FARMING IS POPULARLY SYNONYMOUS with technological ignorance, but forget that image of the fellow chewing a stem of straw. The men and women who farm today are as likely to be sitting in front of a computer as they are to be perched on a tractor. Farming is traditionally a community-wide activity that relies on the experience of others; using the Internet sites listed below, that community is as tightly-knit as it ever was but also happens to cover a lot more ground. Weather maps and agricultural news are instantly available. Illustrated how-to guides take you through a variety of projects. And all of this information can be as helpful to the weekend farmer as to the full-time professional.
Noah’s Ark is an organic farm based in California; its enthusiastic proprietor tends a Web site called Don’t Panic Eat Organic (http://www.rain.org/~sals/my.html). You’ll find a freewheeling mix of news and gossip and useful information, the kind of stuff you might hear at the general store (if the general store could stay in business). Start with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather link to answer the farmer’s first question, then find out why you should build a barn owl nest--and how to build it, with pictures. Read a treatise on ladybugs (or lady beetles, as they’re termed here) and learn how to identify the many varieties. Noah’s Ark grows an exotic, sweet fruit called cherimoya, and encourages you to do so, too, so you’ll find complete instructions. The lists are haphazard, and there’s little consistency to the graphic design, but this site rates high just on enthusiasm.
Agriculture Online (http://www.agriculture.com) is cultivated by the editors of Successful Farming magazine, who spread the magazine’s contents throughout the site in a way that breaks with the month-by-month tradition. For example, a “Women in Ag” section is based on articles from two different print issues, reproduced electronically, and includes related press releases and event information. There’s also a discussion area where Web readers can exchange ideas about the subject. Professional farmers are the target here, big farmers, who will be impressed by reports on huge dairy operations and what Monsanto’s up to. Also included are the Pro Farmer and LandOwner Newsletters, links to the World Pork Expo report and the Chicago Board of Trade’s futures exchange--and a glimpse back to pages from 1921 issues of Successful Farming. A very professionally rendered site, liberally illustrated.
State government doesn’t have to have a dull Web presence, as evidenced by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/Pages/index.aspx). Although the information at first seems to be geared more toward the tourist than the full-time farmer, digging deeper reveals a core of material that used to require a letter (or visit) to the state capitol. More images and links here than you might expect from a state government agency, with a generous sampling of employee photos. Although it doesn’t dive into the nitty-gritty of farming the way some of these other pages do, it’s a fascinating look at Oregon’s past and future as an agricultural state.
At first, the Whistling Wings Farm Berry Pages (http://www.biddeford.com:80/wwf/ww1a.html) looked like a sales tool for this vast berry farm in Maine. Then the advice on growing your own berries appeared, with plenty of encouragement, which reinforces the old-fashioned farmer’s attitude of sharing what you know. Then there’s the description of the berry farm’s fight with L.L. Bean, who wanted more sugar in the supplied jam . . . nice to see a small farmer stick up for a sense of ethics, even if it did cost the place a large account. No online ordering here, but look for a product catalog, recipes, and a “friends & neighbors” links page. [No longer active.]
If you’re already farming (or gardening heavily), you know the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (website changed; see below) as “cooperative extension,” and it’s a clearinghouse of farm help. The Web site backs that up with a treasure trove of electronic papers. Extremely well organized, livened with occasional graphics and color, it’s a first stop for agricultural research. [Changed in 2008 to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at http://www.nifa.usda.gov/.]
Give The Small Farm Resource (http://www.farminfo.org/) points for good intentions: the site lacks images right now, but it’s still under construction. Even as you watch them raise this site, you’ll find info on topics as diverse as barn building, bats (with a link to the Bat Conservation International Web page), and beekeeping, among many others crop-, livestock-, and general property-related topics. Lots of hand-picked links, too. Definitely for the hands-on farmer looking to solve specific problems. [This site hasn’t been updated since 2006.]
Engineering for Sustainable Agriculture (http://www.ae.iastate.edu/) is maintained by extension faculty with the ag department of Iowa State University. The root of this Web site is a collection of scholarly papers, but a pleasant interface (and a good search facility) makes the job of finding them easier. Read the safe farm series fact sheets, and learn about tillage, livestock and poultry systems, agricultural waste management, and more. Not for the constitutionally weak. [Website since changed to http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/.]
The Sustainable Earth Electronic Library maintains a list of documents describing Plants and Sustainable Agriculture (http://www.envirolink.org:80/pubs/Plants.html). It’s as plain as any library stacks, but the material within is vital: titles like Alternative Agriculture News, the Farm Bill Review, the Practical Farmer, and several others. Check out other topics that SELL maintains, too. [Website since reorganized at http://www.envirolink.org/.]
If the words “Ford 8N” inspire you to rush out to the barn to have a look at the ageless beast, check out the Antique Tractor Forum’s Home Page (http://ledger.co.forsyth.nc.us/antique-tractor). It’s a labor of love run by Spencer Yost through the Forsyth County Government in Winston-Salem, NC. Like an old tractor, it’s pretty skeletal, but it’s geared toward Internet amateurs and contains valuable information to help keep that old rig running. Great photos of old tractors, too, with links to other sites of interest. [Website since changed to http://www.atis.net/.]
Think you can’t compete with the agribiz giants? The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (http://www.inform.umd.edu:8080/EdRes/Topic/AgrEnv/AltFarm/) is as dull looking a site as they come, but it has well-chosen links to help you gather the information you need to keep a small farm going. A good text search feature will get you started. [Web page since discontinued, but the sponsoring college is at http://agnr.umd.edu/.]
– ZD Internet Life, Fall 1995