Category Archives: Sustainability

Zinzendorf 2.0

In a world increasingly defined by its crises, it is time for a radical shift back to an old approach to Christian community. The 21st Century has barely begun and already we are confronted with a growing plethora of complex challenges that must be overcome. The global economy that has defined much of world politics over the last 100 years appears to be increasing in instability. The ecology of the planet is increasingly taxed by unsustainable human practices, some of which could very well bring in the devastating effects of droughts and famines. Technology has allowed for great leaps forward in human wickedness, including the massive growth of the pornography and sex trafficking industries. In addition, here in these United States, the political situation is rapidly increasing in instability since our government has broken loose from its Constitutional moorings and has been careening wildly towards Federally imposed tyranny limiting free speech, freedom of religion, and the other freedoms American’s claim to hold dear. In the midst of all these difficulties the Church of Jesus Christ, as a body called out to serve their fellow man and seek and save the lost, has an incredible opportunity to take the lead in resolving these difficulties.

From its inception, this blog has been about Faith, Sustainability, and Liberty. The idea that follows is still in the rough, it needs refining and tempering, but above all it needs people of God to be willing to make radical changes in obedience to Him. What follows represents Thetonedeafbard’s total solution to the crises that are converging around us. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment or sending me an email at thetonedeafbard@gmail.com

That this shift is definitely necessary needs to be made clear, but effort has been taken to not overly dwell on the problem. The following is a brief summary of the problems looming on the horizon of the 21st Century, details of each issue are abundantly available from other sources.

The Problems
As this post is rather long, those well acquainted with the difficulties I mentioned in the first paragraph may skip this section.

First and foremost, the Western Church is facing a crisis. Much of it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to young people, while simultaneously many churches are selling out core Christian values and in the process giving up any influence they had left. Even good churches struggle to accomplish their Biblical role because their members aren’t really doing life together. Even for those who are still truly following Christ, it has become increasingly difficult for their worship not to be crammed into one of several compartments in their lives. At the end of the day, Christianity must be communal to survive in an increasingly antagonistic post modern culture, and right now it just isn’t.

Simultaneously, the Global Church is experiencing a massive transition. The success of Christian Mission in reaching the unreached, while not complete, has seen massive success. So much so that the West no longer makes up the majority of the Christian world. Western influence is still very strong, but will likely begin to wane in the near future, as our Majority World brethren take more and more responsibility. In the meantime, there are still thousands of unreached people groups perishing without the Gospel. The Church needs to make a concerted effort to make a functional hand off of this task, before the Western Church drops of the scene more completely.

Industrial agriculture is failing. All the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetic tampering, monoculture, etc. is beginning to take effect. The global food supply is increasingly vulnerable to disease and an increasingly unstable climate. In particular soil degradation and deforestation are taking a heavy toll, causing decreased crop yields, alterations in weather patterns, drought, failure of the soil to retain moisture, increased plant disease, aquifer depletion, and a whole host of other environmental issues. Our expensive fossil fuel based inputs are yielding more and more diminishing returns. Sooner or later, as yields decrease and soil depletes industrial agriculture will no longer be able to feed the earth’s growing population.

Our cheap energy era has also come with tragic human consequences. Urbanization and industrialization, while allowing some to reach levels of prosperity never before imagined, have also created massive pockets of urban poverty. In many of these pockets people are unable to meet their own basic needs for food, water, shelter, healthcare, hygiene, etc. Those living in these areas are suffering from daily deprivations, and are also more prone to exploitation such as that by the global sex trafficking industry. The Church of Jesus Christ has a Biblical command to meet these physical needs while introducing the Savior. At this time we have seen great strides towards relieving this suffering, but what is needed most deeply is a cultural shift that will address the larger problems causing poverty and suffering.

Exacerbating all the problems listed above is the increasing risk of economic collapse at the hands of rogue nations. The United States has led the way in treading a path towards tyranny and economic slavery. Americans are losing more and more of the liberty they cherish, while supporting a military industrial take over of the rest of the world spearheaded by super corporations. The tragic results are that, while even American’s who have more traditional ability to defend themselves against the rise of authoritarianism are giving up their liberty, those in the rest of the world with less resources are also paying the price for our negligence. As the cost of all of this government increases, the entire globally connected economy is facing increased threat of hyperinflation and collapse. Since this is happening simultaneously to these other global issues, the entire world could face massive amounts of suffering and loss simultaneously as much of what we have thought of as civilization risks passing away.

With a series of issues of this proportion and level of interconnectedness, a giant game of whack-a-mole isn’t going to work. These solutions call for a concentrated solution that will address all of the dangers and suffering that are happening now and are yet to come. The good news is, that solution has already been found. There is a historically validated answer to the current situation, that can be implemented today.

