Thursday, November 14, 2013

For the Love of Beans and Squash

Frost Tender Cucuzza

This time of the year always makes me a little sad. I have to walk up and down the rows of happily growing crops deciding the fate of each one; saying "thank you" to those who have given us much over the season but also bid farewell to those summer crops I've lovingly tended, coaxed along and protected for months on end, but that will not be long for the farm once the temps dip below freezing. 

I wish I could save them all and let them produce perpetually, but that is just not practical. Not in North Texas anyway.  But alas, it happens every year. I guess it's a little like the tree's green leaves turning their true autumn colors and then dying and falling to the ground. You have to learn to let things go and move on to the next season. 

(Or, you can dig things up out of the ground, pot them, and replant them in the hoop house - like we did with the basil! Sometimes, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Diligence and some TLC can pay off. We should have pesto for Christmas, my birthday and Valentines Day!)

When it comes to weather in the fall, you never can tell for sure what to expect. But by “listening” to your instincts, watching the sky, animals and the calendar, as well as talking amongst veteran farmers, you can usually predict most things at least as well as the official forecasters. Some nights, you can go outside and feel whether or not the air is crisp and clear enough to frost things, but it's good to have several hours heads up from the computers these days. The idea is to trap in the warmth of the sun under the frost cloth, so waiting till it's dark - isn't usually a good idea.

Last night, as I walked through the gardens for the last time re-tucking things here and there, it felt like a killing frost was imminent for sure, and all of the forecasters had long confirmed that an arctic blast was to arrive by dawn. This time, they got the forecast right. And this freeze is right in line with our average first killing frost date of mid November here in USDA hardiness zone 8a. The dogs', barn cat and horses' coats had already begun thickening, the leaves are changing. It was time.

Last year we had a pretty early and unexpected frost that took out some things before their time. It had caught most of North Texas farmers and gardeners off guard. I wasn't alone. That's just one of the ways Nature keeps us in check I think. Dropping from 80F to a frost in a matter of hours; you're probably going to lose a few crops. And we did. Pretty as the frost looks on that chard below, as soon as it thawed out, the plants and the leaves turned to mush. They just didn't have time to harden off before that first frost last year.
Frost Sure Looks Pretty - But Proved to be Lethal This Time

My first year trying to grow fall tomatoes, I actually stumbled upon the way to defy an upcoming freeze by unwittingly following the ways of great Four-Season farmer Eliot Coleman with my double covering experiment. After I had tucked them all in that night, talking with a former classmate and fellow farmer from IL, my last minute plan was validated and that indeed I had done exactly what I should have done to keep them safe! I'm still amazed at how well this worked given I had not yet read up on it to know what I was doing. Beginner's luck! I had actually covered the plants with plastic earlier in the season, trying to heat things up since there had been such a cloudy stretch and they wouldn't ripen. Why I had tucked frost cloth in there at the same time I put plastic over the hoops, must have been some indigenous grower instinct in me, because it was there staring at me as I pondered the fate of those green tomatoes in the face of a deep freeze I feared I lose them to. I’d been trying to get them to ripen for weeks, and the light bulb went off in my head. I pulled that frost cloth up and over those plants under the plastic that night, crossed my fingers, said a prayer and it worked! I had no idea how much difference the double layer would make. I've used that technique once more and had the same results - and it was on a cloudy day, without much solar heat to trap in.

This year, we were warned and prepared but I had so many rows of warm season things still producing, on two properties, it was going to be a monumental task to cover it all, on top of the other pre-freeze preparations that come normally on a farm. I was really glad to have the help of my 2 farm residents and our part time intern this year after usually running around doing it all on my own for the most part. I remember one year calling on a CSA work share member in the neighborhood to come out and help me wrestle frost cloth. People tend to get a better respect for their food once they've experienced something like that.

But even with the help, the list was long and would take time; we'd secure frost cloth over our Thanksgiving winter squash, all 5 rows of them, the trellised beans and still producing cucuzza, and then some summer squash plants, another 5 or so rows. We even had a row with some tomato plants we'd cover that were finally starting to show signs of life - and a handful of tomatoes. Time allowing, we'd dig up our basil and pick okra and melons. Drawing extra water, then disconnecting the water hoses, covering faucets and putting out extra hay for the animals is on the list, too, of course. My Great Pyrenees LGD's don't come in on cold nights, they love it out there. As long as they have a warm pile of hay to snuggle up in and a wind block, they're fine. They seem to live for winter. And Smoke, our part Icelandic ewe, is quite at home in our brief stints with winter weather. I wish I had a video of her running laps around her "yard" the morning of the first freeze! I was cracking up and the dogs thought she'd surely lost her mind. Ah, life on the farm.... 

Running around like a nut in the cold - Smokey, our resident ewe

I started the undertaking of the prep for the freeze on Monday at the satellite farm location, when it was nice, warm and calm out. It's about 30 miles down the road where I am using some land at a retired farmer friend's place, to make up for about an acre on my urban farm that is currently over-seeded with cover crops for the winter, in order to build precious organic matter. 

The farm owner asked me, somewhat sheepishly, "Are we still going to have beans after Tuesday?" I assured her I was going to do whatever I could to be sure she got some of those yummy green beans she loved so much. She can find green beans on the vine when no one else can, she claims. She'd already sampled a few and was looking forward to picking a pot-full soon! I hated to let her down, and I would have our CSA work share member who works that farm, check on things Tuesday afternoon after the front was to have blown through with high winds, just to be sure everything stayed pinned down. (All was well she reported - so it looks like beans should be on the menu next week. My friend is thrilled.) 

Our farm intern met me back at our urban location later Monday afternoon, and we got most everything else covered up just as the sun started to set. We took a quick dinner break and we finished up the covering process in the dark. It was a bit of a challenge, especially when I lost my phone in the rambles of squash vines, but it was still fairly warm out. We worked by the light of the moon and clear sky, pooped as 10PM approached, but, we agreed it was better to hit the hay exhausted, than to fight the frost cloth and plastic in the morning when there was rain, wind and the cold front predicted to blow in. "I come out here to work!", he said. And work we did. We got it all tucked in and pinned down. We thought.  

But early Tuesday morning the cold front had blown through with strong winds and whipped off much of our work on the trellis and a few rows came a bit loose due to wet soils not holding the pins in very well. We had to pull an “all hands on deck” shift to get things back under control to try to keep the squash and beans from shivering later that night. (Squash and beans do shiver, you know.) Our farm residents rolled up their sleeves and we all got to work.

