Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Family Fun at the Farm

Frederick County held its Annual Family Fun on the Farm Festival this past weekend.  This is a time for people to come to different farms and learn what the farm is all about.  What sustainalbe practises are in place along with free range techniques and you get to taste actual food provided from the farm.  On Saturday it was cold and raining torrents but people showed up.  A lot of people showed up.  We partnered with Nick's Organic again this year.  I cooked on a cherrywood fire and Nick provided his organically raised beef. 

I cooked mostly hamburgers and beef sausages.  Nick brought out three new varieties of sausage this year and for the life of me I could not keep them straight.  Talk about embarrassing, but we did have fun with it.  We gave samples out and I asked the person what it tasted like; was it sweet, did you taste garlic, or sage?  He had Italian, Kielbasa, Bratwurst and Sage.  Three of the four looked the same.  Cut open I could tell one of the three was Italian because it had red peppers in it.  The sage and kielbasa was a toss-up.  The bratwurst looked differently so it was easier.  As the day wore on some suggested marking the sausages to keep track.

I jumped on it and started marking the kielbasa with a slash down the length and the sage a slash across.  But as they cooked they split and slashes look like lines and lines looked like slashes.  Tasting the sausage to tell the difference was alright when it was a free sample.  But it was tought when people ordered one or another type of sausage.  Now they were paying for the sausage and roll.  To their credit most people settled for what they got.  Others said "Don't worry about it.  It is all is good. Give me what's ready."  Nick has a very hardcore group of followers, people that really "get" local, organically-raised, grass-fed beef, chicken and turkeys.

Along with Nick's meat we were selling our certified organic fall vegetables: kale, red ancho peppers and green peppers,our  honey and jam and promoting the cooking classes.  Saturday was a long cold day, and even though I was next to the fire and under cover I was freezing.  By the end of the day I was whining and wanted nothing but a hot bath.  I felt bad for Nick, Dave and Harvey as they were out in the worst of it and away from any heat.

Then there was feeding the help.  I really have to apologize to Harvey.  He only wanted a well done burger and I can really cook a burger well done, he just didn't get any of them.  Harvey was driving the tractor for the hay-rides.  One of the problems with cooking with wood is I use the flame not the coals.  So you have to get used to moving meat close to and then away from the heat.  Poor Harvey.  Out of all the burgers he got during the two days one might have been medium well done.  His preference was well.  I tried I really did.  I'll make it up to him next year though.

To all the hardy souls that came out thank you.

Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain hard selling the fact.

 

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We are Losing our Extension Agent

Cuts are taking place at all levels of government in our State.  Where the rubber meets the road, they are taking away one of the biggest knowledge resources in our State when it comes to small farming.  Our Extension Agent and his aide are getting the proverbial ax.  For those of you who do not know, the function of an Extension Agent is to be the knowledge resource in the County about all things agriculture, be it regulations, resources, methods, education or problem solving.   He or she is the one to go to and they can tell you the who, what, where and when of your answer. 

There is a letter writing campaign that is taking place and we have written to our county and state representatives.  Not one elected offical seemed to understand the importance of an extension agent to a small farmer.  Each and everyone pointed a finger up the line.  At least the ones that even took the time to respond.

It is quite dismaying.  Here is a man that has spent his entire life learning and teaching agriculture.  In the latter part of his career he developed a nationally recognized program for small farmer education.  It is a model which others teach.  We are where we are because of this man, and we are only one of many.  He is a resource, an inspiration, a cheerleader and above all, he is there for you with an answer to any problem you might have.  

He teaches the nutrient manamagement course - the same nutrient management course and program that is so important to saving the Cheasapeake Bay.  On one hand the State wants farmers to be responsible stewards of the the land.  On the other hand,  they are taking away the person who can teach you how to best do that.