A Historical Solution

Count Nicolaus Zenzendorf and the Moravians provide one of the most fascinating expressions of Christian community available. While not historically well known in many circles, the Moravian community continues to have a disproportionate historical impact. The Moravian community launched the Protestants into world mission well ahead of the “Father of Modern Missions” William Carey. Their community life influenced the thoughts and practices of both John Wesley and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even now there are churches all over the world who originally received the Gospel through the ongoing ministry of the early Moravian missionaries.

The Moravian Brethren were originally from a variety of theological backgrounds that were being persecuted in other parts of Europe. Count Zinzendorf provided them with shelter and allowed them to form a community on his estate. When theological infighting grew intense, Zinzendorf decided he had better take a more active role in the community. He sat down with the various community leaders and they studied the Scriptures continually until the issues were resolved. What came out was not a unified doctrinal statement in the traditional sense, but instead a set of standards for Christian living in community. Over time this deliberate practice of Christian community in sharing of the word and life together developed into a mission sending community the world has not really seen the like of since.

With an emphasis on practical skill development such as agriculture or various useful trades, the Moravians went forth equipped to provide for their physical needs while physically serving those to whom they went. They went forth with a passion for Christ so deep that several literally sold themselves into slavery to reach unreached African slaves. A survey of the modern mission movement, and how disproportionately it has been touched by this small community of brothers and sisters, gives us a great deal of insight into the effectiveness of doing life and mission in intentional community.

The temptation when looking at such an effectual community as that of the Moravians is to think that such a place must have been a historical anomaly. The fact of the matter is though, it has long standing in the classical Christian tradition. Eusebius records communities such as this one as early as the first century, and while it is not entirely clear, the Acts gives us some clear indicators that the New Testament Church was living in a very communal setting as well. All the way through the medieval period, and even today in the Roman Catholic church, the monastic tradition emphasized life together as a means to know God and serve man better. The trouble with discussing the monastic movement, for the purpose of this conversation, is that many today focus on how withdrawn members of the monastic movement were from daily life so much that they fail to see the innumerable acts of intentional mission performed within it. Suffice it to say, that the Moravians provide an excellent example to work with, provided it is recognized that they stood on the shoulders of others and did not represent some entirely new idea.

The New Moravians
The question then is: How could such intentional living impact the difficulties faced by the Church today? This kind of intentional living comes with an impact that has the power to reverse a great many of the problems faced today. What follows will be a brief outline of the impact of a return to Christian community in the Church today.

Many of the problems faced in the Church, especially the western churches, stem from a lack of true Christian community. Despite being active members of local churches, regularly attending services, and even partaking in a plethora of church related activities, many Christians are not in anyway getting the kind of community required for a vital Christian faith. Biblical Christianity cannot be had apart from Biblical community. This is why we are a called out body of believers, not merely called out individuals. The Christian life can simply not be attained without Christian fellowship.

This is particularly true when we are talking about purity and relevance. Purity cannot be maintained in the face of a hostile post-modern society without a community for support. Even if a theoretical individual had the will not to give into perceived social pressures, the ability to recognize the numerous areas where ground had already been given would be absent. Only in community can individuals see the dangerous flaws in the societies they have grown up in and then actively reject those flaws through their actions. This is a process, it doesn’t happen over night; but it can’t even begin if there apart from a group of people doing life together.

Without community, Christianity is also largely irrelevant. The Gospel was written for communities, not individuals. The command to love one another only applies if there are others to love. How can the transforming power of the Gospel be modeled before a broken world, unless radical disciples submit themselves fully to the life together. When Christian interaction is limited to intentional times of worship and fellowship and then each believer goes back into a largely secularized environment, what is put on display? Nothing more than the actions of a single individual. However, when a body of people do life together in a way that reflects the love of Christ in them, then their individual witnesses joins together into a compelling case to a different kind of life – a life in Christ. Separated Christians have very little opportunity to impact the world around them, but in intentional community whole communities, and even nations, can be transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Not only is intentional community required for basic Christian life in purity and relevance, it is also vital to the Christian mission. The Moravians successfully sent a disproportionate number of laborers into the harvest field largely because they had the community support structure to do it. There was a community to hold accountable each individual to the call of God to the nations, but there was also community in place to insure that each individual was equipped and supported in living out that call. No one left for the fields unsure of who would be upholding them in prayer 24 hours a day. In a time when the global leadership of the church must transition, nothing can be more unifying or missional than moving back towards this kind of intentional life together. As the majority world church rises to influence, now is the time to insure that the Church moves forward rooted in solid community, rather than empty times of fellowship.

