Friday, June 27, 2008

Farm Friday

This week was fun, exciting, and very busy. On Tuesday we helped a farmer friend, Josh, cut and thresh wheat by hand. It was a fun learning experience but very hard, slow, hot work. Hard, hot work is normal, but the "slow" part was too much of a setback, so Josh is going to borrow a mower and is looking into more mechanized methods of threshing. But if case you want to grow and thresh your own wheat by hand, here's how we did it.

In December, Josh planted soft white winter wheat. Spring wheats and hard wheats don't grow well in the South, which is why our country region is well known for biscuits, made with soft wheats, rather than yeast breads, which are made with hard wheats. After planting, he did nothing with it until harvest. It's a very low-maintenance crop.

To harvest, we first cut the wheat stalks. Some of the harvesters used giant clippers like you prune shrubs with, but I preferred to use a machete like a sickle, taking a bunch of wheat in my hand near the heads and then cutting it near the ground. Then we laid the wheat on a tarp with all of the heads facing in the same direction. When we had a big load, we slid it over to our threshing "floor". This was a tarp that was flat in the middle and rolled up on all sides but one, to keep the wheat from flying out. You can use a flail for the next step, which is basically two sticks with the ends tied together, one of which is long and round with the other being short and preferably flat. We just got on our knees and used two short sticks to beat a small bunch of wheat at a time, laid out on the middle of the tarp in front of us. We'd beat the heads with the sticks, occasionally rotating the bundle, until most of the wheat berries had been beaten out. Then the straw goes into a big pile and the wheat remains on the tarp until it is poured into a bucket for winnowing, which Josh did by simply pouring the wheat between two buckets in front of a fan. We brought some wheat home and ground it, and Esposa made some peach quick bread with it.

We harvested the first squash from our garden this week and some more beans, as well as a couple of banana peppers. Sorry, I still haven't got any pictures, but the garden just looks better as summer progresses, anyway.

On Wednesday, we helped Josh pick blueberries from a 20 year-old orchard of blueberry bushes. They were about 8 feet tall, and were loaded with berries. This was the early picking, so most were not ripe yet, but we picked about 6 and a half gallons. The man that owned the orchard was a friend of Josh's. He acts as Santa Claus and was formerly a firefighter. That's what he says anyway- if you saw him you'd agree that he is Santa Claus. ;)

Tuesday morning I'm picking up eighty laying hen chicks from a local hatchery, so I'll post pictures of them then, as well as pictures of some adorable little goat kids which Mocha finally had.

Have a great weekend,


Friday, June 20, 2008

Farm Friday

First, an apology is in order. I never posted last week's Farm Friday, even when I said I'd put it off until Saturday or Monday. Sorry.

With that out of the way, things have been very busy here, and it will only get busier up until the trip we have planned in July, to these two places:
[link] and [link]. Top priorities on the farm list are getting laying hens (chicks) started and out on pasture, setting up irrigation for our garden, and fencing in our hill, which is covered in scrumptious brush just waiting for hungry goats. We started building a brooder this week in preparation for the new chicks, and with the greatly appreciated help of Mr. Danny when he came with his family to visit, the brooder was built in a day (unlike Rome). There are two pieces of tin not yet in place, but that's just because we ran out. Notice the peaked door, so we don't have to duck going in; that's an idea too good for me to have figured out. Thank you Mr. Danny.

The garden is coming along handsomely (that's an old word that means "well"), but I'm an awful photographer and haven't got any good pictures yet. We have corn, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, okra, eggplant, zucchini, purple-hull peas, cucumbers, squash, and one potato. We planted about forty potatoes, but 39 drowned. Now that we can set up the irrigation we're going to lay plastic on some rows and plant pie pumpkins, with the drip tape irrigation under the plastic. The plastic should keep the pumpkins from rotting. I'm also planting some field pumpkins (a little coarser and not so sweet as pie pumpkins) with the corn, to feed to the hens. If you feed pumpkin to laying hens in the winter, it's supposed to keep their egg yolks bright orange.

There should have been some pictures of cute little goat kids in this post, but Mocha, the last pregnant momma goat, is still holding out- despite the fact that she looks like she'd pop if you poked her.

A few little happenings: the creeks have dried up because it stopped raining, we're milking Patty, our goat, and getting a pint a day (we'll post pictures of that sometime), and soon our pennies and nickels may be made out of steel. I might write a post on that last one, which should prove interesting.

