Friday, January 23, 2009

Third Day

Today was a great kick-off for the General Conference, which I started at the Trade Show. There are many organic gardening and farming suppliers, seed companies, local food organizations, and gardening/farming tool suppliers.

My first session was on mushrooms. Not only did we learn about mushrooms as a food crop, the instructor also taught us how mushrooms may be used as a filter for toxic chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, and "sponges" to soak up heavy metals like lead and mercury. Fungi mycelia act as "scissors" which cut substances into smaller molecules, which can often result in removing toxicity. Mushrooms can grow in pure motor oil, and will break it down into organic chemicals. Mushrooms can even render dioxins harmless- dioxins being the potent poison (causes severe health problems and birth defects) inherent in Agent Orange and any other 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T herbicides.

Next I went to a session called "Growing New Growers", which was about hiring help and, very often, assisting those employees to start their own farms. Labor has been a big topic at the conference; it seems that many farmers need help but don't think that they can afford to hire it.

My third session was on composting. It was very helpful, although I was familiar with most of the concepts. The section on vermiculture- worm growing and composting- was the most interesting to me. The instructor shared the story of a man who makes his living creating worm compost. He built a $90,000 worm bed building and payed it off in his first year of production.

Finally, I went to the Alabama Networking Session. This was extremely exciting and encouraging. There were over 100 people, both farmers and local food advocates. The sustainable/organic, fresh, local food movement is gathering steam in Alabama. We Cullman growers most likely have a market capable of supporting several more farms, and we're working on ways to cooperate and combine our abilities and resources in order to create a whole that is greater than its parts. We would love to provide all of the food for as many families as possible.

The rest of the family went to the Aquarium today. It sounded like they had lots of fun seeing sharks, penguins, otters, and butterflies. I told them to take pictures, but they were neglectful of our blog reader(s) and didn't do so. Sorry! I know that these posts are pretty boring without pictures, but I will try to make a nice post when we get home. Until tomorrow,


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Second Day

After our day yesterday, we went to Panera Breads with Josh and family, who are also attending the conference. I would highly recommend the Asiago Roast Beef Sandwich and Jones' Cream Soda.

Today was about 20 degrees warmer than the arctic weather of yesterday- 53 degrees at noon. In fact, some of our family members are swimming right now (but I suspect the pool is indoors:). I finished the Organic Veggie class this morning, and motivated by the upbeat discussion and a Starbuck's Caffe Mocha, I'm all ready to go grow an acre of bountiful, healthy vegetables. Maybe a few years from now I'll reach that goal- it definitely takes time to build up soil, but now I have an idea of what I need to be doing. The instructors were very nice and answered hundreds of questions. In closing, they both gave us advice that they considered to be a critical part of successful farms. Start small and learn as you go, and, Diversify- it's good for you, your farm, and your customers.

After the short course and lunch, Smokestack and I watched 3 hours of videos, made by Southern SAWG, profiling farmers to demonstrate topics such as "Meat Goat Production" and "Pastured Turkey Production." I may be raising turkeys for Josh's customers, which could require anywhere from 50 to 100+ birds. The turkey video taught me a lot that I don't want to do- such as raising heritage breed turkeys that require 7 or 8 months to grow out and must have feed with 28% protein.

The General Conference starts tomorrow and lasts until Saturday evening. I found out that there will be an Alabama Networking session one evening, which sounds really exciting. Until tomorrow,


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Day

We arrived safely in Chattanooga last night. When we checked into our hotel (which is really nice, with a Starbucks inside. We got a great deal through a special conference price.), the valet said that the person that arrived before us was here for the conference from the Virgin Islands! I've also seen people from Maine and New Hampshire, so apparently there isn't a Northern SAWG.

I planned to post pictures each day, but forgot the picture downloading apparatus. Therefore, I'll just write about each day and post the pictures when we get home. Today, I started my short course on vegetable production. It was very helpful and I learned quite a bit, although it has been very basic. It has definitely been helpful in confirming many ideas that I was forming for this season.

