Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Freak Accident

A serious freak accident happened two days ago that I am just now recovered enough from to share with you all.

Needless to say, it was very traumatic but hopefully I will not be forever emotionally scarred. I do seem to have lost all of my strength and I am finding it difficult to get out and do things that need to be done. My family has started treating me worse than a stranger. I am mocked, giggled at, and made fun of because of my new deformity. That's something even they would not do to a stranger.

But, I am not an animal and just because...

I look like my Dad with long girly hair doesn't mean I am!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rabbit Food Ingredients

We had a rabbit wither up and almost die on us the other day. Since detecting a severe malnutrition problem which explains why she did not get bred when she was supposed to, we have moved her out to pasture and started feeding 100% alflafa to supplement the pasture she is getting. In just a day or two she has recovered remarkably well.

Come to find out, the feed we were buying for her - and for all of our rabbits - was killing her. We examined the label and researched what all of the chemical terms really meant. The feed was labelled as the only feed for rabbits of any age and the only thing they would ever need.

We quickly realized that this was reductionist science at its worst and, in my opinion, it is not limited to just animal feeds. People "feed" is going, or has already gone, in this direction.

The feed turned out to be bits and pieces of the individual nutrients added to fillers like alfalfa meal (the stuff left over from pellet production, corn, and fiber (the chaff, shells, etc a byproduct of wheat, oats, and barley processing), and other chemicals that obstensibly were added because rabbits need them.

The link below shows what was in our feed and why we stopped using it immediately and switched to pasture and alfalfa for a supplement.

Rabbit Food Ingredients

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It Happened at 2 AM - You'll never guess...

Silent Sleep

Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark

SIGH. squeaky squeaky. Pad Pad Pad Pad. Twist, Skreeek. pad pad. Screeek. Click. pad pad pad. Swish Swish, Floomp. Floomp. Clomp. Clomp Clomp. Scrape. Click slide click. Clomp Clomp.

Twist/ Swoosh. Clomp. Push, Swish clomp, clomp. Pull click. Push click. SIGH. Clomp, clomp, clomp.

Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark

Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, sigh clomp, clomp, clomp, click and then there was light.

clomp, clomp, clomp Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark

"I'm going to @!$#% kill you!" Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark


Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark

"shut up!"

Silence. count our rabbits 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17. sigh.

clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, sigh, clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, pull swish, twist, swish, clomp clomp. pull swish click. push swish click, click,slide, click. scrape, thunk. swosh, swosh, pad, pad, pad, pad, twist, click, screeek, pad pad, pull screeek click, pad pad pad pad pad, squesky squeaky, floosh. Ahh, sigh.



Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Yeeeeooowwwllll! Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark

Our dogs, locked in their kennel, protecting us from the dreaded and menacing wild cotton tail forced me out of bed. I opened a series of doors, got dressed, took the rifle down from the rack on the wall. I loaded a cartridge, (that's the click slide click). I put on my boots and "clomped down to the barn" saw the wild rabbit, counted our tame rabbits to make sure it was not one of ours that had escaped, then clomped back the house. Apparently the rabbit returned just as soon as I drifted back off to sleep.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pastured Rabbit Operation

I thought I would try to describe for you how we raise rabbits at the Shamrock and Thistle Farm.

We believe in keeping our animals in as natural a habitat as possible. Rabbits, therefore, were not created to live in wire cages suspended four feet from the ground. While we understand why this is a common practice (rabbits like to burrow) we think we have found another way - a better way.

This is our buck, Louis. He is a mini French Lop, hence the name Louis. He is actually Louis the Second. One day I made this range shelter out of three 8' two by fours, 16ft of hardware cloth and about 4ft of scrap 1x2s. The two by fours make up the box, then I wrap the box with hardware cloth and secure it with the scrap 1x2s. Louis does not have a strong burrowing instinct so he gets to roam around within his box without wire fencing underneath. He gets to eat all the grass, hen-bit, chickweed, dock, and clover he wants. Once he eats this patch up I will slide the box over to a fresh area and he can start feasting again. Aside from the water container hanging on the fence I do not have to supplement this natural pasture feed at all.

Once the doe has been to visit Louis II and spent a vacation of 30 days in a nesting box inside the barn, she and her kits are turned back out onto pasture in a double length shelter. This shelter was made by joining two 4x4 shelters together. As you can see, the shelter sits upon a stretch of welded wire fence that is curled up on the outside edges to prevent burrowing. This allows the rabbits to eat pasture  through the 2x4 inch spaces in the fence. Because this shelter is now housing 14 rabbits (2 does and 12 kits) they eat this 32 square foot patch in less than a day. Every morning I move them to a new patch and only supplement their feed if they start to dig.

Tto the right of the shelter you can see the bare patch where they ate the pasture down and manured it for a day. In this picture they are busily eating the new patch of pasture down to the ground and fertilizing while they go. To the left a new patch of tall green pasture waiting for the big move tomorrow.
Another secret to preventing burrowing that we have pieced together over the years is this: Keep the rabbits on fresh pasture. They would rather be eating than escaping any time. Provide them a plain 360 degree line of sight around the box. That means no walls. We set up a temporary wall (the plywood lying on the ground in the picture above) if a storm comes through to keep rain and wind off of them. If they can see there is no danger they will not try to escape. And lastly, give them a box to crawl into or on top of. For some reason, they like to sit on top and look around.

The whole process from 1 buck and 4 does to 30 or so rabbits ready to eat is about 80 days with this method. 2 weeks courtship and mating,  4 weeks in a nest box, 30 days in a range shelter.

the result is very happy rabbits, lean tasty meat, and the most humane way of providing rabbit meat for our customers.

