Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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You can never have enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Can Always Use the Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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