Travis Johnson

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since Feb 03, 2016
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9th generational farmer, our farm having officially started in 1746, but dates back to the Mayflower. We had the first sheep shearing shed in new England, and always had sheep to 1988. For 20 years we went without sheep until I took over the farm in 1992, reintroduced sheep in 2008, and in 2015 retired at age 42 and started full-time farming. We are still struggling at farming, and probably always will, but the goal is the same...another generation.
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Recent posts by Travis Johnson

Steve Farmer wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:So I have extensive geothermal heat set up, yet found in the summer that same system cools my house.

Interesting... Have you got a thread or a post about this? Im looking to set up a simple geothermal cooling system along the lines of a copper coil in the ground with water pumped thru it, so i can cool a subsurface shallow dew pond. We have zero precipitation for about 360 days of the year but we have humid sea air and most nights we are tantalisingly only a couple of degrees over the dew point. If i can lose those couple of degrees underground then i should be able to condense a fair bit of water from the air...

No, I do not have a thread about it per se, I have quite a few regarding my heating system which is tied into it, but how to find them over the years of posting on here I am not sure.

I think for what you would want, I might just go with PEX since it is so much cheaper then copper tubing though, and comes in long, long lengths.

I often thought instead of using electricity though, a person could use wind power. It need not be an extensive system, just a horizontal windmill with a mechanical plunger that ran a simple diaphram pump to circulate the water in the closed loop system. Just writing that last sentence makes it seem 10 times harder then it really would be. In your case it should work, but I am not sure about the orginal posters case however. I know here, house cooling typically needs to take place when there is no breeze. I mean if there was a breeze, a person would just open the windows and cool their home that way.
1 day ago
This was a swale I made last year as well to help contain water and potential erosion. It too worked well. The photo shows a few rock check dams as well as a rock ford for crossing the swale into the field.

3 days ago
I will throw a few Permiculture Related successes on here. The first is a photo of a field I did last year using nitrogen fixation through planting (timothy and clover), utilizing cover-cropping for green manure and weed control. Obviously the results were amazing.

3 days ago
Sarah...I have shared this before on here, but figured you might have missed it. It was a few months ago that I posted it. Still I think it shows how I felt at a very dark time in my life (January 2018) and hope you, and others can realize you are not alone, but there is always hope. Things do change...

I called it Black Thumb

The snow squeaks under my snow boots as I step upon it on my way to a tree that stands majestically before me. Snow only squeaks if it is below ten degrees, and this morning the digital numbers on the thermometer of my house have a negative sign before them. The thermometer is not the only thing that tells me it is twelve degrees below zero here, and that is Fahrenheit and not Celsius, but almost everything.

I had to beat the gate latch with the back of an axe to get the gate to open, had a battery charger on the battery bank of my bulldozer all night, and used almost a full can of starting fluid getting the diesel engine to start. Even then I am not sure if the copious amount of starting fluid proved too much for the metal rings on one of the pistons because at such cold temperatures, metal loses its strength, and the engine now has a skip to it. I do the math in my head for a rebuild, easily a thousand dollars, not to mention the lack of production that will result from all the downtime. It almost is not even worth it to have started the lumbering machine up, as at best a day of intensive logging will net me five hundred dollars for the day, and that is when things go well. When it is this cold, experience has proven that everything takes longer, resulting in lower production and less money made.

Sadly, it is all about the money because if I had a choice I would not even be out here. Property taxes alone mean I must be just where I am, and despite the damage to moving equipment at such temperatures, at four o clock when my day started, I saw the dreaded email from my banker, demanding a response, and more importantly a payment for a back-owed loan that is two months behind. The words were coarse and haunting, yet typed while he sat in a cushioned office chair, probably a supplemental heater under his desk because his thin argyle socks hardly help from the overnight chill of the office building as it dips slightly from seventy-two degrees down to sixty-eight. All this helps to form a tear in my eye from the cold, anger, resentment and jealousy that wells, and just as quickly freezes.

“I made the commitment, I gotta make the payment”, I say to myself, as I talk to myself, which is something I do a lot, and yes, I even answer myself. I spend ninety percent of my time alone, and with the exception of Ole Buck, who has become a friend these last two years; following me around with his big fourteen point rack since my skidder, bulldozer and chainsaw keep the deer hunters away in November, and the limbs and tops from the trees I cut, provide feed on which he can dine in the winter; I live a solitary life. Yet the statement I make to myself is the heart of all farmers; we pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, and try to soldier on, even though no one can predict the future, and for us the odds are stacked against us. Agriculture policy, government bureaucracy, and the fickle taste of American’s palettes all play a role in creating an environment in which we tread, yet have little control over it.

