Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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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
The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has certified us as a poultry processor. This allows us to sell our organic chickens at farmers markets, restaurants and stores. The MDA came out, inspected our processing, and tested our wastewater and chilling process along with all of our documentation.
I cannot adequately describe how conflicted this feels. We accomplished something big but at what cost. I started writing this blog as a way of helping others that choose this path, purging my actions through explanation, and documenting our struggles, failures and possible successes as urbanites transitioning into organic farmers. As was previously stated we took on this challenge knowing failure had more weight on the scale then success.
We carefully planned what we would do, as a farm, and how we would go about growing healthy, safe food for our community. We had been growing for ourselves for twenty years so we felt confident (unjustifiably) that we could grow on a larger scale. Confidence is a fickle emotion and fleeting feeling. You know you are going to have setbacks, life is never perfect and neither are humans. Therefore, we understood that a certain amount of perseverance was necessary in order to sustain our trek towards our goals.
My wife and I have changed, no big shock there, we all change. However, this certification points to one of the most radical changes that have ever occurred in my life. In the city, you do not grow up killing things, unless you are a gangster. Killing was not part of my life, okay cockroaches and crickets’ different story. Taking a life was not part of our experience growing up.
I have documented here the pain and anguish we have suffered from all aspects of farming. Be it someone getting hurt, chickens perishing due to dogs and hawks, fruit and vegetable crop failures and not being economically sustainable. All aspects have served to make us stronger, our resolve more intense and our fortitude unyielding. However, I have changed in a way that now does not fit with the person I once was, or what I ever thought I would be.
Since starting the farm, I have lost loved ones, friends and animals dear to my heart. You are not supposed to be attached to your food. Nonetheless, I baby my corn and tomatoes the same way I baby our layers and our meat birds. There is this dichotomy wrapped in a paradigm (of what was and was not) that reflects the struggle I have with farming. It is an undertaking that makes you change your views about who you are and what you need to do in order to be sustainable. I am not talking about shades of gray or operating on the line of right and wrong. I am an ethical, moral, honest, law abiding citizen. I volunteer in my community, as well as, donating money to the Humane Society and other worthy causes. We give our spent layers to the soup kitchen so the last thing the chicken does is to nourish the less fortunate among us. The toll our endeavor exacts has been unexpected.
Nevertheless, I have changed in a way that any one who knew me would not expect. In farming, you have to do things that you may not be comfortable with. I can only speak for myself, but a part of my heart, emotions and feelings have taken a pummeling. When you routinely take the life of an animal that you have raised since its birth there is a certain distance that must be maintained in order to protect yourself. Which I find is impossible, yet I have to and there in lies the quandary. We are a humane farm, we will always be a humane farm but I struggle with the whole processing certification. Food is fruits, vegetables, seafood and animals and growing is like a roller coaster that never ends. No matter the intangible side, at least now, we are official.
Buy local: Tens of thousands of us are struggling to provide you with safe fresh alternatives. Take advantage!
Posted by Brian
@ 06:17 PM EDT
We are often asked to explain the difference between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables. It is hard to sum up, such that the person that inquired does not regret asking the question.
It is such a basic question yet, the answer can go from the scientific to the metaphysical and everything in between. Sometimes, I will give a one-word answer, TASTE, then there are the studies that point to the twenty-five percent increase in vitamins and minerals when compared to their conventional counterparts (see University of California-Davis study). Nevertheless, you will find counter arguments to those studies and then cost comparisons are tossed into the discussion. "Why is organic so much more expensive and is it worth it?” Depending on the view, you get different answers but CNN answered the question succinctly.
Not everything was right in the article, especially about the start of Organics. The father of modern day organic techniques comes from a man named J.I. Rodale and the Rodale Institute that was founded in Kutztown Pennsylvania in 1947. Most people look at organic as the result but it is just one variable in the whole sustainability model.
We have been saying we are beyond organics for a while, because organics speaks to how vegetables, fruits and poultry are grown and handled. It does not address all aspects of sustainability on a farm. When we first started growing professionally, I looked at sustainability as making enough money to be able to live and produce in the next year. Until you start to make money, you cannot support the operation unless you have capital or some sort of financial backing, which is why 90+ percent of all small farms have income from off farm activities, i.e. another job. This is from the 2002 USDA census. However, large or small, money is not the only variable, the other parts not to ignore is environmental which entails water, soil quality and treatment of animals. The whole sustainability model as professed and proven by Joel Salatin of "Polyface Farm." in Swoop, Virginia looks at the farm as a whole with intricate parts woven together in concert mimicking what Mother Nature does on her own.
Because of farm practices that emphasize environmental consciousness, soil and nutrient replenishments, water resource conservation and protection of scarce resources the sustainable model re-enforces what is right and wrong with today's farming practices. In Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivores Dilemma," Joel Salatin points out the difference between a farm that does one thing only, like growing corn or just beef and that of a farm that uses the sustainable model. Paraphrasing Joel, he said look at a cornfield and look at a field that has been left alone to Mother Nature. What do you see in a conventional cornfield? You will find one species of plant life, the corn and maybe an insect if it was away when the insecticide was sprayed. Looking at the other field you see Mother Nature’s diversity, you will see thousands of insects and plant varieties in that field and that is what the sustainable model is designed to accomplish. How do these plants in the field get nutrition from year to year as opposed to the cornfield that is sprayed with fertilizer and insecticides?
Simplistically stated, plants, trees, insects and animals get nutrients through a complex dance of decay, rejuvenation and replacement Much like rotating and resting fields planted with green manure and nitrogen rich grasses and legumes, then letting your animals graze on those grasses to keep it down. You do not let the animals eat the grasses until the grass cannot replenish itself, you let them eat enough to maintain the stability of the soil in the field and then you move them to the next grazing ground. Management intensive grazing is a sustainable practice that uses the grass but not enough to abuse the grass. An example would be to bring cows onto land, let them eat some and move them off to the next section of field. Next, you would move chickens in the grass that the cows have left behind. Cows like higher grass heights while chickens prefer short grass. When all is said and done what is left behind is incorporated into the composition of the field replenishing nutrients and minerals naturally, you get to see the complete cycle of life in this field. Grass is eaten, the cow gets nutrients and gains weight, it leaves behind manure, enough to attract bugs, which lay eggs and then the chickens, get a crack at the grass and bugs that helps them lay eggs high in Omega-3's.
The chickens through pecking and scratching have aerated the soil leaving enough manure behind to feed the flora and fauna. This dance takes place such that a cow and chicken are never on a previous field until that field has fully become reestablished (usually in 8-12 months). Our production gardens are rested and fertilized this way. Although we do not have, cows we keep moving the chickens from space to space in order to evenly fertilize the whole garden.
What is organic? It is a way to protect our environment for future generations.
Buy Local: Become part of the sustainability model.
Posted by Brian
@ 09:39 AM EDT
Agrication - [Ag-ri-kay-shun]; 1. Verb; The act of educating people about their food source and why the industrial food complex is doing the exact opposite. 2. Noun; One who takes a weeks vacation from their full time, off farm income job, to work full-time on the farm.
Iowa recently passed a law called the "Ag-Gag". This law makes it illegal to go into large animal farms and slaughterhouses, undercover, to document animal and environmental abuses. Seems the big concentrated animal farms are tired of being exposed for the deplorable conditions and actions employees take at their corporations. Other states have tried to pass similar legislation and thankfully, have not succeeded. This legislation was conceived and sponsored by ALEC. ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council and is funded by some major fortune 500 companies. What does ALEC do? Basically it writes legislative briefs or whitepapers and lobbies for causes that benefit its sponsors. Their sole reason for existence is to influence politicos.
All you need to know is the two middle words of their name. Legislative Exchange, broken down; legislative stands for laws, exchange stands for what the corporations get from those changes in the law. Okay, maybe I am the only one that sees the correlation between the former and the latter but it is too rich not to draw the conclusion or collusion if you will. ALEC by the way was the chief architect of the “Stand Your Ground” laws.
