Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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I took this picture on May 26th, 2013, with my wife. It is of her rose bush, that she planted last year. That I kinda ran over once or twice, mowed a little and let weeds over come the entire bush. I spent some time last winter, weeding, re-staking and securing the plant.
We were out by the berries and I saw it and called my wife over so she could see it and admire my handy work. "You have got to take a picture of them," she said. So, I got my phone out. took some shots and notice the rays of sun coming through the trees. I tried to capture both rays and rose at the same time. Below is the outcome:
I showed her the picture and said "My mom always loved roses, and that ray of sunshine must be her admiring them". It was just a comment based on the beauty of the situation and the fact that I miss my departed mother.
It was May 27, 2009 when my mom passed away, which makes the timing of the picture above and the comment all the more poignant. After her passing I wrote the following post a few days later:
My Mom passed away Wednesday May 27th at 5:00 am, I knew this because at 6:23 the phone rang and it was my sister. She couldn't get it out but she didn't have to, my mom suffered from breast cancer and it spread to her bones. She was in terrible pain and in the end it was really a blessing for her, we were selfishly hoping she would be around longer but it truely wasn't fair to her. She had given us everything she had from life lessons to cooking lessons and she was crazy about spelling and grammar. I, unfortunately, let her down on the latter two.
She was delt a cruel hand for life but she raised three really good kids and she always had a smile, a laugh and strong shoulder. She was a great cook and loved to entertain. But what was endearing was her ability to laugh and look at the bright side of every cloud. She lives on every time I cook tomatoe sauce, bread, meatloaf, pizza, well you get the picture. Mom is with most of her family now, they are all probably sitting around playing cards and joking and laughing. She had the ability to forgive like no other, a trait I am still trying to emulate. We grieve and we miss her terribly but she wouldn't want us to morn, she was a partier and that is what she would have wanted.
I never stored the details of time the day she died, I could not have told you the day, the month, or the year for that matter. My memory of the day was that she died and left that void that we all feel or will feel at some time in life. She died and that is what remained as my memory of the event.
This single shot of a rose with sun rays coming through the trees as a backdrop made me think of her love for them and of her . It is sad but at the same time it is so heart warming, being one of those things that makes this hard life we live easier. It made me go back to that post, to re-read what I had felt only to find that I was reading it on the date of the day she passed.
From her I learned it is what we do for others and the impact we have on those around us that makes me a good person. If you look for someone to help, you will find them. Your reward will not be know to you but things will happen that you do not understand. It is not the materials that we own or the clothes that we wear by which we are judged, but by the people we help and lives we touch. Which is how my mother lived her life.
Thanks mom, .
Posted by Brian
@ 12:10 PM EDT
Farming for profit, has there ever been a greater oxymoron? Okay, maybe humane slaughter is bigger. At least from the small farmer's stand point, when more than seventy-five percent of all small farms in the nation, bring in fewer than ten-thousand dollars a year, of farm income, I ask can there be true economic sustainability in small farming.
This year we changed our business model in that we are concentrating our selling on only high dollar produce and fruits. We are still selling mainly on farm but have joined a market in the city. We are hoping that by cutting back on different varieties and concentrating on a few things we can turn profitable. Because of our size, we cannot grow, as much so consequently we do not have a large variety. I want to be a successful grower, but we need to make a profit. Selling only what we grow is hard because we do not have a bevy of different fruits and vegetables, so variety is not going to be our strong point.
What we will have this year is strawberries, blueberries and sweet corn. These crops sell for a premium and there is great demand. We will be able to conserve the 12,000 gallons of collected rainwater because we will not have so many different plants to water. Our organic chicken meat has not taken off as we hoped but this is only the third year. We have increased our layer flock to 120 layers. We are selling most of our eggs directly to Dawson's Market in Rockville. Dawson's does not put them out on the shelves. Instead, they call customers to let them know the eggs have been delivered. We continue to expand the layers (we have 50 more day olds started) striving to get to where we deliver more dozens so we can make it onto the store's shelves.
Being a small enterprise has great disadvantages, especially, when we go up against the bigger growers and grower associations. We did not take on this farm without knowing the physical, mental, emotional and economic sacrifice and that failure was more likely then success. We are going back to the model that first made us money and that is by growing a few things and concentrating on value added products.
We knew going into this that it was not going to be easy. What we were not prepared for was all the different ways your heart breaks. We lost another layer last night. It was stuck under the trailer. I had moved the house in the morning before I let the layers out. I was tilling and I noticed the trailer looked low in the back. I knew I did not crank the front back down after I moved the tractor away from the ball. I saw it and made a mental note to lower the front of the trailer when I was done tilling.
Well the day got away and I did not lower the front. Sunset comes and I go out to put the layers away for the night and that is when I found one under the backend of the trailer. I can only surmise that it was stuck and died of a heart attack. I took her over to the compost pile and as we have done with every other body, returned her to the earth that helped nourish her in her brief existence.
I take it personally, you are not supposed to, you are supposed to let it roll off but I don't. I know I am too attached at times to see the forest for the trees but that will not change. As long as they are in my care, I will always take my mistakes hard and demand a greater awareness. Five years we have been working with layers. I thought I had been exposed to all the perils of layer life, yet here I am still in this damn learning curve.
BUY LOCAL: Do your family justice, find a local farm, ask questions and then support it if it feels right. If you do not get straight answers, it is probably because they are hucksters not growers.
Posted by Brian
@ 12:27 PM EDT
There is no denying that science has been a crucial function in the evolution of man. Scientist are held with high regard and esteem in this country and elsewhere and rightly so, for their dedication is what has moved us out of the dark ages and into today’s light. We think of scientist as being pure of heart and morally motivated for the good of humanity and everything that inhabits the earth. However, with every profession a percentage are motivated by means that are nefarious and or dubious at best. Like the scientist that backed big tobacco for decades proclaiming the products relative safety.
There is a difference between those that recommend a new substance or process, that they think will improve life, health and understanding of things not known; as opposed to those that sell their soul for whatever the cost to produce a report that backs up their benefactors claim. Take a minute, how many events can you think about where this scenario has played out. Our history is littered with bad science and manipulated data so a few of the rich can get richer.
I use scientific studies to make decisions and learn how to take care of a particular problem or system. Yet here I am about to blame science for our human and environmental ills. That hypocrisy is not lost on me. That is why when someone approaches me to discuss the “falsehoods” of organic food I let him or her talk and agree with what is said. Let’s face it, for every scientific study pointing to a benefit of organics there is one pointing in the other direction. You have to ask yourself, why someone would care or spend money on scientific research to refute a claim that a particular method was beneficial or detrimental unless they see or fear an intruder in their wallets. With that kind of motivation there will be rigging of results to benefit the existing status quo. Besides the undisputed facts are that organic food is easier on the environment, does not cost as much and does not have trace amounts of carcinogens, end of argument, debate and story.
For those of you questioning the "cost" statement, you need to take into account the tax dollars being spent to detect, identify, clean and restore our environment to its natural existence due to the imbalance brought on by inputs from conventional farming practices. If you read the literature that is against organics it speaks to how there is no difference, that sustainable/organic practices cannot feed the world and that organics is not scaleable among others. When pro-organic studies come out the IFC is quick to refute those claims with scientific claims of its own. However, it is what they chose not to address that is the most telling.
