Saturday, February 28, 2009

happy chickens on fresh grass...

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Restringing the chicken yard fence.... spring is in the air!

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Buy it, Use it, Break it...

The cycle of consumption. Buy it - Use it - Break it... Then what?

For our grandparents the next thing in the line was to FIX IT!!! Things would be fixed many times before they were thrown out and new items bought. When they were finally un-re-fixable often times people would go without for a while before replacing the items.

For our parents high quality items started to be inexpensive and it was often easier to just buy a new one. Of course over the years quality has really gone down and the break it stage comes sooner and the fix it stage...

Take for example our now three year old gas stove. When we were buying appliances we did a lot of research, we wanted high quality appliances which would last us years and which were very energy and water efficient. We landed on Bosch dishwasher, washer and dryer and got a Fisher & Paykel refrigerator. We love all of them. But then we came to our stove. Our big splurge and we did not do a lot of research. Not having the money for the Viking, Wolf, or Aga ranges we lusted over we picked a KitchenAid model. We had problems with it immediately, but the first year we ran a self clean cycle and both the thermal override fuse and the digital control panel were toast. I could not even open the door, good thing there was no food in there, as it took a while to get service. They replaced the control panel under warranty (good thing because it was a $900 peice) and the service call ONLY cost us $140. Electronic components go out of warranty at two years so when our control panel started going again it was to late (although I have never run another self clean cycle I was too scared!) Right now the only way to turn off our oven is to set the timer to automatically turn it off... Because the off button does not work. The company does not care and we figure we will just use it until it dies all the way (which knowing my luck will be when there is a turkey in it!) If it makes it until July it will have cost us $500 a year... For what is basically (and sadly) a disposable item.

I call this iPod syndrome, when it is broken buy a new one, the new ones are better anyway! Our parents purchased clothes which were "classic" but we restock our wardrobe every year. And the scary thing is that the global economy is built on a foundation of us doing just that... And that is bad because we cannot keep doing that, things need to adjust.

As we are buying garden tools this year we find ourselves spending more on individual items, but buying items that will last and can be fixed. Because we think we may be counting on these items for a few years to come...

We can change the cycle from Buy it, Use it, Break it, Buy it, Use it, Break it,Buy it, Use it, Break it...

To Buy it, Use it, Use it, Use it, Break it, Fix it,Use it, Use it, Use it, Break it, Fix it,Use it, Use it, Use it, Break it, Look hard to find the best replacement...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Organics not better?

A posting today on the Epi-Log today referencing an article which is a Case against Organic Foods.

It comes down to these, my quick response to each is below...

1.Organic foods won't solve the hunger problem.

  • World hunger is primarily a political and economic problem not an agricultural issue. Big ag as commoditized enough of the world food supply we have removed the food self sufficiency from many countries. Organic food may not solve it, but conventional ag almost surly made it worse!

2. It's questionable whether organic foods are healthier for you.

  • It is questionable whether conventional food is as healthy as organics.

3. It's questionable whether organic foods are safer.

  • It is questionable whether conventional food is as safe as organics.

4. Organic farming may not help the environment.

  • Conventional farming defiantly will not help the environment. Organic monoculture has similar issues, organic poly culture is better. Organics may be nothing more then a step in the right direction!

5. You're not sticking it to the man by buying organic.

  • You may not be sticking it to the man, but you probably are supporting a small family farm, at least you can if you avoid big organic. Buy from a farmer you know and you will be supporting not only natural production but your regional economy and a friend.

6. Organic food doesn't necessarily taste better.

  • Kobe beef does not necessarily taste better then McDonald's. Freshness, preparation, and skill are everything. But you are more likely to get a great tasting meal from one than the other...

Just my thoughts, for what they are worth.

Your garden!

It is time to start to get serious about this year's garden, if you are planning one!

The first thing you need is seeds, and while your garden center has a nice selection to really spread your heirloom wings you should get some catalogues, so why not order them today if you do not have any? I recommend these...

Seed Savers Exchange for hundreds of heirloom varieties.

Territorial seeds - a good mix and other "stuff" for your garden.

Peaceful Valley - not so much seeds but all your other garden needs including organic fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizers (see their foliar feeding section.)

Baker Creek - If you love melons this is the catalogue for you! But lots of other wonderful heirlooms to and wonderful glossy photos.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Confrence this weekend!

We are home from the OEFFA Conference. I think my presentations went OK, I didn't see anyone fall asleep in my first one and only two in my second (which was the last workshop time for the weekend.)

We got some good information to bring back to the farm. Eric went to a good workshop on organic berry production when I was babbling about missions. We talked to lots of people and had a good time.

