Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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It Is Our Time

Now is the time to make your voice heard on GMO's and labeling food.  The FDA is seeking public comment on lableing food products containing GMO's. It is time to stand up and help fight against the industrial food complex. 

Follow this link, to let the FDA know that you want to be able to chose whether or not you eat GMO tainted foods.  This is our time, when we stand up and say "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore." (from the movie Network). Tell the FDA we want to know when a product has GMO's.   When you talk about food safety it does not hit closer to home than this.  When you talk about selfless acts and giving, now is the time.

GMO has not been proven safe for human consumption.  As a matter of fact evidence exists that shows it is harmful  to human beings.  You do not have to be a scientist to question why are there so many super-bugs that are straining the use of anti-biotics and the fact that anti-biotics are spliced into the DNA of GMO food.

Please, follow the link and make your voice heard, for you, your family, your children and the generations to come.  It is time to protect our food supply, our environment and our health.  Today, right here, right now, more then ever, it is our time.

Buy Local:  Keep the momentum up.    

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It feels like popcorn exploding

Growing really is a rollercoaster ride, except prolonged, the thrills are unexpected and exhilarating, but the twists and turns visible and unavoidable.  The end of the ride might be in years instead of minutes or seconds but there is an end.  By the end of the seventies, farm foreclosures were commonplace.  I saw a PBS documentary about the desolation of a generational family farm.  The patriarch, whose family owned the farm for a century, was turning the operation over to his son.  At the same time however, the son was realizing how these huge mono-farms subsidized by the federal government, because of the size of the factory farm acreage, had surpassed his ability to get what was needed to stay afloat.  His wife worked at an office job to bring home income.  Off farm income if that rings a bell.

Corporate farms are what is ruining the ecology and making consumers sick.  Story after story of fruit, vegetable and animal product recalls are as commonplace today as never before in the history of food.  Okay, early homosapien might have had more recalls but the record keeping back then is sketchy.  Corporations are the future of the United States and the one percent of the population that holds the greatest amount of wealth is associated with those corporations.  Who do you think owns Monsanto, Haliburton, Wal-Mart, IBM, Cargill, ADM the list goes and goes.  But, the constant is the one percent, sure you and I might have stock in a company, therefore we are owners but not like the large stockholders, the board of directors, the CEO’s and VP’s and all the other titles that generate seven and eight figure incomes, we are not included in that one percent.

I was giving a tour this past weekend during which, I talk about how the cost of ecological sustainability is in our prices and that the prices you pay for food from the industrial food complex (IFC) does not.  You do however subsidize the IFC because ultimately the taxpayer picks up the tab for policing and cleaning up the ecological ills caused by the IFC.  We had ambled over to the layers and I pointed to Amazing and told the crowd of her story, how she survived a bear attack to live out in the woods for three weeks before Coadee found her. 

Whenever we go over to where the layer pen is, most of them come running.  Rhode Island Reds are a very curious group.  When Amazing got near I reached over the fence and she hunkered down for me to pick her up, I then went on to explain to the group how to tell the color of egg by the chickens ear.  I put Amazing back in the pen and continued to talk about soil resting and rejuvenation when out of no where Amazing jumps up and flies onto my shoulder.  She steadied herself and perched on my shoulder.  “Well we do call her Amazing,” I told the group.  Thinking back, I was not even startled, on my periphery I could see she was getting ready to jump, when she did and landed on my shoulder I stretched my arm out so she would get a better purchase and I continued to talk.  Everyone’s eyes were popping at the sight, of what this chicken just did. 

When it was time to move away I leaned over the fence, dipped my shoulder down and she flew off into the pen.  I had never experienced anything like that.  One of our staff saw what had happened and mentioned it at quitting time.  To me it was a sign that points to the benefits of our work and unknown simple pleasures.  The look on people’s faces when that happened was electrifying.  It was crazy, unpredictable and simply amazing from everyone’s perspective.  The first question was “How did you train her to do that?” well I wish I could say I did, but this is the first time this happened.  That made it significantly special for the group because it was not staged as originally thought.  Talk of humane farming and proper treatment of animals creates an environment where something this odd has the potential to happen.  It also enabled me to talk about the difference between humane farms and those of CAFO’s.

That night I was telling the story to my wife, she was skeptical at first then realized I was not joking.  She asked what I did.  how did it feel?  Moreover, did it scare me?  “I stood there and helped her get a purchase,” I said, I saw that she was getting ready to jump I just thought it was going to be out of the pen.  It was one of those ah ha moments, when you seem connected to nature more than you really are but still connected.  It was a good feeling and affirmation that humane farming does make a difference.  It was as bizarre as unexpected, yet thrilling all in one.  When she landed on my shoulder and settled in, my first thought was “do not look at her, she will peck your eye out,” and was followed by oh I hope she does not relieve herself on my back.  None of which happened, "So how did it feel?" my wife asked again.  The only thought I had was its like popcorn exploding inside me.

Buy Local and help save nick's organic farm.  Go to  http://www.savenicksorganicfarm.org/ to help.   

 
 

Blue Ribbons

The Great Frederick County Fair is winding down today.  I am proud to say that our strawberries and concord grapes were not only delicious but when made into jam they garnered the coveted prize of blue ribbon.

That is correct my wife won blue ribbons for her strawberry, Concord grape and blackberry jams.  I could not be prouder or in awe as much as I am.

It is little things, like blue ribbons, that give us the motivation and determination to be successful.  My wife is a formidable opponent when she sets her mind to something.  Sometimes I really hate that about her (especially when I do not get my way) but most times, it is her words that help even out the failures and pitfalls that I write about here.

So here is to you, I could not be prouder or buoyed more by your success and determination.  These are but some of a million reasons that I can point to, as to, why I love her.  Blue Ribbons it does not get any better then that. 

 

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In the blink of an eye

I stare at a white empty background and I think what pearl of wisdom can I impart to help those that are beginning the journey, in which, we have vested seven years of our life?  We are ending our seventh season and it does not look good from a financial standpoint.  We might break even this year, we did not purchase any high dollar items but we did incur startup costs for the broilers.

The broilers are another issue that will be dealt with, and my suspicion is that we are not going to be raising organic broilers next year.  We are looking into contracting out our grow services because we can sell live chickens.  We just cannot sell chickens processed by a USDA inspected exempt facility.  For some odd reason we need to be part of the slaughter or it does not count.  I know each step of the way I have fought the raising and processing of animals, so this might be one of those signs.  Like when you smell propane gas when you should not be smelling propane. 

Before we purchased the flame weeder, as with most things, I did my homework to find out the positive and negatives associated with the decision.  Later on, I was at a graduation party and happened to be talking to an occupational safety researcher.  She is a MD, doing research for the University of Maryland Medical School. 

Knowing my background she asked what kind of mosquitoes lived in Maryland, "I do not know, but I can find out and get back to you," I replied.  Then I asked her why, "I want to buy lore and trap because they are so bad at my house".  I had already purchased my own mosquito catcher and it used a propane tank with lore.  Her reply was a wake up call.  "There is no way I am getting anything using propane.  It is just too dangerous and I'm not taking the risk".

Mind you, I had already bought the flame weeder and backpack in which to carry the tank, "Backpack," being the proximity of the propane tank to my body.  We went on to talk about other things and I told her I would find out about the mosquito and send her an email.  Her words bothered me given her occupation and extensive knowledge of work place injuries.  Once again, one of those signs that makes you pay attention and rethink your original opinion and facts.

I renewed my research of propane but focused mainly on explosions and deaths.  I know it sounds morbid but "fore warned, is fore armed,” if we had not tamed fire where would we be today?  I found websites (.edu, .org, .net and .com) that actually tracks instances of propane deaths caused by explosions.  What I found was that you need three things for an explosion to occur.  One is a leak from the propane apparatus, two is confined or un-ventilated space and three is a spark or flame.  When those things occur simultaneously, you get an explosion.  Okay, I felt a little less anxious because I knew the formula. 