This isn’t simply a matter of transitioning to a better form of Christian community while we transition to new leadership. Moving towards more intentional community will also make this transition more smooth and effective. The Western Church has gained a tremendous amount of insight, through experience, over the years into how to Biblically and effectively reach the unreached. As much of this knowledge as possible needs to be shared with our brothers and sisters around the world as quickly as possible, so that they can begin to fulfill their role in the mission of God. Unfortunately most Western education structures, among them colleges and seminaries, are not very compatible with the majority world church. Even if they were more compatible, they have often proved to be a barrier to those headed toward full time Christian service. The model Jesus provides for us, and that the Moravians displayed so well for us, is that of the life together. The disciples experiences with Jesus were ultimately the base of their entire ministry in the book of Acts. In the NKJV, Acts 4:13 says of the Pharisees “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” It was this act of doing life together that resulted in the Apostles missional effectiveness and understanding of the Gospel. Life together takes education and information sharing out of the classroom where it is theoretical and out to the streets where it is practical. Not only is this a more effective tool for teaching and equipping God’s people, it is also universally applicable in all cultures because community life is defined by those who live it.

At this point it is clear that community, as modeled for us by Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, has a powerful impact on Christian living, but what about some of the other 21st Century issues in discussion? In an age where our agriculture system is such clear trouble, there has been a growing movement of people “back to the land” who are focused on subjects like self sufficiency. The reality is, there is no such thing. The success of our ancestors in living sustainably off the land was rooted firmly in community not individualism. That said, if a dedicated community chooses to radically focus on Permaculture as a sustainable design system, it can live in a way that not only protects the community itself from the growing list of short comings of our current system, but that, whether urban or rural, also protects the larger community around it. The ability to design and work together in restoring natural patterns of design in the land, provides the ultimate opportunity for communities to live out the already present positive alternatives to our failing industrial model.

This kind of sustainable living together also answers the questions posed by urban poverty and suffering. Focusing on sustainable food production and high quality community healthcare that combines modern knowledge with natural patterns allows us to not only alleviate the suffering of the poor in the short term, but also to educate poverty out existence by modeling a better way forward. Hands on education that demonstrates the success of those who practice it can cause the whole economics of poverty to be abolished. Especially where we are talking about greening the food deserts and equipping people with the ability to meet their own basic needs. This is especially true when intentional Christian communities make the choice to set up in the heart of poverty blighted urban centers. The end result of this change not only removes poverty, but also makes impossible the all to uncommon exploitation of the poor that is too common today.

Finally solid communities doing life together in a way that is sustainable by design to the glory of Christ are not only hedged from the destructive effects of sin and temptation, but also from global economic uncertainty and the growing push towards statism. How this ecological liberty impacts poverty and redefines local economies has already been discussed, all that needs to be added is that this redefinition removes those local areas from the chaos of global markets by bringing all of the most important economic needs of the community back within the community. When all of these needs are met locally, communities are not so adversely impacted by the larger scale economic problems we face.

Community also lies at the root of solving our problems with the push towards Federal control of everything. First, it reverses the push to honor the state as though it were God through dependency, instead asserting the value of each member of the community to assist in living sustainably before God. Second, in community, those who love their God given liberty can more effectively work to protect it. Since small, self sustaining communities are already economically fairly autonomous and free, they are much less susceptible to being bullied by the State. With so much of the aggressive tyranny happening at the local level, replacing local governments with deliberately free communities puts a stop its growth. Not only that, but the kind of community being discussed here also sets forward a model for free living that can continue regardless of what happens in the country as a whole.

Intentional communal living then is a key tool for educating and equipping the church to carry out its essential mission. In addition, it is the key to sustainable living on this planet and will assuage and shelter against the suffering present and coming in our nation and world. It should be a great comfort that this has been done successfully before, and, while perhaps not being done as completely as discussed here, is being done successfully even in our times. It is time for the Church to make a concentrated effort to return to vital Christian communities, communities that heal people and the earth they inhabit.

The Next Zinzendorf

Only one thing is lacking. The leadership necessary to begin implementing and calling for this change needs to emerge. The Moravian community was successful to a large degree because of the passion and commitment of Count Zinzendorf to the success of Christian community. In a day in age where much of the Church has moved far away from such principles of community, it will take strong leadership to return to it. The call and push towards effective community is urgent and time is moving quickly.

Would the next Count Zinzendorf please stand up?

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Does Climate Change Really Matter?