I wish I could talk to my wife about such things, but with four young daughters, she is forever preoccupied. Monday is grocery day at all costs, and when the kids are not in school, parent teacher conferences, school pick-ups, and church events all take up her time and concerns, so what is there to say? I hint, but even she misses the dire signs; “I am so tired”, “What about you getting a job?” “Is there anything we could save money on?” The pressure to pay bills is mounting, made worse by the fact that we are already frugal. With no vices to blame, like cigarettes, drinking or smoking; emotionally there is nothing to fall back upon either. There is nothing to numb the pain of guilt for not working hard enough, and the incredible amount of fatigue.

The latter is not from depression, but rather from cancer that is confirmed within my body. It was discovered six months before when my chainsaw cut through a sapling that was bent over by a felled tree. When it whipped up, it sent my chainsaw flying into my face leaving me knocked out and a gash between my forehead. With no cell phone…a needless cost since I have no one to talk too anyway…I looked at my skidder for a second, saw it was hitched to too many trees for a fast getaway, and instead starting to run, the snow at my feet covered in spraying blood. I made it just past the stream, just past the halfway point to my home and passed out from exhaustion. Coming too, I saw the pool of blood in the snow and knew if I did not get up and run, I might never get up. Again, that solitary life, where it could be hours before anyone even suspects something is amiss, let alone that I might be out in the woods and in trouble. However, I did make it home, made a call to 911, and ultimately to a hospital where twenty stitches and four days in the hospital allowed me to recover. It was there, in getting my CAT Scan for my concussion, that cancer was found.

A few months later it was removed, but the bank does not care if a farmer had surgery and could not work, or that the cancer depletes all energy levels. Every part of me is sore, and this includes the soles of my feet that are now feeling like blocks of ice in the deep freeze Maine is now in. I try to shake it off, to clear my head, of bills to pay, a sputtering bulldozer engine, snow up to my waist and absolutely no energy. The doctor’s think blood tests show signs of my cancer spreading, but I already know it has; not because I am negative in nature, but because no one knows my body better than me, and I can just feel its affects.

And yet in some ways I feel fortunate because I have good insurance, a benefit of years of working for unions that provide benefits after retirement. In regards to health insurance, that is great, but in terms of the life insurance it is more of a curse. That is because I know I financially I am better off dead than alive.

As I step up to the tree and begin to bore my way through the first cut, what would have normally taken just a few seconds to power my way through, takes an agonizing amount of time despite the sharpness of the saw due to the frozen wood. Still it is that same saw that can give my family what they deserve, not from the felling of trees that can be sold to a paper mill for money, but the taking of my life. Secretly I wish it would, and looking deep into the photos of me logging, a person can see it; not so much what is seen, but what is not. There is no safety gear, for if I make a mistake and my saw makes contact with flesh, what is it to the world? It has already happened three times, and it is not because I am too dumb to learn from my mistakes, but rather because I do not care if the next cut is fatal. I am just a dumb sheep farmer who misjudged income levels, cannot seem to work hard enough to pay my bills, and could relieve my wife of her vows of matrimony for life so that she could find someone better, someone with more energy, and whose dreams did not involve little white woolen balls, eating green grass, pooing out black pellets, that somehow makes red meat.

I have told her this, at least in my own way, telling her through tears that it sucks when your dreams die. She did not understand the gravity of the situation, and while she was sad and teared up, she has no idea how many times suicide runs through my head.

Even now, as a stream of sawdust spews from my saw; the thought invades…a shotgun blast to the head or the chest…which would be a faster death? I have thought of it so many times it does not even bring me to tears anymore, just a dark somber though of the details of it. I really do ponder which technique would be better. Just from this alone I know today will be a bad day as I know mulling suicide will beseech me all day…will bombard me a dozen times or more as I freeze out in the cold and ponder, ‘why do I do this?’

The truth is I know I am hardly alone, in fact, statistically speaking, I have the highest probability of actually following through with my thoughts. That is because I am a middle aged, ninth generation, full-time farmer. Despite the vast amount of media coverage regarding veterans and suicide, farmers have twice the suicide rate than veteran’s. This is a sad statistic as it is often stated, “armies travel upon their bellies.” This was pointed out one day when at age eighteen, and army recruiter who would not take no for an answer, took me to a restaurant and asked, “don’t you want to do something for your country?” Without saying a word, I gripped his plate of food and slid it towards me. He just looked down, then at me, then back at the removed plate of food and saw the point I was making, and later took me home and never asked again if I was going to join the army. The point was poignant; without farmers the country stops, even the greatest army in the world.

