Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Long and Winding Road....

So, 14 years ago I cut the to Eden's Organic Garden Center in Northeast Dallas. It was short-lived up there after my "roommate", a former professor and landscape company owner, decided to move his biz north and I could never have afforded the rent on my own. But he had generously afforded me the opportunity to start my garden center, something I'd been wanting to do for a few years. I'll never really be able to repay that. I was the first retailer in DFW to carry High Mowing Organic Seeds, and I had a full selection of organic gardening needs. It taught me a zillion lessons!

So I moved everything down here to Balch Springs, which was where I intended to have a garden center business originally anyway, setting up pallet tables on "cinder blocks" for the plants and converting the vacant guest house into my "garden shop", a much scaled down version of the original store with the same mission; to help people have safe yards - growing without the dangers of most commonly used synthetic garden applications. I even had a url called "safe-yards" dot com at one time.

Well, Home Depot (and Walmart which was already open I believe), had a different destiny for me in mind. 
A small retailer like me couldn't afford to buy at wholesale cost what the big box stores were selling essentially the same things for at retail. Flowers are flowers to most people, and even perennials were being carried by them both. The locals weren't going for it and "organic" hadn't really caught on yet. Being a lower income area, especially back then, I knew I'd have to bring people in from other areas if I was going to survive. 
To make my shop more unique, alongside the garden center, I decided to host a once a month farmers market, and offer a co op - allowing people to pre-order and pick up their food items, from local ranchers and farmers I knew through TOFGA. I didn't want it to resemble the 2007 version of the downtown market - at all - and I wanted it to be farmer friendly, too. (If you recall, the old DFM was sheds of idling cars and rows of out of state/country produce - almost all of it conventional)

With a little free press, it was a big smash hit. So much so, that another little market popped up in East Dallas. Initially we alternated Saturdays and shared customers and vendors, but a few years later, with a wealthy founder and paid staff, it became the "go-to" market and expanded to every week, then two locations. Great for the carbon footprint of things, but not so great for my little underfunded twice a month market. 
Such is life. I was an incubator for many a successful small producer, lots of home gardeners and even a few farmers. I still get thank you and progress reports from past customers, bread from D's Sourdough, and have a dear friend in the founder of the Texas Honeybee Guild, and I learned, or am still learning, to be a commercial farmer! So it's been mostly good I'd say.

And, I'm still here, albeit a somewhat different version of the original, 14 years later, in my community of east Balch Springs, (which is now a food desert, thanks to 8 dollar stores and a failed supermarket), trying my darnedest to stay afloat.
Lots of new players on the food scene these days yet most of the growers and customers still flock to either downtown or East Dallas. Much of Balch Springs hasn't caught on yet to the freshness factor of eating straight from the farm and we lost our local newspaper several years ago that used to carry my gardening column so as new people move in, they've not heard of me. 

I'm doing things a little different this year. I'm going to focus on a pop up farm stand here at the farm for my neighbors, and yes, anyone else who makes the drive, as well as continue to grow lots of awesome produce for my Community Supported Agriculture members. They have been the backbone of how I've managed to stay afloat all of these years since 2008. (and yes, we're accepting members for summer considering the unusual situation we're all in this year.)
I've had a market stand built to put out front whenever I have surplus and hopefully, it'll introduce my neighbors to eating locally and to the fact that there's a farm right down the road from them. 
Hoping to have our first pop up market stand soon. Keep in touch via email. 
I look forward to seeing many new faces, and hopefully, a few familiar ones, too. 

Stay well my friends.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Farmer Marie

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Not To Get Controversial, But....

I don't normally talk a lot of politics here, because, well, let's face it, it can get controversial and for whatever reason, affect people's opinions of others. However, if I've learned one thing over the years, it's that listening to someone whose opinion or point of view may differ from mine, can be enlightening, educational and a good experience. So, I'm gonna go out on a limb here on this Super Tuesday.

People who are self employed, like farmers, are often doing so because they like the independence it gives them. The flexibility in schedule, the ability to choose their vendors, customers, hours (more or less), and the freedom to choose daily tasks – I mean, overall, being self employed is awesome. 

