Thursday, February 28, 2008

Managing.

Last year a local business decided to back a Farmers Market in our area. I didn't have anything to sell, but really wanted to see a market in our area, so I volunteered to help. The market where we'd moved from the year before was amazing. Lots of great booths, the atmosphere was perfect for a market, and the community was so supportive that the market had to move to a bigger venue every few years. A real success story. So I wanted to have that for the people who live here.

Problem was, the market I was used to was located in a college town with a community full of international students and academics who were looking for that type of outlet. (And, to be frank, the majority of those attending and selling were not Mormon, so it was a place for non-Mormons, no matter their beliefs, to make connections with other non-Mormons.) Here, in very rural Idaho, people have very different ideas about markets. They want a deal. They want cheaper than a supermarket. I've been told (not by customers, but by some vendors and some locals who never went to the market) that they want a cross between a Farmers Market and a Flea Market. They also want the same type of produce through the entire market season that they'd find at a supermarket - so forget eating seasonal. I had people asking why my only produce in May was rhubarb - why nobody had tomatoes. Our last frost date here is May 15. Tomato plants had barely been planted.

So we started the market with the backing of a generous business who let us use their parking lot, a board of three vendors and the representative from the business, and a few vendors - mostly crafts, but a few baked goods, and me - all I had to sell was rhubarb, but I was there. Later I added some other produce and shared my booth with a friend who sold delicious bread and scones.

This was my booth towards the end of the season - I'm barefoot and pregnant. I'd spilled root beer on my shoes.




By the end of the season, we had about ten really solid vendors, a few of those had done *very* well. A home bread bakery, a home sweets (cookies, fudge, cinnamon rolls) bakery, some produce vendors, and a pork vendor. Some hadn't done very well, but enjoyed the atmosphere and were always lovely to the customers and helpful to me - a quilt vendor stands out in my mind.

By the end of the season we also only had one board member - me. For the last few months of the market, I was the only board member. I was hauling the girls to market every weekend to handle public relations, vendor disputes, and market business and was just finishing off my first trimester of this pregnancy. It was hectic.

We had an end-of-market meeting where we discussed how the market had gone. The vendors were discouraged - they were expecting a big bustling market - so I shared with them how we had done financially and how other market managers that I had talked to thought we had done. Apparently ending your first season with ten solid vendors is really good. I'd gotten some good ideas for advertising for the next year and was excited about going forward.

Then two things hit. First, at the meeting (not before, which would have been nice since I was blindsided in the meeting), the business informed us that we wouldn't be able to be in their extra parking lot the next year since their new restaurant would be open on Saturdays. Fair enough. They were still willing to sponsor us, but we'd have to find a new venue and we weren't making enough to support that. Second, I needed help. The only vendors who volunteered were the quilt ladies (which I was thrilled with) and the pork producers. The problem here is that the pork producers were outspoken about their desire to add another booth to their pork booth. They wanted to add a flea market booth.

Now, I'm a market snob. If I went to a Farmers/Gardeners Market and there were flea market booths there, I wouldn't be back. I don't like that atmosphere, and the people who will pay money for quality produce, crafts (like handmade quilts), and other locally made products don't like that atmosphere either. I talked to some friends who have lived here for a long time and heard the same thing over and over - "You may not like it, but it may be what it needs to succeed here."

But I didn't see that. We had dedicated customers, about 50 that I recognized by sight by the end of the season, who were there for the produce, baked goods, and atmosphere. Since word of mouth is the best advertisement for Markets, it is *those* customers that will help build our market. Those customers who feel the same way I do, that the atmosphere is wonderful, that local and organic is worth paying for (though only one of our produce vendors is organic), those are the customers that will tell friends and relations and acquaintances that the market is worth shopping at.

