Ben and his fashionable family.

Howdy y’all. Ben here, writing to you on a cool morning from the mosquito-veiled hedgerows and hillsides of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, when I should be weeding and mulching. With the consistent occurrence of oppressive heat, I would normally use this time to accomplish something tangible, like raking mulch, moving animal paddocks, or beaming nice thoughts at my kale, but instead I’m regurgitating my thoughts for the week through this newsletter to be consumed by you, dear reader. 

This past week has been fairly hot, though not the hottest we’ve seen or will see. After some fairly frequent rains, things have begun to dry off a bit. Out and about in the wider community, the hayfields have all been clipped, tedded, raked, and baled. For the first time in six years of raising dairy animals, we actually have hay up in a loft well before we need it. This more closely resembles my definition of insurance, rather than the form of legalized gambling that an actual insurance plan offers. That said, I’ve been having a hard time proving that I’m self-employed, for purposes of paying off an emergency room visit from April. If I could only get one state employee out here to see what it is I do all day, it might be clearer that I do, in fact, work for a living. But they’d have to catch me between the hours of 5:30 AM and 9:30 AM, because after that is my six-hour, unpaid coffee break.

If I weren’t doing this, I’d be just about caught up on my pasture management goals for last week. Oh well. What’s the point of a goal I can actually achieve anyways? After years of observation, consideration, mistakes, and reading expensive books, I’m working on some exciting (to me, at least) strategies for maximizing small spaces for animal nutrition and fertility dispersal, which require minimal fossil fuel use. This year, we’re shifting pigs, chickens, goats, and a cow on paddocks like a giant chess game. We follow up one critter with another to complete the graze, while letting the fowl act like little manure spreaders, and scything down and overseeding any unpalatable grasses and forbs. It’s not like many of these ideas haven’t been kicked around by others for decades, but like so many things that involve being married to a piece of land, implementing tools and strategies such as chicken tractors, and intensive rotational grazing, are awfully site specific. The unobservant farmer can take a wagonload of a hundred chickens and make nothing but a mess if all they have done is read some books. 

Unlike factory farming, pasture-based animal agriculture requires that the steward/farmer be fully engaged with all variables in their project, everyday. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for other types of fun, but having  fun seems overrated in light of the possibility of being held in a detention center, or running out of water (along with 4 million of your close neighbors), or having essential medical services stripped away — all things which are happening now.

Ben’s herd of pastured pigs.

Yes, it is very hot, and I have a baseline distrust of folks who say they don’t mind the heat. Where are all these people at 3 o’clock in the afternoon? A little warmth is nice, and some excruciating heat at the right time can do a lot to ripen some of my favorite vegetables. (I’ve been having a recurring dream about eating okra.) But when someone says they’ve spent a season in Costa Rica, and they feel cold when the temperature dips below 60 (I meet these people every year), that someone ought to spend a day loading and unloading wagon of hay in the Midwest. Especially if they consume beef or dairy. For vegans, I also recommend picking green beans some August afternoon. 

Some well-designed irrigation infrastructure has helped me in my food growing endeavors, but so often it seems like my ability to work easefully outdoors all boils down to my choice in clothing. Firstly, and this is merely my fashion opinion, you got to wear shoes and a hat. Got to. With sturdy enough shoes and a big sombrero, most other clothes would be considered superfluous, were it not for our totally sensible and reasonable social norms. I observe that sometimes people show up at the ecovillage, see all the barefoot kids, and feel like they’ve been lied to their whole lives; like it’s just Big Shoe trying to earn a buck off the soles of us rubes who own and wear shoes regularly. Children are lighter than us. They exert less pressure on their feet. This place, like many rural areas, is speckled with dropped thorns, old fence wire, the occasional rusty nail, and excreta. Just don’t do it, folks. Both my children have lost a toenail, and both have stepped on honey locust thorns. I’ve performed minor home surgery on the older one, when her toe had a difficult meeting with a piece of hardware cloth.