You never hear of a scientific report refuting the damage being done to our environment and our health. Maybe the IFC learned from tobacco to leave the health issue claims alone. I have not read anything that refutes recent studies finding Atrazine present in the human body. First, it was blood in pregnant women, and then it was found in umbilical cords. It is now known that Atrazine does not pass through the body as we were lead to believe and the build up is causing genes to mutate and metastasize. How can a male bullfrog become feminized if Atrazine left the body? Diactyl, 2-4,D, Atrazine, and all the other endocrine disrupters being used in the IFC, is starting to showing long term affects on us and the flora and fauna. In 2014, Dow-Chemical is getting ready to sell Agent Orange corn seeds. Which means 2,4-D is back in production and ready for even wider use in the United States.
Good science has found a viral gene in the DNA helix of GMO products. This gene identified as GENE VI is a virus that was newly discovered and this causes great concern about its effects on the human body. This is after the manufacture assured the government and the public (with scientific studies) that GMO would not harm animals or humans if ingested. This new finding indicates otherwise. Then there is nano-titanium dioxide (NTD). Have you all noticed that your ketchup does not cling to the sides of the bottles anymore?
Thank NTD, never mind the only independent study done was at UC Berkley, it lasted two years and they found health risks and organ failures in lab rats. Never mind that the England banned the substance. Things like NTD are added all the time to our food supply and we as the consumer are kept in the dark. The IFC will not say they use it and if they do, then the IFC got it into the food supply with a GRAS designation. Generally recognized as safe is what FDA, USDA, EPA and other agencies use to fast track new substances. However, you will never hear that it is being used, how about your mustard or mayonnaise if the inside of the bottle is clean and the entire product is at the bottom, then my guess is NTD is in the substance. The product consistency is still the same, then what changed to make it do that.
Some will say it is normal debate, that people have different opinions and so forth. However, I was taught that you start with a hypothesis and develop a scientific study that can be replicated to prove or disprove the hypothesis. The IFC is trying to thwart science, with support from ALEC, by trying to pass "Ag-Gag" laws, and other ways to hide their problems. We are all paying a price that is not known and we end up being test dummies for the new technology that the IFC adds to the food supply. While the few who are making money off the technology will continue to benefit, in order to remain healthy, the rest of us are left to be our own food scientist.
Buy Local: It is the only way
Posted by Brian
@ 12:18 PM EDT
When you hear the term “Free Range” the natural thought is grass. However, given the definition brought about by lobbyist, free range means “access to” the outdoors. Access to what is the question? In some cases, access leads to cement pads. Cement pads that are not big enough to hold all the chickens in the house.
On the other hand, they actually get to step on dirt surrounded by a fence. No grass, because chickens are hard on soil and if you confine them to the same space the grass cannot recover. As long as the building has a door and the door can open the producer can call their product free-range. USDA for their part is trying to redefine the term and add the amount of time the animal has to be outside in order to combat the unscrupulous.
Done correctly chickens are tremendously beneficial to the soil. They cut down on bug populations and they leave fertilizer behind. The industrial food complex has seized on the USDA definition, raised their prices, calling the chicken “free range” when the chicken most likely has never set foot outside, or even came close enough to the door to get fresh air. You go into these large poultry houses and the smells can be overwhelming with ammonia being most prevalent. It is the environment that they live in that causes the need for anti-biotic and other medicines
How we free range as well as other small farmers is to let the bird out of the house at sunrise and then close the door at sunset. Once the chickens know where their roost is located, they will come home. Provided there has been no predation. Predation is one of the major problems with free range. There are the natural night predators that people know about, fox, owls, opossum, raccoons, coyotes, bears and others depending on the location. If your structure is sound you will not loose chickens at night, or at least we have never lost any at night.
Our losses have all come during the daytime and there are two reasons, dogs and hawks. Since we got Coadee, the dog attacks have stopped. The hawks on the other hand she is hit or miss with. I have seen her chase hawks barking as she runs after them. Then we have lost one or two while we have had her. As with every problem research and knowledge gathering came into play. I found that hanging CD’s up deters hawks. I called around and verified that yes indeed, hawks have acute eyesight and the reflections glinting off the CD’s bother them, so they tend to stay away from those areas.
Besides making the place look sparkling, we have not lost birds to any hawks. We have moved fifty more out on grass but kept them in the barn too long. How do I know this, the birds are not coming outside of their new home. The other day we did a forced evacuation but as soon as all were out of the trailer, they started to head right back inside. It was cold but the sun was out still one by one they all went back into the shelter. It has been three days and we might have ten outside.
Chickens are like that, they get use to an environment and they tend to stay with what makes them comfortable. That is why “having access to,” is so ridiculous. Chickens last maybe eight weeks before processing. If they have not gotten out by the fourth week, they are not going to be true free range. Unless of course we are talking about layers, given enough time and we will be chasing them back into the pen just like every other flock we have ever had. It is a familiar pattern but one that stills brings delight while watching them explore and get use to the great outdoors. That and Fer Coadee. They have known Fer Coadee since they got on the farm as day-olds. The peeps have seen her everyday twice a day since October. They do not know what she is there for but once they get outside the fence, of their pen, they will quickly learn.
Coadee enforces the boarders and keeps the layers close. As an added bonus, Coadee gives them a complete checkup before letting them go back to pen. Okay, she may be licking all over them and feeling their skin and feet but I prefer to see it as a health check. The layers see it as a reason to stay inside the pen.
Buy Local: It is how you make a difference.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:47 PM EDT
It has been a bad two grow years, economically, physically, environmentally and emotionally. We have our doubts. This winter has been a low point for me when talking about future growing efforts and sales. I have heard the saying, "when one door closes a window opens". I never understood that, does it mean I am suppose to climb out the window or let the fresh air in to reduce the odor of defeat.
But as spring nears and the stinkbugs begin to fly around the inside of the house, my feelings change. We are cutting back drastically in an attempt to reach the black this year. Yes, we still might not make it, but I still see potential and my internal clock is starting to wind. I have opened up the rain water collection tanks, we are only planting a few things and we have increased egg production. A thousand strawberry plants will start to produce, eggs are sold into the future and corn will not be planted near BMSB areas increasing the potential for yield. I came across this poem from Alexander Pope, titled "An Essay on Man", and it just struck a cord.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. –
I like to think he is talking about spring as well as humans, and I could not have said or explained it any better. Despite what we will face, we look to the future because of this feeling. Yet, it is just a feeling that Spring brings and jump starts the grower inside of all of us.
Buy Local - Stick it to the IFC and all those that support GMO's
Posted by Brian
@ 04:36 PM EDT
Without knowing at the time, I first learned about the degradation of our food supply before I was a teenager. Sad really, but I now know what I thought was a bad idea really was. It was the late sixties, early seventies and we had a High’s ice cream store down the street. I loved their Butter Brickle ice cream, I do not know what butter brickle is I just know it was decedent.
One day I went to the store and got my favorite, only this time it tasted different. It did not have the same taste. Now, I ate it, but I dismissed what I tasted knowing the next time it would be okay. However, the next time I got my favorite the taste was off again. It then occurred to me that something had changed and for the worst, but still not really understanding that what I was witnessing was the demise of all things natural, tasty and actually healthy. I did not know it at the time but the industrial food complex started to bring chemistry into our food supply because it increased their profits, not the consumer’s health. When the flavor of your ice cream changes a ten-year-old palette is spot on even though a child’s palette is not that sophisticated.
