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…

I would like to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…

Have a warm day…


February 25, 2008

15th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Ever since our well went dry, several years ago, we’ve had to haul potable water for household use. It’s a weekly chore…takes about 200 liters per week for drinking, cooking and showering, the toilets are piped to the dugout which waters the cattle. Until recently we had to haul from Athabasca…about a 25 mile round trip. Now that purified water has been piped from Athabasca to our little village of Colinton, the round trip has been reduced to 8 miles.

This is a picture of Guy loading up in Colinton’s new coin-operated pumping station.

Hauling Water

Current Rant:

This business of bottled drinking water bugs me. Everywhere you go you see people packing a bottle of water. It would make sense if they were crossing the Sahara Desert but in a country where purified water is piped into just about every residence and business establishment it seems a tad foolish, to say the least. It seems that it has become a status symbol…”See how health conscious I am”, or some such foolishness.

The fact is that, in North America, the standards for tap water are often higher than for bottled water. Rather than spend a buck and a half for a bottle of water that was transported halfway across the country, or imported from Scandinavia for Pete’s sake, it would be more practical to at least re-fill your water bottle from the nearest tap. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what some bottled water companies have been found to be doing.

Save your bottled water money and pay off your credit card debt…tough times are coming.

15th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

A Brief History Of Our Farm

Our farm is located in central Alberta, Canada. The climate can be quite severe at times. You can count on having a few days of thirty-below temperatures just about every winter, but in general it is quite suitable for farming. The annual precipitation averages around twenty inches, an adequate amount for dry-land farming provided the bulk of it comes when it is most useful. The frost-free period is approximately a hundred days long on average, but over the forty odd years that we have lived here we’ve seen both frost and snow in every month of the year.

My oldest son, Guy, and I have been farming together since 1962. Starting with a five quarter-section mixed enterprise operation, the farm has evolved into a ten-quarter cow/calf beef enterprise. Our only crops are hay and pasture. We use little or no commercial fertilizers and no chemical herbicides or insecticides. All of the livestock manure is returned to the fields.

When we first started farming, our land was classified as marginally suitable for agriculture. The native top soil averages under four inches deep. The land is very rocky, with stones ranging from baseball size up to pickup-truck size. Over the years, by means of crop rotation, manure application and hundreds of hours of rock removal, the cultivated fields have been greatly improved in productivity. We now have just over eight hundred acres of arable land and about the same in native and improved pasture. Although we are not registered "organic farmers", for all intents and purposes that description best fits our system of management.

At the present time we have a breeding herd of approximately two hundred Limosin and cross-bred beef cattle. The cows are bred to start calving in early April, when the worst of winter is generally behind us. The calves are weaned and shipped in late September. We raise all of our fodder and pasture but buy some supplemental grain-based feed for the replacement heifers. The pasture season starts around the first of June and ends with the first killing frost, usually mid-September, so we have to feed hay for eight to nine months of the year.
It takes from six to seven twelve-hundred pound bales of hay for each mature animal, which works out to about four tons each.

The reality is that winter dominates everything we do — even in those three or four months between winters, the bulk of our time is spent preparing for the next winter. Around here a year is described as, “Nine months of winter followed by three months of poor sledding”, or “We have two seasons ― winter and the Forth of July” .

Over the years we have acquired a full line of haying and tillage machinery. We also have land clearing, rock removal and manure handling machinery. The only custom work we hire is cattle hauling, when we ship our calves and cull the herd in the fall.

We are debt free and have been for more than a decade. Our annual operating expenses are approximately fifty thousand dollars and we normally have two to three years operating funds in the bank.

When we took over our farm back in 1962, the land was actually in terrible shape but I was too inexperienced to realize it. The previous owner had farmed the place since 1927, the year of my birth. He had homesteaded the home quarter, which made him the first person since the beginning of time to have cultivated that specific 160 acres of North America. Consequently, the condition of the land, when it passed from his hands, was solely the result of his farming practices.