One of the great, most politicized debates of our time is whether or not the Earth’s climate is changing. Many have claimed scientific consensus that the planet is warming, while many, including scientists still remain skeptical. The corollary question of “What do we do if it is changing?” has unleashed a whole host of government regulations and controls.

The truth is, the whole debate is completely irrelevant. How can a topic that has potential to so greatly affect the lives of all the people on this planet be irrelevant? There are two reasons.

First, the ecological damage the planet has sustained through soil erosion and poor agricultural practices is so severe that we are in extraordinary danger, regardless of the climate change issue. In addition our “improvement” efforts over the last century or so, have caused dangerous climate change at the local level. The straightening of the Mississippi River for example has left us with a devastating flooding problem. Soil erosion, however, should remain our top priority. Monoculture based, chemical intensive, industrial agriculture is destroying our soil at a ridiculous rate. One report I saw recently said we are now losing 200 tons of soil per acre on acreage turned over to the 5 main food crops traded on the stock market, soy, wheat, maize, rice, and potatoes. This is totally unsustainable, and has resulted in a situation where maintaining our current production requires more energy, chemical, and water input each year. Sooner or later this loss of soil is going to result in a catastrophic failure of our agricultural system, when it does we will see massive food shortages. In a period of extreme global famine, I don’t think there will be tremendous concern whether the earth warms or cools.

The second issue is where the good news begins to come in. The key point is that the solution to our soil loss problem will also reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere that is blamed for climate change. When we return to healthy food production processes, through careful application of the design principles of permaculture, and a restoration to normal, local food production systems, we can begin rebuilding soil, but we also begin returning carbon back into the soil. According to Joel Salatin, a move to perennial based, high efficiency grazing, if done only in the United States would sequester all of the carbon emissions since the industrial revolution, in as few as 10 years. This methodology also builds soil at a faster rate than the environment can normally do on its own. In addition, permaculture systems can produce vastly more nutritious food per acre than industrial systems, allowing us to reduce the distance food travels to the table, and allowing us to return a lot of the acreage of forests we destroyed for farm land back to sustainable forestry.

This fix is a total package. It not only heals the land in the micro space, but it also meets human need in a way that fixes the larger issues facing our planet, assuming climate change is real.

The news gets better! This is not a large scale solution that requires massive government regulation and the loss of liberty, instead this a solution that can be carried out by individuals and communities at the smallest scales imaginable. Only as more and more small scale answers are found will the large scale problems be repaired.

International Permaculture Day 2013

Today is celebrated throughout the Permaculture community as “International Permaculture Day”. To be honest I have no idea who made the decision to celebrate May 6 as International Permaculture Day, when that decision was made, or what the motivation was behind it; but I figured this would be a great day for a discussion about permaculture, as well as an important announcement.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept permaculture is the idea of permanent culture, based on permanent agriculture. Rather than treating mankind as either the dominant force on the planet with full rights to exploit resources as he pleases, or as a force for evil that is always destroying things, permaculture harmonizes the relationship between man and creation and works to form systems that are beneficial to all parties involved.

When humans use their intellectual prowess to design systems that mimic natural cycles, but provide for mankind’s needs, as well as the needs of the soil, water, animal life, etc; we can become a force for improving and stewarding the earth’s resources. This is done at the miniature level, through the actions of individuals, as well as at the larger level through community.

Permaculture, presents an answer to many of the problems we face today, by creating sustainable systems that can preserve individuals and communities through even the toughest times. The key is in working with nature an not against it.

Personally I see tremendous value in the use of this system and methodology, not just in solving the environmental and agricultural problems we face today, but also in solving some of the deep cultural wounds that our modern culture suffers from. Returning to our proper role as stewards in the created order has a natural effect of bringing us closer in relationship to the creator. Permaculture systems should play a vital role in the future of Christian mission as, much like the Gospel itself, they strive to solve the whole of the problem and not just part of it.

For an amazing look at how a mature permaculture system works check out this article and video of Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm.

In closing I need to make an important announcement. In continuing to pursue the path God has for my family, I have enrolled in a 72 hour, 9 week Permaculture Design Certificate Course with Geoff Lawton. Balancing that with time with my family, and care for my Mini Farm, is going to take quite a bit of work. As such my posts will probably become less frequent until the course is over at the end of August. I doubt I will be able to stop writing altogether, since it is important to keeping me sane, but I will have to slow down. Thank you so much for your support and for keeping up with my blog!

A Revolution in Miniature

In light of the overwhelming list of problems faced by these United States today, it is very easy for lovers of liberty everywhere to feel discouraged, and even depressed about the cause of liberty. With the constant barrage of executive orders, Federal regulations, Federal laws, State laws, etc. encroaching on our rights as a free people. It is difficult for a single individual to feel they have any power.

