Agropraxis Farm

  (Scotts, Michigan)
A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
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Summer Season

Weather and subtle seasonal changes can be noted on the farm. We had a big overnight storm during last week. It blew hard, rained down hard and left us with dramatically milder weather. The storm left us with power out for 36 hours, enough downed trees and limbs to supply wood burners for at least a season and a bit of damage to some plants. The power meant a generator was needed to water the cattle herd and supply wash water for the vegetables. From warm and humid to cool, dry and sunny was a welcome change. Suddenly the sweat was no longer dripping down my nose or soaking my clothes within 5 minutes.


A nest of barn swallows are nearly ready to fledge. As I enter the barn the parent on duty would swoop at me and sound alarm. Over time the swallows learned my untheartening habits and merely observed from a safe perch. As I exited the barn they would follow and circle a few times before sounding a call I think was an “all clear” and returned to bird calm. I can tell the 3-maybe 4 chicks are almost ready to fledge. Their droppings are growing to a significant pile (I learned last year to be careful not to leave equipment under the nest) and they crowd the nest. Flying lessons soon!


Monster the 18 month old farm cat has become a proficient huntress. Catching mice, voles, and gophers at will. She finds pickings so easy that she offers extras to those of us working on the farm. In return she'll share a cheese snack when offered but swears of all vegetables. Must be a true predator-carnivore!


I started reading a story by a favortie storyteller, Ivan Doig. I liked the description of one of the main characters and identified with the message. Doig wrote that the character had gotten to their place in life by not taking the easy way but by, “..taking the uphill route.” A smile to myself with recognition that life's path is not always one we can plan.


Farmer Pete

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Chnage is Constant

In the 90’s an executive was addressing a workshop at an industry convention. A question about all of the changes in the industry was put forward. The executive had a great answer that has helped me and others. His advice on change had more to do with attitude. The sooner you accept change as a constant the better you’ll be at handling change and preparing for the future. Ever since, change has become a constant. How I handle and adapt to the change is up to me.  

 

This spring has been one of handling and adapting to change. Weather, markets, and economy have had profound impacts. My usual spring work begins when the ground is workable. That didn’t occur till mid-April, a full 2 weeks later than any of the last 12 years. We’ve had major weather systems move through. Before global weirding the systems were more low key. Now they are super systems that rival tropical storms. Hail in April, straight line winds over 60mph, rain at rates that ponds and moves with erosive power. On a regular basis! Keeping row cover over tender crops has been a challenge. One day the winds are 30mph with gusts from one direction then the weather changes and it blows harder from another direction. Yes, I’m adapting as best I can.

 

Keep planting, keep working, the season is not the next few weeks, rather it is months of changing opportunities. Kind of a motto I remind myself of. So resiliency and good work habits have some impact on handling the changes. Thoughtfulness and planning help too. One of our changes was a move to a new facility for our Friday Farmers Market. A Timber Framed Marketplace now houses the market. The market managers work to appease the concerns of the vendors. Of course issues arise, feelings and egos get bruised. I missed the first week with outside obligations. In the last 4 weeks I have been in 3 different locations, had busy weeks and some of the slowest weeks since I’ve been at the market. My satisfaction is a concern of the Market Managers. I’m not sure that they grasp my underlying uneasiness that the change may have had some real positives but also negatives. Vendors increased to 33 from around a stable 20. The increase was all Cottage Food type businesses. The Market now has just 7 farmers. My comment to recruit more (other markets certainly do) farmers brought the response, “Well, we may have to.” The sense of success is tempered with a slow recognition that the foundation of the Farmers Market, farmers offering fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, cheeses and eggs, is being changed to a flea market that has a few desperate farmers trying to unload excess produce. Not a growing market that attracts customers from increasing distances.