One additional note: we are trying to research the regulations for the sale of rabbit in the state of arkansas and no one seems to know what that is. The USDA refers us to the UofA Ag-Law Center, the law center refers us to the USDA. The USDA will take "voluntary" inspections but if a grower does not volunteer then it falls under the FDA. The FDA is interested in rabbits only for their pharmaceutical uses (don't ask. I am sorry I did).

So we hope to be offering this tasty meat for sale at our local community markets soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Surprises!

Harvested our first ever 10 spears of asparagus! Then to make the day even better, we discovered that newly planted 2yr asparagus crowns have sprouted. Now I can start to fill in the trenches as the spears begin to grow. By mid summer we should have 3 rows of 4 ft tall asparagus ferns.

Then, to make for an even gooder day...

Astor, our heretofore, useless nubian goat looks like she might be pregnant after all. We had taken her back to where we bought her to run with the buck for another couple of weeks and then had given up hope. But now Patt is convinced that by mid May we'll have more baby goats!

Then, if it couldn't get any gooder than that...

I was peeling back a thick mat of chickweed that had grown in last years Swiss Chard bed. I had given up on getting any chard out of this bed because I couldn't keep up with the weeds and then a small drought. Much to my surprise I found 5 flourishing chard plants well established. Now I won't have to wait for our seedlings to produce!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stay Small or Get Out

For many years the mantra of the agricultural elitist, the scientists, and elected officials has been:

"Get Big or Get Out"

The beginning of this philosophy coming out of the industrial ramp up of agriculture, durable goods, and petroleum has brought us to this...

Live stock, over fed, underexcercised, and unnaturally supplemented for the show ring and breeding marketing. The really sad thing about this is this hog and his offspring are uneatable - tough, no marbling. This is a wasted pig.

Death - production is king. The lives of the animals are of little import. These hogs will be processed quickly and in USDA "approved" processing plants. But they produce more than the local economy can handle so they are exported to larger markets sometimes thousands of miles away. They are handled by countless middle-men and sold to customers they never see and can't be held accountable to. This introduces the higher risk of food-borne illnesses.

This picture is perfect to illustrate the co-mingling between the petroleum industry and agriculture. People, if you do not buy locally, this is where your meat comes from. Cows standing in lots in completely unnatural surroundings, fed unnatural diets, and antibiotics.

Packaged goods at the grocers. The illusion of choice - illusory because it is mostly corn and soybeans. It has to travel thousands of miles so to keep it "fresh" they add preservatives. This is factory food tantamount to Soylent Green.

The "food" in the picture above starts here. Monocultures, land raped by large machines, petroleum, and human-less technology that steals the pride of work from the farmer. The result? Unhealthy earth, young people fleeing the farm because of the debt incurred by the large farms. One farmer interviewed by Michael Pollan for a piece in The Omnivore's Dillema succintly put it like this.

"I am no longer a farmer. I am a tractor driver for the industrial food and military complex". Another large impact of this kind of "farming" is this:

Farms destroying their greatest renewable resource, their soil.  Erosion problems in the monocultures of the mid-west lead to flooding, even in areas no where near rivers.

Here is a new mantra more worth the nobility, ancient-ness, and gloriousness of this Nature we've been given by the Father, which we call our Mother.

"Stay Small or Get Out"

Results in farmers who know their land intimately, care about renewing its soil because it is their life, only grow as big as they can personally handle, and produces food that is put on their own table as well as that of their customers. Research how many dairy farmers do not drink their own milk or how many factory farmers buy all of their groceries from the store. This is money that leaves the local economy and serves no one but the speculators, petroleum industries, and box stores (conventional and organic).

Farmers like joel Salatin, who live within their means, incur no debt to fund their farm's operations, receive no subsidies from your tax dollars (wouldn't take them if they were offered), and just have a passion for farming. In this kind of local, impassioned community, the young do not leave the farm to become a part of the industrial complex.

Food from small-holdings travel much fewer miles, are sold by the farmer that grew it, and the customer is the only health inspector needed in this relationship. The customer learns to trust the farmer; in many cases they become friends. The farmer demands high quality and fair pricing because they see their customer every week. Money exchanges hands but never leaves the community. I can imagine this farmer receiving money from her customer who works at a business where she will then spend that money. The local economy is not subject to wall street, the commodities markets, or the petroleum industry.

Stay small or get out of agriculture. Because larger farms and fewer farmers are not the answer. Really, by working within the economies of the large factory farms, the farmers have already ceded the description of farmer. They are working for the banks, the oil industry, the conglomerate food sellers, and people thousands of miles away.

Wisdom from Wendell Berry

1. Beware the justice of Nature.

2. Understand that there can be no successful human economy apart from Nature or in defiance of Nature.

3. Understand that no amount of education can overcome the innate limits of human intelligence and responsibility. We are not smart enough or conscious enough or alert enough to work responsibly on a gigantic scale.

4. In making things always bigger and more centralized, we make them both more vulnerable in themselves and more dangerous to everything else. Learn, therefore, to prefer small-scale elegance and generosity to large-scale greed, crudity, and glamour.

5. Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made.

6. Put the interest of the community first.

7. Love your neighbors--not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have.

8. Love this miraculous world that we did not make, that is a gift to us.

9. As far as you are able make your lives dependent upon your local place, neighborhood, and household--which thrive by care and generosity--and independent of the industrial economy, which thrives by damage.

