Friday, July 24, 2009

Who Owns Organic

Who Owns Organic
This is a link to a very interesting chart. It is very eye-opening. There is a link on the page below it to view it as a full sized pdf, if you want.
The Corportization and loss of diversity and choice for both consumers and producers is not solely a problem for standard, commercially produced foodstuffs. No indeed, the Big Boys have eyed the success of the organic trade, and they have begun to move their attention toward many brands amiliar to those of us who think we are buying responsibly.

Be aware, be willing to buy small, local, and farmer friendly.

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USDA Admits GMO Contamination is Inevitable

USDA Admits GMO Contamination is Inevitable
Well, this is great news. Though Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the EU have studied the issue of Genetically Modified Foods and determined that the unknown health risks are too great to allow, the United States of Corporations has of course been told we will accept these products, and accept them we have.

If anyone really wanted to stay away from these genetically modified foods, it is now assured that will be virtually impossible. These genes are like gazillions of tiny genies which have been invisibly popping out of their bottles across the land for the last decade now. I read an article by a prominent organic seedsman that basically admitted that even organic seeds are now heavily affected by GMO genes. In other words, they have escaped and are inserting themselves into plants all over the place. Only the very most isolated crops of corn, soybeans, cotton, etc. may be unaffected. For how long they can hold out is anyone's guess. My guess? Not too long.

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And Now For Something Completely Political

Sunny, 80

It's a Saturday morning (for me), the sun is shining, the birds are singing. The garden and wild berry harvest are in full swing. We finally did get the much-needed rain over the last few days, so the lawn needs mowing again. Everything seems to be as it should be.

But there are unseen forces at work behind the scenes and beneath the radar that will surely have very serious long-term implications for every one of us in this country and even on this planet. I remember back in the late 60's and 70's, when I was a kid, the birth of the ecology movement. I remember public service commercials meant to wake citizens up to the shameful practice of throwing garbage out along roadsides or in other inappropriate areas. There was a commercial with a Native American man in full ceremonial dress (I guess so we could tell he was an Indian), with a tear streaming down his cheek at the wanton destruction of his precious Mother Nature. I remember there was a movement amongst the people sporting t-shirts and flying flags with the green 'e' symbol on them, meant to indicate support for a green revolution.

Fast forward 40 years. Yes, we've made some progress in some areas. Our understanding and application of organic agricultural practices has grown considerably. We now have words such as sustainability, free-range and permaculture in our lexicon. But at the same time, dark, evil forces have turned out nation into a Corporacracy. (Corporacracy, btw, is the term I use for a government by the corporations, for the corporations. We certainly are there, folks.) The Corporacracy has been growing like a giant blob monster in a b movie laboratory, feeding itself on the knowledge that people will make decisions based on emotion and not on fact. The monster has learned to become our master by manipulating our emotions via the advertising industry (one of it's most vital corporate tentacles) and the media spin industry. It has quietly and cleverly positioned it's minions inside political and legal processes, and inside government itself. In so doing, it has ensured for itself a smooth road to control of our food, our land, our bodies, and next, even our water.

This monster does have a name and a face. Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, Siemens, Nestle.... it's actually (and tellingly) a rather short list. Taking advantage of loopholes in anti-trust laws and armies of it's own lawyers, these few companies went on a feeding frenzy in the 90's, gobbling up smaller companies that supplied essential goods to local communities and the world. Local packing plants, slaughterhouses, farms, feed stores, grain mills, auction barns, seed companies, chemical plants, food processors and suppliers, grocery stores and pharmacies, all bought up and rapidly shut down in the process of eliminating any possibility of competition (a principle on which our free market was founded, remember?) and diversity. Untold numbers of self-sustaining small towns across rural America have become ghost towns. No more jobs, no more customers, no more stores.

At the same time, the corporate megaliths have been planting their representatives in very key and crucial positions to ensure their own future health and, obviously, profit.

We had hope (yes, we did) with the election of Obama that things would finally be turned back toward justice and policies and decisions that would benefit the public and not the corporations. But despite a very loud and organized plea from citizens and small farmers across our country to appoint as the new Secretary of Agriculture someone who was not in the back pocket of Big Agribiz, someone who would guide us toward a more healthful and sustainable method of growing and harvesting our food, he appointed Iowa's former Governor Vilsack, a guy who is Big Corn, and who believes the Ethanol Myth. And now, this. Appointing a Monsanto Man to head the Food and Drug Administration. In most countries, this would cause civil unrest, but here we are too lulled by the circuses of media that tell us this is a good idea.