This year is the first year we’ve had to cover an actively growing trellis, so none of us was exactly sure how we were going to tackle it, but we devised an idea and collectively, we managed to execute the vision. So between the 4 of us, we re-secured the flapping plastic, now in 35 mph wind gusts, (but thankfully no rain), and re-pinned frost cloth that had whipped off of the sprawling winter squash vines that were bursting at the seams of the cloth's edges. We were determined to keep that squash warm!  

Then, we did what any good farmer does – we threw dirt on it! To help hold the edges in place, we buried them with shovels full of sand. What fun it is to clear that off, but we had little choice in the face of time and wind.
Our Big Trellis Experiment - Fail
The rest of the tasks were completed before dark that night and I tucked in the animals, went inside and made some hot cocoa, cracked open a new farming book and hoped for the best. Our intern got the rest of his time off this week as there wouldn’t be much to do with everything covered for two days. Baking was on my agenda. The next morning, on Thursday, as soon as it got above freezing, (they were predicting 30F for a low and we hit 31), I’d be peeling off the plastic and shade cloth to free everything for the 80F we're expecting on Sunday. Got to love North Texas weather! 

Win some and lose some. 
I’m happy to report that everything we did, held in place overnight when it really counted; we had hit 28F briefly, but had held steady at 29F for about an hour or so in the wee hours on Wednesday morning and that's a killing frost for sure. Sadly, the plants under the trellis were not sufficiently protected though, and most of the leaves of the beans and cucuzza squash burned and many of the vines turned to mush. A few plants may have made it, but most did not. The snow peas, however, are thriving under there on the same trellis; we’ll plant more of them to enjoy this spring. And, we go back to the drawing board on trellis freeze protection for beans. I already have an idea for how to do it next year.....

There were lots of blooms on those bean vines and equally as many little cucuzza squash coming on so I'm really sad we lost them as we'd have had a bumper crop when it all came in. The winter squash made it though, and they are oh so close to being ready. Big red warty thing, buttercup and spaghetti squash are all looking good. Plus, a few rows of summer squash vines are fine and producing, too. So, we're in good shape, just not the abundance we'd hoped for. I hope Wendy's beans made it out at the country farm. I'll find out later when the report comes in.

Shorter autumn days mean things take longer than the “days to harvest” listed on seed packets, but we're shooting for 2 more weeks till they're all ready, which is right on time for what we planned - Thanksgiving dinner. And with any luck, we may have some summer squash, cucumbers for pickling and a stray tomato or two for December, too.

Here in north Texas we are able to start our fall season with another round of warm season crops. But it's always a risk and you can’t count on any of them after Halloween, unless you've got a way to protect them. Coming out of the grasshopper invasion from Mars out in the country this summer, we had plenty of frost cloth to do the job - a lot of it was just at the wrong farm and had to be rolled up and moved - and of course it was wet and heavy. But even though we've got it all in place now, hopefully, we won’t get another frost for several more weeks, and that by then, the rest of our surviving summer crops will finally be done producing so we won’t have to go through all of those antics again. Some years, it seems like it’s more challenging to farm in the winter than in the summer with covering and uncovering for weather changes. But most of the true winter crops don't need to be covered unless it's going to get really, really cold for a long time. And most years, that doesn’t happen but about 2 times all winter, if that. Thankfully. 

Because wrestling with a 100' x 12' frost cloth and equally sized piece of plastic in the wind, is about like trying to hang onto the Jolly Green Giant's parachute! And it seems like it's always windy the day before the freeze when you're trying to secure everything. It’s only calm when the cold settles in – and by then, it’s too late. 

I hope you were able to protect your gardens/farms, too. Now, go git yer hands in the dirt! There’s still lots of time left to plant things for winter and early spring.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Friday, September 27, 2013

CSA and Its Roll in Local Food

This week, Eden’s Garden CSA Farm was recognized as one of the two top CSA programs in the metroplex by the Dallas Observer. I honestly didn’t even know it was a category – much less that we were in the running to win! It was late one afternoon when I found out that we had been voted BEST CSA in a tie with another farm from Pittsburg, TX, Comeback Creek. I’ve known the owner of that farm for several years and he’s got a great operation out there in the woods. I’ve learned a tip or two from him over the years, helped sell some of his produce at my market and even remember when he was supplementing his farm income by making dairy deliveries for a former local dairy producer. There are a handful of other very deserving farms who operate small CSA programs in the area, too, I wish they'd have mentioned them all. Many are friends of mine, all are considered mentors in one way or another. 

In the DO story about the award we were given, the author uses the term "co op" interchangeably with the category of the award, CSA. One of the chefs who buys from both of our farms, Mark of Garden Cafe, was quick to comment on the story about there being an important difference between food co op programs and CSA programs. I was grateful for the call out. Sadly, not a lot of people know the differences that distinguish the two types of ways to get food to your plate. Even sadder still, a lot of people apparently don’t know the difference between a farmer and a food distributor. (In the same “BEST OF” issue, the reader’s choice awards gave “Best Local Farmer” to a food co op delivery program instead of an actual local farmer.)

So Let Me Try To Clarify the Differences Without Sounding Like I'm Putting Anything Else Down
As I noted in my reply to Mark's comment on the original story; "There are several ways to support small, local farms and CSA is the most direct, and probably one of the most important ways, because small farms can not compete on a wholesale level with mid size or large farms." In order for a farm to sell on the large scale for a co op or wholesaler to make anything re-selling the product, the farmer needs to be able to sell twice as much, or more, in order to make the same profit margin as if he'd sold it directly at retail price. Or, often times, they are taking a loss, just to get rid of a bumper crop of something that did well for them, so the food doesn't go to waste. That's like the farmer working 10 acres of land, and getting paid for working half of them. Try that this week at your job.

A CSA program is a direct and important relationship between the farmer and the end user of their crops – the eaters in the community where the farm is located. Or in most cases, at least not too far away; usually within 100 miles at the most. Otherwise, it’s not likely going to be economically feasible for the grower or the consumer - or very green unless everyone is driving a Prius. And ideally, you have weekly contact with the farmer who brings the shares into town once a week, or in many cases, you go out to the farm itself to get your shares.

In either scenario, one of the sweet benefits of supporting a small, local farm through CSA, is that there’s a real connection to your food’s birthplace and those who grow it for you. It’s not a relationship with your supermarket produce manager, or a dealer at a market stand or some other third party who pays for the produce as they pick it up and then re-sells it to you – often for twice what they paid the farmer.