Now, I'm not accusing the man of wilful mismanagement and he certainly wasn't an ignorant man. In fact, he was a school teacher by profession. He must have realized that his method of farming was destroying, or at least degrading, the soil (he hinted as much after we had purchased his farm). I'm sure he did the best he could under the circumstances and I'm equally sure that he would have liked to have done better. But by using the machinery that was available and the farming practices that prevailed at the time, the results were inevitable.

The farm had been operated as a grain farm for thirty five years with very limited, if any, diversification. The only domesticated livestock that ever set foot on the farm were a few hogs, a couple of milk cows, a team of horses and a flock of chickens and turkeys. The horses were the primary source of power until tractors came along late in his farming career. The cows supplied his family with milk and meat but, being such a small part of his farming enterprise, they did not require enough forage to justify raising hay on a scale that warranted any kind of crop rotation. Most of the hay for his cows and horses came from natural meadows on his own land or nearby public land. The hogs and turkeys were raised primarily to consume grain — the principle product of the farm.

With such an operation there was obviously very little manure generated, certainly too little to justify the effort, machinery and expense of spreading it on the grain fields. To make matters worse, the straw from the grain crops, aside from a small amount that was fed to the horses or used as bedding for the cows and pigs, was either burned or left in stacks in the fields where the grain had been thrashed. One of the first things we did, when we took over the farm, was burn old straw stacks because they were a nuisance to cultivate around. There were dozens of them and burning was the only practical way to get rid of them.

In defense of the previous owner, and other farmers of his generation, I want to point out that there was little incentive to maintain the fertility of the soil. As a matter of fact, there was, and still is, a disincentive in the form of short term gain. It must be understood that those people were barely able to eke out a living, often from marginally productive land, using labour intensive methods. The very limited income from such enterprises often barely covered expenses. What little profit there was had to be frugally budgeted between family expenses, machinery replacement, debt payments, and all the other expenses associated with farming.

The incentive to maximize immediate profits, as a trade off for long term depletion of soil fertility, was very strong — a variation of the old "bird-in-the-hand" philosophy. Besides, many of their generation were soon to retire, so there was little incentive for them to change their ways at such a late date. "Let the next generation shoulder the burden and expense of restoring the land's productivity", seemed to have been the prevailing philosophy.

A bit of clarification is called for at this point. In the short term it is both costly and difficult to switch to sustainable farming practices once the soil has been severely depleted of organic matter, the primary damage in this case. First of all, Mother Nature, in her attempt to restore the soils productivity, makes sure that something grows, if at all possible. Unfortunately weeds tend to thrive where cultivated crops do not.

The weeds that do well in our area are Canada Thistle, Stink Weed, Sow Thistle, Dandelions, Plantain, Wild Oats, Tansy, Chamomile, to mention a few. A field left uncultivated, even though the soil's organic matter has been severely depleted, will produce prodigious quantities of these odious plants and the soil soon becomes polluted with their seeds.

Obviously weeds also do very well in healthy soil, as any gardener knows. But, as any gardener also knows, if the soil is healthy the cultivated plants are able to compete much better with the weeds than they otherwise could.

Once the soil has reached a certain level of degradation, restoring it to health, while trying to derive a living from it at the same time, is difficult, to say the least. In our case, it took approximately twenty years to nurse our soil back to a reasonably productive condition. It took about the same length of time to get rid of our worst weed — Wild Oats.

Our first crop was a disaster. As soon as it emerged from the ground it was evident that the soil was polluted with weed seeds — wild oats in particular. Within a week of emergence the fields resembled lawns more than grain fields. Wild oats grew so thickly that they even choked themselves out, turning yellow in their competition for soil nutrients. Unusually wet weather compounded the problem. Within a month the grain was stunted beyond belief. It was a miserable looking crop. My visions of a bountiful harvest turned to worry and embarrassment.