Apparently President Obama forgot that the only way we can avert total ecological, economic, and cultural disaster is to break the chains the monster has slipped around us all. It will take representatives in Washington who are actually willing to listen to the people instead of their corporate sponsors, and vote accordingly. Thus far, that has been impossible. The stranglehold this monster has on us is so strong that not only will our elected politicians not stand up against them, but if anyone does, most Americans believe the monsters' media campaigns, and actually fight against their own best interests, attacking any calls for reform and calling them "radical", "nutty", or (gasp!) "liberal".

If we continue at this pace, our entire food supply will be GMO, whether we want it to be or not, our small farms will be taxed and and regulated out of business (this could literally mean no more roadside stands for you all to buy fresh, local veggies, for instance), big business will succeed in literally choking off free water supplies to people and farms , food you buy in the stores will not have to carry labels informing you that they may contain chemicals you wish to avoid, every animal on even the smallest homestead will have to be implanted with a radio frequency chip, our soils, air, water, fish and wildlife will continue to be contaminated with hormones, pcb's and other chemicals with no government watchdogs to control or stop it.

As we were all told that we were standing on an economic precipice last Fall, we understood that we had to allow for drastic action in order to avoid falling over that cliff as a society, which would be a very bad thing. We are at an even higher precipice right now, that of being on the tipping point of the point of no return for our environment and the very means by which we obtain our food, and thus our future health and safety.

If the current economic disaster has been an eye-opener into how inter-connected and centralized our financial system is regarding who the powerful elite are and how much of our economic system they actually control, wait until you figure out who is in charge of our food, fiber, soils, seeds, and drugs.

If we don't wake up NOW and demand the turnabout of past good ol' boy practices and the investigation into facts surrounding these abominable for-profit companies stopping short of absolutely NOTHING to capture and control our food, water, and soil, we are going to experience a crisis far worse than something caused (and solved) by simple, silly money. There is no Central Farm to simply crank out more food or water when worldwide shortages hit. And like the greedy bankers selling off bad loans and investments that they knew would fail, causing our arrival at the monetary and credit cliff, these guys are busily manipulating markets and rules and governments in order to squeeze every penny of profit they can as fast as they can, never mind the crash course we are all headed on.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Growing Fruits and Pains

Partly cloudy, 78

We were supposed to get some rain last night, but it never materialized. Like, it seems, every other rain forecast in the last month. We are getting our typical mid-Summer dry spell. While the hayfield stops growing, and we have to keep watering the garden, it also means I need to mow the lawn a lot less, freeing up some time.

The garden is growing like gangbusters, and harvest is underway. In addition to the aforementioned peas and beans and potatoes, we have been harvesting carrots and salad makings as we go, and the summer squash is coming on strong and ready. Karen has made some truly remarkable meals from the squash blossoms themselves! She has filled them with cheese, battered them and fried them - well, what's not to love? We should put them on a stick and sell them at the Iowa State Fair!

We've been harvesting black raspberries for the last two weeks, and it looks like they are winding down. I baked a blackberry crisp, and we have turned them into jam, and frozen them as well. They are my favorite berry.

Last weekend I made my very first batch of home made sausage! It took a bit of trial and effort to get the sausage maker/grinder to work properly, no thanks to very inadequate proto-Chinese instructions included in the box. But once I got the right combination of attachments on the thing, it was pretty fun! It actually looked a lot like the italian sausage in the butcher shop, and it tasted at least as good, if not better! I grilled some up for supper the next night, and we vacuum sealed and froze the rest for future use. I am proud.

We are making progress toward stocking the types of tools we need as well. We got in the campstove for canning that I mentioned in the last post, and we also recieved some electric poultry netting, that will allow us to move the chickens around the farm, yet keep them out of spaces we don't want them, such as in the tomatoes or other parts of the garden that are vulnerable to chicken pecking and scratching. We want to put them on grassy, weedy areas, let them eat bugs and grass, etc. We can also double the use of this netting by using it on pasture for pigs, too, or so I've read from other pastured pig producers.