10. Find work, if you can, that does no damage. Enjoy your work. Work well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Afghanistan Geography

If you are anything like me you hear all of these places and such from the war in Afghanistan and maybe only have a vague idea of where they are located.

Our oldest son is there now and our middle son has just returned.

Mason is at Camp Gormach in the northeast corner of the country. The following link will take you to a news story featuring this location.

his base is located close by where Turkministan and Uzbekistan meet the Afghan border. Somewhere within the black circle.

Conditions are pretty rough according to the news article. But Mason's a tough dude. He says he's bored right now. Bored is good...

Turning Bad Soil into Good Soil

I have an addiction. I find myself compelled by some inner need to continually turn bad soil into good soil. Solum penuriosus ut Solum Copiosus.

The images below show what our soil looked like in our garden 5 years into our Old Solar Agriculture methods and what it looks like when are "finished". (We are really never finished we just move from a renovation phase to a maintenance phase.) When we first started on the garden plot it was compacted, "dead" red clay that had been tilled deeply and spread with herbicides and petroleum based fertilizers. Renovating this plot of land was done with fewer and fewer fossil fuels as the years passed along. I must say that the change was only somewhat noticeable year by year while we were running gas powered tillers and tractors over the land but it was by degrees. We saw dramatic improvements in the quality of our soil when we stopped tilling and started using a broadfork, manual hoe-ing, and amendments with organic matter - all by hand and solar power. The changes in soil quality, drainage, and depth of our soil improved much faster in the last two years than in the previous eight, though it takes longer to do the work manually than with a tiller and a tractor.

 Solum penuriosus
(Poor Soil)

Solum Copiosus
(Fertile soil)

The Old Solar Technique is simple but slow: and though slow, long lasting. We don't have to think about what we are doing while using this technique. There are no chemical formulas; no soil test; no decisions about what pertroleum based fertilizer we are using (12-12-12 or 16-16-16); we do not have to buy bags of lime or peat, or sow cover crops (though we could very easily if we wanted to). We simply add to our garden solar powered organic material every time we work a bed. Our goats eat grass and weeds that have collected solar energy and converted it into food which they turn into nitrogen rich manure. Our chickens turn our composted kitchen items, leaves, and animal bedding into shreds, our pigs till the land without damaging it, and all of our animals produce waste from their feed which is generated by solar power.

It is simple (though hard work) - we mulch with straw and leaves when we plant, and even the weeds we pull are used to mat-down the walk ways and fence rows. From time to time we will buy a large round bale of old hay and use that to fill in the pumpkin patch, walkways and other areas of the garden. Throughout the summer, whenever we weed out an area or replant, more organic material is spread around and upon the bed. We rotate our crops, always careful to add composted manure for crops that need alot of nitrogen and following crops that use nitrogen with beans and peas that replace it. In the late fall and winter we mulch the beds heavily which reduces the amount of hoe-ing and weeding we need to do in the spring and also allows us to over winter crops that we continue to sell at our market all winter long while more conventional growers have shut down for the season. We do not need to let the ground rest over the winter as conventional wisdom would instruct because we are constantly renewing the soil throughout the year.

One self-proclaimed old-timey farmer we know once questioned us about the wisdom of using old hay to mulch with. "That will just introduce weeds into your garden won't it?", he asked with a sense of mocking derision.

"Yes it does," I replied.  Then I asked him a question: "You don't mulch with hay or mulch at all. Do you have to pull weeds every year?"

He had to admit that he did or that he sprayed to kill the weeds.

"If I am going to pull weeds anyway, why wouldn't I use something that controls weeds this year, eliminates the use of herbicides, AND adds humus to the soil even if I get weeds from it the following spring?"

"What is humus?" he asked.

We have lost so much knowledge of how to maintain the soil since the advent of NPK fertilizers and mechanization that it is scary what we are doing to America's soil. We, in effect, are cutting off the branch we are sitting on when we allow our soil to be depleted or washed away. Agri-businesses talk alot about how much food they grow per acre and how little fossil fuels it takes per bushel but they never talk about how much soil they lose every year. One has only to look at the vast corn and wheat fields in our midwest to see how much the hills of small farms have disappeared into flat lands and how many inches those flat lands sink every year because of erosion and the depletion of soil nutrients. The number of floods throughout these areas - even on farms no where near the Mississippi and other rivers.

American agriculture has replaced, in the words of Wendell Berry and others, natural solar power and organic matter, with the faster and more expensive petroleum based "fertility" available in bags, sprays, and machines.

With the Old Solar Method he describes, our soil is more fertile, easier to handle, well drained, not-compacted, and the level of our garden, which once sat at least 3 inches lower than the surrounding ground, now is a couple of inches above the surrounding ground which reduces erosion.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Integrated Farming

The integrated farm is a good farm. A good farm is one that is sustainable. Sustainable means that the resources, the soil, animals, crops are indefinitely reproducible and maintain, or gain in, their value over time.

Here at Shamrock and Thistle Farm we struggle with how to describe ourselves.

Are we ORGANIC? I would say no. Since the government has pretty much trademarked the word and offers a certification for organic farms, by definition we are not organic according to the law. I applaud those small and large scale farmers that do the work required to acheive organic certification and the only way I could have a clear conscience in claiming that we are organic is to also acheive that certification. It would not be ethical for me to advertise that we are organic without the certification and it would certainly not be fair to those who do certify for us to market ourselves as such.

Are we SUSTAINABLE? Yes for the most part. We grow all of our own food. That is the key. The food we eat ourselves is the same as that which we sell or give to our customers. Because this farm is our source of survival AND our source of income it would be stupid for us to deplete the land, abuse our animals, and provide unsafe or low quality produce. We would be reducing our food supply as well as that of our customers.