By the way, with regard to the wretched wild oat, the cockroach of field-crop weeds in my opinion, it is a very interesting plant. It is a survivor, if nothing else. One reason for this trait lies in its ability to "plant its self" — literally. The seeds are designed in such a way that they can actually "dig" their way into the soil. The wild oat seed has a little hairy doohicky, shaped like a grasshoppers hind leg, which reacts to the sun's energy in a way that causes it to kick back and forth and cover its self with soil. Really!

Anyway, some forty-plus years later, as a result of crop rotations and diversified farming enterprises, our land is almost totally free of wild oats, and, with the exception of Dandelions in the hay fields and Stink Weed in the grain crops, the weed problem is almost non-existent. Bear in mind that this was all done without the use of herbicides. The only herbicides ever used on Ells Farms are for brush control in the fence lines and spot spraying of Tansy in the pastures. With the exception of our first year on the farm — when we were informed by the local municipal weed control officer that we would either have to spray our fields with herbicides or the county would do it for us and bill us for the costs — not one drop of herbicide has since been used on any of our field crops.

Furthermore, very little synthetic fertilizer has been used. On average, about once every four or five years, we top-dress some of our hay land with a nitrogen fertilizer (34-0-0) at the rate of about a hundred and fifty pounds per acre. Other than that, the only fertilizer used is the manure from the cattle and crop residues incorporated back into the soil.

I am proud to say that our land is now in much better condition than it was, even in its virgin state. The organic matter has been restored and is maintained at a level which has virtually eliminated erosion — another serious problem when we first took over the farm — and its water retention capacity makes maximum use our twenty-inch average annual rainfall. These are some of the reasons why I feel qualified to give advise on soil restoration. I know from personal experience that it can be done.

Since we took over the farm, there has never been a mouldboard plough in any of our fields. We use chisel- and disk-type implements exclusively for tillage and the age-old system of broadcast seeding for planting. The seeding system, which we have used very successfully for the past forty years, consists of a medium sized tractor pulling a spin-type fertilizer spreader. This small outfit seeds twenty feet per round at a speed of ten miles per hour, or approximately twenty acres per hour. Since we only seed grain one year out of four, and only then as a companion-crop with a mixture of forage seed, the grain and grass seed are mixed together as they are loaded into the spreader. The spreader holds enough seed for fifty acres.

After broadcasting the seed, the field is harrowed and then rolled with a ten-ton land roller, in two separate operations. The total time per acre seeded is approximately one quarter of a man-hour (three minutes per acre to seed plus one and a half minutes per acre to harrow and ten minutes per acre to roll). Our yields are comparable to those of farmers who have a much larger investment in seeding equipment. For example, oat yields in excess of one hundred bushels per acre — bearing in mind that we use neither chemical fertilizers nor herbicides.

A side benefit of using a broadcast seeder is that we don’t have to clean the seed. It goes straight into the seeder as it comes from the combine — a few bits of straw, leaves and other foreign matter are not a problem with a broadcast seeder.

But this kind of farming is not impressive. It does not appeal to the hot-shot grain farmers who yearn to be the envy of their peers, as well as the most prized customers of the machinery dealers. "What fools we mortals be."

With that background on the past and present conditions of the specific farm which the rest of the book deals with, I will now get on with the main subject of this book: Preparing ourselves to farm without cheap and abundant oil and natural gas products.

To be continued next time…

15th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from

Flying At Last…

At that time the government sponsored an education plan, under a program called the G.I. Bill of Rights, which entitled veterans to grants for educational purposes. The plan basically covered the cost of one year of school for each year in the military. Since I only had seventeen months in the army, the plan would only have covered my college expenses for about a year and a half.

