Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On the Frontlines

Are you organic? WHY NOT? Are you “sorta” organic?
Do you spray? With BAD stuff?
You don’t use pesticides, do you?
Are your chickens free-range, hormone free? 
Is this from a factory farm?
Is your lamb 100% grass-raised?
Do you use chemicals?
This meat has been injected with steroids, hasn’t it?
Do you love your chickens?
Do you use GMO’s in production?
Do you wash your produce?  Can I eat this right away?
Did you know they kill laying chickens after 72 days?
I just got back from a visit to a “factory farm”….ewww!
It’s nice to see someone selling REAL food…not that stuff from the grocery store.
Did you know that all meat is treated with a "solution" prior to sale?
I told the kids it’s better to have slugs in your food than all the pesticides that is used in the industry!
Monsanto is evil and out to kill us all.
Do you know where this stuff came from?
These vegetables are beautiful, how did you get them that way?
Why are these zucchinis yellow?  Did you do something to them?
Do you have any idea how I fix this vegetable/meat for eating?
You must feed your chickens “something” to make them this big.
Pesticides are bad!
The food at the grocery is full of GMO’s and “they” are trying to hurt us.
I am allergic to GMO’s.
Why are there bugs in this corn/broccoli/whatever?  Don’t you use pesticides?
Your eggs are so big…they’re brown… you must medicate your chickens.
...and so on...

Welcome to the Farmers Market!  …from the farmers’ side of the table.

Each of the statements above is a direct quote from some conversation we have had at the Market in the past six months to a year.  Except for that Monsanto one…I cleaned that one up so it was a little more “family friendly”. This is just a sampling.  I’ve got more…LOTS more.

When a Market conversation starts in a somewhat confrontational way, I find it more than a little distressing. I’m never sure if it’s because I am sleep-deprived (we get up at 4am to get ready for Market), caffeine-deficient (most times I miss my second cuppa in my race to check on all the critters before leaving for the Market), or maybe the Boss is right and I am “just too sensitive”…but, some of these people seem upset! REALLY upset! The upset customers often make us feel as if we are under attack, doing battle of some sort on the frontlines of the food debates.  As the fearmongers in the media continue to whip consumers into a frenzy, the rhetoric is getting more shrill and divisive and making food buyers more frightened and confused.

In our direct marketing ventures, I am the customer service rep, the complaint department (sometimes the one doing the complaining), and quite often the “face of the farm” at the Market and online. In many cases, I am what one of my customers referred to as “the closest thing I’ve met to a real farmer”. (uh, excuse me…I AM a Farmer…and yes, I AM very real!)

Over the years, we’ve gotten fan letters and had folks pledge their steadfast loyalty.  On the other hand, I’ve had people tell me to my face that we do things wrong and make unkind and false accusations. Those are the extremes, most times our Market conversations are short and sweet…and that interaction is what makes the Market an experience that both the Boss and I enjoy immensely.

ALWAYS a pleasant conversation
The pleasant conversations stroke our ego, make us feel good and provide us with insight as to how best serve the market customers.  While the un-pleasant, confrontational conversations can be hurtful and distressing, they too offer us insight as to our Market customers.  In the end, customer satisfaction is the key element to our success.

To that end, I’ve spent countless hours reading and researching areas of customer concern. I can give advice as to food preparation and preservation. I’ve cultivated relationships with folks outside of my comfort zone so that I can understand the food issues of the day. I have read books from all points of view and even watched “those” movies.  I have asked more than my fair share of odd and random questions in hopes of gaining insight into food production/farming practices that differ from ours to share real facts with my customer-friends. And, yes…I have some very strong opinions on every single subject, based on my hard-earned knowledge and personal experience. But, I won’t share them unless you really want me to.

All Market conversations require some thoughtful interaction on our part.  (except for that Monsanto one…I just looked at that guy and the conversation ended.  I will talk to anybody about anything...but, be nice!  no cussing!) Since it is not always prudent or possible to take the time to have an in-depth discussion about myriad food issues while conducting business, I began our farm blog in hopes that our customer-friends and others would read and understand some of what goes into food production.

You might want to read these.

The folks that shop at Farmers’ Markets are looking for fresh, healthy, local, nutritious food to meet a number of health concerns. They want the “best” for themselves and their families and they are convinced that all the information they have heard through the media, their health care provider or their second cousin is absolutely accurate and that they have every right to be worried.

