Saturday, December 20, 2008


Loyal Farmbedded readers may have noticed of late that my blogging here has become more and more infrequent.

Indeed, the time has come to unbed.

I moved into the Howell Farm farmhouse on February 26, 2008. My original plan was to remain at Howell for three months, the duration of my internship. As it turns out, I stayed 10, staying on to revamp the farm newsletter and eventually moving into the cozy intern house. It was a pleasant and most welcome extension, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

It’s the end of December, however, and now I’m moving out – to an apartment in nearby Hopewell, NJ.

Although I’m bringing my Farmbedded blog to a close, I plan to stay very much involved at Howell Farm. I will be working here part time to continue writing and editing the farm newsletter, and I hope to also do some writing for that will be similar to the content once posted here.

My blogging days will continue in other ways as well, both at my personal blog – JTFLESHER – and for an excellent new New York Times blog called Green Inc. So keep reading!

Happy holidays everyone, and here’s to a healthy and productive new year.

Jared Flesher

Saturday, November 1, 2008


This is the way “Bacon, Sausage & Scapple Making Day” day is described on the Howell Farm website:

If you work all week to bring home the bacon, sausage and scrapple, but don't really know from whence they come, visit Howell Farm on Saturday, November 3. You will see these and other pork products made before your eyes.

Farmers will work from 10:00am until 3:00pm rendering lard, making pork products and showing visitors the origins of different cuts of pork. Cracklins' and other delicacies will be free for the asking, and pork sandwiches will be available for sale.

And here are some breaking photos of the event:

Friday, October 31, 2008


Here's a story worth reading in today's Washington Post:

A Last Push to Deregulate

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Jersey's 7th District: Too Green to Call

A link to my first post for The New York Times Green Inc. blog:


This article is slated to appear in the upcoming edition of The Furrow:

One job of an intern at Howell Farm is to help grow food. Another job is to help sell it.

Participants in Howell Farm’s internship program traveled to a local farmers market in Hopewell, NJ, this year in order to peddle select farm products – including honey, maple syrup, black beans, wheat flour, and cabbage.

Internship coordinator Rob Flory said the trips to the market served several good aims.

“They give interns some hands-on experience with farm stand operation,” he said. “They also help in promoting farm activities such as our weekend programs and the corn maze.” Alongside the food products, Howell Farm’s table featured flyers and farm calendars that shoppers could take home with them.

For many market-goers, a trip to the Howell Farm table proved educational.

“So you’re growing stuff out there, too?” asked the day’s first visitor.

Intern Matt Schofield said he enjoyed the feeling of community the market seemed to promote.

“When you go to the grocery store, it’s on a ‘I’m going to get what I need and leave basis,’” he said. “But at the farmers market, the people who I saw would stay for a while, chitchat, talk about the weather. So I learned a little bit more about trying to market to people on an individual basis. As a small farmer, sometimes you need to build personal relationships with people in order to sell your product.”

Schofield said he also liked seeing the end result of the farming process.

“I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to help with a certain product from start to finish,” he said.

Another benefit of the market experience for the interns was that it allowed them to network with and learn from farmers, interns, and business owners at other local farms and shops. Sellers at the Hopewell market have included Griggstown Farm in Princeton, the Village Bakery in Lawrenceville, North Slope Farm in Lambertville, WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton, the Highland Company Gourmet Market in Kingwood Twp., Olsson’s Fine Foods in Lawrenceville, and Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Princeton.

“People come to the market to meet other people,” said Rudie Smit, owner of Olsonn’s Fine Foods. “It’s almost like a coffee shop.”

But that good feeling of community among sellers and shoppers isn’t the sole reason these businesses attend the market. A resurgence of interest in eating local food and supporting local food producers has also made these markets profitable.

“I do five markets a week this year,” said Village Bakery owner Bo Child. “I can sell more bread at a small market in one day than I could sell in an entire week at my shop."

Andrea Chiotti, an intern at North Slope Farm, said being present at the market gives her the opportunity to communicate with customers about the true cost of food.

“A woman said to me last week that $5 for a bag of salad mix is way too much,” Chiotti said. “But I was able to tell her about the process involved in growing it and bringing it to market. After we had the conversation, she understood why it cost $5. And she did buy the salad mix.”

Ben Avila, owner of the Highland Company Gourmet Market, said his customers also want to know more about the products they are buying than just what they cost.