In a CSA, you have pledged your support to the farmer for the upcoming season’s harvest in advance – come grasshoppers or high water – and the farmer relies on that pledge (of money or in some cases labor), to give them some sense of peace of mind about being able to go about their daily work to get good food on your plate - and not worry if those grasshoppers or that high water do come that they’ll lose everything to the banker. Whew! The banker is someone they’d usually like to have less of a relationship with than those who are going to appreciate the food they grow. Someone who visits the farm regularly also tends to be more understanding when a hail storm kills the entire garden of young seedlings and its too late to replant certain things – or that the harvest will be late and sparse. You share the risks with the farmer. CSA programs help stabilize an unstable and unpredictable seasonal budget for the farm.

Eden’s Garden CSA Farm is a bit unique in its CSA program in many ways. Not only are we a short 15-30 minute drive from just about anywhere within the I635 loop and you don’t have to drive down a muddy dirt road to find us, but our CSA members can easily come out to the farm and pick their own goodies when they want to. On weeks we’re not making a regular distribution, or if say they are having company and need some extra greens that week, we’ll meet them in the garden and show them where and how to pick what they need. Additionally, some of our members bring their kids out for picnics or school trips – gratis, and they enjoy the benefit of a nice discount at various classes we offer and in the organic garden shop on the property where they can get advice as well as home gardening needs when they shop during our on-farm market days twice a month. This is a time when other farmers who also follow organic methods, show up at the farm and sell their wares. We’re as close to a one stop shop as a farm can be and "mi farm es su farm" - so to speak, anyway. I want my members to feel at home and welcome down on this farm.

Even with the members as in touch with their farm as ours are; I, as well as other CSA farmers, still carry the farm challenges of paying the bills, making the repairs, planning the season’s crops, working the fields, feeding the critters, speaking out against and watching for stray mosquito spraying foggers in the dead of night, fighting off ridiculous city code enforcements, fighting potential water pollution issues, stressing out about pending legislation in both Austin and DC that could render what we do for a living as basically a danger to society and shut us down, guide city folks through the farm for a tour, trying to attract new customers, watch fire ants eat our lettuce seeds, as well as do laundry, eat the occasional meal, and watch a sunrise or sunset in awe of all that still needs to be done in order to keep a place going. It’s not that much unlike what most small business owners experience I suspect – except that a farmer does it outside in the fresh air, 365 days a year, and if we don’t do it well, our customers don’t get their food. At least, they don’t get fresh, organic and local food.

And to me, that’s mostly what this is all about.Getting really good food to people who desire it, at a price they can actually afford it, in a way they can really grow to appreciate it, while not going broke or crazy in the process. 

Farmers are just as deserving of a slice of the American dream as anyone else, yet, the product they sell is seen as something that should be made available to the consumer as cheaply as possible.

Finding a way to make a respectable and halfway decent living, afford health care when needed, or even take an occasional vacation, is as important to the well being of anyone who lives, as it is to a farmer. Farmers are generally very loyal, hard working, smart, forward thinking, big picture seeing kinds of folk, who think nothing of driving out to another farmer’s place and helping them with a project or solving a problem or picking up extra supplies and dropping them off when they’re coming through town. I have yet to meet a small farmer who I didn’t like.We generally work in cooperation with each other, as opposed to in competition with one another, even swapping out bumper crop items, extra canning jars, advice and tips. Many farmers I know offer low cost or free classes - to new upcoming farmers! There's plenty to go around, and the more the merrier. Sowing the seeds of respect and profitability for this profession, are what will help secure a future of new farmers through various training programs our farm and others are implementing.

Farmers are just as deserving of a slice of the American dream as anyone else, yet, the product they sell is seen as something that should be made available to the consumer as cheaply as possible - often, more cheaply than it costs to produce it. When was the last time your electricity company undersold their product? Your gas? Your telephone bill? Your new car?

But I learned that we can all do our part to show respect and support to the local farmers who bring a slice of the real world to our communities.

Why is it that the basic need in life, nutrition, is expected to be the cheapest part of our budget? Think about that for a bit. Without food – your phone will not get answered, by you anyway. And without nutritious food, you won’t be driving a car, you’ll be sickly and likely in a hospital bed watching others drive around in theirs.

I love the quote below by farmer Tom Willey. It puts into perspective what it took me a long time myself to realize, as I was not born into a farming family. I grew up shopping at the grocery store like most other people in this country. But I learned that we can all do our part to show respect and support to the local farmers who bring a slice of the real world to our communities. Whether it is through a CSA program, buying from a farmer at their market stand each week, rolling up your sleeves and volunteering when a farmer may need it, or writing a check to support a specific project; small farms are a true asset to you, your family and the communities they serve. And just like I advocate supporting any other small, independently owned business as much as possible, the same holds true in where I think we should first turn for at least some of our in-season food. Big ag has its place, otherwise where would we get our hearts’ desires of things we can’t grow here in N. Texas. But small ag, even micro farming, has an important part in the place of its' community.  I hope you’ll reach out and shake a hand that feeds you soon.

"We must consider it a scientific fact that you are what you eat. The same molecules that make up the food we consume become the molecules of our minds and bodies. So, unless you are your own farmer, you should choose one as carefully as you would chose your doctor or your pastor. Therefore, it is fitting that farmers, like doctors, lawyers, professors, and pastors, should command a high level of respect and income, commensurate with this level of responsibility. I consider it an honor and a privilege that you have chosen me to be your farmer." Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms 


Put Your Money Where the Farm Is &
Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

An Independent Memory

About mid way through my early farming days, a most amazing and interesting man came to my farm. He said he was inspired by what I was doing here at my little place, and yet, it would become a mutual inspiration.  He would go on to show me his views of how the simple act of growing one’s own food, was a bold step of revolution – peaceful, but revolutionary still the same.

I’d always thought of growing food as logical, creative, deep and almost magical all wrapped up into one. Why grow a bunch of ugly, water hogging grass when you can raise beauty and food? Why buy something at the store you can grow yourself? Especially when it can be grown at a much lower cost than you could buy it for, and it comes with the added bonus of knowing that it is safe to eat.

And, growing your own food, for me, has always been a deep connection to all of nature. I am really communing with my Creator daily on the farm as I rely on Him to awaken the seeds from the soil into their perfect colors and textures; to orchestrate the choir of earthworms and microorganisms in their complex act of breaking down solid materials into nutrients, so the plants can absorb them; to bring the sun, rain, wind and the temperatures together in a perfect melody to provide a perfect growing environment; to send along the majestic little honey bees and native pollinators to almost magically cause the beautiful flowers forming, to turn into vegetables. To watch this process happen; a beautiful plant to grow up into something edible, from a simple seed I put into the ground with hope for it to grow – is nothing short of beauty and magic, mixed with common sense. I guess that’s why it has always just felt perfectly right for me to do this; growing things.  

