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Back to the Basics with Food, Farmers, and Fun

By Brooke Barber

On Saturday, October 21, Dr. Alex Olson and two groups from Honors 251 embarked on a field trip to Rough Draft Farmstead in Monroe County, Kentucky. The two group’s topics for their Honors 251 State of the City reports are sustainable agriculture and local food. Hannah Crabtree and Jesse Frost, the owners of the farm, prepared a meal of Butternut Squash soup and cornbread for the students using food grown at Rough Draft as well as Bugtussle Farm next door. The two farms work closely together and value the true meaning of what it means to be “neighbors.”

Honors 251 students at Rough Draft Farmstead with Hannah Crabtree, Jesse Frost, Dr. Alex Olson, and Oksi the dog.

Honors 251 students at Rough Draft Farmstead with Hannah Crabtree, Jesse Frost, Dr. Alex Olson, and Oksi the dog.

The meal was prepared in an outdoor kitchen which many of us agreed was a unique discovery. A tour of the two farms was next, in which the farmer and guide Jesse led the students to the vegetable and plant plots. Here he explained how all of the plants are grown without the use of any chemicals. He is proud of how much is produced on the three acres allotted for planting. Included on the plot can be anything from kale, onions, corn, cabbage, carrots, and pumpkins to flowers and seasonal vegetables.

Jesse and Hannah prepared a delicious meal of butternut squash soup and cornbread in the outdoor kitchen, which has no electricity or running water.

Jesse and Hannah prepared a delicious meal of butternut squash soup and cornbread in the outdoor kitchen, which has no electricity or running water.

The tour continued on to the livestock production, which contains a cow herd with one bull, sheep, chickens, and the sweetest guard dog Oksi. At this point Hannah returned from the Nashville Farmers Market and joined in for the rest of the tour. Here they explain why their herd is so important. Where many other farms use livestock primarily for meat or dairy production, their herd is mainly used for what else they have to offer: manure. They hope to no longer bring in manure from a neighbor’s farm, but rather from their own herd to sustain the soil and nitrogen levels needed for their vegetable plots. They explain how tobacco farming exhausted this area of the farm. Desiring to restore the land, they instituted rotational grazing into their practices so that the animal waste can bring back to the ground what was lost through excessive production of the one plant.

Hannah explains the rotational grazing system while Jesse moves the fences.

Hannah explains the rotational grazing system while Jesse moves the fences.

The cows and sheep rush to get the first bite of tasty grass after the fences are moved.

The cows and sheep rush to get the first bite of tasty grass after the fences are moved.

A highlight was witnessing the moving of the fences. Everyone could feel the ground shaking as the cows and sheep stampeded into the new section of land to get the first bite of its tasty grasses. The fences block off an area of the farm for the animals to graze on while excreting waste, returning nutrients to the soil. The fences are set up for the next day and the animals are moved every day to prevent exhaustion of one area.

The movement of the chicken herd follows the movement of the livestock. If cows were to move freely on a range, the herd would be followed naturally in the wild by birds and predators. Here Jesse and Hannah noted that the chicken coops are dragged by a tractor to follow closely behind the cow and sheep herd’s footsteps. They pick up any remaining nutrients and follow the herds as a source of food and protection. Oksi makes up for the lack of protection by the herd (due to fencing) and, as the guard dog, wards off the chicken’s predators.

Jesse describes how the chickens are working in tandem with the cows and sheep to restore a former tobacco farm.

Jesse describes how the chickens are working in tandem with the cows and sheep to restore a former tobacco farm.

The last and most amazing feat shown to the students is the use of a gravity-defying water pump. This system pumps water from two conjoining creeks into tanks near the herds up the hill. The tanks provide the water source for smaller tanks used in the grazing lots. The mechanisms of the machine are puzzling, as no electricity or other source of energy is used to pump the water,only gravity and water. A concentrated stream of water flows downhill to power a metal pump-action machine that sends it further up the hill. It functions due to pressure in the tubes that forces the water uphill with no other place to go.

Spending her day in Nashville at the Farmer’s Market, Hannah explained that many local farms have made an initiative to work together to promote healthy farming practices and involve the community. They also come to the Bowling Green Farmer’s Market, where they distribute food to shareholders in their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The CSA shareholders—including Dr. Olson—pay an upfront cost for the products that will be produced later in the season. Each week, the produce is divided evenly between all the shareholders.

Rough Draft Farm along with Bugtussle Farm hope to move even closer to complete sustainability in the future and expand certain capacities, including beekeeping. After a delicious meal and fun day, we thanked Jesse and Hannah for hosting us at their farm and sharing their insights into agriculture sustainability and local food. Before departing, we got the chance to meet Destiny’s Child, a three-week-old orphaned chicken that Hannah and Jesse are raising themselves after its siblings and mother, Beyonce, were killed by a preditor. They named her Destiny’s Child because she is a survivor!

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