So now I'm getting phone calls asking me to head up the market again. I'm also, hopefully, days away from having a baby. So my dilemma is this: Do I put lots of energy and emotion into producing, promoting, and running a Farmers Market that has shown quite a bit of potential and, I believe, just needs a bit of tweaking to really thrive? Do I put all of this into a market where I will be fighting some vendors who want to up their profit by having flea market products or reselling products for others (knowing the producer is a big appeal of these types of markets)? Do I do all of this with a four year old, 1 1/2 yr old and infant, and with a homestead of my own?

I think that if I do take this on, my biggest issues, market-wise, will be advertising and education - teaching the community what to expect from a market, what the benefits are for the community and for them.

What do you think? Lurkers, de-lurk and help me out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Favorite farming blogs.

Once you get going in the blogging world, you start to realise how big or small it can really be. You form relationships with those who live like you do - or live very differently than you do.

And there is so. much. information out there on other blogs.

So, like I do on my unschooling blogs, I thought I'd start introducing bloggers that I enjoy, bloggers about farming who either have lots of information, or live the life I aspire to, or are just plain fun to read.

The first blog in my 'Farming Blogs' list is Sugar Creek Farm. I check her blog daily. She recently added Ag Speedlinking, which I'm not so sure I'm fond of yet even though I have found some interesting articles through those posts.

She posts lots of beautiful and funny photos of the place they live and is frank about the trials and joys of their business. She also recently posted two killer pork recipes.

You might want to check her out.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Goat supplies.

My spring goat supplies arrived. Last year I built a milking stand and made do with what I had for other needs. I was completely unprepared for the good deal on a great goat that I got, so it was seat-of-my-pants goat ownership.

This year I'm a bit more prepared. I ordered a kid box (for restraining babies while I do necessary work on them), hobbles (to help me train my three -gulp- first fresheners), a stainless steel milking bucket with a lid, and a goat electric dehorner.

I really don't want to use a dehorner, but past experiences with horned goats and then last year's experience with elastrating older kids' horns left their mark on me. It will not be fun (for me or the babies) to dehorn them this way, but it will be much more humane than either leaving them on or elastrating them.

I ordered these to have them in time for my first doe to kid out. Since she didn't kid, and my next doe isn't due until early April, I'm all set with my goats for a few months. I can breathe easy.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Our owl is back.

The first year we were here, she had babies who hung out in the trees around the house. They were very talkative and liked to be where they could watch us. I've never been able to get a good picture of the momma owl (and I'd love to - she is a *huge* owl), but I got some good ones of the babies.





The momma did not have babies last year, so I'm wondering if she will this year. She's been quiet for a few months - I don't know if she was gone or just uncharacteristically quiet.

Every evening now we can hear her calling and if she starts hunting before dark, we get to see her hunt. Between our three fantastic barn cats and our owl we don't have a mouse problem here anymore. We had quite a few mice when we first moved here.

It's because of this owl, the local hawk population, various feral cats, and rumours of skunks and weasels in our area that we cannot have our chickens be free-ranging. Even pens pose a problem if you're not careful. One of my friends here told me a story about a night that she was trying to get her chickens to go in the coop for the night. Strangely, they refused to go in. She finally lost her temper and started picking them up and pushing them in. She locked the coop for the night and went in the house. The next morning she went to let them out and the place stunk like a skunk. She was glad she'd gone to the work to put them away since it was obvious a skunk had been hanging around and would have gotten a few of them if she hadn't put them up. She opened the door to let the chickens out and a skunk ran out. They lost all of their chickens - the ones the skunk didn't kill outright had to be put down because of injuries.

I'd love to have our chickens be free-ranging if it were possible. We have a horridly large earwig population here and chickens love earwigs. But my owl loves chickens....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Seed-starting setup.

Set up my seed-starting stand. I'll start my onions, leeks, broccoli and cabbage on Monday when my vermiculite gets here.

I made this stand last year using the instructions on this webpage. It's really a slick design. It cost me around $80 for the pvc and lights.

I haven't added the lights yet this year since I won't be starting plants for another few days and my girls are currently using it as a jungle gym.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Consumers May Not Be Able to Avoid Cloned Food

That was the title of an article on Common Dreams.