 

The natural world has to adapt to the changes or perish. So the adaptability of our pollinators, butterflies and birds are indicating a stressed situation. For a long time this spring the only pollinators observed were the natives. No Apis Mellifera, honey bees. They finally started to be in evidence in early June. They are occasionally seen on the clovers. Occasional observation are also made of Monarch butterflies. A few have visited the Milkweed stands that are preserved in our fields. Only a few….though it was thrill to see a Giant Swallowtail working through the crimson clover last week.  I’m happy to hear the Bobolink adding their song to the Meadowlark and Song Sparrow tunes that create my background symphony on the farm. Change is constant, I hope for the positive kind!

 

Farmer Pete

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What's That Tickle

I felt a tickle on my leg; under my long pants and above my sock line. At first I ignored it. Then something deep in the mind urged action and I pulled up the pant leg. Nothing on the leg… so I continued on, doing absolutely nothing while a soccer Champions League game played out on TV. Then the tickle was felt again just under the knee. Another check and this time a black dot with legs is working its way up my leg through the wool. Yanking and pulling its way upward,,, Yes, ticks are out and about again for the season. A few months of creepy crawlies before their lifecycle leads them to other activity than seeking warm blooded mammals to suck blood from.

 

The spring weather has been relatively good for early field work. Bed prep and some direct seeding have been done. Strawberries look absolutely robust after the winter snow cover. Soil temperatures remain low so no reason to hurry with much other than the truly hearty crops. A few early greens have emerged but growth is barely perceptible with the cold temperatures. To give you an idea about where the seasons’ progress is, we have not had any flowering fruit blossom yet, tulips will flower on time for the first year in many at the Holland Tulip Fest, and the perennial crops of asparagus and rhubarb will be harvested during the traditional May into June time that has crept earlier the last many years.

 

Bird life on the farm has been active. The meadow seems to be sectioned off in tight quadrants by numerous Meadowlarks. They like wooden fence posts as perches and sing their song endlessly. It just happens to be a favorite birdsong along with the crazy jumble of song from the Bobolinks that arrive a bit later in the season, and the deep wood song from the Thrush. When the wind is right and road noise minimal, I can listen and watch the Meadowlarks to distraction. They seem to have a self-conscious streak in them. If I watch too long they seem to feel the gaze and leave the perch for the safety of the tall grasses. So I watch and keep it brief, maybe look away for a while or keep them in the corner of the sight. They seem to sing and perch longer.  The bug eaters are having trouble filling up on the wing so they are less visible than the last few years. Still the Swallows and Bluebirds are seen making flyovers but keep on to other places till more bug life is on the wing.

 

Long range forecasts have us likely lower than normal for the next 90 days. As a CSA farmer it matters little. We grow so many things that a few less peppers or melons are balanced with more peas, spinach, and fewer bolted early season crops. The work continues and the plants keep growing.

Farmer Pete  

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The "Nigh Ox"

Tillers International has a regular newsletter, "The Nigh Ox". Follow the link to look over the Spring edition:

 

 http://www.tillersinternational.org/tillers/news_nighox/NighOxSpring2014.pdf

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Harvests and Spring Work

The certainty of spring and rising soil temperatures has been resoundingly confirmed. So the work of getting the early direct seed crops in has begun. The winter has had mixed impacts on the farm. The blanketing of snow protected the overwintered crops of spinach and parsnips. It also benefitted the strawberries and garlic. Both of those crops are in beautiful condition. We still have plenty of cold weather forecast for the week ahead so transplants will have to hold a bit longer before they take their places in the field.

 

The parsnips were dug a while ago. Not many people have had the opportunity to try this awesome root crop. I see them at the store and it occurs to me that as plain as they appear, it’s no wonder that few attempt to work with the vegetable.  It has a unique taste that takes getting used to. A musky, rooty flavor that stands alone. I’ve been eating them since youth, dad always planted them in the garden, and miss them in the years they don’t produce or don’t get planted. Well this year is not a year of longing for parsnips. I put in half a row last spring and did little other than run a hoe through the row occasionally. When they were forked out recently the harvest was sizeable. Roots were about 80% true to type. The off form were dominated by forked or monstrous turnip shaped roots. Many keepers exceeded a foot and a half in length with impressive heft.  Beyond appearance the eating quality was evident right away. We fix them in a carrot parsnip sauté that is finished with a bit of orange juice and like the purees that can be produced. Raw they were pleasant and cooked the preparations were gobbled up. All commented on how nice they came out this year.

