Eaters' Guild

  (Bangor, Michigan)
A farm we eat from
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Newsletter July 25

Sun through silo.

Greetings

Storm split over Eater's.Well, things are heating up. One of the good things about the heat is that the tomatoes are ripening quickly! Brad and I took a short reprieve from the sun (not the heat, though) in the greenhouse where our tomatoes have been growing widlly. As you can see in the photo at the bottom of the article, it will take quite a lot of agility to harvest them as they come to readiness over the next few weeks. Other plants, like peppers and squashes, are ripening rapidly, too.

We've also been glad for the preciptation, despite that it is as challengeing work under tearing skies as it is to work in sweltering feilds. The rain keeps the soils mosit, so the plants are strong and remain productive. And though sunny days are long and blistering, we havn't needed to use the irrigation because the soil contains a high volume of organic matter, does not become very compacted (as our tractors are light), and have "crop cover" (or weeds that help hold moisture down).

Together, the heat and percipitation represent the quantitaty of energy stored up in the atmosphere this summer. I've spent many of my hours of harvesting awestruck by the tormented skies. Clouds releasing sheets slate gray rain, bolts of white lightning, and emmitting sharp cracks of thunder. Pictured to the right, a storm passes the crest of the barn, revealing the sun above.

Sad Salad Greens
While many plants in our garden have enjoyed the heatwave, not all have thrived. I am sorry to announce that our salad greens have largely perished and it will be many weeks before we can harvest them again.

Orders
If you need orders for chicken or produce filled, contact Laurie and Lee at eatersguildfarm@gmail.com! James@eatersguild.com is not certified to handle these kinds of requests!

Sleep Asparagus

Asparagus gone to seed.Asparagus is a perennial. It's seeds are planted in the spring, but for the first two or three years, the plant can not be harvested. This is because the plant needs to develop a complex root system known as the “crown,” which stores the nutrients that the plant uses to push the asparagus spears up through the soil. Once the crown is developed fully enough, it is alright to harvest the spears of asparagus that push up during the first months of spring. At Eater's, we harvest the asparagus for six weeks. After that time, we let the plant fern out, grow woody, and store the energy that is generated during July's heat.

I said before that asparagus is a tenacious plant. It grows so vehemently in the spring because it has stored up energy to use from the previous summer. Botanically speaking, it has evolved to operate this way because having stored energy and speedily growing stalks means it can outcompete other plants during the early spring, when sunlight is still spare and chills still stunt growth.

Tomatoes... and really, everything else.

Factory farmed tomatoes, ripened inorganically, delivered to your local supermarket.On June 28th, NPR reported that industrial farming “destroyed” the tasty tomato and discussed the book that author Trent Campbell has published that deals with the subject. The problems that the report reveal, however, are not limited to the flavor of the food. They extend through the ecological sustainability of the practice, the nutrition of the food, and the working conditions of the harvesters.

Ecology

Most tomatoes are grown in Florida, despite that Florida is not really suitable for the crop. Campbell argued that most land in Florida that is used for agriculture is sandy, which means there are not natural nutrients in the soil, and so (petroleum based) fertilizers are a must. We know ecosystems, particularly aquatic systems, can not handle fertilizer runoff.

Secondly, the humidity of the state results in a higher volume of insects and therefore compels farmers to use a higher volume of pesticides. The official Florida handbook for tomato growing recommends 110 pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, many of which are “what the Pesticide Action Network calls 'bad actors'... the worst of the worst.”

Nutrition

Fertilizers do not make a plant nutritious. Campbell said that his “mother, in the '60s could buy a tomato in the supermarket that had 30 to 40 percent more vitamin C and way more niacin and calcium. The only area that the modern industrial tomato beats its Kennedy-administration counterpart is in sodium."

Tomatoes the way they should be; heirloom, organic, wildly lolling all over each other.Working Conditions

Tomato harvesters have been known to be enslaved. Campbell said that “there have been seven [legal cases] in the last 10 or 15 years ... successfully brought to justice in Florida involving slavery. And 1,200 people have been freed. The U.S. Attorney for the district in Southern Florida claims that that just represents a tiny, tiny tip of an iceberg because it's extraordinarily difficult to prosecute a modern-day slavery case."