Here is another example of how the small farmer is being squeezed out by making resources scarce.  If it wasn't for Terry Poole, our extension agent (ermitas) and his classes, we wouldn't be as far along as we are.  We would have never learned about Management Intensive Grazing, Integrated Pest Management Techniques, Nutrient Management, and Water and Soil Resource conservation. 

Terry is the driving force behind the Maryland Small Farm Co-op, an organization of small farmers working to help each other and sustain the small farm.  Small farms have little to no room to compete, and big Agra-business is controlling the food chain.  Our extension agents are a lifeline to university research, practical applications in the field, and neighborly help.  Support farming by keeping them available.

 

 
 

The Formative Years

As Nietzsche said, "that which does not kill us makes us stronger."  No truer words describe the attitude needed to raise and grow food for human consumption.  Coming from the city there were a lot of adjustments we needed to make in order to transition to rural life on a farm.  We thought having lived in a rural area for thirteen years prior would have prepared us some what.  The first five years tested us mentally, physically and spiritually. 

When you compare learning how to live in the city versus living in rural America there are some glaring differences and then there are the subtle ones. Like critters - in the city you have squirrels, cats, dogs, rats, mice, insects and the occasional raccoon, deer and opossum.  In the country there are the same plus skunks, fox, bear, coyote and the rest of the wildlife Western Maryland has.  

Animals are animals, no matter where you are.  You need to be careful around all of them.  In the city you’re more likely to be bitten by a stray dog as being sprayed by a skunk in the country.  If asked five years ago would I be within five inches of a live skunk, I would have responded, "No way, no how."  Not only have I been that close to one skunk I've had three close encounters.  We had set traps to catch groundhogs, only to find skunks like sweet corn too.  I also learned how to let the skunks out without alarming them and without having to sleep in the barn for a week.

I think the most glaring difference when comparing and contrasting the two environments would be snakes.  Snakes have such a negative association that most people cringe at the mere mention of the word.  Then actually seeing one sends chills through the spine.  As bad as rats are in the city, I think snakes create a stronger reaction when seen.  Not only are snakes prevalent on a farm they tend to gravitate towards existing structures.  Unless you have pigs or so I’ve been told.  When I was talking to the farmer down the road about snakes he told me that if I got pigs, I’d find that the snakes would disappear. 

When we found snake skins in the basement of the house we said, "if we find them on the first floor then thats it".  When we found them in the first floor bathroom we said, "if we find them in the living room then thats it".  When we found them in the living room we said "if we find them in the bedroom then thats it".  Then BC found one in the master bedroom (see: Where Else Would Rather Be)

We found that our tolerance changed that nature and the environment helps ease you into those transitions before you are aware.  I guess some people would have moved out after the bedroom horror but we had a Godsend in BC.  I know I write about how hard things are and what difficulties we often face as well as point out how things are not easy.  But I count my blessings every day and I appreciate the life I have.  We've been given an incredible opportunity here and we are trying our best to make it work. 

I've learned that life is precious, that things can be taken from you in an instant and tomorrow is nothing but a possibility.  I've learned patience and that I am mentally and physically stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.  I've been given a chance that not many people are given and for that I am immensely grateful.  I've met some incredible people that have a real passion for what we do and they are an inspiration. 

Things don't always go as planned and life is hard and that doesn't change just because you've moved from the city or you live on a farm.  I've seen the beauty that nature brings, like a night sky so crystal clear you feel like you could reach out and touch a piece of it.  I brought my wife outside to view.  As driven as you have to be in order to do something so hard, I'm as much humbled by a simple act of thanks or expression of gratitude from our supporters and customers. 

Life on a farm is hard and there is no way around it.  You sacrifice yourself, your time, sometimes your well being and your vacations.   But God love all the people that have chosen to rise above all the negative in an effort to strive for something better for our local communities, environment and animals. 

Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain advertising "Local"

 

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The Tomato Lament

 I've been growing tomatoes for the last eighteen years.  In that time I've tried probably 30 some different verities and always roma's or plum tomatoes as they are known.  No matter the year we have grown Roma's and then the others.  We started canning tomatoes about eighteen years ago and we had very little store bought tomatoes since then.

 We started to get into heirloom tomatoes when we moved to our current house and had space.  It has been an education every year, sometimes good sometimes not so memerable.  This year the German Queen heirloom was great.  the taste, size, and texture was better than the rest.  They made great tomatoes for Tom's Tomatoes. 

 Tom's Tomatoes were an appetizer at the old Palmer House restaurant in downtown Baltimore City.  It was a simple yet tasty dish that Tom one of the owners created.  He would take the freshest, ripest slicing tomato and shave hard rigotta cheese on top.  Then drizzle that with olive oil, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar, basil and oregano.  It was a great dish that I still make for guests.

 Tom's tomatoes are a seasonal treat because it does not translate well using canned tomatoes.  Much like the home made sausage it is one of those things that leaves you wanting more due to its absence.  It is this time of year when the weather starts to turn and you start seeing your breath in the morning.  I look longingly at the last of this year’s tomato crop.  The cold nights are taking its toll; tomatoes are part of the nightshade family so cold nights are not conducive to its health. 

 I always stretch the last couple of plants out as far as I can.  They slow down and eventually stop producing and the tomatoes on the vine stop reddening and the leaves curl trying to stay warm.  I feel bad like I am torturing the thing because it is only for my own selfish pleasure.  I treat them well from the time they are planted, I don't ask for much just one more tomato.

 Work has already begun for next year's tomatoes.  I am cleaning and saving the seeds from a couple of the German Queens and will start them indoors in March.   We always plant Roma's we have lots of customers that have bought them by the bushel for years.  Now though, we have a following that have already asked for the Queens next year so I know I'm not the only one that really liked them.   They are low in acid, sweet tasting, thin skin and small seed pods leaving a lot of flesh to nibble on.  The biggest one weighed in at one pound and twelve ounces.  It was bigger than my hand and stuck out on the edges of sliced bread when eatan as a sandwich.

As the leaves turn and all the gardens are put to bed the saddest thought is that I will not be able to walk outside, grab a tomato off the vine and eat it right there.  We'll make sauce, chili, stews and pizzas from the canned tomatoes but it won't be the same.  It seems year after year I lament the loss of my fresh tomatoes.  

Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain that hard sells the fact

 

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Keep Your Lawn Short Or

THINGS I'VE RUN OVER BY ACCIDENT

So we moved onto an old farm.  Six generation of families have lived here before us.  Six generations of buying tools and loosing them to the outdoors.  Working on a tractor you get done and the crow bar was left on the side.  As you read on I know I am not going to look good.  But in the interest of true life I've decided to be fourth coming about some of the more boneheaded things I've done while mowing and tilling.  

I have no one to blame but myself, yet I don't.  You know the part about making mistakes and not repeating them.  All that goes out the window when I talk about sitting on the mower or the tractor.

At least with tilling I have a very good excuse. I mean the stuff is underground, at least 99.9 precent has been anyway.  When I hit something with the tiller I stop, dig it up and place it in my "stuff I've tilled" pile.  It is just like my "stuff I've mowed" pile but it's a much smaller pile defying all logic. Although the area I till is greater than the area I mow I somehow seem to do more damage with the five foot mower deck than the six foot tiller.  Actually, I do more damage to the five foot mower deck.

Yet of all the things I've run over I do not think I'm actually all that responsible, completely. really.  I mean, I am driving the mower each time and I can honestly say I have never run over anything on purpose.  I mean who purposely hits an iron cap to the clean-out pipe?  And then its plastic replacement.

The land around our house has a lot of stone out-croppings.  I've taken a sledge hammer to the ones that where deceptively low or I guess their deceptively high.  You only have to hit a rock once to remember where it was.  But, then again there was three acres of lawn. 

