Friday, April 17, 2015

Missing the Point

There’s a form sitting on my desk that I really should be filling out. 

But, every time I start it, it gives me a headache. 

It’s one of those forms that I very highly suspect was created by bureaucracy to perpetuate bureaucracy. This particular form has 17 pages of instructions alone and the agreement to participate in the program is 5 pages long. There are definitions and restrictions and ramifications if you don’t comply.

All of this so we can participate in the SFMNP (senior farmers market nutrition program).  This program provides qualifying seniors with $40 from July to November specifically for the purchase of fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets.  (that is $40 for the entire time…not weekly or monthly) We have had a lot of customer requests, so we decided to participate.  It was my understanding that we could also provide for those under the WIC (women, infants and children) program as well…but, I’m beginning to think that will be yet another agency and another set of forms. (and quite possibly another headache)

We are committed to providing quality food products to our customers, and it seems only right to accept anyone/everyone as customers. There is a big movement to encourage those participating in food assistance programs to buy fresh, buy local.  Since we are in the business of growing food, these programs are a topic for ongoing discussion.

Looking to escape the paperwork headache, I turned to the internet (okay, I was just goofing off on facebook…don’t judge me). My newsfeed was full of stories revolving around SNAP.  SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). 

SNAP is under scrutiny by Congress and is scheduled to have some very major cutbacks as they attempt to curtail fraud and misuse.  It is hoped that by restricting the use of SNAP benefits to purchase many products, the program can be put to “proper” use. The entire subject is highly divisive. This funding makes up a huge part of the Farm Bill, so the Ag sector has been talking about it for some time. And, now that it is possible to use SNAP benefits at Farmers’ Markets, it is a recurrent topic of conversation here on the hill, as well.

-TLWomack image
Several years ago, Farmers’ Markets across the nation began to accept SNAP benefits in an effort to get program participants to eat more fresh food. By encouraging market shopping, the consumers get incredibly fresh food directly from farmers, thus stimulating the local economy. The number of SNAP shoppers at farmers’ markets has been growing by leaps and bounds. However, it is not possible to use an EBT card with the vendor directly.  In yet another effort to curtail fraud and misuse, there is a centralized station that exchanges the EBT benefits for wooden shopping tokens. These can only be used at that Market and change cannot be given. (as per the agency in charge, not the market) Personally, I think this requirement simply re-introduces the stigma that users felt prior to the introduction of the “charge card” system.  I’ve seen shoppers’ faces when they hand me those wooden nickel things. But, that is a story for another time.

Political wrangling and personal opinion aside, the real reason SNAP was in the news was that yet another celebrity had jumped on the “survive on SNAP benefits for a week” challenge. This time, it was Gwyneth Paltrow…who had been nominated by her good friend and famous chef, Mario Batali, in an attempt to bring attention to the programs in New York City.  

You see celebrities participate in this type of challenge from time to time to “build awareness”…   With all the stories I saw, “awareness” must have been reaching some sort of peak. Google noted over 27 million mentions of Ms. Paltrow’s purchases! It should be noted here that “Gwynnie” is one of those celebrities that people seem to love to hate.  So, much of the publicity was anything but positive.  However, the public was indeed being made aware…

SNAP benefits provide something like $29 for a week’s worth of groceries. The actual rules and benefit amounts vary from state to state, so the numbers used in the challenge are fairly arbitrary.  There are very real restrictions as to what types of products can be bought with these benefits and it must be pointed out that this program is intended to be supplemental and not one’s only source of funds for food.

When Ms. Paltrow posted the picture of her purchases (that were later donated to a NYC food bank), all sorts of comments started flying.  The point of the challenge was lost as countless people griped and sniped about her choices. It seemed everyone had an opinion about her perceived dietary needs and food choices. While I did wonder WHY anyone would buy 7 LIMES if they were looking to “survive” for a week….as least the public was discussing the subject of food insecurity and need in this country.

SNAP food purchase - Gwyneth Paltrow
Could YOU get by on this for a week?


Or, were they?

