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.