Miolea Organic Farm

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

I grew up in a lower income family; food was purchased based on cost and it was stretched to feed the family.  Add eggs, bread crumbs and milk to ground beef and you’d be surprised at how much meatloaf it would make.  Milk was made with water and some powder from a box.  We were never on food stamps (that I know of) but I do remember big old number ten cans, wrapped in a white label, with the words peanut butter in big bold black ink. Or white boxes with cheddar cheese typed on the outsides in that same bold type face.

I don’t delude myself; I know that people have to make food purchases based on available funds.  Ray Wickline of Blue Faerie Farm wrote that he’d like to develop a model that would allow the poorest of us to purchase safe healthy foods yet let the farmer still make a profit.  That is a great idea that could benefit the health of society.  

You cannot stay in business if you don’t make a profit, unless you are major banks and insurance companies.  It is something that small farmers deal with all the time.  This past October when we compared organic chicken feed costs to egg sales we came out four dollars to the good for the month.  Feed versus Revenue was the profit loss evaluation.  It did not take into account: labor, water, housing, grasses, electricity, cartons, and labels, other overhead or medical supplies.  Just feed costs versus eggs sold and we sold all the eggs produced or at least 98 percent of them.  It is a depressing realization that all your efforts ended up in a net loss and that I couldn’t price my eggs to make a decent profit.  This is just one of many illustrations of why sustainable farming is so hard and why education and local support is needed. 

Some customers are not aware of what organic seed costs, or what it takes to make the soil nutrient’s correct.  Or that you had to purchase special insects that eat the insects that are eating your vegetables.  No thought of what it takes to keep weed pressures at bay long enough so that the actual plant could get the nutrients out of the ground.  What local sustainable farmers do is make the food safer to eat and the soil and water safer for wildlife and humans.  No matter the species or type of creature everything benefits from sustainable farming practices.

Organic does cost more because there is more involved with protecting and using natural resources.  What would be the cost of food, which comes from IFC, if its price included the cleanup of the environment caused by the industrial farming practices they use?  Think Atrazine.   

We are organic not because of regulations but because we don't want to be poisoned when we eat.  It always struck me odd that we were eating vegetables to make us healthy but that we were ingesting "trace amounts" of chemicals.  When it comes to growing food we exceed regulations in all aspects of our activity.  Whether it is raising chickens or vegetables, organic and sustainable practices benefits all of us and those of us to come.   We will leave this earth knowing that we helped future generations.  We will not be rich from a materialistic stand point but from knowing we did the right thing for the right reasons.  

We set our prices so you can afford it and we can make a small profit.  Sometimes that actually happens, not often but I’d rather more people eat healthy and safely than us make a large profit off of a few affluent people.

Buy Local:  From a sustainable farm not a chain shipping local fruits from Ecuador

 
 

You want how much for these?

I was on a local NPR affiliate, on the "Farm to Fork" movement taking place.  It is part of the whole buy local, support family farms and sustainable farm practices effort happening all across North and South America and European countries.  We were in studio because I had written to the local paper in response to an article about local farm produce prices. 

During a break in the show a question was asked about the general demographics of our customers.  At the farm we’ve found consumers to be in two groups:  those that want to buy local and those that look solely at the price.  In other words you get people who buy food for its nutritional value, freshness and safety.  Then there are those that buy based on what they perceive as a fair amount for the commodity.  From what we have observed this attitude cuts a cross socio-economic and educational lines. 

I’ve gotten price grumblings from people who I know make over $100K a year and from people that work in some of the lowest paying jobs.  A couple of years ago, we were selling certified organic tomatoes, two for a dollar.  Closing time came and we were packing up when this man stopped by our truck.  He was in a brand new convertible Cadillac.  He was a gray haired gentleman with gold chains around his neck, gold rings on his fingers and a diamond pinky ring.  I had a bag of six tomatoes and he asked "how much?” I wanted to get rid of them so I said “two bucks”.  He then said "how bout one-fifty".  I took the bag back from him and said have a nice day.   Okay, stop right now.  Fight your urge to write me to say the ability to haggle goes back to early homosapiens, I understand that.  From a market farmers view point in order to grow and produce fruits and vegetables there is no haggling.   

Capitalism and sustainable farming are two beliefs that are not mutually exclusive.  As a person that grows fruits and, vegetables and raises animals in such a way that it benefits the environment, there is no bargaining for us.  I don't try to cut corners in order to benefit the cash-flow of the enterprise.   When it comes to being a humane farm there is no wiggle room.  Growing organic fruits, vegetables and eggs is not a negotiable process. 

We set prices based on national databases, local supermarket prices and what costs we have incurred.  The sad truth is, as farmers we all face this behavior at the market, which brings me to education.  The more we can educate consumers about the benefits of sustainable farming practices to them, their children, and their children’s children the more they understand why long term support of local sustainable agriculture is needed. 

The cost to fix the environment from documented damage being done, using industrial farm practices, never gets added into the price of the product the Industrial Food Complex (IFC) sells to us.  But think about it?  Who steps in to say, wait a minute male bass are starting to exhibit female tendencies? Who does pay for the cleanup of the coastal waterways and our tributaries?    I’m not saying that the IFC are the only polluters but they are at least part of the problem (think Endocrine Disruptors and atrazine). 

