March 1, 2008

17th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Lambing will begin in another month. We keep a few sheep for trimming the yard around the buildings and machinery. Not only makes the place look a lot better but reduces the fire hazard and supplies us with all the lamb chops we can eat. Too bad their wool is unprofitable - doesn’t even cover the cost of shearing. Maybe that will change when the price of petroleum based synthetic fibers rises due to oil shortages.

Automatic Self-fueling Lawnmowers

Current Rant:

Can’t understand the apparent complacency about imminent global food shortages. Actually, I don’t think it is so much complacency as it is ignorance of the facts. And that is equally puzzling in light of the abundance of publicity being given to the food situation on the internet, magazines and newspapers...the internet in particular.

Could it be a case of not wanting to know – disbelief – denial? I suspect that it’s just a matter of disinterest. Doom and gloom subjects are not popular, they are not sexy, they might cause one to think...and that’s not fun.

But it’s not just the average Joe Blow that needs to wake up. Our political leaders seem to be equally unaware of what’s going on all around them. When global food inventories are reaching historical low levels and crop failures are rampant in much of the world (Australia and China for example) our government officials choose to promote the use of food grains for biofuel production. Brilliant leadership!

I predict that a year from now we will see starvation in Asia and Africa on an unprecedented scale – and, thanks in part to the brilliant leadership of our governments, there are no stocks of grain in reserve to relieve the crisis.

17th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

Planning Stage

Our first decision was to continue farming just as we are for as long as possible. Then, once we had roughed out an overall plan and identified some obvious changes that would have to be made, we got down to the specifics. In our initial discussions it became obvious that, being reasonably competent at walking and chewing gum simultaneously, we should be able to make more than one change concurrently.

As with many major changes that one faces in life, there is often a “lead time” factor that must be taken into account. In the changes that we contemplated there were a number of things that involved varying amounts of lead time. For example, if new facilities have to be built and made ready for use by the time they are needed, the amount of time required to build them obviously must be factored in. In other words, in planning for such things, one has to establish some kind of schedule of priorities to make sure the plan is workable. Seems obvious enough, but since it is such a critical part of planning, it should be mentioned.

In order to finance some of things that we will need to buy, without dipping into our current operating funds, we decided that it may become necessary to sell certain assets in order to raise additional cash. Those assets could be either land, machinery or livestock.

As we plan to continue business as usual for as long as possible, we will need all of our present machinery, so we will not be selling any right away. Rather, if it should become necessary, we could sell one quarter-section of land and/or downsize our herd by about twenty five percent. By so doing we estimated there would be from fifty to seventy five thousand dollars in our "transition start-up-fund". This should be adequate to cover the initial expenses.

If it becomes clear that our worst fears are inevitable, we will commit ourselves totally to the carefully worked out plan. Until that time we plan to stay in a kind of holding pattern — continuing to farm as usual while gearing our daily decisions to the possibility that radical changes might be necessary at any time. Hopefully the clues will not be too obscure.

For the sake of brevity, I have coined a couple of acronyms that appear throughout the book. They are: “BS”, for Basic Survival and “SALT”, for Sustainable Agriculture - Long Term . Basic Survival is defined as a bare subsistence lifestyle where everything must be done by manual- or animal-power alone — although I suspect some might apply the more common interpretation of the acronym BS. In contrast, the SALT lifestyle could be anything from fully mechanized to labour intensive, depending upon the severity of the shortage of gas and oil ― the keyword here being Sustainable. I define Sustainable as: Perpetual agricultural production without exhausting natural resources or causing ecological damage.

Once we are convinced that the time has come to make our move, everything from that point onward will be geared toward survival, both BS and SALT.

To be continued next time…

17th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from

Our First Home…

Our combined income was around fifty dollars per week. The apartment cost us forty five dollars per month, which we felt was money foolishly spent, so we started looking for a house of our own. The first plan was to buy a lot somewhere and build a house. Then one day, while driving home from work, I noticed a for sale sign on a small house about half way home. I told

Betty about it and the next weekend we went to look at it.
It was a rather small house, much in need of repairs, but we both liked its possibilities right from the start. On the positive side, there was a half acre of land with a dozen or more old walnut trees scattered about. But the best thing was the price…thirty five hundred dollars. The negative things were entirely related to its location. The property was surrounded by a major highway on the north, a very busy railway on the south and the landing pattern for the Portland International Airport overhead. To top it off, just beyond the railroad was the Columbia River, with all its river traffic. Tug boats towing huge log rafts, fishing boats, pleasure boats, barges, dredges, and even a an occasional naval vessel plied the river constantly. It was a noisy place to say the least, but it became our home—a home we called 'Ells Half Acre'.

The first of our babies arrived in the spring of 1949. Lynn…since changed to Lynne…was born on March 14, 1949. Guy was born August 16, 1950, Jim January 10, 1953, John December 3, 1956, Frank April 15, 1958, and Bill October 14, 1960. Betty was an excellent mother. Her pregnancies were not easy but she never complained. She loved to cook and sew. She worked very hard. We had a good life…busy but happy.

