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New MacDonald, Organic or Not

March 27, 2015
Hot pepper flakes, SlowMoneyFarm style.

Hot pepper flakes, SlowMoneyFarm style.

Agriculture is changing. It always has, while rooted in tradition, looking at doing things better. Cheaper. This is often seen as a bad thing, and taken to extremes. It’s said organic doesn’t do that…but any farm, including organic, needs to make the maximum use of their space. It doesn’t matter if it’s 300 acres or 300 square feet – those intensive urban gardens we see that produce tons of food don’t do it without a tight schedule of planting, harvesting and maximizing their situation. An increased interest of many is hydroponics and aquaculture, both ways of raising more on less land, and both have their supporters and their critics.

Then there’s times the zeal for promoting crosses lines of all kinds. Ignoring the risks of food safety, let’s condemn the opposition so they forget the ‘controversy’ on ‘our’ side.

Only Organic, a coalition of organic food brands including Organic Valley, Stonyfield, and Annie’s Homegrown, recently launched the “New MacDonald” movement, a campaign encouraging consumers to take a pledge to add one additional organic product to their grocery cart each week.

The campaign’s big kickoff was this video, in which schoolchildren give a rousing rendition of Old MacDonald’s Farm, except in this version the song has refrains such as: “with a hormone here and a hormone there”, “a small cage here and a tight cage there”, “here a spray [of pesticides], there a spray, everywhere a spray spray”.” (source)

So I wonder what that really teaches. They sprayed poison pesticides in the faces of children for entertainment and marketing? I didn’t watch much behind that point because it was clearly blatantly untrue. Either organic supporters are ‘poisoning’ children to make a point or the whole premise was false and they were spraying something else, as farmers do other things besides just spray pesticides. Organic, even certified organic, sprays too if they need to.

Beef picture cuts and leavesI’ve spent this week promoting the CSA concept to folks in our area. Interest but not action continues. Yesterday Connor and I attended a meeting for the Walker County Farmer’s Market before racing over to man the booth. A big topic at the meeting was food safety. Regulations.

Are we bad if we take payments from SNAP and other low income programs or is it good to get food in the kitchens of folks with low income? If programs that benefit larger farmers are criticized is this an unfair advantage for small growers? How many will begin supporting the truly small growers vs the larger companies that pretend to be small producers?

The massive rock in the middle of the room is food safety. Food safety is a bigger concern than what Monsanto is doing or what glyphosate is doing to the bees (reality – nothing). Food safety threatens to take our farms. Want to see people turn on a farm? Have a food safety issue. It might affect 20 people but life will never be the same.

Many climb on the all organic is safe bandwagon, and build that up to where it’s a long fall. Organic spinach was a recent recall item. Annie’s Homegrown – who not that long ago was in the news for “selling out” to “the enemy” and organic folks swearing in comment sections they would not support the brand again. Stonyfield has also been subject to recall items – all natural does not necessarily mean safe.

Far beyond that, everyone has food choices. Often news reports come to what do you believe. One headline talks of child obesity increasing, while another points to decreases! I’ve watched children come through our booth for photos  this week, and do not see large numbers of obese kids. Healthy, happy children that are too young to be concerned with food safety, so adults must do it for them.

New MacDonald farmers are diverse. They might reach to automation for many tasks so they can spend more time with the animals. They may be outdoor housed animals, or may be all the buzzwords folks want to use but still struggle with finding a market. That’s food choices, in action.

Food choices. Farm choices. We’re blessed with many of both.

Agnerd Alert – Big Horsepower Marvels

March 26, 2015

If you grew up in central Illinois, know much about construction or mining or like heavy equipment then you know the name Caterpillar. If you like information about equipment and big horsepower, there’s a book out that you’ll want to check out.

photo courtesy Caterpillar

photo courtesy Caterpillar

While Caterpillar is best known for earthmoving equipment, the amount of earth that is moved varies. From massive mining trucks to around the farm construction projects, Caterpillar has had a fit for decades. This is beautifully illustrated in “Caterpillar: Modern Earthmoving Marvels”, a book that’s part history, part documentary and pretty enough for the coffee table. From the first track crawler No. 77 and workhorse Diesel 60 to the dozers from 80 to 850 horsepower, it’s an achievement carved out of necessity and progress. Graders, scrapers and massive trucks it’s all here.

photo courtesy Caterpillar

photo courtesy Caterpillar

A few points to my agnerd friends – even those familiar with the construction aspects might be interested in a few points in the book. Where there’s a need there’s a loader or other equipment to do it.

