Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Corn Battles pt 3

Part 3 of 3

We learned with corn the best sustainable practice is called field rotation.  We let our soils rest for two years after it has been used to grow vegetables.  With cover cropping, planting green manures (grasses and legumes) and letting the chickens graze on them minerals, nutrients and tilth are replenished naturally.  We don't fertilize mostly because of these practices.  The corn, because it is such a heavy feeder, does get organic fertilizer once or twice during the growing season.  Other than that we rely on Mother Nature and the chickens for soil fertility.

We sell more organic fertilizer than we use but it was not always that way.  It has only been since getting the chickens and adding them to the rotational practice that we found soil fertility to be adequate for corn.  This past winter we had the chickens in the garden for over five months.  Once the new rye and hairy vetch came up the chickens were moved in.  We moved them once every two days up and down the length of the garden.  People tell us that our eggs have the best taste, once a customer compared ours to fresh eggs she had while in Italy.  Getting compliments like that is a humbling experience for a city boy.  I always thank our customers for their feedback and point out the chickens did most of the work.  I can't help but think the grasses and legumes are what make the eggs taste like they do.  One day I'll write about garlic eggs.

This year's production garden was tilled and ready for spring planting in March.  This was all good but I was waiting to plant the corn.  We had the garden mapped out and had our seed ready.  This year I kept the seed in the house instead of the barn.  Did you know that mice can tell good corn from not so good corn even when it is dry?  I didn't, so when I went to get my saved seeds from the barn two years ago I found that the yellow corn was mostly left alone.  Not true for the white sugar pearl.  They cleaned the cobs perfectly.  The mice climbed up a metal shelving unit to the top and over the basket that held the corn.  I had to give it to them, determined little (insert cussword of your choice here).

2009 was going to be a different year.  We had seed, a strong chicken wire fence and great soil.  We planted the first batch in April and followed those two weeks later with another planting.  The first started to coming up in nice rows.  The second planting didn't budge, and it didn't budge and didn't budge; after 3 weeks I tilled and replanted.

We weeded, watered, mounded and I watched over like it was gold.  I am proud to say that when the Maryland Small Farm Co-op had its field day at Foxhaven Farm on July 12th we took corn to sell.  Not just any corn but certified organic, white, sugar pearl sweet corn.  I had trouble getting in the truck my head was so big.  The question everyone asked was "Is that yours?" followed up by "How did you do it?"  Man that was a great feeling. We took twenty dozen ears of corn that day and sold every last one. I still have a Cheshire grin going.  We had a customer come up to my wife the following week at the Urbana Farmers Market and told her the corn she bought was the best she had ever tasted.

But being that it is farming, a couple of days later we found that the raccoons had defeated our perimeter defenses.  They cleaned out what was left of the first planting and are now waiting for the second planting to come in.  I got the tractor out and started dumping dirt around the bottom of the fences, and where the fence was old we added new chicken wire and placed posts around to keep the fence up.  So the corn battle still rages, but for one fleeting second my head was too big to fit inside the truck.

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Corn Battles pt 2

Part 2 of 3 

At our old house I tracked sunlight to find out what little plot of land got the most sunshine and I would plant corn in that area.  I was stopped from planting in the front of the house one year, something about being tacky or something but I would have.  The first year on the farm we grew about twelve rows by fifty feet.  It was not organic seed but it was raised organic.  By all accounts it was a winner and we were off and running.

As we started to prepare for certification we learned that you could only use certified organic seed.  So the next year we went totally organic and that’s when things started to fall apart.  Year after year we failed to get corn like we had that first year.  It was not the seeds' fault as much as it was the inexperience of the gardener.   When we finally started to get things right we found we also started feeding the wildlife.

One of our sustainable practices is to save seeds from year to year and I wanted to do this with the corn.  In the old days this was standard practice, farmers would keep seed from one year to the next in order to plant.  That’s when we learned the difference between hybrids and open pollinated.  A hybrid is a mix of characteristics between two different types of plants in the same species.  