“The main question I get from my customers is where does the food come, especially with the animals, and how are they treated?” he said.

Kate Douthat, an intern at Cherry Grove Organic Farm, explains it this way why many of her stand’s customers have become regulars:

“They come because they know us,” she said.

The Hopewell Farmer’s Market is open Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the Hopewell railroad station. During the winter, the market moves inside to the adjacent railroad shed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008


Tomorrow is quilting day at Howell Farm. I don't claim to know a lot about quilting, but here's the pertinent information:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


One of the highlights of this past weekend’s “Fall Festival” at Howell Farm was a 10-ton Case steam engine powering a large wheat thresher. The spelt grain that was threshed will be used as horse feed, and the leftover stalks will be used as straw for bedding.

According to farm historians, these giant wheat threshing rigs and their crews rumbled through the Mercer County countryside circa 1900, stopping at all the local farms who hired out their services. An alternate plan some farmers employed was to commune with their neighbors to buy a shared thresher, which they took turns using.

Below are a few pictures of the action. Follow this link for a lot more (though unedited) shots taken at the festival:

Friday, October 3, 2008


Nymph stage harlequin bugs are eating the kale in the kitchen garden. They are a member of the stink bug family.


The new cedar shingle roof:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Check out my article about Howell Farm that was published in The Christian Science Monitor today:

Also, here's another article of mine related to sustainable living they published back in 2007. I discovered today it's one of the stories featured on The Monitor's Centennial Page. Good choice editors!

By the way, take some time to look at the design and content of the Centennial Page. I think it's the best-looking newspaper website I've ever seen.


The farmers hooked four horses up to an old-fashioned road grader this morning. But they weren’t fixing roads. They were going over the field where the plowing match was held last month and trying to flatten everything out.


Howell Farm’s four pigs were delivered to the market in Hackettstown last week to be auctioned off. This is the destiny of most animals that are raised on farms, and many other pigs in New Jersey get raised in buildings with cement floors, so I didn’t feel guilty or sad or anything like that. I saw with my own eyes that the Howell Farm pigs lived a decent life, at least for the six months they were here.

With that said, my time interacting with the pigs here has convinced me that they are very social, intelligent, friendly animals, almost like dogs. For me, personally, that’s given me enough to think about that I’m now considering cutting pork out of my diet. I do love the taste of bacon though — breakfast would never be quite the same.

In comparison, I’ve spent time around the oxen and I still have no qualms about eating beef, provided the animals get to live a healthy life with lots of time spent in a pasture eating grass. And chickens, they’re good eating too.

Below are pics of the four new piglets who arrived on the farm this week:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Farmers Ian, Peter, and Matt have been replacing the cedar shingle roof on the carriage barn. Pics below.


Last week I blogged a little about the “Farm School” and “Back to School” programs at Howell Farm. Two longer articles about these events, destined for the farm’s monthly newsletter (The Furrow), are now ready.

The Furrow is typically mailed to members of “The Friends of Howell Farm” who pony up $40 for a yearly membership. We live in an age when information wants to be free, however, so here, just take it:

Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse Recreates 1900s Classroom

From the desks of the historic Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse this month, school children of 2008 got a taste of what school was like in 1900.

On Sept. 13, Howell Farm held its annual “Back to School” program. Students in attendance participated in historical lessons that included cursive writing practice, a science lesson about beavers, and the mathematics of counting corn kernels.

Cheryl Mills, a local Sunday school teacher and community theater actress, assumed the role of schoolmarm.

“The tone is a little different,” Mills said of transforming into a 1900s educator. “There’s a slight sense of more seriousness than a teacher today would have.”

A strict rule for students of 100 years ago was that they were expected to remain silent during class unless called on. A rule for teachers was that they were expected to be single and “well-behaved” socially.

In 1900, there were 15 million school children in the United States. Today, including college students, there are about 75.5 million students.

Many students of the era would have been reading “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which was published by Frank Baum in 1900. A discussion of current events would have included the devastating hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, in September 1900, killing an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people.

The Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse, located on Mercer County-owned land adjacent to Howell Farm, was built in 1889 to replace an earlier school located nearby. It was used as a school until 1936, and in 1938 was converted to a private residence. The building not only provided a place of instruction for area children but also served as a community center for neighborhood meetings, speakers delivering lectures, neighborhood sings, and other social activities.