In the article, the author says "But food merchants, from small shop owners to national supermarket chains, could face formidable challenges if they want to guarantee customers the option of avoiding all products linked to cloning."

Here's you a really simple, really easy way to avoid eating cloned animals. Buy from small producers directly! We appreciate the business and you will appreciate knowing exactly what your animals are, what they eat, and how they are treated.

Why Monsanto?

A comment on my seed post led me to make a post dedicated to Monsanto. Farmgirl_dk from a lovely blog that I check frequently wondered why I dislike Monsanto enough to financially boycott them. I've been meaning to post about this since I delved into it about a month ago, so here goes. I'm not particularly eloquent, especially with two girls and a 41 week pregnancy brain, so definitely use my links - they'll explain it better than I can.

Some key points for me:

-Monsanto owns a vast percentage of the world's seed market. You control the seed, you control the food. That's not good for one company to control the world's food.

-Monsanto has introduced GMO foods to a largely unsuspecting American market. *I* didn't know about it and I considered myself fairly well-informed. How did this happen? Monsanto's political lobbying made it possible for them to slip GMO corn and soybeans into our food supply without any fanfare. In the meantime, consumers in the European Union refused to allow GMO products on their shelves without labeling and then refused to buy those products. The EU has also (if I understand it right) refused to allow GMO crops to be grown in their countries. The crops take over neighboring fields and destroy pure strains of plants.

-Monsanto produces and aggressively markets rBGH, a bovine growth hormone, and lies about the effects of this hormone on the cows, the milk and the consumers of that milk. In fact, they successfully sued a family dairy because the dairy advertised that they do *not* use the hormone in their herd.

Resources you should check out:

GMO Trilogy, Seeds of Deception book - I bought my Seeds of Deception on Amazon along with the GMO Trilogy after it was recommended on an email list by Danielle. It is scientific, but easy to read. It has a section in the back that tells you what you can do to counter the biotech companies.

If you have a Netflix account, you can watch a documentary called "The Future of Food" online in their "Watch Instantly" section. If you don't have a Netflix account, go rent it. It's not as in-depth as Seeds of Deception and it explains issues to an audience that it assumes does not know what 'biotechnology' or 'genetically modified' means. It is a basic primer on this issue, but well worth watching - especially for the small producer.

Wikipedia entry on Monsanto. Just reading through the Table of Contents should give you a good idea about major issues consumers should have with Monsanto.

The Organic Consumers Association's "Millions against Monsanto" page. For a quick, succinct rundown of current issues that should make you think twice about Monsanto, scroll down the right hand side of the page. Scroll down the left hand side to see a list of some of the bigger government employees who have ties to Monsanto. The successful lobbying starts to make more sense... In his movie "Sicko", Michael Moore uses a brilliant technique to bring home how much lobbying brings about change in the government. He puts the amount of money each senator in a crowd of senators accepted from pharmaceutical companies. It would be interesting to see that done with Monsanto donations and ties.

Monsanto Watch, a webpage to help keep activists informed.

And now just some rambling...

Monsanto advertises itself as an agricultural company. A blurb on their homepage says "We apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world be successful, produce healthier foods, better animal feeds and more fiber, while also reducing agriculture's impact on our environment." (A claim that farmers around the world who have used their genetically modified (GMO) seed would contradict.) In point of fact, Monsanto is using third-world countries and their farmers as testing grounds for their new products, to the detriment of the soil, crop, and livelihood of those countries and farmers.

Monsanto sells Roundup, an herbicide that kills every plant it falls on. They also now sell Roundup Ready seed. If you plant the Roundup Ready seed, you can spray Roundup on it and it will survive while the plants around it do not. It's a brilliant marketing technique since farmers today with huge mono-culture crops depend on herbicides and Roundup is especially effective - for now. Nature has a way of getting around these kinds of things and already Roundup-resistant weeds are being reported.

