"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Advice From Our Elders

I found the most amazing web site, where full text articles and even books on all sorts of agricultural topics are offered free. They are all either in the public domain or there by express permission, so there is no trouble about copyrights. I've just spent a leisurely hour browsing, and found something I want to read in full.

Yes, Cato the Roman lived 2,200 years ago. Surely agriculture has changed a lot. But good advice about it has not! As a small example, I'll give you a couple of paragraphs from Cato on choosing a farm site. I know many of you out there are at the dreaming-about-farming stage and may be looking for land. Well, this very old advice is still valid. I've inserted a few notes; they will be in italics.

Buying and Developing a Farm

Selecting the Property
1. When thinking of running a farm, always remember: do not buy on a whim, take the trouble to visit, do not suppose a single look will be enough (anyone who has bought a house in haste can agree with this!) If it is a good property, then the more you go, the happier you will be. Notice the looks of the neighbours. In a good district, they ought to look well. And while you visit and inspect, leave yourself a way out.
(again, it's hard to argue with that!)

It must have good weather; it must not be liable to storms. It must thrive from its own excellence and from its good location: if possible, it should be at the root of a mountain, south-facing, in a healthy position ( let's think about these factors: I think being at the root of a mountain is meant to ensure water supply from streams and springs, or seasonal melt. You may think that water is not an issue in this day and age, but it certainly might be, depending on where you live. And the times they are a changin'; places with marginal or expensive water today might have none tomorrow. South facing is good for obvious reasons, but certainly not essential. Storms are problematic no matter where you are. My farm, for example, is in a generally mild area, but I happen to be in a very exposed and windy microclimate on top of a hill, and subject to very severe windstorms: something I did not know when we bought. This is a serious consideration when planting trees and building shelters for animals. It's also just a flat-out pain in the tuchus when you are going out to do chores in sixty mile an hour winds) . There must be plenty of labour and a good water supply. There must be a sizeable town nearby, or the sea, or a river used for traffic, or a good and well-known road. It should be one of the properties that is not always changing its owners, and whose sellers regret having had to sell. (We thought long and hard about how far we wanted to be from town, and also from larger cities beyond the nearest town. Be realistic about this - living in the country is nice, being very isolated is not, at least for most people. Think about driving conditions in winter - will you be snowed in for long periods? How close is your nearest neighbor?)

It should have good buildings: never carelessly dismiss another’s expertise. It is better to buy from a good husbandman and a good builder (I second that!!). When you come to the farm buildings, check that there are plenty of presses and vats (remember that the lack of them means a lack of produce) but not too much farm equipment. It is to be in a good position: see that it is not wasteful, and requires the least possible equipment. A property, like a man, may bring money in, yet be so wasteful that little is left.

If you ask me what would make a farm the first choice, I will say this: varied ground, a prime position and a hundred iugera; then, first the vineyard (or an abundance of wine), second an irrigated kitchen garden, third a willow wood, fourth an olive field, fifth a meadow, sixth a grain-field, seventh a plantation of trees, eighth an orchard, ninth an acorn wood. (an iugera is equal to about 0.6 of an acre, so 100 of them would mean a 60 acre farm. I doubt many of us are looking for something that large - though we can all dream, can't we?- however, the rest of this paragraph still applies even to a place of only an acre or two. Varied ground provides a variety of microclimates for various purposes and provides visual interest. Translate irrigated kitchen garden into a nice spot for a few raised vegetable beds. Willow wood and olive field can be taken to refer to a fruit orchard - make sure they ate healthy and have a good situation. The plantation of trees can provide -depending on the type of trees - privacy, wind-screening, fodder for animals, food or medicine, or all of things. The meadow can be thought of as either a grazing field for livestock, a hayfield, or on a smaller place, as a lawn and open space for children to play.)

I am so happy I found this site. if you want something a little more recent that Cato, there's plenty to choose from. Enjoy!