The most politically involved persons might attend a bunch of rallies, and campaign aggressively for certain candidates. When nothing happens, especially in attempts at electing a better President, the result tends to be exhaustion and fatigue from over involvement. I mean lets just be real here, Mitt Romney was, in many different ways, a substantially more dangerous enemy to American liberty than Barak Obama. Continuing to be real, we are not going to elect a Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, or Virgil Goode anytime soon. The simple fact is, people just don’t have a clear enough understanding of what is going on in our country. Most Americans still think this is some sort of battle between the right and left or some such thing.

So let me be clear, no matter what they tell you, the vast majority of elections don’t have consequences. The two candidates who actually have a shot at the job never vary substantially from one another. Don’t get discouraged just yet though. There is a solution to this whole mess that most people aren’t talking about. Protests, rallies, elections, fund raisers, lawsuits, etc. don’t work because we are foolishly choosing to play the game according to the rules set down by those already in power.

In order to set America right again, what is actually needed is a miniature revolution. We will never reset the nation as a whole, until we reset it one small part at a time.

We must begin by changing the one thing we have the most control over: OURSELVES.

The Revolution in Miniature begins in our own hearts and homes. America MUST move back to God if she is going to be saved. How does that happen? Can we legislate it? No, we need men and women of faith who boldly bring the presence of God into everything that they do.

Begin by restoring your own Faith, and remember America was founded on Christian principles because it was ALREADY a Christian nation, no because we can some how legislate Christianity into the government:

We talk about how “they” took prayer “out” of our public school system. The truth is they really didn’t need to, because it was already gone. Even now, as we protest the removal of prayer, how often do we pray in our homes? Are you praying each night with your children? Your spouse? Do you set aside a personal prayer time each day?

Godliness has largely been removed from the public square. Is this the governments fault? I would suggest instead that the reason our society as a whole lacks godly behavior is because we the church have failed to live in a holy and godly way. There is no godliness on display in the church house, and consequently neither is there any in the White House, the State house, or on television.

Even as we complain that they are removing the 10 Commandments from public display, along with other crosses and Christian symbols, are we asking ourselves how often we actually read the Scriptures we claim to base our lives on? We need a return to the Word, and not just the reading of it but full obedience to its commands. If we are living lives obedient to the Word then all through the United States there will be Christian symbols and crosses on display in the lives of men and women who have taken up their cross daily for all the world to see.

Then begin to restore your Liberty:

We need a mindset change, we talk like we want less government but we live like we want more. Get rid of the belief that we “need” the government to do this or that. Instead recognize that “We the People” can take care of any crisis the nation faces. We don’t need the government to solve the economic problems, for example, we just need them to stay out of our way.

Read up on the founding documents of this nation. At bear minimum read: Declaration Of Independence, Constitution Of The United States Of America, Bill Of Rights And Constitutional Amendments, The Federalist Papers, Anti-Federalist Papers, and Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England so that you’ll have at least a basic understanding of the worldview that our Founding Fathers were working from when they wrote the Constitution. Most of these are available free. Sometime soon I’ll post a page with a public domain reading list for Patriots.

One key to restoring your liberty, and part of the reason I am suggesting this extensive reading list, is that more likely than not you believe things about our government system that are not true. If you are confused about any of the following you need to relearn American law:
* These United States are a Constitutional Republic, NOT a Democracy. Democracy was, in fact, considered by our Founding Fathers to be the worst and most tyrannical form of government
* Liberty is a God-Given Right, which the government has no right to seize or encroach upon except by due process when you have violated the rights of someone else.
* The Constitution cannot be annulled or abridged by any part of the Federal government either by law or treaty because the Federal government does not have the authority to do so. If they claim such authority THEY ARE BREAKING THE LAW.
* An unconstitutional law is unconstitutional from the moment of its passing, and according to long standing principles of American jurisprudence is never law. We do not have to wait for a court to tell us what is an isn’t Constitutional.
* Juries maintain the power to acquit a guilty party regardless of the law, if they hold the law to be unconstitutional or unjust.
* States maintain the power to nullify unconstitutional commands of the Federal government and reject them as law over their citizens.
* The County Sheriff ought to be the greatest champion of liberty you vote for. He is vested with full Constitutional authority to block the enforcement of unjust and unconstitutional laws within your county.

Just like we have to completely repent of our sin and turn back towards God and holiness to take back our faith, we need to change in order to take our liberty back as well. The use of the government to enforce a law against a neighbor or some other group of people in this country, constitutes the threat of lethal force. For this reason the law, and the sword of government, should ONLY be used in situations where lethal force is fully justified. This means the governments sole job should be the protection of the people from foreign enemies and criminals.

