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Did You Know – National CSA Day and More

February 28, 2015
Banner for National CSA Day

Banner for National CSA Day

It’s been a busy day here with warmer weather following the cold we’ve been having. Today was designated national CSA day – supporting those who, like us, have offerings for Community Supported Agriculture. For the weekend, we’re offering a special FREE book to help folks make the most of their CSA share and beyond the share. Also take a minute if you’re out of our area and consider a sponsorship - this makes food and shares available to those who need, but cannot afford, the food shares. There is at least one family in line for this and half of the share is covered.

Ready for some odds and ends tips and tricks? Get eggs now for Easter use. Fresh eggs are hard to peel – if you get eggs now, and they have a couple of weeks to sit in the fridge, they should peel easier. Don’t continuously boil the water – if you get it boiling and turn the heat off, the yolks remain completely yellow. Some add a dash of vinegar to the pot. Cook eggs in water that is an inch over the eggs, letting the water come to a boil. Put the lid on the pot and move the pot to a cold burner. Set the timer for 18 minutes for extra large eggs, 15 minutes for large or 12 minutes for medium.

Add a tablespoon of vinegar to a bucket of warm water to wash windows on a cloudy day. This helps cut marks, insects and stains, but if in sun the glass dries too quickly. leaving streaks. Wash from the inside using up and down strokes and outside using side to side – it’s easy then to tell if the streak is inside or outside to fix it.

Packing for travel? Fold knit tops and place in large zipper lock plastic bags. Put toiletry items in a gallon zipper bag to speed through check-in. Roll shirts, pants and underwear together, packing by outfits so it’s easy to reach in for an outfit. Pack jeans on the outside, with more delicate fabrics on the inside, topped with jeans or coat on the top layer.

Learn by doing - from home building to many other tasks. Volunteer.

Learn by doing – from home building to many other tasks. Volunteer.

Want to learn construction or carpentry skills but can’t afford classes? Help with a Habitat for Humanity crew building homes hands on and learn by doing.

Go to schools where students provide services with supervision – these things can be varied from haircuts at beauty schools to dental work, meals, dog grooming and more. Some vet schools even offer care for the experience – such as spaying an animal or diagnosing and treating various conditions.

Reuse old gift cards by cutting into fancy shapes and using as gift cards.

Want to learn another language? There may be someone who speaks that language looking to learn English. Connect with someone and both learn.

Did you know that a rabbit can first be mated at about six months old, and has 5-6 years for breeding with good care? Gestation is 31 days but can range commonly from 30-32. Properly referred to as doe and buck, for female and male specifically. Doe and buck is also used to refer to goats, who are normally bred at 85-90 pounds or about 10 months old, with a 150 day gestation.

A domestic goose may live up to 20 years in captivity, longer than other poultry. Poultry have different incubation periods – chickens are 21 days, ducks 26-32 days, geese 30-34 days.

How’s your Saturday trivia? Learning new things is good! Even on National CSA Day.

Story Behind the Meme – Small Farms

February 26, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome time ago I made a couple of photo memes that I share from time to time. I thought I’d take a few minutes to share why it was made, as some are offended by it. It’s a slam on large farms, or it’s a negative. It’s reality.

The first one is one intended to be all farms. Many don’t know what this is. How does frame of “something” have anything to do with food choices, or farm choices. For those who aren’t familiar with agriculture, or can’t picture this 40 years ago, let me tell you what it is.

It’s the remaining skeleton of the hub of feeding. Much time was spent in this little shack – wind, rain, snow, heat. The covered area protected the operator of a machine inside. Where I stood when taking this would have been a cow’s view, with a door blocking that open door frame. With the gate swung shut, cattle could be sorted from one side to the other. Need to catch an animal – run her into this hallway with all other gates shut. This was feeding center for SunnyBank Charolais cattle.

Behind Joe the wonder pony is the feed bunk with conveyor - the holes allowed feed to drop down into the bunk when triggered by a switch in the shed.

Behind Joe the wonder pony is the feed bunk with conveyor – the holes allowed feed to drop down into the bunk when triggered by a switch in the shed.