We have always been big into Agrication. Besides being an environmentally sustainable operation our mission includes education. We hold educational tours, seminars, speaking engagements and hands on classes. More and more I am talking to people that get it and are asking informed questions. Ten years ago conversations with customers centered on the type of vegetables and how they tasted. Today people are more likely to talk about sourcing their food and sustainability. I get plenty of questions about chemicals, general gardening, insects, native plants, humane farming, poly-cultures, colony collapses and other aspects of fruit and vegetable growing. Agrication forms the backbone of helping people understand why industrial farming is harming our environment, making people ill and affecting the ecology negatively. Our intent is to inform, if people decide to support their local farmers then in a big way the surrounding community has benefited.
We are in a major shift in our society’s way of viewing food and sustenance. Books covering topics such as living off local food and sourcing your food have been great sellers and continue to be referenced. This has to happen if our future generations are to live in an environment that will not harm them because they breathe, eat or drink water.
We all owe due diligence for our future generations, we cannot be so shortsighted and profit driven that we rape the very earth that will sustain our future family. We learned from the dust bowl, why cannot we learn from castrated bullfrogs, feminized bass, upper-respiratory issues, food-borne allergies, illnesses, anti-biotic resistant bacteria and sometimes death. What will it take?
Buy Local: There is too much at stake not to.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:50 PM EDT
We are a humane farm, which means we treat our animals with kindness, care and respect. This philosophy extends to the chickens own community. We think there should be peace and harmony in our chicken flocks. They all grew up together; they are in the same pasture together and roost in the same houses together. We have them living in plenty of space, more than four square feet per bird when housed and much greater than that when out doors. We do keep them in moveable fencing to keep predators out and them safe. Sometimes it works; unfortunately, we have learned that sometimes it does not. Our chickens have plenty of access to food and water and we provide shade and fans during the hottest parts of the season.
If a chicken pulls up lame, everything we have read points to management as the problem. Like excessive pecking is caused by competition for resources such as food, water or space. Soft egg shells indicates there is a calcium deficiency in the food source, which correlates to us not getting the feed mix right; and too cold or too hot and egg production drops and so on. Fortunately, the problems we do create we find quickly and fix, but what we read was right. Most problems we have had with chickens could be traced back to our management or lack of attention. You look for consistency in all facets of their existence. If anything is inconsistent, it usually is an indication of the start of a problem.
Every so often, a fight breaks out or one chicken will start pecking another, which is their nature. There is a pecking order but we discourage this behavior from the time they are chicks. We only have about two hundred birds at any one time. We do not de-beak because that is cruel and it works against the chicken and the goals of raising chicks. A de-beaked bird will spend more energy eating and wasting food than a bird with a full beak, and that energy could be going toward laying eggs or gaining weight. We do not clip their wings either; we let them fly as much as they can. Once they get to a certain weight, their wings cannot sustain them in flight but they try to fly just the same and it is a fun thing to watch when they all get going.
How we deal with pecking and rough housing is to yell. This startles all of them but it is directed at the antagonist, which usually gets her attention, and given the attention span of a chicken is long enough for the tormented one to get away. Seldom is there a prolonged problem. I yell" HEY," usually followed by "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" with a loud voice, deep timber and baratone measure. They hear the volume, timber, tone and that gets their attention. The combatants, stop briefly enough, look towards the sound and forget what they were doing. They do have chicken brains so, once distracted they go on to something else.
My neighbors on the other hand just hear me yelling. Not knowing what I am yelling at or why but, they too hear the volume and tone. It does not help that we are on the top of knoll and there is an echo. I have never been asked by a neighbor but, I cannot help but speculate that my neighbors must be thinking, "man, they need anger management classes.”
Buy Local: When you do, you help your community and what are we without community?
Posted by Brian
@ 05:53 PM EDT
We have a hen that has taken to, let me see, how to say this so I keep a "G" rating. We have a hen that has taken to being the rooster. I kid you not. She has taken on the roll of the fertilizer or pretend fertilizer. I've said before we've only been raisng hens for three years going on four. So I might think I've seen it all, but apperantly that's not true. My wife read a book that said hens can change gender but we never took it seriously.
We thought it was one of those things, except we have this chicken that doesn't really fight the other hens as much as she gets on their backs. A rooster when he is in procreation mode will grab a hen by the back of her neck holding her down so he can do what a rooster does. My wife said she thought she saw this behavior in one of our hens, but me being me, I wouldn't believe it until I saw the event for myself.
We were all eating lunch one day sitting outside in the shade and enjoying a slight breeze. I was facing the pen of the second generation hens. Their numbers have dwindled due to a neighbor's errent dog, but the ones that survived have rebounded and they are pretty good layers. It was a Saturday and we had picked corn for taste testing. We feed our help most times and its always a good time when breaking bread with them. No matter what I cook they always seem to like it. Of course when you work on an organic vegetable farm you tend to work up a big appetite. Male or female they can all put food away. So I cooked the corn for everyone and we were sitting there enjoying the sweet taste and the respite.
If the hens start fighting or going crazy I usually yell at them which startles them and is enought to return the flock to some sort of harmony. I heard a commotion and looked up to see a hen on top of another hen biting and holding her down while seemingly girating like the rooster does. I looked at my wife; she gave me a look and just shrugged. I yelled, then got up to get closer and yelled again. That broke the hovering hen's concentration and her captive scurried away. So, once again I think I've seen it all.
We kid ourselves by thinking we've got a handle on things. Then we discover that the learning curve just seems to keep bending upward. WE learn sometimes nature throws a curve ball..
Buy Local - from a farmer, not from a chain that advertises "Local"
Posted by Brian
@ 07:17 PM EDT
A New York Times columnist wrote an article about how the grass fed grazing model is not sustainable. I grew up in an era when Edward R. Morrow was retiring and Walter Cronkite was becoming America's uncle. Journalistic integrity was paramount in all mediums of news back then. Yes, there was the National Enquirer and people would sneakily purchase it as a guilty pleasure.
What I see today is that the National Enquirer model has become the standard-bearer for news in general. What is particularly galling about this article is that the reporter did not have his facts correct nor did he try to make it a balanced article. He went as far to attack Polyface Farm and Joel Salatin. Yet, I derive great pleasure from this article. You see it indicates to me that the industrial food complex is becoming concerned. Buy local and sustainable agriculture are making headways into American consumerism. Judging from the backlash and furry that I see on internet posts we are pro-sustainability. I ask myself; why else would this reporter tout concentrated animal farm operations (CAFO’s)? He blatantly or conveniently leaves out the suffering of animals in these CAFO’s and does not even begin to address the pollution and environmental degradation caused by them.
Study upon study points to increased endocrine problems including hormonal imbalance, anti-biotic resistant bacteria, cancers, food allergies and other maladies caused by the exact object he touts as being the proper way of feeding Americans. He goes so far as to say that animals reared outside using management intensive grazing (sustainable techniques) actually adds to the methane levels and global warming.
We have known for years that governments use fear and misinformation as ways to sway public opinion. Look at our last leader and yellow cake uranium. Yellow cake was used as the reason to start the Iraq war. Only after CIA agent Valerie Plame was outed, did we find out that they knew the analysis was wrong. Fear (WMD’s) and misinformation (yellow cake) caused public opinion and congress to sway in the desired direction. I think it started after the “War of the Worlds” incident; someone saw the general widespread panic and learned from the experience. Phsyops or psychological operations are an integral part when trying to sway public opinion, not the facts. Fact has become a casualty in modern society, as has integrity in most aspects of public discourse.
I think Mr.’s. Marrow and Cronkite would be appalled and ashamed at the standards of today’s reporting. The Times article was so skewed towards the IFC to be a blatant endorsement of all that is evil in CAFO’s and its known detriments. To say the least it did nothing to stop the proliferation and use of GMO’s, or Atrizine that castrates and feminizes predictor species or the rise in food born allergies, contamination and resulting recalls. The reporter conveniently leaves out or is ignorant to the pollution and huge carbon footprint needed to generate all these quality CAFO meat products. Joel Salatin responded to the Times article and he addresses the misnomers far better than I ever could.
