Achenback Farm


John SalesOn a solemn morning, a young lawyer looked out over a bay and witnessed something quite unexpected. The year was 1814 and the young man had just been a spectator to 25 hours of bombardment. The emotions he felt that morning lead him to pen a poem that would no doubt solidify not only what he felt, but also the feelings of a newly birthed nation. It was circled in a handout under the title of "Defence of Fort McHenry."

Later, after the addition of music, it was renamed and we know it today as the Star-Spangled Banner. The young lawyer's name was Francis Scott Key.

Now, I don't give mention to all of that for a history lesson. But it's weight as such is worthwhile. No, instead I use it to bring to light how we currently feel. No doubt our own feelings echo those felt by the people who were swiftly locked in battle on that fateful night and morning.

Put simply, we're still here. Still fighting. We haven't surrendered nor do we intend too.

Farming is a constant battle. Market farming is downright combat! You combat the weather. Soil. Prices of seed and materials. Animals and varmints. Gosh, the list could go on. Then the frontline is firmly established once you reach market. But survive we did.

Our market season is now completed. Successes were embraced and recorded. Failures will be learned from. Hopefully, I can now once again devote more time to my writing and share the blessings we live. But even then, things don't show any sign of slowing down much. At least not in the short term.

Even as I write these words my mind is on the tasks that need to be done. Over the past growing season we peaked out at just under 4 acres of produce. Our herd of pigs has grown from two to now four. Our egg layer operation has doubled to close to 200 birds. Combine that with the fact that I also work off-farm and you can imagine how hectic things can get. But, we are a family farm - by that I mean we all have a role to do and pitch in accordingly. And even a greater blessing was granted when we took on a extern this season, which I will discuss more later. So in conclusion, keep on doing exactly what you dream. Don't surrender, hoist that flag of independence high. After all, we're still here and I bet if you are reading this, you are too. Be blessed, John

A barn with the American flag painted on the side with the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the background |   


Conservation Begins At Home

John SalesIt seems like it's the small blessings that give the greatest rewards. We went to pay our electric bill yesterday and guess what? First, I must say that I was just a bit worried we would fall short in the ole checkbook tally before we even went. But no, after some quick math and a short prayer, I confirmed that we did indeed have enough.

So as we went to check on a very, very sick friend, whom we think the world of, we stopped in to pay our electric bill balance due. To our happy surprise? Guess what our balance was? Zero. In fact, better than zero, we even had a small credit towards the next month! Needless to say, it totally made my day.

See friends we are on what they call a "budget billing" program. Where our billing is sort of like an escrow. Personally I love it. For it is an awesome budgeting tool knowing what your bill will be months from now. Using a bit of math and averages, they bill us the same amount every month. And in the four years we have used that program, each year our monthly due goes down. In part because we become better at being more frugal with usage and also because every time we replace something we try and do it with something more efficient. And our yearly cycle rolled over this month. So in order for us to have that kind of credit that means that once more, our monthly balance due will decrease.

Let me also state that it couldn't have come at a better time. Money is short. It's been almost a year now since my wife walked away from her full-time job in order for us to pursue our dreams, and, friends, let me just say, it's now become real. This is a textbook case of how every single facet of our chosen lifestyle all plays a part and takes on a role.

Money saved on electricity can be used to pay for seed. Which can save money on your grocery bill. Which the income you would have spent on that can go toward paying down debt or that mortgage that so often keeps you up at night. Friends, I'd be foolish if I didn't say it's hard. But we knew that when we started down this path. Can we see what's up ahead? No. Of course not. It's a journey just like any other. We are constantly seeking to improve ourselves and our farm. And that means guarding the checkbook with the same vigor we do the livestock. It's all connected. Just as we are.

Personally, I believe the key to conservation is reduction. So don't just upgrade those light bulbs and call it done. Turn them suckers off. Raise a window and let that morning breeze wake you up as it drifts into the room. For we can never save our environment if we cannot save ourselves first. And that's worth a whole lot more than the balance not due on a light bill.

Be blessed, John

enjoying nature


We Are Going Back To School

John SalesI'm going back to school. In fact, our entire family is. See, that is exactly how we embrace the growing season. As a process of education. I figure the average concert pianist has the opportunity to practice thousands of times. The painter whose masterpiece hangs in the gallery, no doubt he could not number the brush strokes that came before.

However, the organic farmer has a unique situation. They only have a limited number of seasons in which to perfect their craft. But they continue on and seek to learn during the process. I greatly fear there is a lack of proper education in our food system. All the way from the field to the table. Real in-your-face, hands-in-the-soil type of education. Wisdom passed down and on. Knowledge gained from a lifetime embracing nature's patterns, not simply how to follow a spray application chart or directions. Most large and "successful" farms have become simply nothing but factories whose output is nothing but mono crops. Mill and feed corn. Soybeans and wheat. At least that is the norm in our region. I've heard said that sustainable farming cannot feed the world. I don't agree with that. For its example comes from history. It's far too easy to not realize that grocery stores are a relatively new invention as compared to the history of our planet. But on to a more local subject, our humble, small, family farm.

