April 25, 2008

It’s amazing the things I see, now that I work at home almost every day. If I haven’t already mentioned this, we have a free-range red-fronted macaw that flew in here about 6 months ago. It lives here now. Its former owners came on several occasions to try to reclaim it, but fortunately for the bird it had more brains than the whole carload of its owners, and eluded all sad attempts at capture.

So, I looked out my bedroom window today and watched in fascination as the macaw followed a large turkey tom around the pen, waiting for it to turn around, whereupon it would try to bite the turkey’s tail feathers. This went on for some minutes. I have dubbed this macaw "The Inspector". No name really seems to fit, but whenever anything at all is happening in the yard, there he is….inspecting. On other occasions, I’ve seen him raise his wings and open his beak while chasing confused young chickens. We really need to film some of this and get it on YouTube, no one would believe half of what goes on.

This week we lost something like 40 of our young meat birds to a fox. Or a fox and dogs….I still can’t know for sure what happened. It was the final straw for a project that has had just about everything possible go wrong from day one. We’ll have about 30 birds left for meat, but any profit we might have seen for our investment of time and feed was already gone, and that was before the depredation happened. I suppose it’s a tax deduction, but that isn’t making us feel better right now.

Today I transplanted tomatoes and asters, and sowed seeds for squash and okra, and tore out cardoon plants. I’ve allowed at least 5 garden rows to be taken up by cardoon, a winter vegetable we haven’t been able to get anyone enthusiastic about….so out it goes. We had a minor greenhouse disaster in which dozens of pepper plants were fried, but fortunately we were able to score about 60 plants el cheapo from local stores. While "Sweet Red Pepper" isn’t exactly my idea of knowing what varieties I raise, as long as it makes peppers I suppose it’ll work.

I decided this year that everything south of the poultry pens will "go organic", no more Roundup. I’ve been making heavy use of my weed flamer. It’s hot, nasty work, but there is a certain satisfaction involved in setting things on fire. Tomorrow morning I’m going to lay waste to the orchard again….it’s taking several passes to exterminate weeds, but it does work.

Lastly, I am finally getting to where I am having halfway coherent conversations in Spanish. I’m learning lots of new words. It’s actually disturbing to think of how many vegetable names I can now say in Spanish. It’s not good Spanish, nor is it social. It’s stuff like shovels and hoes and rows and compost and turnips. But, I guess that’s where one has to start when the task at hand is to communicate with farm workers. A lot has been happening lately, and their work is pretty integral to any success on my part. Lately we’ve been all talking quite a lot about food, and what is happening to prices in the stores. I make sure to send them home with surplus produce. If I worked all day for someone else’s farm preparing vegetables for sale, and had people to feed at home, I know I’d appreciate being able to share in the bounty. In turn, people are appreciative when they’re treated decently. It was the workers who learned about all my chickens being killed and they hunted down the fox that did it, saving me from losing hundreds more dollars. It’s a different culture than what I’m used to, but at the end of the day we’re all people and we all need the same basic things. Muy bien.

 

 

April18, 2008

Life is moving at lightning speed these days, and I could write about a lot of things. But one item sticks most in my mind. Today I had a conversation with a client that acts as a distributor, and we were discussing the financial nuances of what a farmer like myself can ask for in the way of prices in a distributor-sales setting. I was asked if I had considered becoming certified organic, because then I could ask for more money.

 

For those who know me, I basically am an organic grower that doesn’t believe in the paper chase organic certification requires. When one really becomes acquainted with the realities of agriculture, one realizes that "organic" is one means to a good end. "Local", "sustainable", "humane", "chemical-free", "no sprays",  and "responsible" are all words that are bandied about in an attempt to explain to potential buyers how crops are raised. The problem is, sellers can say anything they want, and only buyers that develop an intimate relationship with the seller can know for sure if the claims are real, or a pile of horse pucky. I mentioned to my client that sometimes I describe myself as "non-certified organic". There was a pause in the conversation, whereupon she said, "it’s illegal to say that. USDA owns the word ‘organic’ ".  Now, that’s a little statement with a lot of impact. When people like Mr. Rodale promoted the idea of organic gardening decades ago, "organic" was an ideal that belonged to all the people who grew food and realized that the commercial fertilizers and the sprays and the economics of scale that drove these techniques were not necessarily adding up to good food. And now USDA has made it such that people cannot use a word to describe what is happening in a garden to a customer? That’s amazing. We’ve lost a lot of ground in the United States in certain matters, and it becomes increasingly apparent to me that we the people are in a fight for retaining control of our food. If that sounds extreme, think about a few things that no one would have believed a hundred years ago. It’s illegal to make and sell cheese to anyone without a mountain of financial investment, facilities and certification. It’s illegal for me to make blackberry jam and sell it at a farmer’s market unless I can do so in a certified commercial kitchen. It’s illegal for me to sell a turkey for meat to a grocery store unless I want to put that animal through the horrors of a commercial slaughterhouse. There are even attempts in the works to make it so that in the name of food safety, a farm like mine might be required to have extensive laboratoy testing done to determine the safety of the produce I sell–a direct outcome of ongoing "progress" to prevent another outbreak of illness like what happened last year from bacterial contamination in the commercial spinach crops. 

And in many regards, we the people are to blame. We want a 100% guarantee that whatever we eat is absolutely safe. Guess what, no matter what anyone does, there will always be risk involved in eating food, because microbes are everywhere, and at best we can use safe practices and cross our fingers. Our government responds by trying to mandate rules to guarantee the un-guaranteeable, and use one-size-fits-all legislation so that the same rules apply to the Ginormous Spinach Enclave as well as here at Nevermore Farm. So much could be different if the American people would take a moment and re-acquaint themselves with food. We as a culture used to have a relationship with food; we needed it, we grew it, and we understood it. Now all we understand is that we’re hungry and we want someone else to provide something to eat. I suppose that’s just the way it is, but the price tag becomes higher and higher. Every one of us heard our mothers say "Don’t put that thing in your mouth, you don’t know where it’s been" sometime in early childhood. But really, we all do that every day, don’t we? And we don’t think a thing about it.

March 29, 2008

Once again it’s 8:30 in the evening, we’ve just come in from working all day, and even though it was work work work, it’s never even close to done. This day started with a whole lotta irritation. Specifically, some yahoo came down the east access road to our property. They backed over an irrigation riser with their vehicle, causing a 20 foot geyser. Then, they apparently panicked, because when we went outside, we found that someone had tampered with the valves on our domestic well, changing them such that had we not had a safety override on the system, our well pump could have burned up. I am making a certain amount of surmises as to what happened, but this kind of occurrence has just cemented my decision to hedge off our eastern border as time goes on. There are no end to idiots who will cause accidental damage and then try to "fix it" when they don’t know anything about how to do so. So I had to waste some hours trying to dig out the broken line and flush the line. Ah, Sundays.