If you are a small farmer or small producer, watch The Future of Food. You will be stunned to hear about lawsuits brought by Monsanto against Canadian and US farmers for having Monsanto's patented "Roundup-Ready" seeds growing on their property. The farmers didn't buy the seeds, they didn't even *want* the seeds. The seeds were blown onto their property from neighboring farms that had bought the seeds, and signed Monsanto's contract. For the organic farmers who find the GMO plants on their property, organic certification is forfeit if they do not take drastic measures to get it off their property. For one farmer in Canada who saved, and sold, his own seeds that had been meticulously bred for his specific area, his livelihood was lost when GMO seeds invaded his property. Not only did he have to destroy his seeds, he was sued by Monsanto for illegally having their plants growing on his property. Monsanto won. Imagine, if you will, that my goats get into my neighbors fields. My neighbors hate goats and my goats are ruining their fields and their business. I sue my neighbors for having said goats in their fields. The government says that my neighbors should not have the goats on their property and I win a large settlement. It makes no sense.

My girls have been generous with their time, but now are demanding my attention. I'll post some blog entries from other blogs later after I go through them. I hope this helps!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Seeds are here.

Our seeds have arrived. Now I'm wishing spring were closer.

I ended up ordering from Bountiful Gardens and Seeds of Change. I'm also planting herbs that I ordered last year from Richter's Herbs but didn't get a chance to plant. Next year I'd like to check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Native Seeds also.

To order seeds this year, I looked for companies that have no ties to Monsanto at all. This meant that three companies that I like, Cook's Garden, Territorial Seeds and Johnny's Selected Seeds are out. They do not sell GMO seeds but they do buy seeds from Seminis which is owned by Monsanto. In this country the most power we have is the power of our dollars, so even if a company is ethically minded, if they buy seeds from Monsanto, I cannot spend my money there.

It can't be easy for the companies to stay away from Monsanto owned seeds. "Six companies Du Pont, Mitsui, Monsanto, Syngent, Aventis and Dow control 98 percent of the world's seeds. These companies are opening research facilities and acquiring local seed companies and farmland on every continent, and they can't do it fast enough." When your seed company sells thousands of varieties, you can't produce all of those yourself so you must purchase them. If the majority of your customers neither know nor care about Monsanto, is it worth it to you to downsize to cater to the small percentage that *does* know and care? No. Not at all.

When Monsanto acquired Seminis, a huge seed-supplying company in the US, this article stated "While voting with ones dollars can be an effective tool of change, it is also important to recognize that these are also seed catalogs that have recognized the needs of smaller organic producers, offering strong lists of regional varieties and expanding their certified organic selections. None of these companies was overjoyed with news of the acquisition, and they all seemed to be in different phases of analyzing its impact. It’s not an easy task. Seminis’ varieties account for 11 percent of Fedco Seed’s gross sales, and the numbers are much higher in categories like melons and squash. While Fedco founder C.R. Lawn expressed his personal inclination to have nothing to do with Monsanto, the volume of sales demands careful consideration. Fedco is surveying its staff to decide how to respond, with options ranging from phasing out all Monsanto-Seminis varieties to putting a “tax” on these varieties and using this money to fund regional grassroots seed development."

Still, I have to do what I can, and what I can do is put my money into the hands of companies (mostly small) who provide seeds free from Monsanto's ever increasing reach.

Here is a list of companies known to have no ties to Monsanto:
Sand Hill Preservation Center
Seeds of Change
Seed Saver's Exchange
Renee's Garden
Baker Creek Seed Co.
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Abundant Life Seeds
Underwood Garden Seeds
Bountiful Gardens
Kitchen Garden Seeds
High Mowing Seeds
Heirloom Acres Seeds
Garden City Seeds
Tomato Fest
Mountain Rose Herbs
Southern Exposure
Amishland Seeds
Tiny Seeds
Local Harvest
Heirloom Seeds
Fedco Seed Co. (currently sells a few Seminis seeds but is phasing them out quickly)
Diane's Flower Seeds (she has veggies now, too)
Wood Prairie Farm
Victory Seeds
Wildseed Farms
Horizon Herbs

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Seed swap.