The funniest thing was that we kept telling people about the Jang seeder. Columbus Irrigation was exhibiting and we kept bringing people over to their booth to show them the unit and how great it was! I must have shown 5 people how great it worked and hubby told at least that many too. I think we maybe sold a couple of those units... But really, if you are a small grower this is the best $500 (by the time it is at your door with the pieces you want) you will spend.

Hubby having to travel so much the past year for his "real" job has been very frustrating, he was out of town over 50 nights! But that gives him "Platinum" status at the hotel. So we got a free upgrade to a nice room with a jacuzzi which was nice to relax in on Saturday night (I need to get one for my bedroom!)

Next our classes!

I will be getting our class schedule and details out this week...

Friday, February 20, 2009

20 sq ft per person...

Can you believe that in the US the retail space per person averages out to 20 sq ft! I was thinking about what exactly that means...
First, lots of us probably shop to much! That not a revelation for most people especially as the economy gets worse.
But retail space is expensive. In Cleveland between $30 & $12 a sq ft a month. Or between $240 and $600 a month for YOUR SHARE! Then another $240 and $600 a month for your spouses...
If we assume that items cost the store about a third of what they charge you you need to spend somewhere between $360 and $900 a month to keep the stores just paying their rent.
That is pretty scary to me...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting nervous!

I am starting to get a little nervous about this weekend! I am speaking at the OEFFA Conference on Sunday. I am giving two presentations. One a two hour one on Building Green on the Farm and a second on Integrating Sustainability into your mission.

I have lots of experience in talking to groups about green buildings for work, but somehow this feels different. I don't know how to explain it.

The first presentation I will talk about a broad range of concepts of sustainable building design focusing on things which can be brought into small projects on the farm. I will talk about big issues like heat island effect, combined sewer over flow, payback cycles, embodied energy... As a way to frame a discussion of options and building techniques. I have 2 hours and my presentation is up to 220 slides, although lots are just "pretty pictures" that will only be up for a few seconds.

My second presentation will focus on some BIGGER concepts like the Triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) and how those can act as a driver for decisions that are made "Beyond field and pasture." For example, should your mission drive the type of coffee you serve guests at farm events, and the type of cups you serve them in? Maybe...

Once those are done I can finish my other presentation, which I am EVEN MORE NERVOUS about! And then our class series will start in the beginning on March! ((If you have sent an email about the class I will get back to you soon I promise, and I am sorry!))

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where's the beef... from?

To officially titled "Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-Raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng, and Macadamia Nuts" Rule will finally start to be enforced soon... maybe?

The AP reported today "The Obama administration is throwing out food labeling rules proposed by the Agriculture Department just before George W. Bush left office, saying it wants labels for fresh meat and other foods that would show more clearly where an animal or food came from, according to consumer groups who've been briefed on the issue." Article here...

So basically the rule which was going to become mandatory April 1 was not strict enough - OK, I agree it could be stricter.
So we have given you stricter guidelines - Good so far.
The guidelines are purely voluntary for the time being - What?
But if you do not follow them we will write REAL rules you have to follow - Huh?
In the meantime Mexico and Canada are filing complaints with the WTO...

I think of it this way. A teenager repeatedly breaks curfew. Mom says "Starting Friday your curfew will be 1:00 am!" Dad decides later that 1:00 is just not strict enough given how often curfew has been broken in the pass so tells son "OK, so we are not setting an official 1:00 am curfew, but starting today we really really want you to be home by 11:00. If you do not do that we may have to make a real curfew for you, we will just see..."

Does that make sense to anyone? Not me...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where are your eggs?

Did you ever have anyone tell you to make haste a little more slowly?

I feel our nation needs to take that advice right now. We are rushing towards passing a bill which no one really fully understands and few have read.

Although I am not an economist (and am far from it!) there are many economists who agree that the stimulus bill may not work.

I have read that about 20% of the money will be available for projects starting in the next 6 months. Couldn't we down size the bill to a 160 BILLION or 180 BILLION dollars and pass that part of it now. We would get the same stimulus short term and in the next couple months real debate could take place and the balance of the bill could be passed in March when people actually have time to look at it closely.

I guess that a farmer analogy would be that if you REALLY need your eggs and you put them all in the same basket it might be better to let those eggs sit in the coop another hour and take time to carefully examine the basket to make sure it will not fall apart under the weight of the eggs then to pile them all in and have them crash to the ground in a yolky mess...

But then, I am just a farmer... What do I know?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fine in moderation!

I assume anyone who watches TV has by now seen the High Fructose Corn Syrup is "fine in moderation" commercials...