In addition, to take back your liberty means taking back things we gave away:

Take back the right to educate your children in godliness and liberty by homeschooling them if at all possible.

Take back your home economy, and economic freedom, by completely getting rid of all debt and establishing various forms of cottage industry to produce useful items for your friends and family.

Take back the right to feed yourself by feeding your family by the work of your own hands.

Which leads to a personal revolution in Sustainability:

Ask yourself how much do I depend on outside sources for my income, food, security, etc? The time is long past come to move back to a point where you only rely on trustworthy sources for the things you need most: Divine Providence, hard work, your own ingenuity, close friends and family, a community of believers (Church), etc.

Learn to provide at least food for yourself through gardening, keeping chickens, rabbits, bees, etc. If you have more property graduate up to larger stock like goats, sheep, maybe even cows.

To be honest in all of these areas there is probably going to be a need to vote with your feet. At bear minimum to live a life of Faith, Liberty, and Sustainability you will likely need to move out of the city. Urban areas consistently damage all 3 of these areas. In addition you should consider how much freedom your state actually allows you to have, it is great to believe in the 10th amendment, but if your home state is as tyrannical as the Federal government then it is probably time to move. If you move in state consider trying to find a state with a Constitutional Sheriff already in place, if you can’t find one work with others to elect one.

Once the revolution is begun in your heart, then and only then, is it time to begin to expand it. Bring in close friends and members of your extended family and help them realize why you are doing the things you are doing. Reteach the truths of our Faith, Liberty, and the need for a new focus on Sustainability. Meet frequently together to pray, and to encourage each other and hold one another accountable in pursuing life change. Then bring in your local pastors if at all possible, remember the American Revolution was largely the result of fervent preaching. Work together to try and form your own community, possibly even moving to a town small enough that you will be the new majority and reinstituting the concepts of Constitutional law by greatly reducing the legal load of the town. Then seek to spread this Revolution in Miniature to the County level by electing a Constitutional Sheriff, and good county commissioners, start with the Sheriff.

In gradually moving forward until we refound one county at a time, things will not always be easy, but we will see progress. We will peacefully retake our liberty, even if we can’t take it for our neighbors. The despair of being powerless goes away, when we recognize that the first change needs to take place in our life, and then in those immediately around us. It is in starting at the bottom and working up that we can actually see positive change in this country.

Chicken Tractors!

I finally managed to finish the chicken tractors this weekend, what started as a Saturday project ended up eating the better part of 3 weekends but these things happen. The design is entirely my own, I’ll go into more of the details as I go along.

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the concept of a chicken tractor (Europeans typically call them arcs). The idea is to place the birds in a space that meets their needs for green forage for one day, then they are moved each day to fresh forage.

There are a couple of advantages to doing things this way compared to other methods of keeping chickens. With a traditional coop, any grass in the chickens run is typically gone within the first couple of weeks, after this if you feed them fresh greens they will have to be cut and hauled in. In addition, because they are moved daily, chicken tractors don’t generate a bad odor, which is often the case for more traditional coop designs.

The tractor also provides protection from the elements and from predators, whereas birds who are free-ranged, while they get plenty of fresh forage, don’t have this level of protection. This is particularly helpful for smaller flocks where the loss of even one bird is pretty devastating. The tractors are also helpful for people, such as myself, who are involved in urban or suburban agriculture. The neighbors after all wouldn’t appreciate having chickens running crazy in their yard.

The tractor gives me an aesthetically pleasing way to keep the chickens exactly where I want them. For more details read Chicken Tractor

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I patterned these tractors to look like a miniature version of a little red barn. As you can see they are accessible on both sides via the doors. This makes it relatively easy to access them to get the eggs out, feed, and water. We have been getting 8 eggs a day so far, which is pretty impressive since we only have 8 birds. As you can tell from my post “Mini Farming”, the hens are very glad to get fresh greens everyday instead of every few days.

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Inside I have chosen to use plastic crates for nesting boxes. I love to use them because they are cheap, easy to find, and have a variety of functions around the farm. Versatility is a must for small scale, low acreage operation.