I stopped buying butter brickle and went back to vanilla. When their vanilla changed, I stopped buying ice cream. Through the years, I would try different makers but never got that taste. I still eat ice cream but we make it ourselves from the cream of an organic Guernsey cow’s milk. No chemicals, preservatives, hormones, steroids or antibiotics, flavor enhancer’s stabilizers nothing but sweet cream. While being fun to make it is healthier to eat.
Say, what you want about the advancement of food science, one thing for sure is that the greedy have used it at the detriment of taste, health and the environment. I am sure everyone can remember a special food or treat that one day changed taste. I am not talking about new Coke versus old Coke, but that made from staples, milk, eggs, meat, breads, fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, we are the generation that saw the humble, tasty tomato turned into a tasteless cardboard orb. There is no argument that anyone could make about the benefits of food science without feeling a modicum of shame when talking about the tomato.
The bastardization of our foods is why the "Slow Food", "Local Food", "Sustainable/Organic" food movements have been gaining in followers and spreading around the world. Slow food started in Italy, organic started in the European community and local food came about in the United States. Sustainable agriculture is a worldwide initiative, as it should be. If we do not take care of our environment, our children’s children will be the ones to feel the brunt with future generations in even greater peril. As you read this there are people out there trying to protect us from GMO’s. Monsanto on the other hand spent millions to defeat Prop 37 in California. This is all to close to the great tobacco debate for my comfort. How many years did big tobacco provide scientific evidence that cigarettes were not bad?
That is why what small farmers do is vital to the future of the environment and health of all humans. Have you ever heard of a recall from a local farm or a local butcher? While the New York Times and Wall Street Journal print stories about how sustainable farming will not work, they conveniently leave out the facts from decades of studies. From the beginning of our nation to the 1950’s farmers were organic. Chemicals were not introduced into the farm model until after WWII, when the government had to do something with their stockpile of ammonium nitrate from unused bombs.
A scientist found it made a good fertilizer but also fed weeds. You know the rest, as the “green revolution", took foothold. As chemical use rose so did cancer rates, upper respiratory problems, food borne allergies and most importantly the decline of nutritional values in all of our fruits and vegetables. USDA has been keeping track of nutrient values for produced fruits and vegetables since the 1950’s and since then the nutrient values have declined.
That fact shocked me but I guess it did not surprise me. I learned a long time ago that an organic plant would struggle to get nutrients from the ground and conventional plants do not. That struggle makes the plant nutritious and tasty, the saying “that which does not kill you serves to make you stronger,” really fits. America's diet, known as the Western diet, is from highly refined grains and sugars, high fat and little organic or nutrient benefit. To learn more read Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”. It is informative and gives vetted reasons why obesity and other Western diseases are prevalent here but not in France, where their diet is high in fat and sugars. Known as the French paradox in nutritional circles, their diet creates a conundrum for Western food scientist, who can not explain how such an unhealthy diet does not cause the rates of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and obesity that afflict American eaters.
When you consider Americans use to eat as the French, before the 1950’s, questions about todays dietary diseases naturally occur, especially when you hear the French do not have the numbers of obese people, heart attacks, food allergies and all the other Western anomalies in comparison to our numbers. Not only has food science played a roll in the degradation of our nutrient sources but of taste. It has taken forty years but I am finally understanding and able to connect the dots.
Buy Local: Now that you know, what will you do?
Posted by Brian
@ 08:15 PM EST
Food is in our blood, whether, growing, preparing, cooking or, consuming, food is in our blood. It is why we produce fruits, vegetables, chickens, eggs, honey, jams and jellies. We make our own bread, pasta and tomato sauces. It is why we share our knowledge of Italian cooking. With me, it started in my grandmothers' kitchen. Going over to my grandmothers house brought about gastronomical anticipation beyond mere description, and if dinner was ravioli "fa gedd about it". Arriving at her home and taking that first step through the threshold of her house brought olfactory nirvana.
The smells of homemade tomato sauce stewing on the stove, fresh Romano cheese, grated that day and bread baking in the oven made my mouth water. Not knowing at the time but it was the start of a path that has led me to today. Food has always been at the center of my existence. Growing up, food was at every occasion and if it were a special occasion, the spread would be overwhelming as a child. First learning how to buy fruits and vegetables, then learning how to cook, spending time in professional kitchens and then moving into growing has given me immense satisfaction and as noted here tremendous challenges and pain. If you hear a farmer say, he or she has put blood, sweat and tears into the farm that usually is a literal statement.
You see, food is in our blood and the food we put in our body today will end up being a part of us. This makes why we grow and how we grow a symbiotic relationship. There are tens' of thousands of us doing just that for our communities. Thus making the choice you make on what to eat and where to buy the food even more important. The more you know about your food source the greater the impact you will have on your own health, the health of your family, the environment and future generations. This is our way, your way and everyone's way of making a difference in the lives of others. Lives that we will not know, people we will not see and an earth we will have long ago inhabited.
Food is in all of our blood, so too are all the trace amounts of chemicals and DNA spliced genes. The additives, preservatives, stabilizers and enhancers that are all synthetic are being exposed for the harmful substances that they are, yet we continue to let the IFC introduce new ways to generate profit at the cost of our health, my guess for future health problems will come in the form of nano titanium dioxide. Greed has taken over as the new norm. Greed at any cost is too much, then tie in the detrimental effects to the environment and you see, man is playing with the lives of every being to come after, and they do this with no moral regard.
We say it often; we grow for health not wealth. Unfortunately, we prove that saying each year. Do not get me wrong, we do grow for health, but damn I would like to make enough money so I only have to work one job. It is the first weekend in December and this is the first weekend I have had off since March. Moreover, I am not really off, we still have the chickens, the pullets and all that comes with small grazing animals.
The odds of success are against us, it seems likely that we will fail in trying to make this a full-time profession, but If and when we do have to make that decision one thing will remain and that is growing food will still be in my blood.
Buy Local: Support those that chose to sustain the environment with you in mind.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:41 AM EST
There was a study a while ago linking Atrazine to the castration and feminization of frogs in test labs. Frogs are known as a predictor species. Predictor species have human genetic make-ups, that is, their internal organs and systems are most like humans so scientist can see what is happening to them and extrapolate what can happen in the human body. Industrial farms and large operations use Atrazine primarily in weed control applications. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the affects that Atrazine is having on the environment. The study conducted at UC Berkley and published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" spoke to the affects of Atrazine. .
As you would expect the maker of the weed suppressant is fighting the study and pointing to every flaw they can find. Interestingly, the author of the study worked for the maker of Atrazine years before. His findings showed Atrazine to be an endocrine disruptor but the manufacture dismissed the report. Remember feminized bass, they are a prime example of what an endocrine disruptor can do and bass are predictor species too. The other problem of concern, with the use of Atrazine, is the development of the super-weed.
Weeds are becoming round-up resistant. Leave it to Mother Nature to put man in his place. Therefore, we have weeds now that are resistant to Atrazine, one of the chemicals used in Round-up. Which means these new weeds are going to need a stronger chemical in which to control or eliminate them. That chemical, scientist have said, is 2, 4-D. 2, 4-D is an unknown chemical to you and me until you hear the product name it was used in. 2, 4-D was the major ingredient in Agent Orange. The use of Agent Orange occurred in the sixties and seventies until all hell broke lose when those exposed to the herbicide started getting sick. However, I digress.
The endocrine system regulates hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Any wonder feminization and castrations is taking place in frogs found with high levels of endocrine disruptors. I cannot make this stuff up, yet those charged with protecting our food, environment and health are benefiting from the very industry they are suppose to regulate. They rely on scientific data where the funds to conduct the study often comes from the manufacturer or industry pushing the chemical.