Now it also means I have to be available 24/7, 365 - basically, paid vacations are a fantasy, sick time is just that, sick time – while working. Being the bookkeeper, shopkeeper, housekeeper, animal steward and customer service department; all wrapped up in one. And I know a lot of people who would never choose to step out on their own and go into business for themselves because it's, in their mind, too risky. It takes all kinds of us to make the world go around and I love that!

But, choosing to be a small, independent business owner should NOT mean, they can't go to a doctor to have something checked out that might be bothering them or a kid; shouldn't avoid get routine dental cleanings, because it was too expensive, (like $500 expensive), to go each year and have them cleaned professionally, to avoid the level of problem that led to more expensive treatment like filling a small cavity; or stretch a contact lens or glasses prescription out for twice as long as it should be – because it's that or feed the animals and their kids each month. Buy a part for the tractor. Get the inspection sticker and registration for the truck. Feed their kids something besides beans and rice, ramen noodles and water.  Till somehow, something extra comes along. 

Here in the state of Texas, apparently the affordable care act fell short of being very affordable for many folks. I won't dig into the politics of why, there are many reasons and none of them we should be proud of, but suffice it to say that paying $300-$500 month, every single month, for health insurance, (not even CARE),  that wouldn't even cover eyes or teeth, is shameful. And, unaffordable for way too many people who work very hard, often at multiple jobs, but just don't make the kind of money to cover it, or work for an employer who helps pay for it.

Now, thankfully, I personally have found a local dentist here in town who believes preventative care for families is very important and prices her services accordingly. (you can get a full exam including panoramic and individual x rays AND a basic cleaning for under $100!) And, in Dallas we happen to have an amazing College of Dentistry downtown that accepts patients for their students to “practice” on. I even gave two of the student dentists my perspective on how important dental care is to the overall health of people because good teeth, or bad ones, determines what a person is able to eat. I know too many people who can not eat raw carrots, broccoli, or eat corn on the cob and don't have a juicer to suck them up through a straw instead. Fresh vegetables are imperative to a healthy diet - a healthy person. Being an affordable dentist, at least on the front end of prevention, can go a long way to helping the overall health of our country! I think I left them both with something to ponder.

But if someone can't afford to do anything but get a tooth yanked out, what can we expect as a society? And then yes, we all suffer because those who can't afford any medical care often end up in publicly funded facilities. Which is great, and I gladly pay my Parkland taxes every year and while I hope not to ever need their care, am grateful it is there for those who do. But what about those who don't have a Parkland nearby?

I am super lucky to have an MD and an ophthalmologist on my CSA roster, and they have pledged to take good care of their favorite farmer at a price I can afford. Both also operate in lower income areas and have rates that are substantially more affordable than what I used to pay elsewhere. But this kind of opportunity isn't available to everyone. 

And not everyone can get to these places – or even knows about them. I had no idea any dental office charged less than $300-$500 for a basic appointment and cleaning. I called around and gave up a decade ago.

Not all medical offices are set up where rent isn't super high or a good deal on a real estate purchase was found. I get that. Everyone has overhead. Maybe it's time we stop charging medical offices a higher tax rate than churches? Both provide services considered essential to the well-being of the people, right?

And who knows how much some independent offices are being raked over the coals for for medical supplies, etc because they can't buy in bulk like a huge corporate hospital or chain of physicians. 

I don't expect them to eat that cost, they have bills to pay, just like me. If I am forced to pay more for seed or equipment, I have to find a way to recover that cost so I'm still making a living. Doctors do, too.

Capitalism can be a great thing, I say that as an entrepreneur - until it gets greedy and goes unchecked. And my friends, I think it's fair to say it's gone unchecked for quite a few decades now. 

"Breaking up ma bell" was supposed to lead to cheaper phone bills - has it? Deregulation of utilities means we pay more for internet service than just about anywhere else in the world. Government granted monopolies means less competition of unregulated services - and we are left without options.

