What qualifies me to call myself Farmer Hal?
Maybe the fact that my father (then past 50 years old) bought a 58 acre farm in the Middletown Valley of Frederick County, provides me with some limited experience. He was well known doctor in suburban Washington, before becoming a gentleman farmer. He was, however, dependent on help and assistance of his farm neighbors. He repaid this help by renting them the fields and barn at subsistence rates, and on occasion provided medical services (like stabilizing his neighbor on more than one occasion during heart attacks and getting him to the emergency room). This was a happy trade off for the time the farmer pulled his car out of the pond with his tractor when it slid off his driveway in the middle of an ice storm.
My father was not only a great doctor, but an accomplished gardener. His garden was about a half acre and he planted a variety of vegetables including over 100 tomato plants, ending up canning over 200 quarts of juice, whole fruit and a variety of stewed sauces. He and his buddy often asked if this was how Campbell’s started. While I did not live with my parents when they moved to the farm, all of the family gathered for weekends, birthdays and holidays at the farm added many memories. I learned beekeeping, gardening, canning, and a lot more.
Over the years I have kept bees and chickens on a 26,000 s.f. suburban residential lot. We have also had gardens everywhere we lived. I love to cook, so the next step is to grow my own food. Over the last few years I have consumed a wide variety of books on self-sufficiency, solar energy, farming, beekeeping, gardening, brewing, and raising cattle, goats, chickens, pigs, rabbits, etc.
Since I purchased the farm, I joined PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) and Future Harvest – CASA (Chesapeake Association for Sustainable Agriculture). I have taken half a dozen educational offerings on everything from small agricultural equipment, to starting an orchard from scratch, and preparation of custom processed meats. I have a plan, but am I a farmer?
According to Joel Salatin, author of “You Can Farm”-among other how to farm books-at 65 years old, I am older than the average farmer in America and not likely to succeed at farming, because of the physically demanding work is too much for a man of my age. I disagree and despite the fact that when I told my family (two sons, x-wife and four sisters and brother-in-laws) that I was buying a farm, they thought I was crazy. They did not realize in was a secret diet plan.
I suspect that you just went through whiplash, how is buying a farm a secret diet plan? My love of food, combined with over thirty years of high pressure work as a commercial real estate appraiser, sitting long hours at a computer to write narrative appraisal reports, and then going home each night to a couch and TV, led me to grow to a whopping 333 lbs on my six feet tall frame. Not a good situation. I am happy to report that between June 2011 and September 2012, I have lost over 70 pounds. This is roughly $2,800 a pound base on the acquisition cost. Joel was correct that the work is demanding, but my endurance has increased each month and I keep chairs scattered around the property in case I need to sit. I also converted a flatbed wagon to a mobile harvesting seat that I scoot along the rows picking tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peppers. I purchased a median sized tractor to cut the pasture, move bails of hay, run the orchard sprayer, haul rocks, auger post holes, and split logs. I also purchased a skid loader, to move the two to four feet of manure left in the paddock and barn (all of it went on the garden), which helps to explain the size of the sunflowers (nine feet), cabbages (some of which were over 10 lbs), and the size of the weeds. Is Joel correct, or will I succeed? Time will tell, but my success is dependent on supplying superior products at competitive prices, which have to be supported by customers like you. So come by and visit, and check in for updates on the diet (I hope to get the cost to below $1,400 a pound).