The cost of environmental sustainability is in the price of the food organic farmers sell.  We are not poisoning the soil and water table but just the opposite.  We are benefiting nature by adding to the poly-culture that Mother Nature intended.  If I can get a person on the farm and give them a tour they get to see the benefits that sustainable practices bring.  It is that simple, they see what you are talking about, they get to look at the poly-culture all around them and understand how green manure and resting, replenishes soils and nutrients.  They will also complain about the amount of bugs flying around their heads.  But, they’ll see the birds, the bees and other wildlife and we’ll explain these are good things.  That this is Mother Nature’s way of telling us what we are doing is benefiting the ecology. 

At the radio station, I knew what the person was getting at, with the question, that people of means and education would be the ones wanting the safest, healthiest and freshest food at their disposal.  Being educated, they would know about CAFO’s and the Industrial Food Complex’s profit driven decision making that puts the food supply and our natural environment in danger.  So the more affluent and well educated would be more inclined to purchase from a local farmer regardless of cost.

It's not quite like that entirely.  More people are becoming aware of what is at risk (and its them they find out) when food borne illness breaks out.  I think because of the frequency of events more people are questioning safety which drives them to make safer choices.  Have we had a recall from a local butcher or local fruit and vegetable farms?

We encourage people to taste the difference.  The best way is the blind taste tests.  With all things being equal, people will gravitate towards what tastes best to them.  What tastes better, a store bought tomato or one from your garden or a local farm?  You can’t taste vitamin content or micro nutrients or the fact that there are trace residues of carcinogenic chemicals.  The only thing you know is what your palate tells you.  One food is going to taste better than the other and that food happens to be the safest for you to eat and for us to grow and the earth to produce. 

Buy Local: From a farmer that you visited, know and can trust

 

 
 

What's the etiquette on milking another man's cow?

Okay, so I grew up in the city and did not learn all the ways of farm life.  Like farm jargon, every job or career has jargon.  I was listening to my nephews who are Marines at Easter.  One is deploying while the other has already served a tour.  I stopped asking what they were saying after about five minutes.  Nothing had a name they spoke acronyms interspersed with articles and prepositions. 

Being no exception farming has its share of jargon.  So steers, bull, calf, heifer, weaning, culled, dressed etc., was jargon I’m still getting use to.  I learned farm etiquette mostly from Joel Salatin but he didn’t say anything about asking to milk a farmer’s cow.

Let me save you time, embarrassment and maybe a little anger directed towards you.  If you are on a dairy farm and the farmer asks you if you’d like to milk a cow, by all means.  Milk the cow.  If you are on a dairy farm and you ask to milk a cow you might get the treat of being able to do it.  However, with health code related reasons you might not get that chance.

Now if you are on a beef farm and the farmer has a milking cow and that cow happens to be from a prized blood line of Guernsey’s think twice.  Think, how much do you truly know this farmer?  Ask yourself, how much does he or she truly know me?  Have you been dealing with each other for awhile or is this a new relationship?  How often do you visit the farm and once there how long do you stay?  These are all questions you want to ask yourself before even remotely thinking of uttering the question.

There is a bond between a farmer and his dairy cow particularly if it is his only one and she happens to be pregnant.  There is a ritual that takes place at least once a day if not twice and that is milking her.  Guernsey’s are known for their golden, nutrient rich milk.  Some will say there is no better tasting milk then a Guernsey.  I can’t judge I do know it makes great ice-cream because I’ve made it.

I’d have to say Dan is one of most genial, pleasant, honest,  willing to help others and accommodating as much as possible.  But I learned that there are some things that push his buttons.  I’m comfortable with my ignorance around Dan.  He knows I am from the city so he takes his jabs now and then but he is helpful. We were out in his field and he was showing me the new baby cow his Guernsey Lexus had.  There is some jargon word for baby cow, I’ll have to look it up.

We are standing out in the field it’s a hot summer day and I hear water running.  Dan's talking and this flowing water is distracting me.  He's talking about the baby and finally I said “Dan, it sounds like you have water just gushing out from the feeder”.  He looks at me instead of where the sound was coming from.  He just grinned and said, “You ain’t seen a cow pee before have ya?”

Well, no I had not seen a cow pee before but, I didn’t really have to answer him.  The answer was in the last statement I had just made.  I shrugged my shoulders, put my arms up and said “well what can I say.”  I mean if you haven’t seen one when you do you don’t believe that; a. that much water is coming out and b. the duration is as long as it is.  I swear learning is great.

Well I got pretty comfortable with Dan and I can ask him any question and he being a farmer his whole life he gives me a straight answer.  He puts up a lot with my questions so I try not to impinge on his time and whenever he calls for help I answer.  Course him being an old farmer he doesn't call.

So last year I got it in my head that I’d like to try and milk a cow.  I’d never done it before and figured it would be part of my learning experience.  I have to admit, I didn’t take into account the man’s bond with his prized Guernsey.  We were on the phone making arrangements, I was coming over for chicken feed and I had asked how the cow and her 3 month old calf were, and if he had milked the mother.  “No,” he said. So I just threw the question out there and asked if I could milk the cow.  Dead silence on the phone.  “Oh, okay” he said followed by “I gotta go. I'll let you know”  I didn’t see Dan for about three weeks after we hung up.

When we went to pick up the layer mash, Harvey, the farm hand, was there to collect the check.  The next time I did see Dan not a word was spoken about Lexus or her milk, or her calf.   I figured I crossed the line and left it at that.  There was awkwardness between us for quite awhile.  I guess he is still afraid I might ask him if I can milk her again.  I’m not, I understand now, the non-verbal queue was not that hard to pick up. 

So before you ask a farmer if you can milk his or her cow, make sure you know how they feel about other people touching their prized possession. 

Buy Local – From some one who is treating the earth kindly while growing 

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