Lastly, but most importantly the reporter does not even begin to talk about recalls and the devastating affect that contaminated food, supplied by the IFC, has on the general consumer. I have asked this before; have you ever heard of a recall from a local small farmer or a local butcher? Why not? I think it is because your local small farmer or butcher has everything to lose if someone gets sick or dies from his or her product. Besides that, they feed their family and friends. The IFC companies can simply change their name, re-incorporate and keep operating.
The NY-Times article is so biased it leads you to only one conclusion and that is the IFC is the only true food source. What they failed to realize is the breadth and depth of the buy local and sustainable agriculture movements. It is pathetic to say the least but it is an indication to me that the IFC is feeling the affects of these movements. They must be concerned about local food and the fact that you are supporting local small farmers. Maybe the article was a shill for the IFC I do not know and maybe I am to close to the issue to see that the article was balanced and not tipped in anyone direction. However, the logical side of me thinks it is an indication that these times, they are a changing.
Buy Local: We all can and do make a difference, which is an investment for future generations.
Posted by Brian
@ 01:05 PM EDT
We started planting the spring garden, growing lettuces, kale, and chard and of course, the strawberries. We have been doing research for the past year to determine if anyone in the state of Maryland opened an organic pick your own strawberry patch. We know of organic pick your own vegetables, but we have not found strawberry in particular. We checked with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, well-established organic farmers in the state and news articles from the past two decades. We have not found any, so I believe we are going to be the first in the state to do so.
We are using landscape fabric this year even though I viewed a webinar on yield differences between fabric and cover cropping for weed suppression. It turns out cover cropping increases the yield of corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. The scientist went on to explain the chemical reaction that takes place causing the increase. We had already committed to landscape fabric so we will store that knowledge for the future.
After the planting comes weeding, watering and watching, the three w's of organic growing and producing. Weeding is broken into the three H's: hoeing, hands, heat and spraying. Okay spraying does not fit but we do control weeds by spraying concentrated vinegar, lemon juice, clove oil and lecithin. The spray has a pleasant fragrance that I like but is not for everyone. You can only use the spray if it is above seventy-five degrees and it is not going to rain for awhile nor should it have rained for awhile, which doesn't make it the most ideal weed control but we use it when we can.
My most favorite way to weed is heat. The heat is easier than the other methods but it does have its drawbacks, I may have gotten a reputation for starting fires but it is not on purpose and I am very careful despite what my wife says. I did set an old abandoned concrete silo on fire once, by mistake. Let me explain before you determine my culpability.
The silo was made of concrete block, had no roof, and was loaded with old wood from the previous owners. My weeding tool is a propane tank with a hose and torch attached. You turn it on, rub the flint for a spark and you have about 25,000 BTU to kill weeds. I had been using the torch for over a year before the day the silo caught fire and I was pretty successful not burning things down, with the except of weeds and maybe carrots. I knew the silo was loaded with wood and in essence, it was a tinderbox, so I was careful whenever I was around it with the flame.
It was late in a long day of work and I wanted to get the weeding done; I started around the silo then went around the barn and to the grape vines. From the grape vines, I went to the production garden and started doing the perimeter. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my wife running towards the silo. I knew immediately why she was running; I turned to see flames licking out of the top of the silo. When I got closer, I could hear popping sounds and then clinks on the tin roof of the barn. The cement covering from inside the silo was heating up and exploding out hitting the roof. I took everything off and went to the barn to get the water pump. I pulled the pump out hooked up the hoses to the water tank and pulled to start the pump engine. Of course, it does not start. After three pulls, it coughs to life and water starts to come out. Once the water was flowing, I was able to cool the fire down and eventually put the fire out. It took about eight-hundred gallons of rainwater to accomplish that feat but we did get it out.
My wife was standing there eyes wide open, heart pounding and shell shocked. What could I say, I had a torch, the silo caught fire and I was in the area, there was no wiggle room, none. I think we were both in shock at the time so we put the pump and hoses back, and we stopped for the day. I look back and see how lucky we were, how things fell into place, the pump worked and we actually had water in the collection tank. Any one of those things not happening and we might have lost the barn. I still weed with heat but my wife prefers the hoe and hand method best. I can laugh about it, my wife is to the point were she can grin and shake her head but not quite laugh.
Buy Local: But, make sure your farmer is actually growing what they are selling
Posted by Brian
@ 07:25 PM EDT
I cannot help but start to feel excited now that the weather is changing. I question my sanity and everyone else that has taken up growing. That is the conundrum with growing safe fruits, vegetables and chickens. It is incredibly hard, unpredictable and totally at the mercy of the environment. For the small farmer it is gambling with the steepest of stakes.
Yet, there are tens of thousands forging ahead pushing physical barriers and toiling for the benefit of others. To me growing transcends everything but money. If you do not make money in essence, you have a hobby. There are not a lot of people that would perform physical labor in July and August in Maryland, if they did not have to or if there was no passion for what they were doing. However, it really does make me wonder if I am tilting at windmills sometimes.
This year however, has promise for something special. This season marks the first time that we have two experienced farm hands returning to help us. These young adults are bright, hard working, honest, thoughtful and dependable. Last year would have been worse had it not been for their help, ideas and dedication. I have two people that understand the dangers of farming, the correct way to plant, weed and care for the chickens. This means most of my time will be spent doing other tasks, like flame weeding, much to the chagrin of my wife.
The people that help on the farm are a stark contrast to what I have seen from people their age. This negative image was borne from dealing with the dolts that have ridden through our property and various other interactions. I do not mean to say that the actions of a few represented the group as a whole, but I was jaded having visited the Future Farmers of America class only to find out that their idea of farming was using air-conditioned tractors.
There is something about farming that makes one mature faster. I see it on family farms where the kids do some major chores. Some of the folks that have worked with us have gone on to establish themselves in their own communities. One runs a farm another works in an urban farming initiative. They were civic minded before they got here. I would like to think what they learned during their tenure reinforced their core beliefs. We let our actions speak for us and that is what they saw. We talk the talk to our customers but they saw that our actions supported our views about healthy sustainable farming while providing a safe, fresh, food source for our community.
We actually made money this year. It was not much but we were not in the red as we have been in the past years. Losses have been due to stinkbugs, lack of water and nutrient management. To get around the stinkbugs we planted more spring and fall crops and for summer, planted underground vegetables that they could not get. `
Therefore, we start this spring as we do every other one. Renewed and rested in body and spirit, filled with potential and possibilities. This season with our veterans coming back to help us the sky is the limit.
Buy Local: Preserve those who chose to persevere for a healthy environment and food source.
Posted by Brian
@ 07:53 PM EDT
There is institutional advertising that a major seed manufacturer is playing over the radio airwaves. It is about how farming uses so much water and that their genetically engineered seeds will use less water and yield more food and how this is going to help farmers world-wide. If that is true, why is this major seed manufacturer suing American farmers for patent infringement? The infringement, by the way, is caused by pollen drift. Pollen drift, think about that, bees, wind, birds and insects all carry pollen. Pollen from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) fields or even trucks carrying gmo products drift into neighboring fields and boom, the company sues the farmer for patent infringement. In addition, the court rulings have backed up the company not the farmer.
When pollen drift is as natural and inevitable as the sunrise why is the farmer on the hook for stopping GMO pollen drift? Go to www.hulu.com and search for the "Future of Food". It is a documentary on how genetic engineering was accomplished, how seeds are patented and then used as a big stick to force farmers into the herbicide ready club and how pollen drift allows Monsanto to sue farmers. However, in one of the greatest examples of turning the tables Wood Prairie Farms, an organic potato farm, has brought a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for contaminating their organic potatoes. Now that is fighting fire with fire.