The constant onslaught of “information” is overwhelming.  Social media , the mainstream media, the not-so mainstream media, the “shock jocks” who are out there to sell a book or a new diet plan or product, the celebrity farmers, the activists all fan the flames of fear and hysteria.  Much of the information is just plain wrong! When combined with the fact that most folks are three generations removed from the farm, the rising fear is completely understandable.

I understand the concern…the very real fear.  I was there once.  Remember the Alar Apple Scare of 1989? Read this. 

In 1989, I was a new mother.  Our beautiful baby girl had just begun to eat and drink “real people food” and loved apple juice and applesauce.  It was good for her.  Or, so I thought.  The stories that made the news were terrifying.  Here I was doing something I thought was good…and I was very possibly hurting my child in the process.  I was worried, I was outraged…I didn’t know what to do. The nameless, faceless apple growers were just trying to make more money and threatening MY baby in the process, or so said those talking heads on the news.

I talked to the pediatrician.  He thought it was media hype and that the benefits of juice outweighed the possible harm.  Besides, what would I substitute?  How far was I going to carry my concerns? This was before everything was labeled and ORGANIC was the rage.

The Boss concurred, but also suggested that I find out BOTH sides of the story.  That’s always the Boss’ directive…get ALL the facts. He suggested I could go to the library and do a little research. He would even watch the baby.

In the age prior to the internet, research was hard to do.  It involved far more effort than the click of a mouse or the scroll of a cursor. I made more than one trip to the library.  Perhaps it was better in the age before the internet…the constant sharing and re-sharing of “information” didn’t happen quite so much as it does now. 

It would have been a godsend to find a farmer (or someone) who was willing and able to civilly and rationally discuss my fears and direct me toward good information. If I had only known someone with personal knowledge or some connections!  I did have a little knowledge of orchard crops…but, my distant childhood memories of peach trees in the front yard or a trip to a pick-your-own weren’t really helpful.

I eventually cobbled together enough facts and a fair amount of faith to find some peace and surety regarding the food choices I made for my family.  While I am certain my choices were not perfect (and probably never will be) they worked for us. Today, I share our customers concerns about the food supply...and research the "issues of the day" on a regular basis.

This is one reason I fully support the whole “know your farmer, know your food” campaign…although perhaps not for the reason intended.  Once you know a producer, the fear of the unknown is gone.  That producer has a network of friends and acquaintances and a source of information that can be invaluable. 

The ability to talk directly to another real, live human being who is willing to make an emotional connection is powerful.  When that person is involved with your food, knows and possibly shares your concerns, the sense of empowerment is priceless.
It is with the recollection of my own past fears and feelings of vulnerability that I face each Market week with the hope for an opportunity to forge new connections and in some small way grant someone else the comfort and empowerment is personal knowledge.

To our customer-friends and anyone else who is truly interested in obtaining all the facts when it comes to today’s food issues, I say…

If you want to know more about food production and handling, ASK A FARMER! I would like to help you answer your questions.  If I don't have personal experience or know the answer...I know people who do. I’ll be glad to help you find the information you need. But, please…be polite.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The End Came Quickly

Sunday is our day of rest…

..our day to chill out...and enjoy life.

However, this Sunday did not work that way.

You see...

One of our farm dogs never woke up on this particular Sunday morning.  

Sometime in the night, Jed’s big ole heart beat for its final time.  That really changed the atmosphere of our Sunday. That's putting it lightly.

I can’t quite describe the feeling of finding a dead dog on your porch.  I won't even try. He just looked like he was napping next to the kitchen door…just like always. I really thought if I called one more time his tail would start wagging and he’d wander on down to the barn. Except I knew...

He had a number of health issues over the years, and he wasn’t what you'd consider young anymore…so, it didn’t come as a total surprise.  However, the exact cause remains a mystery and that is a bit worrisome.   I find myself feeling a little apprehensive over the health of the rest of the animals here on the hill. We’ve seen what seems like more than our share of unexpected death this year, and although this is in no way related to our lamb losses...I still feel apprehensive.

Yesterday he had seemed so normal, bothering the FedEx guy and barking, chasing the neighbor down the hill…

Since Jed was a working animal and not really a pet, we don’t feel that grievous loss that we have when dear pets have passed away or disappeared.  However, he was part of the farm team far longer than any other dog we have ever owned…so there is a sense of strangeness if for no other reason than he was part of the landscape.

He had more than his fair share of annoying, destructive habits that couldn’t be broken…so, in some ways it will make things easier.  The Boss can work toward filling in all the holes that Jed felt it necessary to dig when he was in need of a cool napping place or shelter from an impending thunderstorm. We won't miss his strange, random, relentless, pointless nocturnal barking.  However, he was one of the characters around here that lent to the atmosphere of the place.  I must admit, I will miss his weird and massive presence.