Now this man I’m talking about, he saw all of this, too. After all, we spent many a day playing in the dirt side by side, laughing, singing and talking with each other and the plants, insects and all of the life in the garden – whether seen and heard by others or not, we had a great time. It was always an experience way beyond just the act of sowing and harvesting, preparing and selling. The connection to the people we sold to, was also a bonding experience of nurturing, empowering and giving back, forming the whole idea of farming and gardening as a most beautiful thing to share with someone.

But, no, this man I knew, he saw farming and gardening as something even further than all of this. To him, it was also an act of revolution for the people. What greater act of independence is there, than to be free from a corporate run government food system? To join together with neighbors, friends and family and grow food was freedom! Whether in a community garden, or in someone’s front or back yard, people coming together in a place where everyone helps each other work, shares in the bounty, breaks bread together in the sunshine – ok, we’re in Texas, so we break bread in the shade - and it's gluten free these days, too, I suppose.... But do you see the picture? I did. And it was inspiring.

And when you are growing your own food, it means no more eating GMO foods or food with pesticide residue, grown in fields sprayed time and again with herbicides that float down into the water tables. This not only means safer to eat for you, but it means, we’re not supporting the exploitation, abuse and neglect of farm workers all over the world, Si Se Puede! - or the abuse of our planet.

Yes, growing a garden is indeed revolutionary – a great and peaceful act of independence. This man has been a great inspiration to many with his art and led many peaceful actions throughout his whole amazing life as he’s stood for what he believed in to be good, beautiful and lovely. He can really have a great impact on growing food locally and empower many more people with his ways. I look forward to playing in the dirt together again some day. Among many other things, he has a fresh set of eyes to see beyond what gardening and farming could mean to people and he had such a gentle way of sharing that vision. I’ve always wanted to empower others to grow their own food so they could better control their health through nutrition. Now, you can add to it, that it is also an act of a peaceful revolution. Happy independence day, wherever you are. 


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It Bites!

Yesterday at the farmer’s market on my farm in Balch Springs, several farmers and home gardeners were standing around talking about how the lack of pollination on the vegetable plants this year was really hurting production. The wildflowers and sunflowers in my pasture are missing usual pollinators except for a few native bees from time to time. The edges of the pond are not filled with thirsty honeybees or dozens of frogs and toads as in years past. The squash, melons and cucumber blossoms at my farm and in yards across Mesquite, Balch Springs and Dallas are not producing fruits as they normally should. Instead, blossoms are falling off, un-pollinated, in areas where an excessive amount of fogging and aerial spraying took place last summer - and around my farm where we lost 90% of our hives this past winter. The immune systems of the bees compromised from the intake of tainted pollen the summer before.

On tables of at least 2 vendors were handouts and flyers, mosquito dunks and bits and lots of information about the fatal plight of the honeybees, especially in light of the unnecessary spraying. Requiem for a bee. You’ve seen the story by now about the Texas Honeybee Guild’s crushing past year in the Dallas Advocate, countless other magazines, television news programs and full length feature films. Or have you been tuned out or tuned in only to the sensational media coverage of how we’ve had or first human case of WNv and they were still alive – oh, no, wait, it wasn’t really WNv after all. But too late, out come the trucks. Do you see how this all works? 

And yet, in the professionally printed full color brochure put out by the County of Dallas – no where in it does mention even once about honeybees or how ordinary citizens can help the county eliminate the habitat for mosquito breeding by using a simple, cheap, extremely effective and readily available material.

BTi folks – dump it or dunk it! Do we let standing water than can’t be dumped or drained just stand there and breed mosquitoes? Do we call code compliance on our neighbors who can’t afford to have their gutters cleaned out because they are struggling to buy food and use a walker to stand? Do we complain to our city about how bad the mosquitoes are in our neighborhood - where there are endless abandoned horse troughs, swimming pools or creek areas that don’t have enough moving water to keep them flushed out?

How about empowering the people to do something more effective than douse themselves with DEET? (The CDC even mentions other FDA approved ingredients to use on ones’ self and kids.)  We have stood up in county and city meetings time and again freely sharing hundreds of hours of research so officials don’t have to look for it themselves. And what have they DONE with this information? What has been done with the monies received for increasing the mosquito abatement budget? Testing you say? Great – and what is being done more this year than in past years to educate individuals about their role and then telling those at-risk neighborhoods they need to step it up even more when those test results start to climb?  How about a grading system so neighborhoods know how they rate when the test results come in – and sharing those results with city departments so they can be on the look out for potential breeding grounds?

How is it we can go from ground zero to ground spraying before we even hit the 4th of July – and I’ve not received ONE SINGLE piece of information in my mailbox or on my door, or seen any mention at any cross street in my neighborhood about what we can do to prevent being doused with harmful chemicals in our homes and yards? The word is out about the dangers of the toxic chemicals. People are waking up to the fact that the media likes to scare people with inflated headlines and shocking news teasers. Children are asking questions. We are all asking more questions. Like how effective is spraying – really?

I would like to commend Scott, Zach and their outside contractor Ron, for working with me last week to improve a buffer zone around my farm’s perimeter – instead of taking a direct fogging on the north border as on the original spray map, and for dropping off literature for me to hand out at my farmers market. But what the heck new is being done this year? Where is the gambusia fish program for individuals’ ponds? Where are the new backpack sprayers or truck mounted sprayers that are capable of accepting the less toxic materials that Mr. Howard Garret and others have told officials about? What happened to all of the funding and how is it being spent in cities that pay the county to perform this daunting task of abating mosquitoes for them?

It’s time for new action folks. Our county can move faster than this. It’s time we start looking around the country and even within our own state, and adopt newer, safer and more effective ways to empower ourselves against the archaic and dangerous ways of the old days. We have the technology, information and manpower.

No one wants anyone to get sick, much less lose their life, to a mosquito bite. But we’re doing a pretty dismal job at taking the bite out of anything if we can’t move forward and empower the people and businesses to be more proactive in their role, too, without risking millions of people to the long term effects of spraying toxic chemicals on them. Let’s encourage retail counter top displays of BTi dunks and bits and coupons from the manufacturer on literature going to the public. I can’t tell you how many people at my market don’t know that BTi dunks even exist, much less that it is a safe and effective way to help them kill mosquito larvae in their yards – or tossed into neighbor’s abandoned pool.

