Category Archives: Internships

Another Growing Season in the Books

It’s been a ridiculous amount of time since I’ve blogged.  I probably should apologize, but I’m not sure if anyone reads this anyway.  But with a 160-acre farm, a full-time teaching job, a wife, and a young son (oh yeah, that is new, too) I feel like blogging definitely falls on the low end of my priority scale.  You understand.

Good Life Ranch has grown and changed a great deal since December 2012, which is the next blog post down the page.

I’ll try to go through the most exciting (for me) changes and improvements we’ve made, in no particular order.

#1 – We traded our goat herd for hair sheep.

 

St. Croix sheep at sunset

 

Not everyone made it into the picture, but you get the idea.

The goats were great, and did their job of clearing brush well.  So well, in fact, that they ate themselves out of a job.  We were actually able to sell the entire herd to one farm so they all got to stay together as a unit and keep their herd structure intact.

Now that our pastures have been improved a bit through our management-intensive rotational grazing, we decided that hair sheep would be a good choice.  They don’t compete much with cattle in terms of the species of plants they graze, they don’t share parasites with cattle so each becomes a dead-end host for the other species’ worms, and the meat is a lot easier to market than goat.   They are also a dream to shepherd around the property, unlike the goats.  They also stay where you put them, unlike goats.   Want to test a maximum security prison?  Put a herd of goats in there and they will find the potential escape routes for you.

 

Our sheep are a bit friendly, as a bonus.

 

#2 – We chose a breed of hog to stick with.

Back in 2012, we were trying out all manner of heritage hog breeds and crosses – we had Gloucester Old Spots, Red Wattles, Mulefoots, Durocs, Tamworths, Hampshires, Berkshires, Herefords…. all have their strengths and weaknesses.

We settled on Large Black hogs.  I trust I don’t need to describes their physical appearance.

Large blacks are good grazers, docile, fertile, good mothers, and very intelligent.  They also have delicious marbled meat that can only be described as “phenomenal.”

They have thrived here for us.  We had a new litter just the other day and the piglets are already roaming all over the pasture following mom on her quest for falling nuts.

 

Piglets! Not large yet, but definitely black.

 

#3 – Our cow herd is growing and thriving.

We have grown from our initial 2 cow-calf pairs into a herd of 17.  We have had a few more animals go through our farm.  Some have graced plates and some have gone to join other herds.

Red poll beef is just awesome.  We raise them for 30 months on nothing but grass of course, and the meat is flavorful and so tender that you really don’t even need a knife on the steaks if you cook them right.  I’ve never had such tender beef before.  I was very nervous before trying it.  Our other meats were very good, but beef on grass only really reflects the character of the grass that the animals are raised on, and I was worried that our still-too-acidic soil would produce off-flavors in the meat.  Not the case at all with our beef.  I’m either lucky or good.  Probably door #1 on that one. 

 

Our herd of cattle and flock of sheep. Our “flerd.”

 

 

A bottle calf. That was a learning curve for everyone.

 

 

Red Poll bull Shuter’s Last Chance aka “Russell”

 

#4 – Back to dogs as livestock guardians.

Even though there is the added chore of feeding them because they don’t eat the same things as the stock they are guarding like llamas and donkeys do, dogs have the advantages of mobility, intelligence, and aggressiveness.  Our new dog, Bubba, is a rescue from a colleague at work, and you don’t mess with his charges.  The first time I picked up a newborn goat kid with Bubba around, he tried to kill my ass.  In front of my grandmother, no less.  Had me down on the ground, big holes in my best jeans.  So now Bubba gets tied to a fence post or tree whenever I have to work with an animal.  But if he’ll do that to me, I now a coyote or a livestock rustler (yes, those exist and strike often around here) doesn’t stand a chance.  Our neighbors have lost animals to both and so far we have not. Bubba did chase a utility company lineman out of the field and the lineman was yelling to his buddies to “shoot the polar bear!”  Bubba is 140 pounds, but still a bit shy of polar bear status.

 

Bubba

 

 

The bane of Bubba’s existence.

 

#5 – Our infrastructure is improving.

We have 4 fields fenced in now, and water access in all 4 with no lugging of 5-gallon buckets for hundreds of yards, which is good becaause I’m getting old.  All told we have around 45-acres of grazeable land now where even if an electric fence is knocked over by wind or a rogue animal the herd still can’t wander off.  

