Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Changes

I’ve heard people can’t change and a leopard doesn’t change his spots.  But you do change, your personality, values, prejudices, pre-conceived notions, abilities, confidence and tolerances change.  I am a very confident, self reliant  individual but I’ve been humbled in so many ways that that confidence sometimes gets second guessed.  Sustainable farm life is hard and making a profit is challenging. We haven’t seen that yet but it can be done.  I know people who do make a profit and I marvel at their tenacity. 

Having spent over twnety-five years in the city, I have what is known as street smarts.  I understand urban life.  I mean how life is lived and what it entails.  Because of friends, still there, I'm close to the pulse of the city.  They are by no means boring people, there is no shortage of things to do but I do like getting back to the farm.  Yet when I was younger I’d run from bugs, didn’t like touching worms and wasn’t into wildlife.  I thought that a garden was a sterile environment; I don’t remember my father or father in-law ever talking about pests other then the neighbor’s cat or maybe deer.   

Yet here I am today, picking bugs up and looking at them under magnification.  Researching predacious versus parasitic species and learning how to identify bug types in general. We rely on beneficial insects and nematodes as part of our integrated pest management practices.  Another metamorphous was my idea of a flower garden.  I always thought flower gardens were a waste of time on a farm.  (I said that once during a presentation that had Master Gardeners in it and you’d thought I dropped the “F” bomb.)  You have to put labor into a flower garden yet you’d never get revenue from it.  So each year I’d fight the notion of planting flowers.  We tried it a couple of times but we ended up giving more flowers away then selling so we stopped.  Then I read about an insectary and how it is supposed to help overwinter your beneficial’s.   The insectary is made up of different flowers, bushes, weeds and grass.  The beneficial’s live off of the roots and plants until both their prey and they become adults. So we’ve had a flower garden for the past four years.

I’ve met farming’s elite like Joel Salatin and Temple Grandin and heared them speak with a passion that I recognize.  The struggles we face today are different from our predecessors but they are struggles all the same.  The person I was leaving the city is not the same person today.  I still can’t process chickens but I’ve put some down due to illness.  It was the hardest thing I’ve done so far and emotionally draining but I got through it and I know I helped them escape their own suffering.  People can and do change.  I just hope more people learn about safe, fresh local foods before we can no longer afford to sustain this little mission we are on. 

 Buy Local- From a farmer near you.  Their effort is well worth yours.

 

 

 
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GRAS and Nano Technology

Food science is going nano; believe it or not we as consumers are now facing another menacing aspect of the adulteration of whole foods.  The FDA has a classification known as GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe.  They have a list of chemicals and ingredients that are known to be safe and are classified as such.  What nanotechnology is doing is taking and combing elements from the "Periodic Table" to make new substances that can prolong the life of fruits and vegetables or make ketchup come out easier or cake mix pour without lumping.

Because they are using elements deemed safe then the theory is the bi-product would be safe.  So something like nano-titanium dioxide under GRAS would be considered safe.  Andrew Schneider writing for AOL Science reported that "One of the few ingestion studies recently completed was a two-year-long examination of nano-titanium dioxide at UCLA, which showed that the compound caused DNA and chromosome damage after lab animals drank large quantities of the particles in their water."

Yet the IFC is trying to get or might already have this in our food supply.  Why?  Because, it allows the food to have a longer shelf life.  Longer shelf life means a longer time in which to sell the product.  Are we going to have another tobacco fight on our hands?  Where after hundreds of thousands of deaths someone will finally find the memo that states how dangerous this stuff is and how it should not be used.

Nanocoating is being developed in Asia and is sprayed on foods to help them last longer.  The only problem is that it has not been tested at all for possible side affects or adverse reactions to humans.  As complicated as the human body is, shouldn't someone test what these things can do to our organs or cells or what the heck how about the double-helix?  The British House of Lords conducted a study and found the technology is already in salad dressings, diet drinks, sauces, boxed cakes and so on. So it is already in foods in United Kingdom.  Do you believe its not here now?   I urge you to follow the link above and read Andrew Schneider's three part article to really get the full picture.

In the mean time BUY LOCAL- Support a local farm to support your health 

 

 
 

Luxury Camping? I can't argue any different

It seems that each fall the farm house experiences a different plague of insects.  They find their way thru cracks and openings missed by caulking and created by the year’s weather.  We've had repeats don't get me wrong like flies and lady bugs but this years invader takes all prizes.  When you live in a brick house that is over a hundred and seventy years old there are bound to be some unseen hard to reach openings.  For the insect population however, it is not so hard to find.

