Monday, November 23, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Do you know how many genetically modified crops go into your diet? Do you know what it would mean not to support genetic engineering with any of your food dollars? Did you know that almost all animal feed in the USA is made from genetically modified crops? Do you know how extraordinarily limiting it is for us to feed only locally grown, non-GMO feed to our animals?
We're very much opposed to genetic engineering, particularly of crops. Beyond all the unknown risks to the animals and people that eat these crops and to the ecosystems in which these crops are grown -- risks that are as novel and unpredictable as the engineering itself -- we're just as concerned about the extent to which GMO crops take control of our food system that much further out of the hands of the local farming community and leave our fate in the hands of giant corporations that have no particular concern for -- or even knowledge of -- our communities. GMOs only facilitate larger farms with less diversity, greater demands for nonrenewable inputs and dependence on the global economy, greater accumulation of waste liabilities and pollution, and the further disintegration of human farming communities.
The list of GMO crops being grown commercially is presently still pretty short, but it impacts a huge percentage of food items. Corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola, cotton, and alfalfa are the major crops. (GMO-Papaya and some summer squash varieties have also been released.) You may not think you eat a lot of corn and soybeans, but consider the corn syrup in your tomato sauce, the soy lecithin in your chocolate bar; consider the regular sugar made from sugar beets that sweetens whatever doesn't already have corn syrup in it; consider the "vegetable" oil in your mayonnaise and salad dressing; consider all the additives, the conditioners, "natural" flavors, thickeners, and all the other mysterious things on those long lists of ingredients. And accounting for even more acres of GMO crops, consider all the meat and eggs and dairy products from animals raised on GMO crops. Corn and soybean byproducts typically make up almost the entire diet of poultry (both meat birds and layers) and hogs. Beef and dairy cattle are likewise fed diets heavy in corn, corn silage, soybean meal, and cottonseed meal. Even the alfalfa fed to dairy cattle is potentially GMO. Even farm raised fish eat pretty much the same feed. The biggest difference between different kinds of animal feed is typically just the ratio of soybean meal to corn. That means our local grocery store wouldn't have a single cut of meat of any kind, no milk, no other dairy products, and no eggs that have any real chance of being GMO-free. Even the great majority of small farmers selling "all-natural, hormone and antibiotic-free" meat or eggs have been sucked into the GMO tide; unless they grow their own grain their options are very limited.
In just over a decade most Americans have gone from eating a completely GMO-free diet to eating GMO's with every meal of the day, and quite disturbingly most Americans don't realize anything ever changed. Should consumers really have so little involvement in and say over what they eat, let alone what impact their food dollars have on our land? We see this massive, behind-the-scenes switch to GMO agriculture as further evidence that the corporate food system is inherently untrustworthy. We think consumers would be well advised to do everything they can to regain some control of what they eat: to prepare their meals more and more from scratch, to avoid prepared and processed foods, to grow what they can, and to seek out and support the local farmers that can offer independence from the corporate food system.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
First, we have some animal births to announce. Peaches, our great Pyrenees guardian dog, had a litter of 5 pups in late May. It's a favorite chore these days to go feed the dogs and check on the growing pups, the stocky little balls of fur. The guard dogs live in the pasture with our small herd of goats, protecting them from would-be predators. The little pups are being trained up in their role as livestock guardians and we hope to sell them once they're weaned.
Next came the first two goat kids to be born on our farm, twins, one male, one female, from our Saanen dairy goat. At this point the kids are drinking up all her milk, but we plan to milk her after we wean the kids and maybe experiment with cheesemaking. Another of our dairy goats is still expecting, but we're not really sure when!
There was also a litter of kittens recently, Nora's new playmates. These too have a role to play on the farm and we were happy to see their mother training them this morning, sharing the latest catch.
And then there are all the biddies!!! For the past two months, we've had hen after hen go to setting, giving us a continuous supply of biddies hatching. We're thrilled as mother hens protecting the biddies and helping them forage make for the best small farm way to raise up replacement hens and produce meat for our freezer. Lately, though, we can't keep all the broody hens out of our nest boxes! Just today, we had a hen hatch some guinea keets (eggs from a neighbor). We're hopeful for these, as guineas are supposed to eat a lot of some problem insects. And they are just fun!
And then there are the biddies that came through the mail last week. We're raising another 100 meat chickens this summer with the help of another addition to our farm, an intern, Michael Spangler. Michael, a senior at Davidson College, came to us this spring wanting to work on the farm this summer break. He is our first intern and we're appreciating all his help, especially getting projects done that might not otherwise get done in this busy season. The purpose of the 100 meat chickens is to generate some summer income for Michael, so for those of you that have wanted to get chicken from us but didn't want to handle the processing yourselves, this is your big opportunity: we're going to offer these chickens fully cleaned and dressed. They are Silver Buffs, a meat breed used especially by pastured poultry farmers. As with all of our chickens, we feed them only locally grown and non-genetically modified feeds, especially forage from complete free range. We bet you can't find chickens like this anywhere else in the industrialized world! We'll keep you posted on their availability.