Today I made seed envelopes, filled them with seeds and sent them to friends around the country. My desk was covered in seed packets, tape dispensers (one for the girls to play with), pens, envelopes, and stamps. I can't wait to hear how they grow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Flower garden.

We spent last night going through our flower seed packets from last year. Hannah wants her own flower garden and was picking the ones she wanted to plant.

So we went through and planned when they needed to be started and the spacing needed. We'll use the old iris bed for her flower garden. She's beyond excited.

I also got an idea for my herb patch. I was going to do them in pots on the porch, but I think I have a better idea...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Journal 10+

I got clued in to this journal in the comments on a random post on a random farming blog.

It's called Journal 10+ and it's a fantastic idea.

Each page is for one day - March 5, August 10, etc. On that page are 44 lines divided into 11 four line sections, each section for a year. That way when you note something, you can look back and see what was happening that day for up to 10 years previous.

This is a grand idea for recording children accomplishments, but it really shines when used as a farming journal. In the four line sections it has two circles where you can record temperatures. You can write down weather conditions, breeding/baby due dates, when animals joined your flock, when you moved them to pasture, when you got chickens, when you harvested them, when you started seeds, when you planted, when you harvested, how much you harvested, what you 'put away'.... The options are endless and very, very useful.

It will be nice to look back and see specific trends, obvious changes that need to be made, if the garden needs to be scaled up or scaled back, etc. No more "It's never been so windy." Just look back and realize, yes, it was this windy two years ago.

Now if I could figure out how to use Matt's fancy weather station, I could input more data in the book.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Beautiful day out today.

Warm enough for long-sleeved shirts. Warm enough to have snowball fights and make snow angels.









Ariel is nowhere near giving birth. I don't think she 'took' when they hand bred her, which means that my little black billy either has bred her since she moved here or hasn't bred her yet. So back into the goat pen he went. Since he isn't used to being moved, especially alone, I had my border collie Dan help me. He isn't used to being moved by a border collie either. Dan was patient until billy decided to charge him. They discussed things and billy decided it would be safer for him to walk right beside me, right behind me, or run between my legs, than to mess with Dan. It was an easy trip over to the females after he and Dan had their talk. I'll watch and see if Ariel shows any interest and base my new due date for her on those observations. The two due in early April are obviously pregnant, so I'm happy about that.

What my driveway looks like.

When your driveway's half a mile long in windy country, you have to use 4-wheel drive to get out and in in the winter. Sometimes 4-wheel drive isn't enough with the huge drifts.



Luckily we have great neighbors who can bring their tractor and dig my husband out. They were patting each other on the back about "Look how close you came to jumping it!" and "That is one big drift!" Men.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reading...

These cold, windy winter days are good for tucking in and catching up on some reading. There's a book in every room of my house that I can pick up when I have a second.

The New Seed Starters Handbook, by Nancy Bubel. For help starting seeds this year. Last year was a disaster.

Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith. Genetically engineered foods take the stage - I was stunned to find out they've been in our diets for over ten years. How do we not know this? Why are they not labeled? This book has led me on a journey in the last week that I should write a separate post about...

The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon. Part self-biography of Gene, part biography of his farm, part biography of every small farm out there, part political cry for action, this is a beautifully written book.

Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin, Day Range Poultry by Andy Lee and Pat Foreman, and Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. I won't be ordering my little poults until late, late spring, but I'm already nervous about housing them. I've just found out that weasels and skunks are a big problem around here and those two predators can easily get into the housing I was thinking of using... I may have to use housing I'm not totally happy with for this first year with money being tight.

Lots of different directions my mind is going in these days.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Snowed in.

It's been storming here lately. It's snowed quite a bit, but the problem isn't the amount of snow that fell from the sky. The problem is the amount of snow blown here during the wind storms.