Before each use of the flame weeder, I smell the connections to make sure there is no leak.  There is a regulator between the tank and the flame wand, if a leak would occur it would be around there or in the hose itself.  The tank is always in the on position, I know I should turn it off, in between uses, but I do not.  I am lazy, I use to turn it off each time when put away, and then by the time I lifted the fifty-pound pack onto my back to use it I would find out I had not turned it on.  After a couple of times doing this instead of making sure to turn it on before I lifted it, I just left it on.  Strike one for safely staying alive.

The tank is stored in the dairy barn so a leak would dissipate into the upper floors and the rest of the barn area.  If there were a leak, as soon as you opened a door, you would smell the propane.  Because of the cavernous area of barn space, the propane would not be so concentrated that a spark could set a leak off.  Saturday, I went into the barn to get the weeder, smelled it, put it on and started to weed around the gardens.  Every so often I would get a whiff of propane, I thought maybe what I was smelling was excess gas that did not ignite as it came out of the flame end.  Strike two for safely staying alive.

Only by the grace of God, am I here to write this brief tome.  I had the volume of gas output high because I was killing substantial weed stands.  As I was weeding, I noticed a chicken had gotten out of its pen; I turned the weeder flame off, and walked to the garage to get Coadee.  As I took the backpack off I got the nasty smell of propane, I did not need to get close to the regulator, it was hissing and the smell was overwhelming.  The first thing I did was to turn the tank off by the valve.  Second, I gently picked everything up so that I would not hit metal to metal or create any kind of spark or static charge.  I took the tank out and away from the house, placed on the ground and went to get Coadee to corral the arrant chicken. 

As we were going to get the chicken I started to feel nauseated, my knees were knocking, my muscles felt like rubber and I just became exhausted.  I realized how I had just cheated death and my mind was reeling.  Coadee got the chicken and I put her back in the pen.  Regulators go bad for lots of reasons and I do not know why this one did.  I had to replace the regulator before because I dropped it and it broke.  When I replaced the first regulator, I purchased three regulators.  My train of thought is if it broke once, chances are it is going to break again.  Therefore, I was able to replace the regulator and fix the leak.  I did not use it again that day but I will be used again.

So today’s pearl is peril, attention to detail, stick with what you have learned and do not rationalize for the sake of laziness or time.  There are only so many times you can get away with stupid mistakes before you pay the ultimate price in the blink of an eye.

The Cause continues, if you have not already; please go to http://www.savenicksorganicfarm.org/  to help save Nick's organic farm.  You do not have to give money if you can't, but just spend a little time to make your voice heard.  You don't have to live in Maryland to be concerned about losing another farm, let alone a thirty year old plot of organic land.  No Farms, No Food.   

 

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Losing Proposition

Farming for profit, has there ever been a greater oxymoron?  Okay, maybe humane slaughter is bigger but let us not split hairs.  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, is there true economic sustainability in small farming.  Of course, these are USDA 2008 census numbers.  We could have improved since then but it would be, marginally if at all.

This year we changed our business model in that we are concentrating our selling on farm only.  The first three years growing, we sold at the bottom of the driveway and we made a modest profit.  We abandon the farm for, what we thought were lucrative spots at farmer's markets.  We stopped selling at farmer’s markets because we only sell what we grow.   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, not a successful vendor.  Selling only what we grow is hard because we do not have a bevy of different fruits and vegetables. 

This year we decided to break our luck and go back to the farm.  We set up signs pointing people up the drive to the house.  We got six signs printed up and placed them throughout the neighborhood only to have two signs stolen, the first time we used them.  Volume was not as great as hoped for, so we decided to move the veggies down to the street.  We are taking the tractor and the wagon loaded with what we have and set up shop at the end of the driveway.   It takes extra salesmanship and education but it feels right, lonely at times but at least not ALL day.  

Knowing I can tell you the exact history of the fruit, vegetable, egg or chicken should be a valued commodity.  The problem is we as consumers, do not ask the questions we should.  Next time you are at a market, ask what the name of the fruit or vegetable is.  The grower should be able to tell you the common name (lets face it, who can pronounce the Latin names?).  Which type of basil or tomato?  The point is the grower should be able to give you the characteristic or history of the plant.  Another question to ask yourself is the fruit or vegetable in season where you are, in Maryland tomatoes are just starting to come in.  Around here people selling sweet corn, before July 4th, are not selling what they grew. 

As consumers, we sometimes fall short when sourcing our food, which is why the Maryland Department of Agriculture just came out with language and policies for selling “Local” produce at farmers markets.  It goes to show you how widespread hucksterism has become, and how fed up consumers and real growers are becoming.  This regulation would not have come about if there were not a large outcry from educated consumers and people that really sell what they grow.  That is why it is called a “Farmer’s Market” not a Flea market

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 with star struck eyes but with the realization that failure was more likely then success.  We are going back to the model that first made us money and that is by going down front. 

That brings its own challenges.  We are trying to figure out what is the least costly way to staff the cart.  My suggestion bent towards the most logical and cost effective conclusion.  The person that makes the least amount, on an hourly basis, should be the person to sit down at the end of the road and read his bug book.  

So far, there has been some opposition to that plan from a member of the management team.  I do not want to alienate anyone on the management team so I will leave my wife out of this.  Seems even though I am not a paid employee (which makes me the lowest earner); I was informed, I have the most responsibility when it comes to overseeing safety, productivity and workforce harmony.  The idea is still in debate. 

I tried to unionize the workforce a couple of weeks ago but the vote was overwhelmingly defeated.  Somebody made the stupid comment that management was good therefore no reason to unionize.  I knew then, I was not working them as hard as I should.  I have to juggle my roles.  We will come up with a mix that allows some of our longest employees the ability to sit down at the stand and talk to customers, while I work in the blazing sun.  Let us face it we are not a conventional business using conventional business models.  Even though they are young and can work in the heat, it is important to us, to expose them to as many aspects of the operation as we can. in our minds we are molding future growers. 

This past weekend we brought in more money then the previous weekend and I think this trend will just continue upward the longer we are down there.  In the mean time: 

 

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.  

 

 
 

Times Like These

I know that we are not alone but, I do not know why it is everything we do seems easy until put into practice only to find it to be incredibly hard?  Take our latest foray into meat birds.  We went to a State sponsored poultry and rabbit processing class.  We took the test, passed and made sure the processing facility we would use was USDA inspected.  We then submitted our registration along with the fee.

While doing further research on the regulations we found that although our Department of Agriculture would allow us to sell our birds to retailers and restaurants our Health Department does not allow us to do so.  We have already gotten our feet wet with two flocks and sold most of them to a retailer.  I had to call the vendor and tell them until we got clarification from the State that I could not sell him any more birds.

We have one hundred more broilers in the pipeline and we are having problems selling the last of the third flock.  We can sell them from the farm; we just do not have the foot traffic to sell all of them.  We have canceled our peep order and will be getting no more for the season.  We did not expect to be an over-night sensation.  We did however over-estimate how quickly we could get rid of the birds on the farm.

At first, we priced them to cover our expenses.  The first two batches were somewhat of a disaster (see Learning Curves).  Therefore, cost per bird was high and we still lost money.  No matter were you are reading this, chances are you know the heat wave that is engulfing most of the country.  It is not fit for man, beast or vegetation right now.  We learned from the previous mistake and purchased shade tents (that lasted one day). 

We are still loosing birds to the heat despite reducing the number of birds per pen; we have fifteen in an eighty square foot pen.  Salatin recommended fifty, but we kept knocking that number down until we felt there was plenty of space and no competition.  It is just heartbreaking to walk out there after work and find ten birds expired.  The heat index hit one-hundred and twelve.  We were able to revive three of the injured but ended up having to put one of those down because he was to far gone and we could not let it suffer more than he already had.  That process did not go as planned either.  I will spare you the details but suffice it to say it was not a clean, pain free experience for the bird or I. 

As I have said before when anything goes wrong with a chicken most times it can be traced back to management and I cannot help but feel the suffering they must have gone through before their demise.  It was my fault and my guilt that has put a heavy burden on me.  Am I humane when I loose as many birds as I have?  I cannot even beat industry averages, and that kills me the most.  I know I am better then that and it is frustrating to see otherwise.