How about a few billboards saying DUMP IT or DUNK IT! around town? Town hall meetings with neighborhoods in high-risk areas to educate people about what they can do in their own yards to eliminate the breeding grounds for mosquitoes. 

No one expects our government to be the silver bullet and answer all of our life’s problems. But shouldn’t we expect them to be a source of current information for the people and to effectively use funds to spread the word about empowering citizens to help them take care of this problem? What do you think? We can gather together for sporting events and other rallies. We need more of you to gather around city council meetings, county meetings, health department meetings – and any other open meeting that has anything to do with mosquitoes, health of citizens and accountability. There are over 6 million of us living in DFW. The 15 or 20 of us who have led the way, can’t be the whole march. Step up and do your part – please. Get informed. Get armed with the tools you need to protect your neighborhood and to eliminate the breeding and feeding ground for this pest. Protect your home. Maybe because I started this farm from the scratch more or less, I'm a bit vigilant about it, but none of us wants our homes to be prey to toxic chemical attacks.

And tell the media you’re sick of scare tactics and misleading news stories. Isn’t it time we took things back to reality? The severe form of West Nile fever occurs in 1 in 150 people showing symptoms. You’d think it was as widespread as heart attacks from eating fast food and smoking. Neither of which we do much of anything about to prevent.
Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Join the Revolution - the Food Revolution!

I was asked to take part in the Dallas area's Food Revolution Day with the DFW Truck Farm co-founder and Food Revolution Day Ambassador, Donelle Simmons, over at the Texas Discovery Gardens this week on Friday. We were slated to give "real food" pep talks to invitees who came to have a real food picnic with us. The event is a spin off of the Jamie Oliver New Food Revolution show that aired a few years back where he tried to convert a school system's lunch program into something healthy, and frankly, more edible.

Well.... totally unexpected to us, a school group came up to sit at the picnic table area. I asked if they were there for the event and all looked at each other and shook their heads. Clearly, they were just on a field trip and sitting down to eat before continuing on. Several of the kids had no lunches with them though, and when I asked why not, they said that they "didn't like the school's food" with a not so shy about it look on their faces and tone in their voices. I didn't get the name of the school they were from, but it seems to be a pretty universal consensus with many school children. I just watched the film Cafeteria Man last week about another brave chef's attempt to battle the red tape of a school system's bureaucracy. 

photo by Donelle Simmons

Well then, I said to myself - I have some real food right here! I asked if they liked carrots - and they said yes, but looked at my purple heirloom carrots with a puzzled expression. So, I cut up the carrots I had brought for lunch, which revealed their orange insides and a sigh of relief (or was that confusion?), and offered to share them with the kids. I also had a few freshly picked green beans and asked if anyone had ever eaten beans fresh off the vine before. No one had, but a few quickly took me up on my offer to taste them. One by one my purple carrots were being cut up into bite sized pieces and devoured. Donelle seeing the opportunity, too, brought out some of the samples from the basket of veggies she'd picked for the event, including radishes, kohlrabi, a young garlic plant, and some broccoli. We talked about each vegetable and possible uses for them, how to enjoy them without "ranch" and why (have you ever tried to pronounce all of the ingredients on that bottle?), and the fact that you can actually use the tops of the carrots about the same way you would use parsley or to make a tasty pesto. "Really?!"

They taste tested everything we put out in front of them. It was awesome! They even conducted blind side- by-side taste tests between the purple and yellow heirloom carrots we had brought versus the little orange carrot nubs someone had from their school lunch. Hands down - the nubs were deemed "nasty"! (Their words, not mine.) Everyone agreed that the heirloom carrots tasted much better than the school issued packaged carrots - even though "baby carrots" are supposedly specifically bred to have a higher brix (sugar) rating to appeal to more people, specifically, kids.

As we were cutting things up and just sitting there talking veggies and gardening, one of the girls exclaimed "This is the best lunch I've ever had.", and I nearly cried tears of bittersweet. If I had even a thought that there would be kids there without a lunch, I'd have brought a whole bag of carrots and beans to share. All they had eaten was one little bunch of carrots and a handful of green beans, with that chopped up assortment of other things that couldn't have amounted to much of a snack for one person, much less a full meal for anyone. Anyway, Donelle and Marilyn, her mother and partner in the DFW Truck Farm, and I all agreed we could not have planned this much better - other than to have brought more food - and that this type of exchange was what the Food Revolution was all about.

The ladies that had come out specifically for the RFR event shared stories of their own food quests, gardening experiences and a few had direct contact with school kids and the "system" that doesn't seem to understand the important connection between education and nutrition. We all agreed that gardening should be part of every school's curriculum along with some basic home ec and industrial arts. Like "back in the day" when I was in school up north, and we walked uphill both ways in 2 feet of snow..... Junior High school included a semester of each class. At least when we left we knew some basic sewing (buttons, simple machine work) and how to do some basic cooking - besides putting something in a microwave oven - of which didn't exist when I was in school. And in wood shop, we made cutting boards - oh my, of WOOD? Yep - back in the day when a wood cutting board wasn't evil.

Our kids are missing out on an important link in our very survival. Sure there will always be a 24-hour drive-in window open somewhere. But those girls who were sharing a table with me the other day were just as happy to snack on some real food - and rather chose to eat nothing, than what they felt was inedible school lunches. That speaks volumes, because if they're not exposed to fast food or highly processed food, and rather are raised on real, fresh, flavorful foods, their palates won't develop for the other and their more likely to turn to it less often - if ever! I'm sure fast food chain and pharmaceutical company owners and investors don't want to hear that, but if we don't do something to break the chain of childhood diseases caused by the "nasty" food we're feeding this and future generations, we're going to have a lot more sickly people on our hands to take care of in a few decades. Don't they deserve better?

Group of grade school students experiencing real food!
Make it known through your PTA and school boards that your kids deserve to eat at least as well as the teachers and administrative staff do. Would they eat in the kids' cafeteria? If not, why not? And if not, how can that be changed? Why can't they incorporate at least some of the school grounds into a working garden? If Paul Quinn College can rip up their football field to do it, so can a grade school eliminate "lawn" somewhere kids aren't using it to play on. Take a note from Mark Painter's local school garden area over at Stonewall Jackson where the community funds much of this program - outside of the school's budget. Or check out any one in a number of the Edible Schoolyard projects around the country. There's no reason - no excuse - not to do this in every single school across the country. Start one in yours.

