This week we got a gravity wagon.
I wish a gravity wagon was something cool from Calvin and Hobbes that allowed us to jump to the moon--but it’s not. Its just a ginormous bulk bin for grain that has been mounted on a set of wheels.
So why is this so exciting?
Let me explain.
Since we started farming we have been getting our chicken feed in 50 lb. bags. These worked well for us because they were pretty easy to move around. Since we don’t have a tractor we need to be able to lift things with our own hands. Buying in bulk certainly saves money but we don’t have a way to move a pallet of feed or even unload it from the truck so larger amounts were for a long time out of the question.
But over time we have grown all of our operations and we now go through something like 16 tons of feed every year. That’s a lot of chicken feed and a lot of 50lb bags. Moving them all by hand was starting to become a bottle-neck in our work. Buying a tractor with forks that could move whole pallets of feed might help, but we shy away from big machinery for a number of reasons. Plus, we don’t really need a tractor for almost anything else so it would be some serious overkill to get one just to move the feed every once in a while. There had to be a simpler solution.
As this problem was ruminating in our minds, we started talking to a friend who grows organic grain in the area. It turns out that he PAYS to ship his grain all the way down to the feed mill that we get our feed from. Let me say that again: He pays to ship his grain down to the mill. And then we pay shipping costs (on top of the grinding costs) to get it shipped back up to us. There seemed like a better way.
So after some back and forth we went ahead and bought a ginormous metal box on wheels that has a shoot at the bottom which the grain (or feed) can flow out of. That may not sound like much, but let me explain exactly what it means for us and you.
Having a gravity wagon means we can buy feed in bulk. All we have to do is tow the gravity wagon to the feed mill and have them auger the feed directly into it. Then we tow it home and park it near where we will be using the feed. By opening the shoot on the bottom of the wagon we can let it pour into 5 gal buckets which we can distribute by hand to the nearby animals. Way less hand work.
It also means our feed is never bagged. This results in less expense for us but also WAY less trash. For a long time feed bags have made up the bulk of our trash. It will be nice to just cut them out. Replacing tons of trash with a durable metal box that will last for a VERY long time with almost no maintenance feels really good.
And speaking of waste: lets notice what this wagon doesn’t have. It doesn’t have an engine. IT requires no energy to operate. And almost no energy to maintain (I might have to fix a flat tire someday?). And the little fuel required to tow it over to our friend for refilling is a tiny fraction of what was being used to ship the grain down south to the mill and then back up to us. And it is minuscule compared to the energy used when we bought organic feed from who knows where. This wagon eliminates a lot of energy consumption by eliminating processing steps and transport miles.
Perhaps even more importantly though, having this gravity wagon also allows us to shorten our supply chain and be even more intimately connected to it. I now know exactly where our animal feed is coming from. I can visit the fields. I can call the farmer and ask him anything. I trust his practices. Not only was our previous feed of unknown origin, but in fact the vast majority of the organic grain in this country comes from overseas and is dubious at best. But now, we have a close personal connection to our animal feed which means we can monitor quality intimately. And of course there is security embedded in that--we are no longer subject to possible hiccups far down the supply chain where we have no sight or influence. And of course that means the eggs and chicken that you eat are not at risk in that way either.
And of course, that brings us to the human element:now we are supporting a friend and neighbor. We are encouraging good, land healing work, in our neighborhood. We are helping a friend stay in business and make a living. And of course, when you buy our eggs or chicken, you now know that you too are using your food dollars to create a really sustainable ecosystem, economic system and social system that is building health in fields, fowl and friends. And that perhaps is the part that feels the best.
So just a big metal box? Or an important link in a strong chain? A chain that starts in a field near my farm and ends on your dinner table. A chain that you can ask me about at any time.
I think that's pretty cool. And I’m pretty excited to have that wagon.