In this field, you cannot dodge the responsibility and blame others as we see all around us at the State and Federal governance levels.  We cannot sit back and say well it was your fault for not telling us in time or bring up some other lame excuse to deflect our culpability.  You take it on the chin, pick yourself up, learn as best you can to not make the same mistake twice and move on.  Yet the measures we have taken have failed.  The tents blew away twisting the cheap metals that bore the structure.  We got replacement parts from the manufacturer replaced them and put the tents up again to only last one day.  Yes, they were the least expensive and yes, I did get what I paid for. 

We are exceeding the national average for percentage of birds lost and that fact alone does the most damage to the evaluation of my animal husbandry skills.  It is not for a lack of trying we purchased shade tents, as mentioned, and fans for cooling.  The tents sit in rumpled heaps because they were in fact cheap pieces of animal fertilizer.  We are making ten by ten-square frames for the roof and creating lean-to for shade.  As with most everything, this is taking time that we do not have and adding work we do not need.

The fans help the most.  Once they were installed things changed drastically.  However, these are indoor fans not outdoors.  If we are home and it starts raining, we can get the fans to protect them.  If we are at work and it rains well, I am not an electrician but my guess would be they are not going to make it.  It is a temporary risk until we can purchase outdoor fans.

So far, the week before processing has been the worst week for losses.  It has happened this way for the first three flocks.  Yes, that is a clue to when our vigilance should be most acute with this next batch and we will take heed.  Nevertheless, it also shows you that we have sunk the most cost you can into raising a bird before processing.  They have been eating feed, drinking water and consuming labor for most of their brief stay on earth.  To lose them at this critical time is adding insult to injury.

I have read about the perils of heat and made allowances, such as, reducing the numbers of birds per pen, keeping them in the shade and close to shade as much as possible and providing plenty of access to water.  We exceed all requirements for feeding, watering and space.  We are now looking into outdoor fans.  That will be an additional cost but we hope to keep more birds alive so that we can recoup those costs.  It is all a money game and that is why we fail.  To us it is a matter of comfort and doing what is right for the animal not the bottom line.  Do not get me wrong, I graduated with an undergraduate and graduate degree in business, so I know the bottom line, I know profit and I know sustainability.  They are not mutually exclusive but I wonder if they are achievable given our history.  I just wonder at times like these..

 

Buy Local:  Do it now before you lose the chance, not all of us are able to do it without you.

 

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You can never have enough

It seems we have had too many injuries in too short a period.  If it is I getting hurt, it is usually scrapes, sprains, strains, cuts, superficial concussions and the like.  However, staff is turning up with bruised knees, cuts, scrapes and various small injuries.  We decided that it was time to have another chat about safety.  We sat everybody down first thing in the morning and went over safety protocols, procedures and policies.   

 Staff training on farm equipment, situational and personal safety are areas we cover.  When using motorized equipment on the farm, staff is trained specifically on that piece of equipment and all of the potential dangers.  It is rare but the ones that are trained have proven to be good decision makers and cautious people.  Then they have to pass safety tests on whatever object they are using.  If it is the mower, the ATV or the tractor, training takes longer and every safety feature is covered.  In order to use the mower, you must be able to tell me the degree or angle of slope that will tip the mower over.  Without the right tools I could not tell you if the angle or slope is past the fifteen degrees, but from driving it, I can tell you it is safe.  I have popped wheelies on the slopes and dumber stuff with the mower but the staff was  not shown those. 

 I will make sure that they look where they drive.  It sounds simple but so far, all of them have backed up without looking.  I cover small things like never mow with the outlet pointed towards buildings, people or solid objects.  The last thing I tell them, every time they get on or use a device, is that THEY are responsible for everyone’s safety.  THEY have to be aware of 360 degrees of space and who, if any, are in their circle. 

 We have always told the staff that if someone gets hurt what we are doing here does not matter.  It is not worth someone getting hurt.  We can be as ecologically sensitive, use all best practices, be as profitable as we can imagine but if someone gets hurt, it is just not worth it.  We make a point of making everyone look out for everyone else.  It is not a new concept but I remind them safety is the most important aspect of being on the property. 

 I lead by example, I hate suntan lotion but one of the causes of death on farms is from melanoma.  We have some folks like me, but we go through the ritual every morning.  Everyone sprays sun tan lotion on before heading out.  I am the first one so that they see I am not exempt.  We had the day’s task list made up and I sent everyone out into the field.  I wanted to clear Tree of Heavens on the side of the driveway, so I went for the chainsaw. It does not matter to me how skilled our staff is I am the only one allowed to use the chain saw.  Because we just had the safety talk, I decided to suit up in chain saw chaps, ear, and eye and head protection along with steel-toed shoes.  I went to the front of the house and started cutting scrub trees and clearing the left side of the driveway.  I have used a chain saw for over twenty years.  I have never come close to an accident with the chain saw.  Trees falling, well that is a different story.  That one tool has my complete and total respect.  I sharpen my own chains so the saw does the work; I just guide it, keep it from hitting the ground or having the chain kicking back towards me. 

 Two weekends ago, I broke the chain saw out and went into the causeway to clear downed trees and big brush.  It took about two hours.  I always wear eye and hearing protection I do not always wear chaps.  I am extremely careful when handling a saw and that extends to anyone with me.   They can stand a good two hundred feet away and that depends on what is being cut up or cut down. 

 Part of chain saw safety entails sure footing, knowing your path to get out of harms way, and not to have other bodies around.  You do not need someone in front of you as you are carrying a chain saw or just merely sprinting for your life.  Their true job is to observe and be the emergency communications if needed.

 I was up front just getting started.  I went through a few scrub trees, brought them down and moved further down the driveway.  I had some branches that would hit cars so I wanted to cut them off the tree.  Once I got them all, I brought the spinning chain, from the top of my right shoulder, across my body, down and onto my left leg above the kneecap.  I immediately felt the tug and looked down with stunned disbelief, to see the chain cut through the chaps and was hung up on the fiber, as designed.  I would have cut my leg badly had I not been wearing the chaps.  I stopped to contemplate the amputation of my leg and the sheer stupidity of my action.  I still cannot believe that I did that.  

 I was awake and attentive now, I obviously was not before.  I continued with a more cautious approach, as I worked into the brush cutting the bigger Tree of Heavens.  Tree of Heaven's are an invasive species.  They were brought to America by the timber industry, as a way to replenish the wood supply.  They were fast growing and have pervasive expansion capabilities.  However, as far as wood goes they did not turn out to be the best for construction.  

I was dealing with small to medium size stalks and came across one that was a foot thick.  I was in the thick of brushes when I cut it down and it fell on top of me.  I was able to hold it, but I could not get it off me.  I had to get down on my hands and knees and slowly make my way out of the brush and to the driveway.  Here I am, dressed in orange with an orange chainsaw crawling through the thicket to the clearing.  At the same time, some customers had stopped and were walking towards me.  I am on my knees coming out of thick brush chainsaw first then me.  I moved the chainsaw forward then I moved forward until I got to the driveway and could stand up.  I figured God had given me enough signs, so I stopped to take care of the couple instead of sending them up to my wife.  

Times like this cement my true belief system.  God looks out for children and fools.  I am clearly a life member of the latter.  The more I learn the more I understand how much more I need to learn.  Let me leave it at this, safety, safety, safety.  You can never have enough. 

Buy Local: Tens of thousands of us work to bring you safe, fresh food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Can Always Use the Help

If you own a farm or land, this story is inevitable, it happens thousands of times to farmers on every part of the globe.  In farm classes and books, they talk about getting along with your neighbors.  They also talk about trespassers, poachers, trail bike riders and other uninvited guests.  When we purchased the land, we knew that there was the specter of having to enforce our boundaries.  We posted “No Trespassing” signs as instructed in numerous classes we attended.