ALHFAM Farm School: Historian Boot Camp

Howell Farm put a theory into practice this September — that the best way to help people understand something is to let them do it.

On September 8, 9, and 10, Howell Farm hosted the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums’ first ever “Farm School” workshop. The aim of the program is to provide living history professionals with hands-on, down-and-dirty training in historical agricultural practices.

“We set it up to be real work,” said Ed Schultz of Great Hopes Plantation in Colonial Williamsburg, one of the workshop instructors. “This is real farming, not pretend farming.”

For three days, the students practiced using horse-drawn walking plows to complete fieldwork in the same way American farmers would have from 1890 to 1930.

“I’m surprised by how many blisters I have,” reported Barbara Corson, co-chair of ALHFAM’s Farm Professional Interest Group, on Monday evening after an eight hour day in the field.

In addition to Corson, who is a veterinarian from Harrisburg, Pa., the inaugural class of farm school students was comprised of Sarah Rice of Longstreet Farm in Holmdel, NJ; Bob Sherman of Middleton Place Plantation in Charlestown, SC; and Darryl Wines of the Simcoe County Museum in Midhurst, Ontario.

“Everyone here knows a lot about something,” said Corson, who helped envision and develop the farm school program along with Schultz and Howell Farm director Pete Watson. She said she hopes the program will help living historical professionals continue to learn historical agricultural techniques when the generation that used them has passed on.

“No matter how much you read about this stuff, it’s hard to find someone to actually teach you,” she said.

For museum preparator Darryl Wines, farm school provided him his first opportunity to work with some of the farm equipment he helps care for at Simcoe County Museum.

“There’s a lot of stuff I know what it does, but I’ve never used it,” he said. “And I don’t like to talk to people about something I’ve never done. I like to have done it.”

Farm school was also Wines’s first experience working with horses.

“Everything went pretty seamlessly, other than that feeling of wanting to collapse after that first furrow because I didn’t breathe for 600 feet,” he said.

Rice, from Longstreet Farm, already uses draft animals in her work as a historical farmer. For her, farm school was a chance not only to hone her skills and learn from others, but also to share some of her knowledge.

“I’m a mule person,” she said, before explaining some of the differences. “Mules are like a semi-truck. Horses are like a sports car.”

Sherman, the historic agriculture and livestock manager at Middleton Place, will take his farm school training back to Middleton and become a trainer himself. The plantation has 8 Belgian draft horses they use for carriage rides and two young water buffalo being trained as oxen.

“The little bit of experience I’ve had [with draft animals] taught me how much I didn’t know, which is one of the reasons I’m here,” he said. “Now, when I go back, I can go and show other people how it’s supposed to be done.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


"Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."

-William Jennings Bryant, 1896

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The farm’s annual “Back to School” program was held Saturday at the adjacent Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse. Cheryl Mills, wife of Farmer Jeremy, assumed the role of schoolmarm and took visiting students (who had to attend class on a Saturday!) through historical school lessons. Academic subjects ranged from a story about beavers to counting corn kernels.

Fortunately, after a morning of hard work, the students were allowed to play tug-of-war during recess.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) held its first ever “Farm School” workshop at Howell Farm this week. The aim of the program is to provide living history professionals with hands-on, down-and-dirty training in historical agricultural practices.

Starting Monday and continuing through today (Wednesday), the students at Howell Farm have been learning the finer points of using horse-drawn walking plows to complete fieldwork in the same way American farmers would have from 1890 to 1930.

Farm school instructors Pete Watson (of Howell Farm) and Ed Schultz (of Great Hopes Plantation at Colonial Williamsburg) designed the workshop to emphasize learning through the completion of real farm work. The students reported being tired on Monday evening after spending eight hours out in the field plowing and driving draft animals.

The inaugural class of farm school students is comprised of Sarah Rice of Longstreet Farm in Holmdel, New Jersey; Bob Sherman of Middleton Place Plantation in Charlestown, South Carolina; Darryl Wines of the Simcoe County Museum in Midhurst, Ontario; and Barbara Corson of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, co-chair of ALHFAM’s Farm Professional Interest Group.

To see some photos of farm school, follow this link:

Monday, September 8, 2008


You should have seen the other guys...


Howell Farm Historians Dominate Local Tomato Fight
By Wendell Berry


North Slope Farm dripped red yesterday.

