I spent two months from the end of August to the end of October interning for Rich and Val at Mossback Farm, a 40 acre permaculture farm in Yamhill, Oregon, about 40 miles southwest of Portland. Their main product has been pastured chickens for broiling and for eggs, though they've now discontinued both as high feed prices and increasing energy costs make the business uneconomical. It was a wonderful experience, giving me the chance to experience country living, slow down and relax a bit, and learn a lot about permaculture and on-the-ground aspects of animal husbandry.
Besides the chickens, I helped care for their pigs, sheep, and young steers, which mostly involved daily feeding and watering, with once or twice weekly moves of the animals from one patch of pasture to the next, controlled via portable electric fencing. The most memorable moment of my internship was slaughter day for the lambs--not so much for the slaughter and skinning process itself (though that was a new and unique experience for me), but for the half hour we spent chasing escaped sheep across the pasture, sprinting in work boots to try to head them off and herd them back towards their pen, reading their eyes and faking with them as they juked and tried to slip past us...it reminded me of and made me miss playing ultimate frisbee!
I'm really glad I was involved in the fascinating project of ripping the soil along Mossback's three seasonal creek channels, staking out routes leading from the creek channel downstream, but looking like they go "up" the bank because the fall of our stakes was less than the fall of the creek itself. We then had a bulldozer guy come in and drive along the routes with two tines embedded two feet in the ground, creating deep gouges and breaking up the hard clay. The idea is that we've created massive drainage ditches for water to flow through during the heavy winter rains, pulling water out of the creek and onto more of the land than would normally absorb the rain. If all works as planned, Rich and Val will start noticing their seasonal pond and their creeks lasting longer, eventually becoming year-round water sources. I look forward to revisiting the farm in the future to see how things develop!
Rich and Val have a great library, including Permaculture Activist back issues, books by Joel Salatin about small-scale livestock keeping for direct marketing, books by Daniel Quinn, and a wide range of other agriculture and permaculture-oriented literature. I spent most of my spare time reading through their library, and didn't come close to exhausting it! On top of that, Rich is a huge storehouse of permaculture information, and it was wonderful to be able to pick his brain on all kinds of subjects.
I discovered that I could actually enjoy living in the country, something I'd never really contemplated before. The quiet and the space to manage a sizable landscape is wonderful, and I don't mind the isolation since I'm practically a hermit anyway. I could really see myself pursuing the self-sufficiency thing on a plot of land and enjoying the lifestyle, a path Theressa is interested in but which I've been hesitant to pursue. This realization doesn't change my immediate plan of staying in the city to help Portland through the changes coming down the line, but it opens up whole new possibilities if I decide in the future that I don't want to do the city thing...
All in all, the internship was a great experience. I'm really glad that I had the opportunity, and very grateful to Rich and Val for welcoming me onto their farm and sharing so much with me.