Charolais bulls were sold throughout Illinois and Iowa, some to Missouri. The Harvestor, a fifty foot tube structure, stored chopped corn silage, alfalfa and grass from the fields and kept it accessible. A conveyor moved feed out into this room, where another conveyor carried it up and dumped it into an auger which carried it as far as need be before one hit a switch and triggered dumping that feed into the bunk for the cattle to eat. One side or both sides could be fed. A practiced eye resulted in letting enough feed out without excess that was wasted. One space just inside that doorway had to be shoved to the first animal, usually Sam (the bull) took his place there, or an empty 5 gallon bucket was put there to take to an animal that was separated for some reason or to the horses. Corn silage had to be fed carefully, but at times the hay was brought out, the horses and cattle dined on chopped, easy to handle haylage.

When not in use for feeding, this was also a place to escape, sit in the bunk and think. Read. Spend time with a favorite cow that would come over for a scratch on the ear. Memories whisper from the skeleton remains of this room, the conveyors and augors and equipment gone and silenced forever. Sam, Gumbeck, Midget and many others are but a dim memory now, as worn and etched with weeds of life as this shed.

Get big or get out. There’s only so many that can be maintained on a small farm. As we moved away, and my dad wished to be available to visit and travel more, the cows and equipment were sold. The end of an era, fewer purebred Charolais were being used, less interest in beef, more in competition for the lowest dollar and the biggest operation. A number of factors and time from then to when this photo was taken. Consumer demand shaped where agriculture was going then, and what it’s become now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlmost any food or agriculture article has comments about factory farms. How awful factory farms are. Cold. Uncaring. Not allowing pigs outside. Not like it used to be. Like this farm structure, one which saw many hogs. It was not uncommon to drive by and 80-100 pigs would be lounging around the barn, with sturdy fences and alleys that led to the fenced fields behind the hog barn. In the fall after harvest pigs would glean for corn missed and make use of that which was fallen and otherwise became ‘volunteer corn’ the next year. The hogs fertilized the field also. Just like people want. Or say they want.

When hogs were nine cents a pound, buried under low prices and uncaring consumers who were oblivious to their plight because it didn’t affect them. They couldn’t be more wrong. These farms sold out by the hundreds. The shift to indoor, climate controlled, different kind of hog was underway. Better feed, set up with more automation to deal with fewer bodies available to help on farms. More pork on the market at a price consumers liked, and until fairly recently, few thought much about how it was produced.

For all that detest these larger, but often family run, farms – the lack of support for these small ones created a demand for what now is a new normal in agriculture. Why aren’t pigs raised outside…because consumers didn’t care and support direct small farmers when they were there. Now that choice is gone – the fences torn down – the ghosts of farming past gone.

The point of both of these is that farming is driven by consumer demand. Agriculture can be large or small, but without a demand for both there won’t be both. Demand isn’t what is said – it’s what is bought. Those wanting more small farms need to buy from small farms. If you want a family run farm producing your food, talk with a family run farm to get your food. If you’re content to buy from farmers who sell to markets that end up in volume in the stores or restaurants, well that is an option to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you want all to thrive, support them all. The last photo looks ideal for many. In my mind I still see the stands of alfalfa, the corn field strips slicing on both sides of the creek, the Christmas tree patch to the right of this photo, the trees set up in ‘rough’ transitions between fields that offered places to hide on a summer day or places for wildlife to take shelter. Cattle grazed in some of the pastures. All gone.

Agriculture is changing on customer demand. Choose wisely.

Exchange Programs for Americans

February 25, 2015

I was reading an article about the best (and worst) places to live – determining factors was income, college degrees, obesity rates. A part of a comment in the comment section had an idea that folks could do voluntarily, if serious about understanding.

“I think we need exchange programs in this country to allow Americans to learn more about each other.”

Many from rural areas go to the city for business. How many don’t understand those flyover states, why people rebuild after tornadoes, why we live in such a dangerous area? It was expressed in Jason Aldean’s hit song as well.

“Miles and miles of backroads and highways connecting little towns with funny names…Who’d wanna live down there…in the middle of nowhere?” Maybe if some from the cities actually visited there would be a different perception. A communication rather than hurling insults at those faceless folks that don’t exist or aren’t real because they’re on the other side of a keyboard.