A hybrid corn seed example could be a mix of a corn plant that has large kernels and a corn plant that is very sweet.  The child seed of those two would have both characteristics a large kernel that is very sweet.   You plant the hybrid seed and get corn that has very large sweet kernels on the cob.  If you were to save the seeds from the hybrid and planted them the next year there isno  telling what dominant characteristic will show up.  What is known is that you will not get both traits; you will get one or the other. 

So you could have a plant that has large kernels or is very sweet but not both. Open pollinated plants on the other hand are consistent from year to year.  If you have a plant that is open pollinated then you can harvest the seeds and use them the next year.  Not only will you get consistent results but you will be able to save on seed costs.  Don't confuse hybrids with genetically modified organisms (GMO).  GMO's are genetically modified on a DNA level, not just mixing traits of the same species.  For greater understanding of GMO and the potential dangers in our food supply go to WWW.HULU.COM  and search for "Future of Food,”

We've tried all kinds of planting techniques, transplanting, planting early and covering them with row covers and planting corn with the lowest number of days to germination.  It is all in an attempt to be the first one on the block with sweet corn.  My true motivation is to get sweet corn for myself and my family.  We do not eat corn from any other source.  We eat what we grow, freezing much to get through the winter.  Besides there is no meal better than fried tomatoes and corn on the cob; add steamed Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and you have raised the meal to mythic standards. 

The earlier you get corn the higher the price justification at the market (the law of supply and demand) which is the other incentive to growing early.  However, these practices are not without peril.  Corn needs soil and ambient temperatures to be no lower than fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  You get a frost and your whole first planting can be wiped out.  It’s a gamble that if you know about going into it you are prepared when a late frost hits.  Being prepared doesn't mean you are out of the woods, it just means you have a chance at saving the first planting.

This year was no exception when it came to planting early with one notable change.  The corn was planted in our very first garden plot.  The plot of land was completely encased with chicken wire.  I had buried it one foot deep with five feet sticking out of the ground.  I also used metal posts to keep the wire up.  Without knowing I added a degree of protection from the groundhogs and raccoons.  If they tried to climb the fence it would collapse backwards from their weight, stopping them from getting in.  If the raccoons ever get their act together one will climb and bring the fence down letting his buddies get in.  We'll have to keep an eye on that.  In the mean time the corn battles rage on.

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Corn Battles pt 1

Corn Battles part 1 of 3 

 

I love eating sweet corn.  A dinner of fried red tomatoes and corn on the cob is what I dream about during the winter months when snow is on the ground or I’m out chopping wood.  So too do our raccoons, in February they sit in their dens with listening devices waiting for us to discuss corn placement during our planning sessions.  I know once we finalize our plans they start on theirs.  We are brighter than the raccoons but they win more times then they loose.

The first time we ever grew sweet corn was in a little plot in our kitchen garden at our old house.  We lived on four acres with 3.9 of it being woods.   It was four rows by six plants; it didn't get enough sun and wasn't pollinated very well. We got one ear of corn out of the entire crop.  But that one ear changed my view of fresh sweet corn for ever.  We did harvest it and I cut it in half for my wife and me to share.  Off the stalk and in the water it was our introduction to really fresh corn.  From that point on it was puppy love.

By 2007 we were getting better at growing corn but we had more to learn about keeping critters out of it long enough for us to harvest.  One thought I had was to plant as much as we could, the rational being the wildlife would eat some and we'd get the rest.  At least at the time it seemed like a reasonable plan.  We planted eighty rows by sixty feet. As it grew we strung over ten thousand feet of electric fencing around it.  I babied it, it was fertilized with 9-0-0, watered, weeded, mounded, I did everything but sleep with it.  

