"Who can weld?" Geoff asks. Keen to impress, my hand goes up. “I will see you at the shed after dinner tonight then”, a twinkle of excitement in his eye. This is the story of the chicken tractor on steroids from concept to birth.
The story goes that after Geoff’s visit to go see Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost, he couldn’t stop thinking about the outstanding quality of the compost, the good health of the chickens, and the great egg production, all without having any grain or food inputs. After very long talks with Karl, Geoff’s thoughts where that the compost he was producing had an unusual inoculate and that could be the ‘hinge pin’ element, especially within a crop garden production system, to supply a regular amount of nutrient close at hand. The idea was rapidly forming in his head as they exchanged compost theories.
Building the chicken tractor was an amazing experience for me. It had a real community aspect as other interns volunteered their time and skills towards the project. Friendships were formed and many a nick, cut and laughs where shared. The anticipation grew in our group of interns to see this monster out and performing.
As the after-dinner sessions continued into the weekends, more help was on offer. In fact, there were deals taking place. “I will help you, if you teach me to weld”. Done — sold to my American friend. Many skills where learnt by all — a bit of carpentry, welding and metalwork. Then after the final weld, I stood back and watched the tractor as it rolled out of the shed. Proud not of what I had achieved but more so humbled by the people here practicing the people care ethic.
I’m sure Geoff could have built a better ‘chook’ tractor in the same time, but I think he had a greater plan. Each element on the farm here has to fulfil a minimum of three functions. This chicken unit has many functions — not just as a mobile compost making system, or a weed suppression tool, but also a community engagement tool. This is a research institute, we are all still learning here, even Geoff.
No such thing as mistakes here, only lessons.