Farm News

The Wealth Beneath Us

digging holes for planting

Fall is settling in and around the farm now. Brad has built our first fire. I’ve had the pleasure of working in the fields on several autumnal afternoons and hearing the ‘trilling – honks’ of the first Sandhill Cranes passing overhead. It’s become a tradition – every year now I look skyward and call out, “Have a safe trip!”

Yes, the days are slowing and the nights are seeping further into the mornings and evenings. The chickens are discarding their summer outfits and channeling their energy into growing a winter coat of down and thick fresh feathers. Even my beloved weeds are in decline now.

October is a transition time, a time of preparation and of decisions. We drain water lines and clean out barn gutters. We make the hard choice to end the life of the plants that have fed us so unfailingly all summer, through heat and insects and even browsing deer. We take down and put away trellis supports and tools. We seed cover crops, wait expectantly for the right weather and hope for ‘not-too-much’ soil moisture to put out our garlic.

The rhythms of a decade of farm life have become familiar to me, while the anxiety of an entrepreneur’s start-up phase—of ‘so many business unknowns’—has receded. My shift in attitude is not to be mistaken for complacency. Already, Brad and I are discussing varieties, crop sequences and other improvements for the coming year. For me, the joy is truly one of refinement and innovation.

The joy is in the discovery, in the trial beds, in new crop rotations, in the first ripening of our young fruit trees. The joy is envisioning and then literally putting my hands to work. Every shift, in some way, moves our farm toward better, more thoughtful systems that support the health of farmer, plants, livestock and land.

This ‘tinkering’ restorer’s spirit of mine? It is most definitely genetic. Oct 1st marked my grandfather’s 94th birthday. W. O. Jones celebrated with his annual tractor drive. An antique tractor restorer held in the highest regard, Grandpa Jones, along with family members and his tractor club cronies, drive a procession of two cylinder tractors for several miles in a loop that starts and ends at his home. This year there were 25 tractors. It’s quite an event for the little Indiana town he’s lived in for just about seven decades.

As I travel around Ridgefield I think of the changes I’ve seen in our “little town” just over the last three decades. I think about both the blessings and challenges of living in a community which is experiencing substantial growth. Our little town is now a growing city and the rolling fields surrounding it are increasingly valued for housing. In one Farmer’s humble opinion, this is a shortsighted waste of our most precious natural resource: irreplaceably rich soil.

I read and hear of many farmers across our country who struggle to grow food in harsh climates that contain scare resources- places with poor to no topsoil, places with not enough water, places with contaminated land that cannot grow healthy food. Ridgefield is incredibly fortunate. In fact, I would argue that Ridgefield has some of the finest soils and climate for producing food in our entire nation.

The native abundance of our locale has endowed us with the irreplaceable building blocks to support a robust, stable food system. Astoundingly, we have a true economical asset that happens also to be of great beauty; it troubles me deeply to watch such wealth scraped up by bulldozer and hauled off like trash from more and more parcels.

We as a community are foolish to waste this gift. We are shortsighted not to value and protect the asset at our feet in a way that, no different than compounding interest, will support our health and wealth year after year. Unlike thousands of other communities, Ridgefield actually has the resources (soil, water and climate wealth) to sustain the necessary food infrastructure for our residents.

Just as we set aside lands for roads, water treatment facilities, power generation and distribution, schools, parks and community facilities, we need to allocate space and soil to produce food for our citizens.

Not all of us need become farmers to learn to value the riches at our feet. But we all need to learn to see food production as a basic right, a right that any forward-thinking community protects and ensures for its residents.

As the rain soaks our fields this October, Brad and I are thinking deeply about our place in the community. While we select seeds for spring planting, while we cut firewood and mull over machinery improvements, while we store away onions and pick apples, we continue to imagine the wonderful possibilities. In my tinkering, restorer’s way, I am holding out hope. For in my heart, I can envision a Ridgefield that has revitalized its proud food and farming culture, one that treats our incredibly priceless soil with reverence. Maybe then I too, at age 94, could have the pleasure of a birthday tractor drive. ~AJ


“What is soil? Soil is basic to life. It is made up of rocks, minerals, roots, insects, small animals, bacteria and other living and dead materials. It is an association or community of all these parts. Man’s primary needs of food, shelter and clothing come from the soil.” — 1969 Clark County, Washington Soil Conservation Service Brochure

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