Eat Real Food - Naturally!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mom and My Life on the Farm

Mom and I With My "New" Farm Truck in 2010(?) - That She Bought For Me

My mom and I may have different views of what makes us happy, but, indirectly, at least, my mom can take credit (or blame, depending on the circumstances), for how I found my way into organic farming. Now she may not think she is a large part of it, but it was my mom who encouraged me to play outside ("I said, "Go out-side!"" LOL).  But seriously, as one of my Girl Scout leaders for many years, she both took me camping and sent me camping several times a year, which really awakened my love for nature and being outside; unless it was snowing. She wasn't altogether confident at first of my decision to venture into farming, ("You're not going to quit your full time job, are you?"), but today she is my biggest cheerleader and she says, she couldn't be prouder. Probably so long as I don't need to keep borrowing money from her.)

My mom kept a small garden in our mostly concreted backyard - and I mean small. There was a strip of dirt about 3 feet wide by about 20 feet long where she managed to grow a vegetable garden. It was capable of producing a wide enough assortment of veggies, that there hasn't been many of them I have met that I haven't liked. I can also recall her coaxing peas to grow on the chain link fence along the dang alley! I would eat those peas right off the vine on my way out of the yard, without ever thinking about how amazing it was she grew them in about 4 inches of dirt. Got to love that Midwest soil!

So not only is my mom large in part responsible for my addiction to playing outside in the dirt, she is also highly behind my obsession with trying to eat high quality, delicious and simple foods.

I really have no problem with this, as it has served me well, so far and on most days, anyway. It can be a bone of contention between us at times, however, as it seems that with no kids at home to cook for, she slipped out of some of the good habits she instilled in me. As the good health of my mom is very important to me, and having watched what a poor diet did to my late father's health, this has led to more than one or two colorful conversations about food, eating and the state of today's food industry. She is discovering some of the things that I have shared with her on her own now, and with my constant hint dropping and nagging. Role reversal, without the authority, I guess. She is sure to let me know when she finds a source for this or that organic something or another. Way to go, Mom!

But my mom in many ways isn't that much unlike many people today of her generation. When she went to the grocery store to buy food for us growing up, there was nowhere near the selection of what Michael Pollan refers to as "food-like substances" as there are today, nor did we know the extent of the dangers and long term effects of many of them. Unless you are obsessed with, or perhaps make your living from, food, you may not really ever realize much has changed. That is unless, of course, your daughter grows up and somehow decides to become a farmer in her mid-life. Then you hear ALL about it, sometimes ad nauseum, when all you want to do is enjoy your diet coke. Sorry Mom, I am calling ya out on that one. I am sending you a 6 pack of Zevia cola one of these days - when I can figure out how to get it there without exploding on the mailman.

Now I have my own personal food skeletons that come out from time to time. I am no stranger to the fast food world. When I was a teenager, in fact, my first "real" job was at a fast food restaurant 2-doors down from my house called Yankee Doodle Dandy, (think the early years of Jack in the Box). We fried frozen "potatoes" in a vat of hot grease, broiled "beef" hamburgers" on a conveyor belt, and even made "milk" shakes in 3 different flavors. I wouldn't have known better to have questioned ingredients at that time. It tasted like what a teenager's taste buds wanted I suppose and there weren't any decades of historical data showing the detrimental effects of eating this stuff. I can hardly believe us kids would go to BK for the broiled burgers and then across the parking lot to Micky d's for the fries. Although nowadays, just driving by a place like that during a busy time when it fills the air with its trademark stench, my nose reflects upon it with not so fond memories. (And just for the record, my folks split up about the time of the fast food explosion, and my mom had no idea how often I ate there. I am sure she never would have approved.)

My mom was a "stay at home" mom and I grew up on 3 square, home made meals nearly every day of the first 14 years of my life. That is something for which I will forever be both grateful and fortunate. None of us is born with a taste for cream filled pastries, chocolate covered candies, greasy and mostly water filled "meat" burgers or corn chips, (now, genetically modified). We ate these kinds of things so very infrequently as little kids, that we never really developed a "taste" for them, much less an addiction. For me, it was a treat sometimes or for holidays. That would be the candy for holidays, you know like Halloween, not the fast food. My mom made the most wonderful holiday meals, from scratch, and to this day some of those food traditions are my favorites.

Mom and I in 2011 at Bolsa - a Dallas Foodie Haunt of Mine
So things are coming full circle it would seem. My mom's early teachings did not fall on deaf ears. I may not have human children of my own, but I feed my critters as well as I can with what is available out there, and I teach my customers, of all ages, a lot of what my mom taught me, only with more information than she had available to her. I speak passionately to whoever will listen, about known dangers and unknown consequences for under tested experimental products passed off to the masses as food, and I am quick to share articles and reports, hopefully from reliable sources and not just alarmists, so as to help others learn and make more educated choices than the ads, commercials and pretty pictures on the containers would lead you to believe. There are just so many choices out there now, it can be overwhelming - and surely our government wouldn't allow anything bad for us on the store shelf, would it?

So my advice on this Mother's Day is to keep it simple and eat basic ingredients that you blend together, and not some scientists who are paid to create something you "just can't have one" of. Be a good example to your kids for eating healthy and good food habits, because even of they like to sneak over to some place with greasy fake food, made faster than it could ever be cooked if it was real and longer lasting than any living organism known to man, know that some day, with a little luck, they will probably look back and admit it, "Mom, you were right. Junk food gave me zits because it messed up my hormones worse than puberty was already doing." Or they might say something like that anyway. And who knows, maybe they will grow up to be a farmer, too. We can hope!

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

 Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Tax Man Cometh - But it's a Good Thing!

One of the biggest obstacles for young / new farmers is the ability to acquire land, pay for it and keep it while starting a farm that even once up and "profitable" runs on razor thin margins. Trying to do this in an urban area, within city limits, is even more difficult due to the property taxes that often accompany the land.

Having purchased land in the city limits over 10 years ago that was being used agriculturally (horses grazed), but that had never been classified as such for whatever reason, meant that full city and school district taxes still applied. Granted, they are less than many pay for in more affluent communities, but once I gave up my job and started farming for a living that tax burden became, well, a real burden due to the lower income I now had to survive on.

I had been initially told that leasing land for horses to graze on didn't qualify for ag valuation. I have no idea why not - and I didn't know enough to fight it back then even though I leased land to over 14 horses at a time sometimes. However, I was still working off the ranch/farm back then, so I was told I would still have had to wait 3 years to apply, even if I was grazing cattle. Then, upon the 3 year anniversary, I went on line to download the forms and noticed they said to submit a FIVE years history. Wait, what? So I called the offices and this time I was told  indeed, I had to show ag use of the land for 5 years in order to apply for ag valuation on it since I was still working off the land. Talk about disappointment.