It’s easy to think that without cities America wouldn’t move. It certainly would change much.

“Take a ride across the Badlands…feel that freedom on your face, breathe in all that open space…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow about planting someone from New York City or San Diego in Double Springs, Alabama or Neponset, Illinois or Calhan, Colorado? Maybe Afton, Oklahoma or a host of other little towns with funny names. It’s easy to see the negative.

Go from running to the corner store for coffee to a half hour or an hour to town for supplies. Those vegan restaurants? Pack your own vegan lunch because there’s not enough demand for it here. What if your only vegetarian selections was at McDonald’s or Burger King…or home. Shocking. No fancy nightlife. After 9 on a weekend it’s create your own entertainment, and don’t think you aren’t being watched because you are. New people get attention, whether overt or not.

Remember the number of times those folks in areas like this were called stupid, ignorant, uneducated? How does one manage without all the services of cities? Just run to Starbucks or Whole Foods or Trader Joes and it’ll feel normal. Oh wait. There isn’t one here. Not just an extra block or two. There isn’t one.

Want to find out the town talk? Try the local sale barn or small town cafe. If there’s a local paper you’ll find events coming up. Bored? Rural teens learn to not say they’re bored because they’ll be handed something fun to do. Probably not fun for them but reduces boredom. Connor found there’s ALWAYS barn cleaning that can be done for boredom breaking. Watching the critters eat is the rural version of people watching at WalMart.

Geothermal heat/cooled. Water recaptured filtered to 2,000 gallon cistern. Construction 1890.

Geothermal heat/cooled. Water recaptured filtered to 2,000 gallon cistern. Construction 1890.

Have you ever been through Indiana? Missouri? Arkansas? What do you know about Alabama besides football and NASCAR? Do you know just off a little road connecting little towns with funny names in Illinois there is the solution for many environmental issues with an off the grid, water recycling, alternative powered home that was instituted in – hold onto your handbag city folks – 1890! Decades before Rural Electric came to the rural areas he had wind powered equipment and ventilation. Hot water in a shower with no electricity? How is it that with all the modern technology today and modern studies this is seen as impossible?

Step into Bishop Hill or any number of barely a map dot towns and see what it’s REALLY like to do without modern conveniences. You know on any nonGMO or organic or, increasingly, farm forum there are those YELLING we should return to how it used to be. Are they willing to come visit an area that lives it? Come on to the flyover states folks. You won’t have to worry about sleeping pills or a gym because when you get up at 6 – or earlier on dairy farms! – and work all day by 10-11 pm when some are just going out in the cities you, too, are ready for bed.

Get the joys of shoveling snow, dealing with ice, dealing with roaming dogs and often messy homes – just clear off the table when you sit down. Don’t bother when folks talk about necropsy of the heifer that died or AI’ing those that need bred tomorrow, or collecting the stallion. What’s that? That’s part of the education! It’s not city table conversation for sure.

Chances are there won’t be gang driveby shootings, and if you want drugs you might not want to deal with the consequences. So why do we like these roll up the sidewalks places?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs Jason Aldean sang – open spaces. We can have a bigger dog than 20 pounds. A garden without contacting a homeowner’s association for approval. You can actually see the stars when it’s dark, and fireflies flickering across a meadow. The kids can play outside and learn from skinned knees and bruises. People often have weapons and are secure without ADT in their homes.

Along with the unprocessed food you can find unprocessed people who will tell you straight what they think, good bad and otherwise. They might have appliances that are new or that have been in place for 15-20 years, and there’s probably things in the attic or shop that would qualify for antique status. You may not have reliable cell service but you’ll have real time communication and an experience that goes beyond video clips and 5-10 second shots.

You’ll smell a freshly bedded barn after it’s been cleaned, and hear the sounds of contented animals eating dinner after what sometimes is a chaotic feeding time. Peaceful. Quiet. Genuine laughter around a meal and getting to know people.

You won’t see that in an airplane at 30,000 feet. You won’t see it on YouTube. You can’t experience it from where you are. An exchange program to spend a month or two there can bring a whole new level of understanding. It seems to be needed. Break down the miscommunication and experience the reality.

