Thursday, December 3, 2009

why farming is so messy:

These are not my words, “A farm is a lot like a lover, there is no template to follow, you can’t change every thing at once, it is a lot of give and take, and getting to know one another”. Joe from Love is Love Farm, an organic veggie farm in Dalton GA, said that. Both of us acquired our farms about the same time two plus years ago. Joe is a dear friend of mine and a talented farmer. When he said that, it really resonated with me. There is no Coffee Farming for Dummies for me to read, and if there was it would have to be a few thousand pages long. After two plus years of effort this project is only starting to take a personality. I like who it is becoming. And to keep the relationship analogy alive, the novelty has completely worn off. I’m committed and it isn’t always fun. I used to love talking about it with everyone. Now it is just something I do. I used to feel cool wiring money to the DR. I used to feel cool buying phone cards in bulk at this place that gave me a discount. I used to feel cool just walking the farm. I used to like cooking with firewood. Our honeymoon is over.


Now that my "cash cow" named Employment with Counter Culture Coffee has died, I'm in a position to invest more in the farm. There is a much better chance that I will get closer to profitability with the increased attention on the farm. With the more attention that is focused on the farm, I'm open to new ideas and advice. Per usual, it comes rushing in, but I usually have to filter all of it and most of the advice doesn't apply to my farm. Let me explain.


In an industry that makes widgets, production problems are solved by buying new machinery or hardware. The cogs in the system are replaceable. Industrialization is effective because the whole operation fits like a puzzle. With city utilities one can build the same puzzle just about anywhere. And when you loose a puzzle piece, you can buy a new one. And your results are usually seen immediately or at least quickly.


I was recently talking to a man from Mexico who's family owns a coffee farm. His silver bullet advice for my lack of intermediate shade: papaya. I'd never seen or thought of papaya as a way to provide intermediate shade and income. Beautiful thought, but papaya doesn't grow in my region. I can count on one hand the number of papaya trees that I've seen in Los Frios.


If the farm was in the the low valley and shared the same water source, soil type, weather and aspect as neighbors, then I could just copy my neighbors. I tried one bit of advice to use pigeon peas as an intermediate shade tree and nitrogen fixer. Pigeon peas do well in Los Frios as long as the soil is rather loose. When I told Antonio about the idea he didn't think it was such a bright idea. We planted pigeon peas last year, most didn't germinate because of the soil on the farm is dark and dense. Those that did germinate were cut down in the following cleaning.


The point of this post is an attempt to illustrate the uniqueness of each farm especially in the mountains. Farmers have to plant what will thrive in their micro climate.



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