Just to make the situation of the enslaved clear, Campbell described some details on the kind of slavery that he'd uncovered in his research. You can see those details in the report. Because of the severity of the situations that he relates, I will not quote those words here.

The Bottom Line

Industrial agriculture endeavors to generate a higher yield at the expense of flavor. Here, yield translates to “net weight,” the number of pounds that make it to the supermarket.

 

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June 29 Newsletter

A tiny frog perches on a leaf of Kale.

Greetings!

I heard that the Farm Gathering was a delight. Unfortunately, overbooked-I was unable to see it for myself. Hopefully I will meet you all at the next one! We will announce the date soon.

Your CSA's are going to change radically over the next few weeks. Lee spent a few moments touring me through the bounty that is beginning to bear on Monday while we sharpened our hoes. We were clearing weeds from the pepper fields.

Reigned by Rain

Rainy morning over yellow flowers.

This spring, high volumes of rain have put corn and soy farmers behind schedule. The crops are beginning to catch up, but according to the USDA, 20% less corn and 30% less soy have sprouted this year as compared to last years mark.

When did rain become a nuisance? More importantly, why did it? To answer these questions, we'll have to think about what things have changed since rain was a reason to rejoice.

The first thing to look at is the tools that are being used. “Traditional” farming happens on a very large scale and (the variety of farming that has become standard over the last 100 years) relies MAMMOTH machines. As I drive by corn fields on my way to Eater's Guild, my eyes mount combines that are larger than many houses and trip over tractors with fifty foot wingspans. These weapons weigh tons. And they are one of the biggest barriers to farming during the rainy season. The Kalamazoo Gazette, reports that large equipment can compact soil, hampering root development in young plants.

Hoed onions.The second thing to look at is methodology. “Traditional” farming relies on herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides (new in the last seventy five years), which prohibit diverse, organic matter from being churned into the earth, creating a soil that has very little ability to retain water. When big rains and spring thaw flows run onto the landscape, water puddles and ponds, making planting impossible. Standing water patches can create “short spots” or drown out plants, and wet spots can cause disease to occur, especially with soy.

Unlike “traditional” farming, organic farming happens at a small or medium scale (ideally) and does not require intensely large machinery. At Eater's Guild, we use small and medium size tractors to till the soil and sow our plants. We use small rigs and hoes to cultivate our crops. We can get in the field when conditions are not ideal because we weigh less. We move more numbly. We can use more moments being productive when others are waiting for the right time to get started.

Organic farming also offers physical benefits because of the methodological process. It allows a diverse assemblage of life forms, both within and without the plant class, to live and parish on the land. The material left behind by these lifeforms degrades variously, on the surface of and under the surface of the soil. These differing materials create a soil structure that retains water deeply, not at the surface, so it is more able to absorb the deluges of spring and work as a more effective reservoir in the heat of the summer.

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July 11 Newsletter

Greetings!

I hope you've been well since I wrote you last. Did you think that you missed last weeks newsletter? Don't fear, there were no mistakes. The newsletter is now bi-weekly. We're making this change so that I can develop the content more fully for your enjoyment. Now, let's do the announcements.

Chickens in the morning.Eater's Chickens

First off, please allow me to apologies for a mistake that I made. Last week, I sent an e-mail to let you know that Eater's Guild will be holding an On Farm Chicken Sale. I said that the sale would occur every Tuesday for the rest of the summer when, in fact, the sale will not become regular until a few weeks from now. I'll let you know when it starts up again.

Now I would like to tell you more about Eater's Chickens. The chickens will be dead and de-feathered. They will be whole, fresh, and wrapped. Sometimes, boneless, skinless breasts will be available. The chickens are wrapped in a thick, vacuum sealed bag. They will be ready to freeze. The market price for the chicken is $4.25 per pound. The farm price is $4 dollars per pound.

