Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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In the blink of an eye

I stare at a white empty background and I think what pearl of wisdom can I impart to help those that are beginning the journey, in which, we have vested seven years of our life?  We are ending our seventh season and it does not look good from a financial standpoint.  We might break even this year, we did not purchase any high dollar items but we did incur startup costs for the broilers.

The broilers are another issue that will be dealt with, and my suspicion is that we are not going to be raising organic broilers next year.  We are looking into contracting out our grow services because we can sell live chickens.  We just cannot sell chickens processed by a USDA inspected exempt facility.  For some odd reason we need to be part of the slaughter or it does not count.  I know each step of the way I have fought the raising and processing of animals, so this might be one of those signs.  Like when you smell propane gas when you should not be smelling propane. 

Before we purchased the flame weeder, as with most things, I did my homework to find out the positive and negatives associated with the decision.  Later on, I was at a graduation party and happened to be talking to an occupational safety researcher.  She is a MD, doing research for the University of Maryland Medical School. 

Knowing my background she asked what kind of mosquitoes lived in Maryland, "I do not know, but I can find out and get back to you," I replied.  Then I asked her why, "I want to buy lore and trap because they are so bad at my house".  I had already purchased my own mosquito catcher and it used a propane tank with lore.  Her reply was a wake up call.  "There is no way I am getting anything using propane.  It is just too dangerous and I'm not taking the risk".

Mind you, I had already bought the flame weeder and backpack in which to carry the tank, "Backpack," being the proximity of the propane tank to my body.  We went on to talk about other things and I told her I would find out about the mosquito and send her an email.  Her words bothered me given her occupation and extensive knowledge of work place injuries.  Once again, one of those signs that makes you pay attention and rethink your original opinion and facts.

I renewed my research of propane but focused mainly on explosions and deaths.  I know it sounds morbid but "fore warned, is fore armed,” if we had not tamed fire where would we be today?  I found websites (.edu, .org, .net and .com) that actually tracks instances of propane deaths caused by explosions.  What I found was that you need three things for an explosion to occur.  One is a leak from the propane apparatus, two is confined or un-ventilated space and three is a spark or flame.  When those things occur simultaneously, you get an explosion.  Okay, I felt a little less anxious because I knew the formula. 

Before each use of the flame weeder, I smell the connections to make sure there is no leak.  There is a regulator between the tank and the flame wand, if a leak would occur it would be around there or in the hose itself.  The tank is always in the on position, I know I should turn it off, in between uses, but I do not.  I am lazy, I use to turn it off each time when put away, and then by the time I lifted the fifty-pound pack onto my back to use it I would find out I had not turned it on.  After a couple of times doing this instead of making sure to turn it on before I lifted it, I just left it on.  Strike one for safely staying alive.

The tank is stored in the dairy barn so a leak would dissipate into the upper floors and the rest of the barn area.  If there were a leak, as soon as you opened a door, you would smell the propane.  Because of the cavernous area of barn space, the propane would not be so concentrated that a spark could set a leak off.  Saturday, I went into the barn to get the weeder, smelled it, put it on and started to weed around the gardens.  Every so often I would get a whiff of propane, I thought maybe what I was smelling was excess gas that did not ignite as it came out of the flame end.  Strike two for safely staying alive.

Only by the grace of God, am I here to write this brief tome.  I had the volume of gas output high because I was killing substantial weed stands.  As I was weeding, I noticed a chicken had gotten out of its pen; I turned the weeder flame off, and walked to the garage to get Coadee.  As I took the backpack off I got the nasty smell of propane, I did not need to get close to the regulator, it was hissing and the smell was overwhelming.  The first thing I did was to turn the tank off by the valve.  Second, I gently picked everything up so that I would not hit metal to metal or create any kind of spark or static charge.  I took the tank out and away from the house, placed on the ground and went to get Coadee to corral the arrant chicken. 

