Sunday, May 3, 2020

What was old, is new again. Again.



Back in 2008 when I broke ground on what is now my 14 acre uncertified organic farm, eating local was a fairly new, old concept. It was how many or most of our grandparents ate, every day.



Yet for many recent decades, society, in America at least, had moved towards fast food, convenience in the kitchen by way of boxes and packages popped out of freezers and into microwaves and eating in shifts instead of on much of a routine together as a family, or even as individuals. I was guilty, too. Until about 25 years ago I wasn't often at a fast food place, but I wasn't immune from the occasional quick fix of the hunger pangs.

The introduction of CSA's in the 80's, and later the exploding number of farmer's markets in so many neighborhoods, slowly brought some people back to the basics.

It also helped that films like Food, Inc. and the DFW premier here of the film FRESH! for our 2nd Barn Aid exposed some of the dirty little secrets of big ag causing some people to ask questions. But we're talking about a finite number, and I mean teeny tiny percentage, of the population. Like, 1%. Maybe.

Now that is a lot of people, no doubt, looking for local farmers from whom to procure their food. And there were never going to be too many small farms that we could eliminate our entire alternative food production system overnight. But then entered on the scene, meal preparation kit start ups, food distribution start ups (these used to be called co-ops in the 60's but now they delivered to your front door, usuallly from big ag), and the concept of small, local farming got all wishy washy and diluted yet again.

For over 10 years many small growers, and I mean, really small not mid-size guys with combines and crews of seasonal workers, started to see the market that they had groomed, fade away.

CSA's of 100, 200 members were reduced to 75, 50, 20 - seemingly in a season. The concept of "sharing the risk" that farmers had bore on their own shoulders since the beginning of time was once again fading, too.


But many of us battled on. Doing what we loved and making ends meet with a loyal and dedicated core group of members that allowed us to at least break even, adding "agritourism" or side jobs - or both. Some had spouses with "day jobs" and some, unfortunately, left farming.

I've seen many farmers and start ups come and go in the past decade. It's been tense, yet I still can not see myself walking away from it all. I am fortunate to have one of those loyal and dedicated core groups of members that have made sure this little farm survives.


Enter a world wide pandemic; Covid-19. 

Suddenly there are no after school and weekend commitments to run all of the children to.

No 3-day a week business trips. 

No late night office meetings and deadlines.

No sitting in traffic whilst inhaling breakfast, lunch and/or dinner out of a paper bag and foam box.

No endless list of social gatherings, snacking and drinking our way through what should have been a proper meal.

Someone slammed on the brakes of nearly everything we were rushing around to do - simultaneously.

Whew! 

Now, I know there is, and can feel for, the worry and stress not having a steady income has brought to many. I've been there myself - many times.

Even losing my very first self financed, shiny red, brand new pick up truck to unemployment and lack of financial stability.

Nearly losing my home, twice.

Being unsure where my next batch of bills' payments would come from.

So, I totally empathize with those who are experiencing this now, and I truly hope you have people in your life you can reach out to for help. I know it can be as scary as hell.

I do hope for everyone's sake, too, that our leaders get it figured out how to help people become financially whole again in the face of a situation no one could foresee or really plan for.  I'm not here to get into the whole conversation of needing to work so many jobs just to make ends meet that it was impossible for many to actually also have a 3-month "emergency fund", that even so many "successful" businesses and people didn't seem to have.

But in the interim, while we're on "pause" in a way, and, hopefully, on the bright side, it has given millions of people around the world something most or many at least, lacked for far too long.



TIME. 

A silver lining?

Time to sleep 8 hours - out of 24, not over 3 or 4 nights.

And, maybe even a chance to grab that catnap they'd only dreamed of during another senseless, boring meeting after lunch.

Or time to read an actual newspaper with a cup of coffee in the morning.

Time to re-learn math along with their kids as everyone started a version of "home-school". 

Time to actually plan what meals they liked, or knew how to prepare - and could find ingredients for making.

(Never have I had such a hard time finding a jar of yeast! I've got some now, though, so no worries.)

Time to prepare those meals and sit down with loved ones and eat them - together.

And then have time to go for a walk after eating - wow, what a concept!!
(I do hope you are doing this.)

And it's also given some people time to think about where their food actually comes from, again, and how many steps it must go through to get to their freezer.

And they're re-visiting the produce aisles, whole grains and beans bins and - they're coming back to the farms! I've never seen dry beans sold out till this.

We're seeing so much waste though.
Factory-scale dairy and produce plants that normally package for schools and other industrial uses - are not equipped to simply retrofit their operations to put it into retail/consumer packaging. So it's being dumped because it can't just be stored until the places that package retail sizes can process it all. 


And don't even get me started on livestock. Those farmers and ranchers hearts are aching for many reasons when the flocks and herds they've raised from the start can not become what they were destined to become, a meal for a hungry family, school kids or a chef's creation. Heartbreaking even for someone who doesn't drink commercial milk or buy much produce or meat from a store; knowing millions may be doing without a proper meal right now.