Things have fully awakened here at Achenback. The green has finally replaced the brown or gray when we gaze across the landscape. I make mention several times that a farm "sleeps." And a growing-for-market farm like ours truly does to a very large degree. But it is now wide awake. And our sore backs and tired eyes reflect such. You see, friends, a farm like ours doesn't awaken like a gentle breeze blowing from an open window on a cool Saturday morning. No, it's more often like a dazed driver once they slip across the yellow line over onto the "drunk bumps." One minute it seems as though you have plenty of time and winter will never end. And then almost in an instant, you're exhausted, finding there is not enough time in the day to finish the chores needed.

Our daughter Ruthie helping plant onions.

Planting has begun and seedlings started. Fields have been turned over and compost spread. Muddy boots have become the norm as even the chickens announce the coming season by increasing their egg production.    

Speaking of chickens, they truly are a "gateway" livestock. I remember back several seasons past, we brought home little fuzzy butts in high hopes of raising our own birds and eggs. And then the education started up. We found ourselves in need of learning all things poultry related. So we went back to school. Now I'm not foolish enough to state we now know everything there is to know about chickens, but I can tell you we have learned enough to successfully increase our flock to close to 75 birds, and they fully support themselves with the fresh eggs we market. But how is it that they are a gateway?

Well, you see, not long after we brought home chickens we discovered ourselves in need of a duck. Yes, we "needed" waterfowl. Oh, and geese too. I say needed because that's how it felt. It seemed as real as any other addiction you read about. We HAD to have them. So after bringing home a bunch of ducklings and goslings, once again, school started. Only this time the subject was waterfowl. All the while trying to increase our knowledge of growing and producing organic vegetables. So you see, school is in. Indeed, it seems as if there is no close of its semester for us. And we like it that way. Now granted, it would be wonderful if we could get more "practice" but that's what the growing season is for.

Recently, my dream of adding pigs to our little endeavor came true. Remember what I said about chickens being a gateway livestock? Consider yourself warned. So no doubt now any "extra" time will be spent learning about pigs. As with all things on our farm, we will seek out those who did it the "old" way. The traditional way. And under their instruction, school will once more be in.

Our son Eli is quite proud of our latest addition. Berkshire pigs.

While we do not have all the answers to everything, indeed the more we discover and attempt, the more we realize we have so much left to learn. I'd like to invite everyone to join our daily adventures and lifestyle as we begin a new season. Check out our Facebook page, Achenback Farm.

So yes, we are going back to school. But honestly, we never left. Be blessed, John.

To Be In The Know, Ask Those Who Grow

John SalesOK, friends, spring is coming. In fact, despite our recent snowfall it's just around the corner. You have made up your mind that this will indeed be the year you try gardening and growing at least a portion of your own food. Perhaps you've even decided how much garden you would like to have and what you would care to grow. So what comes next?

How. It's a simple question with a somewhat complex answer. How do I grow the vegetables I want to grace my kitchen table? When should I plant? Now at this point in your reading you might expect me to go into some vast detail on how to grow or set out the garden of your dreams. Sorry. You might even expect me to list off any number of good books on that very subject that are no doubt waiting at your local library. Nope, wrong again. While I believe in the value of reading and research, there is one source of knowledge that is so very often overlooked because of its simplicity. Perhaps even the best source. The answer is right there in our own neighborhoods and community.

It is those who have simply done it before, or still do. Friends, you and I have access to the best resource on the planet when it comes to all things green. Our seniors. I learned at a very young age a most valuable lesson. If you want to know how to do something, ask those who have done it for a living. Or to even step it up a notch, ask those who have depended on it for their living. Now this suggestion would apply to just about every undertaking one can think of, but we're talking about food production so that's what we will focus on. What better source of wisdom can be sought out, than those who grew their own food because they had too. As Americans, most of us are three generations at most, dislocated from the farm. In many areas of our great nation, two or at least one of those same generations mentioned still coexist with the present one.

Did you know that the grocery store concept as we know it today did not come on scene until the 1940s? Perhaps even later in some areas. So how did folks survive? They simply grew and produced their own food. Yes, the answer is indeed that simple. Even the "factory farm" model that is sadly so often promoted as feeding the world, is indeed less than 50 years old. And all too often it doesn't produce food, real food. Its reward is "food like" products. Acres upon acres of row cropped soybeans or mill corn. No, friends, even though it might welcome an argument at your local CO-OP, most of your big farmers today have no idea how to go about growing actual food, non-dependent upon chemicals or expensive machinery. But guess what? Chances are someone in your neighborhood does. It could even be that little old man who lives just down the road or perhaps even next door.