We are at a cross roads in our concepts of food, where you see grass root efforts like the Slow Food, buy local, urban farming and support local farms movements. We have groups like Ark of Taste, which is a movement to bring back heritage breeds from pigs, cows and chickens to tomatoes and everything else that has been genetically modified to fit the needs of the profit motive not the taste for consumers. From my standpoint, nasty chemicals on the food and pathogens cause health problems. Recall after recall, year after year, has become commonplace because the industrial food complex is making people seriously ill, with some resulting in death. What is worse is that recalls are a relatively new phenomenon. Did we have recalls in the sixties and seventies? My mind is going but I do not know of any.
We have had recalls because people are getting sick and we are hearing more and more about bacteria becoming anti-biotic resistant. We know that Atrizine is an endocrine disrupter. The endocrine system in the human body regulates hormonal balance. Studies recently found that high levels of Atrizine are castrating and feminizing other predictor species. Predictor species like bass and frogs have similar physiological make ups as humans, hence “predictor”. Scientist look at predictor species with the supposition that what happens to them is an indication of what can happen to humans. Atrizine is one of the most used chemicals by the IFC.
Then there is taste, remember taste, when tomatoes were sweet, soft, watery spheres of goodness. Which would you pick to eat, a tomato from the grocery store or one out of the garden? So far, every single person that I have asked that question picks the latter. Why? Because there came a time when the IFC turned the tomato into a bottom line calculation and its taste was compromised for its longevity. As was most vegetables and fruit.
An organic plant struggles to get its nutrients out of the ground. When a predator attacks the plant, the plant releases its own sent that attracts bugs that are predators or parasites of the bug eating its leaves. This does not work with a heavy infestation but if the plant survives, it grows stronger and has a better taste then a plant that was sprayed with synthetic fertilizers and insecticides. That is why when you grow fruits and vegetables you want to get native plants in your own area. The fauna has lived and adapted to the environment. That means they have adapted and survived the bugs, fungi etcetera.
I trust my taste buds, I know what is on my plants, I know that the more we allow large corporations to genetically modify food the greater susceptibility we all face for unknown genetic mutation, and greater risk of bacterial out breaks caused by anti-biotic resistance. That is why more than ever supporting your local farmer is important. It really is cheaper and healthier for everyone in the end.
Buy Local: Every dollar you spend keeps local growers growing.
Posted by Brian
@ 07:43 AM EDT
Coadee is thirteen months old. She is still nipping at people’s hands and legs. Se we keep her in an outside pen so that she is secure when not supervised. At least we tried to keep her in the pen. I was so proud of myself when I was able to put the dog pen together straight out of the box. I first started assembling the pen in the garage. As I went from one-step, to the next, I had a nagging feeling. As the bottom square started to take shape, I realized, if I had finished the pen, it would not fit through garage door.
As much as I hate making a mistake, I relish the times when I catch myself. I took everything outside and restarted the assembly. True to the direction’s (yes I did read them) it was easy to assemble. The bottom of the fence itself is held in place by metal ties spaced every two feet to the cross bar. I put the whole cage on a pair of skids so I could drag it from place to place as the chickens moved. Along with the pen, we added an igloo doghouse so Coadee can get out of the elements, keep her food dry and get warm on very cold days.
We purchased the pen because we needed a bigger area for the dog to roam but remain close to the chickens and the house. When we first put her in the new encampment, we left the farm to go to the store, total time away two hours. Coming up the driveway, we see Coadee bounding down the hill towards us, tail up and waging, tongue lolling on the right side of her mouth, this little twinkle in her eye, as if to say, “FREEDOM ain’t it grand”. Okay, I may be anthropomorphizing a little.
I looked at my wife and our minds came to the same conclusion. Coadee had jumped on top of the doghouse and jumped out. Then we started looking, the house was right in the middle of the pen, our first instinct was proving to be wrong. I thought okay, I would place her in the pen, go back to the house and watch what she does. Problem was, by the time I got to the house, she was already out and standing by the door, tail waging, mouth agape, and those big brown eyes looking through the windowpane.
I took her back to the pen put her in and turned to walk away. I might have gotten five paces when I hear the fence rattle, I turned around to look at her and there she is going underneath the fence. Ahhh ha, let the games begin I said to myself. This would be a piece of cake, I knew her future attempts to escape would prove futile.
I went to the barn got more metal ties and tied down the side where she was getting out. “Beat that”, I had taken the ends of the metal strands and twisted it around the pole and the fence. “Finnie,” I declared when entering the house. Later, she was still in the pen and I was victorious. We could see she was inspecting and pushing where she had gotten out prior but it was not budging.
Satisfied with my fix we went about the day doing chores and other work. Time passed; I was behind the barn when I heard the distinctive jingle of Coadee's collar. I turned and there she is coming at me tail high waging, with what could pass for a smile on her face and proud as she could be. Upon inspection, she had pushed the fence and the metal ties out and off the frame. Not to be outsmarted by a dog, zip-ties were next. Long story short, the zip-ties failed so I tripled up on them. Yes, she broke the zip-ties by pushing the fence out. However, since I tripled up on the ties it worked out pretty well, but there were three other sides of the pen left. I placed double zip-ties around the rest.
I think it was a couple of days before she broke out again, this time it was the east facing fence not the north side she started with. We had bailing twine from our straw bales; I use it to tie most things down and it lasts pretty long out doors. I took some strands and started to mend the fence where Coadee had escaped.
She beat that perimeter defense by chewing on the available twine until it snapped and then simply pushed her way under the fence. Once again, we are driving up to the house and here comes this dog running towards us, tail up and wagging, mouth open, eyes sparkling ready to greet the people that give her food. This is really starting to get old and I am starting to wonder if I should just turn the keys over to the dog. I still have an ace in the whole I think to myself; we have metal cable and fasteners that I can use. “I am breaking out the big guns now,” I explained to my wife. She did look skeptical but I brushed it off. “This is the last time we will visit this,” I went on to say.
Time lines are starting to blur in my mind but this whole saga began in late November 2011. I got the one side triple zip tide; the other side is wrapped with ¼-inch metal twisted cable. I thought for sure I had Coadee on two of the four sides. She got out on the CABLED side of the pen. In the fence each strand of wire is woven with the next wire to make a diamond pattern, at the bottom of the fence one strand of wire is hooked to the other strand. Both strands are tied together at the bottom forming a closed diamond shape or an open half diamond shape. Coadee pushed the fence out, such that those links, at the bottom of the fence, bent straight and she was able to push them through the cable that was holding them down.
One day there was freezing rain; we thought okay, she would stay in her doghouse out of the weather. However, when we returned, we found her inside the heated hen house. The chickens were a little ruffled at her taking up residence but they were with her in the house too. Coadee was dry and warm; tail waging, mouth open, ears up checking out the car coming by her. She has this smug look on her face like; she is already plotting her next escape.
The main reason for the pen now is to keep her near and allow whoever is leaving the farm, to leave without the dog-giving chase. I had to compromise; I figured that if I tied a bow to keep the door closed, she could tug on the line to untie the bow. The door would open and she could go free. By that time, the car was gone. Besides, we got her because we lost chickens during the day. We need her out to protect and heard them back to the pen. Given all her past escapes, Coadee had proven that she stays on the farm. After some discussion, I went about setting up the tie.
It did not take long before she learned how to untie the bow and let herself out. I took a short video of her doing that. Besides, I do not think my poor ego could have taken another escape anyway.
Buy Local: It is a way to future proof your food supply.
Posted by Brian
@ 06:13 PM EDT
I gave a presentation to the Organic BMSB workgroup on how our growing year faired and what we did to rectify last year’s infestation. We improved marginally, however I look at improvement as a great step, no matter the measurement. Improvement equates to moving forward in our fight to grow fruits and vegetables organically against a devastating adversary.
I was finally able to put faces to the voices I have heard on all the conference calls. As usual, I learned more from everyone else then I was able to impart but that is why I wanted to be in the group to begin with. I could not stand by having suffered the losses from 2010 without trying to do something, education, as with most things, is the first step. At least this year I had much less anxiety presenting to such a distinguished group. I am still in awe of the work they do and the dedication they show. I am a babe in the woods filled with entomology experts, seasoned practitioners and other heavy hitters in the organic growing community. I met Jeff Moyer from the Rodale Institute and Dr. Russ Mizell from Florida State University. We followed Dr. Mizell's 2008 native stinkbug study to establish a trap crop solution for this year. During the two-day event, I found I was still writing jargon down, for later research, but the longer I listened the more things started to fall into place.