The tractor is still down at the neighbors'. The diesel injection guy recc. re-building the pump, since it was time, and though it will be very tough to come up with the money, I felt we might as well have it taken care of now rather than have it go in the middle of winter when I have two feet of snow in my driveway. And this does not address the issue of metal in the crankcase, which is not a good sign. Every time I think of my tractor, I get a kind of a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I literally see those little dollars with wings symbols on them. The purchase of this particular tractor may have been a very expensive bad move on my part. It certainly has been a learning experience for me. I know more about what can go wrong on a diesel now than I wish I knew. I only hope that this learning lesson in the school of hard knocks will be over once I get her back and running again, and we have a long and happy future ahead of us. I do keep telling myself that this is a machine, and it can be fixed and restored. I am thinking of trying to locate a basic diesel mechanics class at a local community college so that I can understand and maintain her better once I do have her back here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Starting to harvest

A few days ago we canned up some dilly beans. These are basically pickled green beans, with some garlic and fresh dill. In some jars, we tossed in some jalapeno peppers. These are excellent in bloody mary’s, or just as a snack during football games, etc., which is mostly how we eat them.

Yesterday, I took one of my furlough days and made it a farm and family day. A beautiful warm, sunny day, high around 78 and breezy.

After cleaning up the kitchen, I spent about an hour in the garden picking green and wax beans. Got about 2 lbs., I’d say.

Came in and processed them by pressure canning. Beans do not have enough acid, so have to be pressure canned vs. boiling water bath like tomatoes or jams, etc. The result was 6 pints of beans stored up for winter. It feels good to think of those long cold winter evenings, and sitting down to a meal from our own garden. So our canning total so far is 6 pints dilly beans, 6 pints canned beans. This doesn’t count all the beans, peas, and black raspberries Karen has put in the freezer, too!

The whole process yesterday actually took about 4 hours, due to Curt stopping by in the middle to discuss progress on the tractor, and the frustratingly slow cooktop electric stove we have. Have I mentioned Karen and I hate that thing?

I have actually ordered a two burner propane stove, with legs and a wind baffle from Northern Tool (they don’t carry it in-store). It’s sold as a camping accessory. It should arrive this week. I can’t wait to get that and set it up outside for canning. This should help a lot, even if it doesn’t heat up the pots of water any faster (but I believe it will), it will keep the heat out of the kitchen during canning. I also want to find a used sink from the Habitat Re-Store and fashion up a sink and counter space area and create an outdoor kitchen. My hope is to make canning faster, closer to the source, less mess in the house, and of course, cooler, in both senses of the term.

Last week I dug some of our fingerling potatoes for the first time. These are yellow potatoes that grow to about three to four inches, max, and are designed to be eaten little. Oh my lord, they are so delicious. You can never know what a really fresh, tasty potato eating experience is like by getting them at the store, people. This Dairyland girl didn’t even want any butter on them!

And now we have a whole 20 ft. row of the things and they are ready now. I will start digging them today, and letting them dry a bit. I’m thinking about canning some of them. Karen is dubious. We will have lots and lots of storage potatoes in the basement, so I thought canning would be a good compliment. Might even can up some peas with some of them.

I mentioned the tractor. Sigh. It is now at Curt’s place. We drove it down there this last week. It did not, thankfully, do the screeching thing. But it did seem to be leaking fuel into the crankcase, indicating a seal, or o-ring, is bad on the fuel injection pump. He has a friend who works at a diesel injection place, and he has come by and taken the numbers off the pump so he can get the appropriate seal for it. He is due to come back on Saturday to work on it. Keep your fingers crossed. I miss my tractor, and I just want it to be healthy and happy. I got a wood stove free from a friend, but I can’t get it out of the back of my truck until the tractor is back home and running. So until my tractor is working, my truck is out of commission, parked in the garage protecting the woodstove…. Lol. Sometimes ya just gotta shake your head and laugh. Else you’ll get an ulcer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well, as Karen mentioned, the big day finally arrived. Sure enough, we have tractor power. Red tractor power! DIESEL fired, 4 cylinders of International Harvester 674 loader tractor wheelin and dealin.

I found it on Craigslist, went and saw it, and knew it was just what I’ve been looking for. I was prepared to get a tractor of any color, but in my heart of hearts, I longed for another red tractor. (To the unitiated, un-tractored out there, this means basically that I am talking about an International or Farmall tractor, and not one that is green, or blue, orange, yellow, or any of the other tractor colors. Tractor companies paint all their machines the same color, and the practiced eye can tell the make of a tractor from a very long distance simply by it’s color). My very first tractor was a red and white Farmall, a very beautiful tractor, and I loved her. You know the rest of the girl meets tractor story. I am a loyal sort.