Am I missing something, is it that we die off and are replaced by other people who spend and that is why killing us to make a profit is okay. Why would we expect the FDA or EPA to crack down on the use of endocrine disruptors? Things have to get out of control like Thalidomide, DDT, Bisphenal A (plastic containers) and Phthalates (cosmetics), before the public is warned and then protected from those that seek profit no matter the outcome.
If this is happening to the frogs then what is happening to the humans that have to work around the stuff and ingest trace amounts. If you think washing the food will help think again. You just cannot wash this stuff off; if you could then it would not be affective in the field when rain comes. It has to be able to withstand water in order to be affective in the field. That and the fruit and vegetable actually absorb and contain trace amounts of the chemicals used on them.
Twenty-five years ago, we started growing organic because I learned about trace amounts of chemicals on and in my food. To me “trace amounts,” means the “existence of”. My thought was if I were trying to eat healthy why I would ingest trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals. I am sorry, I respect science and scientist but they are human and we as a society do not have a good record of accomplishment when it comes to protecting people over profit. If we did, big tobacco would not be the standard-bearer by which we judge corrupt corporate malfeasance in the pursuit of profit over health.
Buy Local- Save a frog, a bass, yourself and the environment by doing so
Posted by Brian
@ 10:29 AM EST
I guess I jinxed myself. I do tempt fate, as it were, but I think that is standard operating procedure for anyone who tries to make a living growing food. We got into a new market that is willing to take our eggs.
Just in time, coincidentally, for the layers to slow down production in keeping with the loss of day light hours. We thought we could deliver about ten dozen a week. They originally asked for one hundred and twenty, so I had to temper expectations on one hand, while at the same time, plan for expansion in the other.
Then the layers dropped down to about five eggs a day, about the same time we started losing birds to a hawk. Coadee was outside but we still lost them. We started putting her on a lead by her house. But that was not happening all the time and I got lazy about making her stay around the chickens. The other problem was we lost Floppy. She was the oldest layer and was the one that would warn the others when danger was in the air.
I got to the point, with Coadee, were I would put bailing twine under her collar and attach the other end to a pole outside of her house. All she has to do is walk away and the rope would come out from under her collar. The thought was she would stay until an intrusion. Which she actually does, except, this practice was not a daily ritual. So when a hawk landed on a barren tree outside of the chicken pen, Coadee was not around to distract and run it off and Floppy was not there to screach.
Today, I just happen to go outside, Coadee comes around the house and we head to the pen. I wanted to close the door of the chicken house to keep heat in the house. I climbed over the electric fence and saw a grey hawk on top of what I presumed to be a dead layer. I immediately started throwing things at the bird. None of which seem to phase it. I throw a rod, chicken wire, wood blocks (2) and an orange peg. The only thing that scared it off was a large block of wood used as a chock for the wheel on the chicken trailer.
It flew into the trees near its catch. I went to the house to retrieve my gun. The dog for some reason was aware but was not barking or trying to distract the bird. I do not think she knew really what was going on, or I was too distracted with the task at hand but she was not the dog I had seen before.
I returned with the rifle saw the bird in the tree and aimed at the bottom of the tree. I fired, it flew to another tree, I fired it flew further away; I just kept that up until it was gone. Hawks are a federally protected species as well as it being illegal in the state of Maryland to kill a hawk so I did the next best thing.
I then turned my attention to the layer. I picked her up, took her over to the compost pile and correctly composted her. With each and every one we thank them and return them to the earth that nourished them so that they can in turn nourish the earth. It makes me feel humane, in light of my failure to provide a safe humane existence for my charge. You learn when growing food that things happen.
Buy Local: Make sure your farmer is real, there are imposters.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:05 PM EST
Well the industrial food complex won this latest round in the fight to have a safe food supply. The IFC pumped enough money into the California proposition 37 to convince people that labeling GMO foods, as such, was not warranted.
It passed by a slim margin so there is still hope. The fight will go on, those of us dedicated to safe, sustainable food supply are growing. More people everyday are learning about the ills of GMO foods. More research is coming out pointing to the flaws of GMO food. Studies that report findings of GMO corn in the placenta of pregnant women and in there blood samples.
Unfortunately, for the uneducated American consumer some of them or their family members will end up being a statistic in the whole GMO debate. There is just too much information out there that suggests we need to re-evaluate the use of GMO food. Why are we the only industrialized nation in the world that allows GMO's in our food supply?
Could it be the lobbyist that the IFC spends millions on to peddle influence when it comes to food policy? Or is it the government relying on studies conducted by the IFC that prove GMO's are safe?
Either way it should cause you some concern. Corporations are not people; they have no heartbeat, no endocrine system, no feelings and no regard for human safety other then what their insurance policies dictate. Okay, so I am cynical, but I know the bottom line and we as a nation have become so bottom line driven that the human equation is not even taken into account. Actually, a car company made a car that when it was rear-ended the gas tank exploded. That car company did a cost benefit analysis and found that it would be cheaper to pay for death and personal damages then to recall all the cars and put a ten-dollar part in the car (Elkhart County, Indiana v. Ford Motor Company). That was back in the seventies before the real greed and bottom line decision making got worse.
I will ask again, if GMO is not bad for the human body, which predictor species show is not the case, then why doesn't the IFC open up the research findings? Why have the EU, Mexico and other countries outright ban the use of GMO seeds, let alone food for human consumption? This battle was lost, but it is just but one bump. As long as there are concerned foodies fighting for a safe food supply, we will prevail. Lobbyist or not we will prevail.
By Local: By organic and you will know it is not GMO.
Posted by Brian
@ 06:32 PM EST
To show you how important GMO is to the industrial food complex (IFC) you only need to look at California’s Proposition 37. It is a bill that would require food manufacturers to label foods made with GMO tainted products. Why is this important to you? Because as California goes so goes the Country. California represents about 12% of the total food consumed in the United States.
The IFC has poured in over 25 million dollars to defeat the referendum. Monsanto alone has contributed 4 million to defeat the measure. Coke, Pepsi and others have contributed as well. People are suggesting boycotting these companies. I suggest eating healthy. Eat whole foods that you know do not contain GMO's. GMO’s have been getting bad press about the ill it is causing in the human being, the environment and the flora and fauna.
More of us want food that does not have GMO added. The EU and other countries do not allow GMO in there food supply and there are reasons for that. To me the bottom line with GMO is that an anti-biotic needs to be spliced into the DNA helix in order for the DNA to accept the modified trait being introduced. Then there is the actual substance that is being placed in the DNA. Let me explain, the anti-biotic helps the DNA accept the modification into its makeup say the round-up gene. Round-up ready corn has the round-up gene spliced into its DNA with the help of the anti-biotic. Then if we eat tacos, corn chips or whatever is made with the substance that genetic modification is consumed along with the anti-biotic strain.
That is my elementary understanding, I am not a scientist, and I have no empirical facts other then observations. Those observations are the following: more viruses are becoming anti-biotic resistant, more food borne allergies are being reported, scientist report environmental impacts like feminization and castration of predictor species and flora is starting to become round up resistant. In essence making a super-weed that is impervious to weed killers and strain of viruses that are anti-biotic resistant. Which in turn leads to the need for even more nefarious chemicals to control the weeds. 2.4-D for instance would be used. 2,4-D was the checmical in agent orange.