Now for a quick crop report. We're very excited to be growing the field corn that we sell as white cornmeal on our own land this year. In the past, we've share-cropped on a friend's land. Growing it here has helped us to take better care of the corn, most notably growing a preceding cover crop of crimson clover. And the corn is looking really good! This open-pollinated heirloom corn originated in the Brushy Mountains. Typically growing 8-10 feet tall with very large ears, it is quite impressive to see. We hope many of you can join us for the harvest day this fall.
All 19 varieties of tomatoes are looking good and we're working hard to keep them trained and pruned. We're about to start harvesting the potatoes in large quantities, hopefully with the help of the tractor this year. It looks like the potatoes have really liked all this rain -- we just hope what's under the ground looks as good as what's above. The green beans are coming on strong, though the Mexican bean beetles seem to be coming on pretty strong, too. These are the little yellow larvae critters that skeletonize the leaves and then move on to munching holes in the beans themselves. We haven't come up with a solution to them except to plant a lot of beans, some 800 feet, and hope for the best. As mentioned in the intro, the cucumbers and squash have been a no show. We did just replant them in the hopes of a later harvest, but they're not fans of intense heat. We planted twice as many sweet potatoes this year in the hopes of having potatoes to offer from fall on into the winter. Eggplant, peppers, corn, okra, and summer peas (crowders, pinkeyes, etc.) are all in the ground and growing.
And finally, news from the bee yard: it was our worst ever spring crop with all the rain. While the weather seems perfect now, warm and dry, and the sourwood flowers are in full bloom, there must be little nectar in the blossoms as the bees are mostly staying home. We haven't given up on a summer honey flow, but as the days go on with no increase in bee activity our hopes decrease. Sourwood is certainly a mysterious tree and a very undependable honey crop.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
At one point this spring, I thought that someday we may need to get an irrigation system. I haven't thought about it since with all the rain for the past month and a half. For the most part, the vegetables are growing well in response to the constant water. In low spots in the garden though, the plants are doing poorly. A year like this helps us consider water management on the farm to prevent erosion.
Several of you all have asked us questions about what we wrote the week before last about nutrient cycles and returning nutrients to farmland. We probably should have been clearer about some of the first steps that can be taken. Much of nutrient recycling is logistically very complicated, and while we can suggest a few initial steps, what we want most of all is to encourage you first to think in organic terms about the problem and then to work with us and other farmers in discussing and developing solutions in the margins of the mainstream economy. We're living in a miserably under-developed stone age of nutrient recycling, so the work we all have to do will be the work of pioneers.
One thing we said last time that may have needed further explanation was our use of the word "organic." We definitely didn't mean to suggest that food scraps, for example, that came from conventional farms shouldn't be composted or included in nutrient cycles. We believe that anything that is or was or comes from a plant or animal (from any living organism) ideally belongs in a complete nutrient cycle. When we talk about "organic nutrient sources," we're talking about the nutrient-containing residues of living organisms. The short-term (unsustainable) alternative to those residues is chemical fertilizers, and that's the only contrast we meant to make.
Some of you all asked us whether we thought specific wastes would be good nutrient sources for our farm, whether we'd like to have food scraps or yard wastes, for instance. Food scraps and yard wastes are potentially good starting points, but the chief trouble with such things is that they're mostly water and air, and it doesn't make sense to spend energy transporting water and air. In order to begin to make real progress recycling nutrients from food scraps or yard wastes, those nutrients would need to be concentrated, presumably by rotting down as compost, before any extra effort is made to transport them out of the city to the farm. A fanciful solution would be for us to build or purchase a composting container at the farmers' market location that you all could dump your surplus food scraps into when you come to the market each week. Realistically, that's probably too challenging an idea for the city and the owners and organizers of the farmers' market, which leaves us looking for ways to help you compost wastes at your own homes. If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, then perhaps you're beginning to appreciate how much work we really have to do to escape our mainstream economy of wastefulness.