We’ve installed a water tower to gravity feed water to 2 pastures, a solar pump to supply water to the 3rd, and a couple of ponds to collect water for the animals’ use.

 

2 ponds collect water on the hillside

 

I’ve built Eggmobile 2.0 so that the laying chickens can follow the sheep and cattle around the pasture, filling their ecological niche as nature’s sanitation crew.  This version is much sturdier and more maneuverable than its predecessor.  I’ve also built the pigs a Love Shack to keep them warm in the winter and give them a place to make a nest for their litters.  It can be pulled around the farm as needed to keep the pigs moving around the pastures and woodlots as well.

 

Eggmobile 2.0

 

 

The Love Shack for the large black hogs.

 

#6 – I took a Permaculture Design Course and am now a certified permaculture designer and consultant.

This was one of the best courses I have ever taken, and I have been to a LOT of school!  I took the course from a man named Geoff Lawton, who is well-known in the permaculture world, and I can’t say enough about his teaching ability.

If you are unfamiliar with it, permaculture is a discipline that uses ecological principles to benefit humanity and the environment.  Basically learning how to accentuate and accelerate natural processes in order to create security and an abundance of food, energy, and health.  I highly recommend looking into permaculture.  If you’re reading this blog and not a blood relative of mine, you’ll be interested in it.  If you are a blood relative, you may still be interested.  Because it is interesting.  🙂

I am now able to use my knowledge to create and design properties for people who would like to create a little slice of food-producing, energy-producing, waste-reducing, health-increasing, happiness-inducing oasis on their property.  If you are interested in doing something like that, get in contact with me.  I’d love to help you make your dream come true!  

Geoff Lawton doing his thing.

 

#7 – Lifestyles Lane is ready.

Thanks to the help of our intrepid interns, we now have quite the impressive array of structures back in the village.  I believe I have posted about Haiti, Cambodia, and the urban slum.  We also have India, China, a refugee camp, Moldova, and a Maasai round house.

I am indebted to all of our interns who gave so generously of their time and energy to help us build all of this, so I feel the need to credit their effort by listing them here.  They are:  Cameron Day, Alexa Zanikos, Grayson Middleton, Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, Dana Eardley, Meredith Prentice, Sam Abney, Jacob Klein, Riley Francis, Allison Vigil, Rachel Seidner, Trevor Antrim (twice!), Bianca Lopez, Mariana Vazquez-Walter, Alex Cohen, Sarah Elizabeth McLaughlin, Emma (King) Fife, Tyler Swank, Hannah Kavy, Laura Prentice, Gabriela Castanon, Jake Weeth, Joy Rathman (twice!), Mackenzie Despain (twice!), Judah Oechsle, Grace Herndon, Abigail Land, Brianna Vitt, Sarah Gonzalez (twice!), Savannah Gonzalez, Liam Day, Caitee Nigro, Nicholas Ochoa, Avery Riester, and Isabella de la Rosa.  Muchas gracias a todos!

It’s been a great couple years.  I will put more effort into keeping this blog more active.  Please ask questions and give feedback in the comments section.

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Second Session

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Our second summer internship session has come and gone.  Many thanks to Trevor Antrim, Mariana Vazquez-Walter, Bianca Lopez, and Alex Cohen for their many contributions to the ranch.

I’m too tired from the hot day outside to write the traditional essay about all the group accomplished, so here’s an alliterative assembly of their efforts.  (With apologies to Laurie Smith, Adele Barnett, and my wife if some of the following words aren’t real) these interns:

  • initiated India
  • hauled hydration
  • provided a paddock
  • weighed weanlings
  • stacked straw
  • raised roofs
  • trashed a truck
  • squished squash
  • planted pumpkins
  • buried beans
  • whacked weeds
  • acquainted the Amish
  • wrangled rabbits
  • chased chickens
  • conquered Catan
  • gathered gravel
  • planted posts
  • slathered stucco
  • stacked sandbags

2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374729892592146.88189.102369686494836&type=1 

 

Introducing the 2012 Interns

We are happy to announce that the following young people have accepted internships at Good Life Ranch this summer:

Samantha Abney
Trevor Antrim
Alexandra Cohen
Riley Francis
Bianca Guevara
Jacob Klein
Bianca Lopez
Rachel Seidner
Mariana Vazquez-Walter
Allison Vigil

Once again we had by far more applications than available positions, so we definitely had some difficult decisions to make.  We really appreciate everyone who applied and the growing interest in working at GLR.