At what has quickly become known as the nastiest tomato fight this side of Buñol, a community of local organic farmers in Central New Jersey gathered here Sunday evening to dispose of their rotting produce in style.

On this day, the victory was carried by an organized band of underdog historians.

A team of five combatants from Howell Living History Farm attacked early and often, delivering pregnant payloads of tomato pulp into the ranks of the enemy at a disorienting rate. Though a combined force of farmers from North Slope Farm, Gravity Hill Farm, Cherry Grove Farm, and Cherry Grove Organic Farm outnumbered the historians nearly tenfold, numerous attempts at a frontal assault were repelled.

"It was ugly," recounted Farmer Natalie of Cherry Grove. "It was like that movie 300. Except that this time somehow the Spartans managed to win."

Farmer Rob of Howell Farm is credited as the architect of the successful battle plan. The historians are believed to have stolen and then pre-positioned stockpiles of tomatoes in strategic locations before the fight began. The squad's secret weapon – specially modified lacrosse stick tomato launchers – enabled the outnumbered farmers to bombard their enemy from long range.

"Next year I'm going to wear a helmet," said Farmer David of Gravity Hill, who was knocked out of the fight early and forced to watch from the sidelines.

Superior battlefield communications also aided the historians. Farmer Pam of Howell Farm, designated along with her two-year-old daughter as a "United Nations of Tomatoes" non-combatant, relayed secret code words over a speaker system to give the historians a heads-up on developing counterattacks.

"Knowing is half the battle," said Farmer Rob. "Thanks honey."

The allied forces best chance for victory came when one of their attackers was able to skulk behind the historians' lines and make a grab for one of the powerful lacrosse stick tomato launchers. That attempt was beaten back.

"The other Howell Farm interns and I spend a good deal of time in the intern weight room, and sometimes at the end of a long day I wonder why I'm doing it," said Farmer Jared, who defended the launcher. "As it turns out, forearm curls are exactly like trying to hold onto a lacrosse stick after you get bum rushed by an enraged organic farmer. I felt well prepared."

The last hope for the allies faded after one of their fighters made the mistake of referring to Howell Farm's commando, Intern Ram, as a "Crazy Sri Lankan." Ram, from Nepal – a landlocked country northeast of India – turned to a stash of destructive Brahmin Brandywines he was holding in reserve and simply obliterated all remaining enemy forces.

"It was good," Ram said of the carnage.

No serious injuries, excepting pride, were reported after the battle. Nomad Pizza of Hopewell fed all the warriors without discrimination, though they be victorious or defeated.

Friday, September 5, 2008


During McCain’s big convention speech last night, this is what he had to say about energy:

My fellow Americans, when I'm president, we're going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades. We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now. We will build more nuclear power plants. We will develop clean coal technology. We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

Sen. Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power. But Americans know better than that. We must use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy from the damage caused by rising oil prices and to restore the health of our planet. It's an ambitious plan, but Americans are ambitious by nature, and we have faced greater challenges. It's time for us to show the world again how Americans lead.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I've been feeling the urge lately to expand my blogging focus beyond Howell Farm. So I'm starting a new blog on the topic of "things that interest me." Read it here:

(Keep reading Farmbedded, too. I'll continue to update it regularly.)


The farm’s potato harvest program is scheduled for Saturday. If you come, consider bringing a raincoat…

The intern crew got an early start with the harvest today, picking for our personal collection.

During our digging and gathering, we made a special discovery: Baby snapping turtles hatching in the potato field.

When I relocated the four turtles to the vicinity of the nearest pond, I had a chance to witness something I thought was very interesting. One turtle started trudging north, directly toward the water, which was about 20 feet away. But turtle #2 started trudging directly south, away from the water. The third turtle went west, parallel to the edge of the pond. And one turtle burrowed straight downward into the grass. Crazy turtles? Or species-level survival strategy?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Saturday’s plowing match went well, but the most dramatic event of the day was the one that followed – an ill-fated attempt to harness together 12 horses to pull some logs.

In the first two photos below, you can see that the first 8 horses worked together fairly well.

But horses nine, ten, eleven, and twelve had other ideas.

From the moment the final 33.3% of the hitch entered the pasture, it was apparent that the horses were not comfortable with one another. The two teams that were harnessed together in a straight row had never worked together before. They tried to bite and push and rough with their unfamiliar neighbors, and it took several minutes for the squad of horsemen in the pasture to get them calm enough to even try to add them to the hitch.