All in all, Jed had a good life here on the hill. We granted him years of care and comfort.  He added to the ambiance and atmosphere of the place and we learned a lot about dogs, sheep, predators…and ourselves in the time we spent with the big old lug. I must admit…I’m feeling just a little sad.

Everything felt rather different...weird...out of sorts...vaguely sad and strange.

Ellie Mae seems to sense that something is different, she has been skittish and alert all day.  As Ellie will need the companionship and teamwork of another dog, it is certain that we will get another dog to work as sentry and guard around the place.

The Boss is already looking for puppies…
Baby Jed

Oh my goodness…puppies…I DO love me some puppies!


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Walkabout 7-28

looking out over Mbrook on a beautiful summer day

Is it my imagination, or does time really speed up during the summertime?

Wow! This week flew by!
Just another misty morning here on the hill

We hauled another batch of lambs to the processor to get them made into lambchops and kebab meat and roasts and sausage and all sorts of lamb-y goodness.  

The long road trip to the processor in Edinburgh is a necessary one although we have a friend who insists he can process an entire steer using only his trusty pocketknife!  The USDA inspection sticker is required for us to sell lamb retail at the Market. Gore’s Processing does the most wonderful work, too.

Then, the Boss and I processed another batch of broilers.  This we can do ourselves. Federal regulations allow up to 20,000 birds to be processed before you need an inspector on site.  Our little operation will never get to those kinds of numbers! Thank goodness!

Chicks arrived in the mail on Wednesday.  This is batch 4…no, maybe it’s 5…I’ve lost count.  Anyway, the next batch of broilers arrived in the mail. 

 I find it oddly hilarious that the Post Office requires this new paper be attached to the package. 
It says, “live animals” and has photocopied pictures of all sorts of species. 

Now, keep in mind the box has BABY CHICKS printed on each side…and the PEEP, PEEP, PEEP from inside is nearly deafening. Seriously, the post office likes me to come get the chicks as soon as possible because they are so loud!  I really wonder who thought another label was necessary.

In garden news, we got the onions harvested BEFORE it rained again (and again)!  Details on that job will follow later.  It looks like a good crop, despite the weather.
It was so humid that the lens kept fogging over!

Finally, the fall potatoes are beginning to pop up.  That’s a big relief to the Boss. I think he was really worried about his ‘taters!

The battle with the bugs is going to be epic.  Stories will follow, you can rest assured.

The next batch of green beans has sprouted.  …the corn is tasseling, the okra is blooming and it looks like there is going to be a bumper crop of butternut squash.

It was a beautiful sunrise on Saturday prior to Market.  But, you know the saying about “red skies…”  It wasn’t too long before the rains started.  However, the rain didn’t seem to deter the customers and it turned out to be a great day. 

The peaches sold pretty well, despite the fact that there were lots of other peaches down there that were a lot bigger and prettier. The Boss and I will be putting the leftover peaches in the freezer for our Winter Sales group.

On a humorous note, it would appear that we’re not the only ones here on the hill who appreciate a good “cardboardeaux”. 
This is Tess’ new playhouse.

Hope you enjoyed your little virtual visit.  Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Happy Sunday!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sometimes You Win...

Yes!  We will actually have peaches for sale at the Market this week!  YAY

The weather has not been cooperative this season…not been cooperative at all. It was cold, snowy, wet, cloudy, hot, wet…are you seeing a pattern?

All the weather issues meant that the peach trees got absolutely no attention.  Not that they get that much anyway, we’re generally focused on other things and pruning and thinning and bug control are low priorities.  At least the inattention means we won’t have to have the never ending  “pesticide” conversation at the Market.

see the tiny peach in the middle?
When the trees blossom, there is always a chance we won’t get a harvest.  We seem to be in a cold pocket here on the hill, and often get brutal, freezing winds or frost when surrounding locations do not.  But, this year we missed that last cold snap.

We’ve been watching the peaches grow, waiting for them to ripen…anticipating that first taste.  MMMM, nothing quite like a peach right off the tree.
Sissie the cat helped keep an eye on the crop

Apparently, the beetles like fresh peaches as well. It always amazes me how they just appear…right at the moment of ripeness…helping themselves to the most lovely of specimens. 

Prompt action was necessary.  The peaches must be saved! I headed out with baskets and buckets...the Boss brought a ladder.