Then look again at those comments of ignorant. Uneducated. Backwards. Perspective makes a difference.

 

 

Cold, Wet, Colder…Is It Spring Yet?

February 24, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere in Alabama it’s mild compared to much of the nation’s winters, but this last couple of weeks has been an exception. Friday it rained, then froze to solid ice. Thawed, got cold again. It’s been on that cycle for about 10 days now. It’s resulted in lost chicks, two heaters gave up the fight (they don’t make ‘em like they used to) and a struggle financially between wood and stressing over what the power and water bills will be next month.

Pipes often aren’t as insulated as in the north, and those underground aren’t 3′ deep like Illinois is common to have. While we get away with much and are more concerned with summer heat, these cold drops are hard to deal with. Good mamas have kept most of the baby bunnies alive and growing, thankfully. Some additional litters due next week that we need to move animals around and prepare for. It appears the American Chinchilla doe did not take, as no babies are forthcoming from her.

Additional expenses of wood, and effort keeping things going has been a big part of things. It’s meant having to shuffle some things aside for now…that’s priorities! Last year held a February chill also.

Being blessed to help some neighbors out with transportation to essential appointments is another thing that has taken time, but something that’s a blessing to be able to do. It’s what community does. Stay warm, spring is on the way. It’s just a couple of weeks until the clocks spring forward. Oh yes!

Your Most Valuable Asset

February 13, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOften we think assets we think money. Financial. How about experience? Knowledge? Passion? Health? All assets? How about the one that’s often wasted most?

Time. It’s so taken for granted that we often don’t think about a half hour here or ten minutes there. Five minutes is not much time but five minutes with a loved one who isn’t here anymore would be huge wouldn’t it? What’s three more minutes to say goodbye, or an extra few hours per week by juggling your time more effectively.

Farmers and small business owners must manage time. That doesn’t mean not being available for family, but if you linger until 10 a.m. over coffee then spend two hours reading email, go to lunch, an hour on social media and four or five hours actually working on the business then you can expect to be less productive.

Or there’s the distractions. You need to do A, B and C – you start to feed the animals and find that a piece of equipment isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Who had it last and where did they leave it? Fifteen minutes later you’re back on track and a salesman calls. Now you’re 25 minutes behind. Chores done, you notice one is getting ready to give birth so stop to insure everything is in place. Now you’re an hour behind getting to B and, with enough interruptions will C get done?

At the same time agriculture is full of interruptions. A tractor breaks down, an animal gets out, something is delayed…sometimes things are out of control. You can’t be so on target focused that you ignore the sheep running towards the road or you’ll be out of business soon!

“We live in a culture where our time is rarely our own, where quiet time is mistaken for idleness, and interruptions no longer carry the taint of rudeness or rupture.” – The Time Bandit Solution.

While being organized, doing difficult tasks when your natural cycle is geared up, prioritizing and having “don’t bother me” focus time is natural for many folks, for others it’s not. Or folks think “John works for himself so I can call any time” and if John isn’t clear about availability, it restricts his time to tend to business.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes that might be “I’m sorry I can’t talk right now – may I call you back in two hours so I can talk to you without interruption?” Sometimes it’s knowing on this day I’m going to have to monitor new litters or that day it’s going to be cold so I won’t be able to get the seeds in the ground so I’ll spend it scheduling blog posts so that when I *can* get to those outdoor things, the social media truck keeps rolling on its own.

Realistic expectations are needed. Overwhelm is easy to happen, businesses fail from always being busy but not being a good time manager. It can cost a job if you’re working for someone, but if you’re the boss it is disastrous. If you find yourself headed down the black hole, learn to organize your time and slay the time bandits. Lock them up with limited time – before you have none for what really matters.

Sometimes Connor is puzzled when I seem to be doing nothing standing over a pen. “You’re just standing here…doing nothing.” Not so! Observing is a big part of livestock care. Knowing the normal. That can also be the regroup time to focus on something that will take more energy than normal. Balance.

It’s good for business. It’s good for farms. It’s good for life.