As they did, I asked the person standing next to me to make a prediction. She said, “I think it’s going to be bad.”

After several more minutes, the team of 12 horses and half-a-dozen horsemen were ready to give the big pull a try. Almost at once, the front row of four horses broke away from the rest of the hitch as the wooden doubletrees linking them together splintered. The four runaways whirled and whirled around like a confused tornado, and for just a moment it appeared they might head for the open gate of the pasture fence, behind which hundreds of spectators were watching. A cool-headed horseman ran up and tried to pull the gate shut, but it was lashed open to the side of the fence with a piece of knotted rope twine. Someone else quickly produced a pocketknife, and the gate was secured.

Meanwhile, the panicked horses in the pasture continued to weave and sputter. All at once they collapsed in a tangle of legs and harness. From my vantage point, it appeared that one of the horses got completely rolled over by one or more of the others.

It looked like a bad situation. The horsemen sprinted to the pile of horses and started to cut harness and pull the horses away one by one. The horse that got rolled was the last up, but when he did get up he sprang to his feet. Everyone was okay.




Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama on energy

During Obama’s big convention speech last night, this is what he had to say about energy:

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Howell Farm will celebrate its 25th-anniversary plowing match this Saturday. The article below appears in this month’s issue of THE FURROW:

Elmer Lapp is one of the great figures of Howell Farm plowing match history.

A lifelong horse farmer from Lancaster County, Pa., Lapp was the plowing match’s first and longest serving judge.

Elmer was judging even when he wasn’t judging,” remembers historical farmer Jeremy Mills. “You’d be talking to him and he’d look up and say, ‘Oh look, that team of horses just broke into lockstep.’ The horses might be a football field away.”

Farmers who knew Lapp remember him as a man who didn’t waste words, but when he spoke about horses people listened. He was considered an expert horseman and was known for his strong will when it came to the job he loved – farming.

Essayist Wendell Berry once wrote of Lapp: “He is not a man to put up long with anything he does not like.”

As the story goes, Lapp suffered from heart disease in his later years and underwent Carotid artery surgery. Shortly after the surgery, his doctor expressly forbade him from attending that year's plowing match, as his health was too poor. Lapp, unwilling to give up so easily, called up his horse veterinarian in hopes of receiving a more favorable second opinion. After the horse doctor proved unwilling to overrule the judgment of Lapp’s medical doctor, Lapp simply decided to attend the match anyway.

Fortunately, Lapp proved no worse for the wear as he rendered his plowing match decisions that year.

On Saturday, August 30, Howell Farm will celebrate its 25th-anniversary plowing match, bringing together more than a dozen horse teams and teamsters. In addition to the plowing contest and the recitation of favorite memories, the day will feature a Howell Farm first—the assembly of a twelve-horse hitch.

It will be Elvin Lapp, Elmer’s son, who will take the lines of a team of 12 draft horses pulling a flatbed wagon loaded with logs. Elvin will also reprise his father’s role as a head judge.

Plowers will be evaluated on 10 criteria, including the depth, straightness, and evenness of their furrow; the condition of their equipment; and the condition and control of their team.

Mills, this year’s other head judge, says that judging the contest can be difficult because often little separates the very best plowers — so many of them are excellent.

Unlike horse shows, Mills says one thing that doesn’t help win a plowing match is a pair of plucky horses that march with their heads held high. “Actually, what I’m looking for is, are these the horses I’d want to work behind in a field all day?” he says. “Do the horses know exactly what they need to do and do they get down to business?”

Longtime Howell Farm horseman Halsey Genung won the first plowing contest in 1984, and since then the title has shifted hands many times. Since 1988, the winner of the match has been awarded the Ben Ellingson Award, a bronze statue of a farmer plowing behind an African zebu. Howell Farm director Pete Watson bought the trophy in a marketplace in Togo in 1988.

“I guess an African zebu might not seem to have the most logical connection to plowing with horses at Howell Farm," Watson admits. “But I saw this statue sitting there in the market and it reminded me of one of the missions of the farm, as well as the people who have helped further that mission.”

Ben Ellingson was a horse farmer from Tennessee and a Hollywood horse stuntman. When he wasn’t farming or making movies, he devoted much of his time to helping train Peace Corp volunteers going into animal traction programs. Watson says Ellingson taught him many valuable lessons, and served as an inspiration for the internship program that exists now at Howell Farm.