So I arranged with the neighbor Curt to haul it home. Curt is one of those best-you-could-ever-ask-for neighbors. He knows stuff, he’s got stuff, and he does stuff. He can pretty much do anything. He’s a master of machine and animals and crops, and he’s a genuinely nice guy to boot, and always answers his phone. So Curt got to the place, and he told me he looked the tractor over pretty good, and he wasn’t about to let me spend this kind of money if the tractor didn’t live up to it. But it got Curt’s okay, and he got it on his trailer and brought her home to me. That evening, while waiting for it to arrive, I was like an anxious mother waiting for her children to come home from a trip in a bad storm.

It finally arrived. There it was! A big red tractor! It was so cool! Just the right size! Wow, now I could DO some shit around here! My very own precious diesel tractor. A loader, with a bale spear. We can move dirt, manure, compost, big round bales, logs, snow, plow, chop, cultivate, elevate, pull, push, lift, drag, you name it! This 674 is a very capable all-around machine. I looked high and low and far and wide, and waited patiently for the right tractor to come along.

It was a little low in fuel, so Curt suggested I drive it down to his place and fill it up. It took almost 20 minutes to get near to his house. Before I got there, he came by in his truck, and said he had to leave to go look at some posts (some for our fence-to-be), so I turned around and headed back home.

I was tooling back home with a happy grin on my face. It sure felt good to be atop a tractor again. I loved this tractor. Yay.

Alla sudden, I noticed the oil pressure gauge dropping fast. What the…?? I looked below and behind the tractor for a trail of oil, nothing looked abnormal at all. Just as I was starting to wonder if the gauges weren’t working right (a common thing with older tractors), a terrible screeching noise and a puff of smoke came out of the front end! NO! I jerked the wheel to the right, and cut the engine as fast as I could.

I couldn’t call Curt, cuz he was on his way half way to Appleton. But another neighbor, Ron, came out and he got on his Farmall and pulled me home. Thanks, Ron.

I checked the oil level, and it was not only full, it was way over full. No leaks or anything.

I waited until the tractor cooled down, and we had a little talk. I patted her, and spoke encouragingly to her while I went about her with a rag, cleaning up various grease smudges. I won’t say exactly what was said, because that is a religious protection. However, I believe she liked what I told her. I will admit I made some promises.

I crossed my fingers, and tried to turn the engine over again. And she started right up, and purred like a kitten. No bad noises, no bad smells, all belts and hoses working just fine, and I had oil pressure….

Fast forward to today, and I have talked to all kinds of guys about this. I have gone from my stomach being in knots over this, thinking I need a new engine, to maybe I only need a new oil pump, to thinking maybe I don’t need anything except to change the oil and I dodged a bullet. Please, please, please.

I keep trying to think on the bright side. Like, it’s not 20 below zero, and the driveway isn’t filled with three feet of snow. I don’t have a crop of hay cut and needing baling now. But it’s hard, having a big new baby in the yard, and only being able to approach her with fret and concern. Sometimes I am filled with cautious optimism, sometimes with an unreal sinking feeling.

Curt is going to talk to the Olson boys tomorrow, after they finish milking. They run Internationals and they like to work on them as well. I will wait to hear what they think.

Now grit your teeth and clench your fists with me, and repeat, “Please, please, please”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

There's a lot going on in a day on the farm

It's interesting to me that in the silence and sometimes, alone ness in a day on this place, there is so very much happening. I think the blog makes me take stock of that. Yesterday, the tractor arrived and Red will tell the tale, I'm sure, of how kind words to tractors really might make all the difference in the world. Today, I shelled the first peas to freeze, eating a good deal of them right there. We've been enjoying the snap peas for several days but I've realized you really have to look in all the leafy spots- things are ready to harvest and you don't even know it. The english peas almost got missed. The black caps are just covering our back corner but I have to get a bug suit before I can really commit to harvesting them. I picked a small bowl full today and have the welts to prove it but not, however, the berries. Dottie seems to have helped herself, ever so grateful that I braved the brush to pick them for her. Grandma Betty has one of those bug suits at the cottage and I am so sold on all things meshy that keep out the bugs. I want a head to toe one really. And a harvesting basket that keeps out Welshies. Back to the garden and it's happenings.

