REAP-Day on the Farm

July 19, 2010

REAP food group, Madison, put on a wonderful “Day at the Farm” at Jordandal Farms, my direct-marketing partners.

People turned out in droves.  I think people want to visit a farm, but are too shy to ask.

Eric and Carrie went all-out showing off their farm.  Here is one of Eric’s Jersey cows with her five-day-old calf.

Here are baby chicks in the brooder house.  Each specific livestock had a sign with pertinent information.

Eric and Carrie showed off their chickens, Jersey dairy cows, and sheep.

We brought some of our Red Angus cattle and hogs to their farm.

Chefs from some of Madison’s finest restaurants prepared an excellent meal.  Employees and volunteers from REAP made everything go smoothly.  I can’t believe this was the first time they ever tried one of these.  Here we all are after a successful Day at the Farm.


Blackcap Pickin’

June 27, 2010

(Rubus occidentalis)

Come along with me we’re goin’ blackcap pickin’,
Put on long pants so you can push through the thicket.

Pick out all the black ones better leave all the red ones,
The red ones pretty sour, but the black ones are heaven.

Purple mouth and fingers, lets ’em know what we been doin’,
If they wanna get some, we can show ’em where we goin’.

If you got a bowl then you can fill it in a moment,
If you wait ’till next week, then you wait another year.


Early Spring: Finished Planting Corn

April 27, 2010

“When the oak leaf is the size of a squirrel’s ear, it’s corn planting time.”  Old farmer saying.

I finished planting corn last week.  April 23rd  is the new record.

It is an early spring.  Look at the asparagus in the old fence row.


Katie Couric Investigates Antibiotic Use in Livestock

February 11, 2010

I watched Katie Couric infuriate the US livestock industry over the past two days.  She reported on sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and the “superbugs” that may develop as a result.  It was a fair report.

A little background to catch you up to speed.  The US livestock industry routinely uses a low level of antibiotics in the feed or water of birds and animals to promote growth.  This is what is meant by the term sub-therapeutic, or growth-promoting.

One of the problems with this strategy is the possible development of “superbugs”, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  I don’t know if this has been proven, but it seems plausible.

We gave this some thought on our farm and discontinued sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics years ago.  We aren’t organic, however, and we do reserve the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.

And this makes sense to us, because, after all, this is how most people use antibiotics in their own life, (hand sanitizers excluded).

And this is a paradox many animal rights people don’t understand, but most livestock farmers enjoy raising animals and don’t want to watch them suffer from disease if there is a treatment available.

Katie Couric profiled the Danish swine industry which banned sub-therapeutic antibiotics years ago.  Contrary to predictions of the industry’s demise, the Dutch pig producers learned how to raise hogs without this crutch and their industry has even expanded since the ban.

Banning sub-therapeutic antibiotics is not without a cost, though.  The cost to raise a pound of pork increased five cents per pound.  This sounds about right.

And that’s why I’m not knocking hog farmers who choose to use sub-therapeutic antibiotics.  Five cents per pound over several years can make or break a hog farm; and it is an acceptable and legal practice in the US.

But sub-therapeutic antibiotics are not necessary and it gives the livestock industry bad press.  I wish we could come to a consensus as an industry and eliminate the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics while still reserving the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.  But of course I’m biased because that’s the protocol for my farm.

What do you think?  Do you see the difference between antibiotics used to treat disease and sub-therapeutic antibiotics to promote growth?  Do you pay more for antibiotic-free meat?  Do you seek out the lowest-priced meat?  What is important to you?  Why?


Wild Food Foraging/ Sam Thayer’s New Book, “Nature’s Garden”

December 20, 2009

Stinging Nettle, a delicious, wild edible, WHEN COOKED, profiled in “The Forager’s Harvest”, Sam Thayer’s first book on wild food foraging.

I’m excited!  I just received a mailing from Sam Thayer announcing the printing of his new book, “Nature’s Garden.”  This book is the second in his series on wild edibles.

Sam is the leader on wild food foraging for our generation.  I met him a couple of years ago when I attended one of his weekend seminars.  This guy lives what he preaches.

One of my goals for 2010 is to make foraging a bigger part of my life.  I need to figure out a way to phrase this goal.  I recently found Leo Babauta’s blogs and plan on using his techniques for accomplishing change.


Michael Pollan Speaks in Madison Wisconsin

October 11, 2009

“What is all the fuss about?  Why are farmers protesting?”  I thought as I sat and listened to Michael Pollan speak at the Dane County Farmer’s Market.   After reviewing my notes I started to understand why he upsets some farmers.

Michael Pollan is an excellent writer and speaker who can convincingly make a case for probably anything he feels strongly about.  I thank him for caring about food and for pointing out a flawed system.  I won’t be signing a petition to appoint him Ag Secretary though.  Because, as even he admitted, policy is not his area of expertise, and I fear the wheels would come off if he were allowed to drive.