Have a great weekend,


Friday, June 13, 2008

Farm Friday

Farm Friday this week will be on Saturday. Or maybe Monday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Farmer's Two Cents

With the salmonella tomato scare that's all over the press [link], the media is looking for someone or something to blame. This is understandable; because of the wide distribution inherent in our food system, such outbreaks are scary. Of course, the only conclusion has been a cry for more regulation, more funding for the FDA, and other such dull, ordinary solutions. I heard a lady interviewed on CNN state that at present, FDA officials are not allowed to go onto a farm's premises to test produce without the farmer's permission, and she said that this restriction should be removed to allow testing of potential problems before they reach the point of packaging and distribution. Is such an erosion of liberty a necessary (or practical) tactic to keep our food safe? I think there is a better solution.

Our food system has many inherent weak points. First and foremost, the customer has no knowledge of who grew their food or how it was grown. The farmer that grew the food has no accountability to his customers because he never sees them. Therefore, the customers must rely on the government to make sure that the food is safe. Would you trust the government to take care of your money? If not, can you trust it to keep your food safe?

Secondly, large amounts of produce are gathered and mixed at one point for distribution. Thus, even if 99% of the farmers growing the produce are using good management practices, the 1% who are taking shortcuts (or whose produce has been exposed to, say, chicken house runoff) can cause huge problems if their bad management results in dirty produce getting in with the rest, and one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel. Related to this is the fact that good wholesale farmers may be seriously harmed by negligent wholesale farmers (who create a food scare) if they can't sell their produce.

Note that Whole Foods is pulling their tomatoes off the shelves as well, although they are doing so voluntarily. The spinach scare a couple of years ago involved both organic and conventional spinach. Thus it seems that "organic" is not the solution to food safety; it has some of the same problems as conventional produce does. This is not to say that organic produce isn't higher quality. I'm just saying that the organic industry doesn't have all the problems of conventional production solved.

I've posed alot of questions, but what is the answer? I believe that in order to get the highest quality, cleanest, safest food, you must buy locally. Local farmers selling through farmers' markets, a CSA, or roadside stands have their customers in mind as they grow the food. Odds are, they're growing it in the manner that they would want it to be grown for themselves, because they are growing it for themselves.

Buying from local farmers helps to build a local and regional economy, which is much more secure than a national economy. If local farmers disappeared because of their inability to compete with the large farm corporations, where could the food come from in the event of a crisis in the economy? Both conventional and organic produce relies on transportation over long distance, and so creates a dependence on fuel. This, besides inflation, is what causes food prices to rise along with fuel prices. Local, sustainable farms can improve the quality of the soil, slow urban sprawl, as well as providing good food and the farmer's income.

This is the reason for a CSA- Community Supported Agriculture. The customers pay the farmer up front for a share in his crops so that he can pay for his planting expenses. If the farmer has a bad year, the customers ensure that the farmer can try again next year, because if the farmer goes out of business, his customers lose their good food supply. We are looking into starting a CSA, and it seems like a really good idea for farmer and customer alike.

In short, as Joel Salatin has often emphasized, the only way for the U.S. to ensure a safe, healthy food supply is to localize it. A local food system is a partnership that benefits all involved.


Monday, June 09, 2008


Here are the pictures from Thursday morning when we moved the chickens out to pasture. We carried them out in a round watering tub, so that the chicks wouldn't pile up and smother in the corners. Besides, poultry crates cost $75 each...


Friday, June 06, 2008

Farm Friday

This was a very exciting week here on the farm. We toured another grass-based/organic/sustainable/Salatin-style farm near here on Tuesday. Call it what you will, it was an exciting visit. The farm is run by a young couple and is now in its second year of production. They sell chicken and eggs, as well as vegetables through CSA shares and the farmers market. They aren't worried at all about competition and are encouraging us in hopes that we can work together to help each other out and provide a more consistent supply of farm products to the local market. We went all day today to help process chickens and then to work in the gardens. It was wonderfully fun and educational, and we're really excited to get to know them.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I built the pen for the chickens and on Thursday we moved the chicks out to their new home on the pasture. They were three weeks old Tuesday, so they'll be on the pasture for five more weeks.

I'm having some technical difficulties so I'll upload pictures tomorrow.

Have a great weekend,