 

If anyone is interested in purchasing some send me a note; agropraxisfarm at gmail dot com.

There are plenty, they sell for $2.00 a pound.

Farmer Pete

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CSA Fair, Kalamazoo

Kudos to colleague Gina Wirtz. Gina took the lead to promote local farms at the showing of a documentary at Alamo Draft House that was sponsored by the local Food Bank, Loaves and Fishes. I joined the CSA Fair to promote our Harmony Acres CSA. It was a nice collaborative effort as farmers shared tables and conversation while the documentary was showing. The farmers were trying to get through this lingering winter and maybe pick-up a new shareholder. It really felt like being at Market except nobody really had any produce to sell. We all passed out a lot of information and spoke with a wide range of interested people. What a great start to an annual effort to promote local CSA’s.

 

The conversation was about the prospects of spring making an appearance. We’ve had a few brief glimpses but nothing resembling typical spring weather. We had snow the other morning; wet, and cold that nearly deflated all hopes of green grass and spring blossoms appearing anytime soon. We also talked about the damage winter weather may have done on our farms (more than I thought) and how the growing transplants are filling all spaces available since they can’t go outside or be hardened off yet.

 

Gossip was exchanged and relished (No I don’t make a habit of spreading it more than a teensy bit). Hopes for the season were typically high with the winter used to plan for success and adjust mental attitudes. Some of the farmers brought younger members of the farm families and they were ohhed and aahhhed over. Some of us talked about uncertain plans that may have hatched in ideal minds. What a great sounding board for these ideas… A few may survive and become reality. A comment that a nice day of work on the farm would help with mental attitudes, restlessness and random thoughts that steal sleep at 2 am. I had to agree!!!

 

What I found really cool about this event is that it brought the food consumers together with the food producers and allowed us an enjoyable way to pass a late winter evening. Here’s looking forward to next years’ CSA Fair!!!

Farmer Pete

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What's the Question?

Helping people gain a better understanding about their food choices and how food is produced seems to be a significant part of what I do. At events, market and conferences I take a view that an informed customer is a good customer. I take the time and gladly answer questions. There are so many conflicting bytes of information bombarding people the farmer would seem a key source of information on how food is produced, how this impacts the farm ecosystem, and consumers’ health and wellbeing.

 

Like most direct marketers of food, I have to be able to engage and discuss how my food is produced and how that benefits consumers. Of course this is easiest to do if I am transparent about what I do. No fabrications or misrepresentations (That’s right, completely unlike a politician). No false claims and the willingness to challenge misconceptions even if they threaten a persons ideals. The people I have to work the most on are other farmers and gardeners that have a limited scope focused on hot weather crops.

 

Other farmers are often specialists, it could be tree fruit or poultry. They take their specialty understanding and often overlay it onto market vegetable/CSA production and make comments or ask questions. A frequent comment is monocroppers (corn/soy) who wonder what we do about bugs? I used to ask, “The good ones or the bad ones?” Which typically prompted the response, “They’re all bad!” But this season I’ll probably shift to a slightly different version by responding, “We love bugs and the important things they do for our farm ecosystem! What should I do with them?” The other common question deals with how many acres I work. If I was a western cattle rancher I’d need tens of thousands. If I was a monocropper producing government subsidized grain then I’d need several thousand acres to make a living and service my debt. But as a CSA farmer I need only a few acres. So I take the time to let farmers know that I can generate over $20M of market value crops per acre and I don’t have to work a huge number of acres to make my way.