We are certified organic and GMO drift is one of those things that must be monitored and stopped if possible. I can tell you it is not possible unless you have a very isolated well-protected field you are susceptible to GMO propagation of your plants. We take great pains to find out what is being planted around us and when the germination is going to start to take place. We then plant around that window of propagation. It is the only way I know how to safely grow food. Sometimes we will not plant corn a second time due to drift potential.
The same people that developed GMO technology are the ones that recommended the use in the US food supply. That fact alone answers the question of is it bad for you. If it was healthy wouldn't they open it up to transparency just to prove it is not harming the environment or us?
Buy Local: They do not use GMO.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:29 AM EDT
My admiration and adulation goes out to all of those farmers that have big animals and do it humanely. With winter coming their job caring for the animals becomes infinately harder. To me, anything bigger than a chicken is a big animal. Well, maybe except for pigmy goats. Of course, my rule is to not raise an animal that can take me in a fight. Although poultry meets that criterion, I refuse to raise turkeys. Turkeys can get large and are agile, I am just saying.
The knowledge big animal farmers have to possess and shear dedication is daunting, and to do it all humanely amazes me about them. The dedication alone makes me think what I do is just playing. I know I am not but, by comparison, I have it much easier then my counterparts. Do not get me wrong, shoveling five feet of snow around a trailor, so the chickens can get out. is no easy task.
When you choose to be a humane farm, in my opinion, that choice is made from one of two motivations; one is reason the other is emotion. Reason looks at the facts of animal production and takes into account, taste, productivity, health, environmental impact, total cost, rate of return on your investment and workload. Then there is the emotional decision. You take into account the health of all the animals, you anthropomorphize to a certain extent and you want to make their brief existence on this earth as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. No matter the reason an unstressed animal performs and tastes better and they need no or minimal drugs because of the healthy environment they inhabit. No matter what motivation drives the choice, both ultimately benefit, people, animals and the environment.
I think when reason comes into play there is less angst when dealing with mortality. Having talked to colleagues and reading posts here, I know there is grief no matter how slight. I can see it in the words we all use when describing the loss, be it to slaughter, age and illness or shear economics. Even with reason your heart is in it, because with reason comes compassion and with compassion comes some amount of strings attached to the heart that will be tugged when a beloved animal leaves.
I fall squarely into the emotional category. Mortality was and still is my biggest hurtle. I did not want any animals, at all, because I knew that mortality, for whatever reason, was going to fall on my shoulders. I would be the one to bury an expired animal or put one down to relieve its misery or taking the life because of economic reasons. I was against the notion of animals and concentrated on fruits and vegetables. We did eventually get into animal husbandry as has been chronicled in our blog. As I age and mature, in my new role, I can say that my heart is not hardening but that I am getting less unsettled when dealing with mortality. It still takes a toll and I am reminded of Dr. Temple Grandin’s statement that ordinary people “can become sadistic from the dehumanizing work of constant slaughter.” We fall way short of anything close to that but the thought is there.
I will tell you since we have gotten our processors license I have stayed away from processing our layers. I realize this will happen within the next two years and it will not be easy on me. However, knowing they will be going to the soup kitchen to feed the less fortunate makes me feel better. That thought is what got us through the first culling. (See Spent Layers and Humane Farming).
I do find the thought of processing our own layers appalling and hard for me to accept. You see our layers trust us to keep them safe. Yet, this last time their demise will be at my hands not that of someone else. The hens do actually become pets as much as you try to keep a distance. When you deal with them everyday, twice a day, they grow on you. You start to see contrasts and nuances, in each of them. At most we have seventy birds on the property but some seem to have their own little variance from the others. Some walk right up to you and follow you around others mill about.
When we take a tour of kids around the farm, the older layers are my go-to girls. I can walk up to one pick her up and let them see a chicken up close and personal. The hen stays calm without throwing a fuss and lets the children pet or touch her. I will talk about the hen and point out the waddle, comb, beak, nostrils and ears. I skip the vent unless asked, “Where do the eggs come out?” I will then point to the hen’s ear and tell them that is how you can tell what color egg the chicken will lay. I usually get responses from the parents at that point because it is a fascinating tidbit. Education is a big part of our existence and mission.
No matter why a person decides to be a humane farm the practice is good for the animal, the environment and healthy for the consumer. As for the farmer, I think that the practices make us all feel good. Once again, that giving back aspect makes a person feel good. By providing open spaces, natural grazing and comfortable living conditions we benefit from production, the animals thrive and the environment recovers naturally.
Buy Local: Who is your farmer?
Posted by Brian
@ 08:11 PM EDT
Fer Coadee - A tale of two dogs
It was the dog days of August. I was in the barn fixing the lawn mower and Coadee was outside sitting in the shade under the black walnut tree. The temperature was in the high nineties with typical Maryland humidity. I have sweat streaming down my face and into my eyes, making them sting. The reason I had this task was that I accidentally drained the lawn mower battery. It does not matter how the battery totally discharged, you only need to know I was involved. I had re-charged the battery and was hooking the thing back up to test.
I tried to turn the mower on only to hear the soothing sounds of chickens laying eggs, not the start of an engine. The battery was not going to take a charge. Not to worry, I have done this before so I have a spare battery. I hooked the trickle charger up to the spare and after twenty-four hours no, that too did not work either.
So here, I am installing a newly purchased battery and out of the corner of my eye, I see a chicken where it should not be. I am wet, my eyes burn, I am close to finishing the install and Coadee is sitting under the walnut tree. Per routine, I scolded the chicken for being out of the pen and told it to get back and true to form, it did not listen. No problem, I will call Coadee and she can pick her up and take her back to the pen.
I called for Coadee. She looked towards me acknowledging my beckoning. I said "Coadee, chicken, get the chicken". She does not move she just gives me that look. If you own a dog, you know the look. It is a look of “Yes, I hear you but no, you do not have anything close to interesting enough for me to come”. I called again she got up on all fours. Okay, now the chicken will learn to get back when I tell her too. However, Coadee is still standing, so I call her again. I watched as she took a step and turned to her right walking towards the garage bay. I called her name with a little more force with the command to come. Coadee continued to saunter towards the garage. Not only am I being ignored, apparently my presence is no longer of interest.
Okay, I need to pull out the buzzwords now, so I whistle and say, “Come Coadee lets go to work”, which usually brings her. At that moment, she picks up her gate to a trot, rounds the corner of the garage and is gone. To say I was stunned is understating what I had just witnessed. I am starting to think a calculating dog just ignored me. It looked like Coadee weighed the situation, figured it was hot enough without chasing a chicken and I was there so everything was a okay. Is this what they mean by the dog days of summer? Well, I picked the chicken up marched it back to the pen and placed her inside. I fixed the mower and went about other chores.
Later in the day, I was stowing the garden hoses we use to deliver water to our irrigation zones when I heard a ruckus by the chicken pen. It was an unusual sound so I turned and looked to see a brown flash flying from my right to left. My heart sank, I ran around the silo to get a better look at what flashed past my eyes. It was what I feared, a brown tail hawk swooping down to get a chicken. It was in flight going away from the pen. I looked at the hawks talons and much to my relief did not see any bird. What I heard and saw next surprised me. I turned to see Coadee full stride running past the chickens to where the hawk had flown. The hawk landed on a branch at the very top of a tree. Coadee was below and barking up at the predator.
