Now that you have a "farm," what do you really do with it?
I said before that we weren't really interested in becoming working farmers: we didn't really want to plow, plant, cultivate, harvest, and market fields of hay or beans or corn. We didn't want to commit ourselves to the constant demands of a commercial livestock operation (and don't be naive: five cows are nearly as much trouble as fifty, and much less profitable!).
The fact is, I am mostly interested in hunting on the place. Whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and bobwhite quail are the crops I really look forward to harvesting. I have reason to believe that they are already there, to some extent.
And with some management of the land, they should thrive. We will put in some sunflowers and millet to provide a little food and cover for the birds. We'll avoid thinning out the woods too much, and make sure the creeks and drainage areas have plenty of cover for shy deer. Starting in 2010, we'll start a rotation of controlled burning to improve the CRP grasslands for quail habitat. We'll shoot coyotes and bobcats that put pressure on the small game.
There should be plenty of room on the property for a nice big garden, without bothering the game. In fact, I'm a little worried that the game will eat the garden: we'll see! A very tall fence might be in our near future.
If we want to get more serious about things, there is room for up to 6 acres (!!) of garden area, which would keep us all busy most of the summer, and might supply vegetables, herbs, and flowers to sell at area farmers markets. There is a growing movement of "community supported agriculture" that encourages people to buy and consume local produce, and this tends to favor small, family operations more than large, industrial farms. It is entirely realistic to imagine a one- or two-acre garden that could produce a couple of thousand dollars a year
Across the road from the house is a long pasture, about 4.5 acres, along a ridgetop. It is sheltered on the North by the oaks and hickories of our woods. It has a nice southern exposure for full sun. It looks like a beautiful place to plant an orchard. Apples, pears, cherries, and maybe hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts -- wouldn't that be nice? With a small pump we can water them from the spring-fed pond to tide them over the hot dry spells of a Missouri summer. Most of the pruning and harvesting can be done during family work-weekends. There is probably room there for a couple of hundred trees. This sounds like the sort of thing that could quickly get out of hand.
If we have a big garden, and we start planting fruit trees, we're going to want some honey bees. In fact, given the global problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, and the tremendous importance of bees as pollinators for all kinds of plants (wild and domestic), I consider it our duty to the future of civilization to encourage a hive or two on the place. A good spot would be over at the east end of that area north of the road where I want to put the orchard; from there they can also pollinate the garden next to the house, without the bother of a swarm of bees right next to the house.
Somewhere in this plan there should be a patch of hops. Hops grow on bines (which are different from "vines" -- look it up!). The aromatic flowers are harvested in the fall and used for -- you guessed it! -- beer. It turns out there's also a sort of world-wide hops shortage, so growing our own makes sense, and might be a money-maker, too.
The worrying collapse of honey bee colonies, and the looming shortage of hops are two terrible signs of the fast-approaching collapse of Western Civilization as we know it. It's our duty to humanity, to our children's children's children, to cultivate a little pocket of these precious resources.