The second year we lived on the farm we had a ton of flies that summer.  We hadn't added animals yet and we never figured out why, but we did.  I got the brilliant idea at the farm store to purchase a fly bag,” Guaranteed to trap 50,000 flies".  Which in fact is hard to tell because I was not about to open it up and count, once it got full.  What stunned us though were the words missing on the bag itself.  They said “bag holds 50,000 flies,"  okay lets say that is true.  But, it should have said  "bag holds 50,000 flies out of the 200,000 flies it attracts".   But it didn’t and we learned the hard way.  To add insult to injury we hung the bag fifty feet from the house.  We didn't realize our mistake until one night when we were getting ready for bed.

We had our first fire of the season that night in the down stairs kitchen.  The flue of the kitchen fireplace runs up through the master bedroom, inside the house, and out the roof.  Apparently during the early part of the fall the flies that didn't go into the trap worked they way into the bricks of the chimney.  When the chimney started to get hot they started to work their way out.  Not outside out but out and into the master bedroom.  It was disgusting, just a nightmare of flies buzzing around and landing everywhere.  We had piles and piles of dead flies by the attic windows.

Sleeping in the room that night was out of the question. We did find where the flies were getting in to the master bedroom and it was the intersection of the roof line and chimney.  That night I sealed the inside and it seemed to stop the influx.  Of course what was already in the house was something straight out of a horror movie.  The next day was spent vacuuming the inside and caulking the outside and eventually we got the whole house pointed up.

But each fall seems to bring some pest or another the worst of which has to be this falls marmorated brown stink bug.   According to Penn State they were found in Allentown in 1998 and come from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.  They are called stink bugs because of their defense mechanism.  Which much like a skunk is used when they are frightened or get crushed.  It is not a pleasant smell and although it is a small bug the smell far exceeds the size of the carrier.  They are considered a "cat facing" insect.  Meaning when they attack vegetable plants the resulting damage creates cat facing on the vegetable.  They have no known predators so we are left with lures and traps to control their presence.

Usually by this time in the winter what has come in has died off.  Not these bugs, they just keep multiplying.  From what we’ve learned we have to wait until spring, when the bugs work their way outside, in order to caulk and seal openings.  Caulking now will just keep them inside.  Although they are small when they fly the sound of there wings is distinct and loud.   You hear them flying by and they land with a thud.  It is like they haven’t quite figured out how to land gracefully.    

Yet each year we endure, my wife gets the vacuum and I just pass through the house with a paper bag and fill it with ones that I see.  In the mean time we start to plan for 2010’s garden and figure out what we are going to add to our existing stock of fruits.  This summer will be the summer of caulking, filling cracks and sealing crevasses’ and closing all the nooks and crannies we can find. So my wife still refers to our house as luxury camping and I can’t argue any different.  

Buy Local - From a farmer you know and trust, not a chain profiting off the concept

 
 

How to survive 6 feet of snow when you are use to 2 inches

I feel like Burl Ives as the snowman when he opens up Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  The storms that blew in the past couple of weeks were of mythic proportions.  Snow plows were called back in and drifts got as high as six feet.   I’ve read some stories on here that made me cringe with what people have had to do in order to keep livestock alive and somewhat comfortable up north and mid-west. 

You have to understand in Maryland snow is somewhat of a novelty.  It happens occasionally and sometimes we might get a whopping six inches, which will take us days to get out from.  But, for the most part we have mild winters.  This year however, has proven the exception is sometimes the rule.

It started in September, when my wife read a long range ACCU-Weather forecast.  According to the document, Maryland was in for one of its worst winters in recent history.  “Should we stock up on dry goods,” I asked skeptically.   Only to be subjected to an evil stare.  “Okay, smarty, but we’ll have to see what comes of it”.  Famous last words and just two mere weeks ago (in August) we were looking forward to winter.

Those were the good old days, not only have we gotten snow falls but the number of snow falls have increased this year along with the total amount.  It started in November and has not let up.  So the big two and a half foot snow fall that came in February hit us pretty hard.  We had a hard time walking out to the barn.  What usually takes a minute took forty-five minutes to dig our way to the building.  Once we made it to the barn we had to dig the front and back barn doors open.  When I got the tractor started (I had already put the snowplow on) I let it warm up and assessed the situation.

We had already setup the electric and run cables to all the chicken houses.  We had purchased outside junction boxes to plug extension cords in and then run lines to the houses.   We have a forty-six horse power John Deere tractor, which has served us well for the past nine years.  Never in that time did I experience what I was about to face.  The tractor has four-wheel drive and slip differential.  It is equipped for this type of work.  Just not the height of snow we got.  By the time the second blizzard hit the tractor was used more as a battering ram then a snow plow.  I would have taken the blow off and put the bucket on but we couldn’t find the bucket buried under the snow.