“Ben would help anybody,” Watson says. “He helped people in his own backyard the same way he helped animal traction programs in West Africa through the volunteers he helped train.”

Ella Johnston, Ben’s daughter, is scheduled to present the trophy at this year’s match. Brian Hughes, Mercer County Executive, will also help present awards.

The anniversary celebration will feature pony rides, hayrides, a children’s craft program, a pig & chicken roast, homemade ice cream, live music by the Jugtown Mountain String Band, and a plow exhibit by the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I learned something from the newspaper today:

The average daily temperature in New Jersey in June and July was higher than it has ever been in the 114 years weather records have been kept.


Check this out:


Ben the horse continues to inspire. I like his tenacity.

At evening letout last night, Intern Peter and I deposited Ben in the round pasture before continuing our chores. Not five minutes later, Ben teleported back to the barnyard. We found him over near the fence of the back pasture where the farm’s four biggest horses spend the night.

I don’t speak horse, but if I didn’t know better, I’d say little Ben was talking trash to Bill, Jess, Chester, and Jack. He was doing this from the safety of his side of the fence. The other horses looked furious – they were pacing and rearing up and letting out horse snarls. Given the chance, there’s no doubt they would give Ben a severe equine beatdown.

I have yet to catch him in the act, but it’s become apparent that Ben is stepping over a low part of the pasture fence and then going wherever he feels like.

Peter and I decided we’d leave Ben in the tubyard for the night, which has a higher fence. But Ben absolutely refused to go, like a 1,500-pound boulder. Even the appearance of a horsewhip didn’t help.

Peter was, however, eventually able to goad Ben back into the barn.

The last I saw of Ben, he was clipped into his stall with a rope and both doors to his section of the barn were securely fastened. The previous night I had left these doors open. This time there would be no escape.

I arrived back at the farm at 7 a.m. this morning, the first man on the scene. Whom did I spy from across the pasture, grazing contently? Ben!

I proceeded directly to the barn to see what had happened. Inside, Ben’s rope was broken (the third he’s broken this week) but both doors were closed just as securely as I had left them. For the next ten seconds I contemplated the possibly that Ben was one of those vampire horses you hear about who can step through walls. And then it struck me what Ben had accomplished, and I was even more impressed.

This is my reconstruction of the events, which may be dramatized:

After breaking his rope with a powerful thrash off his head, Ben found the doors of the barn impenetrable, kick like the devil though he may. Sizing up his options, he saw his only chance for escape was to perform a dangerous routine of horse gymnastics. He vaulted directly forward from his stall up into the manger where his food gets delivered. Then he vaulted out of his manager, at great peril, down into the narrow alleyway on the other side. Having survived the danger of a broken leg, he turned right and discovered a false wall in the barn (the door from the alleyway into the central area of the barn, which is under construction, is currently a hanging piece of heavy canvas). He pushed through. In the pitch black, he then navigated over the uneven, debris-strew floor and discovered another door that had been left open, leading into the area where the rest of the horse stalls are located. From here, Ben quickly found an open doorway to the outside … and soon breathed in the fresh night air of freedom.

Today, I’m told, the project on the farm is to raise all low areas of fencing.

Monday, August 25, 2008


I've taken to enjoying a nocturnal stroll around Howell Farm most nights before I retire to bed — which is actually a queen-sized air mattress on the floor of my living room.

The farm is a superior course in this regard in that it is very dark. On a foggy or cloudy night, one might be the last man on earth as he trods the dirt path around the fields. And on a clear night, such as last night, I can see straight up about a hundred million miles.

Several visitors to the farm who have needed to cross it at night have remarked to me it's kind of spooky. But I've come to think just the opposite. I've become much better at startling the night animals I stumble across than they are at startling me. For the most part.

Last night, I wasn't so much strolling as traveling, as I walked across the barnyard up to the farm's visitor center. I like to hole up in the visitor center when it's late and I have some serious writing to accomplish. It's like being in an empty newspaper office, which is also an excellent place to write.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when a giant horse-shaped animal ran right past me and back into the shadows. The horses spend their summer nights out in the fenced pasture, not roaming the barnyard, so that meant this fellow had gotten lose.