We plant corn in stages, every two weeks we plant another equal size plot of corn.  That way you get corn through out the season instead of all at one time.  It was a hot summer and the corn wasn't coming in strong but it was coming in.  Pollination was a problem in the first batch so we went through shaking the stalks to help with the other plantings.  We watered every seven days but we quickly found we were running out of our rain water barrels.  We have two; each one holds 3,000 gallons of rain water collected off of the barn roof. Even though we were watering it wasn't enough.  Because there wasn't sufficient water the corn growth was stagnant.  When we got water all the corn started to sprout together.  Succession planting went out the window and all the corn started coming in at once. 

It was a Monday; I went out to look at the corn to see if it was close to picking.  I picked a dozen that we ate at dinner that night.  It was good, sweet and tender not all the kernels were full but the taste was good.  We would harvest the rest in four days for Saturday’s market.

The corn was planted in an area that we could not see from the house.  Hence, the 10,000 feet of electric wire around the perimeter. One strand was six inches off the ground; the second was fourteen inches off the ground.  We did this because of a conversation we had with a full-time farmer.

Friday night the same week we took big tubs out to harvest the corn.  There wasn't any.  I mean there wasn't any, none.  Our jaws dropped as we went from row to row and saw clean cobs on the ground.  It was one of the lowest points we've had since we started growing professionally.  We were stunned and dismayed, which then led to depression.  I don't say this lightly.  It was one of the few times we ever contemplated throwing in the towel.  It was a low point.  Not only did we lose a lot of money, we lost confidence in our selves and our ability. 

After a couple of days we regrouped and set about finding out where we failed.  We learned that it was raccoons and groundhogs that did the most severe damage not the deer that I had suspected.  We learned this because of the way the cobs looked, picked clean.  A deer will eat the corn from the top.  These cobs were pulled from the stalk and eaten clean, much like you or I would eat.  That meant it was raccoons and groundhogs.  I called Dave at Nicks Organic and asked him about it.

He asked if I had strung electric fencing like he suggested.  I had and he asked if there was a high spot.  "What's a high spot?" I asked.  He went on to tell me that the wire has to be no higher than six inches off the ground.  A high spot would be anything higher than that.  "No," I replied but I wasn't completely sure.  I inspected the perimeter all 4,800 feet.  To my dismay I found a spot where I had brought the lowest strand of wire up to meet the solar battery.  The gap was less than twelve inches but enough to let them in.

Believe it or not that made me feel better.  At least I could explain and identify were the problem was, had I not been able to do that we probably would have given up on growing corn.  Having identified the problem it renewed my spirit to at least continue next year to fight the corn battles.

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Taste Tests

I'm good at research, currently we are participating in a study with the University of West Virginia, Graduate School on a nematode study.  But I love giving blind taste tests the best.  Get a foody in the kitchen and sit them down and give them two things to eat and ask which tastes better.

Our County has what’s called Family Fun on the Farm.  It is a two day event where the local farmers sign up and folks take tours of their farm.  It’s a way to promote farming and for the farmer to explain environmental and sustainable practices and show what he or she grows or has for sale.  Families go from farm to farm visiting and learning about milking, free range chickens, organic beef or whatever the farm does.

It is held in October when we are pretty much done with growing and have put the winter covers on all of the gardens.  We have an organic farmer down the road from us who raises chickens. beef, turkeys and feed.  We purchase our organic chicken feed from them.  One summer day we were talking about the upcoming October event and what he had been going through getting permits to sell cooked food and beverages and so fourth.

I've always been an advocate of using cherry wood instead of charcoal.  I've tried apple, maple and oak but not walnut.  DO NOT USE WALNUT; there are toxins in walnut that can remove paint from cars.  The best flavors come from cherry specifically American cherry or choke cherry wood.  I cook with the flames not the coals or smoke.  So I'm telling Nick this.  I said that his organic ground beef and cherry wood would just be terrific and went a step further and said I could prove it.

He took me up on the offer and when October rolled around I took my grill over set it up started the cherry wood and let the fire get ready.  Prior to this I had arrange to have another grill setup but this one was fired with charcoal.  We offered everyone a taste test.  They could by two burgers get 50% off the second burger to participate.  The bottom of each plate was marked with a 1 or 2.  Each person would then give us their number preference.  Everyone could participate, young and old.  This was no empirical study by any means, there was no control group, the conditions were free form and no scientific protocols were followed.