So what first steps can we suggest? Eggshells are a nutrient-dense leftover that might easily be returned to the farm. Left in an open container they will shortly dry out, after which they can be crushed. (In a sealed container they'll get nasty.) We could quite feasibly collect at the farmers' market all the eggshells all of our customers could bring us each week. And if you do have the means or the motivation to compost food scraps and/or yard wastes, we can definitely find ways to collect compost from you, even by the truckload if it were to ever get to that point. And if you're ever coming to the farm, we will gladly work with you to properly recycle *any* organic nutrient sources you'd like to bring to the farm. Meanwhile, please continue to seek new and better solutions with us.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
You might wonder of all the kinds of meat to sell why we're raising veal calves. Although once fairly common in Western cuisine, veal is an oddity -- and an especially high-priced one at that -- in North Carolina kitchens today. Moreover, veal is perhaps more closely associated with the abuses of factory farming than any other meat. That's a shame, but so is most of modern, industrialized agriculture. What we suspect a lot of people fail to realize is that what's sensible and economical for a small, low-tech farm like ours often varies drastically from what's most profitable for large factory farms. Chicken, for instance, is the cheapest meat to produce when chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, artificial stimulants, confinement "houses", genetically modified crops, etc. are plentiful; on a small farm, following organic principles, chicken is an especially challenging meat to produce for market, especially in quantities comparable to the amount of veal we can raise. Of course, veal is the same animal as beef, so you might ask why we don't just raise all our calves out as beef. The trouble with beef is that it takes well over a year, often closer to two years, to finish a beef steer. That's problematic because high quality, tender meat depends on a good rate of growth and therefore on nutritionally high quality feed, and the nutritional quality of pastures generally goes way up and down over the course of a year. Factory farms don't worry about the seasonality of grass, because they feed cattle mostly on grain. Grain certainly makes tender meat, but it would be a ridiculously expensive way to feed cattle apart from chemically intensive Midwestern mega-farms. The nice thing about veal is that the cow maintains a top quality feed supply (milk) for the calf, and because it only takes a few months to raise a veal calf, we can raise more calves when the grass is rich and milk is plentiful and fewer calves or no calves at all when the grass is poor and milk production drops. In other words, veal allows us to raise high quality meat in a cost-effective, seasonal way. If you consider other grass-eating animals that are raised for meat, the meat of the young, milk-fed animal is traditionally considered far superior to that of the mature animal (e.g. lamb vs. mutton.) And in comparison to beef, veal remains a gourmet, specialty item. A different logic applies to small, low-tech farms like ours, however, and so we can offer veal at least as affordably as comparable beef. If the logic of organic principles, of small, local, low-tech farms makes sense to you, too, then we encourage you to try veal. Pasture raised veal fed real mama's milk is a small farm delicacy worth enjoying.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
This past winter we found ourselves with an abundance of good ingredients for making homemade soap -- tallow and milk and cream -- and so we looked up some recipes and put together the most "homegrown" soap recipe we could. After trialing a few variations, we came up with the recipe for the milk and honey soap we're offering now. We rendered the tallow from the fat of locally raised beef steer. For the liquid we used 100% milk and cream (no water) from our Jersey cow, Elsea, along with a little bit of honey from our bees. The milk and cream, in particular, are supposed to give milk soap its gentle, moisturizing feel. The tallow produces a hard, long-lasting bar. We're excited to be able to replace supermarket soap with soap that we can make with, other than the little bit of soapmaking lye, all local and homegrown ingredients. We'd love for you to try some of our old-fashioned soap enhanced with milk and cream and maybe even let it be a regular substitute for soap made of industrially produced ingredients.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
That episode raises lots of interesting questions. It's particularly telling that so many organic farms in California depend on one-for-one substitutes for conventional fertilizers, substitutes that farm workers were unable to distinguish from conventional chemical fertilizer, and that are used exactly the same way with the same results. Are "organic" fertilizers that big companies process in big factories and that arrive in a bottle or a tanker truck, apart from massive frauds, otherwise not organically suspect? What is the ecological cost of such fertilizers? Why are California organic farms so dependent on factory fertilizers? What about the business model of these farms makes traditional, identifiably organic fertilizer sources (like leguminous cover crops) impractical? Why were organic certifiers so eager to secure the status quo following these abuses? How trustworthy can the USDA organic system be -- even when it comes to meeting very limited, legalistic standards -- when it's so far away, so convoluted, and so heavily industrialized? We see the whole episode as a further indication that the marriage between organic agriculture and supermarket-scale agriculture is shaky and ultimately unsustainable.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
A lot has happened on the farm since the farmers' market ended last October. Winter set in early and hard bringing a quick end to our late fall crops. We spent a lot of our time this winter working on fencing and other livestock-related projects. Much of what we're doing with livestock is still very experimental and inefficient, but we believe strongly in the importance of diversity to our farm, as well as the importance of reclaiming control of agricultural sectors largely lost to small farms. We added Barbados blackbelly sheep and Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs to the farm in December, as well as another Jersey cow in March. We'll tell you more about our plans for our pastures and the sheep another time, but the short story is that the sheep have been a lesson in what doesn't work. (Anybody want to buy a breeding pair of Barbados blackbelly sheep?) All in all the dogs have worked quite well for us, and they've helped simplify the way we manage our dairy goats, but their role as sheep guardians will have to await a different breed of sheep more suitable to our circumstances. Elsea, our first cow, had her first calf born on our farm right before Christmas. It was a bull calf sired by the neighbor's Hereford bull. He's a healthy calf with an easy temperament to work with and is growing very well. By next summer he should be the first finished beef steer we will have raised.