Whether moving hay or gravel on the farm or marveling at the machine that can fill a 400 ton truck in four passes (the Cat 7495 HF Electric Rope shovel), if you thought you knew Caterpillar, check out Caterpillar: Modern Earthmoving Marvels.

After all, they wrote the book, you might say, literally and figuratively, with engineering that performs in the hottest Arizona areas as well as cold cold beyond the roads to the north.

And as much as I like tradition, it’d take a lot of oxen and horses to move 400 tons and more than four passes!

© 2015 Caterpillar. All Rights Reserved. CAT, CATERPILLAR, BUILT FOR IT, their respective logos, “Caterpillar Yellow,” the “Power Edge” trade dress as well as corporate and product identity used herein are trademarks of Caterpillar and may not be used without permission.

Pause to Reflect

March 25, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’d been one of those days. Long. From 7 a.m. it was busy with check ins, check outs, paperwork, dealing with people and all the things that went in to running an RV park in summer. It was warm, no real break for lunch as eating on the run was common. 8 pm the busy kept coming. It paused at 845 or so.

I looked over. “Lock the door!” While I did that she grabbed the adult beverages that had been chilling in the cooler. As we sat down behind the counter another rig pulled up outside. “Night drop gets it” as the bottles clinked. A break was needed.

It was just one of the memories shared. Helen and I weren’t blood relative but bond relatives for sure. We finished each others sentences. Looked at each other and spoke things at the same time or, sometimes one warned the other “DON’T verbalize that!” The standing joke is if it was said it’s likely to happen.

Five years ago that was ended. The last time I saw her, she knew and I knew it’d be the end. She was in a body, aware but unable to speak. She squeezed my hand and I squeezed back. The questions and answers passed without anyone aware. She never wanted to be like that. Always active.

It will be some quiet moments today remembering. The world is moving on. Connor is no longer a boy of 11 but a young man of  16. He has ideas that are troubling, and some comforting, and isn’t moved to tears as much anymore. He’s grown and will take that foundation she gave forward. It was far from perfect but as she used to say “I don’t know how but we did good with him.”

There was the skunk we named Bart, altered to Ms Bart when ‘he’ came forth with a half dozen little ‘Barts’. The noises in the office at night that no one else would work past 8, lest they hear unexplained noises. There were many memories, many phone calls.

Yes, some memories today and a little private memorial. Minus the Tequiza.

What You Think Vs What You Know

March 24, 2015

Have you ever bought something that you thought was a pretty good deal only to find out that – darn it – it really wasn’t that good of a deal? Or you thought you were choosing something based on what it sounded like, only to find out the reality was different?

Perhaps it was free range and learning that birds just needed access to the outdoors (even if they didn’t use it). Perhaps it was organic and learning that there are chemicals, pesticides and other things used. Perhaps it was learning something new about food that changed what “everyone knows”.

Recently I saw someone criticize large chicken operations, with cage free systems, as they were still in barns and shouldn’t be. One person said chickens didn’t need protected from the elements – hers were outside all the time.

I asked if they should be forced to be outside in blizzards, rain, storms, heat – and she responded that hers are out in rain. They do fine. Can get under a shelter if they want but normally are outside. In Florida. Reality check folks – not everywhere has the weather of FLORIDA. She responded that if it was that cold they shouldn’t have chickens.

These feathered ladies don't mind cold for a short while. Should they have no option but outside?

These feathered ladies don’t mind cold for a short while. Should they have no option but outside?

So most of the country shouldn’t have chickens because they can’t be in cold weather and can’t be protected from it. Keep in mind here in Alabama there is, indeed, storms and freezing weather. Weather that my chickens enjoy having a place to get in out of the weather. So everywhere north of us is pretty much out – most of the country!