Early on, in our tenure on the farm, a developer who owned the parcel to the left of us decided to clear an acre of our land, thinking, mistakenly, it was part of his.  They cut down live choke cherry trees, locust trees and cleared thousands of square feet of hedgerows.  This was dealt with  civilly and as appropriate.

We have an old railway bed that runs the middle of the property and cuts into a small hill.  It is a wonderful walk, which we encourage our customers to take, when visiting the farm.  It is called the causeway, and is two-tenths of a mile of canopied green leaf trail bed.  I get the most joy on a tour with young kids when we walk into what I call the pure oxygen part of the trail.  For the city kids, the drop in temperature and air noticeably changes and it registers in their questions and comments.  They get to see and feel the benefit of a truly dense stand of trees

It seems it is also a wonderful place to ride motor bikes.  We thought that we had stopped it when we talked to our next-door neighbor.  It did stop for a while.  Recently, I was with a representative of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who was vetting the farm for an educational tour for high school teachers.  It is quite an impressive program.  The CBF goes to different counties in the State and talks about ecological benefits and detriments to our eco-system, watersheds and tributaries as it relates to the Bay. 

I heard a bike come flying up the driveway, then head into the causeway, to hit the other side of the road.  She looked at me and I said, "Just another one of those things you have to deal with."

Fact was I felt embarrassed, I was embarrassed for our youth such that they do not respect the land as much as abuse it for their own selfish needs and I was embarrassed for myself for not doing a better a job of preventing the intrusion.  

Well dealing with the trespassers came today.  I was home and getting out of the truck when I hear motor bikes coming down the causeway.  At first, I ran towards the causeway, saw two four wheelers and the kid on the bike from before head down the driveway.  I ran back to get into the truck, and gave chase but, they had a good head start.  I was listening for them but I did not hear the motors.  I just kept heading down the road.  After a bit I knew they had not traveled where I had so, I doubled back.

Low and behold, I see the three-some coming at me.  I waited for them to pass then turned the truck around and followed them to their home.  I was not happy when I got out of the truck and did not port myself in such a way that classified me as dignified, which probably caused the expected vulgarities that greeted me.  With my city side coming out (territory was to be respected) I then used their word about a thousand times, explaining who I was and what I was doing there at that point in time.  After denials by all I was told to get off the property.

"Wow," I said, "you can ride on and destroy the topsoil on my property but I cannot stand on yours?"  Talk about an ah-ha moment.  I think that in that simple statement they realized their culpability and my anger explanatory.  I did not really know them, they knew of us from the kid next door, but they did not know us.  I have always like a quote from Bill Clinton, it describes in a real subtle way not to mistake one personality trait for another, and that was "Please do not mistake kindness as a sign of weakness,".  I do not like conflict, who does, but to respect others and their belongings are part of my make up, and if I have to impart that message onto someone else, I try to be as nice as possible.  I thought they needed to see that and treat others, as they would like to be treated.  Historically, we might have seemed nice and kind from their standpoint but, given a dose of an angry organic vegetable gardener, that spent three grueling hours cleaning the causeway up, gave them a view of the other side,

As it turned out two apologized and promised they would not ride on the property.  I thanked them and I apologized for not being as civilized as I should have been.  I did not handle it correctly, at first, but I wanted to end it civilly and show them a little respect.  I asked the young man on the bike his name; he dropped the F-bomb and said he was not going to tell me his name.  “You led me to your house,” I told him, “if I wanted, I could find your name on the internet in a couple of minutes,” You would think they would know that.  I said, "Look, I am trying to end this civilly and I asked that you please not ride on our property”.  To my amazement, he apologized, as I then did to him.  Do not get me wrong it was not a Kum By Ya moment, but I felt better leaving the situation. 

The whole time I am sizing these young men up as future employees.  Who knows they might be in the right place at the right time.  We always can use help.  We cannot afford it, but we can always use the help.

Buy Local:  All of us need all of your help.  It cannot be done without you

 

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Point-Counter-Point:

A DOG’S PERSPECTIVE.  Hi, my name is Coadee, actually, it is Fer Coadee, but my pompous owners mercifully just call me Coadee.  My new owners recently pilfered me from my parents.  Okay maybe pilfered is a little harsh, but no one asked me if I wanted to go.  My new home is interesting and the humans seem nice.  However, they say “NO” all the time.  I do not know what they mean but they say that word constantly.  "Coadee NO biting, Coadee NO chewing on the furniture.  Coadee NO biting the chickens, Coadee NO eating shoes,” It just goes on and on with the NO’s.  If I got a treat for every time I heard "No" or "Coadee" I would never work a day in my life.  The humans do shower me with love and praise but one of them keeps kissing me on my head.  What is that about?

There is plenty of room for me to run and tons of smells.  There is so much to see and explore but I get too tired and end up sleeping a little.  The naps are refreshing but I keep getting disturbed because the humans have feathery things that do not stay where they should.  My humans wake me up and show me where these feathers are, they point and say “chickens” and I guess I am suppose to give chase.  I know they want me to chase them but I am at a loss as to what they want me to do once I catch them.  Therefore, I nibble on them to see what they feel like. 

They are some dumb feathers let me tell you.  I will be chasing one and it runs right into the fence getting caught up and tangled.  I just lay down put a paw on the feathers and get a mouth full.  That is all I am doing, okay I might be checking out other body parts of the feathers but I do not hurt them.  Honestly, the feathers tickle the top of my mouth and I like that.

While this is happening though the human keeps yelling NO biting; when the human finally gets to me, they take the feathers and put it in the pen.  I am learning that these feathers or chickens as the humans say are not the brightest when it comes to running and hiding.  The other irritating aspect of my new home is that the humans are forever calling my name.  I am starting to think that they have a limited vocabulary.  NO COADEE, I hear those words in my sleep.  Then the one with a deep voice keeps saying, "You are just killing me", go figure what that means.  He is always shaking his head as he says it too.

How many times do they think they have to call my name?  I will come back but when I am on the trail of a great scent the last thing I need is to keep hearing my name.  It is irritating, especially when I need to find the source of that wonderful smell.  I have a lot of work before I get the humans totally trained but they are showing signs of progress. 

I saw tiny humans too.  Some were smaller than I am and cannot stand up especially when I go over to smell them.  One small human let out this loud noise.  That hurt my ears so I turned away and saw other little humans running so I went to go run with them.  Okay, I was chasing them.  For some strange reason I thought they seemed to be getting to far away from all of us and I did not want that to happen.  I do not know what that was about but I thought they needed to come back to the group.  Well I went to go get them. 

The little humans fall over easy too but, I can lick there face when they are on the ground so that works for me.  There is something to the little humans they just smell great and they really like petting me.  Who can argue with that?

Well I hear one of my humans calling so I will need to go.  Probably some stupid chicken is out of the pen.  Man, those animals are not going to be winning the Nobel Prize anytime soon.  I like them but hey, I keep it real.

Buy Local:  If you do not, the humans get it!

p.s. I just wonder sometimes what goes through her mind as we work and I am not explaining how to do things correctly.  She stares at me and twists her head from one side to the other, as if she hears me is trying to understand but we are just not there yet.

 

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Who is Smarter

Fer coadee (Scottish for "protector") is sixteen weeks old.  We have her three days and four nights out of the week and Carol (the breeder/trainer) keeps her four days and three nights.  She is still a pup but shows great promise.

We have been working her with the chickens and she slowly understands that the chickens should stay in the pen.  One night we were putting the chickens in the trailer for the night and Coadee, seeing what we were doing, decided she could help.  She ended up herding the chickens into the house with nary an effort.  That part was effortless. No training, no nothing she saw we were putting them in the house and she went with it.

She helps weed too.  At least I am learning what dog weeding is verses human weeding.  While weeding the strawberries, I will pull chickweed and Coadee goes for the green.  She has bitten me on occasion while weeding but I get into a rhythm of pulling and throwing.  Coadee will chase after the clump of weeds bite them and come charging back.  I hope that I have gotten the next handful thrown before she does indeed get back.  If not, I ball my fingers up as she comes plowing mouth first into the greenery where my hand resides.  With a jerk of her head, she rips green out of the ground by the mouth full.  If strawberries happened to be part of the green patch, they go as well.  This is part of her instinct; she wants to help her master.  The veterinarian told us to make sure we take care of her because her breed will literally work them self to death trying to please their owner. 