The corn - has the beginnings of reproductive parts. The squash has so many blossoms on a single stalk it looks like a bouquet. The tomatoes are pushing out more green shapes - some long and pointy romas and some wrinkly bulging orbs every day. The northern and jacobs cattle have all emerged with long pods filling out. The melons and pumpkins are forming their blossoms. Onions are pushing out of the ground and I pulled a few out to cure. The carrots are really ready to dig en masse- I'm sick of losing half a carrot as I try to pull them one at a time as we need em. The garlic is starting to go dormant and thanks to Holly who visited this weekend and helped out- I got in the rows of carrots and more beans for a late harvest. Red and Holly took down some trees- and then we all piled them up in between weeding the gardens and drinking watermelon cucumber gin & tonics. It was a nice weekend.

I had another personal invitation today to offer our pork at our local coop and I want to go for it. I love our folks at Yahara- I felt like they were my first friends here and so welcoming. I'm thinking about potatoes too while they are the leafy green blossoming successes that they appear right now and I'm both forgetting how there appears to be no back saving mechanics when you're placing potatoes into foot deep trenches and I'm naive to all the pesty things that can go wrong. But I keep dreaming of selling our pastured pork with french fingerling and all the other varieties I want to try. Somehow finding a way to put all these pieces together to make some kind of working farm. To pay for getting the cows someday, to maybe make it work to get the rest of the land. Or just to make it all work the way it is.

Chicken stories- I planned to share a post on how I almost rashly decided to slaughter a rooster- we have too many and have been deciding which to keep for the farm and which will end up in a pot- and I've heard many tales and met a few mean roos. So we've been noting how they treat the hens, watching their manners, and observing signs for general macho silliness to help us make our decision. I went into the pen this morning and immediately a roo rushed me and pecked at my feet. Oh no you don't. My eyes flashed to figure out which one and to communicate that that move was one big strike against the beast. Then I noticed one of my dear hens also fast approaching my feet. I had painted my toe nails and, wearing flip flops (my 'farm flops' not my 'going on the town flops'..... my toes looked like the cherries I've been bringing for treats. So all is forgiven and the scoreboard is level once again. Seems like the boys are pretty well mannered so far. The meanest in the flock is the cuckoo maran (or barred rock.... still not entirely sure) hen. She is not the least bit pleasant.

But sadly, the chicken tale number two- is that one of the baby roos, the americana with the gold flecks, is doing the wheezing thing that Frances had done. The rest of the flock look great but he is weak, and I held him for a long time- feeling his crop. Its not the crop- it was pretty empty and we noted that his color is pale and feet cold. I was going to seperate him for the night- we were going to take some video to share on backyard poultry to try to get some insight into what this is- and when I came back from getting a waterer for him, he was not gasping and was pecking. I lifted him back to the flock, he pecked furiously and then as the night fell he weakly stumbled (and I mean stumbled) onto the nesting boxes where they sleep. Who knows! I am remembering all we did for Frances and I don't know what she had and I don't know if this is the same. I know the olive oil thing was just for the blocked crop- and I really think we can rule that out in our goldieroo. Rats. So we put him to bed with the rest (seems no point in isolating him) and we'll see what happens. Here I'm talking about doing roos in and then saving one- complex this chicken raising thing. I'm sure no chicken will break our heart like Frances did. But ya sure do bond with something when it's cradled in the crook of your arm and you are trying to nurse it back to wellnesss. This little roo was really snuggled in tonight.

I have to go to finish getting the peas in the freezer and get another lecture together. I had a chance to give a talk last night to a group of women that gather here monthly- starting to be a group of friends for sure. This weekend I'm teaching and again the week after. I'm really in a nice place with my business and my professional work but the numbers are looking so very very terrible. Damn this economy. Nice to think about the gratification of a pot of shelled peas and push it all out of my mind for the night. A farmer has to sleep ya know.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Partly sunny, 80

Good morning.

Nice day we're having here. Can't complain, especially after several days of unseasonably cold and cloudy weather, when the highs were only in the low 60's.

Gonna have a little get-together back yard barbecue tomorrow for the 4th. Just a few friends coming over.

Karen's been digging a new spot in the garden to plant a second crop of green beans and some carrots. The potatoes are doing great - very few colorado potato beetles so far, we've been squashing the ones we find. Actually, the whole garden looks to be coming along nicely. The garlic should be ready to harvest soon, and we may try to dig some baby potatoes too. Can't wait for those! Yum!

I'm going to meet a guy this afternoon and look at this .

Edited to add: Yep. I liked it.