Heavy Metal

The farmer inspects the harvest with Andre, owner of Wild Leaven Bakery. Thanks to local wheat guru Gogo for this great machine!

Materialism isn’t all bad. Quite the opposite—our society wouldn’t be so wasteful if we valued objects more, rather than treating them as disposable. That’s why I’ve enjoyed scouring the landscape for rusty 1960’s-era farm equipment. Growing field crops calls for a menagerie of machines. From tractor and seed drill to combine and seed cleaner—the one thing they all have in common is breaking down. Going in, I thought farming was about growing food, but turns out it’s really about taking a daily bath in hydraulic fluid. Reluctantly, I’ve become a decent diesel mechanic.

 The ol’ tractor was working well enough to install four acres of ponds for our keyline flood-flow irrigation system. With 20 6-foot gates, we can flow 1 million gallons per hour into each cropland. If you’ve ever flood irrigated the traditional way, you know it involves shoveling mud day and night all week long. Instead, we open the floodgates and send a sheet of water a half-mile in one half hour. We may be the first in the world to attempt this type of watering in an annual cropping scheme. So far, so good…

 Our first crop was Sonoran White Wheat. This is the drought-tolerant wheat that sustained people west of the Mississippi prior to the Green Revolution, and inspired that staple of southwest cuisine—the flour tortilla. In the end, we picked up the ancient wheat with an antique combine. To our amazement and delight, the machine ran flawlessly.

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Summer Campers serve as “human sandbags” in an experimental flood-flow irrigation release.

Sonora Wheat soaks up the last light of the day.

A farmhand cleans the straw walkers