The English Sheppard is a protector, herder and hunter by instinct.  They came to the new world with Scottish and English sheepherders.  The dog’s ability and intuition made them a valuable asset to animal farmers.  They instinctively want to be part of the action, so she watches what you are doing and tries to help.  If I get a stick and throw it, she sits and watches the wood take flight and land.  She does not chase it, but if I go get it, she grabs it from me and follows along as I walk.  Coadee trots along stick between her jaws teaching me how things work.  I was getting water hoses out of the barn, I felt a tug so I turned to see what I was hung up on and there is Coadee, hose dangling out of her mouth going in the opposite direction.  I apparently was taking them to the wrong place for her.

This past weekend the chickens started to show signs of respect.  As soon as Coadee comes out of the barn, the chickens that see her start to head back to the pen.  Some layers just jump back in when they see Coadee.  They are in the minority but it is a start.  She is still nipping at them and we yell “don’t bite or no bite”.  Then at other times, she just lays her big paw on the back of a chicken until we get there to pick it up and put it back in the pen.

She gets excited still when meeting new people so we try to introduce her to people while she is outside.  I took her with me, over to Nick’s when I picked up chicken feed.  I knew Dave (the farm manager) would like to see the dog.  I did not get her out of the truck fast enough before Dave walked over to the passenger side.  True to form, she got excited and I saw that the cloth seat was now soaked.  I am learning.

Coadee is in that oral stage of development as well.  Everything goes in the mouth at least once.  Stink bugs she learned and leaves them alone much to my dismay.  Wood, rocks, bark, bottles, hoses, chickens anything that you hold, anything that you wear, anything that you use or sit on, pretty much everything is something for her to sink her teeth into.  Nevertheless, she is also an asset.  I will be in the barn feeding the flock of broilers, if Coadee were not standing guard at the gate, they would leave and be all over the barn.  I bring her in the barn and have her sit by the gate.  I then go in to feed and water the group.  She has taught me that her patience is very short, especially when a group of birds approaches.

She still does not bite them but she does make the feathers fly.  By the time, I get her stopped, you can hardly see due to the dust-up from frantic escapes and chases.  So, I learn once more.  I shake my head and think who the teacher here is?  I was sitting with her in the morning watching the chickens.  When a chicken approached the fence I would get up and bring Coadee over, the chicken would turn around heading in the opposite direction.  This went on all morning.  The ones that actually got out Coadee chased down and I tried to teach her how to herd a chicken back into the pen.  This went on all morning; lunchtime I went in made a sandwich, wrapped it in a paper towel, filled a bottle of water and went outside. 

In that short period a jailbreak took place with the birds heading for the grapevines.  As the layers saw Coadee, they ran into the open barn.  I put my sandwich down on the chair, covered it with reading material and took Coadee with me to the barn.  We go in and Coadee starts after one, chasing her out of the barn and towards the pen and trailer.  A couple of seconds later I am chasing one out of the barn front to the pen.  I look to my left and there is Coadee sitting in the shade eating my sandwich.  She is in the shade eating a freshly made sandwich and I am standing in the blazing sun chasing a chicken.

Then there was the time I was working with her and it started raining.  I had my rain-gear on and kept working pulling weeds.  I soon notice that I was alone, I saw Coadee heading towards the barn so I knew she was there.  I thought okay, she is going in to check things out, get some water or food and she will be back.  Ten, twenty, thirty minutes go by; I am still out side weeding in the rain.  I stopped and walked into the barn, over on the side in a pile of straw is Coadee, sleeping. 

 I sighed, looking at her stretch out frame and that beautiful face of hers and thought who was the smarter of the two of us, the one working in the rain or the one sleeping inside nice and dry.

 Buy Local: Local farmers toil for their families, for your family and the environment.  Who would not want to support that?

 

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Learning Curves

True to the goal of this blog, the following is somewhat disturbing and gruesome.  However, it happened and it is part of our experience.  We write so that others may learn from our mistakes, to educate and talk about the ills of the industrial food compex.  I never wanted to get into the animal side of farming because I have always been squeamish about mortality.  It did not matter the cause or the reason, I did not want to be part of dealing with mortality.

As I have documented here this is one of those things that growing up in rural America would have helped me.  Nevertheless, I grew up in the city and it was not commonplace to process or need to dispose of an animal.

We started meat birds this year.  In order for them to be organic, you must take possession of them by their second day of life.  Covered in fur they are the cutest things.  No feathers on them, maybe a little wing tip showing but predominately furry.  Then there is all the time spent with them to get them past the Coccidiosis stage.

We decided because of last year’s BMSB losses that broilers had to be incorporated into our farm model.  It was not a decision that was taken lightly and not without an amount of anguish. 

We are into our ninth week of raising fifty broilers.  Well we started with fifty.  At my own hands, I accidentally drug the pen over top of some of the birds killing them.  I cannot describe the feelings, thoughts and utter dismay that I caused.  All I can say is at the point that I saw the damage; I did not have the proper perspective to feel anything other than raw emotional pain and revoltion.  I got sick to my stomach, failure blares out and then guilt for what the birds went through.  I know they only have two more weeks to live but at that instant, it does not matter.  This is just another one of those no mercy times.

There was no mercy for the chickens and no mercy for it was at my own hands.  I can live with my failures; I have made enough of them such that I am comfortable.  However, these kinds of mistakes have a different affect on me then most others.  This one has caused a lot of angst and anger; I am supposed to be their protector, until they are processed.  Yes, they are raised to be processed I understand the paradox.  It bothers me but I have to make mysef understand.

I want so very much to succeed at this, not only because I am goal driven, but I love working the soil, growing fruits and vegetables, creating a complete meal from things I have grown and knowing that what we do benefits others, future generations and the environment.  I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into this place and I want to remain humane.  I do not want to become desensitized to the lives of animals on our farm.  You can say all you want about it being business and not taking it personal but those thoughts are not our motivations. 

I put all the dead chickens in the compost pile and thanked them for being a part of our lives.  I told them that we were returning them to the soil that once helped nourish them.  I know it sounds utterly crazy but it was a way for me to make peace with the mistake I made and to acknowledge their sacrifice.  It was a way for me to remind myself that we are humane.

That weekend I explained to the staff what had happened and what the new rules were for moving the chicken pens.  In the mean time, fifty are in the barn ready to go out on pasture and fifty peeps are in the brooder.

So, we continue.  I wish sometimes that the learning curve were just not so steep and emotionally draining.

BUY LOCAL:  There are people out there, like us, who need your support.

 

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We are already behind

We tore down and packed up the high tunnel that collapsed this year.  We are still loosing layers.  Now, whatever is getting the chicken has learned to jump the electric fence to get to the birds.  We have fifty broilers on pasture and another fifty more in the barn, with fifty more in the brooder.

Much to our surprise, the RIR males are coming up to weight quicker than anticipated.  This means we may be able to process them in 8-10 weeks instead of the 10-12 weeks as predicted.  For someone enthusiastic this is good news.  I cannot help but look at them with out a certain amount of dread.

I am not use to growing something and taking care of it in such a way that it thrives and remains healthy, only to turn around and end its life prematurely.  One of our returning staff is a vegan.  When we decided that we needed to get into the bird business, in order to stay in business, we talked to her.  We wanted to be up front with what we were doing.  We did not want to lose her because she is a great worker and an even better person.

We just wanted to let her know, so if she had a problem with us raising animals for eating she could get a jump on finding another job.  Much to our surprise and delight, she said she would be okay with it as long as she did not have to do any processing.  Heck, we do not want to do any processing so we were on board with her.

Our other apprentice has been building “Salatin type” pens for the broilers.  Each one he builds gets better than the one before.  He is already thinking about adapting the pen for layers so we can protect them better than we are currently.  The pens are a work of art, functional, self-contained, sturdy and most of all great protection from all predators, except maybe black bears.  I think if a black bear got to one of the pens, they would have a little trouble but they would get to the broilers.  Fortunately, the bears tend to stay further west than were we are located.