I figured there wasn't much use in starting school if I didn't have sufficient money or the prospects of finishing were not good. The truth is…I really wasn't sure of what I wanted to do, although I had thought some about becoming an architect. No one in my family had ever gone to college before. I had saved a little money while in the army, but had spent most of it already. There were no student loans available in those days and the folks certainly couldn't afford to pay for my education…even if I would have permitted them to.

But college wasn't the only thing that was covered by the G.I. Bill. Among other things, it could also be used for flying lessons. There was a time limit in which you had to start school to be eligible for the government grant. As I recall, you had to enrol in an approved course within two years of being discharged. Anyway, rather than loose the benefits of the G.I. Bill altogether, my friend, Gene Nelson, and I decided to use up our education entitlements on flying lessons.

In order to qualify for a pilot license you had to pass a physical examination. My old nemesis had loomed up again, but this time the exam could be made by any medical doctor. With my past experiences in mind, I went to my doctors office with some trepidation. As usual, the only thing he found wrong was my high blood pressure. He knew how often I had been disappointed by failed physicals in the past and I suspect he also knew the psychological effect of those past failures. After pointing out that I would probably never be able to get a commercial pilots license, he signed the forms, giving me a clean bill of health.

The training consisted of ground school and flight training. The flying lessons were from a half hour to a couple of hours in length. We trained in single-engine land planes. After eight hours of dual training with an instructor, the student was eligible for his first solo flight. The landing strip was just a grass runway in a former cow pasture. At one end there was a high tension power line and tall Fir trees at the other end. Dropping down behind that power line was a bit intimidating at first but it was good training for emergency landing situations. Ward Grove, the owner of the airport, as well as one of my instructors, had actually landed a plane between the goal posts of a football field, as a half-time stunt…which took a bit more skill than landing between power lines and fir trees on a runway at least three times as long.

I qualified for my first solo flight on schedule. It proved to be an uneventful flight but unforgettable nevertheless. Ward had shot a couple landings with me as a final check out before soloing. As we taxied toward the hangers after the second landing, he had me stop and as he got out said, “Looks like you’re ready to shoot a couple by yourself.”, then grinned and walked away.

That was a moment of truth, a rare moment in life never to be forgotten. As I taxied to the end of the runway, all alone for the first time, my mind was racing through the pre-flight checklist. There was no feeling of panic…just a high state of exhilaration and total concentration. After checking the controls once again and making a final check for incoming aircraft, I taxied onto the runway. The hours of practice took over as I revved the engine and released the brakes. As the plane started rolling I thought to myself, as I had done many times before when in tense situations, “This is no big deal…thousands of people have done it before you. Just don’t do anything stupid.”

It seemed that the plane accelerated more quickly than usual and used up less runway to get up to flying speed. Leaving the ground smoothly, I climbed to the proper altitude and made the left turn of the take off pattern. Still climbing, in preparation for making another left turn onto the landing pattern, it dawned on me that the reason that the plane had accelerated faster and was now climbing faster was because it was a hundred and eighty pounds lighter since Ward got out. While flying along the landing pattern, before making my final approach, I reminded myself to compensate for this loss of weight when landing.

Pulling the throttle lever back to half throttle to start my descent and lined up on the runway. In order to clear the power lines, without using up too much of the runway, it was necessary to lose altitude quickly by side-slipping the aircraft. Luckily I had thought about the plane being lighter than usual and compensated by side-slipping a bit more than usual. After touching the wheels down to a decent landing I pushed the throttle full forward and took off again, much relieved that the landing had been okay.

As I taxied back to the hangers, after making the second landing, I was pleased that it had gone well and tried to look cool while preparing myself for the good-natured harassing I was about to receive.
During our training, we made a couple cross-country flights, both dual and solo, but most of our time was spent practising in our own locality. More time was spent shooting landings than anything else but we also practised aerobatics…looping, stalling, et cetera. I really enjoyed flying but knew that there was no hope of a career for me there. After getting my pilots license, I used up the remaining hours of government sponsored flying time, by taking friends for rides or just fooling around by myself. Since it cost twelve dollars per hour to rent a plane, I couldn't afford to fly after the government funds ran out, so that was the end of my flying experience. It was nothing like my dreams of being a fighter pilot, but at least I had experienced the satisfaction of beating the odds to a very limited degree.