These young people are committing to a great deal of hard work helping us set up an educational sustainable farm and poverty simulation to better the world in which we all live.  They will be doing important work and we salute them for choosing to take it on.

Congratulations to all of you and we are looking forward to your arrival!

Internship Application

It’s that time again – time to apply for an internship at Good Life Ranch!

Last year we were so lucky to have so many wonderful interns.  We had a ton of applications and were able to select some truly remarkable young people to come to the ranch and learn about sustainable farming practices for 3-week sessions.  This year should be even more fun because we’ve got so much more going on at the farm now.

We do reserve some spots for students at The International School of the Americas, but we encourage any eligible student to apply.  We consider eligible to mean 10th graders through early college students who are intelligent, hard-working, and who want to learn more about food and how it is grown.

We look forward to your application!

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Dana and Meredith

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Our final internship period of 2011 brought us Dana Eardley and Meredith Prentice.

Dana Eardley will be a senior at the International School of the Americas in the upcoming year and she decided to take this internship as an opportunity to further her understanding of the relationships between plants, animals and the folk that take care of them. Dana is very fond of the environment and is striving to learn the steps that we can take in order to preserve the land while still producing the food that we need in order to survive. Her interest in poverty education also encouraged her decision to take this internship as she sees Lifestyles Lane as a great way to educate students on the topic.

Meredith Prentice will also be a senior at the International School of the Americas next year. She was very eager to participate at Good Life Ranch having interest in sustainable farming and getting a chance to work with the land. Having a love of the natural world, she found this a great opportunity with the intention of dedicating future studies to the environment

We got a lot more work done during this final internship experience.  Dana, Meredith, and I continued work on the Haitian dwelling in Lifestyles Lane – making a lot of progress on the cinder block walls and completely finishing the paver floor.  We also integrated Captain Jack, the new livestock guarding alpaca, into the herd of goats.  The gardens are into their heavy harvest period now as well, and we spent a great deal of time harvesting and preserving our garden vegetables.  We made pickles, froze pounds and pounds of beans, made salsas and jellies, and canned pear preserves.

Meredith and Dana were great workers and we will miss them a lot!

 

Cambodia

In a three-week period with the help of our Fab 5 interns we completely built the first dwelling in our poverty simulation called Lifestyles Lane.  We started with the Haitian dwelling while previous interns Alexa and Cameron were here and we did make some progress on that structure while the Fab 5 were here as well, but I decided to focus on the Cambodian dwelling when the largest intern crew of the summer was here in an effort to complete it.  Mission accomplished!

Finished!

This structure is meant to represent one household in Cambodia.  It is up on stilts just like a rural house would be in that country so that ducks and other livestock can be safely housed underneath the sleeping family at night.  We’ll have that too once we get closer to opening for real.  We will also use the dirt we dug up for the footer on the Haitian dwelling to construct a rice paddy behind the Cambodian dwelling that the family can plant and harvest.  Hammocks will hang from the rafters and there will be a small lean-to for cooking added as well.

All told, the structure is 16′ long by 10′ deep for a floor area of 160 square feet.  Not large, but I’ve seen houses in many developing countries smaller than this that held 8-12 people each and every night.  Personal space is usually not an option in the developing world.

The building is supported by 8 posts set in cement.  2×12 boards form the floor and 2×8 boards create the rafters.  The floor is covered with vinyl tile and the family is sheltered by a tin roof recycled from a neighboring Amish barn raising.  Bamboo from our own patch was cut and tied to form the walls.  The inside of the dwelling is refreshingly cool and breezy during our current heat wave, just like natural cooling would be a priority in a real Cambodian home.  (I wouldn’t want to stay here during a Kentucky winter, however.)

I think it looks great.  Thank you to Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, and Grayson Middleton for the construction and to Elden Beachy for the tin.

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The Fab Five

The last 3 weeks have been extremely hectic and productive.  So hectic and productive that I haven’t found any time to blog about all of the progress we’ve been making here at Good Life Ranch.  We’ve also had 5 wonderful interns living with us, so getting some computer time during breaks has been a challenge.  They were such a fun group!