We did this for two days; each day lasted about six hours.  We sold out of beef mid-day the second day.  We kept the numbering system up and let people weigh in on what they liked and thought.

I had people come back with analysis that floored me, I'm a foody, I know other foodies but some of Nick's customers just amazed me with their palettes.  I delighted in the seriousness that some people took with this test.  Some saw this challenge the way I would have, which would have been to thoroughly analyze every aspect of the food, the taste, texture, flavor of the meet the outer smoke ring and its color.

I think people really had fun with it and were truly interested in the outcomes.  What surprised me most were the results.  Age definitely made a difference in taste preference.  Almost one hundred percent of the children preferred charcoal.  Their parents on the other hand went in the complete opposite direction.  That didn't surprise me.  I've advocated for cherry wood cooking ever since we went camping and cooked over a cherry wood fire.  We had hamburgers and chicken the first night and people raved.  They all wanted to know how we prepared both meats.

Truth was that nothing special was done but cooking on an open fire.  I admit I liked it too and could taste the flavor that they were talking about.  My thought was everything taste good when camping, you’re cooking on an open fire, you're communing with nature and the environment is different.  I wanted to see if the same was true once we got home.  I started cooking with cherry instead of charcoal.  I grilled fish, shrimp, pork, corn on the cob, squash, tomatoes just about everything I could.  

So I got to take the show on the road and for two days we had people voting on the better taste.   The meat was the same the only difference was cherry wood versus charcoal.  What I learned was a sophisticated palette gravitates to new flavors while unsophisticated tended towards the familiar.  No matter the outcome, taste tests are always fun.

 

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Growing Pains

It’s the middle of July, we've lost most of our lentils, and something is killing the squash and zucchini.  The basil has holes and does not look good enough to sell, the cucumbers are fighting off fusarium wilt even though they are supposed be a resistant variety.  The weeds grow best of all and are almost taking over.  We are down to the last 2,000 gallons in our rain water collection system and there doesn't seem to be rain in sight. The twenty-five new birds are eating about two hundred pounds of organic starter mash a month but we only purchased one hundred and fifty pounds.  This caused us to scramble and ask the farmer down the road for some to hold us until the next shipment.  We've upped the shipment to two hundred pounds which should hold them until they go on layer mash.   The Japanese Beatles are coming out and landing on the grape vines, Colorado Potato Beatles have found our German Butter Ball potatoes.  Oh yeah we are down one worker so we started looking for help and have to go through the interview process again (see “Who in Their Right Mind”...).  

So, these are the current problems.  I'm sure there are more but why dwell, we'll learn about them soon enough.  On the good side the corn looks strong and each stalk has two ears, the tomatoes are coming in and the Roma’s are starting to turn red.  The chickens look good and are laying at a rate of 80 percent.  On any given day we have about two to three not earning room and board.  We know one never lays, we think the others are joining in sympathy.  Chickens lay one egg every twenty-five hours at their peak, after about three years they start to decline.  They eventually stop laying and can live to twelve years of age.  This does cause us great concern.

 

 We say we are a humane farm.  Yes there are specific denotations of what humane farm means, to us it is keeping the animal free of negative stress.  This is where the philosophical meets the practical.  Take out all perspectives, PETA, HSUS, SPCA and others.  Animal meat is food; it is protein and essential minerals.  Can we survive without meat?   There is evidence to suggest we can.  There is evidence that the vitamins and minerals from beef, chicken and pork are beneficial to the human diet, too.

 

We are struggling; we've had the first flock for three years now.  The tenant was one of the first six and we decided to keep her.  Now the first six will begin to decline in laying and we need to look at production versus feed cost.  They have led a happy stress free life so far, plenty of fresh grass and different varieties planted every six months.  They have also been prolific layers.  Three of the six have names, there is Palely (AKA Broody 1), and she is the tenant and the runt of the group.  Next is Gladys Kravitz, from "Bewitched," she looks mean and is always butting in on the others’ doings.  Last is Roaster.  She is huge.  They all started out roughly the same size but Roaster out weighs them all.  She is almost too big to fit through the door.

