My friend Allen Edwards and I just returned from the 30th (I think) annual Small Farmer's Journal Horsedrawn Auction and Swap Meet (this year held in Madras, Oregon). My youngest daughter, Emma, went with us. We all had a wonderfully enjoyable, inspirational and educational time. The entire trip reinforced the idea that community is not necessarily defined by geographic proximity.
As a group, the farmers that came to the auction were a very optimistic bunch, despite the uncertain economy. We talked to a couple from Walla Walla, WA, who operated a market garden using horses for their traction. We spoke with a woman from northern Washington who operated a 20-member CSA and raised Icelandic sheep. We met a farmer and entrepreneur from Tennessee who had imported treadle-powered threshing machines from China. We reconnected with our friends from Midwest Leather - harness makers who recently moved from California to Utah.
On the first day, Emma connected with a group of kids her age - they had great fun playing on the grass near the equipment that was being sold. The rest of the weekend, these kids played together, which gave us parents a chance to meet one another. Among the folks I met was a man about my age who grew hay (with horses) part-time. We talked about trying to farm full-time. For both of us, it was important not only as a way to make a living, but also as an example for our kids. We both want our children to learn the skills that we have (especially related to using horses and mules). We also both want our kids to see that we're doing something we love - even if it means making less money.
While I try to be fully engaged in the community in which I live, this wider community of smaller-scale "alternative" farmers is also important to me. I came home energized and excited to get busy with our summer work!