Well, interestingly enough, about 2 years later, is when I started taking an interest in growing food on the land. I attended a farming conference where a speaker who represented a firm, supposedly specializing in helping farmers reduce their property taxes, stood in front of a room of people and told us that if your land was within city limits, and had not ever been grandfathered with an ag valuation, you would not ever be able to qualify for ag rates. WHAT? He even showed in his presentation what looked like legislation that attested to this. I was outraged and felt like someone had sucker punched me all at the same time. What difference did it make where the land was if it was being USED as agricultural, that is what it was. Why hadn't I been told this from my own county tax office?

Thank goodness for being stubborn and outspoken at times. (who me?) In conversation I was talking about this crazy chain of information and Judith McGeary of Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance said that the last piece about never qualifying was absolutely wrong. I couldn't recall the name of the outfit who had been at the conference but she encouraged me and told me to re-connect with the tax office after 5 years and apply.

Then, about a year ago, I ran into the father of a friend of my boyfriend who also specialized in helping people reduce their property taxes. (A cool job if you think about it.) He asked a few simple questions, like, did I house honeybees on the land? And apparently there is new legislation that helps people who are helping raise honeybees for commercial use to qualify for ag valuation, too. So, I filled out the paperwork, accompanied by a copy of this relatively new category, and sent it in. And it came back - denied.

Now, I didn't know exactly what they wanted in the way of back up for honey bee production. Maybe a sample of the honey? But it came back asking for 5 years of history for agricultural use. And, as government papers often do, the information didn't exactly make sense regarding what they wanted. So, I had to call them and ask for more info.

The man's name who was stamped on the letter, apparently, had retired. So I was transferred to someone else, who then transferred me to Mr. Burrell. I must say that he has been most helpful and pleasant to work with. He very clearly stated what I needed to provide, empathized with the lack of consistent information I had received over the years, and listened to my whining without hanging up on me. I shared with him a bit of the farm's history on the phone and explained that I had over a ream of paper copies if he really wanted all of the invoices, receipts and work orders generated in 5 years, but that I would try to put something together that showed a history of use that would qualify my land for an agricultural valuation.

It was fun going back through the old newspaper articles, both ones I had written and those written about the farm, digging through my old farm journals, seed orders, tax forms (ok, that wasn't much fun), pictures and putting together a chronological history of how this place got started.  What a long row this has been to hoe!

I hand delivered the packet of copies to Fred Burrell at the tax offices, and he seemed pleased with the contents. Whew! I could have kept digging and found more, but I was hoping I had provided enough samples of what I was doing here to be sufficient for the requirements. Now all that is left is the site visit. And folks, today is the day. I've been waiting for this day for 10 years. Never before have I been happy to welcome a visit from the tax man!

I'll let you all know how it goes - and I encourage anyone with land who is farming in city limits to do a diligent job of keeping records, even if they're not as detailed as you think they should be, keep them - in folders by year - so you can have them together when your day with the property tax man comes. (or woman) There is legislation in Austin being mulled over now to help urban farms, like mine, speed up this process of paying higher, and in some cases, full, property tax rates on land that is being used for food production. HB1306, a current bill proposed to provide for fair property tax treatment for small farmers, urban farmers, vegetable farmers, and diversified farmers, had a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee. I've not heard an update on this one yet, but it's an important step for small, urban farming's future. Stay tuned to FARFA and your local government representatives to help urge them to support small farming - not work against it by lumping them in with big ag. We may need both to supply everything to everyone, but we sure don't need to be treated the same as large factory-type operations when it comes to food safety and handling, animal id and yet, on taxes, they want us to be different. Interesting.

But, it appears that there is help on the horizon. All of the media attention on organic foods, local foods and small farms seems to be reaching people. This is a good thing for everyone.

Now, it's time to get outside to get things ready for my visit. This is one of the most important farm tours I've ever had to give!



Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Some of Life on the Farm's Harder Lessons

The other morning, after a very long day and evening of reflecting, I sent out what has been the toughest note to my CSA members to date.  Granted, our CSA is primarily a veggie farm, you have seen the tag line; REAL, CLEAN, FRESH, LOCAL, FOOD! However, part of my goal here is to also be a fun, educational, interesting and sustainable small, urban farm, so I've got a handful of chickens running around laying eggs (hey, that's food.). The chickens were becoming prey though, so a thoughtful couple of members of my CSA sponsored some LGD's (livestock guard dogs). Then, a friend was fostering a pair of heritage sheep. I thought, cool! I don't have to milk them, or feed them (they eat grass and browse), they are pretty well self sufficient and the LGD's can look out for them which gives them something else to do; and we can shear them and enjoy their beauty. (That spoke to the sustainable, educational and interesting key words.)

So, last month my boyfriend, and partner in some of our farming endeavors, headed out to Glen Rose to adopt this momma and daughter pair of Icelandic sheep. I had put the question up to my CSA members, who overwhelmingly supported the idea and contributed to the purchase of the pair as well as the fencing that would be needed - Icelandic sheep are not that unlike goats you see. Escape artists.

After some grumbling and growling and pecking order establishment, the sheep won out "top dog" position in the little mini-pasture area where they were to live until the grass needed mowing elsewhere and more fencing was up. I listened to advice on some rotational grazing - get them to eat the grass down before letting them on to another area and let them graze the higher protein, mature parts, etc.  Well, in order to do this, I had to move some of the existing electrical fencing around that I used to keep the dogs away from the chickens. Yes, I know they're LGD's but they're still learning that chickens are livestock. Come on, most city officials don't even recognize them as livestock - give the dogs a break. At least they're learning.

The poultry netting worked fine with the dogs - a few zaps and they never messed with it again. The chickens seemed content with their large backyard of grass, bugs, dead tree wood, seeds and such, and rarely, if ever that I saw, ventured over it. And, at first, the sheep recognized it as a barrier as well. A safety net between them and these two rookie LGD's if nothing else.

However, apparently, more than one time, the fence didn't go "ZAP" when it should have or when Smoke nosed it anyway, and she got brave. I found her and her momma Butterscotch one afternoon on the same side as the dogs - they'd gotten underneath the netting. It wasn't that they didn't have plenty of tall grass where they were - they just wanted to go over "there".  I enlisted a new, freshly charged battery. Dogs got zapped. I got zapped. Zap was working. Or so I thought. The events that followed the next morning, led me to the letter from which the following excerpts are from. If it serves as a lesson for others in life, in fencing or just in general, it is an event not wasted.