The waterers are kind of special so I’ll mention them here. This is a new design I encountered when I picked up my chickens. I was unhappy with traditional designs because they tend to get dirty very, very quickly and in our hot summer time weather that can be a dangerous thing for the birds. These waterers are built using poultry nipples which the birds peck from below. Each time they peck at it they get water. Because the water is enclosed in the 5 gallon bucket it stays fresh and clean. These systems are also cheaper on price point, a five gallon traditional style waterer costs $35 or so. I got a set of 5 poultry nipples for only $9 and the bucket was free. You could probably get the bucket for $5 though if you didn’t already have one. These are also super easy to make. All you do is drill a 5/16 in hole in the bottom of the bucket, wrap the threads of the nipple in plumbers tape and then use a drill and an 11mm socket to screw it into the hole. It might have taken me 5 minutes total.
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These tractors have been customized for Alabama’s incredibly hot summers. The birds will need lots of shade come summer, so I brought the sides all the way to the ground on two sides and left the front and back open. I will face these east-west so that the birds get plenty of morning and afternoon light but are well shaded in the heat of the day. The heat is also why I put in the roof vent, which you can see is screened with poultry wire.
For anyone interested in building something along this design, most aspects of the build were relatively easy. I bought all the materials new and it ended up costing me about $150 or so each.
If anyone wants more details I’d be happy to share more information on how I built these. Just email me or leave me a comment.

The Bard’s Book Reviews: The One Straw Revolution

Hat tip to JB for suggesting this great read!

The One-Straw Revolution, written by Masanobu Fukuoka the father of “natural farming” or “do nothing farming” reads like a treatise on the philosophy behind permaculture.

Let me begin by saying the book is most definitely influenced by Bhuddist and eastern metaphysics, particularly the view that everything represents an integrated system and that mankind cannot improve upon this system but should instead strive to be in harmony with it. While these philosophical roots will occasionally fly in the face of the Christian worldview, the book is still worth the read for a variety of reasons:

I am deeply concerned by the level of compartmentalization in American and other western cultures today. Particularly in agriculture this compartmentalization is very dangerous as it is largely responsible for our industrial, monoculture based system. While Fukuoka probably goes to far the other way, his influence deeply helps Western readers to be pulled back to a healthy middle ground n this issue.

In addition this book provides a beautiful philosophy of permaculture both I. Terms of the good of mankind and of the earth, while pointing to some of the dangers of an overly scientific approach. All of this is wrapped in fascinating narrative with neat first hand accounts of Fukuoka’s success with his very unusual approach to farming.

I don’t know that this book would be on my top recommended reading,list for those interested in sustainability, particularly since most of the technique is tied to Japan’s unique environment. However, it is a short and delightful read and well worth your time if you are looking for more of the “heart” of sustainability.

Mini Farming (with pictures)

My posts have been a bit sparse this week, but I had been intending for quite some time now, to do a post showing just what I’ve been up to. We have been doing small scale food production for several months now, having picked back up after moving out of our apartment. Things have begun to pick up speed the last two weeks, and this week I got a bit busy. This post may make master gardeners cringe (if it does I’d love feed back in the comments section) as I have much more experience with small scale livestock production than gardening. I do hope, however, that for others who may not have much experience producing their own food that this post will inspire you to try new things. Explanations will be below each set of pictures.

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We are very fortunate this year to have had access to a greenhouse that was already attached to the house. As you can see it’s a simple design and takes full advantage of the existing wall of the house. The wall it sits against actually backs up to the basement which further increases the temperature stability of the greenhouse. On the coldest nights we had this year (low 20’s Fahrenheit) I have been able to keep the temp at a cool but stable 45 degrees just by leaving the lights on. This has allowed us to get a head start with spring planting as many of the plants we already have growing would normally just be going in the ground without the greenhouse. Due to our mild winters, I am excitedly hopeful that we will be able to produce cold hardy plants year round.

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Another advantage of having a greenhouse is the workspace it provides. I can start plants on the work table, pot them, etc. without worrying about dirtying up the floor. Starting plants indoors in the house can be a bit messy. To the right is the plant “nursery” I created to get an early start on plants like peppers and tomatoes that have a higher germination temperature. I scavenged a lamp the shade broke off of, and old vent hood, and a rubbermaid box and based the design on chicken brooders I’ve made in the past. With an internal temp averaging 80 degrees or so it has worked great for growing plants fast (sometimes faster than I’ve known what to do with them) and by lowering the light I could also raise chicks in it if I decide to raise broilers.

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Now that the weather has finally warmed up all the plants are enjoying the sunshine on the deck behind the greenhouse, another big perk though is that end of next week when bad weather is expected I’ll move the young plants inside so the wind doesn’t rough them up to much.

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A young tomato plant (left), bean plants waiting to be trellised (right). Of note, some of you may be concerned about my direct application of manure. The manure in question is rabbit manure which has a pretty even carbon-nitrogen balance, for this reason it won’t “burn” the plants like most manures will and can be applied directly without composting. I still prefer to mix in a little bedding to be safe. However, as I recently discovered, you should be careful not get any rabbit urine on your plants or the ammonia will kill them. That goes for worm beds to.