 

Gardeners develop their skills by watching shows, from others or from childhood experiences. So they end up with a lot of creative ways of doing things. For some reason the most common question from gardeners is, “When do you start your garden?” Like a certain date on the calendar holds a key to success with cabbage, tomatoes and cukes. I really like this type of question though, because it allows me to push open a door to understanding; that gardening never has a starting day, rather it is a continuous process. When I can get gardeners to grasp that perennial, cold weather and hot weather crops will all fit into their plans, they realize that they don’t need a whole weekend to “Put in the Garden.” The other thing I like to emphasize with gardeners is that mulching is such a key part in promoting a healthy garden. So many gardeners strive for the bare dirt, weed free ideal that they quickly get discouraged when nature tries to heal their wounding of the land. Mulching with compost, leaves or other yards wastes really helps.

 

I’d like more questions from food consumers though. The emphasis in agriculture has been on finding ways to increase yield. This typically fails when we look at nutrition and eating satisfaction. The lower yielding varieties can have much greater nutrient values. Many heirlooms are valued because of their flavor and the unique eating qualities. I grow a variety of carrots. Some for flavor, some that store well and others for fresh eating. None because they yield the highest. A final important point. The farmer with the first crop of an item gets a premium at market. The efforts to grow for early sales often requires extraordinary measures. This effort is often contrary to what nature would support. I’ve had a  feeling that producing at peak times is also where we’ll find peak nutrition. Those early strawberries may look nice but when the main crop is in, is when the best value can be found!

 

Farmer Pete

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Where is Spring?

Decades have passed since I can remember a winter that persists as this one does. When a daytime high temperature of 35 feels balmy and the light coat gets worn rather than the parka. We were sprinkled with another light dressing of snow yesterday. Driving on snow covered roads has become all too familiar.

 

The last few years we would be making early harvests of perennial greens and spring onions starting about now. The kale that survived would be growing and pushing out new leaf. The buds on the early flowering trees would be swelling. Birds would be migrating through and their song would be a welcome addition. However, the snow shovel is still needed, and the dog has been confined to a smaller and smaller relief spot that will be an unusual mess when the snow melts. The puddle ducks typically have a multitude of lakes with open water to choose from but only the rivers are open so they all cram into the quiet eddies and wait. The kids who love to play on December snow are tired of the white mess and grump there is nothing to do. Where is spring?

 

Could it also be this longing that has me unhappy with what I’ve been reading. I turn to books for ideas and understanding, entertainment too. Jo Robinson’s, Eating on the Wild Side, was a disappointment. The book was well researched and written. The books’ focus on nutritional attributes of foods is something one would expect from a nutrition writer. Little aspects troubled me as well. New potatoes were mentioned. Unfortunately if it wasn’t a “new” potato it was called an “old” potato. How awkward! The author grouped certain categories of foods together that was confusing. Blueberries with Raspberries and Cranberries with Blackberries. What? Brambles together and small bush fruits together! Her research had a preference for West Coast info. Some of the writing showed an ignorance of the Great Lakes Region. The author is from Vashon Island. Maybe that isolation has kept her from a more inclusive vision. A final comment. Nutritional attributes of foods can vary depending on the fertility of the soils they are grown in. Albrecht worked hard to educate on this decades ago. His main points are overlooked in this work. It leads me to question the validity of the book.

 

I finished Stephen Leslie’s, The New Horse-Powered Farm. I was so excited when I saw this book. I finally got around to reading it this winter. I applaud the work and encourage small farmers to pursue animal power to provide work on their farms. At Tillers we are kindred spirits. Photos of work being done at Tillers is included in the book! If you want to learn about these methods and practices, no better place to learn than Tillers! I don’t want to be critical of this splendid work but find a desire to urge farmers to use their critical thinking skills when approaching tillage. In one illustration, about a seasons work in a field, the farmers make over 10 passes with tillage equipment. The preference for plowing, discing, harrowing and cultivating seems excessive. Horses can do this work so well, but the toll on soil life has to be questioned. We find fewer passes are better. Proving that you can get the horses to do your work is not the point. The highest efficiency is our goal. So sometimes grabbing a hoe and spending 20 minutes to weed the pepper row is all you need to do. Sure the horses could do it, but it takes as much time to harness/unharness the animals as it does to get the work done yourself!  