Our driveway is at least half a mile long. There is too much snow now for my husband to keep the drifts back with the blade on his four-wheeler. The farmer who lives at the end of our drive keeps it clean with his tractor when he thinks of it, which I really appreciate. Even a small breeze will drift the snow onto the drive and make it impassable for my car and barely passable for my husband, even with four-wheel drive.

Now I know why when I was saying how pretty the snow was when it was falling, my husband was just shaking his head.





My little goat who was supposed to go on the fourth of February doesn't look close yet. If they hadn't hand bred her, I'd think the dates were off. I really hope she doesn't surprise us and have them outside, but I hate to bring her in if she's not close - she's pretty skittish and that would stress her out. Her baby would probably be just fine being born outdoors, but I'd rather it be born in the shed. I'll keep watching her.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Joel Salatin podcast.

Joel Salatin is a grass-based producer. All of his animals are pasture-raised, including his poultry. I've got two of his books, Pastured Poultry Profits and Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.

I found this link to a podcast from a talk he gave at Colorado College. Since I've read so much about him, the talk was a bit redundant for me, but it is fantastic for those new or relatively new to the local food movement. He skewers not only the CAFOs but a society that allows these types of places to exist.

When talking about the way pigs are treated in confinement systems, he says "A culture that only views a pig irrevently as a pile of protoplasmic molecular structure to be manipulated however the clever human mind can conceive to manipulate it, will also disrespect its citizens, and even other cultures."

He makes the point over and over again that eating is a concious act.

This point, that conciously eating is important, is driving my "proving ground" here on our small property.

When you conciously eat, you can't pick up a package of chicken, pork, or beef at the store knowing what those animals have gone through, the horrible "life" they've lived to get to your plate, and the nutrient value of that animal compared to one raised outside of a confinement system, on grass, treated as a chicken, pig, or cow instead of a monetary unit in an animal producing machine.

When you eat conciously, you have to think about the nutrient value in the lettuce you just picked up at the store, compared to what you would have in a plant grown by you from a variety that naturally has more nutrients than a variety developed for massive production, ease of harvesting, and how long it will "keep" (look pretty) on a store shelf.

When you eat conciously, you think about how far that food travelled to be on your store shelf. My personal challenge here is bananas. You think about every dollar given to the store to be transferred back across the country or even to another continent when you could buy much of the food locally and support a producer in your area.

When you eat conciously, you can't cavalierly fill your shopping cart with preprepared pasta sauce, processed bread, and chip bags. You read the ingredients and start to wonder just why you need high fructose corn syrup in every single item, or why sugar is added to Planters peanuts. You start to wonder if that corn syrup was made from GMO corn... All of the sudden the convenience of prepared foods starts to look a little less worth it.

It takes more time, work, and attention to eat conciously. The payback is physical, for sure - your health is immediately, noticeably better with big changes, but it's even noticeable with small, incremental changes. But the payback is also emotional. I get more pleasure out of what I eat now. Since we can produce most of our food ourselves (especially our meat), the cost savings is great. Right now we're eating yams, potatoes, squash, and beans grown locally and that feels really good. We buy our eggs and bread from a neighbor who raises chickens and makes the best whole wheat bread you've ever eaten.

My children certainly eat food that I don't. My husband is on the other end of the scale from me. He loves soda and eating out at McDonald's. I can't eat at McDonald's for health and ethical reasons, but neither of those bother him at all. He loves bags of chips and candy. He has to have chocolate milk with his dinner. We offer to our children all of the choices that *we* make, give our reasons for choosing what we did (me more than my husband), and let them make their own decisions without judgement. Right now the girls have kefir shakes with me in the morning and have a bowl of ice cream every afternoon right before their daddy gets home.

So our home is eclectic when it comes to food. On one end is a parent who doesn't think about food at all and at the other end is a parent who may think about food too much. It will be interesting to see how our children choose to eat.