Miolea Organic Farm

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

Our operation is small and we have never had an instance or a concern about food safety.  Being germ-phobic has not hurt us either.  However, we recently received our GAP certification.  GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices.  It is all about food safety and cross contamination.  Being certified organic I shunned being certified GAP I felt we already exceeded the regulations.  I ask people when was the last time you heard of a small farm or local butcher having to recall their products.

Having taken the course I now see the value the information has to all farms, not just small but especially large.  I was in the process of writing our GAP plan.  One of the documents in the plan is a Hazard Mitigation matrix.  The matrix contained all potential hazards, how to identify them, and the mitigation of the hazard once discovered.  I am a contingency planner, so I listed all the possible hazards we face from growing, harvesting, shipping and delivery.  I was running out of ideas so I put "A human defecates in the field,” Then I addressed the mitigation and actions to be taken if there was an occurrence.

Having exhausted every hazard, I could think of, I felt proud and wanted my wife to review my marvelous work.  Upon reading the human defecation hazard, I was chided and I think the comment was "Oh come one, it’s a little overboard, don't ya think?”  I admitted it might be but in the realm of possibility, it was possible.  No matter it was taken out.

Not long after we got our GAP packet from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, there were forms and signs inside and low and behold one sign shows a person squatting in a field, pants around their knees and the international NO sign covers him.  It still brings a smile and little chuckle when I think about it, however, it is real and it is a problem.  We are too small but I can imagine on larger operations it happens. 

There are regulations about how far away a bathroom is from the fieldwork, what a proper hand-washing station is and how long you need to wash your hands and safely disinfect them.  There are regulations about hand washing and packaging area's, break rooms, refrigerator temperatures, co-mingling and many others.  Five logs require data on a daily basis, from cleaning bathrooms to cleaning the delivery truck all in an effort to make the food supply safe.  I cannot find fault with that, no one should die from ingesting spinach, tomatoes or cantaloupes.  I am glad we took that extra step to get GAP certified. .

Each season brings a Farm Safety talk and walk through of the medical kits and fire extinguishers.  Last year one of the folks pointed out that one of our medical kits was Tim Allen’s’ “Tool Time Safety Kit”.  The TV show Tool Time started in 1991.  Given that some of the folks we had working for us were not even born at the time, it was decided we needed to purchase a new medical kit.  Who knew medical kits expire. Farm safety is the number one priority on our farm and everyone is trained on how to properly and safely operate tools, vehicles and equipment.  You must pass my test before you get to use a potentially dangerous object.

We have an extensive medical supply kit in the house.  Given my propensity to cut, scrape, bang, twist, burn, jab, stick, and generally wound myself while working that we have accumulated enough medical supplies to handle most types of small injuries. 

Now along with farm safety reviews, we have incorporated GAP training with the same emphasis.

Buy Local:  You have to search but the journey is worth the destination when you find the right one.



Farming Dangers Redux

Farming seems like an innocuous occupation, I think most people are surprised to hear how dangerous farming really can be.  USDA census reports point out just how bad the percentages are per capita and it is not good.  ABC did a study and found farming was the 5th dangerous job to have in the US.   I’ve experienced the dangers first hand.

At the beginning of the growing season we spend most of orientation day on farm safety and personal safety.   The staff learns about hydration and sun protection, as well as, the obvious dangers inherited with the equipment we use.  They must learn and are tested on the symptoms of heat stress and heat stroke.  Then there are the daily reminders, before each task begins, of what dangers they face doing that task. 

Knowing how we feel when we lose an animal, having one of our workers get hurt would simply be devastating.  When I had to take my wife to the hospital last year to get her ear sewed up I was sick for days.  I didn’t eat, had trouble sleeping and was just miserable (see Dangers of Farming).

Injury is just not worth the price even though what we do is good for the earth, people and animals.  Someone getting hurt over this activity is unacceptable.  Growing vegetables should not be a life or death activity.  Yet, the specter is always there and we try to be aware as much as possible.

This year I learned that danger comes in unknown forms and in an instant.  You might think you know how to safely operate heavy equipment, or chain saws or any number of other deadly mechanized tools but sometimes danger comes from a completely different realm that was not anticipated or counted on.

We are very safe when people are on the grounds; we had a Daisy Scout troop visit the other day.  They were young and excited about being on a farm and learning about the chickens and bees and good bugs versus bad bugs.  We were prepared for their arrival; we had honey so they could see and taste what the bees produce and we would show them the hens and the eggs.  With all those plans we forgot one issue.

It was a dark drizzly day when they arrived.  We had to wait for one of the moms to get there so we hadn’t yet established control of the group.  Much to my horror I see ten of the girls heading towards one of the hen houses and close to the electrified fence. Of course the fence was on and ready to shock any little wet hand that would come in contact with it.

A couple of days prior to the Daisy Scouts, our bee guy, Mike, was there to do maintenance on the bees.  He has to move the hives in order for us to put up a high-tunnel.  I went out to give him some locations to consider when moving the hives.  I was about thirty yards from him when he looked up and saw me.  “You must be brave,” Mike said to me.  Some bees had already landed on my face but I wasn’t moving and I had my eyes shut and head down. “Or stupid,” I said in return and then all hell broke lose.   Just the words were enough to set the bees off.  I was stung at least six times in the right eye lid, five times on the left side of the neck and six times on the right side of my neck behind my ear.  I took off running for my life, as I rounded the barn, my wife seeing what was going on, started putting up the window in the car. 

We were going out to eat and I was only going to be a minute so she was waiting for me.  I jumped in and didn’t bring any bees with me.  We sat there.  I pulled a group of four stingers out of my eye lid.  There was a dark blue spot where the stingers landed.  My wife got another two from the same eye lid and some from my neck behind the ears.  Mike came over apologizing because that’s the kind of guy he is, it wasn’t his fault but he felt bad.  I shook it off and said we can discuss locations later.

Then I made the second mistake of the night.  Instead of going in the house, icing the stings and pulling the remaining stingers we went out to eat.  As a male I have this gene that doesn’t allow me to seek medical attention unless something is hanging off or I am not strong enough to get out of bed.  The gene is called something like avoidprofessionalattention chromosome or something close to that, I don’t know.  I just know males are afflicted with it.

We are eating dinner and my right eye is swelling shut.  By the time we finished dinner my eye, the top part of my cheek and the skin behind my ears were swollen.  I don’t have movie star looks by any measure and these new features weren't getting me any closer.  When we got home I put ice on my eye and neck.

The Daisy Scouts were coming in a few days and the local paper was coming the next day to take my photograph, for a story on the new farmer’s market opening.  Sun glasses were the order of the day.  The picture for the paper turned out fine and by the time the Girl Scouts arrived for there educational tour I had only discoloration around the eye, with most of the swelling gone.

They arrived in drizzling weather with gray skies.  The Scouts were excited about the hens and wanted to get a closer look.  I don’t remember what I was doing but I turned and saw them standing by the fence. “WAIT, DO NOT TOUCH THE FENCE,” I yelled in as stern a voice I could muster.  I kept repeating the phrase as I ran to turn the battery off.

No one touched the fence and when the last Scout arrived everyone learned about worms, bees, lady bugs and what a vegetable farm grows.  The baby hens and honey were a big hit as was the mesclun mix. Yes mesclun mix.

On a farm, danger is all around and in many forms.  Sometimes something as simple as bee other times the slope of a hill.  The work is hard enough and fatigue plays a big factor in safety.  So we are ever mindful of the gift we have been given and make sure safety comes first.  We just want to make sure everyone is around to work hard the next day.

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