 

Both of these works are highly thought of and widely recommended. I agree with Leslie’s work. I read every line in the book and found it very informative. Robinson’s work is best targeted to the conscious consumer. I found myself skimming through whole chapters wondering if anything was relevant. Sadly, I found little that was inspiring, thought provoking or entertaining.

 

Farmer Pete

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A Winter of Discontent

The allium’s are up and thriving under lights, early cold tolerant lettuces stretching for light and celery to begin soon. So it feels like late winter but to be honest it is a winter of discontent. This morning a record low was set with a -13 degree recording. Ouch!!!  We ate some parsnips as part of a roasted vegetable dish but they were harvested in November and stored, rather than having been freshly dug as typical when winter relents. The ground is buried under 1.5’ of snow and frozen solid. It’s not unusual to have snow and cold this time of year, our most memorable blizzards and severe storms often occur now. We feel the lengthening days and increasing intensity of the sun but the NOAA forecast remains frigid through the end of March. Makes me dream of warm weather vacations and the sight of green grass…

 

 Yesterday the weather closed up everything for the ninth day of the winter. Cold and blowing snow, and another “Snow Day”. I read, tended plants, fixed food, and other busy things during our discontent.  Of course I learned new things, amazed myself and managed to spend some time on fitness  so when the spring does come, I’m ready to begin.

 

I learned about the father of modern Horticulture!! Liberty Hyde Bailey, from South Haven, Michigan. He had a miraculous career that spanned the end of the 19th century into the early parts of the 20th. A vigorous researcher and writer. There is a museum in South Haven about L.H. Bailey that is on our “intend to visit someday” list.  Some cool quotes from Wendell Berry about the writings and importance of this man. Google Books and the Gutenberg Project has some works from Bailey that you can read on an e-reader or online.

 

Online I read about a farm I’ve admired, Trillium Haven Farm, and the challenges they have endured. All the best to Michael and Anja as they take a sabbatical for the 2014 season. We who grow food know the incredible commitments that are required to begin and carry through with our plans. The difficulties of the last many years have been felt by many. The policy makers say we need more farmers, more organic produce and more markets. We who produce, know that the massive oversupply that has come to market is a real problem. The only way to stay in this market is to raise outstanding produce and satisfy our customers. Both are a real challenge!!!

 

I began a CSA farm for a Kalamazoo NGO in 2011. The NGO and I weren’t a good fit so another farmer took over after less than a year. He was soon succeeded by another farmer. Now in year number four they are on their forth farm manager. When I moved on to Tillers International I felt that the NGO would probably continue to move through farm managers. I’m thinking that the group of us that have had short stints as Farm Managers should get together and have a bash the NGO bash…Ha Ha Ha!!! Maybe on another occasion I’ll get into the damage this NGO has and is perpetuating.  

All for the end of Discontent!!    Farmer Pete

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Spring Soon?

Whoa, this winter is persistent. Whenever I bump into friends they ask the inevitable question, “How’s the weather going to affect the garden?” I kind of shrug and let them know that winter weather that is typical for winter won’t hurt things, rather if we have winter when we are expecting spring or summer things will be negatively impacted! Like most people, should spring arrive near its typical time, I’ll be ready for a celebration and to put time in the field. Should winter dally, and extend its stay, we’ll have to make the best of whatever scenario and adapt.

 

Each season I do a select set of Demo’s on new varieties or crops. This year it is largely inspired by the increased involvement of an Intern at Tillers. Nelson brought a love of cooking and for this season has set up an expanded food preparation scheme that will utilize produce from our production. His wish list includes Asian vegetables that I’m excited to experiment with. Many are already standards for CSA and Market but having a dedicated and experienced cook have input and interest in additional varieties is nice. So the list of Demo’s includes daikon, senposai, Chinese broccoli, additional turnip varieties and more.