 

 Some people may think you can't be a humane farm and kill animals.  We started out not wanting to process chickens and so far we have continued with that standing.  But, chicken meat goes for 3.50/lb in our neck of the woods.  The potential revenue stream is very viable because of pent up demand and the relatively low cost of production.  I have not eaten commercial chicken for over four years.  Thanks in part to Joel Salatin but mainly because of how confinement chickens are raised and processed. Joel just happened to write about it and had a pathogen analysis done between his chickens and store bought chickens.  Even though he processes his chickens in an open air facility his chickens had tens of thousands parts per million less bacteria than the store bought.  That’s all I'm going to say on the matter, Joel has an excellent book that goes into great detail.

So, we are considering meat birds versus layers.  Eventually layers stop laying and can live up to ten more years naturally.  They eat about two tenths of a pound of feed a day, multiple that by 365 then by 6 (for the first six).  50 pounds of organic food cost $22 a bag.  When the math is all said and done we lose money if the chickens are not processed.  Even if we take them off organic feed and feed them cheap mash we will lose money.  No one stays afloat losing money.

Our decisions are not governed by the profit motive but we do need to make money in order to meet IRS requirements.  As altruistic as we've been these past seven years now the rubber is starting to meet the road.  After buying the farm this decision is one of the most agonizing we've had to face.  No matter how you grow there are going to be pains.

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Italian Cooking Classes

We hold Italian cooking classes on the farm.  I learned to make bread dough, pasta dough, lasagna, meat ravioli, Italian sausage, salads, cookies, pizza, calzones, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese and others from my mom and her mom.

Two of the three most influential women in my life were my mom and my mom-mom.  I learned allot from both of them and I won't bore you with the details of the religious, moral, ethical, social and community mores they instilled.  Instead it’s my other passion besides growing, food.  Not just food but home made from scratch, stick to your ribs, comfort food.  Technically what would be classified as peasant food.

As a child no meal prepared in the maternal kitchens ever smelled as good as when they were preparing Italian dishes.  Starting with the smell of sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil.  Then pile on tomatoes, Romano cheese, oregano some salt and pepper.  The fragrance was mouth watering.  Add to the olfactory the forbiddingness, as children we were never allowed in the kitchen.  Mom-mom years before had here dress catch fire in the kitchen and she was burned pretty badly.  We didn't realize as kids but she bore the burden of both the physical and emotional from that accident.  Being a child we only new that we were not allowed in the kitchen when mom-mom was cooking.  I think my mom kept the practice because she was allowed some peace.   Human nature took over and I wanted what I couldn't have.  There was a great attraction to the kitchen for me.

It wasn't until I was sixteen before I was allowed in the kitchen without being asked what I was doing; sometimes in unison. In the beginning of my tutelage I focused on the Italian dishes that mom and mom-mom made.  Meatballs and spaghetti sauce were first, then I learned how to make pasta dough.  All preparations were done by hand.  Those six words in the last sentence barely describe the manual labor and effort that goes into making pasta dough by hand.  The process and ingredients are simple, eggs, flour water, mix until incorporated.  Today I use semolina flour and a Cuisinart but I was taught to use all purpose flour and my hands.

My grandmother was about five feet tall and one hundred ten pounds when drenched.  At the age of sixteen, she put a hurting on me, and I was starting to hit my peak physical shape.  I was running, lifting, playing baseball in the summer, pick-up football, and basketball games and soccer in the winter.  But to mix those simple ingredients made me sweat and my arms and hands ache.  All those times I watched them make pasta then ravioli it seemed simple.  They both looked like they worked effortlessly.  Well I can tell you it was not, even with the tools we have today it is still labor intensive to make ravioli.  Its one of longest classes we teach and one that leaves the students tired but sated.