I spent a total of fifteen hours on that tractor in the combined snow falls in those seven days.  I was bounced and jostled and at times looked like I was riding a bucking bronco.  My saving grace was the seat belt and roll bar.  By the end of each day the aches and pains made it seem like I was boxing.  Every joint and muscle tissue was screaming at me.

The morning after the first blizzard I pulled the tractor out of the barn and went were the snow would let me.  I couldn’t put the plow down because the tractor would quickly come to a stop from the snow.  I drove where the snow was lowest and tried to get to the driveway and the house.  Try to picture this; we have roughly forty tillable acres of land.  Now on that forty acres of land and under three feet of snow is a little four inch by four inch square that has three electrical outlets.   These outlets serve the hen houses, keeping the water from freezing and providing heat in the sub-freezing temperatures.  

Most of you already know where this is heading and yes out of forty acres covered in three feet of snow I was able to find the electrical junction box with the back tire of the tractor.  It gets better, as I was putting the tractor away for the day I decided to plow around the back of the barn. Hoping I could eliminate the slope that almost tipped the tractor over I started moving snow.  I don’t think of these things until it is too late, but we had power running from the barn to the electrical junction box.  What damage I did to the box paled in comparison to how I plowed the electric cord in half.  After seeing the orange cord lying in a field of white I realized what I did.  Sitting on the tractor after about nine hours of playing bucking bronco, I now had to string new electric to a new junction box, under three feet of snow.  Good thing I ran over the junction box with the tractor and compact the snow into a brick.  Anyone could have followed the cord through soft fluffy snow.  I just can’t win, worse yet I’m standing in sub-freezing temperatures steam pouring out the top of my hat.

I had to trace from the break to the smashed junction box.  All in all it took me another hour to get electricity back to the houses.  By the end of the first day I was exhausted, my poor wife didn’t fair any better.  She shoveled around the houses trying to give the birds some room to roam.  I know technically they are free range, but are they really if all they have is snow to walk on? 

By the time the second storm hit and dropped another two feet of snow we hadn’t really recovered from the first.  We had drifts as high as five feet in some places and other areas looked like they were never touched.  As I was walking out to the barn that evening I fell and when I fell I was completely covered in snow and I couldn’t get up.  No problem, last I looked my wife was coming behind, I thought, so I can use her to get up.  I turned back and didn’t see anything because of the snow.  I stuck my hand up and waved, lifted up on my knees I could see just over the snow edge.  No one was coming and I couldn’t see her anywhere.  Trying my best was not making it.  I would start to get up only to have my low center of gravity work against me.   I was closer to the barn and decided to crawl there.  I had a thought, “I am not calling 911 to have someone come and pick me up.” 

I started crawling towards the barn door, as I got close I felt a large block of compacted snow from the first blizzard.  I lifted myself up and triumphantly rose to my feet and raised my arms in the typical Rocky pose.  I turned around to see my wife staring at me with a look I’ve seen many times.  I was completely covered in snow and what facial features were showing was covered too.  I explained my glee at not having to call the fire department and in her inimitable fashion she patted me on the back and asked if I was ready to continue.  “I had a near death experience,” I explained to her, shouldn’t I be allowed to go back inside and collect myself first?  After a brief chuckle we both headed back to barn to redo everything we had done the day before. 

 We had some damage but not much and did lose one chicken so we got away pretty lucky compared to others.  Snows have melted and I have seen the first peak of strawberry plant coming out of the burlap covering.  I’m starting to get a stronger feeling of anticipation and I’m getting ready to hook the tiller up.  The plans have been set and communicated to our customers.

We’ll hold interviews this coming weekend and decide who will make up this years team.  The days are getting longer and the chickens a little harder to get in at night.  But it seems that things are once again starting to fall into place.

 

Support Local Agriculture – Find a local farm around you and go take a visit.  Someone will be grateful to see you!!

 
 

Atrazine and other Endocrine Disruptors

There was a study recently linking Atrazine to the castration and feminization of frogs in test labs.  Atrazine is used primarially in weed control applications by industrial farms and other large operations.  The San Fransico Chronicle wrote about the affects that Atrizine is having on the environment.  The study was conducted at UC Berkley and is being published in the "Proceddings of the National Academy of Sciences".

As you would expect the maker of the weed suprresant is fighting the study and pointing to every flaw they can find.  Interestingly, the author of the study worked for the maker years before but was dismissed when his findings showed Atrazine to be a possible endocrine disruptor.  Remember our feminized bass, they are a prime example of what an endocrine disruptor can do. 

The endocrine system regulates hormones like testostorone and estrogen.  Any wonder the frogs are becoming feminized and worse castrated by levels of Atrazine?  I can't make this stuff up, yet we sit blindly by while trace amounts of chemicals are allowed in our food supply.  Relying on scientific data that at best is funded from special interests.