Joining us for the past 3 weeks have been Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, and Grayson Middleton.  Catherine joins us after graduating from the International School of the Americas before she goes to the University of Chicago in the fall.  Katie and Annalise are both graduates of Alamo Heights High School and are attending George Washington University and Middlebury College, respectively.  Julian is a sophomore at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.  Grayson is a rising senior at the International School of the Americas.  All of them were absolutely wonderful people and very hard workers – we were so lucky to have been able to convince them to come!

We got so much accomplished while they were here.  I’ll try to list everything, but I’m sure I’ll forget something so the Fab 5 are free to comment and add anything I forget.  In those 3 short weeks we:
1.  Completely built the Cambodian structure in Lifestyles Lane out of lumber and bamboo (more on that in the next post).
2.  Started laying the cinder blocks for the Haitian Lifestyles Lane structure on top of the footer that previous interns Alexa and Cameron helped dig, pour, and level.
3.  Completed our first sales at the new farm stand.
4.  Cleaned out the spring crops in the garden and got the summer crops planted.
5.  Visited farmers’ markets in Bowling Green to pick one to join next year.
6.  Made lots of progress installing the cedar fence posts for the new fence in the front field.
7.  Raised a batch of broiler chickens to processing age, processed them, and sampled them in fried chicken and chicken and waffles.
8.  Started 2 new batches of broiler chicks, a new group of rare Magpie ducklings, and a new group of guinea keets.
9.  Maintained the road up to the top of the hill.
10.  Picked the blackberry crop and processed them into lots of great jam.
11.  Learned that ground cherry jelly is the absolute best!
12.  Survived stitches, upset stomachs, an orthodontical malfunction, a ticket for kayaking sans life jacket, and 110°+ heat indices.
13.  Managed to keep up with all of the regular farm chores as well.

I can’t say enough good things about this group of people.  They were just amazing.

Enjoy the pictures!

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Interns!

Cameron & Alexa pose by Goatel 2.0

Our first interns arrived this week!  Here are their introductions:

Cameron Day is 17 and a junior at the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas. The owners of Good Life Ranch, Geoff and Lindsey McPherson, are both former teachers of his and he was interested in helping them out as soon as he heard about this new endeavor. He is very interested in poverty elimination because he feels that in too many societies large portions of the population are held captive by economic inequalities. He feels that if these inequalities can be eliminated or at least lessened then society will become more fair and free. The first step in eliminating a problem is raising awareness and hopefully the simulations at Good Life Ranch will raise awareness of the different types of poverty that exist elsewhere in the world. He first became interested in this sort of work after he attended a similar poverty simulation at Heifer Project International, so he hopes to help provide other students with the kind of experience he had at Heifer. In his free time he likes to play guitar in a band. Cameron is most excited about building the Cambodian and Haitian structures.

Alexa Zanikos is also 17 and a junior at the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas. Geoff and Lindsey McPherson are her former teachers, and she jumped at the chance to set out on an adventure in sustainable farming with them. Alexa’s interest in sustainable farming was sparked by her dad, who since retirement has set out on a similar journey into sustainable, hardcore gardening in the backyard. She is excited to apply the skills her father has taught her here at Good Life Ranch and bring the skills she learns here back home. Her family has a passion for food and the environment, which manifests itself in a quest to “get off the food grid” by eating as much as we can from her dad’s garden and making as much of our own food as possible (homemade bagels anyone?).  Besides food, farming and school, Alexa is a dancer in the San Antonio-based youth dance company Insight Dance Ensemble.

Today Alexa, Cameron, Lindsey, and Geoff spent the afternoon building Goatel 2.0 – a second goat shelter to replace Goatel 1.3 that the goats destroyed last week.  Goatel 2.0 features heavier construction (2×8’s versus 1×6’s), wheels placed to allow more ground clearance, a slanted roof for better rain runoff, and tarp covering the roof and most of 3 sides of the structure.  After building it we wheeled it down the road and into the goat paddock.  Everyone approved of Goatel 2.0.  Now let’s hope it’s sturdy enough to stand up to several years of goat abuse.

Goatel 2.0

Goatel 2.0

Other projects we’ve started with Alexa and Cameron: weeding the Three Sisters Patch (corn, squash, and beans); planting more hot-weather veggies, weeding and mulching the vegetable gardens, hauling rocks to build the herb spiral, staking out the first Lifestyle Lane structure, and breeding rabbits.  Of course, this is in addition to the normal daily routine of moving goats, poultry, and rabbits as well as feeding and watering everyone.

Welcome Alexa and Camerson!  Glad to have you!