The recipes that I have from both women are still with me.  When I first started cooking on my own I didn't really change the ingredients as much as make them upscale.  I mean why buy the cheapest meat when a better cut was available, or use cheap olive oil.  Both my mom and mom-mom would have to buy the cheapest meat, cheese and olive oil because they could not afford anything more expensive.  In my quest to make dishes taste like theirs I had to learn that sometimes cost does matter.  We were so use to eating the ingredients that when I went to high-end x-virgin olive oil or choice ground beef the taste was not the same.

One of the greatest compliments I received was when my niece said my ravioli tasted like mom-mom's.  Still to this day I am humbled when family tells me how close my pizza is to mom and mom-moms or how good my meatballs taste.  I think it is a way to pay tribute and homage to the women that shaped me and nurtured my interests in cooking.  My mom's side of the family has been making Italian sausage for over 75 years, with me being part of it for the last twenty five.  We make it once a year the week before Christmas.  Christmas morning home made bread rolls are made, the sausage is cooked and we have eggs for breakfast.   A couple of years ago we added our own organic eggs to the mix.  To sit down to a meal and everything you eat you've had a hand in making is special.  Add to that feeling the significance of day and we get a profound sense of well being.

The Italian cooking lessons I had with my mom and her mom will forever be etched in my mind and cherished for what they truly were.  A passing of the torch if you will, they are both gone but as I said they live on each time I add water to flour, or cheese to meat or stuff casing with seasoned pork.  Fresh vegetables, meats, fish, fruits, eggs and berries are as fundamental to our being as breathing and in some cases so to is learning from Italian cooking classes.  

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Lay broody Lay

We have brown eggs to sell.  My wife says I spend too much time writing and not enough time selling, that I should write about our products and how good they are and what we have to sell.  So because she is my wife and intelligent and I love her and our anniversary is coming up I've decided to take her advice and sell.  So we have certified organic free range brown eggs to sell.

The chickens on the other hand don't see it that way, at least one of them doesn't we're now calling her "Broody".  When a chicken goes "broody" it means that the chicken thinks it is time to start hatching eggs.  It doesn't matter that we don't have a rooster and her eggs are not fertilized, she is still sitting on eggs in the nest (which makes it hard for us to sell them).  This happened to us last year and as with every other aspect of farm life we researched what was going on and how to deal with it and we called more experienced people to discuss our options.  There are allot of reasons that a chicken can go broody, I've read one is hormonal another is temperament and yet another is age.  Given what I've learned on the job I'd have to say hormonal is the more likely cause.  Now, I know what some of you are thinking, he's male of course he'd blame the problem on hormones, but it is not like that.

When we first noticed broody in the nest we left her for a day or two.  We did have experience from last year so we were hoping that she might just break it herself.  Last year we ended up taking the broody one out of the box and placing her in the barn, it was the only way to keep her out of the nesting box.  Our main concern was that she wasn't eating and drinking enough.  We'd get her out of the nest and leave her outside with the others and before we finished the next chore she was back in the nest. 

So this year we let the new broody sit in the nest, the weather has been cool and breezy with lots of rain but we kept an eye on her.  Every so often we'd notice that she would be outside but not long.  Then she started to go into a prolonged sitting stage and she wasn't budging from the nest and she was pecking people when they tried to harvest eggs.  I stuck my hand in underneath her to try and get her to get up and out of the box and she felt hot to me.  I went to see how hot the others felt and they all seemed relatively cool.  The heat leads me to think hormones might play a role.  Although we suspected broodiness we had to make sure there wasn't some other problem that we just weren't seeing.  This meant we had to give her a physical, check her eyes, nostrils and beak for discharges, her wings, feathers and legs for signs of mites or liaisons, the comb and waddle and the crown jewel was checking to see if she had an egg stuck.  A chicken has what is called a vent; the vent is the only outlet that a chicken has, so with out getting too graphic everything that a chicken expels goes through the vent including the egg. 