A little reconnaissance helped me determine that the offender was Ben, a horse who is new to the farm just last week. I haven't worked with Ben at all yet, and the only thing I've heard about him is that he gets antsy if he's left alone. Intern Peter said Ben broke out of his stall last week when Blaze went out for the night and Ben thought he was getting left behind.

The late hour being nearly pitch black, and Ben being a stranger, I approached the horse with caution (and with a handful of hay to offer as a getting-to-know-you present.) Ben didn't seem comfortable either, and he walked in the other direction as I got near. Fortunately, I waited a minute and Ben made his way over to one of the water barrels to get a drink. When he was distracted with the water, I snuck up behind and grabbed his halter. I then led him back into his stall and clipped him in to his rope. Since I didn't know how he had gotten out of the pasture, I thought I'd leave him in for the night.

Ben was pissed about this decision. He kicked the walls of his stall as I walked away.

A few hours later I returned back through the barnyard, having made some progress with my writing. What happened next? I nearly jumped out of my skin when a giant horse-shaped animal ran right past me and back into the shadows!

It was Ben again, and this time he made it clear he wasn't letting me anywhere near him. So I walked to the gate of the pasture where he needed to be and opened it wide. Then I circled back and tried to scare Ben in that direction. This worked, to my amazement, but Ben didn't just stroll. He took off at a wild gallop, disappeared into the dark of the pasture, and, by the sounds of it, he didn't stop running for a few hundred yards.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I saw the farm’s corn maze yesterday from the best possible vantage point – 1,000 feet directly overhead from the seat of an R44 Raven helicopter, doors off.

This was my first time in a helicopter. I found it to be several degrees more exciting than being in a small airplane, and small airplanes are pretty sweet. But if I had to describe the helo experience in a single word, it would be this: “windy.”

Joining me on the trip were John the Pilot (we let him do the flying), John Conn (a professional photographer), and Gary the Farm Manager (present to help navigate).

My good idea was to attach my video camera to a pole and stick it out the door in hopes of capturing awesome video. John the Pilot warned me that it would be fairly difficult to hold onto the camera if I did this, because of the wind that would be whipping against it. He also said that if let go of the camera and it took out the tail rotor, they probably wouldn’t invite me back.

I tried my technique, and sure enough, it is a little challenging to hold a camera on a pole out the door of a helicopter. But I held on, and here’s the result:

Monday, August 18, 2008


The University of Richmond, my alma mater, recently announced a new campus-wide energy monitoring system:

The system, which will be installed in all 14 residence halls, will allow students to track their energy use online. The idea is that if they can actually see that turning off their computer saves energy, maybe they will.

When the system is installed in Fall 2009, dorm residents will compete for the highest decrease in energy consumption. When Oberlin College did this, "students were able to reduce their electricity use by up to 55 percent over two weeks."

Worth noting, the system is being paid for by the Dominion Foundation. Dominion, based in Richmond, is one of the nation's largest producers of energy. They burn a lot of coal and are currently pursing plans to build a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Va. Here's a Washington Post article about it worth reading:


Wired magazine, one of my favorites, has two interesting sustainability related articles this month.

The first, the cover story, is about a businessman named Shai Agassi and his plan to bring electric cars to the world, starting with Israel and Denmark. His company, Better Place, has the cooperation of these governments and has raised more than $200 million in committed capital. According to Wired, Agassi has managed to launch "the fifth-largest startup of all time in less than a year." He's not building cars, but rather a grid of battery charging stations that will sell electricity like cell phone companies sell minutes.

Rather than try to summarize Agassi's crazy complicated business plan here (which began to sound less and less crazy as I made my way through the article) I'll leave it to the dedicated Farmbedded reader to find his own copy of the magazine. I recommend it.

The other article, an essay by Clive Thompson, argues for urban farming:

"The next president should throw down the gauntlet and demand Americans sow victory gardens once again."

It's worked before. Between 1942 and 1943, victory gardens produced 40 percent of the vegetables consumed in this country, according to Thompson. And innovations since then have made urban food growing "radically more efficient and compact than the victory gardens of yore," he says.

It seems like such a simple, sensible thing to do. The result would be better, cheaper food for urban Americans, less obesity, less CO2 resulting from shipping food across the world, more food independence, and you could even cool the cities by planting crops on rooftops.