Another description I picked up from an essay by Wendell Berry, "Old Solar Agriculture." This is a little more romantic sounding. It basically means that we are using renewable solar energy to farm as much as possible. We still have electricity and propane to power the house but in the garden we are converting solar energy to food. Our pastures and garden store solar energy in their vegetation and convert it to nutrients (food) for us and our animals. Our animals then till the garden, produce fertilizer, and help compost organic matter so that nothing is wasted. The only fossil fuels we use are those that power my chainsaws during the spring and fall and those that go into our farm truck to make deliveries to our customers. This is an imperfect calculation but we estimate we are using 4 gallons of gas a week in the truck to make deliveries and 2 gallons a year for the chainsaws to gather our firewood for heat during the winter.
The most accurate description of what we try to do on our farm is this. We are a holistic farm. Now, calm down Tea Partiers - that does not mean we shave our heads, wear orange robes, and chant mantras whilst planting. Because words have true meanings I will resort to a rarely used reference book called a dictionary to explain "Holistic". The dictionary says holistic or holism is:

Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts

In the following series I will be describing in detail what an integrated farm looks like, how it operates, and what benefits it holds to mankind.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cottage Industry Food Law debate in Arkansas

The following is a rebuttal sent to the Arkansas Times in response to a letter submitted by a former health department inspector who claims that the Cottage Food Bill passed by the state this month will kill or sicken food consumers in the state unless stricter guidelines, including home inspections, are instituted. He claims that the only way to PREVENT food borne illnesses is to subject the cottage industries to the same regulations that corporate factory food producers have to meet.

"Mr. Dobbins, in his letter to this august publication, concerning the cottage industry food legislation recently passed by a bi-partisan effort of our representatives, the Arkansas Health Department, and our Governor, demonstrates his thorough indoctrination into the “Cult of Food Safety”, during his 35 years as a Health Department inspector.

The safety of our food supply is of vital importance but I would remind Mr. Dobbins that he need only to peruse the headlines from the past decade to determine from whence the real risk of food borne illness comes.

He makes the invalid and short-sighted assumption that cottage produced food is inherently unsafe. This is in spite of the fact that no one has demonstrated that having 4 sinks reduces food borne illness. It is all text book hypotheticals upon this point. Again, read the headlines. I know of at least one well known restaurant that has four sinks in the preparation area. Two are used for dishwashing, one that is supposed to be used for high temperature rinsing collects dirty dishes, and the last one is a small wall mounted basin that contains a flower pot with the prettiest little plant growing therein. I am not sure how the potted plant reduces food borne illnesses (I am sure it is removed when the inspector comes around) but I have eaten at this establishment many times. The food is always of the highest quality and I have never gotten ill by consuming it.

Mr. Dobbins, and others like him, fail to adequately think through this issue at all. Perhaps I can help. First, the growth of the cottage industry in Arkansas demonstrates that the consumer wants locally produced food that comes from people they know and can hold accountable; even if they have to pay a little more for it. They find it of better quality and it is important to them to keep dollars in the local community and out of the corporate food production machine. In many cases the cottage industry is a family’s only source of income. And the sponsors of the cottage food bill aptly recognized that to add undue restrictions upon this low-risk segment of food production would seriously damage local economies that have become very important in our present economy. Perhaps, Mr. Dobbins would prefer that cottage food producers quit and enter the welfare system?

Secondly, when one studies the real risks presented by food production one needs to ask this question:

Where is the greatest risk to public safety where food borne illnesses are concerned?

The food produced at the small-scale operation is the same food the producer puts on his table. That builds in a demand for food safety. The small-scale producer cares about quality over quantity. Why? Because he meets his customer, eye-to-eye, every week. Many of them become friends. It is at this point in this small-scale economy that food safety becomes of the greatest importance.

Where is the real risk? At the large scale food factories, the people raising, processing, and packaging the food never see a real customer. They care more about productivity than quality. They are not making sure the food is healthy; they are only making sure the food gets packaged. Just read the headlines concerning food borne illnesses. Where do they come from?

The food we produce on Shamrock and Thistle Farm travels an average of 32 miles to get to the customer, is usually less than 24 hours old, and is only handled by one or two people who genuinely care about their customer/friend and would do nothing to jeopardize their trust and patronage.

Where is the real risk? Factory food travels hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles to get to the customer, it is handled by hundreds of people who never see the customer, and is who-knows-how old by the time the customer gets the product home. Read the headlines.

The small scale producer handles a minimal amount of product lines. At S&T Farm we have three distinct product lines which are managed by two people and our entire attention is devoted to making the products healthy, sustainable, and of excellent quality. Our three product lines are delivered to around sixty regular customers who trust us and who enjoy the food we produce. In this scenario, the risk to public health if a food-borne-illness were to occur is minimal simply because of the small scale of the economy.

Where is the real risk? Factory food producers, because of their supreme profit motive, handle hundreds of product lines and deliver to hundreds of thousands of customers they never see. The impact, in this scenario, of a food-borne-illness is significant. Just read the headlines.

Food inspection is a good idea but only if it tackles the high-risk sectors of the food production industry, which is not the cottage industries and local economies they create. As for me, I would rather my tax dollars (yes I pay taxes) be used to send more inspectors to the factory food operations and not be wasted on inspecting low-risk, sustainable, high yield, cottage industry producers. Again, just read the headlines.