One reason the statistics are so murky on farmer suicides is that we have an ample amount of ways to carry it out. If I cut myself with a chainsaw and bleed to death, no one would be the wiser that it was self-inflicted, and not that of an accident. We also have access to massive equipment, so being driven over by a bulldozer is just as likely from and accident as from suicide, considering the high fatality rates associated with farming. All that and more means the statistics that are often cited for farmer suicides are probably low; very low. Self-inflicted gun-shot wounds are far easier to decipher, but considering the free access we have to them, it is no wonder they are often employed.

With the changes to the tax code, it is more than likely that farmer suicides will increase. This has been one of my most stressful years, and yet because of changes that were not in place just a few years ago, while I cannot even buy stuff to put in the Christmas stocking for my wife, on paper it looks as if this is the best year I have ever had financially. That says nothing about the payments my banker is so adamant about receiving, yet I cannot even deduct that cost, making the stress even more pronounced. The reality is, I must work through flesh numbing cold, to make money that I cannot keep, and pay even more money for making that money again on April 14th. For the farmer this all seems so wrong.

“How patient will my bank be: is the real question, and one I am not sure I know the answer too?

I have a history of always paying our bills, and love the feeling of paying off loans and being current on payments even if it means my family goes without, but there is a limit to trees that have grown to enormous size that makes valuable logs. Even now I am not logging to supplement my logging income, but rather to clear forest into fields so we can raise more sheep. Maine has lost most of its paper mills, and saw mills are failing as their own supplemental markets file for bankruptcy as well. In two years’ time, our forest, part of the American Tree Farm System has lost one-third of its value, and I am scrambling to convert forest into field while I can still get rid of the wood. This was not the way it was supposed to be, family forests such as mine, managed for sustainability were supposed to have its forest products purchased in difficult times as a reward for doing the right thing. Instead, the paper mills chose to not honor that agreement, leaving our well managed forests worthless. For me, this is forest that has been selectively harvested for nine generations. The pressure of losing such a long-standing farm is tremendous, and I would rather face the bite of one hundred shotgun balls to my chest or face then to be at the helm when all is lost.

My faith in God is pronounced, and so far, it has kept me from toting my shotgun to a far-off field and ending it all. It says in the bible that God will not give you more than you can handle, so how can I thwart his plan for my life by ending it via my own hand? Yet I have known many Christians who have lost everything too, and that includes farmers like me. For many I see their nine-hundred crosses dotted across in the mid-west from back in the 1980’s when they could not make their payments. Inevitably many of those farmers had faith in God as well, so how could they have taken their own lives? So far, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, keeping my shotgun resting on the rifle rack, but my chainsaw safety gear on a nail in the garage; should a logging accident end my life, so be it, it would be the ultimate relief from it all.

And so, I as I continue through the cold, notch out my tree, and make my back cut; skill allows the tree to start leaning over on its fateful arch to the earth. Somewhere along the way its branches hit a widow-maker and send a large branch crashing down. I see the movement out of the corner of my eye and dart out of the way at the last second, and yet as it crashes into the frozen ground, I curse myself for instinctually bolting.

“Darn”, I say, knowing sadly I am not under it, and all my problems as a farmer are gone.

Death, a final loving gift to my wife and four daughters.
4 days ago
Again, some of those things I can relate to, and some I cannot, but it does not mean though that I am not sympathetic and on others empathetic. I am honest to a fault, so if I said, "Oh Sarah...I sooooo understand", honestly on a few things I don't, and on many I do..., but I am sorry you are saddened. I really am. Deep hugs wherever you are from a true friend if you could find it in your heart to consider me one.

With the issues I have had the last few years, I felt compelled to write about the last three years of my life, stopping work on a few farming books I was working on. That was because the past three years have been trying times, but I am just now coming to terms with why it all happened, but more importantly, how I can help others through my experience.

It is probably a pipe-dream, but I would love to go throughout the country and share the amount of loss I experienced, my battles with suicidal thoughts, and ultimately where I always had a glimmer of hope. It was enough...just enough...but enough.

4 days ago
Oh Sarah, I know some of the emotions you are facing well, and I am indeed empathetic to you for some of them.

In some ways I wish to comiserate with you, and in some ways not because in my own life a few things are still pretty raw...dealing with cancer, the loss of a baby, the theft of $11,000 worth of forest products...and just a general sense of hoplessness (some days) regarding what seems to be a never-ending parade of people trying to take advantage of me.

Fortunately I have never tried to be something I am not, but just being me has certainly caused problems. Cancer has disrupted my sleep patterns a lot these past three years, so last night I was thinking of just what I want, and know that living a traditional life is NOT something I want. This flys in the face of my parents who are welthy beyond belief, and live a very materislistic lifestyle. My father is a workaholic and retired 5 times, and just retired again. We had a huge retirement party on Saturday and on Monday he returned to work. He just cannot stop. Me...I would rather invest the time with my wife and children. A minamilist by nature, I am happy with less, and in the midst of giving up our sprawling house for one half the size.