We are late in planting.  We are losing control of the 400 strawberry plants to weeds and heat.  Not the heat provided by the sun but the heat provided by yours truly.  I learned a valuable lesson this year.  I am old.  I was flame weeding for about two hours straight when I started on the strawberries.  The flame-weeder is a five-gallon propane tank strapped to a heavy-duty backpack with a torch.  The whole get up weighs about forty pounds when fully loaded.  We had eight rows of fifty strawberry plants before I started flame weeding.  For those of you familiar with our weeding you know were this is heading.  If not, see “Are We Done Planting”.

It was getting late, I was tired, and one of the straps was digging into my shoulder.  I just kept pushing myself.  You can actually see how tired I had become by the look of each row.  They first three rows had no fried plants.  The fourth row had a couple burned plants.  It was not until you got to the very last row that you could see just what damage I had done.  Out of fifty plants, I am embarrassed to say that we have about twenty-two alive.  I should have quit earlier and done something else.  I just kept pushing myself and eventually paid the price, as we all do when we make dumb decisions.

We planted the first three rows of sunflowers around the perimeter of the garden.  The sunflowers, we hope, will serve as a trap crop for the stinkbugs.  The trap crop area is fifteen feet wide by eight hundred feet.  We are also planting about two hundred pumpkin plants in the outer ring of the sunflower perimeter. 

We will plant, inside the pumpkins and sunflowers, everything that we lost last year along with some fruits and herbs.  Then we will collect stinkbugs per the Michigan State Entomology protocol.  The bugs will be frozen counted and reported back to Michigan State via the www.bmsb.opm.msu.edu website.  If you have not registered on this site, I strongly encourage you to do so.  The more information we all share about the BMSB the better chance all organic farmers will benefit.

For now, we have to get stuff in the ground if we are going to be able to generate revenue.  I just wish we were not so far behind on everything.  Then again, if we were not than it would not be spring.

Buy Local: Keep the momentum going, just be wary of hucksters and the industrial food complex

 

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Another GMO Finding.

I read in the Chicago Tribune that there was a study on the existence of GMO's in the human body.  It was about an article written in "Reproductive Toxicology" by Canadian researchers.  The researches simply looked at blood from pregnant woman and then blood from the umbilical cord.  What they were looking for was if there were any GMO's in the blood. 

The Tribune article went on to say, "genetically modified crops differ in that the plants grow from seeds in which DNA splicing has been used to place genes from another source into a plant.  In this way, the crop can be made to withstand a weed-killing pesticide "Think Atrizine- my words" for example, or incorporate a bacterial toxin that can repel pests.  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".

 It is the "removed from the body," that is unsettling.  Here we go again with those annoying trace amounts.  This is what the Industrial Food Complex (IFC) and their equally huge lobbyists want everyone to believe.  The article points out that trace amounts are okay as defined by the FDA, EPA and USDA.  I use Diacetyl, again, as one of those chemicals that left trace amounts, but were supposed to be, processed out of the body.  Instead, it caused lung cancer when a man consistently ate microwave popcorn.  OHSA required workers that made microwave popcorn to wear masks that filtered the Diacetyl while they breathed.  Why?  Diacetyl, a known carcinogen, caused lung cancer when breathed consistently.  Research said it was safe in trace amounts but not in the concentrated amounts that workers faced.

If you have the money, you can buy scientific studies.  DDT, Asbestos, Agent Orange, Atrizine, Nicotine throw a dart.  The cigarette industry proved for decades that their products were not addictive.  Only until consumer advocacy groups and the ethics of a scientist, proved otherwise, but at that same time millions of us suffered through the loss of a loved ones linked to one carcinogen or another from the 316 plus chemicals in cigarettes.  The tobacco industry and lobbyist had thousands of studies to document the safety or their product.  Have corporations turned a leaf and have they become more ethical both environmentally and with what they sell us to keep our bodies healthy.  Not when the bottom line is the goal, they are not. 

Not only is research purchased the statistics can be manipulated based on a few factors, like standard deviation or the amount of data collected.  It is like the banking industry and the housing market.  The banks created categories of loans, bundled each one separately then sold the bundles.  Then they bet against the bundle holding its worth.  The bankers get rich, homeowner, takes the loss. 

 I realize that I am using a scientific study to justify the ills of GMO's.  I am not missing the paradox.  However, when you learn what DNA splicing is and how it is accomplished, you do not have to be a scientist to know there will be problems.  I would rather error on the side of caution,   especially when you find out that in order to get the corn DNA to accept the foreign DNA gene, and anti-biotic strain needs to be spliced in to the new DNA helix.  There are stories of super bugs that have bacteria resistant strains.  This does makes me wonder if there is a correlation.

The article failed to mention how we, as consumers, discovered GMO's in our food supply in the first place.  I think it was in 2004 that a woman ate a taco shell made with GMO corn and had a bad reaction to the food.  It was eventually determined GMO corn made up the taco shell.  In European countries, regulations make the food industry prove that the changed chemical or genetic make up of the additive or preservative is safe for human consumption and cause no ill affect.  In the US, it is Caveat Emptor, think of nano-technology and titanium dioxide

I would bet that it is already in our food supply, we just have not found out about it yet.  It is not as if the IFC was fourth coming with the whole GMO thing.  That is another strong argument for buying organic as the article points out.  It is against organic regulations to use any GMO anything.  However, if GMO corn that was planted in Colorado shows up in a Mexican corn field you really wonder what chance does any organic farm have against cross pollination.  Could it drift into organic production fields? 

You bet your sweet @$$, it can.  In the US organic requirement, you need to have at least a twenty-five foot wide hedgerow or buffer zone.  Most of our buffer zones are greater than one hundred feet.  However, when you find the same strain of GMO corn planted in Colorado in Mexico does a buffer zone really matter?

We need better labeling on our food.  That is the only way we as consumers can make the industrial food complex clean up their act.  When they are hit in the pocket, they will take notice and they will take action.  Right now, their action is to fight against new labeling requirements. 

If you want to buy GMO food, have at it.  If you do not want to buy foods made with GMO products, the only way you can do that is to buy organic or have the label indicate that GMO is in the food.  The industrial food complex is fighting hard to stop regulators from requiring new labeling that identifies GMO in their products.  I wonder why?  It would not have anything to do with the profit motive, do you suppose?  Get active write your federal officials in favor of labeling GMO products as such.

Buy Local:  Keep the momentum up, tell a friend to tell a friend

 

 
 

The Clock Has Started

We learned the other day that our "God send" has diabetes.  This, in and of it self, is intimidating if you have know idea what you are up against.  What is worse is having gone through caring for a diabetic cat and losing it because you gave it to much insulin. 

We had a cat twelve years ago pass away from hypoglycemic shock.  I know I am not really at fault but I was the one that administered the last insulin shot.  The guilt is still palpable.  His name was Opus and my wife, as a birthday gift, gave him to me.  We had been married for a couple of months and I said I wanted a cat.  She had always had dogs but never had cats before and did not really want one.  But being the kind person she is, she got Opus for me as a gift.

I told her after a month with the cat, we could take a vote and I would abide by the vote.  She agreed and after a month, the vote came out as I had expected, there was one for and one against.  She wanted to keep it; I wanted my clothes to be cat hair free.  Well life continued and at the time, my wife was working many hours and I was working at one full-time job and a part-time job.  I still had weekends free and not being one to sit around and do nothing I decided that Opus was going to do tricks.  We were living in a town house.  We called them row houses in the city.

Opus already chased after round milk caps when thrown and would bring them back.  How hard could it be to teach him other stunts?  So I set about trying to teach Op some tricks.  It was not long before he would lay, sit, come and give you his paw.  All you hade to do was tell him a command and he would act.  I showed a friend one day all of Op's tricks and she looked at me and said, "You need to get out of the house, this is not natural".  What can I say he was a great cat?