What would happen if all of the food growers and suppliers got together and decided people needed to actually pay for the cost of production instead of the deeply discounted food prices Americans have come to enjoy? You pay for the difference in gas prices with subsidies paid some corn growers whose product ends up in your gas tank. Or in the beef you ate. Or in the $1.99 gallon of milk or the 3 loaves for $5 bread. Do you really think that stuff is that cheap to make?

My point is that some parts of the medical industry in general seems to have lost sight of its objective and instead focus on profits, too often at the expense of people's health and well-being. I always thought it was to help keep people healthy, and to cure them when they're ill.

Kind of like farmers. My objective is to feed people healthy, nutritious food. No one is saying both professions should not be paid fairly for their work – both have bills to pay, of course. But if a farmer wanted to feel ok charging higher rates, I think they'd raise something people didn't require on a daily basis to survive - healthy food. 

They'd raise cotton or wool, or silk and it wouldn't be subsidized. You won't die if you don't wear it, but if you prefer natural fiber, is going to cost a bit more. Synthetic fabrics are available, and usually cost less. But there is no good substitute for REAL FOOD. We know that because obesity, diabetes and heart issues, not to mention cancer, is affecting the Western diet followers much more than others who eat fresh foods. But that's a different rant.

People in general who enter service oriented industries such as teaching, emergency services, health-care workers, agriculture, and medical services – generally, have their end customer's well being in mind. Not their pocketbook.That's what I'm trying to say.

And isn't it time we help take better care of those who take care of us by guaranteeing they can get the same kind of medical care someone fortunate enough to have a great medical insurance plan, or who works for the government (at just about any level), would afford his or her own family? Even sometimes there are doctors who can't afford services of some other doctors.

There's something wrong with this picture when we have friend after friend holding a “go-fund-me” drive to help pay for breast cancer, accident recovery, critical care for a child; because they're going broke and homeless otherwise. 

It's inhumane the same way it would be if people were turned away from food if they needed it and couldn't otherwise afford it. Most farmers I know would at the very least offer a "will work for food" opportunity or a sliding scale option for those in need. And so do many physicians. But what about higher up that food chain?

No one is saying medical care should be "free". Nothing is free. But if we all contribute according to our ability, we can do better for everyone in this country. Our friends, family and neighbors, as well as those we may never meet. 

And, we all know that even at our own local government levels, there are plenty of things we spend tax money on that is “fluff”. We know there is plenty of money that is spent on things we could do without so much of, and not jeopardize anything we've come to expect as US citizens. It's all a matter of priorities.

Somewhere we've lost sight of the importance in caring for the vulnerable and the ones who care for and do for others what many would not either like or be able to do for themselves. 

We who do those things and work for ourselves or those companies who aren't big enough to afford it for their employees, are no less worthy of medical care than someone who takes your call at a huge nationally owned corporate cable tv office, bags your groceries at a huge national supermarket chain, builds your cars, or your houses – someone who chooses to clock in and out each day, and works for a business who is able to offer some sort of health care to its employees. 

Small mom and pop local businesses who employ others, they're taking a hit, too. Paying both an employee's social security and medicare shared amount AND a health insurance premium employers share for its workers, is no small expense. Which is why fewer can afford to offer this “perk” and don't, or don't have employees. 

And millions go without medical care each year. Without their meds, preventative exams, dental cleanings, eye glasses, surgeries. We all see the posts on our social media feeds. This is a real problem for real people. I doubt, unless you live in a bubble, you don't know others who face these life and death issues. Some of them, every day.

We are a great place to live. I consider myself very lucky to have been born to parents who were born to parents who chose to come to the US for the opportunities it offers. We have some of the greatest engineers and ingenuity in the world. People love to invent, to develop and create, and get paid for it.

But, most people, I believe, want to help other people succeed, live better and be healthy. And many come here and can't understand this "live and let live" or "dog eat dog" philosophy that has seemed to take hold here. Where is our humanity?

We can do better by each other if we pull together, do what we do best and do it better than anywhere else, instead of looking at the worst of everywhere else and saying we can't do it here because "over there they have problem x, y or z".

Is there someone out there running for office who seems to have the well being of those who don't have a lot of pull in mind, and has been fighting for their rights for many, many decades? It's not all up to one person; I get that. But it's a mindset that gets voiced from a position of leadership that helps influence society. And then they're going to need the people behind them to make it happen.