I guess the hawk did not like the attention because it quickly flew off to the east. Coadee gave chase. Once the hawk was out of sight Coadee patrolled the area looking up in the sky for the danger. At one point, the hawk was visible and heading east away from the house. That did not stop Coadee from running after to see what the hawk was doing. Once the hawk was far enough away, Coadee came back and stayed vigilant watching 360 degrees of sky.
It was amazing to see those farm dog instincts going to work. She was all business and determined to keep an eye on the hawk until the hawk did not pose a direct threat. For the hawk’s part, it just kept flying east towards easier prey I guess.
It was a moment when a little smile comes to your face, because you have witnessed something special. Having seen the lazy dog that morning and the fer coadee (Scottish for protector) this afternoon was definitely a contrast personified.
Buy Local: Its safe, fresh, healthy food and your money stay’s local
Posted by Brian
@ 04:07 PM EDT
Recently there was as a study published by a Stanford researcher about the merits of organic versus conventional food. Specifically the study looked at the vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables and the cost difference between organic and conventional food. Although there are studies that refute these findings: University of Washington, http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012346 , http://www.bioneers.org/programs/food-farming-1/articles-interviews/organic-food-has-a-higher-nutrient-content-an-interview-with-charles-benbrook and http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/16/best.organic.produce/index.html I tend to stay away from all of the back and fourth and look at the undisputed facts.
First, conventional food contains trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/172223 . Trace amounts that are allowed per FDA, USDA and EPA standards. Yet every year we find that what was once approved is now harming us. Diactyl and Bisphenal-A (BPA) are the most recent that come to mind. Diactyl causes lung cancer, which is a fact. However, for years it was allowed in the food supply particularly in butter-flavored popcorn and other foodstuffs. That is until people started getting lung cancer due to build up of Diactyl in the body. Then there is BPA. BPA is an endocrine disrupter and is shown to cause birth defects in children and hinder their mental development. Recently studies have shown that BPA is narrowing arteries in adults. The list of approved then disapproved fungicides, insecticides, additives and preservatives just keeps growing.
Second, there is the environmental detriment big industrial farms create while they produce all of the meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables. One example is Atrazine, an herbicide. Atrazine has been linked to castrating bullfrogs and feminizing bass http://www.sfgate.com/green/article/Study-says-herbicide-causes-frogs-sex-change-3197878.php . Yet it is still in use.
I would like to point out that there is a distinction between local conventional farmers and the big industrial corporate farms and imports. Our local farmers feed their family with the products they grow and produce. Their children and grandchildren play in the fields and water on the property. I know these farmers are much more judicious when it comes to using fungicides, insecticides and herbicides. I feel comfortable buying my sweet corn from Mayne’s Tree Farm or fruit from Bob Black at Catoctin Mountain Orchard.
Then there is the cost argument. What consumers do not take into account with conventional costs is that they pay for cleaning up the environment through their taxes not through the price of conventional food. With organic and sustainable farm practises, the cost of environmental protection and rejuvenation is built into the price of the product.
Your tax dollars go to environmental protection, clean up and rejuvination of our waterways and fields because of industrial farming practises. Environmental degradation from industrial farms have been well documented. So when they say conventional food is cheaper they are not telling you about these hidden costs. Ultimately, sustainable organic food is cheaper, safer and an environmentally sound agricultural practice.
Organic food does not have trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals, steroids, hormones or anti-biotic's. That is fact. Conventional food does contain trace amounts of most synthetic substances used in the production process and these trace amounts are not being processed out of the body like we are told. "Canadian researchers this year reported that the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cord blood samples contained a pesticide implanted in GMO corn by the biotech company Monsanto, though digestion is supposed to remove it from the body. "Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed," they wrote in Reproductive Toxicology". http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-gmo-food-labeling--20110524,0,5841902.story.
Whether they are carcinogenic or not, to me, trace amounts means the existence of a substance. You would no more stick your finger in an insecticide, wipe it off on your pants then lick your finger with your tongue. Yet in essence, that is what you do when you eat conventional food from the industrial food complex.
If you think washing the food off before eating it protects you, think about rain. These chemicals are designed to stay on the vegetables when it rains. The effectiveness of the chemical would be useless to the industrial farmer if rain did wash them off. Organic sprays are water soluble, that is why each time it rains we need to retreat those plants that are in distress (raising operational costs).
If we know anything from the use of chemicals, it is that history proves that what was once considered safe is no longer the case, Thalidomide, Agent Orange, Benzene's, DDT, Diethylstilbestrol, Cyclamates, Bisphenal A, Diactyl, and Phthalates (cosmetics) are some. So what, if from a vitamin standpoint both conventional and organic are the same. From a health, safety, cost and environmental standpoint there is no comparison.
Buy Local: The earth will be a better place,
Posted by Brian
@ 08:51 AM EDT
There have been warnings about BPA (Bisphenal-A) for years. Now we read news that it is affecting more then just kids. BPA resides in food grade plastics and can linings. Scientist found that when BPA gets heated, by the sun or other means, it leaches into the substance it is suppose to protect. What it is protecting is the profits of the few at the detriments of the masses. When the product is eaten, BPA enters the body. Once again, the authorities will argue "trace amounts" to point to the relative safety of this supposed benign substance.
Yet, BPA is an endocrine disruptor (think castrated bullfrogs, feminized bass). It has also been proven to cause birth defects. However, the industrial food complex still disregards these findings and continues to use the substance in there packaging and canning material.
Now more adults are being adversely affected with the latest news that BPA is causing the narrowing of arteries. You cannot make this stuff up. We are actually supporting the people that are slowly poising us so that their stockholders and executives came make a fortune.
At our farm, we use corn containers, pulp and wood boxes and wooden bushel baskets. It is part of being organic but it fits our practice of environmental sensitivity. I do not think the cost of our containers and jars out-weigh the potential ill affect of using plastics made with BPA. Could we benefit from purchasing cheaper containers? Yes, we could, but not at the cost to the consumer, or environment or future generations. It is not within our DNA to sacrifice health for profit.
I have said it often; we are in it for the health not the wealth. Besides, there is no such thing as monetary wealth on a small farm. Wealth is measured against mostly environmental and sustainable health. Are we raking in tons of money, no, (for that matter not even ounces). However, our consumers get SAFE, fresh wholesome food and at the end of the day that is why we started growing for ourselves in the first place.
We just had this crazy idea that other people would want the same thing. If you are going out of your way to eat healthy why place yourself in peril because of the industrial food complex’s' penchant for the almighty dollar. Take the next step to find local farms. Small farms are out there and waiting for your support. Do something that the next few generations can look positively upon and makes them feel good. They will reap the benefits of the stand their parents and grandparents took on their behalf.
Buy Local: It might not be perfect looking but it is healthy and safe
Posted by Brian
@ 12:36 PM EDT
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. So goes the line from William Congreve's The Mourning Bride. To this day, that line conjures up all sorts of imagery. So few words yet they represent such a vast oasis of thoughts and actions.
My story started simple enough. I have a farm dog that likes company, human company to be specific and does not take kindly to being left outside to do her job alone. Especially if she knows someone is on the farm.
Funny thing is she is on the farm all day by herself watching the chickens. She has access to inside the garage all the time. Inside the garage is where most of my shoes reside. I have a couple pair of steel-toed shoes; a couple pair of muck boots, snow boots and of course my tennis shoes. I wear the tennis shoes mostly when I leave the farm. I recently started wearing a new pair while not quite getting rid of the old ones. The old pair is now the official chicken pen shoe.