Thankfully, I had sense enough to quit smoking shortly after Guy was born. The difficulty I had in breaking the disgusting habit has been repaid many fold by the knowledge that I was no longer guilty of exposing my family to the dangers of second hand smoke. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any parent, that presumably loves their kids, would deliberately endanger their health.

Anyway, as new babies arrived, it became apparent that our little house was too small…so we decided to build on to it. Taking a second loan didn't seem like a very good idea, but since building materials cost money and we didn't want the remodelling work to stretch on for years, we started looking for a means of building without going into debt.

During the war years, hundreds of temporary apartments were built by the government to house shipyard and other war industries workers. Thousands of people were recruited from all over America to work in these industries. Two of the largest housing projects were located within twenty miles of our place. After the war, these buildings were no longer needed and they were becoming slum areas as well. Most of the buildings were still in fairly new condition but they were unattractive and crowded together. The housing commission decided that they should all be torn down and the land made available for other purposes.

I went to the housing commission and found that they were offering deals that I could not resist. I suppose I was greedy, as well as inexperienced, but I made a deal on a six-apartment unit. It was a two story building about a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, which had housed six families during the war. There were a hundred or more identical buildings in the project, wooden structures built on concrete slabs. The lumber in them was top grade and in excellent condition. Being six-plex buildings…each with three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room…there was enough material in each building to construct two or more conventional houses.

The deal was very simple: Make a two hundred and twenty five dollar deposit and have the entire building removed, down to the concrete slab and the area cleaned up within sixty days. If the job was done on time, and passed inspection, the deposit would be returned, otherwise it would be forfeited. There was an awful lot of material to be had in exchange for a bit of sweat.

By the time the salvaging was finished, there was very little of our half acre that wasn't covered with building materials. The garage was filled with sinks, toilets, windows, sheet rock, pipe fittings, and electrical fixtures. The yard and driveway was piled high with lumber, brick and concrete blocks. There was hardly room to walk.

Betty took it upon herself to pull nails, sort the lumber and pile it in neat piles. It was dirty hard work, but she really enjoyed it. She worked just as hard at her job as I did at mine, and just as long hours. It was a tough but happy time for both of us. With so much material on hand, the amount of remodelling we could do was almost unlimited. In addition to remodelling and enlarging the house, we built a new garage, a workshop, a greenhouse, and a chicken house…and still sold enough surplus materials to more than cover the cost of small amount of new materials needed for these projects. The salvage job was completed on time so our deposit was refunded in full.

Meanwhile, family activities went on. One by one the kids started school and became involved in swimming lessons, cub scouts, and fishing. There were the usual childhood illnesses and accidents. John broke his foot at age three while 'helping' his mother pull nails. Frank had a couple of corrective eye operations. Betty had a tubule pregnancy that nearly cost her life. We took family vacations to the mountains, beaches and rain forests. We went to the local drive-in theatre on Friday nights and played cards at Betty's mother's place on Saturday nights and visited my folks on Sundays. We built a swimming pool, landscaped our yard, raised chickens and rabbits, had a huge garden and all the other things that families do. We built a boat. We went camping and fishing. And, we accumulated an enormous amount of 'stuff'. It was a great life and we were happy.

To be continued next time…

17th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from


Deforestation is the deliberate removal of trees by human activities. It has been going on for thousands of years, mainly as a result of clearing land for commercial and industrial development, intensive collection of firewood, clearing of land for cropping and developing pasture for grazing animals.

At the present time the major concern is for the extraordinary loss of tropical rainforests, one fifth of which were destroyed between 1960 and 1990. Estimates of deforestation of tropical forest for the 1990s range from 21,478 square miles to 46,332 square miles, or approximately 30 million acres each year. To put that into context, Canada's total cultivated acreage has remained fairly constant at approximately 168 million acres for a number of years. So, at the present rate of deforestation of the earth's tropical forests, every five and a half years the earth loses the equivalent of all of the cultivated land in Canada.

The slash-and-burn type of agriculture practiced in the rainforest area is an extreme example of deforestation. Forests are cleared and the trees and debris burned. Crops are planted in very thin soil with low organic matter content. The meager organic matter is quickly used up and the soil becomes subject to erosion, thereby causing huge amounts of sediment to be washed into the lakes and rivers.

The clearing of land for agricultural purposes and the international demand for tropical timber are the main contributors to deforestation. As long as we, the so-called developed nations of the world, continue our demand for tropical lumber for our fancy furniture and beautiful interior home decorative purposes, the tropical forests will continue to be decimated.

The story has been told so many times, by people much more knowledgeable than myself, that there is little point in repeating it. But, in fairness to the people of the developing countries, let's at least be honest about who is to blame. We are guilty of having done, and continuing to do, the same thing in our country that we so piously criticize others for.

To be continued next time…

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Have a warm day…


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