Not really.  The readers/writers were too focused on the fact that the very rich are out of touch with the “normal” folks. Oh, and that would include those holding government office making rules.  I would point out here that there is a very real possibility the “normal” folks are just as out of touch with the truly needy who rely on SNAP and other programs. (with no personal experience, we are left to speculate) Then there were those who just wanted to point out all the things wrong with the programs to start with…

But, here’s the thing…

it is estimated that 47 million people are dependent on food assistance programs. 

47 MILLION!

For a myriad of reasons, many find themselves reliant on SNAP, WIC, SFMNP and other government programs to get the nutrition they so desperately need. (and, no, I do not intend to discuss the fallacies of the programs or the participants, although I do admit…they do indeed exist)

The need for assistance is very real.

While I cannot pretend to know what it’s like to need government assistance to feed myself and my family…I do understand food. $40 over five months isn’t going to make a real big difference to anybody. And, if you are dependent up on the SNAP program, it will NOT (and cannot) fill all your nutrition needs. Having your food choices dictated by folks with no real knowledge of your situation can only make a difficult situation more stressful. I do understand that any time there is money involved, fraud will follow…and this multi-page form/farmer agreement (and the whole wooden nickel thing) was designed as protection against this…it certainly seems that there must be a better way.

If we really are trying to help people…why does it have to be so hard? 

By focusing on building “awareness” by watching/discussing/emulating celebrities, endlessly debating and discussing the subject and devising more rules and regulations to protect ourselves and “the system” from fraud, by waiting until we can solve the problem entirely, by trying to dictate a diet based on a perception of need and not true knowledge, we are totally missing the point.

The point is…

There are people who need help.

We shouldn’t have to have celebrity stunts to make us aware of that need. Or have special rules on how to meet it. Nor should any one group dictate whose needs are important enough for action.

Each of us has some unique way that we can indeed aid our fellow humans. And, even though we will never entirely solve every problem, or satisfy all the needs…we can indeed try. (without fanfare or tweets…or added restrictions or regulations.)

Just see a need and meet it. 

Lend a helping hand.


…and the effort, no matter how small, WILL make a difference.





Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 4-12

SPRING


Whew!  What a week!

Remember all those days back in the wintertime when it felt like Spring was never coming?  That we would never be able to get back outside and do any real work?  Well, those days are gone.  LONG gone! At this rate, they will be a dim and distant memory by the middle of next week.

Not that I am complaining by any stretch of the imagination.  No, it really feels good to get back to work in the gardens again. I am truly of the opinion that at the end of the day you should smell like dirt…and that broken, dirty fingernails are actually a badge of honor. But some of my gardening muscles must be woefully out of shape.  It was definitely a week for the ibuprofen as we got back in the routine of another growing season.

As I left for the town run on Monday, the Boss was making the first pass through the garden with the big tiller.  He had it all ready for planting by the time I returned.  We were scheduled to get all the brassica plants (the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage).  But, first we needed to unload the feed and fertilizer that I had procured in town. 

…and the rosebushes. 

quite a load of work





I gave in to the urge for beautification and bought some rosebushes for the flower bed on the side of the house. It’s not like we really need another project, but they looked SO pretty! (we’d been talking about doing this for a LONG time) And, since we use the side door ALL the time, I would really like it to look pretty. I honestly don’t know why we even have a front door…even visitors walk straight into our kitchen from the driveway!

these are going to look SO pretty!

















But, unnecessary rosebushes and future beautification projects aside…we actually completed all the things on the to-do list and then some. That’s always a good feeling!






