A quiz

We upcycle egg cartons, so we see a variety of farms’ packaging, names, and claims about their practices.  And we know a few other local farmers who raise their own eggs with practices similar to ours.

A fun game:

…match these farm names/descriptions with their google maps picture.  Here are the farm names & descriptions.

1. Archer Farms (Target store brand):  Cage Free, Organic Eggs

2. Hillandale Farms : “Organic Eggs from Free Roaming Hens.  100% organic feed, no hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.”

3. Naturally Preferred Eggs (Kroger store brand): Cage Free, Grain Fed

4. Redwine Family Farm: Free range, pastured, farm fresh eggs.  About 200 laying chickens.

5. Phelps Family Farm: Free range eggs.  About 1000 chickens.

6: Farming Engineers: Eggs from pastured chickens, fed certified organic grains. About 150 chickens.

Farm A:

Farm B:

Farm C:

Farm D:

Farm E:

Farm F:

Place your guesses in the comments.  I have a dozen free eggs for the local person with the most correct guesses, for pickup here or at one of our markets.

Need help?  The Cornucopia Institute has an interesting Organic Egg Scorecard.

 

 

Thankful

Thank you to all of our customers this year.  Whether you visit us at the market, join the CSA, or enjoy our real eggs, you keep us going.  You’re the best.  Thank you for caring about where your food comes from.  Whenever we get to know you, we feel like we’re meeting old friends.

We won’t be at Traders Point market on Saturday, November 26th.  It will be our first completely market-free weekend since April!  We’ll be back during the next two weekends for Christmas at the Market.

This is our time of year for planning & analysis.  We’ll keep you posted on any changes we’re planning for 2011.

We got the Carmel market contract in the mail & noticed a few changes:

  • More market weeks:  The market will start May 21st and go through October 29th.  More work for us, but also more revenue.  Having another market for fall items will be nice.
  • We’re not enormous fans of the Carmel market’s “50% rule,” which is that 50% of product is supposed to be grown by the vendor.  As a grower, I’d rather have a grower-only market (a 100% rule, if you will) or at least more of an 80% rule.  However, a big step in the right direction is in the current contract.  Any products that vendors don’t grow themselves are now supposed to be labeled with the name & address of the grower.   I don’t know how enforcement will work, but it sure seems like the right thing to do.  I think the market committee is concerned that a grower-only market would result in an insufficient product mix.  It will be interesting to see exactly which products are being “bought in.”
  • New market space.  The Carmel market is moving to the green next to the Palladium.  A new, larger, fabulously landscaped space with more parking is something both customers and vendors like us can be thankful for.

We are also very thankful for the friends & family members who helped out on the farm this year.  Some worked for money, some were part of work shares, and some just volunteered their time and effort in various ways.  All of you are amazing.

Finally, we’re just thankful that we get to do this.  Living in the country, seeing the stars, watching plants & animals grow out of the soil, and watching the soil come back to life are everyday miracles.

Whenever someone asks me at the market, “Did you grow all of this yourself?”  I feel a strange moment of hubris when responding, “Yes.”  Because I didn’t, really.  The plants grew, but I’m not the one who told a tiny seed to open, instructed leaves to transform sun into energy, enabled roots to draw nutrients up from the soil, and made all prosper with flowers and fruits into something good to eat.  The plant grew itself, and whatever you believe about how it got the means to do that, I get to watch it happen all the time, over and over, thousands of times every season.  And that’s what I’m most thankful for, and that’s why I’m farming.

 

 

The weeds are worth it.

In an ideal year, all transplants would gradually be placed outdoors during April and May. Each week, one or two new things would be planted in the garden and only the pepper plants and sweet potatoes would remain to be planted at the beginning of June. This would leave plenty of time to put down plastic mulch, drip irrigation, and row covers gradually, as these items were needed.

This hasn’t exactly been an ideal year. I planted most everything during the one ten-day dry spell we’ve had. Because of my haste, the rows are not straight, and plastic mulch didn’t make it down under as many of the transplants as I’d have liked. All the rain has given the weeds ample time to germinate and I’m spending a lot of time hoeing, hand weeding, and wishing the rows were straighter so I could do a little more tractor cultivating. However, there haven’t been many days dry enough for that anyway.

But even when everything isn’t perfect, I still love it. Being out in the sun, rain, mosquitoes, and flies, pulling foxtail grass endlessly, sitting on thistles, dodging poison ivy, getting drip tape wrapped up in the rototiller tines, and standing on the hot pavement every Saturday morning bright and early are all parts of the best job in the world. I see the sun rise and set. I eat fruit warmed by the sun at the peak of ripeness. I watch hummingbirds, discover barn swallows, and am surprised by toads. Even weeds have pretty flowers sometimes. I am in the fresh air and obtain free exercise and a tan. I get to drive a tractor. I pick fruit and vegetables by the pint, quart, bucket, bunch, bushel, and hundredweight. I sleep a blessed, oblivious sleep on nights when I’ve been working in the field. There are always new problems to solve and interesting things to think about.

Besides the pure enjoyment of the outdoor physical labor, there is the satisfaction of doing something to make this little piece of ground better. Organic matter is being added to the soil. Erosion is slowing down, rain is being soaked down into the ground instead of running off. Zillions of microbes of every kind are coming to life and doing everything they do to support life. The ground is making a recovery from its deadening dependence on external inputs.