Checking for a stuck egg has to be done very carefully and with the utmost tenderness.  At best if a stuck egg breaks inside it can severely injure the chicken and at worst the chicken can die.  We prepared and drew straws; my wife got the task of holding the bird (I got to figure out how to cheat in that game next time).  At first broody was all squawk but we shushed her and she calmed down.  That’s another thing we do from day one is to pick them up and shush them to calm them down. 

This serves two purposes, one is to get them use to human contact the other is their just so cute you want to pet them.  It works on into adulthood; some will run from us, most will just squat down and let us pick them up.  All of them though will calm down and relax when we shush them, you can hear it and feel it in their bodies.  Their muscles go limp, the body slumps and they go along for the ride. 

My wife is holding Broody, we got her calmed down and I start the exam.  I did everything first, saving the vent for last.  She has no outward signs of problems, pests or injuries, I check the skin, feathers everything, her belly and between her legs to see if I feel a lump, nothing jumps out.  Last up is to feel inside the vent to see if there is a blockage.  I expose the vent, it looks pink and healthy, and I take my surgical gloved hand that is now covered with lubricant and gently insert my finger to feel around, Broody moved a little but didn't squawk.  She did squeeze her vent closed which scared the hell out of me; in an instant I 'm pulling my finger out and seeing a newspaper headline, "Local Farmer Loses Finger in Chicken Vent".  Now I'm the one squawking.  To their credit both my wife and broody are perfectly calm, I know it doesn't seem like much but it scared me, so now I got to calm down and go in for a second look.  I got collected and went in once again to gently probe for an obstruction and to our relief find nothing. 

We left her in the barn in the stall with a roost, nest, plenty of water and food.  She was there three days and on the fourth day we opened the barn door and left it open.  She didn't come out.  Day five we open the barn door again and left it open.  This time she came out found her flock and jumped into the pen with her group.  She is no longer brooding but her name will forever be "broody".  Broody started laying about a week later which was a great sign because did I mention, we have eggs to sell.

 

 

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The industrial food complex

We were selling at a Farmers Market and an elderly farmer’s wife stopped by to look at our offerings.  She looked at our "Organic" sign and said "Honey, we've been growing organic since before you were born," and if you know anything about the green revolution after World War 2 you can understand her statement.  Before the invention of ammonium nitrate for bombs, farmers relied basically on organic means to grow their vegetables.  We went from every community having a fresh food market to almost none.  Before the establishment of the industrial food complex, grocery stores and refrigeration, communities relied on their local farmer to grow a market garden for their fruits and vegetables.

They ate what was in season in their region; consumers knew the farmers and their families and purchased what was available.  They put fruits and vegetables "up" or "canned" so that they could eat them in the off season.  Then technology started to advance growing and storage techniques and all other aspects of life.  The marketing gurus during that time advanced the concept of convenience and free time.  Prepared foods, can goods and frozen foods were the rage,  Going to the local farm was phased out by stores that had everything in one place.  What marketing was selling to everyone was convenience and free time. Slowly but surely Free Time and the profit motive was the death knell for the small family farmer. 

As industrial farming took hold and these huge monolithic behemoths started turning out tons of one product the laws of mass production and economy of scales took over and the small farmer could not keep up.  The farmers grew what was called a truck garden or market garden, because he or she would take the vegetables from the garden, put them in a truck and go to the market and sell what they had picked.  What we lost with the growth of these monolithic farms was the individual family growing vegetables for their community and so too coincidently we lost taste and freshness of the fruits and vegetables.  Tomatoes picked green and shipped miles away can't ripen on the vine while in travel, nor would they ever taste like one right off the vine. 

What we gained from the loss of market gardens, freshness and taste is the game of Russian Roulette.  Illnesses and sometimes death resulting from pathogens in our industrial food supply has become common place.  Corporations have shown time and again, when faced with a decision to stop production and clean up after tests prove contamination, they have a laissez faire  additude.