After unloading from the town run and eating a quick lunch, we got to work planting the 800 or so transplants that had been hardening off in the backyard. Each plant was dipped in fish fertilizer and then plunked in the ground.  The Boss then tucked the dirt in around them. We finished that job just in time to do afternoon chores.  There was rain predicted for most of the week, and we were hoping the rain would water the new transplants for us. Not a drop in sight, so prayers were said that the forecasters were right…

ready for planting

By dipping the roots in a fish/seaweed mix, plant stress is minimized.
But, the "dipper" ends up smelling like a beached whale by the end of the job.
Blech!

tucking all the little plants in the ground

In addition to transplanting, we turned the sheep out on fresh grass.  Up to now, the cold overnight temperatures had kept the grass from growing and the sheep were confined to the winter paddock, supplemented with hay.  As the last flake of hay was consumed, the grass finally reached a point where it was obvious that we could turn the sheep out without adverse effects on the future growth.  They acted like they had gone to sheep heaven and grazed back and forth all afternoon.

on the way to the pasture pen







The warmer weather and greener grass allowed us to get batch #1 of broilers out of the brooder and onto pasture.  That meant they needed to be caught, crated and transferred to the outdoor pen.  Despite the fact that I clobbered my head into the brooder ceiling, dropped the chickens I had carefully gathered, fell down into the chicken poo, and made the Boss wonder if I had actually knocked myself out…the job went without a hitch. (I did have a residual headache for about 3 days) In less than 2 weeks, we will be processing that batch of broilers for Market!  There are customers waiting anxiously for the first chickens of the season.



in the pasture pen

Then, we weaned the lambs. (separated the lambs from the ewes)  Yes, that does explain the awful noise that’s coming from the hill. By way of explanation, I re-posted "No Silence of These Lambs" on Facebook.   The noise and chaos gets a little old, but after about three days, everything calms down again as the lambs figure out how to graze by themselves. We finally reached that point on Saturday afternoon when the hunger for grass won out. Calm has returned to the hill once more. (thankfully...the constant noise certainly didn't help my headache!)
they finally made it to the grass


515# of old ewes and 2 little lambs
I do wonder how much cash we will see

Since we had all the sheep in the barn, it only made sense to pull the “hayburners” and take them to the stockyard.  There were a few ewes that we knew we wouldn’t be breeding for 2016, and since they would no longer be feeding their lambs, there was no point in having them hang around any longer than necessary.  We also took two of the bottle lambs that weren’t growing out well and were quickly becoming a huge nuisance.  While taking sheep to the stockyard never yields much cash, it does put an end to some of the expense. Hopefully, the check will come this week.





We spent more “quality time” in the hoophouses, and the Boss got the strawberry plants planted. 
strawberry plants don't look like much when you plant them

 Two big boxes of onions arrived and there are thousands and thousands of onion plants waiting for us in the shop.  Planting them will be job ONE set for Monday, since it looks like April showers are indeed going to be a factor this week. Again.
bunches (and bunches) of onions

little broccoli just waiting for the rain

storm heading this way



Just when we were beginning to think that we might have to water in all the brassica plants, stormy weather icons began to fill the forecast. There was talk of the first thunderstorm of the season. The images on the radar and the rapidly blackening skies were just a little concerning.  Once weather station actually noted that if it had been summer, we would have been in “deep doo doo” (direct quote). In other words, some severe weather was headed our way.  (devastating tornadoes did pass through parts of Illinois) Ever since the Derecho in 2012, those big red/orange blobs on the weather radar freak me out just a little. 



We escaped the devastation, but did get some measurable rainfall which did the brassicas and the strawberries a world of good.
broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower transplants after a little rain

In between planting and harvesting and weaning, we made a dump run and de-wormed the lambs, I started seeds for the first squash and cucumber plantings (and more lettuce and spinach) and the Boss mowed grass for the first time of the season. 

And, then, it was time for Market once more. 
the first colors of sunrise as I left for Market

That was a quick week! I think time does actually FLY this time of year.  There are never enough hours in the day.