I've estimated that I've spent eight hours on my back untwisting things stuck in the mower blades.  Things that other people have left on the ground or have not put away, well mostly others.   I've spent six hours replacing blades and five hours replacing belts.  The mower itself has only 233 total hours of run time.  I know the numbers are not in my favor but what can I say.  I try not to cut the lawn but sometimes we can't find the barn and I don't have a choice.

So I begrudgingly get on the mower and start mowing around the gardens, orchards, water tanks, trellises and out-buildings.  While this is happening I'm looking up front to see if there is anything in the way.  Grant it I'm looking for chickens, rabbits, frogs, cats, stones, boulders, wood or any of the myriad of other things in the grass.  I can be candid and say I’ve never run over a chicken, baby rabbit or any living creater.  So in the interest of full discloser below is a list of things that I've found with the lawn mower;

metal wire 3/8th inch 59 ft long with tensioner;

Three strand electric fence 60 ft long

6 ft wide black landscape fabric 10 ft; long 

Chicken wire - 6 feet by 10 feet I was quick on stopping the PTO that time.

1 light post; 1 garden hose 25 ft long

Various wood planks, pallet edges and boulders

Steel drain pipe cap; plastic drain pipe cap (different years though)

Black walnuts, ok, they are on purpose how else can you get the meat out of them?

Does top soil count?

Tilling the ground has its own perils but I can't take credit for any of it with the exception of the chicken wire.  When we put our first garden in I encased it in chicken wire.  I buried about a foot and had five feet sticking out of the ground.  It works great for keeping the critters out and protecting the vegetables.  We had the fence up for three years.  Each end was open so I could get the tiller in and closed once we were done.  

One fall day I was preparing the bed for its winter cover and got too close to the side of the fence.  Before I knew it the tiller got a piece of the fence and the fence starting coming at me like a rocket.  Before I could kill the PTO, the tiller tines had wrapped about fifty feet of the fence around themselves.  As it was wrapping around the tines the fence was compacting.  Six feet by five feet compressed into about three inches wide.  Getting that out took about five hours but knock on wood it was the first and only time.

So, I make mistakes but I really try not to run over things, especially those that wrap around the blades and spindles.  Getting them out is not easy and serves to be the greatest motivator when avoiding trouble.  My advice to all, keep your lawns short.

 Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain hard selling the fact.

 

 
 

Broody Picks a New Home

Our second flock of layers has a broody chicken.  She's actually gone broody two times this year.  Although breaking them of broodiness is not that hard it is still a change to all concerned.  You need to isolate them and make sure they have plenty of food and water.  The most important thing after that is to make sure they don't have an egg to sit on.  A broody hen will not lay eggs while brooding so you don't have to worry about her.  Isolating her makes sure other hens don't take advantage of her broodiness by dropping eggs in her nest. 

We took Broody out of the nesting box in flock two and placed her in the hospital pen setup in a stall in the barn.  The isolation process can take anywhere from five to ten days.  When a broody hen starts laying eggs you'll know that you have broken them of the broodiness and it is time to introduce them back to the flock.

In the past we've let the hens acclimate themselves.  We'd open the barn door and let her come out when she choose.  Sometimes it would take a couple days but eventually they come out preferring the outdoors to the pen.  The last two times we've done this the hen actually went back to her flock on her own.  This time however, Broody would come out of the barn but at night she would return to the hospital pen.  We thought, ok, she's confused and doesn't know to go back to her flock.  We seem to always rationalize their behavior but we never ask them to confirm our suspicion.

We then decided that she was going to have to be re-introduced to her old flock.  From the start we encountered stiff opposition from her mates.  When we put Broody in the pen they just started squaring off and no amount of yelling or screaming seemed to break it up.  I found that I needed to get physically in between them in order to settle them down.  Our first day of re-introducing Broody to flock two (her original flock) went something like the chicken version of a gang fight. Only Broody was a one hen gang.  I was in the pen for about an hour staying between Broody and the combatants.  I was getting tired of standing there and frustrated by all the fights so I gave up and took Broody out of the pen and let her roam the grounds.

