening just as a severe winter storm was enveloping New England and saw two feet (65cm) of snow fall over the first night I was there.

David uses two teams of Comtois (Belgian) draft horses to cultivate and till his field vegetables and I was able to look at all of his equipment and talk to him in detail about how he has adapted and built his own tools over the years. He has been farming vegetables with horses for over 20 years and has perfected the art of foliar spraying his crops with micro-nutrients. One of the photos below shows his horse-drawn sprayer. The following day I was able to have a go using one of his teams with a large snow roller that's used to compact the paths and tracks around the farm to help get
around when the snow is so deep. The photo below shows me on the roller with his two children being towed behind on a sledge - it was perhaps the most fun I have ever had with a team of horses - yet.... The following photo shows a log cabin that David built in his woods that I was staying in.

On Tuesday we finally managed to dig my car out of the snow drifts & I headed three hours north west to Tuckaway farm in Lee, New Hampshire. Tuckaway is also a CSA supplying seasonal vegetable shares to 80 local families and is run by Dorn Cox who is the president of FarmHack - an online community for farmers & growers who build their own
appropriate tools and technology ( Dorn was a great host and took me to visit two other horse-powered farms nearby and helped me prepare for a FarmHack event we are holding at Ruskin Mill farm in Gloucestershire in April, however the highlight of the visit was meeting Dorn's dad - Chuck Cox who is pictured with is dog below. Chuck is a very active horse farmer despite being well into his 70's. He mainly uses a Pioneer Homesteader - like ours at Chagfood - and has built & adapted more than 10 separate tools that can be attached to the basic frame. He showed me around his tools for hours, talked to me at length about horse farming, CSA, FarmHack and the need for an agrarian renaissance, then he sang to me & I nearly cried....

After leaving Tuckaway I headed out to the east coast of Maine and took the freeway north for five hours out onto a small peninsula on the north-east freeboard called Penobscot island and Four Seasons Farm owned by Eliot Coleman & his wife Barbara Damrosch ( Eliot is a bit of a hero amongst a new generation of farmers having
written several books about the practicalities and politics of new organic
farming. Despite more snow falling and three foot snow drifts I was able to have a good look around the farm, and in particular his covered cropping systems. Eliot is also a pioneer of small-scale appropriate tools and I managed to have a go with many of his inventions including battery powered rotavators, salad harvesters and leaf spinners. I put in a good days work helping his numerous apprentices to get in the harvest for the local farmer's market and was rewarded in the evening with a wood-fired sauna on the edge of a frozen lake with a traditional sink hole through the ice afterwards!

I talked at length with Eliot about organic farming practice & politics and he was extremely interested to hear about the work of the Landworkers' Alliance in the UK. He also has a library of over 10,000 books on small-scale ecological farming which kept me occupied for some time and in which I discovered a quarterly magazine on land rights from America in the 1940's called "The Land"! I left Eliot's this morning to fill up on "gas" and was amazed to discover that petrol in the U.S. is currently under /gallon (£0.37p/litre) meaning I had just driven 800 miles for less than £25 - this is certainly the land of the free!

I have just arrived in Lebanon New Hampshire & met up with Severine with whom I'll be spending the next week or so. Tomorrow I'm travelling west to stay at Fable Farm which has its own micro cider and beer brewery and is run by an old friend of Chinnie's - Johnny Piana. He's just been in touch to tell me we're off tomorrow on a cross country skiing trip & grill.... obviously after a long day of hard work on the farm.... I'm afraid to say I'm starting to see the appeal of the real American dream!

Until next week...