Not to mention that the people who process our big ag food work in such cramped quarters there's really no easy way to keep them from getting each other sick. And as we've seen, falling ill with this virus is a lot different than catching a mild cold and soldiering on. (Not that we should need to do that, either!) It's really  hard to work your job from a ventilator.


There are also shipping logistics and contractual red tape to get through. It's all so "modern"; it's a dinosaur!


What happened to picking up a bunch of whatever out of the back yard garden, walking it into the kitchen and preparing it? Well, my friends, what was old, is new again. Again.

Local food is making a comeback! 


Many farmers are seeing an uptick in CSA memberships, farmer's markets are seeing lines of people each weekend looking for eggs, and produce, etc. I'm welcoming in a few new members during a rare summer sign up myself - welcome! (Sorry, we're full now.)

And several seed companies have had to either shut down non-commercial sales to make sure our farmers get seed they need to grow for the season or have run out of many things due to a crazy high demand by the general public to grow food at home - again.

I love that so many people are calling to ask me questions about home gardening. And I've even sold a handful of the extra seedlings to people who are gardening for their first time. It's inspiring to see people making the best of our global situation!

Can I ask just one favor, though?

Please - don't forget about it all once it's "over" and you can run out and grab and go again.

Please find a way to work more home made meals into your new routine, whatever it becomes. We have a lot of fine indie restaurants and so many service industry workers that will need our support, too once it's safer to go out again. But let's not get stuck in that rat race all over. Can we rethink a few things?

Your farmers have been here for you in this time of uncertainty. Please don't forget about them when things go back to "normal". Each time you do, we lose a few more and it makes it less desirable for new farmers to get into the game. They need to be able to make a fair living wage, too. "Rich in other ways", doesn't pay the bills.

And some day, if we don't learn from this, we may have to rely on methods of food growing thousands of miles away and distribution systems that are even more uncertain than we've recently endured. 

Support local - first. Then, fill in with your supermarket for those comfort food faves.


Stay well, stay safe and please, for the time being when at all possible, stay home until we've seen at least a two week drop in people coming down with this virus. Get tested if you can, for peace of mind if nothing else, and let's hope the doctors come up with a myriad of cures that keep others from coming down with this, or from us losing another person before their natural time to go.



Thank you to all who have and do support your small, local farmers. We couldn't do it without you!

Eat your food - Naturally!
Marie

Monday, April 6, 2020

Safety First - Always!

As someone who has regularly handled the food that others will eat for the past 13+ years, I didn't have to give it a lot of extra thought about certain precautions that I'd need to take here at the farm with the arrival of COVID-19. I probably wash my hands as much as a surgeon. And while I don't get sick very often, I've been known to call off a market or CSA distro if I am. I always want to promote a picture of health and wellness. It's only natural to me.

My main concern was making sure that customers and any farm visitors were taking precautions being around each other and the food that others might take home.

So, here at Eden's, during our CSA pick ups and during markets, you'll see some minor changes, or see some things perhaps you never took note of before, but were always here with your health and safety in mind. And if you see something you feel is not sanitary enough, please pull me aside and let's talk.


Market customers, for instance, will see much of our produce already bagged up or bundled and put into a container this year. You will see more use of individual paper sacks to display things like squash, cucumbers and melons, instead of just seeing a bushel-basket full of items from which to pick through.

There's always been a sink with soap and water – or a “wash station”, both inside the shop and outside where we hold markets.

Visitors will be asked to stop to use one or the other if they're going to be shopping and handling common area items like gates or doors. Our market is usually set up outside, so there are minimal common things to touch.

Additionally, there will be hand sanitizer available on the market tables should someone forget and need to scratch an itchy nose. The restroom will be attended to more frequently and users will be asked to be tidy after themselves, as one always should be.

Should there be multiple people showing up to shop all at once, we'll be limiting the number of people that can be shopping to one family at a time to give everyone enough space to feel safe. There's plenty of room to wander and admire or feed the chickens or take in other sights of the farm while you wait. We have plenty of shade and are not located on a hot, blacktop parking lot, so you should be comfortable.

Regular market and garden shop hours are still in effect unless otherwise changed by local officials;

1st, 3rd and 5th Saturday mornings from 9am – Noon.
4710 Pioneer Road, Balch Springs 75180







Our CSA members will, in some cases, have a share pre-packed and delivered. We're offering this service to our “at-risk”, elderly or otherwise potentially vulnerable members at no charge.
For a low cost, at home drops may be available to other members, depending on location and schedule. Market-style pick ups now include gloves for everyone who doesn't have a pair of their own. We all want to keep each other as safe and healthy as possible.

 All in all, out on the farm is probably one of the safest places to be, according to pretty much everything I've read. Outside in the fresh air, with plenty of space to be safely distanced from others, and the casual, uncrowded atmosphere of Eden's market, is a natural antagonist to a virus that can jump from person to person in a crowded store.



And perhaps more important than anything else, please be sure to feed yourself and your loved ones the healthiest, freshest and cleanest, Real Food, Grown with Integrity that you can find. 

We're right up the road, down on the farm. I hope you'll come see us, soon. Thank you, and stay well! 




Farmer Marie.

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.
 
and 

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.

Marie