Entomologist from around the country showed up to participate. It was truly fascinating to sit and listen to the work that they have been doing this past year and years past. They have been studying this bug for sometime. It was not until the last few years that BMSB started to show their true capacity for fruit and vegetable damage. If left unchecked many small organic farms will suffer and more than likely go out of business. The Washington Post recently had an article about a peach grower, in the area, that decided to stop instead of continuing to suffer monetary loses due to the bug.
Orchards around Maryland and Pennsylvania are suffering great losses. The bug continues to hitchhike across the United States with no indication of abatement. Once in a place they multiply consuming the most desirable and costly flora. They are not only destructive they are dumb. They fly but they do not know how to land. They land by hitting something first. Then they either grasp on to the surface in order to stay put or bounce off to fall to the ground. Most times, they bounce off. If it is a hard surface, you hear them hit the surface and another thump when they hit hard ground.
Besides trap cropping we will try native parasitoids this year. Parasitoids lay eggs on their host and the larvae feed off the host in order to mature. As the larvae grow, the host dies. Like the Trichogramma wasp laying eggs on the green tomato hornworm. We will try different species and wasps that are predacious.
We are fortunate that we can participate in the group and learn as we go. I do feel better about growing but we are not out of trouble. This season’s grow area has hedgerows and tree lines surrounding the land. Both places are over-winter habitation areas for the BMSB. We will also plant near the barn, another highly concentrated area for over-wintering bugs. We have our planning cut out for us, we will need to come up with a perimeter defense that takes into account both ground and air assault. Adult BMSB are high in the trees and glide down to earth. Planting a trap crop too close to the trees will not stop them from making it into the cash crop area.
We will put up trap crops, physical barriers and try repellant plants on the interior. The idea of the repellant plant is if the bug gets through the trap crop the next thing they get to is an undesirable plant, which may turn them back around to the trap crop for food. We will have to see; what I do know is the more we learn the better able to educate others. If we are able to further that cause then it fits within our own mission. Without education, we are all lost.
Buy Local: Go out and meet your local farmer, they are waiting for you
Posted by Brian
@ 07:59 PM EST
I do not mean to be so negative when describing the difference in lifestyles growing up in a metropolis versus trying to live a life sustainably. There are stark differences when the environments are compared and contrasted. There is a ton written about the minutia of growing, most everything, from seeds to harvest have been studied and documented. Then there is the whole animal side, once again well researched and published. What we found lacking in all that we read was the casual need for euthanasia.
Yes, if you are involved with animals euthanasia is naturally part of the farm cycle. When I say naturally, in the best of production, you will have to deal with mortality and or the decision to end the animal’s life for health reasons or for processing. That is what we thought going into the vegetable side, if you had no animals you do not have to end the life of God’s creatures. That you would not have to kill, anything other than vegetation was law as far as we were aware.
Truth is, if you are on a farm you cannot get away with not killing something. Inevitably, you will someday have to take the life of something, even if it is mice eating your seeds. When you lay poison down you have stepped over the line and become something that you said you would not. Mice are but one in many instances where taking the life out of something fixes your problem. Have all the romantic fantasies you can conjure about living in a rural environment on a farm. Growing up in the city, we were led to believe in the farm where Lassie grew up. Sure Timmy was locked in a fiery barn, but Lassie was able to run and get help.
Why didn't they run an episode where Lassie kills a groundhog because the groundhog is undermining the foundation of the milking shed? At least it would have evened out the perspective of farming. Then there was Oliver Wendell Douglas, they could have shown him chopping the head off a snake he found in his kitchen. Having to take my phone outside and connect to a box on the telephone pole did not phase me in the least. That was because of the legacy of Green Acres. I do not mean to imply that our view of farming was predicated on television broadcasts; but I would be lying if I said they had no influence on our perceptions.
I am a very cautious person, I go into a decision only if I feel I have exhausted what is known and understood about the expected outcomes. We did not buy this farm and go into growing on a whim. We spent thirteen years reading and playing in our small garden before we even started looking for a farm.
In all that time, euthanasia was never brought into the discussion. That is unless animals were discussed. We were vegetable people, not vegetarians; we ate meats from local butchers and purchased fruits and vegetables from Knill's, our local farm. We just settled on growing vegetables instead of animals to get away from our own squeamishness.
We got a rude awakening within the first five days of living on the farm. Nevertheless, if you are thinking about farming and you are like us, do not think you can farm without having to someday take out an animal or reptile. I wish it was not the case but at some point in time, it will happen. Just be aware when planning, you will have to kill. If you have a hard time with it like us, I wish you all the strength in the world.
Buy Local: Help preserve the environment for future generations
Posted by Brian
@ 07:38 PM EST
I was fired recently as the official spokesperson for the farm. Seems that the last interview I did turned out to be perceived as negative. Now I have heard that publicity, good or bad, is still publicity and perception is in the eye of the beholder. The article centered on the organic research of the brown marmarated stinkbug, the damage that it caused and the potential for damage to organic crops. We have had a hard time fighting this bug and we have lost entire crops. Just because we are, a small farm does not mean that the losses were small.
Going into a growing season you have certain expectations, profit is one of them. You dream, plan and then you contingency plan. In Maryland, you need pre-approval for any amendment used in the coming growing season. Amendment means anything applied to the crop or land. This is a growing trend among organic certifiers.
For the grower this puts extra emphasis on contingency planning. You need to know what you may face from an environmental standpoint. That was a lot easier to do before 2010. As a part of growing, you learn what bugs, viruses, bacteria and weather conditions are like in your region. Armed with that information the amount of variables you face begin to dwindle. It is not as daunting as it seems. That is until you face an unknown enemy with no known organic amendment available.
Some of the older farmers around here talk about when Japanese beetles first invaded and the similarities. Nevertheless, they are talking about a different world and time when the scientist developed a quick chemical response. The uses of those chemicals are band today, for good reason, but conventional farmers did get relief relatively quick.
Organic growers on the other hand do not get quick relief. The normal process for allowing new amendments takes time. The amendment needs vetting for organic properties, it needs a review period in which growers and others can comment, then it goes to the National Organic Standards Board for discussion and vote and if it makes it there, it goes to the Secretary of the USDA for approval in the NOP. Recently, the EPA came out with a few rulings allowing the limited use of certain chemicals. This was great news for the conventional folks but it had little impact on the organic folks. The EPA went as far as approving some banned organic materials for use.
The problem is, as I understand the regulations, EPA does not have final say over what is and what is not allowed in the NOP. Using any of these EPA approved organic amendments could very likely result in the decertification of the land where the amendment was applied. The complete pre-approval process, mentioned above, is designed to prevent that decertification from happening. Once you get the certifiers approval, you have in essence obtained the right to use the amendment accordingly. However, you must still conform to the NOP, IPM, Nutrient Management and other environmental guidelines. There is no quick fix in organics and that is what makes growing tenuous when facing an invasive species with no natural predators or is impervious to existing organic amendments.
When Dr. Nielson, from Michigan State University, gave the reporter our name it was so the reporter could get a growers perspective on the bug and what we face being organic. Having lost what we lost and living with the bugs over wintering in our house peaked the reporter’s interest. A year before, the local ABC affiliate was doing a story on Congressman Bartlett running for office and some of the story looked at his effort to get funding for research of the BMSB. The local ABC channel interviewed him, his opponent and us. The last thing my wife said before she left was that the house was off limits and I was not "under any circumstance" allowed to let the reporter in the house. Therefore, they took video of the piles of stinkbugs in the barn.