As we were going to get the chicken I started to feel nauseated, my knees were knocking, my muscles felt like rubber and I just became exhausted.  I realized how I had just cheated death and my mind was reeling.  Coadee got the chicken and I put her back in the pen.  Regulators go bad for lots of reasons and I do not know why this one did.  I had to replace the regulator before because I dropped it and it broke.  When I replaced the first regulator, I purchased three regulators.  My train of thought is if it broke once, chances are it is going to break again.  Therefore, I was able to replace the regulator and fix the leak.  I did not use it again that day but I will be used again.

So today’s pearl is peril, attention to detail, stick with what you have learned and do not rationalize for the sake of laziness or time.  There are only so many times you can get away with stupid mistakes before you pay the ultimate price in the blink of an eye.

The Cause continues, if you have not already; please go to http://www.savenicksorganicfarm.org/  to help save Nick's organic farm.  You do not have to give money if you can't, but just spend a little time to make your voice heard.  You don't have to live in Maryland to be concerned about losing another farm, let alone a thirty year old plot of organic land.  No Farms, No Food.   



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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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 



The Dangers of Farming

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To wash or not to wash?

When a chicken lays an egg the shell is covered with a protein outer covering known as the "bloom".  The bloom quickly dries and seals the egg from pathogens from the outside world.  This is a good thing especially if the egg is going to be incubated or remain fresh.  Because the egg is sealed nothing penetrates the shell and gets into the inner part.  However, before you sell them you must wash the bloom off.

The logical question that comes to mind is why do we have to wash the egg's protection off creating a permeable shell?  If the bloom keeps pathogens out of the albumen (white) and yolk why would we remove that protected coating?  Not only does it keep things out it also does not allow the inside to dry out, keeping the egg fresher longer.  A commercial egg left in the refrigerator will slowly dry from the inside.  It will also absorb the odors that are in the ice box too.

An egg that has not been washed can remain unrefrigerated for up to three months.  Wash the bloom off and the egg cannot last a day with temperatures above 45 degrees before it starts to develop salmonella and other bacteria harmful to the digestive tract.

There has been a fight to get egg producers to date stamp individual eggs, this is required in the UK but not herein the US.  I saw a news show awhile back that did an expose on egg producers recycling old unsold eggs back into the food chain.  If you've ever bought a carton of eggs and get them home and crack one open and the white is very cloudy you've probably gotten one.

When you buy a fresh egg the albumen should be clear with the exception of the chalaza.  The chalaza is the strand that anchors the egg to the shell.  This strand will be solid white.  The yolk should be standing tall and proud.  The yolk color from a free range or organic egg will be dark orange, hence the high beta carotene content.   Its commercial counter part will look yellow to pale yellow if it has been recycled.  Because the shell is permeable the egg white can be smaller do to shrinkage and the egg can take on the properties of what it has absorbed.

If eggs were individually date stamped then they couldn't get recycled the way they are doing now, creating a safer egg supply.  Let’s get this straight; people get sick because of bad food in the industrial food supply.  Other people point this out, document the abuses and lobby their leaders for change.  What happens is people with more money hire insiders or just give money directly to campaigns and our leaders end up doing nothing.  Sure there are counter arguments that they will point to and the will of the people is of utmost consideration, they'll say.  Yet this is the same group that says we must wash eggs before we sell them.

Why?  Because we as consumers can't be trusted to safely handle the eggs and we'll contaminate ourselves. In the interest of objectivity an egg does come from the chicken's vent.  The vent is used to expel everything from the chicken.  So the outer shell of the egg is contaminated when it comes out.  This is important to note, the outer shell is contaminated not the inner shell or the albumen or the yolk.

Sometimes our eggs do have particulate matter on them but because of the bloom it does not come in contact with the inside of the egg.  Can an unwashed egg make some one sick if not handled correctly? YES, it can.  Will it make us sick if it is handled properly, NO. Is it hard to safely handle an unwashed egg, no. Wash the egg and your hands before use and your fine.  Chicken itself can cause more cross contamination and illness than a dirty egg but I digress.

I'm sure I'll wrap my head around this someday but until then I'll keep raising chickens for their eggs.  For the record we are a registered egg producer and all the eggs we sell are washed per regulations.  The eggs we keep for ourselves are not. 

Eat safe fresh vegetables purchased from a local farmer, not a chain hard selling that fact.


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