I feel strongly about this because I see parallels between the American farm and food system and my own.  My farm is transitioning from commodity-based livestock production to direct-market livestock production with minimal purchased inputs.  We are not relying on an off-farm salary while we make this transition, so changes are made cautiously and evaluated every step of the way.  Whatever the flaws of the American farmer and food system, we do feed a lot of people.  And that is worth something.

I’m intrigued by organic production, but fear I don’t have the time or patience to learn.  I would love to help a young couple start an organic CSA on part of my farm.  Then my curiosity would be filled as I reported on what they did.  And they would have access to land to realize their dream to farm and feed people. 

 

But enough about me, let me tell you what Michael Pollan had to say.

There is a movement rising to change the American food system.  Nearly 8,000 people turned out for his speech on the UW campus.  And there was evidence of pushback as protesters also were in attendance.

Mr. Pollan said the goal of the American food system should be: “To provide fresh, high-quality food to everyone in USA and a decent return to American farmers and contribute to the solution of environmental problems.”

Hard to argue with that.  But then he connects the dots between the environmental crisis on one side and the health crisis on the other.  Guess what he place in the middle as causative:  Agriculture.

Mr. Pollan said modern industrial agriculture drinks oil and spews greenhouse gas.  He said agriculture used to use one calorie of fossil fuel to produce two calories of food.  Modern agriculture uses ten calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food.  He said it takes 28 ounces of oil to produce one double quarter pounder at McDonald’s.  I don’t know if that was with cheese.

I have seen figures like this before and I question them.  I will be writing a post this winter detailing how much oil my farm uses and how much food we produce because I’ve been curious about this.

Mr. Pollan then says that energy comes from the sun and Photosynthesis is the only free lunch.  He would like to wean the food system off of fossil fuels and put it back on sunshine.  Food can be resolarized.

The health care crisis is code for ‘cost of industrial food production.’  Since 1960, spending on health care has risen from 5% of GDP to 18% of GDP as the amount spent on food has decreased from 18% to 9.5% of discretionary income.  I don’t buy into this simplified argument.

Mr. Pollan says we still need to support farmers.  We just need to change the subsidies to reward quality and diversity and environmental solutions instead of rewarding for quantity. 

I agree that government programs become ‘monsters’ that seek to sustain themselves rather than accomplish whatever it was designed to accomplish in the first place.  I think we need results-based government programs.

Mr. Pollan spoke about our food culture.  “We need to reregionalize food.  People need to learn to eat from a shorter food chain.  He says the USDA is starting to get this and used the example of the new, ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program.

“We need to teach our children how to eat lunch.  This is a controversial statement until you consider that we are teaching them how to eat lunch by giving them chicken nuggets and tater tots and ten minutes.”

Michelle Obama was applauded for her organic garden and for speaking out about the importance of growing and cooking real food.  Claire Strader introduced Mr. Pollan, which was fitting because she is a Wisconsin grower that has become the White House gardener.

Mr. Pollan doesn’t feel there is a lack of farmland.  But there is a lack of farmers.  We have been demeaning farmers for the last 100 years and that has resulted in a brain drain on the farm.  That is something we both agree on.  It is going to take major brainpower to continue to feed people in a sustainable way.


Sweet Corn for Tacos

August 10, 2009

IMG_7307

I picked 3 dozen ears of sweet corn to give to friends.  Two friends were home and gladly accepted the gift.  I drove around town wondering what to do with the remaining dozen.

A temporary taco stand was set up in the park by main street.

“Maybe they would be up for a trade,” I thought as I parked my car.

“How many tacos you want?” a woman asked me.

“Uuuuh,” I said and walked over to where a man was cooking meat on a large, flat grill.

“How many tacos you want?” he asked me.

“What kind of meat?” I asked him.

“Pork.”

“Oh.  Do you like corn?”

I realized I was acting quite weird.

“Sweet corn.  I’m a farmer.  I have a dozen ears in my car.  Would you like to trade?”

The cook looked confused and uncomfortable.  The woman sidled over to help translate.

“I’ll show you,” I said, and walked back to my car.

I set the bag of sweet corn on a cooler.  When the cook stopped turning the meat, I took out an ear and pulled the husk back to show the plump, yellow and white kernels.

The cook said something excitedly in Spanish to the woman.

“How much?” he asked.

“It’s worth 4 dollars a dozen,” I said.

“4 tacos are 6 dollars,” he said.

I wasn’t sure what he was driving at.

“Ok, how about 3 tacos?” I countered.

He nodded and went back to cooking.

My friend from Honduras tells me most of the Hispanic immigrants in Lafayette county are from small towns and rural areas of Mexico.  They came to the US for work, of course.  But they enjoy the bucolic atmosphere of Lafayette county. 

They began wrapping up the tacos and the woman said, “He’s giving you four.”

We country folk sure know how to drive a hard bargain.