Many folks with similar views are weighing in publicly and politically. Could there come a day when there are no eggs and chickens in a good portion of the US? Never say never. California did and is making it very difficult to conduct agriculture. Oregon is doing the same. Not everyone wants to farm – or can farm. Someone has to feed those folks, and their families.

Maybe it’s a place like ours. Maybe it’s Tyson or another large chicken operation.

Should everyone be forced to grow their own food? Cities have existed for many years – disband them because you MUST grow all your own food in order to do away with industrial agriculture. Sounds extreme doesn’t it?

How about choose and finance what you want. Choose what you really want, and fully understand what is behind that choice.

What Are You (Really) Buying? Food Fraud in America

March 23, 2015

It’s a competitive world in the marketplace. It’s not just what we do it’s what people think we do, and what they think of what we do. Sometimes there is a view of everyone’s trying to be what we are. Large corporations looking to find how to make engagement personal, transparent, honest, trustworthy. In short – they’re trying to be us.

Only they’re not. Sometimes those smaller operations, too, seek to increase the share of the pie. What follows is a clip from someone who sees behind the scenes what people claim vs. reality. You don’t see this, and yet it’s not honest.

That “home raised premium grass only fed beef” that shows up at my door as a hobbled up old cow with an auction sticker on its hip fresh from the sale. Or how about that premium duroc pork that shows up at my door white (durocs are red….). Or that grass only fed pork (not happening people) that has whole corn rolling from it when its slaughtered.

LingCodSometimes just shutting up doesn’t help customers. They think grass fed is best – they hear that, so whether it’s right for the animal or not, if it has a grass fed sticker on it then it must be humane. Only it’s not humane if the creature isn’t a grass based diet and it’s not only grass fed if there’s corn in the intestines! It’s not prime beef if freshly bought old cow. Is it edible? Yes. Is it honest and transparent? I think it’s the polar opposite. It’s outright dishonest and deceptive.

People buy that “grass fed” animal and rave about it while the reality is they’re eating corn finished animals. Here’s a tip folks. Unless there was a modern miracle I don’t think that slab of meat was 100% grass fed when it was alive. As a matter of fact, if all that is true I will give away a full CSA share to the person that can prove it. That I’m aware of, ling cod – a FISH – does not come inland to pasture for 100% grass fed. Shouldn’t claims be accurate, or should we just increase the amount of misinformation fed to consumers along with the grass fed ling cod and white Duroc hogs? Do you want honesty and transparency or do you want to hear what you want to hear?

The FDA has over 450,000 food and feed facilities registered, with over 285,000 foreign facilities according to Food Quality & Safety magazine. “Globalization of the food supply increases the length and complexity of supply chains, and arguably increases the opportunity for both foodborne illness and economically-motivated adulteration (EMA).”

Food fraud. There are those who want to do away with the FDA due to approval of GMO Arctic apples, but meanwhile they’re the gatekeepers of food fraud. The National Center for Food Protection and Defense, located at the University of Minnesota, sees eight types of food fraud.

Nice slab of beef, isn't it? Or is it? If you paid $4 per pound would you be happy - even though it's horse?

Nice slab of beef, isn’t it? Or is it? If you paid $4 per pound would you be happy – even though it’s horse?

Substitution (complete replacement of a food product – a different type of fish); dilution (partial replacement – think adding horse meat to ground beef, diluting honey with sugar syrup); transshipment or origin masking (mislabeling imported shrimp as Gulf coast shrimp, for example); artificial enhancements (unapproved additives); mislabeling (false labels for organic, cage free etc); theft and resale (stolen, re-enters the food chain) and counterfeit (fraudulent labeling of a product by an unauthorized party as a brand name). Lastly there’s intentionally distributing a contaminated product – sale of Salmonella contaminated foods, for example.

While people want revenge on those involved in putting melamine into infant formulas and dog food, shall we look the other way about other economic fraud? If they mark that cull cow up as grass fed beef, but can sell for lower than a farm that actually raised the beef, that’s ok? How much do you, the consumer, want to be lied to?

Pretty sure those aren't grass fed either.

Pretty sure those aren’t grass fed either.