To be continued next time…

15th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:
(The book is available from

Summing Up…

Somehow, in this age of greed and self indulgence, we have lost our sense of what is important and what is not. Our standard of living is the highest in human history, but at an unconscionable cost to the environment and natural resources. We capriciously consume and waste the resources of coming generations at an obscene rate. We are more concerned about our own immediate comfort and amusement than we are about the future of our progeny.

It's taken us a couple hundred years to screw up the environment to its present condition. Repairing the damage will likely take a lot longer, if indeed it is even possible at this eleventh hour. What we have done to our descendant's planet is amoral, if not criminal. We have looted and spoiled natures perfection in our selfish pursuit of the good life. We not only owe our progeny an apology…we should beg their forgiveness. But, forgiven or not, the very least we should do is start repairing the damage we have done.

But I seriously doubt that we will do much for a while because it's our nature to procrastinate and, besides, we're having too much fun. It's our nature, as well, to assume that the unidentified "they" are responsible…therefore "they" must fix it. Wrong! We let it happen therefore We should fix it!

It's also our nature to assume that the bright boys—scientists, engineers, politicians, inventors—will save our bacon somehow. We assume these smart guys will find alternate energy sources before we burn that last barrel of oil. They will develop a chemical-resistant microbe that will make our burned out soil well again and maybe even permit us to use more chemicals to produce even more surplus commodities. They will invent a water purification system that will allow us to continue dumping the shit of civilization into our rivers and oceans and get away with it. And, they will pass new legislation to correct the unforeseen consequences of their past self-serving legislative mistakes—retroactively, one would hope.

Dream on! That's the kind of reasoning that got us into our present mess and it isn't likely to get us out. One of the signs of insanity is, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time".

I don't pretend to know much about the scientific, technological or political worlds, but from personal experience and observations, I have some ideas about what needs to be done as far as agriculture is concerned. For what they may be worth … here they are.

Agriculture must move toward more diversification. No, I'm not suggesting that we go back to the small family farms of the past—the nostalgic little storybook farm with a few chickens, a cow and a pig or two—that is obviously ridiculous and unworkable. What I do suggest is a gradual movement away from the large factory-type farming operations—the huge hog and chicken production plants and the enormous cattle feedlots—that have proven to be so environmentally harmful.

We should limit the concentration of animal populations to a size that the waste they produce can be absorbed beneficially by the farms in the nearby surrounding area. Smaller operations scattered throughout the country will not only make a more tolerable impact on nature but will also generate local ancillary employment. It could, for instance, encourage the construction of mid-sized meat processing facilities, which would also serve as a market outlet for the smaller local farmers. Mid-sized feed lots and farm factories should be located only where their waste byproducts can be absorbed efficiently and beneficially.

"But", some might protest, "that would be counter to the principle of efficiency of scale and would tend to reduce profitability!"

Probably … but the single-minded pursuit of profit—the almighty bottom line—at the expense of the environment, is exactly what got us into our present predicament. A greedy few have made fortunes at the expense of the environment, but only because of the complacency of the rest of us. Over a period of time, the farm has evolved from the nostalgic independent labor intensive family operation to the present day mechanized capital intensive subsidy dependent political nightmare. Efficiency has been stressed to the detriment of conservation. Return on investment is the focal point of management. Money has become the ultimate goal.

Aside from the guilt I feel for my personal part in creating this legacy of problems, which we are leaving for our kids to clean up, I'll likely not live to experience the real cost of our crimes against nature. But, on the other hand, my optimistic side tells me, "There's still hope …provided we come to our senses before it's too late."

To be continued next time…

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Have a warm day…