 

In the past a lot of the demos were inspired by something I saw at market, read about online, in catalogs, or curiosity. I remember demoing agretti. The seed went in the ground, the herb was harvested and cooked as suggested and the family was quick to comment that it was like eating a pine tree. The flavor was not part of our historical food flavors so it wasn’t at all satisfying. That demo was not repeated. Collards on the other hand were a huge success. We eat a lot of greens to begin with and the texture and flavor was a welcome one. I still haven’t found much of a market for collards, they have a soul food/poor south image issue, but they sure are a favorite at our table. Maybe we could get a celebrity chef to inspire some curiosity about collards…

 

I also like to demo heirloom crops. The last few years I tried a few corn varieties. The dent corn, Earth Tones, is a favorite, and last season I began with a bit of popcorn. Both of these are successful. They will become a regular planting. The proliferation of tomato varieties is amazing. For several years I would demo a few each season. This past season saw the second year of the Bobcat hybrid tomato demo. For the second year in a row this was the first tomato to succumb to disease, and produce the fruit with the blandest flavor. No more! The pineapple heirloom will also not be continued. With our soil and conditions it was a big gorgeous fruit but intensely unappealing in texture and flavor. Others report decent success. By the middle of September the fruit was left on the vine. No one wanted anything to do with the pineapple. So when the season turns to spring or maybe suddenly to summer, I’m excited to have some new crops to grow and have some fun with.

 

Farmer Pete

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2014 Harmony Acres CSA

The 2014 season for Harmony Acres Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) begins in a few months. Regardless of the snow and below average temperatures the growing season will arrive. The work for a productive start is already underway. Questions about what type of season we’ll have will be answered in due time. With exceptionally fertile soil, the support of Tillers International and great shareholders I look forward to the coming season.

 

We have allowed plenty of time for renewing shareholders, so now we welcome open enrollment. Our season runs for 23 weeks (Late May through Late October), shareholders are permitted 21 pick-ups during the season. Pick-up locations are Mon.-Sturgis Drop, Thurs.-On Farm, and Friday at the Vicksburg Farmers Market. Shareholders love our Market Style pick-up. Each week’s harvest is prepped and displayed for shareholder selection. The shareholder has a wide variety of choice in selecting each weeks share. No one gets stuck with items they don’t like or won’t use. You take what your household will utilize.

 

Sound ecological-biological farming methods (exceeding certification requirements) are used to maintain the excellent soil we are stewards of. Most of our cultivated land was cover cropped and had prep work done to ready for spring. When the season permits, the land will again produce a bounty shareholders will be the beneficiaries of.

 

Harmony Acres CSA has requested that shareholders contribute a bit of volunteer time to the farm. Last year we had excellent contributions from many shareholders and are happy to continue this casual request for volunteers. We have no requirements for work. In the future as the CSA grows we may add a work share for a few at a discounted rate. Pricing remains the same: Full Share $400.00, half share $200.00. Enrollment closes when we reach our planned goal of 25 shares, or May 1st. Pre-Payment of the share is requested for the farmer to make needed purchases for the farm, meet financial obligations and continue the development of the farm.

 

A sustainable and vibrant CSA is the goal of our farm. It continues as our primary focus. Other venues of distribution will be continued till the CSA has grown to a sustaining size. Our shareholders are our most important customers. You will always receive the best, and have top choice in direction and support of the farm.

Please renew or join today!