Routine Trips

February 12, 2015
Small feed stores or farmer's Co-op often has a small selection of basic horse equipment

Small feed stores or farmer’s Co-op often has a small selection of basic horse equipment

Some things don’t change. Many things do, but sometimes in some areas, there is a comfort in familiar. Diva and I went to town earlier to get some supplies. Nothing out of the ordinary – two stops at two different places with vastly different memories.

Saturday mornings when I was growing up was errand day. We hit the elevator (that’s feed mill to most folks), miscellaneous stops for things needed, then last the grocery store. There might be a candy bar in it while we snuggled down in the back of the truck for the ride home. It was a day before seat belts were mandatory and when some risk of life was assumed.

Today first stop was the county farmer’s co-op – not quite as expansive as the elevator with large grain bins that took a farmer’s harvest and distributed to those needing it for feed. There’s bulk corn and cattle feed, and feed for about any kind of animal – and fish – you want to feed. There’s baled hay and pine needles (or pine straw, as it’s called locally), shavings, medications that are common and don’t require veterinary approval, feeders and garden supplies. There’s handles for the shovel or fork that broke again (it’s not just Connor that is hard on tools!) and traps for pests, be it mice or dogs. Diva waited patiently in the truck while I paid for the alfalfa-oat pellets, all stock pellets and layer pellets – the first two mixed with chopped hay keep the rabbits happy, the last two keep the birds happy.

Bye bye brings a sleepy Doberman to full attention. Or keys. Same thing.

Bye bye brings a sleepy Doberman to full attention. Or keys. Same thing.

For many in rural areas, the farmer’s co-op, elevator or like area is the farm version of Cheers. They know what you have, what your normal purchase is, and can handle the occasional oddball situations. For example, a while back I’d sent someone to go make a feed run, and after he left it was noted we needed dog food. I didn’t want to make a 40 mile trip for a bag of dog food…oh what to do. I called the co-op – told the gal that there would be someone coming in with my check and my truck to get some feed, and if possible add a bag of dog food onto it. Done! While that’s a little thing in customer service, it saved a 20 mile drive to town and back – and is remembered.

Once paid, we back up to the side door and the feed is loaded. Sometimes bulk corn is purchased for the poultry – in which case we go across the scale, load then cross the scale again – the difference between the figures is paid in corn dollars. They may have occasional chickens, kittens or other small critters, small scale honey or molasses or other edible goodies and know who might have pigs, calves, rabbits or other things for sale. It’s a hub of information and supplies all in one stop that can handle the person with a few chickens or those with a farm full.

Once loaded, a stop at Tractor Supply was needed to get some bagged straw I’ve been eyeing. Although we’ve used hay previously, and that works, the large bale remnants is dusty and would not be good if the doe eats it – or babies breathe it. For lack of finding another bale, I noted that TSC has bagged straw on previous trips, as well as the bagged hay that is mixed with pellets for the rabbits.

Diva LOVES trips to Tractor Supply! She has since she was a puppy when she’d “shop” by occasionally grabbing a toy, then graduating to the chew toy aisle which remains her favorite. She discreetly checks the piles of dog food bags in hopes one will be broken and a couple pieces will have dropped on the floor so she can grab it before I notice her observation. She’s also figured out that she gets lots of attention and admiration when she’s in there!

I, however, tolerate it. Cool to look at sometimes, but it’s the WalMart version of the farmer’s co-op. Things are urbanized and it’s a transaction, not an interaction. They want to be a “farm WalMart” for an urban market, while keeping the toe dipped in the farm belt. It’s tough to do both in today’s world.

Straw - less seeds to compost than hay, but hard to find small scale in Alabama.

Straw – less seeds to compost than hay, but hard to find small scale in Alabama.

So, leash snapped on, we stride into the store, grab a buggy and head to the corner where the livestock feed and straw has been. I round the corner to find – horror – EMPTY where the straw should be. I think I might have whimpered. People up north laugh – but when I ask for straw here folks point to pine needles. So it was a stroke of luck to find bagged for $10, about 3 times the price of a bale in Illinois, but I can’t get to Illinois with a truck and trailer to haul some home…if only. I thought perhaps it was on an endcap. No luck.