Travis Meier (the main caregiver) told me that his favorite way to prepare the birds is to put them in a brine for 6-12 hours. Then, he will stuff them with lemon wedges, garlic cloves, and fresh thyme and rub the outside with oil, salt, pepper, and dry thyme. He advised that ranged chicken may need a little more time in the oven to tender. Perhaps you'll want to roast them at a lower heat (350) for longer (2 hours).Brad Baughman


Brad's Bequeathment

Brad Baughman, one of the fine Eater's Guild interns, critiqued my article Reigned by Rain in the last newsletter by saying. "You wrote 'traditional' farming. I might instead use the word "industrial" there, or "conventional," since the type of agriculture you were referring to is altogether a-traditional, and destroys traditions. Only a semantic point."

Transplanting

Water tank in green house. Serves to store thermal energy, increase humidity, protect plants from animals, and house fish.Organic farming is a sanctum of unique experience during this time of high industrialization. We have the gall to participate in the magic of growth without clinical, scientific controls and regulations.

Seeds to Plants

We sow thousands of seeds. Thousands of smooth-skinned pumpkins seeds, of rippling dried pea seeds, of translucent sweet corn kernels, of clustered, brown pepper seeds, of tear shaped lettuce seeds. We sow all together, in friendly little stations, in the green house, on afternoons, likely when it's raining.

In the greenhouse the seeds germinate. They grow abundantly in their seed flats, which are a kind of tray comprised by little cups, or cells. They shooting tall, vying with each other for the sunlight. Once they are old enough, we move them outdoors, to the enclave between the greenhouses, to where they are protected and still exposed, so they may be hardened by the pushes of the passing breezes.

Plants to the Field

We snatch up the flats by fours, two bound up in a hand each, and walk. We step through and over and on, marching forward to the double-wide palate that the cobalt blue tractor holds with spaded hands.

Marcellino comienza el tractor, y conduce a los campos. El resto de nosotros caminar detrás. We are talking, and laughing, and watching the farm features as we pass them by. When we catch up, Marcelino has the transplanter set up. We hope that these plants are going to pull from the flats good, or else it will be a long day of filling missed holes.

Travis Meier on the transplanter.

The transplanter is like a wagon on the back of the tractor. The transplanter has a two hundred gallon drum that feeds water down to two hollow steel wheels that have hollow steel spikes. They turn with the motion of the tractor over the earth, punching holes to fill with water, which we riders fill with plants.

Yes, we're riders. The transplanter has two seats on two iron arms that each often drag along the ground. We sit with our legs forward, braced up on a small steel bar set for that purpose. We each sit behind a tray that's like a music stand, which hold two flats of plants in our reach. We pinching the plants and checking how loose they are. They are coming out smooth today.

The engine is running. Marcelino engages the water flow by turning a valve on the transplanter. He hurries to start the motion as it begins to pool around the steel wheels. The clutch engages. The tractor tugs us forward. We pull our first plants, hold them forward, and begin to plug the holes. After a few yards of clumsy reaching, missing, reaching, and speeding up, we catch a groove, make smooth motions, and sink the plants into the cool, fresh fluid, row by row in the field. We know these ones are going to make it. We don't hardly need to look now.

A crew cultivating pepper plants.We talk about ourselves to each other. We share our stories, ideas, and dreams. We make jokes, suggesting things like, “let's all order matching Eater's Guild jumpsuits sometime” or “we should dress as zombies each day and chase the passing Amtrak.”

We wait. Week after week, we protect the plants.

People to the Plants

We all think we're people who've introduced vegetable plants to a space. But who has introduced who? Our farm is a bilayer orchestra. On one hand, farmers conduct the plants from seed to maturity and harvest the surplus. On the other hand, the plants conduct the farmers from thaw until snowfall, day until night. The plants drew, and draw us, from Flint, Mexico, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and other lands and times afar, to the same fields, to the living soil, to have community, and to grow together through the summer season.

Washing out the harvest.Plants to People

The second part of our work began in late May, early June, when we began pulling the first radishes. Things are really speeding up now as we bring in kale, garlic, summer squash, collards, kohlrabi, basil, potatoes, and see on the horizon many other vegetables. Our transplants grew up from timid, tiny flecks of verdigris in expansive, bare, bronze fields to a most-desired aspect of a weedy, green ground cover.

Now our days are filled harvesting. Picking, bunching, boxing. Lifting, washing, stacking. Shipping. Transporting the plants one final time, that they might live one final life and create one more community of consumers.  

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June 21 Newsletter

Greetings!