Now BC has been diagnosed but we are at least more technologically advanced then we were twelve years ago.  We have a Glu-cometer and a way to track her blood sugar instantly, instead of a stick that changes colors when dipped in urine.  Catching a stream of urine from a cat is a feat unto itself.  But the truth is the clock has started on the end of her life.  This thought is what hurts the most.  I know the clock started when she was born but it was never a thought.  Now we hear the time clicking off.  Our job is to stave off her demise for as long as humanly possible

We were living on the farm about year when BC adopted us.  We were at our lowest.  There were snakes all over the house and we were having buyer’s remorse or what I called our fetal position moments.  Our phone service was spotty (see "Green Acres was...”), there was no cable and I was surfing the internet at 2400 baud (sorry, I am a geek).  In contrast, today we surf the net at about a thousand times that rate.  Then BC came into our lives and started killing snakes.  We had been praying for strength, so we just figured that BC was a Godsend.  Soon after her arrival, things started to turn for us.  The second planting season was disastrous weed wise, but we ended the year in the black.  Mostly, our outlook took a turn for the best and we settled into our routine.  BC kept locating snakes and if she did not I would dispose of them. 

Now snakes are beneficial but they are also territorial.  For the first year, we practiced catch and release.  Then the more I learned I realized all I was doing was temporarily removing them.  They return to their den.  We then had a dilemma on our hands.  I came up with what I thought was a compromise.  We have a gravel driveway that circles the house.  If the snakes were inside the circle of death, they perished.  The snakes in the outbuildings live.  If they were outside the circle that was were they stayed.  It was our own line in the sand.  We ended up pulling sixty-eight snakes out of the house by the time remodeling was finished three years after moving in.  They were all black snakes, except for this one that was so old it was grey.  It was the biggest snake I had ever seen outside of the zoo.

Well we face BC now, but we have experience and better technology on our side.  It is what it is and what we make of it.  We will do what it takes but it is saddening nonetheless, because we now know that the clock has started.

Buy Local: find a small farm near you and support it!  Their toil is for your benefit

 
 

Manure Smells

Camping made up most of our vacations as I grew up.  Living in Maryland, we had the choice of traveling west to the Cactoctin Mountain range or head east to the water.  I lived in a camping family and each summer we would head west to what we, in Maryland, call mountains.  I do not know what constitutes a mountain but the ones I have seen in Colorado or other states makes ours look like hills.  Maryland is relatively flat when comparing sea level heights. 

Camping took us out of the city and into the hills.  Once there and setup our father would inevitably find a farm near by and purchase what ever they had.  The larges might serve for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I remember the smells most of all, walking into a horse barn to ride horses or passing a field that was being fertilized.  When I inquired, I was told it was fresh air that I was smelling.

It was a different smell than I had experienced in the City.  Except when the Arabber would come by and the horse would leave fertilizer, which my father was quick to get for his own garden (see "A City Boy's Education"). 

Their answer about fresh air made sense to me.  Having had my olfactory senses assaulted as we pass the waste disposal site on a summer day in Baltimore or passing a brewery or other manufacturing plant, you could quantify their answers.  I think that because of their answer I always associated manure smells with fresh air.  It is an oxymoron for most people I admit that, but there is a speckle of truth too.

Being outside and away from suburban and urban settings the air was different.  Yes, I was smelling manure but at the same time, it was associated with fresh air and fun.  I point to that time as the beginning of my education on manures.  When fields are spread with manure I can tell you, what kind of manure it is by the smell.  This skill will get me nowhere and it is not something that is discussed at cocktail parties or family gatherings.  Are there cocktail parties any more? 

I digress, of all the manures; horse manure is the best smelling to me.  That goes back to my youth and riding horses.  The worst of the worst is pig manure.  I am sorry to all my swine friends but that is how I feel.  When we first started looking for a small farm, we stopped at a pig operation.  I still shudder at the thought of that experience.

I love pork, bacon, sausage, chops, ribs you name it, except for the more exotic stuff like feet and snout, I will eat pork.  That manure smell though is polar opposites of horse or cow manure.  Even chicken and turkey smells better and poultry manure has an ammonia smell. 

Like I said, this skill will never amount to anything but it is a just another link in a chain that has led me here.  Besides, everyone knows manure smells.

 Buy local:  Tens of thousands of us are growing for your health and the environment. 

 

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Okay, so I am a hypocrite

We closed last year’s books and, as was documented here, it was brutal.  Just like investment portfolio’s we have to diversify further.  I do not think the average American understands how difficult being a small farm can be.  However, I cannot help but think agriculture is in everyone’s blood.  We were an agrarian society not too long ago.  How else can you explain a billion dollar home gardening industry?  Whether you are planting annuals and perennials around your house or plant a vegetable garden you are working the soil.  For the longest time I introduced myself as a large gardener.  I still have reservations about the moniker of farmer because I have too much deference for those that do it full-time.

When you have invasive species, (BMSB) that destroy crops being small makes losses greater,.  You need to diversify in order to protect overall income if you are a small farm.  However, being small can magnify your losses when you suffer damage in those diversified crops too.  We thought by adding fruits, jams, honey and cooking classes that we were diversified enough to avoid the devastation of this past year.  We have learned we were not.

There is a tremendous unmet demand for humanely raised, free range, organic chicken in our area.  Given that demand, we have decided to get into the meat bird market.  We will start with about fifty total.  We tried to diversify with fruits, vegetables and eggs but last year taught us that true diversification is not just different fruits and vegetables.  It is animals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, honey, cooking classes and agra-tainment.  Using the financial portfolio analogy it is mixing risky and non-risky activities to offset down turns in one or the other sectors.

Humanely raised free range, organic chickens seem to be one of the ways to augment the fruit and vegetable side.  It has taken us nine years to get to this point.  It has been an arduous journey and emotional roller coaster.  I am not proud of this decision; I make it knowing that we need to survive economically.  I know what I have written before and I do feel like a hypocrite.  However, I did put my money, energy and time where my mouth was but we have no options left if we are going to be economically sustainable.

We grow the best we can, and price so that we get a small profit after expenses.  If we had 100 acres of corn and the BSMB attacked the outside perimeter closest to the tree line (according to current research), we would have harvested more than sixty percent.  However, because we had less land, the bugs overwhelmed what we did plant and left us with nothing.  Sales in spring crops and late fall crops helped us lessen the loss but we ended up with a net loss for the season.

Polling took place of our customer base asking if humanely raised free range organic chickens would be something they would consider purchasing from us.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive.  The cost/revenue analysis looks promising once we reach the break-even point on startup costs.  We are not going to process them we are taking them to a humane processing facility.  I do not know what to say or what to expect.  I told my wife I would try this one and see how it goes.  I look upon this next step as part of my own maturation process as a small farmer.  Nevertheless, there is this small voice still inside me screaming to fight to remain a viable vegetable operation and leave animals out.  Given what we have learned of the BMSB they are here to stay and either, we fold or role with what we are given. 

In order to sell to markets and restaurants, we need certification for on farm processing.  We have to submit, plans, process flows, contamination points, process controls and measurement frequency rates and other actions.  Then during the day of processing do everything you said you would do in the documentation.  There is great demand for free-range chicken and rabbit meat.  Each will meet certified organic status.  Our processing certification covers both animals.  It is a fundamental change but one that will keep us sustainable.  In the mean time:

Buy Local: Support your community farmer or start a garden, even if it is two vegetables, it will be worth the satisfaction.

 

 
 

Fer Coadee

Part of our plan all along was to get a working dog when we went to farming full-time.  My wife, being a dog person, did the research to find the right breed and personality for chickens.  The reason for waiting is that dogs, especially working dogs, need training and attention during their first year of apprenticeship.  This is the critical time in development when the dog learns what is and is not acceptable behavior, where its boundaries are and what its jobs are.

If we got a dog now, our fear was that we would end up with a wild animal because we were not able to spend enough time with it upfront.  Working dogs are a special breed unto themselves.  Because of the decline of small farms, some working class dogs are almost near extinction.  The English Sheppard is one of those rare breeds and is known as America's farm dog.  Given that all of our losses have come during the day, it made sense to have a working dog to protect and keep the chickens in their individual pens.  Locked away at night, the chickens are protected and do not need tending.