As for Mr. Dobbins’ suggestion of a voluntary inspection program, that, too, is short sighted and lacking in understanding. The clarification of the cottage industry guidelines, which this bill provides, would be completely undone. If cottage industries could meet, either financially or philosophically, the standards put into place for the factory food producer there would be no need for a cottage food bill. If I had the room and the money to build a certified kitchen I would have already done so. Because we haven’t, we only produce low risk food that we sell to a limited number of customers with the lowest possible risk to the consumer.

Mr. Dobbins always has the choice of buying factory food because he believes, contrary to the headlines, that it is intrinsically safer than cottage industries. I, however, will continue to support our local community by buying my food from local farmers at local markets.

I am truly thankful for Governor Beebe, the Director of the Health Department, and the Arkansas Representatives that passed the cottage food bill. It will do nothing but help the small-scale farmer to live well in this great state, stay off government assistance, and contribute to state revenue. Most importantly though, it will allow us to continue to deliver high-quality, nutrient dense food products to the customers that want it, while sustaining a myriad of local economies that are not a burden to the state."

Boyd M. Hutchins

Shamrock and Thistle Farm

Perryville Arkansas

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to Get Rich in America

America...only here can one get rich and famous by threatening to run for President.

Could be an interesting ticket with either interchangeable blabber mouth running as President and the other a VP. Or more likely- neither- Why would they give up their fame mongering to stoop to public service?

But just imagine Tax and Spend Huckabee taking and spending your money...and then letting Palin explain it all to you...the possibilities are endless...Saturday Night Live secretly hopes this comes to pass.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This Means War!

Look at the lovely chickens. Healthy, happy, and, well, sinister.

For weeks I have been trying to keep them in a large pen, which will become a small orchard by next Spring. They scratch up the weeds, fertilize, and eat pests. The orchard space adjoins the front door of their coop where we lock them in at night to protect them from varmints. I let them out into the 50ft by 16 ft orchard space during the day. I thought they would be happy to be in a grassy field with all the food and water they could want. But, alas, I underestimated the dark designs of this perfidious fowl!

One of the chicken's dirty little secrets is that they love to scratch freshly tilled soil...they especially love to scratch freshly tilled soil that has a thick layer of straw mulch upon it. They like, even more, to scratch freshly tilled and mulched soil that has tender young broccoli plants started in it. 72 broccoli plants actually. Well now about 52.

So, being beaten in my efforts to keep the chickens in a yard, I have had to do some refencing in order to keep the chickens OUT of the garden. Better to keep them out of the garden than in a cage no matter how large it is I guess is their philosophy.

The battle raged on this morning, amidst dark, cloudy skies, 40 degrees, and 30 mile an hour winds...(55 and sunny huh weatherman?). But I think I finally have won the battle. As soon as the project is complete and everything spruced up a bit, I'll post some pictures.

Monday, March 7, 2011

America Is...

a land of people that burn leaves every fall and then...

buy dirt at their garden center every spring.

DO NOT BURN YOUR LEAVES! Pile them up to compost every fall then by the time you think you need to buy dirt at the nursery, you'll have a pile of dirt right there where you left them.

a land of people that buy low quality necessities from a box store because it is cheap...

and end up buying one every year because it wears out instead of investing in products they only have to buy once in a lifetime.

a land of people that buy a new car with thousands of dollars of credit...

Instead of spending $300 cash to fix the old car one more time...

a land of people that buy pesticide, fertilizer, and seed from one big corporation whose name starts with capital M...

Instead of pulling weeds themselves...

making their own fertilizer...
or buying seeds from an independant and local supplier or saving seeds themselves.

Part 4: The American Farmer's Revolution

Revolution: late 14c., originally of celestial bodies, from O.Fr. revolution, from L.L. revolutionem (nom. revolutio) "a revolving," from L. revolutus, pp. of revolvere ...

Okay, the whole idea behind revolution is that one segment of society (those not in power) feels that its only recourse is to seize the power with the vision of doing society some good. Most armed revolutions, however, wind up with the seizing of power with good intentions but quickly turning into powers for revenge. This does not describe the kind of revolution America needs. America needs a revolution where the rebelling segment of society is great in number, peaceful, and forward thinking. America needs The American Farmer's Revolution.

If you are calling for, or hopefully waiting for, a revolution in our country that will overturn the present abusive, earth killing, manipulative, fear-mongering, profit taking, exploitative power then you have already missed it. It has been working in fits and starts since the early 1960s. What is remarkable to me is that it has slowly built momentum over the last 5 decades and is now actually affecting public policy. The proliferation of locally grown farmer's markets (there's one in little ole Perryville Arkanasas population 1,750), community supported agriculture gardens, and cottage industries in many small communities shows that the consumers in America want something different than what the big box stores and our federal government can provide. They want relationships with the people that are growing their food. They want to know who to complain to if the tomatoes go bad a little too soon. They want to know that their produce is grown without chemicals and that the land is just as good or better than last year. They want to know that fossil fuels, plastics, and illegal labor were not used in the production of their food. And they want their dollars staying in the community and not being spread to foreign countries or financial exchanges in New York, Chicago, or internationally. You see, as Wendell Berry has stated, politics is no longer the question; economics is the fulcrum upon which this revolution is perched.

Recent public policy changes in Arkansas show that this "revolutionary" segment of our society is having an impact. Arkansas, one of the few solvent states in the union recently passed a bill to allow cottage industries to sell direct to the customer from their farms or at farmer's markets unimpeded. This includes bread and other baked goods, soap, jams and jellies, and produce. The bill was rushed to the governor who signed without hesitation because otherwise, local economies would suffer if the bill did not pass into law. Thank you Arkansas Health Department and Governor Beebee (Democrat) and several Arkansas State representatives democrat and republican alike!