Because of poultry bio-security, we cannot allow shoes worn off the farm to set foot inside the chickens’ domain. It is one of those ounces of prevention measures to keep the organic chickens healthy. So we tend to have multiple pairs of older shoes in case there is a need to go to another farm or dirty environment. For visitors, we have single-use booties when giving educational tours.
The shoes are stored on a low shelf in the garage by the door of the house. If I am in the house, I have on a pair of shoes that never touch anything but the floors of our house. I change shoes before I go outside and once again before coming back into the house. Last thing we need is to bring salmonella, listeria or any other viral or bacteriological organism in the house. Family and friends come over with babies, children and young adults. Besides, being germ-phobic I am very cautious about cross-contamination.
I was home the other day doing computer work. We have to redesign our labels to meet new requirements, access email etcetera. Therefore, I spent most of the day inside working away. Little did I know the ramifications of my supposed thoughtless actions. I had gone out to let the chickens out for the morning. Coadee went with me as normal. Except this time, I did not stay outside or leave the farm. I came back inside to catch up on the paperwork.
Coadee for her part tried to come along. I wanted her outside protecting the chickens so I stopped her, made her sit, took my shoes off and went into the house. She barked her disapproval and I set about getting the paperwork done. The day got away from me, the next thing I know my wife is arriving home. I look outside and see one of my new tennis shoes on the lawn. "Okay," I think to myself, Coadee drug one of my shoes outside.
Except, when I go to retrieve the shoe I find Coadee decided to show her displeasure at not being allowed in the house. As the picture below shows, she made quite a statement.
Let us review; she has had access to these shoes for over six months. She is out all day by herself with access to the garage. She is out all day on the weekends when we are working the gardens and the chickens. Coadee has not chewed anything since being spayed. No chewing of drywall, table legs, wood molding or anything except for her toys.
I am not a dog whisperer but I think she might have taken being left outside just a little too personally. Yes, I was the one that made her stay outside. Yes, they were my shoes and the newest pair at that, but there were over eight pairs of shoes to choose from. I had a perfectly good pair of chewable shoes that she strategically passed over to select the best shoe. I will never know how she did this, she has refused to take English lessons, so I am stuck with mere conjecture.
What I do know is "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...."
Buy Local: By doing so, you support a safe, healthy, food supply and the environment in which it is grown
Posted by Brian
@ 07:08 PM EDT
It has been over a month now that we placed the new flock of layers in with the older women. The transition has gone surprisingly smooth. Yes, there were some territorial disputes at first and Coadee and I ran a lot of interference but the flock is meshing.
I still think that the derecho that came through Western Maryland, brought them all together. Ever since that stormy night there have been no skirmishes, do not get me wrong, there still is a pecking order. If a little one impedes an older layer in any way, the older layer is quick to point or peck it out. Last night, I went to close the door to the trailer and saw then completely mixed with no pecking. That was a welcome sign and an indication that both groups have accepted each other as part of one flock.
The new layers are starting to produce eggs. They are these tiny little eggs a little bigger then golf balls. The shells however are as strong as any adults. They have even learned from the older ladies’ that the nesting boxes are where to lay their eggs. We are still finding one or two on the ground, as if the chicken was just walking along and out popped the egg. For the most part, we are finding more in the nests. The most surprising part is that the other chickens are not eating the eggs on the ground and we get to harvest them.
I did read about introducing old and new layers and most of what I read was cautionary. We did take extra steps to make sure the transition was not hard on either of the groups. Of course, when you have a sixty-pound English Sheppard in your yard your attention is more on the dog then the other different looking layer next to you. The older ones especially are attune to Coadee. The older birds know they are okay when inside the electric fence but they are still leery of the dog.
I did not teach her but. Coadee will instinctively run towards two chickens that are squaring off, just to break up the ruckus. When I first saw that I thought it a fluke, but when a saw it a second and third time I was amazed. I am learning more about the dog then the dog is learning from me.
Well it looks like there is cohesion. I am still trying to keep the older ladies inside the fence, but when I till, the turned soil is just too much of an attraction. Coadee for her part hides when the tractor is in use or at least is not anywhere in the vicinity. I have to stop what I am doing, whistle for Coadee and then she comes and herds them back to the pen. I still have not been able to get Coadee to make the chickens get into the pen, but at least she gets them close.
This has been a good year from a growing perspective and a year that we really needed for our own psyche. If it were not for the support and generosity of our customers, friends, colleagues and family we would not be doing this. With that in mind I am please to say, for the birds, the transition is complete.
Buy Local: Your money stays local.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:47 PM EDT
We are two-thirds into our growing season. The spring salad and greens did well. The organic strawberry pick-your-own was an overwhelming success, the corn came in for the first time in two years and potato harvests have been good. String beans are coming in at about eighty pounds a week and we finally got our first “word of mouth” sale on the organic chickens. Just to even out all the good things. I found out I have to start a five-year inoculation protocol because I am dangerously allergic to bee and wasp stings. I guess being stung as many times as I have (at least 50 since moving here) has not helped.
We started at a new farmers market, located in the city, that is truly a producer’s only market. I know you are thinking, “aren’t all farmers' markets producers only” and no, they are not. Always be weary of the huckster, ask your farmer questions about his or her sustainable practices, the names of their vegetables (is it a Diva cucumber? an heirloom tomato?) and where their farm is located.
Caveat Emptor is the way you should approach farmers markets. There are more posers trying to make a fast buck by not growing but buying in bulk and re-selling. Do not be afraid to ask questions, they will only serve to help you. Your farmer is there because he or she is proud of what they have to offer. To do what they do is truly amazing. Think about that, before they even plant a seed great care has been taken to make sure the soil is ready and at its optimum. It takes time and energy to keep weeds and insects down and virul and bacterial outbreaks minimized.
The latter issue is important and makes soil and crop rotation so vital to the operational health of the soil. Not only does resting soils and planting nitrogen fixing grasses and other biomass greens help to maintain soil health it reduces the potential for major infestations. Your farmer will know about this, they will know about integrated pest management and management intensive grazing, if they have animals. Most will speak to the trials and failures that they face and how hard it is to get fresh, safe produce to you. Farmers are not perfect they are human but the ones that take great care of the environment and their animals are the ones that truly deserve to succeed.
Your farmer will know intimate details about the products they sell, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. I always thought farmers talked so much because of the solitude of the job. Now, I think, it is just shear knowledge gained from the struggle of providing food for their community. There is a plethora of experience and knowledge obtained each growing season. No one season is ever the same, I go back through years of our daily notes and the only constant is problems.
Problems in the form of insects, drought, disease, and predator attacks, infrastructure breakdowns, equipment failure, bee stings and so the list goes. I have nothing but admiration for anyone that chooses to grow. When asked to help educate, I give of my time and knowledge willingly in hopes that these people have an easier time then we have. Yes, I joke about the sanity of making the choice to grow but, food never tasted so good. Small family farms struggle, the life is difficult. However hard, they should be respected because it is the journey they have chosen.
Buy Local: Why support the IFC when they are the ones placing the environment in peril?
Posted by Brian
@ 07:57 PM EDT
It is unique how we use euphemisms to describe the human condition. Like "No good deed goes unpunished", means usually you sacrifice time by helping someone or thing and you get dumped on for your sacrifice. There is, "Don't let the screen door hit you on the way out," meaning you are no longer welcome and cannot leave fast enough. Another lesser-known one is "Off farm income,” that's the euphemism for “works two to four jobs in order to pay all the bills associated with small farming and living”.