And as if this weren’t enough, people who care about what they eat are getting a chance to eat wonderful food that comes from 25 miles away from their home instead of the average grocery store food that travels something like 1200 miles. And I get to meet these people! I love this.

California Prop 2

I first heard of Prop 2 from the local AM radio station this morning. (When I say “local”, I mean the one (only one?) in the county we live in.) It was during an ag-update, of which there are many on this station. It said that livestock producers were concerned about the passage of the proposition. Producers in the midwest see it as an opportunity — California’s production will obviously decrease because of proposition 2. Oh, sad, sad, day.

I took it upon myself to research this perilous new law. I was curious about what types of terrible regulations had been passed by those crazies on the west coast.

Mere seconds after typing “prop 2” into a search box, I found the Yes on Prop 2 page. Obligingly, they have the text of the proposed (now passed) law in a PDF. The summary reads thusly:

“The purpose of this Act is to prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”

Hm. That doesn’t sound that catastrophic, or even unreasonable. Well, maybe there’s some scary stuff hiding behind such a simple summary…

“25990. Prohibitions.– … a person shall not tether or confine any covered animal, on a farm, for all or the majority of any day, in a manner that prevents such animal from:
(a) Lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs; and
(b) Turning around freely.”

Well, that sounds awfully similar to the summary. And that’s it, other than some definitions and exceptions.

In contrast to the tone of the local radio station’s report, our farm would not be hampered by a law like this. The chickens we have now, even when they’re cooped up for the night, have enough freedom of motion that we wouldn’t need to change if Indiana passed the same law. As we grow, our intent is to give our animals as much freedom as we can (while still keeping them healthy and safe from predators) and to raise what our land can support; in short, we plan to grow sustainably.

I think it is terrible that this type of law is required. But, I think it is hopeful that things seem to be changing in a more positive direction.

A little bit of everything

The weather is starting to look up a little, at least if I look at the 5-day forecast.  This morning I ran across Ecclesiastes 11:6-

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

This year, our philosophy is to grow some of everything, and see what does the best/ makes the most money, or at least what has a good profit-to-labor ratio.  And it’s very true that I am growing many, many new-to-me crops, and I do NOT know which will succeed.. the weather, the conditions, and the crops themselves are all variables.  It’s exciting to watch, though.  If “both will do equally well” we will be so, so busy!

Economics

Mrs. B and I are reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

“He’s got all the latest toys … Billy’s in debt up to his eyballs.” George believes he’s managed to survive on the farm by steering clear of debt, nursing along his antique combine and tractor, and avoiding the trap of expansion.

“I’m getting 220 bushels an acre on that seed,” [Billy] boasted. “How’s that compare, George?”

George owned he was getting something just south of two hundred, but he was too polite to say what he knew, which was that he was almost certainly clearing more money per acre growing less corn more cheaply.

Yesterday, Mrs. B and I were visited by the farmer (Mr. Y) who’s going to farm our 28 acres. Mr. Y farmed it for the folks we bought the farm from. And it turns out that the land used to be owned by his great-grandfather, so he’s been involved in farming it since he was 6 years old.

Mr. Y told us much the same thing that George told Michael Pollan in the chapter quoted above — the new toys and new seeds really don’t seem to be worth it.

Reading about the recent history of agricultural economics makes me wonder what our farm’s economics will look like. Neither of us really expects farming to do anything more than be a hobby that pays us back a little bit, in addition to (hopefully) making the world a slightly better place. (“Leave it better than you found it.”) But it’d be nice if we could make a living from farming. Will we be able to, growing for market? I guess we’ll see.

Like Chicken Lady

A few days ago, we traveled to another farm to pick up a pastured Thanksgiving turkey.  We’ve purchased poultry from this lady for a few years.  I’ll call her Chicken Lady.  Anyway, we got to see her operation firsthand, and hear her talk about what she has done to establish her farm.

Lessons Learned from Chicken Lady:

1.  Attention to detail can save you a lot of money.  Chicken Lady supervised the construction of her house on a daily basis.  She kept the costs down by continually sorting all the lumber into piles by size, so that no extras were wasted by being cut into small pieces.  And she saved all the extra pieces, and is still using them.

2.  Don’t be too proud to dumpster dive.  Many of her portable chicken houses were built of largely scavenged material.

3.  Do what you enjoy, but know your limits.  Chicken Lady has grown her farm to 1500 layers and 1500 broilers in the space of four years.  She’s planning to cut back on the broilers next year because that’s a LOT of slaughtering.  But she plans to do at least as many turkeys as before, because she likes turkeys.

4.  Use the skills you had beforehand.  Chicken Lady clearly has some skills in the construction trades, and she has put them to very good use on her farm.

I aspire to be like Chicken Lady in some of these ways over the next few years:

1.  Attention to detail-  My engineering training should help with this.  I am a planner!
2.  Scavenging materials- There are a variety of random construction materials around the farm.  I need to remember to look there first when trying to build something.
3.  Doing what I enjoy, but knowing the limits- I am really excited about farming, but I have a small child to raise.  I have to budget my time and energy accordingly during this stage in my life.
4. Using the skills I had before- I have a background in Quality Systems.  That will come in really useful for dealing with USDA organic certification, since it is just a type of Quality Management System.