The seemingly monlithic antagonism for small scale community based economies is being worn away, not with angry protestations, but with reasonable, measured pressure being applied by the local communities themselves. The conclusion, finally, of this study of the new revolution is a manifesto for the American Farmer Revolution.

Preamble: Whereas, the security of the American People is now most threatened by its inability to meet its own basic needs without dependence on corporations acting as "people", subsidies by our federal government, and legislation restricting commerce at the community level, we resolve to secede from any arrangements requiring interference from said corporations and government agencies by:

Personal Articles:

1. Land is our greatest assett. No action should be taken or no neglect tolerated that reduces the value of such land. It must be kept in its natural state as much as possible with natural processes and amendments.

2. Living within our means- debt is bad. debt is bad. debt is bad. It eats into the financial efficiency of your operation. Do not take the bait of easy farm loans for equipment. As controversial as it is to say : "if a farm has to borrow to buy another tractor and it already has debt in other sectors of the enterprise then it is growing too big too fast.

3. Reducing our means- do not get too big too fast. Live less expensively, not cheaper.

4. Invest in real property that will either hold or increase its value. This property must also be such that it contributes to the prior articles. This includes land but even more importantly, buy reliable tools that require little maintenance even if they are more expensive on the front end. It will save money in the long term.

5. Reduce your tax obligations this will happen by reducing your income which can be done by living within your means.

Economic Articles:

1. Buy Local- even if a piece of lumber or that leaky faucet is a few dollars more at your local hardware store, buy it! Remember, they are locked into and competing with a MEGA-economy that would love to squeeze them out of business. Besides, you'll use less gas by shopping locally and develop a local community that the big-boxes can not do regardless of what their commercials would like you to think.

2. Sell Local- only take your excess produce or goods outside of your local community. Decide what local is for you. With us it's a 45 mile radius.

3. Raise Prices honestly- Don't pull the ole Walmart - greater quantity lower prices if the quality is not there.

4. Do Not Compete directly with another farmer in your community-unless you are competing with quality. Grow something different, grow it better, develop a different skill, find a niche that fills a need. Competition is the tool of the enemy in this case. In the name of competition many local business have closed their doors. Competition gives the mega-corps an excuse to play dirty.

5. Create Interdependence Within the Community - do not be afraid to ask for help; do not be afraid to offer help.

6. Quality! Quality! Quality!- We can't preach "buy local, nuy organic" if our produce is not at the highest standard of freshness and appearance. Rather, miss a sale instead of taking sub par produce to the market.

7. Develop Farming Efficiencies that do NOT require fossil fuels- compost, use a shovel instead of a tiller, mulch with leaves rather than burning them.

8. Compost everything you can! The ultimate in recycling, this keeps your land's value.

9. Give - volunteer at the market you attend, give away your unsold or excess produce to a food pantry, take a loaf of bread to a neighbor.

10. Do not believe everything you hear or see in commercials. The product is generally substandard especially if it is cheaper. In fact, do not believe anything you hear or see in commercials. "Good looking blonde women will not faun over you if you drink their beer or drive their car. If you can get three more of something by buying now - it means "this is cheap junk and you don't really need it."

11. Do not break the law to prove a point or to challenge a practice you think is unfair. The time for lawbreakers is past. The revolution has too much momentum. We are now in the marketing stage of our little struggle. We are gaining ground. Law-breakers lend a stigma to law abiding small-holders that we can not afford to struggle against. Remember, we are the good guys, act like the good guys. The growing momentum can not be lost if we are to continue to affect change in public policy concerning the restricitions our governments have put on small farm operations (in the name of food safety).

We are winning many battles across the nation when it comes to the freedom all small-holders should have to buy and sell the products they want, without interference from agencies and restrictive laws that should not apply to the local community. In Arkansas we have many more freedoms than some states and yet there is still work to do. Next time, perhaps, we can tackle raw milk and why there is only one independent dairy left in the state.

Vive la revolution!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Boyd's Big List of His Favorite Tools

I thought I would take a break from my rantings about revolution, while I gather my thoughts for the finale - Part 4, and share with you my list of favorite tools. I do not get any kind of payment for these endorsements (not yet anyway).

 10 Bushel Cart bought on sale for $69.99 (regular $119.00) at Tractor Supply Co. We carry everything in this - firewood, leaves, soil, lumber, fence rolls, T-posts, tools, 50lb bags of feed, manure.

 Electrician's Pliers - not sure where they came from but they cut fence, tie wire, cattle panels, and are awesome when doing electrical work.

 These next two are my little babies. Ryobi 18v drill and 5 and 1/4 inch circular saw. I work them to death and have never had a problem. $110.00 for the two (on-sale in one kit) at Home Depot.

 2 and 1/2 ton block and tackle ($75.00 from Sportsman's Guide) is a life saver when lifting air conditioners into the barn loft for the winter and the wood stove for the summer. Also makes butchering larger animals a breeze. I can hang them and raise them to eye-height - no stooping or reaching!
 My fleet of workhorse chainsaws. All Poulan - a 20", one 18", and my favorite of all, the easy starting, 16" friend. Altogether we cut enough firewood for our homestead on less than 2 gallons of mixed gas.

 Fiskars post hole diggers ($29.99 at Lowe's many years ago). All metal and the crossed-spades allow me to dig 4ft deep if I want. No rust no bending or sharpening. Heavy, but its heft helps me drive it into the ground. I always look for Fiskars brands for shovels, picks, etc.