As farmers strive to honestly represent what we do, and processors strive to have an honest link between us and consumers, is that enough? Those who talk a good game can undercut us on price. If someone is buying Tyson chicken, repackaging it and selling it as home raised, is that ok or too far? Cheaters are going to push that bar as far as they can, and for all the “I don’t trust big ag” I hear it seems many are blind to cheaters on our level. Especially if something is cheaper.

Sometimes trying to be honest, it seems, means looking the other way to food fraud. If people are willing to pay it then they think there’s nothing wrong with it. They imagine it’s better because it’s small farm raised, as they dine on Tyson chicken. Stay tuned tomorrow for what you think about food vs what you know.

Combine Tradition and Technology

March 22, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat was one of the first green jobs? Anyone? It’s a combination of recycling and sustainability, with a touch of renewable energy and community service through in. It’s something I’ve been around all of my life. It’s changed, adapted, grown and shrank as changeable as the tide and yet in many ways the same. It’s agriculture, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Agriculture has images that are negative and largely undeserved. It shapes public opinion in an equally negative – and often incorrect! – way. For me, agriculture lessons became life lessons. Like many in rural America, I participated in 4-H and FFA programs. Here I learned to prepare and choose quality livestock, grow vegetables and flowers, prepare meals and was introduced to the ultimate in recycling – composting!

In addition to learning day by day I attended Black Hawk East Community College near Kewanee, Illinois. I studied to work in the horse industry, but classes required were in general agriculture too.

Today I work promoting agriculture and telling our story. Working with the space available, there was a small scale interrelated opportunity at SlowMoneyFarm. Purebred heritage poultry and rabbits are part of this. Rabbits provide food and fur but at this stage they are providing an expanding breeding herd. The chickens provide eggs on an outdoor basis.

Of course both also produce manure, which is used in raised bed gardens. A compost bin handles the chicken manure, which is “hot” manure that can burn plants. Rabbit manure is composted, mixed into the soil in the beds or spread around the plants in small amounts for an extra boost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose raised beds provide herbs, tomatoes, peppers and other food. Due to rising demand in consumers wanting to grow their own food, there are options now to raise pullets (female chickens) for those who want a few for their own egg production, chickens for meat, other poultry and custom raised beds. These are delivered and planted for people who are interested in raising their own food but have limited time. It is a cool thing to be able to literally provide food for people, to insure food choices and to do so in a circle of life.

For many of the day to day things recycling takes a new form – using discarded pallets for the compost bin and discarded building materials for the home raised beds. This is time consuming to set up, but works very efficiently and naturally once done!

As the operation expands, a system of gutters and pipes will capture rain water to water the animals and birds. Solar will be another use, with passive solar used to keep hens comfortable.

As the farm expands to additional land, a geo-thermally heated/cooled rabbit barn is planned that will keep rabbits at a comfortable temperature year round. This is done using a basic wind powered simple set up that has been in operation for over a century! It will also include earth sheltered nesting boxes that double as raised beds over it. It’s an exciting time to be a part of combining tradition and technology. Solar power is also planned for fencing.

Through the use of raised beds, imperfect soil and small scale production can be maintained on an intensive planting basis. Many are surprised what 50 or 100 square feet of garden, managed well, can provide for their family freezer! This helps individuals and communities with local food on a new scale – right outside their door!

By teaching others as well as modeling basics, it is a great way to share “Earth Day” every day. The income can vary, but the rewards are priceless.

Ag Day, USA Ag History

March 19, 2015

ilfarmAs National Ag day draws to a close, it’s easy to think right now is all there is. A friend on Facebook posted a link with a photo, and in following that I found air photos from 1937 to 1947 time frame of the area I grew up. Before the farm with other farms in the area that are long gone. Some sprung up and are now gone. Others just ceased to be.

Just above center is a square that is dark trees. That timber is still there. Just to the left of it is a bare patch of land, at the time this was taken. Many old farms are no longer there, some remain, some newer ones were started.

Agriculture evolves. What we do evolves. It doesn’t stay constant. That keeps it interesting, challenging and frustrating. It allows everyone who farms on any level to make their choices based on what part of the market we want to sell to.

There was a lot more open area then. There’s more trees now, and a changing landscape.

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