What's more, Thompson writes:

"But what I love most here is the potential for cultural transformation. Growing our own food again would reconnect us to the country's languishing frontier spirit."

Well said.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


The first event of the Howell Farm Olympics finally kicked off yesterday — horseshoes.

Horseshoes history, according to Wikipedia:

“Iron plates or rings for shoes may have been nailed on horses' feet in Western Asia and Eastern Europe as early as the second century BC…. There is a theory that the camp followers of the Grecian armies, who could not afford the discus, took discarded horseshoes, set up a stake, and began throwing horseshoes at it.”

Also from Wikipedia:

“Following the Revolutionary War, it was said by England's Duke of Wellington that ‘The War was won by pitchers of horse hardware.’”

The first round results:

Unfortunately, the Howell Farm Olympics are highly dysfunctional, as it's difficult to get enough people together at any one time. Other events that have been envisioned, such as the hay bale toss and the 14-times around the farm run, are in danger of cancellation.

Worst of all was a stunt pulled yesterday by Farm Director Pete. All week long he’s been talking horseshoe smack about how, “Yeah, I’ve thrown a horseshoe or two in my day,” and “I wouldn’t count the old man out.” So the day of the competition comes, and Pete disappears suddenly, under the auspices of needing to go to Lancaster to “look at a horse.”

Nice try Pete. I challenge you, publicly, to a winner-take-all horseshoe throwdown, any time any place. The loser will buy the winner a steak, and I like sautéed mushrooms on top.

In unrelated news, the farm bought a new horse from a Lancaster horse trader yesterday. He hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m told he’s about 15 hands and 1,500 pounds. More on that when I learn more.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


At the Howell Farm honey harvest today, I learned how beekeepers make it happen.

First, the beekeepers open their hives and remove the honeycomb-filled frames. They use smoke to keep the bees docile. This works because when bees sense smoke, they think their house is burning down. They react to this by gorging themselves with as much honey as possible, fearing they might not be seeing another good meal for a while. And the result of this is that they feel so fat they won’t even bother to sting you.

Once the beekeepers have the frames, their task is to get the honey out of the honeycombs. This process involves a centrifuge.

First, take your frame and gently scrape the surface of the honeycomb with a scraper, which grants access to the honey on the inside. Then, take your frame and insert it into a holder inside your centrifuge. Start cranking the centrifuge handle. This sends the frame spinning and your honey splatting toward the outside of the centrifuge container. The honey will slowly drip down the sides until it reaches the bottom, where it is collected in a honey bucket.

Basically, the process is exactly the same as harvesting weapons-grade uranium from uranium gas, except easier.


Farmer Rob believes he has discovered a bear’s claw marks in the Market Garden. The alleged track was found among the beans.

I’ve never heard of a bear liking beans, but other evidence also points to a bear:

-Rob also found what he believes to be bear droppings under a nearby cherry tree.

-In the past, black bears have been spotted in the farm vicinity.

I, ever one to question the official story, suggested an alternative: Perhaps a smaller animal with one claw scratched five parallel marks into the dirt.

Now, however, after analyzing the photographic evidence and running it through my crime-solving computer, I believe that Rob is correct. It’s hard to argue with this:

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The fodder-chopper churned outside the barn yesterday. Cornstalk grinding has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first jobs I did at Howell Farm when I visited back in January. You can read about that experience here:

In the pictures below, you can see that a belt connects the chopper to a stationary hit-and-miss engine, which provides the power. The engine runs off gasoline.

Farmer Rob (who is also a trained physicist) says that on the sustainable farm of the future, he thinks stationary engines will still have a place – for jobs like threshing and corn shelling. The difference, from a sustainability standpoint, is that these engines will run off bio-gas processed on the farm from the release of methane from manure.

My first thought on this was, if you’re going to run a stationary engine off bio-gas, why not just run a tractor with a PTO off bio-gas? Rob says that the problem with gas is that it’s diffuse – hard to store in a reasonably sized tank on a vehicle that needs to be mobile such as a tractor.

All true, but I’m still pulling for do-it-all, bio-gas powered tractors. By the time bio-gas engines are ready for primetime, maybe the technology of methane gas compression and storage will also have hit its golden age.

According to Wikipedia:

“If concentrated and compressed, [biogas] can also be used in vehicle transportation. Compressed biogas is becoming widely used in Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. A biogas-powered train has been in service in Sweden since 2005.”