Apparently, that warning was meant for all eternity, because I was still not suppose to say anything about the house. Now the writer did not get every detail correct in the article, I did not teach Coadee to eat stinkbugs; she just does that on her own and we do not have thousands of stinkbugs crawling on our floor. Anyone that has encountered the bug knows the adults fly and the instars walk. We had adults in the house just like everyone around us. Our house sits in the middle of fifty acres of farmland. Harvesting the soybeans chased the bugs from the field to the closest structures, which in this case, was the barn and the house.
The first sentence in the article started this way “Brian Biggins’ life stinks.” and it went down hill from there or so I am told. After my wife read the article, she was horrified that I had spoken about the house. “Who is going to want to buy any of our jams or jelly’s?” she asked. Never mind the fact that it was made in August when the bugs were outside. "Would you go to a farm like that?” We are an organic farm; of course we are going to have bugs people expect that. She is entitled to her opinion as well as her privacy and I violated that, for which, I am truly sorry.
I told her “Look, this will go the way every other bit of publicity we have had goes,” which is nowhere. We were on the radio in Baltimore for an hour, I got one email, and we have been on local television a couple of times. We received no comment what so ever, not even someone saying they saw us. A local newspaper covered our cooking class three years ago. One person asked if we were the farm in the paper. We have been in the local paper multiple times, we even took out an advertisement, paid two hundred dollars, to run one day (in the food section) and we got one reply. “Let’s face it,” I said, “our track record for getting sales out of our publicity has not exactly been stellar.” Nothing seemed to change her mind to her the damage was done. “You cannot un-ring a bell”.
She is right, you cannot un-ring a bell, but it is not like we are the only ones with bugs in the house, everyone around us faces the same problem. She is getting better about it but I am still no longer the official spokesperson for the farm. I am just hoping she has forgotten the password to Local Harvest, I am sure this piece would not go over so well with her either.
Buy Local: help build community and preserve those who persevere
Posted by Brian
@ 06:38 PM EST
Growing up in the city, I saw and heard some horrific incidents. From car accidents, a friend’s brother touches a live wire on top of a train; a body lays in pieces after a motorcycle accident, to burying my puppy after being struck by a car. All of which make me cringe at the thought of blood shed at my own hands. I have written about this theme often, because it is something that has caused great anguish and emotional pain, which I had hoped by exposing, would allow me to move forward.
I guess in a way I was right, if it was most things, I would like being right. This is not one of them and I have lost more then I bargained for, at least in the end. I do have perspective; I have talked to my nephews who have both served on the frontlines in Afghanistan and Iraq. The things we have talked about and how they conducted themselves while transitioning back into society has been inspiring and made me feel foolish at my own inadequacies.
We have exhausted every possible angle for selling our chickens, legally, without us processing. In the state of Maryland, if you do not process your own chickens, legally, you cannot sell them off the farm, let alone retail. If you want to expand your market to restaurants, wholesale or even farmer’s markets, you need a license. Therefore, I have taken the next step in getting our state certified poultry processor license. First step was taking the processing class and passing the test with at least an 80. We have accomplished the aforementioned.
Since then, I have completed the twenty some page application. The next step is to mail it in and wait for the evaluation of our production, sanitation, safety measures, hazard mitigation, waste disposal and chilling process. After examination, comes the letter announcing the results of our plan. If we succeed in meeting all sanitation, safety and disposal procedures, we move to the inspections phase. We then wait for the inspector to call and setup the inspection of our processing.
This has all come with little cost but a lot of emotional angst. However, I took a step that I thought I would never take, nor did I have confidence that I could ever bring myself to take. It has been years in the making but I have crossed over into the realm of grim reaper. I did not lose my breakfast, lunch or dinner as I thought I would, but I lost something worse. To a certain extent, I lost a piece of something, that I had fought a lifetime trying to keep safe. The idea of me ending the life of an animal, that I had raised and cared for, was not fathomable. I have written here, that it was something I was not able or willing to face.
I feel no sense of accomplishment, there is not a speck of satisfaction or any positive feeling having faced one of the hardest tests of my life when I stepped up for the sake of the farm. I am not relieved, if anything I am saddened that I have had to take this step after so many years of fighting against our raising and processing of animals.
Temple Grandin said that constant processing of animals makes people sadistic. I can see why and I have only done it twice. I think it is a defense mechanism used to reconcile what you are doing on a daily basis. I am not saying it is right, it is not, there is no justification for the mistreatment of animals no matter the situation. However, there are emotions involved, we are humans and emotions come with the package. Some of us are better able to handle situational emotions then others and I am trying.
Humane slaughter is an oxymoron but as Temple and Joel Salatin illustrate the end of an animal's life, although permanent, should and can be done with the least stress possible to the animal. I know our birds are raised in the most humane, comfortable and invigorating environment possible, that they lived free and outside with plenty of room and were protected from predatory ills. I try to joke that they live better then I do, what with their organic diet, freedom, fresh grass and a stress-less environment.
However, it does not lessen the fact that my attempt to be a successful vegetable grower is in great peril. It is a bitter pill to swallow given what we now must do in order to keep the operation viable. This is just the beginning, eventually I will need to process one weekend every month. Michael Pollan in "Ominvores Dilemma" pointed out, how far removed people are from their food source. This makes it harder for consumers to see what small farms go through in order to survive and provide safe, fresh food. That is why education is important, the more people learn the more they understand the earnest effort that small sustainable farmers put fourth for their health and the environments.
On a farm, you face difficulties frequently and you do what is warranted within guidelines, humane treatment, regulations, and social mores, ethical and sustainable practices and sometimes by doing so, you just find yourself over the edge and there is no chance of return.
Buy Local: Become part of a greater good, help build your local community food chain.
Posted by Brian
@ 05:00 PM EST
When we talk about nutrient management for us, it has deeper meaning then how much fertilizer to use. Our land contains part of a tributary, water that runs through our land and down on the line to the Chesapeake Bay. What we do on our land has a direct impact on the Bay. We have the potential to hurt or help the Bay, just as millions of us have. In the city, they started painting the words "Chesapeake Bay" on the storm drains. It was part of the City's effort to help educate citizens by letting them know what went in the storm drain ended up in the bay. We all have a responsibility to help protect our environment, from farmers to homeowners.
Whenever the topic of nutrient management comes up, in the farming community sometimes tempers flair. I understand why, if you look at the farmland and compare that to all home and business land, farms are a minority in total land mass. This is not just local to Maryland; it is all across the United States. Yet, farms get the bulk of the attention and focus, but the math on farm acres versus the rest of the land mass does not add up. Everyone needs to realize his or her own role in helping protect our environment for future generations, from lawns to dish and clothes soap, we can all protect watersheds.
What we do on our land, the notion and responsibility for nutrient management is highly regarded. By growing up in Baltimore, the Bay and crabs were as much a part of my heritage as was Italian cooking. Like every other state, Marylander's celebrate their heritage through festivals and activities that are indigenous to the State. Ours is the celebration of all that is good with the Chesapeake Bay.
Here is an article, from the Baltimore Sun, on the annual seafood festival and the crab picking champion, we like all things crabs. I have never entered the competition nor could I. I cannot pick a crab without eating it. Before this Champ, there was a sister duo, who held the title for a bunch of years. The one sister would have the title for some years, then the other would, this went on for a long period if I recall. The sisters, featured on Chef John Shield’s cooking show, were excellent pickers.
This is how we as Marylanders, celebrate the bounty that the environment provides us. I know all over the States there are similar festivals; the first to come to my mind is the Gilroy Garlic festival. I am Italian after all. We as a nation celebrate food of all kinds and types. However, we have split personalities when it comes to growing and selling food. If we have so much reverence for foods, why doesn't that translate into a demanding consumer, stringent safety standards and food purity? Standards that include lower trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals and label GMO-food products as such.
I think the reason there is so much fighting by the IFC against labeling food pertaining GMO products, is because the majority of us would not consume the foods. My greatest fear about GMO is the anti-biotic spliced into the DNA helix. Then there are the other problems. Ask yourself, why is the IFC fighting so hard against the labeling of modified foods?