Farmer Pete Robertson     agropraxisfarm at gmail dot com,          269 659-7481 

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K'Zoo College Alum Speaks from World Economic Forum

Another Mike is what I was thinking. This smooth and charming CEO has a bio that is a testament to the  career track held as the path to success. Interesting that his undergrad came from esteemed local institution, Kalamazoo College! Back to the “Mike” club…at one time I was seemingly befriended by a multitude of Mike’s and a few Bob’s. My wife was always asking, “Which Mike are you talking about?” Almost as many “Mike’s” as there are Vern Yoder’s or Harley Miller’s in the Amish directory….  Could it be something about the name “Mike” and charisma or charm that appeals to us?

 

Watch the following from the World Economic Forum to get a feeling of what I’m on to:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/24/mike-mack-syngenta-ceo-davos_n_4659441.html

 

What a nice guy! We learn he has a wife and a couple of teenage daughters. Was fortunate to spend time over the Christmas Holiday bicycling in Cambodia observing local culture and agrarian practices. Enjoys time in “nature” as a way to recharge in his adopted home of Basel, Switzerland.  He is excited about his corporations initiatives like, Syngenta Good Growth; http://www.syngenta.com/global/corporate/en/goodgrowthplan/home/Pages/homepage.aspx

Way to go Mike! What a company man!

 

I feel a bit like a sock that is still wet and thoroughly dizzy following the spin cycle….  I replayed the mystifying comments to several of the questions. My favorite, “Most of the worlds’ poor are farmers, ironically.” Really Mike?  Could it be the poor are trying to achieve a level of subsistence with small hold farming.  If they had gotten big, or out as suggested in the 60’s during our Green Revolution, they’d be doing fine, right Mike!  They’d be able to afford the advanced production seeds and chemicals provided by your company, benefitting the shareholders! Also good to hear that you’re on the bandwagon of “Feeding the World”. Repeating the irritating talking points of corporate ag only supports the base of similarly misinformed sycophants. Helping the world feed its self, building a resilient agro-ecological base capable of mitigating climate issues, and reducing “Aid” disruptions that have destroyed countless local production systems is a commendable endeavor. Your efforts to enrich shareholders and deceive the gullible public with talking points makes this Mike not one I want in my circle. Listen and read for yourself… not our friends no matter how smooth and nice they come across!

 

One last point... Ol’ Mike is now a hero to all the country café farmers in this part of the corn belt. The farmers gather in the cafes and share their bond of toil and burden daily. Work, family and risk avoidance along with disdain for change in life molds a deeply narrow view and conservative framework. Ol’ Mike was speaking to them not you or me. Those born and bred to industrial farming are championing Ol’ Mike and his ability to stick it to the critics of “The Farmers who feed the world”. Mike leapt into the ring with the liberal press and told them how it is. Told them GMO’s are an important tool in our toolbox to feeding the world! How they are safe and have caused not so much as a tummy ache yet. And how very little about farming is natural… seems to me that corporate profits are like the nose on Geppetto’s  puppet, both grow when lies are told.

Farmer Pete    

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Non-Method way of Farming

We know industrial agriculture occurs as a manipulated process. Variables in production are managed or minimized and sustainable measures are too costly to undertake in a production maximization model. This leads to time and money spent on “methods” to control aspects of farming that organic farmers don’t really bother with.  Those of us that work with nature rather than manipulate nature, call the items we don’t bother with,” Non-Methods”.

 

As a soil builder and cultivator of biological diversity, my favorite non-method deals with irrigation. The mega-production farms in our part of Michigan are reliant on ground water to push for maximum production on our sandy soils. The field hands will cover hundreds of miles on our county roads to keep irrigation pivots moving and water pumping. A few warm days with no rain and the irrigation systems come to life. Weather forecasts dictate time and energy spent to keep the soil wet. On our land at Tillers International we mulch, add compost and maintain a fertile soil. The healthy soil and plants thrive when the rains abate for a few weeks. Ground water sprayed on the field would add little while increasing the possibility of plant diseases. Capillary action continues to pull moisture from sub-soil and the plants root systems, with healthy fungal symbiosis, provides bountiful conditions for plants to thrive. In most conditions, not irrigating is a favorite non-method.