Lovely so a dozen litters on the way between now and the end of the month…shredded paper and leaves is an alternative but not a pleasant one. Shavings is ok as a base but not enough for youngsters to snuggle in and stay warm. Oh what to do. One last hope – asking if there might be one in back, or when there would be some in. The latter was dashed when the worker said there *might* be some on the truck next week. Oh, but wait, here’s one bale in back. I thanked her profusely, more relieved than a PMS fit craving chocolate. Bunnies are saved after all – straw!

So straw and dog food collected, I tried not to look too hard at the gardening stuff coming in, and ignored the steel decoration I really want to put on layaway but don’t have the extra $10 to put a $35 item on layaway. *sigh* Maybe it’ll be there later. Or not. Priorities!

A young man who was a Diva admirer helped transfer the straw to the back of the truck and we headed for putting a little “go juice” – fuel – in the truck to insure that once home, there was fuel to make it back to town whenever that might happen.

Routine. Past or present. Comfortable routine.

Ten Million Dollars, Small Farms, Food Choices

February 11, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the incredible things about agriculture is the vast array possible. From urban gardens to organic to thousands of acres being tended by families, agriculture provides great abundance. It provides ingredients for family meals as well as toothpaste, bullets and guitar strings.

It also, sometimes, provides for interesting conversations. On the sustainable front we have a ways to go, and are not alone. Many small farms are struggling, as indicated in yesterday‘s post. Why am I so sure we’re not alone? It’s Monsanto right? The government? No. It’s the same reason that we exist – food choices. Consumer choice doesn’t always support small farms, and it’s blamed on poor management, poor marketing or…we just don’t want it bad enough. Hogwash.

According to USDA data from 2012, intermediate-size farms like mine, which gross more than $10,000 but less than $250,000, obtain only 10 percent of their household income from the farm, and 90 percent from an off-farm source. Smaller farms actually lost money farming and earned 109 percent of their household income from off-farm sources. Only the largest farms, which represent just 10 percent of farming households in the country and most of which received large government subsidies, earned the majority of their income from farm sources. So, 90 percent of farmers in this country rely on an outside job, or a spouse’s outside job, or some independent form of wealth, for their primary income.

How about a reality check? Bare bones truth – I’ve been pretty transparent here, the good times and the low ones too. They pass! But if 90% of consumers seriously, really want to know where their food comes from then y’all better get with the 90% of farmers that need more income! Sustainable isn’t just weed control or the type of seed. That’s a national statistic – that means the city areas and flyover country. And which are thriving? They bristle at being called poor. Larger farmers, with volume production. Even that isn’t always what it seems.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was recently talking with a good farmer – a large scale farmer playing in a much different playground than myself but with common ground in growing some nonGMO for the market. His was dwindling, and it can cost him to grow it. Looking at operating this year means a $10 million loan – that’s money that must be paid back and is not profit at the end of the year. I won’t say where this farmer is or who it is, as that’s not my point. The point is, not all is what it seems and whether large or small, for varied markets and different demand on the food choice scale, there’s incredible risk carried before a sale comes. The amount may be less for us, but the percentage of risk is no more serious. If not for farmers like that, farmers like me wouldn’t have chickens because of room to raise feed for them. If not for farmers that grow hay, our rabbits would have less options for their natural diet.

Be it large or small, management decisions can be dire. It’s not for the faint of heart and sometimes it just outright sucks. Sometimes all looks well and in the middle of the night a blown breaker means losing many chicks – that’s income lost. Sometimes promises don’t happen and we’re scrambling to cover $250 every bit as desperately as the farmer with a $10million loan on his shoulders.

And behind it all is food choices. What consumers buy when they go to the grocery store. No what they really buy, not what they say they buy. Folks aren’t nearly as ready to wean from the grocery store as they say, with less direct market and more links in the food chain. Before blaming corporations, pesticides, GMO or the government take a good hard look at what society overall is asking from us. Variety, low cost, convenient and abundant.

The length of the food chain depends on your choices. If you want lowest cost, per unit large volume then there’s a farmer with a loan to pay who is eager to fill your request. If you want something different, we’re just as eager to fill that market. With over 310 million people to feed just in the USA, none of us can do it alone.

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