However, one of the hardest things to deal with is the theft of our forest products. I get angry when I think about being robbed, and yet feel dumb in ways too because looking back there was some things I could have done to prevent it. I guess they call it victim-guilt. You were pretty vague on what happened to you...and that is okay...I am not prying for more information. I know friends on this very forum who have been victimized in horrific ways violently, and so when I weigh what has happened to me...and how I feel about heart is even heavier for those who have endured far worse than me.

No, the glass slipper does not fit, though for me...a guy...I am not sure what exactly that would be as an equivilent...muck boots definately fit.

I do not believe in Karma...never have and never will...but do know that I am only accountable to make the most of the aspects of my life that I can change, and try my best not to get angry at the man that robbed me.
4 days ago

Katherine Lorena wrote:Greetings All,

Found your information on this topic. Here is my situation, I have 52 acres on the Comite River in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. Am interested in leasing the land for excavation of the Sand. Have EPA and all documents needed to operate as a dirt pit.  What I don't know is how much I could lease the property for and how much I should ask for each Cubin Ft. of material sold. Additionally I have been approached by an individual who wants to set up a concrete crusher plant, should I be asking for "royalties" for the use of the access road on my property to the main highway if used for his trucks hauling the concrete? Comments and opinions would be helpful.  Thank you, 

My suggestion would be to contact you local Dept of Transportation or Public Works Department and ask them what the going rates are. They the very able to get you in touch with the right people (or right agency) so that you will get the proper money for your aggregate.

Here I often access internet listed rates by the Maine Dept of Transportation, or go to the Maine Geological Survey for information.
4 days ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:The only possible way to be totally self-sufficient, in my opinion, is to go full caveman, including a band (tribe) social group on a piece of land large enough to live by hunting and gathering.

I used to be a doomer and worry about these things, and it ruined my life.  So I stopped being interested in prepping and survivalism.  My life is much more rewarding now just being interested in permaculture.

I completely agree!

I have guns and can defend myself, but when I read of survivalists and some of their ideas I just shake my head. I know what would happen in reality, neighbors being hungry would just go to a preppers house, wait for them to be hoeing the garden, and unable to reach for a gun, take them out and steal all their food anyway!

When a person gets into "what if" situations it spirals so far out of control that all it does is start anxiety.

To prepare for a natural disaster or two is one thing, but to somehow think plans will work out in utter society chaos probably won't.

It is always better to live with hope then to live in fear...because...well you are not living anyway!
6 days ago

Gordon Haverland wrote:I have no answer for someone who can't visit the field occasionally to remove fallen trees or deal with broken limbs.

Oh I do!

It is because for the farmer the day starts at 3:30 AM with them knocking some coffee down their throat, a bit of breakfast and in the barn by 4:30 to start getting the cows in to milk. By about 8 AM the cows are fed, milked, and if the milk truck driver does not chat endlessly, or a salesman come to sell corn seed, or a neighbor does not stop in wanting to buy hay, they might get the equipment together to start planting crops, getting crops in, spreading manure. If that is not on the agenda, there might be some veternery issues since there are 1200 milkingcows alone to deal with, much less all the calves and heifers that are not yet milking. Breeding them, checking them, and helping the ones that are sick might also be on the agenda.

If a person is lucky their wife has brought them lunch by noon, though probably something has broke down, had a flat tire, needed fuel, or there was a some agricultural related meeting to attend too. Either way they must get back by 16:00 so they can start the afternoon of milk of the cows. Nothing changes in the routine there, feed, milk, rinse milk lines, etc, and hope all goes well without breaking anything. If it does, it just means you have a longer day because it does not matter what time it is, you are not done until the job is done; there is no end-of-shift on a dairy farm. If a person is lucky they will go to bed about 8:30...maybe 9:00 if they get to spend some time with the wife and kids...

The next day...rinse and repeat. It does not matter if it is just another Tuesday or Christmas, same thing; get up at 3:30 and start your day. Cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year...

It does not let off much in the winter, even if there is no crops to try andplant or harvest. There is no picking up dead fall because there is 2 feet of snow on the ground, and even if there was not, the dead fall would be frozen to the ground after October. Of course what replaces crops to deal with are frozen pipes to the waterers, and snow to push out of the way. Firewood to keep everything warm in the houses, milking parlor, etc.

Oh I can easily see why people do not take the time to go pick up dead fall in a field. It is unfortunate, but I can easily understand why people do  not.
6 days ago