Saturday’s Market enjoyed some beautiful weather (until the end when the wind picked up). We sold out quite early.  While selling out is a great thing, having a good supply is also good.  This time of year, we have a hard  (read---impossible) time keeping up with demand, particularly for greens.  It is quite difficult for many customers to understand that the weather in January and February is STILL affecting our crops.  All the greens we are selling now have been growing (or trying to) since much earlier in the year.  The seedlings I planted this week won’t be ready for harvest for at least three weeks, quite possibly longer. And, that broccoli won’t be ready for harvest for at least 6 weeks. There’s a lot of advance planning and work that go into getting the crops growing so that they will be ready for harvest. (hmmm, I think I feel a blog post coming on) But, all in all, it was another great Market day.
empty baskets and artwork
some of the things I love about the Market


Now it’s time to catch up on some of the inside stuff that didn’t get done all week.  By the looks of my desk, I really…really need to spend some time on the computer doing bookwork.  While this is probably not my favorite way to spend great quantities of time, (especially when it’s a pretty day)  I do like to have all those little figures lined up, the accounts tallied and the checkbook balanced. So, I guess I’m headed to the office…

Thanks for stopping by!

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

…wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.


I do hope you’ll come “visit” again soon.  (just be sure to pat the dog and cat on your way in!)
doin' a little backporch chillin'





Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 4-5

 “with each new day comes new strength and new thoughts”
     -Eleanor Roosevelt
Most mornings I pause on my way to the barn to take a photo, much to the sheep’s outspoken annoyance. Each beautiful sunrise is a promise of a new day filled with possibilities. Even those “not so spectacular” mornings hold potential. Although I must admit, I struggle with gloomy weather. I don’t usually post at those times, partly because I know it’s just a matter of skewed perspective on my part and partly because I’m almost certain no one wants to read a list of all the things that seem to be going wrong at a particular moment in time.  One of the reasons I write the “Sunday Walkabout” is to help myself see the progress from the past week, to focus on the positive and put any struggles and frustrations into perspective. (and to give Tbone the chance to check up on the old folks while he drinks his Sunday morning coffee).

Spring was fully evident this past week.  Flowers are popping out all over, there are birds singing everywhere and if you look closely you can see a slight greening of the trees along the ridge.
I'm pretty sure the bluebirds will be nesting near the garden
again this year


With Spring comes the Market and all that is involved in Market season.  Market activities will define our lives and dictate all of our activities from now until Thanksgiving.

But, I’ll get to that in just a minute.

A lot of people have asked me, and I can only suppose that even more wondered…
This is the face he made after I told him we were having
"awesome burgers" for Uncle Tbone's birthday 




so, YES, GB#1 is home!  

He came home last week and the new family is doing well.  I’m pretty sure I could just sit and watch him all day long.
 



GB#2 is a very active little guy



Not only did he (finally) come home…but, the very same day I got to “see” GB#2!  Blondie and Tbone invited me to come to the ultrasound appointment when they got to find out the gender of their baby.  And…much to my surprise…it’s a boy!  I do hate to admit that I guessed wrong, but I did.  Here’s hoping that the cousins will be good friends since they will be so close in age. (and that they grow big and strong with a desire to help the old folks on the hill…) 

Two new babies in the family in one year...

 Exciting times here on the hill!








After all that great news, it was just a little hard to focus on the job at hand.  But, focus we must…because like I said... With Spring comes the Market and all that is involved in Market season.  Market activities will define our lives and dictate our all of our activities from now until Thanksgiving.


While I headed into town for feed and supplies, the Boss got the last of the garden spaces plowed and put Waylon in his “summer paddock” out back.  With the garden soil turned for the first time of the season, it really begins to look like spring.


He also got the vehicle maintenance out of the way. And we got the brassicas outside to “harden off” prior to planting. In case you’re wondering…just prior to planting, we expose all the transplants to the elements so that they will not be stressed after they are put into the garden. Our method for this is to put them in our big utility trailer and park it in the backyard. This allows us to move them all to shelter should bad weather be in the forecast. Last year it snowed on them! (keeping them in the backyard makes the job of watering them easier)  Currently, they are in the tractor shed to protect them from Friday night’s thunderstorm and last night’s freezing temperatures.  But, they ARE going in the garden Monday, since it looks like we are in for a week of rain. If the weather turns cold again, we will just cover them up.
moving the cabbage plants to "harden off"