Thanks all that have complemented this newsletter. I'm glad to be a part of the campaign. After receiving the last issue, many of you requested more photos. I can try to meet that request with each letter.

Farm Gathering

Time and Things to Bring
The first farm gathering of this season will be on June 26th! The gathering will begin at 2:00 pm. After the potluck, attendees will be invited to tour the farm. Please bring your own table setting, cup, and an entree or desert to share. If it's possible, bring a folding chair as well!

Directions

This link will show you Eater's Guild on on google maps, just put your location in the "from" field to get directions. Do beware, google puts the Eater's compound almost a quarter mile further North than it is in reality. The actual location is much closer to Hastings road. If you prefer to do your own search, their address is: 26041 County Road 681, Bangor Michigan.

Notes from the Field

Dusters
Every few days we hear helicopters and airplanes droning in the distance. We can't see, but do imagine that over the vast blueberry, corn, and soy fields that neighbor our oasis, these mechanical insects release a misty tempest of noxious fluids. One site tells that about 350 million acres of the continental United States are used for cropland. According to the USDA, only 5 million acres of the US are used for organic cropland. It's just over one percent of farmland land that is wholly free of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides...that means it's also just over one percent of food that's pure. 

As we're kneeling in the radish row, wriggling our hands through the plants to find the right leaves, to pinch, to pull, to evaluate, and to bunch, we talk about the engines we hear. Lee notes that the whole bed of radishes we're working through would be "considered a total loss by conventional farming standards." If a real person even needs to come out and look at it, it's not worth harvesting. Who'll have these skills later when they are needed if no one practices them now?

Is that so? I can't imagine. I brush the soil off of a radish now and again, as the hours go by, and enjoy the burst of peppery fluid. The poisons that the drones are releasing, Lee informs us, are so dangerous that people are restricted from entering the fields sometimes for days after. Moreover, for fruits like blueberries, farmers call in for extra doses of fungicide right before the harvest. If not for the extra air-strikes, the crop would never last through the complicated, time consuming shipping and shelving system on which our big-chain groceries rely. For what reason are we unable to share the land with other species?

I'm grateful for the support of CSA members like you, who make the healthful farming that we do a possibility. 

Cornish Crosses

Eater's Guild presents ORGANICALLY RAISED CHICKEN
Travis Meier and Lee and Laurie Arboreal have teamed up this year to raise chickens. I interviewed Travis, the principal caregiver, to learn more about the operation.

What variety of chicken are they?

They are known as Cornish Crosses. That's an F-2 hybrid for anyone who remembers their lessons on Mendel's genetics. Cornish Crosses are the “standard American” chicken. They are one of the best at growing breeds, maturing in eight to nine weeks, and also converting feed into meat very efficiently. Chicken was not really a popular source of meat until these birds came into the scene.

Mobile Pasture UnitWhat kind of housing do your chickens live in?

The housing can be referred to by many different names; I use “mobile pasture pens”. They look like small greenhouses but have tarped roofs to create shade. They have an open area of pasture that is enclosed by electric poultry fencing, which is a screened wire fence that is intended to keep them in. It gives them a lot of space to run around, and frequently, they run out, too.

Do you move the mobile pasture often?

Oh, yes. Many times during the course of the chickens lives. How often they move varies with the weather and the way that the chicken are acting, but basically, when I see that the ground has been nicely spread with manure, it's time to move them.

Chickens in the Mobile Pasture UnitA lot of the moving that's done within the electrified fencing is done simply by moving their feeders around and that kind of changes where the gravitate. Once I've run out of area to move the feeders to, and the whole area is well spread with manure, I just shift them down one more unit.

So the chickens have a symbiotic relationship with the plants?

Yes, their principal relationship with the plants is to spread manure. The whole of the topsoil and the plants in it get to respond to that huge boost of manure, making the ground more fertile in future times for vegetable farming.

They also eat some plants. Some of their feed sprouts little protein shoots, which puts more nutrients into the bird that are returned to the end user, humans.

Chickens are their not like a rabbit or a cow, sole source of food for which is salad like items. The plants that they eat are considered “low calorie feed”, which helps them digest other food and helps them be more nutritious.

Chicks in the hot house.What are some cool things about the chicks?