Just like there are farms in Maryland that violate the nutrient management policies, people will do what they have to do to make money. Growing is incredibly hard, doing it right, growing sustainable, with integrity and environmental sensitivity are some of the tenants of why the local movement is gaining in popularity, not just with people buying from local farms but also the wonderful people that do take the leap and decide actually to grow. By focusing on proper techniques, fertilizer management and green manures, we actually help the Bay.
Many of the people we meet are people that "get it". They want to eat healthier but they are concerned that spinach, peanut butter, hamburgers, tomatoes, lettuces, or whatever they eat from the IFC can harm them. We do play Russian roulette when we do not take the time to prepare foods properly. In the hospitality industry, they have a process of educating the food side safety. You must pass and receive your "Sanitation Certification,”. You learn all the food borne illnesses, how to clean and prepare food, cross contamination and so fourth. The test is hard to pass and does involve significant knowledge of temperatures, bacterial and viral outbreaks, prevention and of course, safe food handling.
Most of my friends and many of the people I know have basic rudimentary knowledge of cross contamination and proper cooking temperatures. Nevertheless, food safety and handling has become more complex and rudimentary knowledge has turned out to give us all a false sense of security. Who knew you had to wash the outside of a melon before you ate the thing. More people do now, but it was at a cost that no one family should ever have to pay. Not because all you wanted was a fruit, vegetable or meat product.
Buy Local: You keep your money local, so the local economy grows.
Posted by Brian
@ 05:56 PM EST
The industrial food complex (IFC) is faced with another study showing the ills of atrazine on the human body, specifically the female anatomy. There seems to be more evidence showing reduced levels of estrogen and other abnormalities.
I read this in the Environmental Health News article. It started with this paragraph:
Women who drink water contaminated with low levels of the weed-killer atrazine may be more likely to have irregular menstrual cycles and low estrogen levels, scientists concluded in a new study. The most widely used herbicide in the United States, atrazine is frequently detected in surface and ground water, particularly in agricultural areas of the Midwest. The newest research, which compared women in Illinois farm towns to women in Vermont, adds to the growing scientific evidence linking atrazine to altered hormones.
In early 2010, another published study revealed atrazine was castrating and feminizing bullfrogs. Before that, it was the feminization of bass. Both the bullfrogs and the bass are known as predictor species. That means their organs and other internal workings are much like that of humans. What happens to them is an indication that it can happen to humans.
Ask yourself, how long and how many of us will have to suffer because the IFC continues to make profits off the demise of our environment and to the detriment of our bodies? Do not forget we have still yet to hear anything about Nano-Titanium-Dioxide. I cannot help but think it is here and in our food supply. Just as we found out about GMO corn, my bet is we will find out about NTD the same way.
Posted by Brian
@ 04:08 PM EST
I am jaded, as much as I am open minded, pragmatic as much as I am principled, disappointed as much as energized. Because of my years of mistakes and foibles, I have learned a great many things. The one lesson that stands out is of a plethora of people who have helped me throughout my life that added to who I am and what I have become. Then again some are shaking there heads and still cringing at their association with me. There are always two sides to any story!
My first official part-time job title was "Porter," while working in a hospital kitchen. I was sixteen at the time. A year or two into the job there was a blizzard and I worked sixteen-hour days for eight days. My parent’s house was two blocks from the hospital, which made it fortuitist given transportation conditions in a blizzard. Because of that effort the Director of Food Services took it upon herself to help guide me into my future. It was not until a major calamity but it happened nonetheless. It was an innocent joke that went south when someone else followed suit.
The hospital was run by the Catholic order of the Daughters of Charity, who had thirteen hospitals up and down the east coast. As a porter, I worked in the kitchen in the lowest of jobs. Cleaning mainly and delivering food carts to the different floors for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then retrieving them to be unloaded and steam cleaned. I scrubbed pots, cleaned floors, walls, doors, shelves, ovens, fryers, grills, warmers, refrigerators, if it was in the kitchen I had to clean it.
The grill that the public and hospital staff saw had a pegboard sign advertising specials for the day. A pegboard sign is one of those things that you put letters on to spell different words. Like "Fresh Eggs," or "Bacon and Sausage," and then a price. Well one night I thought it would be funny to change the letters around to say something else. Being eighteen at the time, my hormonal inclination was to put up "Fresh Ass to Go,” I figured the morning crew would come in, see it for what it was, have a laugh and change the sign. I did not think I would have a copycat add something else.
The next time I came into work there was a big up roar about the sign being changed and an investigation was conducted. I thought what is that about, I simply changed the words a little. At the same time Willy, the manager of the dish sanitation section, asked of one of the complaintents, "How can she say anything about "fresh," when she is 75 years old?" that was his quote not mine.
Well the inquisition was on; Mrs. Andersen, the Director of Food Services, interviewed everyone. When my time came, I sat in front of her and she proceeded to tell me what this was about and asked if I had anything to do with it. I am honest to a fault and I admitted that yes, I did do it. Her immediate question was "What kind of sick mind puts something like that up in a Catholic hospital?”
I was stunned and blurted out, "All it was was Fresh Ass to Go, how bad could that be"? "What about the other thing?" she asked. "What other thing?” I asked in return. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Fresh P***y". My jaw dropped, and I immediately went into denial. "I will take responsibility for what I have done, but I will not take responsibility for that". I was emphatic. I was not going to take the blame for someone else’s mischief. I might have caused it but, I did not do it, nor encourage it.
I guess I convinced her because she said, "Okay," she then talked about my work ethic, my value to the organization and being there when needed. Then she asked, "What do you want to do with your life?” I was eighteen at the time but still knew the answer. "I want to work with computers, I want to sell mainframes,” I said. The thought of growing was not a thought. She said okay and told me I could leave.
I use to deliver the "Morning Sun" newspaper in the hospital and sold papers from floor to floor six days a week. This started before my first year of high school and lasted until I was a sophomore in college. So being there every day, I was able to look at job postings frequently. Some time later on the "Jobs" board was advertising for a computer operator position. It was the midnight to eight shifts on Friday and Saturday nights. I applied and used Mrs. Andersen as a reference. I was about to become a social pariah at the age of eighteen. I worked weekend nights, holidays and went to school during the week. These were the first steps that helped lead me into adulthood.
I cannot help but feel a sense of returning the favors, to give for what I have received. I have given and will continue to give, not out of obligation but from a sense of commitment. You see what we do here by treating the earth, air, animals and water correctly is just part of our whole make up. To give back does wonders for the human psyche. I know I should give of free will and I do. However, a lot of my motivation comes from the looks on people’s faces. I have been there and I know what they feel. I also know that I need nothing in return from whom we help. I would like if they pay it forward but there are no strings when we give.
I volunteered at our local soup kitchen for a year. Talk about a humbling experience and helping the poorest of the poor. I still felt good after the kitchen and dinning hall gleamed from my cleaning. Now we drop off excess vegetables and our spent layers for soup so that others are nourished.
This is a little window into why we have the motivation, drive, fortitude and stamina to keep taking the hits and getting back up. We are part of something bigger, from working on the USDA Organic BMSB workgroup to giving extra vegetables at the stand or to the soup kitchen. We are but just one piece in a huge puzzle that depicts all growers. Give willingly and you shall receive. You do not know what you will receive but I assure you that whatever it is it will be for the benefit of the greater good. Treating people, our land, water and animals with dignity, kindness and reverence is what drives us and makes all of us give thanks, It is what matters most.
Buy Local: Now is the time. If not now, then when?
Posted by Brian
@ 07:06 AM EST
Coadee is now eight months old. The dog eats stink bugs, at least we witnessed her eat four of them. The last one she regurgitated. We purchased a large kennel to keep her in during the day/night as needed. She has proven to be quite the escape artist, she is out more times then she is in, despite our efforts to reinforce incarceration of the animal. To stop her fleeing, I need to tie down every link at the bottom of the fence. She just keeps pushing at the links until she can separate them. For as big as she is, the escape whole is amazingly small.