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Okra plants (left), a strawberry plant in a hanging basket (right)

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Kale plants in cast iron pots (left), I am hoping to move these inside over the summer and grow leafy greens year round. Alabama has borderline subtropical temperatures which means summer can be harder on plants than winter.

I am experimenting with growing blackberries in pots (right, large, round brown pots). I couldn’t find much info on pot size but there were numerous gardeners saying they did this successfully. I’m guessing those pots are around 5 gallons. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Another experiment this year has been with fig trees. You can see our 2 fig trees in the top left of the picture overlooking all the plants on the back deck. Since fig trees can be grown from cuttings, I saved several of the healthy cuttings when I pruned the trees this year and potted them. Obviously I will have to separate them out after they grow some, but as you can tell from the new green shoots they are alive and growing.

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I’m also tinkering with the beans and peas. I couldn’t find much info on how to trellis potted beans or peas, but I knew from Square Foot Gardening that there space requirements are relatively low. I decide to try wrapping the wire cages around the pots, this way the they take up the same amount of space vertically as the pot, but by wrapping around the outside should get a lot of linear growth over the 4 foot vertical climb, in addition all the beans/peas should hang on the outside for ease of harvest.

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My final big experiment is with sweet potatoes. The ground pots will be pretty conventional, grown up wigwam style pole trellises, the only experiment there is with that one small pot in the top right of the photo. However, I’ve read that they can also be grown down from hanging planters so I thought I’d try that too. I doubt that the smallest pot is big enough but I accidentally bought to many plants and had other plans for my last remaining larger planters. I suppose worst case scenario I’ll transplant it.

 

 

 

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One of my favorite ways to have an “instant garden”, especially when moving somewhere new is to use one of these “top soil gardens”. The bags of topsoil are cut open at the top and have holes poked in them at the bottom for drainage. With a little compost these become instant raised beds. As you can see I’ve got collard greens, lettuce, and spinach coming up fairly well. Although I’m afraid they should have been watered more this week.

 

 

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Rabbits are one of the most efficient ways to produce your own food in a small space. They are lots of fun to raise, but a bit hard on the heart to process. The two in the top right photo are Flopsy and Mopsy, the one by himself is Peter. These will be our new breeders. Coming soon they will be moved out of the greenhouse to the cooler and shadier back porch, as well as getting a “tractor” so that they can graze the lawn during the daytime (I won’t be leaving them out at night due to neighborhood dogs and cats). With my rabbits I use deep bedding, putting in several fresh handfuls a day to cover over their newest manure. This allows me to keep the cages more sanitary while going longer between bedding changes. Personally I’m not a huge fan of the hanging style, wire bottom cages.

You’ll also notice the rabbits are eating left over lettuce. We try compost as much as possible, particularly by running compost through the animals. Right now that means the rabbits eat our greens and the chickens get the left overs. Coming up soon I plan to have worm beds at which point I will double compost the rabbit food by giving their manure to the worms, they will also be able to eat several things (ex. crushed egg shells) that neither the chickens or rabbits can currently eat.

 

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The chickens have been the biggest source of work for me this week, since we got them a couple of weeks ago they have been in the temporary home you see above. This has several major draw backs: First it takes about 30 minutes for me to move it, compare this to a better build tractor that can be moved in 2 minutes or so. You can see the problem with this in the top right photo. See how there is a small patch of green between the 2 eaten down patches? That patch was underneath the edge of the pen, the birds have literally gotten so hungry for fresh greens that they were sticking there heads out of the fence and eating down the 4 inches or so they could reach on the outside edge of the pen. This is a good indicator they aren’t being moved often enough.

My project this week, which hopefully will be a post for next weekend has been to build 2 new tractors for our birds so that they can be moved daily on to fresh forage. Our birds are already getting a fairly green diet which has contributed to what one friend called “the best eggs I’ve ever had”, but I would like them to get as much as possible.

We have 2 heritage breed birds, Road Island Reds and Black Australorpe’s who had just started laying when we bought them. I personally prefer to buy adult birds for laying hens, since it guarantees egg production (no birds die before they start laying) and cuts down on the cost of bringing them to laying age. We were fortunate to find birds that had been laying for just 2 weeks and had been free ranging, which has contributed to their being very aggressive foragers.

Hopefully by the end of this week I will be able to do a post with pictures of the new chicken tractors, in addition I am planning to return to my normal 3-4 posts a week this week.