Squeekie stands guard over the brassicas

Then it was back to the hoophouses for lots more cleaning and lots more planting.  The warmer weather means that we can finally leave the plantings uncovered…and this is a good thing.  While the row covers kept the tiny plants protected from the cold, they also provided a cozy, private place for small rodents to have a feast.  I can’t tell you how annoyed I was to find that something had eaten the tops off the scallions! (and chowed down in the kale, too) Despite the rodent damage, the crops in the hoophouses are looking pretty good. We should have them in total production by the end of next week.
rodent damage to scallions

lettuce

undamaged scallions

kale

early Spring delight
Miner's Lettuce or Claytonia


The rest of the week followed the choreography that is Market season.  We weeded and seeded, planted and harvested. Each day has its prescribed activities in addition to routine animal chores. 

the pullets have assimilated to the flock and are laying well

the sheep are waiting (not so patiently) for fresh, green grass

the "baby" broilers are getting big!



















A box of strawberry plants arrived on Thursday afternoon and joined the bags of potatoes in the shop, awaiting drier weather.  We got an email informing us that our order of over 4000 onion plants will arrive on Monday…and the hatchery informed us that batch #3 of broilers has indeed been “set”. 

Yep, it’s definitely Spring!

We were both a little surprised that getting back into the swing of Market preparation felt easy and went off without any complications…and we actually had a fair amount of stuff.

this week's farm goodness
as posted on Facebook

And, then…it was time for Market!

the very dark farm when I left for Market
The weather forecast wasn’t too promising for Opening Day.  First, there was a good chance of rain. (thankfully that blew through earlier than predicted) Then, the weatherman said it would be “breezy”.  You can almost tell just how windy it will be by how many “E-s” one particular forecaster uses when he says the word “breezy”.  And, Saturday…well, it was “breeeee-eeeezy”!  Before the Market ever opened, one vendor’s tent flipped over and would have blown through the parking lot like a giant kite, if it hadn’t been for the other vendors running to the rescue! Yikes! 

Things calmed down somewhat after that.  

Personally, I think wind is the worst weather phenomenon we encounter at the Market.  Bags and signs go flying, the produce gets dehydrated and wilty and it is hard to hear the customers.  Despite the (COLD) wind issues…it was a very good day!  It was good to catch up with folks we hadn’t seen since Fall and meet new people and talk about food and farming.

While this doesn't look like much,
we had LOTS of re-stocking to do...
the freezer was filled with meat
and we had four coolers of eggs

this is all that was left at the end of the Market

We finished just $25 short of a record Opening Day!
I must say, it's always good to get back home

Now, to just keep it up for the next 33 weeks of Market season.

The coming week promises to be busy. We hope to get the broilers  AND the sheep out on pasture (that might require some fence repair), the broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower planted in the garden and the strawberries tucked into the berry patch…just for starters. We should actually wean the lambs, haul some sheep, start some seeds for summer crops and go to the dump as well…then there’s the bookwork, the laundry…and some of the market freezers need de-frosting…

Looks like I better quit typing and get busy.

Thanks for stopping by.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!





Please come back and “visit” us again real soon!




Friday, April 3, 2015

Time to Get It in Gear


Farmers' Market
-TLW image


With less than 24 hours (by the time you read this) until Opening Day of the Farmers’ Market, it’s time to get it in gear.

Shake off any residual winter lethargy, dig deep and find that enthusiasm for good food and hard work…and move it!

It’s time to start the dance that is Market season. After 17 years, it's not hard to remember the steps...the rhythm of the season comes back naturally.

Each day of the week has its prescribed activities that must be completed in order to be ready for Saturday morning. Here are a few examples...








Every Saturday morning from now until Thanksgiving, we focus on selling the fruits of our labors. No matter the weather or our health (or our mental outlook).



Our livelihood depends upon those five hours.  Five hours. While that might not sound like much…it can be intense.  So…

Get ready!

Get set!

GO!

Here’s to a great 2015 Farmers’ Market!
 
It won't be long until the Market stand looks like this!



Hope to see you there! 

If you can't attend in person, "visit" us virtually HERE  Or check out the Market on  Facebook.