We found two breeders in our state.  The one breeder is three miles from our farm.  Small world or not, it is just another one of those links in a chain of events that you had know idea you were even forging.

We went to the breeder’s house and looked at what was left of the litter.  You know how things just fall into place and you find yourself making a decision that (up until that instant) you believed otherwise?  A decision already made but with the exception of a series of events; one after another then another until you realize one link follows the next.  At times, I believe it is created by divine intervention.  We were walking the farm with Carol (the breeder) and I conveyed my concern for the dog and not having the time really needed to train due to my work demands.

We continued to walk the property and watch the mother and father work the farm animals and teach the pups.  They were very impressive working dogs, quite intuitive, aware and communicative. The parents would frolic with the pups, but kept an eye on the farm animals.  I explained to Carol that I could take two weeks off to train the pup but after that, I would have to go back to work.  I explained that I would spend two hours a day (at night) with her during the week and all day on weekends. 

However, I still did not think that was sufficient time for a working dog, so young.  Telling her I really wanted her approval or better to be wrong and her tell me that.  I know what it takes to train a working dog, especially a young one and I was concerned.  At one point, I stated directly, “So, you do not think we should buy a dog?”  Her answer was what I had expected.  She said “No”. 

The tour continued.  Watching the parents was amazing.  We have been to dog trials before so we know what working dogs are capable of, given proper training.  This was not our first time around working dogs.  At one point in time, she said, “You know, because you are so close, why not drop the dog off during the week for a few days and come back and pick it up for the weekend”.  She went on to say we should spend the first two weeks with the dog bonding.  After the two weeks, she was willing to take the dog back and continue to train her during the week.  We would then pick her up on Friday and work with her over the weekend. 

We finished the tour, which in and of it self, was impressive.  Carol is strongly entrenched in bringing back nearly extinct heritage breeds.  You name the animal type she had a heritage breed she is raising.  Her farm and animal husbandry was just amazing to us.  We thanked her and went home to think about the decision; we still had some apprehension about being able to meet the dog's needs.  Then this past Saturday I twisted a knee trying to catch an arrant chicken. 

See what I mean about things taking place in the right sequence and at the right time, linked one after the other?  Before you know it you have a complete chain and the last link is whether you decide to accept these signs or you stick with the original plan.  A friend reminded me of a saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”.  Well, we decided to purchase a female English Sheppard and we named her fer Coadee.  This is her stretching before morning workout. 

fer Coadee is Scottish for protector, which is fitting because her main job will be just that.  English and Scottish sheppards brought these dogs to the new world.  An animal as noble and hardworking as an English Sheppard deserves a dignified name.

 

She will end up being called Coadee but she will always be introduced as fer coadee "the protector".

Buy Local: The more you source your food the healthier you will eat.

 p.s. today we found one of the 15 lost layers, from two weeks ago, a live.  Coadee has paid her first dividend.

 

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Slow Starts

We have to tear down the high tunnel and get four hundred strawberry plants in the ground, then fifty plus blue berry bushes and then half-acre of lettuces and another half-acre of potatoes planted.  We had hoped to have half of the lettuces and some tomatoes already planted in the tunnel but when the tunnel came down everything stopped.  We were getting ready to plant inside the following week.  The Tuesday before planting it snowed, which in and of itself was not bad.  The fact that it caved the roof in was.

We now have a four ton twisted mess of steel to safely disassemble and pack into a roll-off trailer.  The operative word is “safe” given the different stress and tension points in the structure.  The high-tunnel was put together like an erector set.  There are thousands of bolts, nuts and screws to un-tighten.  However, there is the inherent danger of someone getting hurt if we are not careful when working around steal that has stress pressure.

Much like bucking a tree and cutting it up, you have to be aware of what part of the tree is under tension and where that tension is coming from.  Is tension coming from the top or tension pushing up from the bottom?  The way to cut each type depends on knowledge and the will to live a long life.  While cutting you can bind the saw or worse have the force of the wood under tension released towards you.  Basically, hurting or killing you, I do not know of any other options when that occurs.

Given the fact that we have to plant spring crops, we will have to split the crews with two planting and three tearing down.  I need to till the area for planting, at night, draw up the plant location and turn our most senior worker loose with her own help, while the rest of us safely bring down four ton of twisted metal and cut it up to fit in the roll-off bin.  The goal is to minimize air space and fill the bin, as tightly as possible with metal.  

At this time, you are probably thinking about insurance and if it was covered or not.  Yes, it is covered, they sent out the adjuster, and then a structural engineer and now the go-ahead to start de-construction has come.  No matter, we will suffer a loss because we insured the thing for less then it cost us to put up.  Do not ask I would just come out looking bad in the end if I answered.

If you have read our exploits, you know deconstruction is my forte.  Nevertheless, to do this crushes dreams we had.  I mean we were really looking forward to using the high tunnel to get the first tomatoes, or corn, strawberries and other crops earlier.  We were eating fresh Maryland tomatoes in  December so, we know what is was like to extend the growing season.  When the structure came down it brought with it a lot of plans and things we wanted to test.  Tomatoe for instance and rain.

My hypothesis is that acid rain would leave chemical residues on tomatoes and leaves outside (duh!), while tomatoes, using drip irrigation in the high tunnel would not.  The true evaluation for me would have been what is in the tomato itself.  What I really wanted to know is when compared do the tomatoes themselves have any levels of chemicals in them.  If so, what kind and how do the levels compare from the control group to the experimental group. 

The control group gets overhead watering naturally (outside) while drip irrigation at the base of the experimental plant (inside), comes from one of our four three-thousand gallon rain collection barrels.  At least that was the original test plan.  For now, we will table the idea and get to it at another time.  In the mean time:

Buy Local:  Food is life sustaining and growing is sustaining life.

 

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Perspective

Thursday, during the day, we lost fifteen layers to predators.  We have six left now.  We were selling four to five dozen eggs a week.  Four weeks ago, our high tunnel collapsed under snow.  Last season we had a loss of over 90 percent of our cash crops.  We closed our books in January.  Because our cash crops (corn and tomatoes) were destroyed by stinkbugs, our profit/loss ratio is strongly entrenched in the red.

The great news from all of this time is that we just got off the phone with our nephew who arrived home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  We were talking and as is his way, he asked how things on the farm were.  Both my wife and I were on the phone.  So I launched into our tails of woe, outlining the disasters.

As I was talking, I realized what Chris had gone through in this same period made what we went through seem like nothing.  Then everything clicked.  I joked about being self-indulged (a saying, truth in jest comes to mind) but I quickly turned the topic back to Chris and his transition into civilian life and future plans.  

He and his brothers are great kids, the two eldest have served their country proudly and with distinction in the Marines.  These are the babies I have seen grow up and take on responsibilities I cannot begin to fathom let alone understand. 

They are a product of patriotism and a call to duty much like all civil servants that work in local, state and federal governments.  They are truly the epitome of what John F. Kennedy meant when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country".  These brave young men have put what I do and what I stand for in a realm that will never be anywhere near their true measurement of human beings and United States citizens. 

Then if you look at what is happening all around the globe, and compare it to what we have survived, the pity parties, the boo who meetings, all of those woe is me feelings, I cannot help but feel ashamed of my self yet blessed.  Sometimes, a simple phone call can put all your fears, anxieties, depression, failures and other negative feelings and emotions in the clearest of perspectives.

God bless all the men and women, friends and families of those serving overseas.  More importantly, God bless all that are still in harms way because they too headed the call. 

 

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Help BMSB Research

To all organic farmers Michigan State Univeristy has set up a BMSB web site to track testing that is being done at both the farm and scientific levels. 

The web site is meant to inform as well as encourage farmers to participate in structured testing.  Your help is urgently needed.  Please take time to signup and provide input.  The address is:

 BMSB.OPM.MSU.EDU

Thanks to all.

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