 Garden Spade made by Corona ($5.00 at Tractor Supply). This spade and two others have been lost and found many times, left in the rain and snow, used improperly to dig out all sorts of things- no rust, no bends.

 Broad-fork ($110.00 from Johnny's Seeds)- this tool is a throw back to pre-machine gardens and was designed and endorsed by Elliot Coleman. This tool has allowed us to start planting much earlier as we have not had to till our garden for the first time in 10 years!

 Rabbit Water-er ($7.00 at Tractor Supply) - better than the ones you get from your co-op. Filtered at the nozzle and the easy filling cap make it great. The best thing, though, is the way it mounts to the wire. No hooks/ The easy thumbscrew and plate design will attache to any kind of fencing material from hardware cloth to 2" chicken wire, or field fence if I wanted to.

 Gate latch ($7.00 from Tractor Supply) - easy to install, easy to operated, we use these on every stall we build.
 Little Philips Screwdriver - I learned this trick from my brother, Roland, who is much smarter than I. When clipping fence to T-posts, don't bother with fence pliers to secure the clips. Simply hook the small loop of the clip over the fence, wrap the clip around the Tpost, and then position the large hook of the clip under the fence. Slip the screwdriver through the large loop and then spin the screwdriver away from you and around the strand of fence. Oi-la! The clip is tight and secure.

The Big Blue Nail was a gift from my parents one Christmas - yes it was wrapped - yes I guessed what it was. This tool has been used for everything- rolling logs, digging out big rocks, prying warped boards straight before nailing, stretching field fence, and as a lever to pull the power-steering pump over on its bracket to tighten the alternator belt on my old truck.

The Walking Stick to its right is what I use to herd our geese around. Hold it to the right of the gaggle and they all move left, hold it to the left and they move right. It is also used to bust ice out of water buckets every winter and poking holes in our garden rows for transplants.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Don't Start the Revolution Without Me (part3)

Part 3 starts off with a picture of our most effective weapon in this New American Revolution. A simple, accurately priced, healthy, and locally produced loaf of bread. I could have easily used a picture of a tomato from our garden, or a bunch of asparagus spears, or blueberries, garlic, lettuce, or a free-range chicken, or really anything sold at our local farmer's market.

In Part 2 I discussed one option for overthrowing the so called "free-market" and return the power of buying, selling, and profit taking to the local community. This first option required catastrophe and suffering to start it, and catastrophe and suffering would follow its completion. Again, as explained in part 1, the military, or armed response to the US Government would not be effective in that, there is no military power or desire to use it if it were there, in the local communities and this kind of rebellion would be directed towards an basically dysfunctional and bewildered government that is not the real enemy. Attacking the USDA or the FDA or the Health Department in our states would be like skinning the tail of a badger. The real danger, the real enemy would remain and redouble its attack. No, we must, kill the enemy, not by bloodshed, but by caging it and slowly starving it to death. This real enemy is the so-called, global Free-Market.

As discussed earlier, if the people's economy is controlled then their politics are moot. They really become nothing more than water-cooler or chat page fodder - entertainment really. Glenn Beck needs to eat. So do I. Whether I agree with Fox News or not, is not the issue. The real issue is this. How can I expect to live in a time of crisis if this monstrous infrastructure fails? The answer is, at once, simple and difficult. Ideologically it is simple. Charitable, self-sufficiency. The building of a local community where raw materials are processed, marketed, and sold within the community and only the excess of our labors are sold to an outside market or community. There are pictures of this all over America and more and more examples are evident every day. Our on-line farmer's market allows us to produce groceries and sell them directly to our customers, who by the virtue of a face to face transaction when the market meets, become neighbors and slowly they become friends. The farmer is able to ask whatever price his produce is worth in back-aching labor, infrastructure, time, and fuel costs. The customer agrees to this price for whatever reason. If the customer refuses to pay that price, then the farmer must improve the value of the product or lower the price. The difference between this kind of transaction and the one happening in the "global-free-market" economy is that the farmer and the customer are in complete control. In the "free-market" the farmer has no choice, the customer has no real choice, the conglomerate has the power.

I must, at this point, add that I have neglected to mention one of the more important benefits of the local economy I am describing and that is the low-impact the business transaction has on the earth and the high impact it has on the "free-market". In a local economy, I never have to fuel up an 18 wheeler and drive it across the country. I never have to tear up the land my crops grow in with heavy machinery (that must be fueled); I rarely ever have to rely on the "free-market" to produce what we grow. Our produce is healthier because of the way it is grown and the timeliness of its delivery. Our customers know this and they also know that choosing to buy locally, they are too, protecting the earth, the ancient tradition of the small farmer, and they are keeping their money within their community and thus, their control.

There are many more examples and if this article , has piqued your interest I would suggest, for further reading and enlightenment, Wendell Berry's What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, Counterpoint Berkely Press, 2010, from which the quotes used in this article were gathered.

Now I conclude my fragmented ranting by stating that by developing robust local communities where most, if not all, of our needs can be found within the community is really the only viable way to overthrow the present power of this "free-market" economy (that is not free).

Think about what would happen if this global "free-market", for whatever reason shut down tomorrow with no hope for recovery. Where would you buy your next pair of shoes? Unless your local community has a functioning cobbler, you would eventually go around barefoot. What if your car ran out of gas and there was no longer any real expectation that the station will be visited by a tanker for the next 3 months? How would you get to work? What would you do with yourself when electricity is no longer available? No TV, No Fox News, no gaming, no cell phones...What if you never developed a local trusting economy where most of your needs could be met right around your home? Would you trust your neighbors? This is why catastrophe or an armed overthrow is undesirable. Few of us would survive.