Am I missing something, is it that we'll die off and be replaced by other spenders and that is why killing us to make a profit is okay.  I know the Supreme Court rules for the Corporations not for the individuals.  Look at their decisions over years.  The majority of decisions are against the common man.  Why would we expect the FDA to crack down on the use of endocrine disruptors.  Things have to get out of control like Thalidimide, DDT, Bisphenol A (plastsic containers) and Phthalates(cosmetics),  before we are protected from those that seek profit no matter the outcome.

If this is happening to the frogs then what is happening to the humans that have to work around the stuff and ingest trace amounts.  Besides that what is the shelf life of this stuff?  My bet is you just can't wash it away.  If you could then it wouldn't be affective in the rain and you can't have that.  It has to be able to withstand water in order to be affective in the field right?.

Twenty years ago we started growing organic because I didn't like all the chemicals being used.  Relatively speaking it was benign back then compared to what todays consumers are facing.  God help us all, because no one in charge seems to care enough to stop the chemical jugrnuat.

 

Buy Local- Save a frog, a bass and your own environment by doing so

 
 

The Egg

The Egg,

We’ve only been raising Rhode Island Red hens for the past four years.  In that time we’ve harvested close to ten thousand eggs.  Some eggs are perfect in shape, size and look.  Smooth brown shells, no blemishes, no extra calcium, no spots.  Just beautiful looking eggs if I say so myself.  We’ve learned that as a hen gets older the eggs she lays gets bigger.

Flock three has been laying almost five months now.  Out of the twenty-five hens in flock three we get anywhere between eighteen and twenty-four a day.  The eggs weigh out between twenty-seven and thirty-one ounces a dozen, which is extra large and jumbo respectively.  It seems that they are laying bigger eggs sooner then the other two flocks but that is more observation then quantitative analysis. 

We’ve had a hard winter this year with upwards of sixty some inches of snow and did suffer the loss of one of our oldest hens, Gladys.  We called her Gladys Kravits for Bewitch’s neighbor.  She was always in every body's business and starting trouble.  When a new hen was introduced it was Gladys that tried to enforce the pecking order.  But, she had her special side.

We have a customer that has a child with autism, one day when they were here I asked if David wanted to walk over to the pen to see the chickens.  Once there I asked his dad if he wanted me to pick one up so David could see it closer.  I got to the pen and Gladys was near by.  I picked her up and walked over to David and his dad.  I asked if he would like to touch her.    His father said he wouldn’t but it was a nice gesture on my part. 

He then asked David if he would like to touch Gladys.  I was holding her a safe distance from them.  Much to his dad’s surprise, David stuck out his little hand and I brought Gladys in closer.  He touched her head with his finger.  She put her head down some and he touched her again.  She would let you pick her up and pet her without squawking or making a fuss.  Much to his parents surprise Gladys was the first animal that their son touched and actually petted.  Each week when they came back I made a point to take father and son to wherever Gladys was.  Once in the pen I’d pick her up and David would pet her.  I was just amazed at her, each time she would do this and never did David get scared.  She will be missed.  

With all this snow, we had to shovel around the houses so the hens could get out.  They can get cabin fever too.  We laid down pine shavings so they’d have traction and some protection for their feet.  We put heat lamps inside the houses so they get some warmth at night and that seems to have helped tremendously.  They get let out of the houses everyday and closed back up at night.  A lot of times they will not come out unless the sun is out, their no dummies.  Flock three, on the other hand, is in a converted horse trailer and no matter the weather they come out, it must be youth. 

So out of ten thousand eggs we’ve seen some anomalies; like extra swirls on the shell, knots, spots, soft white in color, no shell at all, odd shapes like ovals and points on both ends, different shades of brown you name it, we’ve seen it.  Sticking your hand into the nest is always an adventure when collecting eggs.  Sometimes you get a soft surprise others are just to gross to describe.  Just recently I was collecting eggs when I felt a large egg.  It was dark out so I couldn't really see the size of the egg but by its heft and girth it had to be the mother of all eggs.  That egg was huge.  I mean off the charts huge.  The amount of space it took up in the palm of my hand was incredible.  I ended up cutting a hole in the box to close the lid of the egg carton.  We took it on the road showing anybody interested and eventually sold it to a long time customer.  We took a picture of the egg with eleven other jumbo eggs (below).  

 

We can't take any credit other than providing them with a stress free, healthy environment.  They do the rest and I'll let the picture speak for itself.

 

Buy Local - From a farmer you know and trust, not a chain profiting off the concept.

In case you are wondering it was a double yolk.  
 
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