The chickens ended up having a peach feast (along with a little added beetle protein) as I gathered  the spoiled peaches. A good number were rescued for Market sales.

…and there were plenty of “not good enough for Market” peaches to make a pie.  A peach cream pie.

You just have to be thankful when there is PIE!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Walkabout 7-21

There was big news on the hill this week…
the sunrise through the apple tree

Well, it seemed like big news.

We finally saw the sun for an extended period of time! 
 That meant that it finally dried out enough to do some of the planting that we had been trying to do for WEEKS. (yes, literally) This is the first time in years (maybe ever) that we have just had to let some crops go entirely as the ground was too wet to get them planted in time. No sweet potatoes this year…and we missed at least one planting of squash and beans.  But, the crops that we did get planted are growing well.

We finally got all the fall potatoes planted.

 More importantly, the first couple of rows that the Boss just “mudded in” are coming up!  Unfortunately, the weed crop is looking pretty amazing, too, so he’s going to have some extra work on that one.

The fall brassica crop got planted. 

 That included over 800  broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.  They should be ready to harvest about mid-September.

new plantings after the rain...looking pretty good
We even had a few thundershowers to water these for us. (although it’s been incredibly hot, so we are also running the irrigation system for the first time this season) The heat index was 102* several days this week. 

 I must admit, working with sweat rolling down my face is not my idea of fun…but, it is July in the Valley and heat and humidity are just part of the deal.
The hazy view indicates the heat and humidity

Despite the weird weather and all the delays it has caused, we had a full (really full) vegetable stand at the Market.  It was a very good day. 
we used every inch of our allotted space at the Market

It looks like the warm weather will cause the damson plums and the peaches to ripen for next week’s market.  That is, if we can beat the bugs!

Coming back from our hay hauling trip, we encountered a traffic jam of sorts.  A milk truck was heading north and a tractor was heading south…Mbrook Road is fairly narrow, so all parties took it real slow, waved and continued on their way.  You’ve just got to love life in the country!

We’re taking some time to relax and re-charge today. 
The upcoming week will involve hauling lambs, processing broilers, harvesting onions, weeding, planting and harvesting among other things.  Summertime has really arrived!

Thanks for visiting.

Happy Sunday! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Timing is Everything

When the stars line up
  And you catch a good break
     People think you're lucky
        But you'll know its Grace
             It can happen too fast
                  Or a moment late
                                          Timing is everything!
                                                                                                                                             -Trace Adkins

It’s true.  Timing is EVERYTHING. 

Every aspect of agriculture is subject to many factors beyond our control, making it a challenging, faith-building way of life. Since we have no control over the weather, and forecasters are only able to give their best guess at a prediction, haymaking season is always a gamble for all those involved.

For our very small operation, buying hay is our best option.  However, that puts us in the uncomfortable position of being at the mercy of the weather AND knowing that we’re dependent on the skills and timing of others. I always feel a big sense of relief when that first load of hay makes it to the barn for the winter season.

Haymaking takes a stretch of several dry days in order to cut, dry, rake and bale the hay.  We haven’t seen too many dry days lately. If hay is “washed” (that’s how one of my farmer friends refers to his hay that gets rained on) the nutrition level drops, the possibility of mold increases and it just makes a difficult job even more time-consuming.

We’ve bought hay from one of the neighbors for more years than I can count.  He and his wife are some of the dearest folks I’ve ever met and getting hay is always more than a little entertaining as they tell tales on one another. 

Somehow, they hit the window of opportunity just right and got the hay cut and baled and in their hay barn before the rain.  The fact that when it did rain, the outer row of bales on the wagon got a little wet (it didn’t quite fit all the way in the barn) didn’t matter too much. Those will dry.  There was a load of hay for us...that was the important thing.

We picked up the hay wagon and hauled it down Mbrook Road.  One nice thing about buying “local”, we don’t have to haul it far!

The view from the top of the hay wagon was spectacular.  But, those big clouds were building…

Did I mention that it has to be HOT as well as dry during hay season? 

It was hot up there on that wagon, and I’m certain that the Boss was just as hot stacking the bales in the barn.

Hay stacked, lunch eaten, we headed out to return the hay wagon.  The clouds were lowering and darkening as we drove through the field to leave the wagon in the appropriate place.
this hay got "washed"

Shortly after we arrived home, the rains began again.

But, the hay is safe in the barn.

‘cause   Timing is everything!

While we can take absolutely no credit for it (nor can anyone else)…it does make me incredibly thankful on this Thursday.
Hay is a beautiful thing!