But what if, just what if, we built local infrastructure now, as we are able, to prepare for when this "global-free-market" economy does fail, as it is likely to do? I would think that the revolutionaries in this case would be heroes as we would be able to help our neighbors in need. With a burgeoning local economy, with real tradesmen selling real products and services, the unemployed in our communities would find the desire to learn skills that are not beyond their scope, useless college degrees would no longer be desired because there would be no "upward mobility" possible. People would feel useful and they would be.

In part 4 (the final act I promise) I try to get practical by addressing what you can do to join this New American Revolution - a revolution I call The American Farmer's Revolution.

Don't Start the Revolution Without Me (part2)

My choice of pictures to top off the various parts of this 4 part series on the New American Revolution was by design. In Part 1 I used a scene from the French Revolution. This kind of armed rebellion some are calling for is never good and usually ends with the revolutionaries and government alike visiting the Glorious Barber of Paris. I will admit, that once it is over things are much quieter and those that survive get left alone for the most part but still the suffering is great and the cause never realizes its goal of freedom. It simply trades one form of tyranny for another.

For Part 2 I use the colorful, flower-child, 60s-ish Revolution logo you see above. Why? because the revolution is happening now - but it is not happening with weapons. It is a back-to-the-earth revolution; a moving away from the Wall Street, Madison Avenue, plastic society we have become. What is remarkable is that this revolution was started, however imperfectly, in the 60s.

Wendell Berry, in 2009 essay entitled, Simple Solutions, Package Deals... describes this nouveau 60s ideology like this.

"Given the growing demand for local food, and the increasing numbers of farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture farms, it is becoming possible to imagine the development of local farm and food economies in which communities and localities produce, process, market, and consume local farm products, marketing any surplus to outside demand [or the non-local buyers]."

The basis of this New American Revolution, that is enduring in fits and starts from our predecessors, the hippies my parents hated, is a rebellion against having our food choices made for us by Monsanto, the FDA, the USDA, and foreign countries. If we think the White House, the House of Representatives, or the Senate is representing us then we are naive. If we think they are controlling us, well, then we are simply paranoid and we are pointing that paranoia at the wrong parties. We are without representation on a national level (we have to face this fact) and we are being controlled in at least two ways by large corporations, investment companies, marketing agencies, and foreign governments who willingly allow corporations to exploit their own people for the sake of their own false economies.

Here's how it works: The goods we produce are sold to outside interests, tomatoes for example. A farmer, in order to sell his tomatoes to Wal-Mart must have the produce and his farm inspected by the USDA. An expense the farmer is held to bear. Because "free market" rules require WalMart to buy at the lowest price possible and because the farmer needs cash flow, he accepts this price. At this point the farmer is separated from the larger economy as a seller; he then becomes a buyer because he must spend with other outside interests to buy the things he needs. Meanwhile, the conglomerate processes and sells the tomatoes at a much higher price to the consumer. In this picture of the "free-market" only one party is free. That is the conglomerate. The burden of producing the tomato is solely on the farmer. In this example, WalMart is the money making middle man.

Most of the laws in place, ostensibly, to protect food safety, really only make it difficult, if not impossible for a small acreage farmer to compete in this so called, free market. It thus either drives the farmer out of business or requires him to become a conglomerate in order to take part in the "Free Market".

This is how we are controlled. We are controlled by the "Free-Market", which is not free, and which is made to function by the large corporations controlling the pricing, marketing, and selling of the produce. This happened mainly because in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, relaxed the anti-trust laws which allowed mega corporations, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, and many others, to operate (take over) the markets almost unhindered. Now, 50 years later, America has ceded its freedom to produce, sell, and enjoy their profits, to strangers - the conglomerates, who do not really care about my local needs but operate solely for the increasing of profits. This disconnect between the local producer and his community and the customer allows the conglomerate to use up the small farmer resource, requiring him to quit or get bigger, while the corporate monster realizes all the profits. This, then is the real enemy. Our federal government is simply a tool adeptly used by the corporations to keep this false economy going the way it is. Do you not think it odd that one large company now controls most of the seed, pesticide, and herbicide? Is it just me or does the fact that Monsanto controls most of the world's food supply? Does it bother you that essentially 3 major corporations own the market of processing Monsanto's food for us? It should.

Again Wendell Berry: " If you can control a people's economy, you don't need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant. If you control a people's choices as to whether or not they will work, where they will work, what they will do, and how well they do it, and what they will eat and wear, and the genetic makeup of their crops and animals, and what they will do for amusement, then why should your worry about freedom of speech? In a totalitarian economy, any "political liberties" that the people might retain would simply cease to matter. If, as is often the case already, nobody can be elected who is not wealthy, and if nobody can be wealthy without dependence on the corporate economy, then what is your vote worth? The citizen thus becomes an economic subject." (1994)

This. then, is the enemy of this New American Revolution. Our vote means nothing, Democrats and Republicans, and Independents, and Tea-Partiers (whatever they are) all have to eat and buy clothing, and drive their cars to work.

There are really only two options to help drive down this false-mega-"free market" economy. Either of which will return the economic power to the local communities.

Firstly, a total disaster on the order of the US purposely devaluing the dollar, or a major catastrophic natural event that wipes out the conglomerates ability to transport, sell, or process our food and clothing. Say on the order of major crop losses nationwide, long-term electrical failure, or fuel shortages of massive proportions; any of these would remove the ability of the small farmer to sell his product outside of his own community.

The second option, and more preferable, in my opinion is what we will discuss in Don't Start the Revolution Without Me (part 3)