At dusk she went back to the barn and settled into the hospital pen.  This went on for another two days.  I decided to try again but this time put her in with flock one.  It is the smallest and oldest of all the flocks so I figured there were less hens and being more mature would not cause trouble.  I took Broody in my arms and went into the pen.  I walked her around so the other hens could see her.  The whole time I'm saying shish to calm them.  I set her down and before I could get out of the pen the pecking order was being strictly enforced.

This time I decided to place the trouble makers out side of the pen and let them roam.  Much to my surprise after two hens were ejected the flock was at peace.  The two banished layers stayed outside the fence and foraged far and wide.  For the rest of the day there was harmony among the flocks.

As dusk took hold the hens started heading to bed.  I knew I was going to have to go looking for the trouble makers so I went out to search before day light vanished.  I went to the barn first to see if Broody was on her perch.  No Broody.  Okay, she's probably out back.  I left the door open and went to close up the closest flock.  We usually count the hens before locking up for the night and the second flock was all accounted for.  I try to get them to count off but they just refuse. 

Flock three was all accounted for and I headed to the last house.  At this time I'm starting to worry, Broody is no where in sight and I can't hear a sound from the banished.

I look in the last house and shine my light on the roosting polls.  The two banished hens came back from exploring and were quietly perched ready for sleep.  On the other end in the corner to my surprise perched Broody.  Everyone was settled in and ready for the night so I closed the door.

That was three days ago.  At night she sleeps with flock one.  During the day she flies the coop, roams and lays her egg in the barn. At night she goes back into the coop to sleep.   We're trying to figure out how to break the egg laying habit but we figure one change at a time.

 Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain hard selling the fact!

 

 
 

Maybe We should rethink the whole goat thing

I heard a farmer once say that cutting grass is one of the most useless chores on a farm.  At the time I didn't really understand what he meant and he didn't explain and I didn't question.  I made a living cutting grass and that is what helped pay my way through college.

It was seasonal work but it was lucrative and the hours were flexible.  I would target my advertising to more affluent neighborhoods and those enclaves that had professionals.  My rational was that they wouldn't be home enough to cut the grass and I could charge a premium for my time and effort.  I have always been a type A who strives to do the best job I can.  As the saying goes, "If a job is worth doing it's worth doing well."

I hold myself to a higher standard and that has proven to be a problem when dealing with our employees.  I try to make sure they know what a great job they are doing and how much we appreciate their help.  First time mistakes are tollerated but also used as learning experiences.  The work is grueling and in the worst of the heat.  We make sure that they get plenty of water and rest breaks.  We often feed them at lunch if they haven't brought anything and sometimes we'll cook a light meal. 

For me once I get started in the morning I don't stop, I'll work through until 4:00 or 4:30.  I stay hydrated all day but I don't break for a meal.  I hate stopping mid-day to eat, it makes me sluggish, weighs me down but most importantly I never seem to have the appetite.  To me its like working out in a gym and stopping for food and then continue the work out.  It's just not done.

The jobs on a farm are broken into tasks and those tasks that generate revenue are most important.  Those tasks that don't generate revenue must be done but are done begrudgingly.  Like mowing the lawn or trimming the edges or draging the stone driveway.  These are the tasks that are the biggest waste of time and are fruitless in their endeavor. 

What once paid my way through school has now become a bane to my summer routine.  I know what that farmer meant when he said mowing lawns is a useless chore.  You spend time on something you can't sell.  Once you cut grass the darn thing just grows back until you cut it again.  I'd love to have an astro-turf lawn but I think it would run counter to our entire ecological mission, but then again maybe we need to re-think the whole goat thing.

BUY LOCAL - from a farmer not from a chain advertising "Local"

 

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