We just finished planting the first crop of field (cornmeal-type) corn that we've planted on our own land. (We've only sharecropped field corn until now.) The remaining strips of crimson clover that we grew as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop are blooming beautifully right now, and the bees seem to be enjoying them, too. The bees have had a rough go of it until just lately. Conditions were very poor for the bees last summer and early fall, and we suffered heavy losses. This spring, in part because of the cool, wet weather the bees have built up very slowly and aren't up to size yet for the honey flow that's already beginning. We're expecting a very small honey crop this year. Meanwhile, we're rebuilding for next year and trying to temper our forward-looking management with lessons learned from last summer's dearth.
The garden crops have been a mixed bag -- as usual -- so far this year. We had unexpected, heavy insect pressure through the cool, wet weather. Seedcorn maggots killed half or more of the 4000+ onion plants we grew and set out, and cutworms have been systematically thinning everything from the cabbage to the radishes to the lettuce to the onions. Neither of those insect pests has ever caused significant damage to our spring crops until this year. Our later seedings of spring crops are generally looking a lot better than the earlier plantings. If it doesn't get too dry or too hot too soon we're still very hopeful for the late plantings of lettuce, spinach, beets, etc. The Irish potatoes are also looking very promising so far. We set out our largest yet strawberry crop last fall. They didn't grow as much and get established as well through the off-season as they normally do, but the plants are looking pretty good now, and there are a lot of small, green strawberries already. Of course, there's lots more happening in the gardens, but that's a little news from the off-season.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
We've been spending these colder winter days indoors dipping our beeswax taper candles. They are 100% beeswax and made with wax from our hives. Our beehives are not treated with any chemicals; many of the chemicals used in beekeeping can accumulate in the wax.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
If you've been to visit our new farm -- and if you haven't we invite you to make plans to do so -- you probably saw our chickens running around the farmyard. Some people, when they come to visit, comment that they haven't seen chickens running around like ours in a couple generations. As easy as it is to find "free range" eggs in supermarkets, you might expect to see some of these hens that are now supposedly out in the open, but even as farmers interacting with lots of other farmers, we've never seen or even heard about a real "free range" flock that supplies a supermarket. So what does "free range" or "free roaming" mean? Most likely it means only that chickens are crowded in confinement houses instead of being in individual cages. In such crowded conditions, hens typically have to be de-beaked to prevent cannibalistic pecking. You can bet the factory farmers raising such chickens -- or paying the immigrant laborers that do -- aren't relying the least bit on actual forage to nourish their birds, even if, as in the case of "USDA organic" flocks, they're given a token run beside their confinement houses.
When we use the term "free range" we mean that our chickens are completely unconfined all day, free to wander as far as a chicken wants to wander (in the forest floor, in the orchard, in the pasture, around the gardens, etc.), and able to scratch up enough worms and grubs such that genetically engineered oilseed byproducts (and any other sort of so-called "natural, vegetarian" protein supplements) are completely unnecessary. (We go to extraordinary lengths to feed all of our animals without the use of any genetically modified feedstuffs.) We believe those worms and grubs -- not just a square foot's worth but thousands of square feet per chicken -- are the most valuable and important part of free range. Worms and grubs are nature's free (and ecologically benign) gift to chickens and they are chickens' natural source of protein; the industrial alternative is massive Midwest monocultures (almost always genetically modified), using tremendous quantities of fossil fuels to synthesize everything from the fertilizer to the pesticides, causing problems like soil erosion and pollution of rivers and aquifers, and processed by agribusiness corporations beyond the control of any farmer. Nonetheless, free ranging chickens isn't an easy choice. Fewer and fewer locations allow for the successful free ranging of chickens any more. (We used a moveable fence to rotate enclosures when we lived in Wilkes County.) Even now, our farm can naturally only support a relatively small flock. Predators like stray dogs and hawks have taken a significant toll on our flock over the years. Allowing our chickens free range has also required us to invest in fences around our garden spaces and young trees. We believe we're approaching a different kind of efficiency, though, a kind of efficiency not built on cheap fossil fuel and slave-like immigrant labor but on diversification and creation's natural bounty, and we're very proud of the simple yet extraordinary quality of our eggs and chickens.