Her training is continuing at Carol's and on the farm with us. We are at a stage, in training, where we do not have to tell her that chickens are out. She senses they are out and goes and gets them. Sometimes we see them other times we follow Coadee's gate.
The chickens have learned when she comes out it is time to start heading back to the pen or face Coadee's unwanted attention. We have not gotten the whole process down yet, but we are getting there. We would like Coadee to chase the chickens back into the pen. She has most of that process down, but we are still missing the “how to get the chickens in the pen,” part. If I am there, I take the bird, say speak to Coadee, so she barks, and toss the chicken over the fence. The chicken takes flight and I tell Coadee what a good girl she is. She has also learned however, that it is easier to pick the chicken up and bring it to the pen instead of chasing it around wildly until the chicken decides to head to the pen. This has led to some heart stopping moments.
Like the time I came around the corner of the barn to see Coadee with a chicken, head in her mouth, walking back to the pen. My heart sank, the chicken had to be dead, and it looked limp in her mouth. I yelled for her to sit which she did. I was walking to her, I told her to drop the chicken, she does not really know drop yet but she released the chicken, looking up at me with those big brown eyes. The chicken starting flapping her wings, shook her head, neck feathers bristling somewhat stunned. I expected the neck to be broken given what I saw. How she survived is beyond me.
Coadee gently holds things between her jaws, but at the same time, I have had to repair the corner of a wooden step that she chewed away. She still nips rather hard, but that is her herding instinct coming out, something that my wife has felt. When she is at Carol's there are plenty of young ducks, chickens, geese, rabbits, kittens, turkey’s her farm is a menagerie of heritage breeds, so Coadee has learned to control her jaws. She has learned to come when called, fetch, sit, lay, almost knows left versus right paw, drop things from her mouth, stays, speaks, hush (sometimes), help move the chickens, heard or corral them, protect, warn and generally tries to help with what you are doing.
I could be pulling on the chicken pen and she will come put her mouth on the rope and try to pull. Usually it is opposite of how I am pulling but it is a learning process. If I happen to be brining in an extension cord, or water hose she has the thing in her mouth going in the opposite direction. Weeding is one of those helping things too. She has at least stopped biting my hand when pulling weeds, now she just nestles in next to me and starts digging the dirt with as much gusto as she can muster. She has the basic concept just not the subtly of what we are doing. Sometimes she actually gets weeds, more often it is the plant. We still have work to do on identifying plants from weeds.
It is getting harder and harder to drop her off at Carol’s but it is the best for her. She is turning into the asset my wife said she would. She also brings a certain amount of joy, surprise, frustration, amazement and education to the farm. We are learning as she is, sometimes she is smarter other times we are. For ego reasons I am not going to give the percentage breakdown on that last statement.
Coadee is at least working in the rain now, something she was not doing before. I think she likes being toweled off and has figured out getting wet leads to being dried. This is a game in itself. I cover her with a towel and she tries to get the towel to lie on and chew. She is bigger and stronger so the process takes on the look of a wrestling match more then a drying session.
However, it is an exercise that both of us seem to relish. She tries to get the towel while I dry her paws, legs, tail, head and body. Her tail wags, the whole time, as she competes for towel space. This is her at three months
Coadee has become one of the good things about farming. It is just another one of those links in a long chain forged by events, time, people and stubborn determination.
Buy Local: Stay local, support your community farm.
Posted by Brian
@ 04:00 PM EST
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During the hard times on the farm, I sometimes look back and question how I got here and why didn’t someone in the mental health profession intervene? I grew up in Baltimore City, the thought of trying to make a living by growing a truck garden was not on the radar. I knew what I wanted, at an early age, but it was materialistic. When I finally reached certain life goals, I understood how wrong I had been by chasing goals, which at their base, were shallow.
Don't get me wrong, I worked hard and made sacrifices that other people my age did not. Nevertheless, when I reflect upon my youthful goals to that of today’s youth, I was superficial and frivolous in my pursuits and ideals. Some of today's youth are more altruistic and look upon our society’s thirst for wealth as perversion itself. Think "Occupy Wall Street,". There is no moral high ground anymore. It is not expected or delivered from our political leaders, corporate leaders or others. The bankers are more like Mr. Potter, then George Bailey in "It’s a Wonderful Life". Greed is not good, honesty is rare and public service has turned into ugly words. Today's youth are looking at themselves as anti-materialistic, as if existence in and of itself is all that is needed. I understand that minimalist attitude.
Once I finished with my education, I usually worked two jobs. By the time, I got a very demanding job I was the typical workaholic yuppie. I worked six-day weeks, ten to twelve hour days, all for those goals I had set so long ago. I justified all my actions because I had to achieve. Materialistic as those goals were, I did not think or know it until I was in my forties. What free time I did have I spent cooking and growing vegetables in a small garden.
What I did not realize was early on there were other forces at work pushing me in the direction of growing. With all the years that my wife and I dated added to the years that we were married, my father and father in-law always had gardens going. My in-laws also raised layers for eggs and broilers. Each year it seemed my father-in-law would make his garden bigger. Once he retired, the garden looked huge. During my mid-twenties and some of my thirties, growing a truck garden was still the furthest from my mind. Summer after summer when we visited my in-laws, my wife’s father was always in the garden. He always looked content, no matter the time of day, temperature or humidity. There just seemed to be this Zen-like peace in the man. More than a couple of times, as the house expanded with grandkids and great-grand kids he was in the garden. I came to see this as his oasis in the middle of all the chaos and cacophony.
My wife and I got to a point in our lives when we needed to change our diet toward healthier foods. We started eating healthy and part of that was learning what was beneficial. The more we learned about trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals in our fruits and vegetables the more we started growing our own food with organic methods, buying from local butchers and farms. We learned that the IFC was importing fruits and vegetables that had trace amounts of chemicals that were banned for use in the US. Growing small eventually led to thirteen years of discussing and planning growing on a larger scale.
With the passing of my wife's father, came cleaning out his library. He was a very stoic man; he could have played poker for a living if he wanted, his behavior and expression rarely changing. He laughed and enjoyed humor but for the most part, he was a quiet, reserved individual. When we obtained organic certification, he was the most animated I had ever seen. I thought it uncharacteristic but there was a lot I did not know about the man at that time.
Going through his library we got all the books, papers, articles, magazines and any other literature dealing with organic growing. He had original books from J.R. Rodale and some of the first extension articles from the University of Maryland on growing organically. The material dated back to the sixties, fifties and in some cases the forties. It was not until then that I realized how truly proud he was of our certified status. We had achieved what he had studied for years and we were doing it professionally.
I can still see his face when he came into the house and we had our "Certified Organic" sign hanging up on the wall. We were proud of it, but he took a sense of pride that escaped us all. That is until we found his organic material and realized just how knowledgeable he was. In talking to him over the years, since we purchased the farm, it always struck me how in-depth his questions were about growing. Not a year went by without my father-in-law coming up during the growing season, taking a tour of the garden and checking on the progress of our free-range organic layers. He would have loved the fact that we started raising organic broilers. We would walk the entire garden, the vegetables, the fruits and the resting areas the whole time discussing our land use practices, infestations, viral and bacterial problems and weeding. He was one of the biggest proponents of fire weeding. He hated weeds with a passion and I admired that greatly in him.
I must have spent about twenty-five summers watching this man tend his garden. I was able to make some very fresh salsa and other dishes from that garden. I remember mostly the look of satisfaction and contentedness on his face as he made his way back to the house, soaked in sweat and covered in dirt, carrying whatever tool it was he had used or the largess he harvested.
Without really knowing I think all those years watching him toil but loving every minute of what he was doing had a profound affect on me. I still question my sanity and skills but with every bad thing that comes along something good usually follows. God never closes a door without opening a window. We knew it was going to be hard, that failure was more likely than success but there is something about what we do that makes us continue, for now. Perhaps it is in our heredity.
Buy Local: Have you ever heard of a vegetable, fruit or meat recall for your local farmer or butcher?
P.S. Please help http://www.savenicksorganicfarm.org/
Posted by Brian
@ 06:34 PM EDT