In case you have not see it here...

I guess it has caused many spoofs...

One from the makers of King Corn about the virtues of tobacco...

But this one is my favorite... It actually answers the question posed by the campaign... What do they say about HFCS???

Spring Fever!

It is the time of year when the snow starts melting and you leave the house without a coat, through the mud to the chicken coop!

It is so nice, except for the rain and the mudd, and the clouds, and the forcast 60mph wind which will take out my power, which will stop my sump pump which may be a problem because all the snow is melting and we have a drainage issue around our house... Oh, and the forcast snow and cold weather which will turn all the mud into ice...

But in the mean time I am so excited about the season being around the corner and all the big (and scary) changes that this year will bring! Seeds are just being started, and the order for the balance will go in soon. We have three talks this month and will start our gardening classes next...

Happy dance.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The future?

Alexander Tyler is said to have written more than 200 years ago, "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to uncontrolled spending and overtaxation and overregulation of those who are successful contributors to that society, The average age of the world's greatest civilizations, from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years."

Wether or not he did (and that is a matter of debate,) it is still interesting to ponder...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More on bees...

A member sent this great bee article...

"The only honeybees left—i.e., the ones that started disappearing in October" (of 2007) "—had become the cows of the insect world: virtually extinct in the wild, hopped up on antibiotics, and more likely to reproduce via artificial insemination than by their own recognizance. "

It is sad but true...

Fed HFCS and under attack by varroa mites, bees are at the mercy of agri-business. We are lucky at my farm to have a bounty of native pollinators, bubble bees, mason bees, and others...

Are all CSAs the same?

I thought I would take a minute to comment on all the “CSA”s which are springing up in our region. For those who don’t know CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Starting in Japan in the 1980s it was a way of connecting consumers in a city to farmers. The benefit to the farmer is that they receive 100% of the food dollar (no middleman) and the consumer commits to the farm at the beginning of the season. The benefit to the consumer is that they have a personal relationship with the person who grows their food, and know where & how it is produced. They are guaranteed a share of the harvest throughout the season, sharing both the risk of farming and the bounty in good years. Together the farmer and the CSA members start to form a community, around food, which is traditionally how most communities were organized.

Now however, at least in our region, we are seeing a new phenomena, it started a couple years ago and is beginning to increase. We are seeing “CSA”s start with no farmer directly involved. It seems to me that people see the possible profit margins in selling direct to the consumer but do not want to actually do the work of being a farmer.

More “Subscription” services then CSAs they purchase food from multiple farms or ,as often as not, from food auctions. Often the primary reason they select one supplier over another is cost.
While I understand that our region is woefully short of true CSA spots, with just about every farm based CSA having a waiting list of some size by the first of the year it does frustrate me that these box schemes are selling themselves as CSAs. To me a CSA is a unique and special relationship between farms and their members. I would ask any person who is considering joining a CSA to ask themselves and their CSA some basic questions.

-Is there a farmer directly involved? Do I know him or her, get to meet them, have an opportunity to visit the farm (even if weekly pickup is elsewhere?)
-Is one of my reasons for joining a CSA to directly support the farm and support small scale local agriculture in my region?
If so, would a farmer’s market be better for my needs.

- Is natural or organic important to you? How committed is your grower to those principles?

I would ask my CSA
· Who grows the food?
· If the answer is not “ME!” then ask “Can I have names for all your growers?”
o If they do not know that may mean they will get whatever is least expensive when the time comes.
· What percentage comes directly farms from and what percentage from elsewhere, like produce auctions?
o Sometimes a small percentage comes from farm or gardens and a majority purchased in bulk.
· How is the food produced?
o If it is important to you is it organic or naturally grown?
· If “naturally” how do I know that if I cannot talk to the farmer?
o Note that neither “Amish” or “Small” means natural or sustainable.
· What percentage of my payment pays administrative costs, salaries, and profit compared to what goes to the farmer?

I would also look around and do a “gut check” How much land would it take to support a CSA as large as they have. Could you support hundreds of families off 2 acres? Probably not. The average is somewhere between 20-40 families per acre, an acre is about 210 feet by 210 feet.

There are other equally important questions, but these are a start… I fear that if none farm “CSAs” continue to expand “real” CSAs will begin to disappear. I have heard people say that farmers should be able to grow and not spend time marketing, but of a food dollar less than 20 cents goes to the farmer, the balance to the marketers and distributors, of various kinds. By getting all of the food dollar small farmers have a chance of making a real go at it… Otherwise…

If what you want are veggies, then any “CSA” might be right for you. But if you want more than that, be careful that you know what you are joining. Know your farmer, Know your food.