 

“Ohhhh, you’re organic!” the farmer with a Pioneer cap says while perusing my produce at Market.

 Next thing they usually ask, “Whadya do bout bugs?”

And, my much repeated response, “The good ones or the bad ones?”

Most times the curt reply is, “They’re all bad!!!”

So begins a discussion about another non-method. Diverse plant and animal populations tend to find stasis and pressure from pests are minimal for healthy plants.  I bought a pound of an OMRI approved cabbage bug pesticide several years back.  A few times while field checking I had reason to use the spray-able powder. I think I made to 2 passes last year during a wet-warm spell when everything was growing gangbusters and the loopers got ahead of the predators. About 2 tablespoons of natural pest control. Nothing like the industrial farm that uses broad spectrum pesticides like chlorpyrifos to kill pests and beneficial bugs in a mega-application. Over the years scouting the fields I’ve learned to anticipate natures response to a pest. In late July we witness the grasshoppers mature and begin to pressure some crops. Nature usually responds to the feast. The sparrows and other insect hunters notice and forage in the field. The grasshopper population is diminished to a tolerable level. ‘ No need to kill anything with toxins.  I just observe and use a time tested non-method.

 

I could continue with many more non-methods. I’d like readers to understand that working with nature is such a time and energy saver.  Non-methods make farming so much easier than the industrial group would have you believe. The imminent demise of the whole farming system and starvation is just myth.

Farmer Pete

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Farm Conference

Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference    

(go to: smallfarmconference.com)

Date: Feb. 1st, 2014

Place: Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City MI

I look forward to this conference. Put together by farmers for farmers.  It is newly located to a great convention facility in one of the best parts of Michigan.  I will have some responsibilities this conference. I’ll help staff the Tillers International table in the trade show and present an informational session about Reducing Fossil Fuel Use in farming.

 

My family makes a weekend out of it. A chance to enjoy a great small city and  northern winter location. Snow, recreation and relaxation. Join US!!!

 

Farmer Pete

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It's COOOOOLD!

The temperature bottomed out at -17 overnight. Whoa, it’s cold. I spent a couple of hours outside yesterday clearing snow and doing little chores like filling bird feeders. The cold really drained the energy out of me. Given time I’m sure I’d adapt. The weather forecaster said this is the coldest weather in nearly 2 decades. We have plenty of winter in Michigan, but with the big Lake nearby to moderate extremes we rarely get below zero. The storm that preceded the cold dumped a bit over 14” of snow for us to enjoy. Kids are home, everything is closed, and I have plenty of food and books. So we are in winter-joy mode…

 

The cold presents few problems for the farm at this time. The snow that blanketed everything before the frigid temperatures arrived, is insulating the perennials and ground. Last year we had bare ground for much of the winter, or only light snow covering. When the deer roamed through the fields they snacked on the strawberry foliage. It’s a bit protected now. Old farmers always commented that the snow was a form of fertilizer reducing what had to be added…I’m sure the minor ash and mineral content of snow can contribute a bit. I would speculate that the insulating effect of the snow on the soil, with increased microbial activity and the higher relative temperatures would have more impact than the snow’s contribution. A gain regardless!

 

In the days leading up to the storm I took time to move some stored food and seed potatoes to better  locations. I generally store in our unheated garage over the winter months. Experience taught me that sustained cold under 8 degrees would result in sub-freezing temperatures in the garage. All of the seed potatoes were moved to an insulated enclosure. Carrots, leeks, onions, parsnips, potatoes, celeriac, celery and other stored foods needed place to survive so they were moved to market coolers and similar protective enclosures. So-far-so-good!

 

Ever find something misplaced when doing another chore. As I was moving the stored items around I came across a bag of garlic that had been missing. I had been wondering why we were running low. The worst feeling of having to buy garlic had come over me. I found the garlic in a box of stored potatoes. Now we have what is needed to get to early June when the scapes will be harvested. I guess the bag was dumped in after market one week….

Farmer Pete

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