Life on the farm, I am always learning, is about a lot of things. First and foremost, mostly, it is about life. The hatching of numerous chicks and ducklings, baby bunnies, even two foals born here on my farm are the warm fuzzy side of "life" on the farm I love to witness - along with the thousands of lives that come to be as I sow seeds that become the bounty on our tables. Abundant, beautiful and renewing of itself, life on the farm is my favorite part of farming.

In order for it to renew itself though, there must be the opposite of life; death. This is the part of "life on the farm" that I don't know any farmer really "gets used to" - much less a city girl who grew up raising animals as pets. And I certainly never really grasped the understanding of some of the untold gifts that animals bring us, because my food, much like most of yours I suspect, came from a grocery store as a kid. I don't know if I'll ever progress past this mindset, and so long as there are those who have the understanding and mindset, not to mention the skills, that I lack; I won't have to become a vegetarian.

However, I have seen a lot of death on this farm as well. The seasons bring sudden death to tender plants I've tirelessly nurtured for a long season; dogs, raccoons and skunks, snuff out lives of "prey" I call friends in a large swath leaving me with red eyes and a broken heart as I struggle to wrap my head around what seems a senseless part of nature. And, I've had to learn, yet still find it difficult to accept, that sometimes "these things happen", when an animal will find itself in a predicament that causes its own death. I've seen squirrels and chickens drown in water tanks, cats not come home at night falling prey to the inevitable bobcat or coyote in the "circle of life" of which we are all a part, and baby chicks getting their tender selves stuck in "chicken wire". It always seems there was something I could have done, should have known to do to prevent - but my farmer and rancher friends have always consoled and reminded me "these things happen". In the best of life's situations, death happens.

So yesterday, when I returned from fertilizing our crops out in Terrell, I came home to my latest lesson in "these things happen", when I found our newest beloved life here on the farm tangled up in fencing meant to keep her safe and grazing lush, tall grass in a responsible, rotational style. Butterscotch had tried, what most animals do from time to time, to get to the other side of that fence. She apparently was unable to do anything other than entangle herself, hopelessly. She was gone when I found her, what seemed like just a few hours after she lost her struggle. The dogs were calm, laying in the shade of their lean-to, and Smoke was not too far away, though on the wrong side of the fence as well, continuing on with what animals do in the face of death, what they seem to understand far better than I do - living.

To say that I was heartbroken would be an understatement. I felt responsible, guilty, ignorant. The latter is probably most accurate as I am an admitted rookie to all of this. Keeping sheep, horses, chickens and LGD's is not anywhere near the same thing as keeping a pet cat, (of which I've done for nearly 30 years and recently experienced a first in even doing that.) or inside (mostly) dogs. These are pets too in a sense, but yet they are FARM animals first and foremost. Something I'm slowly learning to distinguish is there is a difference. They are far more unpredictable, curious and prone to accidents than say, that cool fish that blows up its gills when seeing its own reflection in a mirror. Yeah, I had one of those, too. The worst experience as a kid with pets was my little brother's pet hamster - eating its young. That was pretty traumatic. Especially for a little kid. But we lived through that, too.

Something very important and refreshing (compared to the competitive, corporate dog-eat-dog world) that I've come to learn from many phone calls, emails and in-person conversations with my peers in small farming, is that you can always count on other small farmers for words of wisdom and support - no matter the situation. Someone else has already done, seen, undone, or forgotten that they have, anything that I have done or thought of doing. Farming is as old as dirt itself - I'm probably not going to make any new mistakes or discoveries - not new to anyone other than me, anyway. So in my peril of that early afternoon, I reached out to my peers who were, as always, ever supportive. Even farmers I've never met reached out in a caring, wise way. It got me through the day and helped craft that letter I knew I needed to write. The letter itself was a type of therapy for me. Explaining even to myself what needed to be learned.

Several farmers/ranchers have extended their loving, understanding and wise words and hugs to me both in person, via phone and emails as I reached out for answers and help in what felt like one of my darkest days here at the farm; certainly one of confusion, pain and frustration. I do know it's a part of farming, as they do, but it's not something I yet accept as part of my day with the same practicality as someone who grew up with these life experiences. It still takes me awhile to process these things.

In the minutes after I sent the letter, and in the days that followed when I saw members for our CSA pick up this weekend, I was again surrounded by support and caring words. My mom cried on the phone with me as I told her the news and my always there for me loving boyfriend dug a hole and lovingly sang a little song while we buried the magnificent creature. Some would scold me for this "waste", but I'm fine with it. I have yet to "process" any of my domesticated pets either. I don't see the two as much different, except we will have some wool products in the months to come, whereas I don't have any dog hair or cat hair blankets. I didn't bring them to this veggie farm as a food source. I had told my members that when they pledged support in acquiring them - I wasn't about to announce a special on lamb chops this week. That's just not who I am.

I'm pretty much ok now, although still sad of course, especially for the surviving daughter sheep who bleats more than usual, looking for her companion I suppose. She is getting on better with the LGD's now though, as if her momma may have been somewhat more leery of them than she. They snooze together under a tree and sniff at each other as (hopefully) only animals do. It helps some, too, when Smoke now trusts me to scratch behind her ears a bit - for about 3 seconds anyway. She herself got tangled up in the fencing the very next day, even though I'd removed all but the small circle of it around the chicken pen area. I saved her, thankfully, as I was home, and Molly, our more veteran LGD, alerted me as I almost passed by not noticing a problem. That afternoon I penned up the dogs, and took the rest of that netting down - not wanting to ever again have this happen. I am not sure if she'll ever respect this kind of fencing in the future, and I don't dare risk it unless I get some good advice on how to retrain her to it. Maybe a bigger charger, larger battery, something. I don't know - but I don't want my ignorance to hurt her, too. So for now, she grazes where she wants and me and my CSA are putting up metal fencing for the chickens.

So, as I have said to some, onward I must go - my farm will, with or without me. It gives us moments to pause and reflect, but not for long. Plants still need to be watered for the lack of rain; the living animals need attention of their own, and I have a wonderful, warm and supportive CSA family to grow a summer crop of vegetables for.

I once described farming as the most consuming, disappointing, educational, interesting, monotonous, satisfying, uplifting and worthwhile things I have done for a living.

And I can't think of anything else I'd really rather be doing.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!