I'm going to bet my next sandwich there is someone within a short drive of anywhere in rural America that remembers growing up, growing your own food to survive. That's the key right there. To survive. Not farming as a hobby or growing tomatoes and beans as a novelty, but those who did so because they had too. To do otherwise or to have their crops fail meant going hungry or perhaps worse, starvation. This is the No. 1 resource you will ever find when it comes to learning how to grow your own garden. And sadly, it is most often overlooked and neglected. Don't make that mistake. More often than not, their wisdom can lead you in the correct direction. They can not only share with you what works and what doesn't, but often what time of year to begin and which methods work best in your area. Time is running out. For this blessing will not be here forever, none of us will. And, friends, it's up to us to gain this wisdom and relearn what has been cast aside. Our future very well may depend on it.

Ask your neighbors. Perhaps the elder couple that lives down the road, the farm next door. And chances are, once you do ask and begin down the road that is this topic, you are going to be surprised at how freely the information flows. It's going to be like a faucet with a broken valve. Take notes. Ask questions, solicit even, but do so kindly with a big smile and always with a welcome gesture. Then later on, return with a gift of the bounty nature has provided. We can read all day long. Pour ourselves into every book published and not come close to knowing what those who might be just next door know. I promise all the answers to the questions you might have are just waiting. To one day count yourself as those in the know, ask those who have grown.


 Freshly worked soil sits patiently waiting.

Homestead Hints

John SalesThere are two main suggestions that I would give to any would be gardener who is starting out for the first time. Today, I'm going to focus on these two main points, with more to come later, because I believe every other suggestion I could give still hinges on these two.

One, grow what you know. If you already know you love fresh tomatoes, well then beyond all means, plant tomatoes. But if you don't like tomatoes but you do favor cucumbers, well then, devote the most space to the cucumber. Grow what you already know you like or love. At least starting out. If you are not excited about the prospect of a harvest, then you will always find something "better" to do with your time and thus, your garden will suffer. Trying new produce and vegetables is good and personally, we love it. But when first starting out keep experimentation to a minimum. Many a soul has become discouraged after they labored for weeks or even months, only to find out they don't even like to eat the fruits of their labors. Sadly, that can all too often cause one to never pick up a shovel or hoe again.

Which brings me to my second most important suggestion for a successful first year. Don't grow more than your willing to hoe. Perhaps no other action has killed more interest in gardening than that of planting too much, too soon. Never, I repeat never, be afraid to start small. In fact, I recommend it. Then work your way up in size, as your skills develop and as you acquire the wisdom of time saving methods that can only come with experience.

Last year we had several acres under plow but we sure didn't start out that way. It took years upon years. Not to mention the addition of equipment that makes such possible. But still, we enjoy it and for us it's a way of life. Personally, I love spending several hours a day with the sun on my back and a hoe in my hand. But I admit, many if not most, do not.

If you do not know how much time you want to invest in your new found love for all things green, then a kitchen garden may be just right for you. Especially that first year. And for those out there who might be unfamiliar with the term "kitchen garden," well that's simply a small plot, usually around the size of a kitchen table. Designed to add fresh treats to your dinner. Not to sustain a family thru a hard winter. That comes later. That is if you so desire.

Container gardening is great too for those just starting out or even the old pro who now finds his or herself with a shortage of good flat soil. Just about anything that can drain and will hold soil can be used as a container. Once, I even grew tomatoes in a 50 pound bag of topsoil. Didn't even take it out of the bag! But I will save that "trick" for a future post later this spring. But it can be done.

Starting out and taking that first plunge into the brave, new world that is growing your own food, can be both exciting and frustrating. It is our deepest hope that we can help reduce the latter and that your bounty will always overflow. After all, we might just drop in one day for dinner. John

One of our many past garden plots. Freshly tilled and hoed bean rows.

By Morning Light

By morning's light, a farmer's plight, work before the dawn.

A coffee cup, filled plum up, dew is on the lawn.

A rooster shouts, the dogs they bout, a cat lets out a yawn.

A pair of gloves, an old straw hat, path down by the barn.

The day will start, where last one will end, clock is not needed,

hands left to spin.

The tractor seat's cold, paint no longer bold, tires are worn and thin.

Gone are the days, lost in his ways, fence he forgot to mend.

The engine wakes up, his spirit takes sup, drinking the field's end.

Plow is all bright, dirt clods take flight, face shoots out a grin.

The day is now dawn, when others will wake, gone is the reason,

the jobs they did take.

But the farmer he laughs, his face full of dust,

it's not a job, life's not a bust.

The seeds are so small, yet grow will they all,

golden strands, waves so tall.

The field now bears, the scars of his tread,

the reason he works,

the world needs bread.

Dawn breaks across the farm. A new workday begins.





A Winter's Rest

John SalesThe air is crisp, the farm is silent. Snow on the fence, a frayed coat's eyelet. The ground now sits, resting from toil. Eager for seeds, asleep is the soil. The barn doors hinge, all tightened with rust. Will loosen once more, with coming spring's thrust. A time for pause, a season of trust. For warmth will return, flower buds to bust. It's winter on our farm, a time of long yarn. Of seasons' past, our pantry's charm. So we will yearn, for thy return. Hope for next season, a winter's rest earned. Our Great Pyrenees stands silently against the winters landscape. Always on guard.

Our Great Pyrenees stands silently against the winter's landscape. Always on guard.