The program for tomorrow looks really promising, as it includes the tillage portion. This class is taught by Ken Dawson (25 years experience) and Cathy Jones (18 years experience), both of North Carolina. Mr. Dawson looks exactly like Wyatt Earp, except that his mustachio is a little bit longer. They definitely know their business, and due to their experience, the class has a really down-to-earth, dirt-under-your-fingernails feel.

The rest of the family went to the Chattanooga Choo Choo today, and I'm told that they all really enjoyed it in spite of the cold, windy weather. An electric shuttle runs right in front of our hotel, and makes a loop from the aquarium to the choo choo, so thankfully we don't have to walk much in the cold.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Robert E. Lee Day!

202 years ago today, one of the most virtuous, courageous men in the history of the United States was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He is certainly one of my heroes, and his example of Christian character stands out far more brightly even than his military genius, which rivalled that of Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte. After he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee encouraged his former soldiers to live patiently and peacefully during the following Reconstruction years. Lee was offered many lucrative offers for employment, but he turned them down to become President of Washington College. He felt that this position would allow him to help in the reconciliation of the United States and the former Confederacy, both through his own example, and in the education of Southerners. He contributed greatly to the future of the college and its students until his death five years later, in 1870. After his death, the college was renamed Washington and Lee University, an honor of which Lee would never have felt himself worthy, although it was fitting to link the names of the two most virtuous, noble men in the history of America- both of whom led a War for Independence.

Southern SAWG Conference

We're heading up to Chattanooga on Tuesday evening to attend the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's 18th Annual Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference. Elsewhere in this post, it will simply be referred to as "the conference".

On Wednesday and Thursday I am attending a pre-conference short course on beginning vegetable production. I had always planned to simply have a pasture-based farm selling chicken, eggs, beef, and maybe lamb, pork, and ostrich. I realized last year that vegetables are a good addition to any farm, because they are easy to market (i.e.: fewer tyrannical regulations) and produce a much higher profit per square foot. Customers who buy vegetables can then be introduced to chicken, eggs, and so forth. Unfortunately, I haven't studied vegetables nearly so much as I've studied chickens, and I'm hoping that this course will give me a good start.

The conference itself starts on Friday and wraps up on Saturday evening. The whole family is going, and will be visiting the Aquarium and Choo-choo. We should have a laptop and internet access, so we'll try to blog like we did in San Antonio.

After posting about the mushrooms, I found a few pictures of the flood that we had a few weeks ago. Both of our bridges were under water, and much of the pasture was flooded. Smokestack and I canoed across the whole pasture. You can see the flooded pasture in the background of the lower picture. (If you want to enlarge it, use a magnifying glass. I tried to make it clickable for 15 minutes.)


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mushrooms, anyone?

I had a good post waiting to be written last Saturday, but I was dead tired from carrying trees logs. Then, early Sunday morning I got sick, and wasn't sure if I'd live to see another day (I'm known to exaggerate just a little). Now that I've recuperated, here's the post.

Last Friday night, I went up to a meeting of our county's sustainable farmers (there are three of us- we met at Josh's house:) to discuss seeds. It was a great meeting and produced a lot of good ideas, which may or may not mean that I grow a lot of cucumbers and turkeys.

On Saturday, Josh came down to our farm and we spent the day inoculating mushroom logs. Josh had gone to a mushroom workshop at ASAN back in November, and we had all decided to try growing some. We cut 120 logs, and Josh inoculated 21 logs for us, in return for the rest of the logs. In nine months we should start getting beautiful Shitaake mushrooms.

First, we cut white oak or red oak trees into 30" logs, between 3" and 8" in diameter. Then we drilled holes 6" apart in rows 3" around the logs.

Next, we filled the holes with mushroom spawn, which looks gross but smells pretty good.

Finally, the ends of the log and each spawn-filled hole was covered with cheesewax, along with any imperfections. The result is a mushroom log, which will fruit 2 or 3 times a year for about 3 years. I plan to have mushrooms for sale ;).


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pop Quiz

Monday, January 05, 2009


Stonewall did a lot of tractor work while he was off "work", and the Littlest Boy learned a new favorite word- tractor! He's growing into a good little farmhand. Of course, he has always liked tractors:

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I have decided...

...that this blog is in sad need of an update. ;D Check back on Monday for a post about....well, something.