I don't know. They're just really cute. For me, the amusement of watching three hundred chicks in a sort of small area must be similar to what other people feel when watching fish in tanks. It's kind of exciting watching them all chase a fly or have staring contests with each other. I probably do too much watching them, but I call it “observation” to make myself feel better.

What would you tell a potential customer that is not accustomed to free range chickens?

Well, I would say that, because my chickens are let in the field and ingest a feed that is heterogeneous, that is, made up of many kids of seed, they are more healthy to consume. Generally speaking, the more diverse the nutrients a chicken eats, the more healthful it is for a human to eat. In factory farm situations, the food type is whatever is cheapest, which means that it's also usually all the same type.

Travis converts the "honeyhouse" to a home for a new batch of chicks.Also, I've noticed that the chickens taste great. They taste more “chicken-y” than the average, factory farmed animal. I'm not saying that they are more “game-y” like wild animals, they simply have a richer chicken flavor. They are even more moist than a big-chain chicken. I grow the best tasting chickens I that know of.

Where can people expect to find your chickens?

That's a good question. Right now they are at the Holland Market, South Haven Market, Texas Township Market, People's Food Cooperative, and Salt of the Earth. The more I can expand that list, the better. I'd like to arrange to a few more wholesale accounts. Serving a few restaurants really appeals to me right now. 

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June 15 Newsletter

Greetings!

And welcome to the first CSA newsletter of the 2011 growing season. If you'll permit me a quick aside, I'd be flattered to introduce myself to you. My name is James. I am enjoying my second season as an employee of the Eater's Guild farm. This summer, Lee and Laurie have privileged me with the responsibility of orchestrating the production of the Eater's Guild newsletter.  I shall act as the Eater's Guild herald, the compound crier, master of ceremonies, a vocalist for hire, narrating the seasons unfurling events, introducing the voices of my compatriots, and serving as a resource for you on how to prepare or preserve the contents of your shares. I will be pleased to take your comments and suggestions over the coming months so I may become a better performer. For now, I'll relinquish the spotlight.

Farm Gathering

The first farm gathering of this season will be on June 26th! The gathering will begin at 2:00 pm. After the potluck, attendees will be invited to tour the farm. Please bring your own table setting, cup, and an entree or desert to share. 

Notes from the Field


You've probably noticed that the weather has been volatile. Last week on the fields, we endured ninety degree days with cloudless skies and afternoons that felt like the evening due to tempests  overhead. Amusing as the spring swings are, most of us in the field will be glad for the smooth summer sailing to come along. Abrupt changes are what makes our bodies ache.
Strawberries
The plants on the other hand are rejoicing in the hot and cold again spring. We see intrepid growth day after day. We've sown the first tomatoes of the season. When the seedlings went in, they averaged four three inches in height. By the middle of the week, they'll likely have pushed up past five. 

We are harvesting the first strawberry crops in Eater's Guild's history. The volume is a little on the low side this year, but next season, the plants will be far more veracious and we will be able to put more pints on the table. One wonderful happenstance that we've found is that bales of mesquite (a variety of legume), which "fixes" nitrogen in the soil has growth throughout the strawberries, replenishing the soil they grow in even as the produce.

"Free Them"

Have you heard the names Rachel and Nancy Goodrich before? How about Regalo? If not, you may hear of them soon. This spectacular mother and daughter team is traveling from Hopkins, Michigan to California to raise awareness on a challenging subject, human trafficking. Rachel is making the trip on horseback. You may have guessed, Regalo is her horse.

The women, who travel by the name "Free Them," sold their home and possessions in order to make the trip. They will be traveling in 30 mile increments, stopping of in towns along the way to deliver literature and speeches on the subject of human trafficking. According to this story about the Goodrich family, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asserts that human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar industry, accounting for more financial flow than "Nike, Google, and Starbucks combined." Eighty percent of people who are trafficked are women and children. Of that, seventy percent are trafficked for "the purpose of sexual exploitation."

Free Them began their journey last week. They spent three nights at Eater's Guild, enjoying the sun, space, and an attentive audience. Here's a video report on the team. Keep your eyes open, I'm sure that you'll hear of the Goodrich family again. Let us know when you do!
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