So, all I'm asking is please, when you cast your votes this year, look at it from the perspective of someone else, too. Thanks. 

Now, Eat Your Food - Naturally! If you can. And if you can't, get a juicer or a blender at the thrift store and grind that stuff up because it's going to make you feel a LOT better than that heart attack in a bag that only costs a buck. Said with love, from your favorite, local, small, self employed farmer.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Winged Intruder

Sleeping solidly through the night when you live on a farm isn't always something you get to do. At least, I don't. I seem to sleep with one ear still "on"; listening for out of place noises

Living on a farm one block north of a freeway in a place with a prevailing southerly wind, makes discerning noise a bit tricky.  When the breeze is out of the north, or calm, it's very quiet around here. But when carried by Gulf breezes, the constant hum of freeway noise, blow outs or hot rodders; it's not always easy to separate noises.

Well, last night, there was no doubt the sound of the Great White Pyrenees alarm, followed almost immediately by the screeching guinea fowl alarm. 

I jumped up, threw on my robe and slippers, meaning to put on my Sloggers, and grabbed my phone - in the event it was a two-legged intruder - and rushed out the back door to see what the clatter was all about. 

And it's not even the night before Christmas.

Anyway, I arrived and looked around, scanning ground and then sky - just in time to see the shadow of a pair of vast wings slowly ascending off into the night sky. I so wish I could have fired off a photograph. But as it flew off, unable to make out if it had something in it's talons or not I supposed if it had something, I'd have seen it. Perhaps. 

I didn't stop to grab my spectacles on my way out the door. 

It grew quiet almost instantly as the winged invader flew off. And the only noise now I tuned into, was that of the creaky, squeaky noises the guinea fowl make when they're not screeching at full volume. 

I located where it was coming from, and quickly counted the white heads that almost glowed in the dark. Four. I should have 6. Not believing even a huge barn owl would carry off two birds at once, I decided if the other one, or hopefully both, were still around, they'd be huddled together in silence. 

So I herded the four I could find through the dark of the night with my familiar "feeding whistle tune" and slow movements into the chicken coop area they are supposed to sleep in. Locked up the door, and when back to try to find the others. 

There it was! I heard the distinctive noise, quiet, yet familiar. Was that a flash in the brush? My good flashlight lay on the desk; I will remember to put things back where they belong so I can quickly grab them; some day. 

So all I had was the dim light from my cell phone to search. Then from behind me, I heard a much more distinct chatter. Up in the tree was the lightest colored of the birds, one of the males, near the lower branches; not where he usually roosts. Surely they were rustled out of their sleeping spots. Of that, I had no doubt. 

I searched and sat quietly for over 10 minutes but just couldn't find the other bird, likely this one's mate, anywhere. So I decided to let him stay in the tree for the rest of the night. If indeed it had been the other bird I'd heard, and not just this one's call bouncing off the wall of the barn back at me, he'd find her in the AM. 

And I would be out at dawn with feed, to be sure they didn't wander off before accounted for. 

So, with that in mind, as if an alarm went off in my head, my eyes popped open at five after six and off I went, fully dressed this time, to the barn to snatch up some feed for my likely sleepless, feathered friends. 

First I called to the male in the tree, and as soon as it was lighter, he swooped down and came running for his snack. Trying to lead him to the other 4 in the coop, I walked slowly dribbling grain behind me. 

He came as far as the gate to the enclosure and then ran back towards the tree. No, this way! Silly bird. So I let the other 4 out, giving them some grain as well, and to my pleasant surprise, I turned back around the rain barrel to find my guinea pair - reunited! 

I was so happy I nearly cried. You see, guinea fowl, as I understand it, mate for life. And if they're separated for some reason, will often remain unpaired for the rest of their life. That always made me kind of sad to think of, so I was very happy to see his mate had survived the attack from our late night, winged intruder. 

Perhaps, but not likely, they will choose to sleep in their enclosure now..... one can only hope. Because, our intruder will surely be back.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!