Off farm income is a category tracked by the USDA. When you look at those numbers, in the small farm catagory, it is appallinb. As of 2010, small farm income as a percentage of total farm-household income is projected to be a whopping 8.7 percent. Down from the 11.1 percent it was in 2008. That means that for every dollar of income a farm brings in, 91 cents is from "off farm income". As in "farms and works another job to earn enough in order to sustain an existence".
Okay, so I am late to the party, but is this normal? I mean, I know it is reality but is this normal for any industry. Let alone an industry whose main function is to provide a basic form of human sustainability. Maslow's paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation" points out the hierarchical needs of humans. The paper was accepted in academia in the forties and is still being taught today. After air and water, food is at the level that everything else in human life builds upon.
Food, water and air are what sustain human life. Would not small farmers producing food for human consumption be allowed to focus all their energies on producing that food in an environmentally sustainable way, be healthier then forcing them to use practices that are detrimental to the environment and humans because it saves time? Should not the person growing your food be able to spend the time learning new technology and methods in order to use and preserve scarce resources like soil and water? Why did we compromise the small family farm? What dove tails with the demise of the small family farm is manufacturing. As consumers, why have we left ourselves so vulnerable to other countries. We buy American as much as we can, it is almost as hard as growing. Try it, see for yourself.
You can very easily be mired in the economics of this argument but my point is to explain yet another hurdle that small farms face as part of being a sustainable, safe and eco-friendly operation. Small farms, as defined by the USDA, are those farms with net-income of $1,000 to $250,000 in gross sales. Small farms represent about ninety percent of all farms in the United States but make up only twenty percent of all gross farm sales.
Within the small farm category, there are two sub-categories, those that make fewer than 10,000 dollars and those making 10,000 to 250,000 dollars in gross sales. Sixty plus percent of small farms makes less than 10,000 dollars in gross annual sales. Thirty percent of small farms fall into the other category of gross sales over 10,000 dollars.
I am not saying that farming is the only profession in which people have to work two jobs in order to maintain some standard of living. The term “standard of living” is very subjective when it comes to the individual consumer. Economic compensation has always been disproportionate when you look at the value added to society from a particular profession. Teaching comes to mind, for instance. We put the weight of the world on our future generations but the people that are there to teach and prepare them for that burden are grossly under-paid.
The men and women that risk their lives whether in the military, law enforcement or other hazardous jobs face the same inequities. On the other side are those people that can put together complex derivatives and manipulate hedge funds such that they topple the economic stability of an entire country and they are valued economically at grossly astounding figures. Money does not feed a nation food does.
There is no wonder small farming is so incredibly hard when you see those numbers. The deck is stacked against you from the start; it is an uphill battle that most people would not think of taking on. As I tell our staff, “you all are very unique people, first off very few people choose to work such a physically demanding job and of those that try most cannot do it". We have a great staff of hardworking conscientious people. They never cease to amaze me with their eagerness to learn, there ability to understand, ask deeper questions and how they carry themselves.
We also have a business plan, one portion is strategic the other dynamic. Our long-term goals quite simply are to be sustainable both environmentally and economically. Our dynamic goals are geared more towards revenue generation and expenditure controls. The two are symbiotic but it is the strategic plan that we have the greater concerns about. Without the ability to be totally, sustainable we are not going to be in business long. At least ninety percent of small farms face this dilemma. When you find out that only nine cents out of every dollar is earned from farm activities you start to question the sanity of why anyone would get into a business like this (see Who in Their Right Mind).
We work full-time and I can attest to those numbers about outside income. We are a small farm and the total income from farm related activities, in a given year, has not been enough to cover just farm expenses, let alone what living expenses there are. Yet we persist, because each year we do a fraction better in terms of revenue, knowledge, our customer base, our reputation and our ability to expand yet keep the food safe and tasty. For us, it is important to do the right thing, to not shy away from hard work or impossible tasks and to help those that need help because that was instilled in me when I grew up. Growing safe, fresh food is as much a part of me as “off farm income”.
Buy Local: From a farmer that grows it not hucksters claiming they do
Posted by Brian
@ 08:40 PM EDT
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In group dynamics there is a term that describes how you can get the group to be a cohesive entity. Sometimes in groups you have a “them” versus “us” mentality not a “we are all in this together”. If that occurred, the reason the group is together in the first place gets lost and productivity suffers greatly.
I know you are asking yourself what does this have to do with farming. What we have read is that you cannot integrate an old flock of layers with a new flock of layers without taking certain precautions. One method is to make sure you have a greater number of new hens to old. That way the old hens are somewhat intimidated by the shear number of new birds and not as likely to attack.
That turns out not to be as true as logic dictates. There is a pecking order in the flock. The alpha hen literally pecks at the “perceived” offender until the offender runs away. Every so often, one will stand her ground and feathers are ruffled. If I am around I yell with a deep timber and loud tone and that usually settles things.
Recently, we introduced our newest flock to the hens in the horse trailer. Coadee and I spent the day off and on policing the transition. The older hens did not take kindly to the intruders and made it quite clear. Coadee for her part has learned to identify the sounds of aggression versus egg laying. She does not like when harmony is not balanced. When needed Coadee polices and keeps the peace. Once she jumps into the pen the only thing the chickens do is hide.
Still as one day turned into two the behavior was about the same. The group was distinctly divided with the old layers occupying the trailer and surrounding area and the new hens were off in the trees far away from them. A peculiar phenomenon, we found early on, was hens like drinking water out of bowls. It is not due to thirst, they have plenty of water in drip buckets all day but when my wife fills the bowls with water it is a stampede. It is an animal activity that brings a smile to your face.
The new hens saw this and slowly came over to see what was happening. One by one, the older hens would drive them away, until I had had enough and went in to scatter the old hens and let the new ones get a drink. Day two turned into three and four and behavior was slowly changing. Not much but I saw some integration. Day five was the turning point.
A superordinate goal is a technique used to bring two opposite groups together in order to achieve a common goal. Common goals take on many forms basically boiling down to the groups uniting because they both face the same issue. As an example, take that of an office environment divided. Both parties are working against each other. Suddenly a new boss is brought in, one that is terrible. Both sides of the office face the same situation now, a terrible boss. Not soon after, the groups unite to fight the terrible boss. A kinship develops and the whole office works toward a common goal, getting rid of the terrible boss. How does this apply to hens?
Friday night, the end of day five there was a terrible, wind, thunder, lightning and rain storm. We had at least twenty trees come down. Some trees came close to the trailer others in the corn, string beans and driveway. The storm lasted for several hours and knocked out power all around the region. It took us two days to clear things and we are still cleaning up a week after. I wonder what it was like in that trailer with all this noise, lightning and trees breaking and falling around the hens. Did this storm give them a sense that they all survived something together?
This is merely observation on my part but when I turned my attention to the hens, they no longer separated into old and new. They were co-mingling, scratching and pecking and when the water was poured in the bowl, there was much less pecking and more of a mix drinking at the same time. The other thing that changed was that the new hens were getting into the trailer sooner; some were even on the top rung of the roost with the older women. I observed a stark behavioral difference with the flock. It is not Shangri-La but there is a lot less pecking and more intermingling.
I thought maybe having lived through such a terrible night that might have brought them closer together. Yes, I am anthropomorphizing but over the years, I have had flocks that have taken weeks to acclimate. Yet here they are together within two weeks of introduction. Besides, I have learned that nothing brings unity quicker than superordinate goals.
Posted by Brian
@ 12:22 PM EDT