Yes, we have always had to take precautions with our food, but the sheer number of recalls makes one pause.  Nothing beats local for freshness, taste and safety.  The consumer has the ability to talk to the person or persons that grow the food, be it animal, vegetable or mineral.    More and more people are supporting local farmers because they see value for their money.  It is more expensive to grow organic; consequently, it is more expensive to purchase. There is value to going to a local farm or a farmers market and buying from them. 

If you take out the carbon footprint, the freshness, the taste, the true cost of operation, if you take everything out of the equation but a base explanation you are left with human kind's last fuel source and the person that toils for it.  It's a passion, a mission and a fundamental activity that sustains life.  It’s not the profit motive but a social conscience that motivates us to provide food for others.  Yes, we all need to make money to provide and small farms do need to make a profit.  It's imperative in the sustainable model, but that doesn't mean that every decision we make is dictated by the profit motive or what effect it does to our stock price.

The profit motive, stock prices and yearly bonuses are the norm in big business.  Tell me, do you really want to leave the growing of food to the faceless people behind the industrial food complex, knowing their main concern is if they can make a profit and raise the price of their stock?  Isn't our health more important than money, and haven't our taste buds suffered enough with petroleum derivatives, synthetics and other man made food additives? 

So make the right choice, find someone that is growing vegetables for your health, talk to them, visit the farm see how it is being run. Not everyone is growing for your health and we call them hucksters.  Buy vegetables when they are in season and you're guaranteed local. Learn what vegetables are in season in your area.  If someone is selling corn in Maryland in June, it wasn't grown here.   So it is not local corn because it is not in season yet.   Ours will be in July  and we do not cater to the industrial food complex.

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Honey there is a turkey at the door

If you ever want a true juxtaposition that starkly shows the difference between city and rural life rent "Michael Clayton".  At one point they show Tom Wilkinson as Arthur Edens in the middle of Times Square, they have a 360 degree pan of him just standing there among the cacophony of noise and neon flashing lights, large screen TV's and it is just sensory overload.

In a split second the shot is of a white house with black trim and the sounds of wind blowing gusts of heavy snow.  You can hear the snow hitting surfaces.  The camera slowly pans towards a red barn, the snow coming in blankets.  The two scenes couldn't be starker, yet it’s not the scenes as much as it is the feeling I get that is generated from that contrast.  One second and its Times Square in New York City, half a second later it’s a rural setting in the mid-west.  I know it’s me but I get a visceral reaction to the two screen shots and my bet is I'm not the only one.  Allot of people have moved to rural areas for the serenity that was depicted in that second scene.  Not all have taken up the mantle of growing local and/or organic but enough are to make it a full fledge movement.  

As I said, I grew up in the city and my dream was to own land in the country.  It’s a feeling allot of us have to move to a house where we can grow and life is some what simpler.  Its not really, it is constant work and infinitely complex and there are no vacations.  You see and learn things everyday, because where you live is governed by nature, not by man as in a city.  Sometimes you can actually hear no man made sounds sort of a silence, the birds might be chirping and flying around but that’s it.  It doesn't happen often but it gives you an idea of what generations before us heard.  On Sundays we get to hear the local church bell ring calling people to service.

Its a life style choice, which is why we live with chickens, skunks, groundhogs, raccoons, deer, possums, snakes, more bugs than I'm able to identify, hundreds of bird species from cardinals to blue jays, a little yellow breasted bird that looks like a canary and of course their offspring.  We had a turkey family a couple of years ago; they hung around the front of the house and lived in the trees on the top lot.  There was a mother, father and four little ones.  We haven't seen them since 2004 because they do migrate a little.  But it is this kind of happening that reminds you that the city is pretty far away and you’re in close to a natural habitat.

Last Sunday we were getting ready to start the day and my wife heard what she thought was slight tapping at the sliding glass door. She went to investigate and found that we had a wild turkey pecking at the door.  She called me and said a turkey is knocking at our door. So I asked the only question I knew; is it dressed?  If you don't understand please read "Look Honey they have dressed rabbits" from a previous blog.

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