This doesn’t mean one has to buy fancy shoes. Chaco, (and yes, I own two pairs of Chacos), charges twice as much money for essentially half of a shoe. I got a pair because you can send them in for repair, but after a couple of weeks without them, I ordered a spare secondhand pair, because it was going to be another month ’til the first pair got back. They were super nice on the phone. (I am not expecting an endorsement from the fine people at Chaco.) If I were to promote any line of footwear for homesteaders, it’d have to be Crocs, because they can be easily duct taped back together, they float, they clean up easy, they’re well-ventilated, and nobody ever looks good in them. The best feature is that weird little strap you can use to shift between Action Mode and Lounge Mode. The only drawback is that they can literally fill up with manure — not great for working in the chicken wagon. (I am expecting an endorsement from the fine people at Crocs.)

As far as plastic clothing goes, shoes are about all I can handle. Nowadays, people are selling “technical garments”, but truth in marketing would describe these as “plastic pants”. If you technically sweat, I technically wouldn’t ensconce myself in a well-tailored ziploc bag. It’s like being marinated in one’s own bodily fluids. Go for cotton and linen. As a fair-skinned person, who is constantly up in some fine debris like hay or dried chicken manure, a long-sleeve, light-colored cotton shirt, a size or two too big, is my go-to for any type of field work. I like to complete the ensemble with a pair of underwear, which when not underneath a pair of pants is just some shorts without a pocket. Pockets are overrated. Just like zippers. When I have pockets, I put stuff in them, and I lose some of it. Then my pants get heavy, start falling down, and when I’m in town trying to find exact change for my ice cream, hunting for a dime, nickel, and two pennies, I shed little flecks of lint, hay, and dry manure. (Not to mention pieces of old corn and other weird stuff.) Better to just eliminate pockets altogether, I say. That way, nobody is constantly checking their phone to find out the weather, when it’s clearly hot and gonna stay that way for the next two and a half months. 

I top the whole thing off with a wide brimmed straw hat, complete with chin cord, that I scored at the flea market for a buck. The chin cord is essential to keep the hat on my head when its breezy, because I gotta work in the wind, too. I’m also a fan of sunglasses. Really dark ones help me not only look cool, but actually feel cooler when its 99 degrees out. I met somebody once who swore they could strengthen their eyes just by squinting into the sun. Don’t ever do that.

My kids are something of fashion icons themselves. My daughter will wear almost anything, provided its impractical, gauzy, dirty, and falling apart. She’ll stick to an outfit for about two weeks or more, until she comes across something equally inappropriate for all conditions, like a hairnet fashioned out of an onion bag, knee-high fur boots, and my nasty old basketball jersey, all tied together with a poorly stitched satchel and some nylon baling twine. If you’re looking for an outfit that says: “homeschooled at the ecovillage; my best friends are grubs and caterpillars”, then this one’s for you. Arthur on the other hand, donned a sporty ensemble to the pond yesterday evening consisting of some scratched-up swimming goggles and a comically long stick. When he got into the pond, after walking a few hundred yards, he removed the goggles so he could “swim better”, but kept the stick. This playful little number just screams, “I’m going to gulp some pond water and chew cattail fluff, while my dad updates his project list from the dock”. Ooh la la.

Now of course, there’re always a few people who secretly (or openly) have no desire for clothing whatsoever. Arthur is like this, with the exception of tight pajama pants. (The tighter the better.) Sometimes Dancing Rabbit will get confused with the local nudist RV camp just outside of Memphis, but I assure you, we are not the same folks. If you’d like to leave yourself completely exposed to biting insects, solar radiation, and the fixed gaze of your clothesless comrades, I suggest looking them up. At Dancing Rabbit, I’d at least recommend a thick protective layer of dirt, if nothing else. I learned this technique from the pigs. I’m beginning to suspect it’s perfectly natural to cover up with whatever you got, and ignore the fashion judgements of others. I still smell like a herd of pigs just the same, but that doesn’t matter to anybody anyhow, and that’s something I really appreciate about my wider community.

If you’d like to keep up with the latest ecovillage fashion trends, and get a glimpse of many of the interesting things happening at Dancing Rabbit, swing by on Saturday the 13th at 1 p.m. for a free tour of our village. You’re also welcome to join us for pizza night at the Milkweed Mercantile, on Thursdays from 4 – 8 p.m. Check Google Maps for the best directions from your location.