Notes from Windward: #69

Tilling the Goat Pen

reflection on machines

     One of the key steps we need to fully close the loop on many of our integrated systems is growing the feed for the creatures that play a critical role for the entire system. For example, the hay and alfalfa for the goats that produce milk and manure and the sheep that produce wool and manure. In the summer the animals can graze on grass and forage to their delight, but in the winter, when the snow covers the ground, we still need to provide them with food. In the long term, we are planning on developing an intensive grazing rotation in the pasture, but that first requires bringing on-line the solar irrigation system. In the mean-time, we are beginning to familiarize ourselves with the process of growing animal feeds on a smaller scale, closer in to our core area of operation. Last season, we lost most of the seeded triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) to peacocks. So far this spring, the peacocks haven’t shown up, so maybe we will have more success with this year’s planting.

after the first pass with the rototiller

     One of the obvious challenges that we are attempting to overcome here at Windward is the loss of traditional knowledge systems that have been passed down through generations, well, for I don’t know how many generations. For example, how to properly preserve the summer bounty for the chilly winter, how to care for the animals that provide us with nutrients (eggs and milk), warmth (wool) and help maintain soil fertility (manure), how to make useful goods from the resources that grow abundantly in the forest.

     Through time, as resourceful individuals have created new technologies and equipment that make daily tasks a little easier, safer or more enjoyable, the knowledge of how to use and maintain these helpful tools is passed on through the generations-—or at least it should be. Yet as the younger generations (including my generation of twenty-somethings) become more and more divorced from the systems that sustain us and give us life, we also become less aware of what knowledge systems are critical to maintaining a certain lifestyle, and what knowledge systems are critical in creating a lifestyle that can be sustained and can nourish us indefinitely through time.

     Perhaps agriculture and animal husbandry are some of the obvious knowledge systems that we need to preserve. But what about the skills necessary to maintain and rebuild engines? Or the knowledge base necessary to build (not just buy) energy production systems that produce electricity and fuel from abundant natural resources (e.g. sunlight and biomass) and recycled materials? I’d imagine that when most people think of “sustainability”, engine mechanics and physical chemistry are not the first sets of knowledge bases that come to mind—but these skills are fundamental to developing any sort of renewable energy production system.

     I have heard many suggest that we can just do without electricity, and engines and all the gizmos they support in this search for a lifestyle that can be sustained and can deeply nourish. I’d agree that many of the gadgets and gizmos in modern life can own us, monopolizing our time, adding clutter and chaos instead of creating more freedom and flexibility. Greatly simplifying would go a long way towards easing the mind and the human impact on this planet. Yet to intentionally abandon some basic technologies that improve our ability to bring forth, support and celebrate new life or even to indirectly abandon them by not learning the knowledge systems that enable us to maintain and create these technologies is, at least to me, to let go of a great gift granted to us by generations that have come before.

     As a society, we have an opportunity now, at this necessary point of transition from a consumer society towards a nourishing one, to pick and choose which technologies enable the communities that we want to create, which technologies support the endeavor to live rightly and to nourish life. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

     It would have been possible to till the lower goat pen for triticale by hand as we did with the garden terraces; instead we used a rotatiller. Doing the job by hand would have taken a few afternoon work parties with many hands doing the work. But using the rototiller, it took me less than an hour to do it by myself, freeing up that time for others to continue working on other necessary projects.

      Tilling by hand is actually preferred in many scenarios as you can better control soil compaction and disturbance of the soil horizons, but when you reach a certain scale (even with a small community-scale food system), appropriate machines such as a rotatiller make the work much, much easier. At Windward we were afforded this choice not simply because Windward owns a rotatiller, but because Walt is able to maintain and repair it—not a trivial feat, nor one to take for granted. Without the skills or knowledge base to fix a faulty engine, such a piece of equipment is of little use in deep country.

[Walt: thanks for the kind words, Lindsay. It's not enough to have the requisite tools; one has to have the tools needed to maintain those tools. Having a good repair shop allows us to restore and reuse all sorts of equipment that we otherwise couldn't afford to buy new.]

     Tools and equipment, machines and engines, all of which I consider types of technology, and also the knowledge systems that support them, provide an opportunity for us to utilize resources at hand to enable us to live fulfilling lives—allowing Windward as a community to further develop and enhance its mission and at the same time allowing individuals to spend more time doing what they truly love to do rather than spending the day doing just what needs to get done.

      We can reclaim technology and utilize it to make our lives more enjoyable, to create a lifestyle that we believe is worth sustaining.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69