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© 2007-2012 Chert Hollow Farm, LLC
Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
...agriculture/food is one of the more government-influenced industries in America, although not quite socialized. Commodities like corn and soy are heavily subsidized, such that their market price is well below the actual cost of production. Milk prices are not set on the open market; the price consumers pay at the store has little to do with the cost to an individual dairy. Large-scale fruit and vegetable growers in places like CA and AZ receive hugely subsidized irrigation supplies from the Feds, meaning their products are far cheaper than the actual price of production in those desert areas if they were paying market rate for their water.
CAFOs are certainly not paragons of free-market virtue, since their business model is entirely predicated on the availability of large quantities of government-subsidized cheap grains. Such operations would not be economically viable if grain subsidies did not exist, or at least they would be unable to produce meat and eggs at the low prices they do now.
Whether or not this is a good thing is a different discussion; a viable argument can be made that a cheap food supply is good for the American economy. But let's dispense with the fantasy that cheap American food is in any way "free market" when virtually every product in a grocery depends on taxpayer money for its artificially low price. Our taxpayer dollars are directly involved in influencing and dictating the price of food and methods of agriculture used in America.
I would like to hear a member of the Tea Party explain why government intervention in health care is evil while government intervention in food supplies is desirable. To me it can only logically be one way or the other. I prefer government intervention in neither, but have little patience with those who protest health care while happily buying cheap government-backed food. My farm sells produce directly to consumers with no government involvement, the closest thing to free-market agriculture we have in this country, and I'd like to see more conservatives showing up at farmers markets to live out their principles by supporting farms like ours.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
“The opinions and comments expressed in Greenversations are those of the authors alone and do not reflect an Agency policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy of the contents of the blog.”
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
So if you're looking for something to read this weekend, please take some time to browse through the new site. Even if you've been to the old one, take a look at the 2010 version. New photos, new information, subtly different layout...I'm interested in feedback.
One friend & reader will be happy to notice I finally got around to implementing his suggestion last year that the banner be a general link back to the home page. The banner is also a new photo that I like a lot.
So take a look and pass along comments here or by email. Things you'd change, things you especially like, things that are missing...this is our primary public face and I want to get it right.
Market sales start next week, so help us get ready.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Above is a panorama of the market garden. I really screwed up the perspective on this one and the stitch at the bottom is awful. Oh well. The view contains peas, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, carrots, beets, mixed baby greens, radishes, scallions, and more.
The main field is hard to photograph well, partly due to the lack of an overhead platform such as our garden shed provides, and partly because it's too big. Here's the best recent shot I have, showing some mulched beds which will be planted in cucumbers, with some open beds in various greens and brassicas. In the background are beds of garlic, peas, potatoes, and more. Also growing or about to be seeded are beets, kohlrabi, radishes, and more.
Getting down to specific products, here's a closeup of young mixed lettuce with a row of carrots in between. These will be ready for market as salad mix by May 1.
Here's a low-angle shot of some healthy garlic, with the prep shed in the background. Much of this was planted from our own saved stock. We'll have garlic scallions first, then garlic scapes, then the real thing.
Also growing well are our fruit plantings from last year, including strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. None of these will be for sale, but will save us significant money once they start fruiting over the next few years. Last year's asparagus beds are doing well overall, and these will be marketable next spring. Our lone rhubarb plant is producing fantastically, and we need to find a place for more that won't kill them (rhubarb is finicky this far south).
Herbs are doing well, including chives, garlic chives, and mint. We have some amazing cilantro that survived the winter, and are allowing it to go to seed to preserve the genetics. I'd love to have fresh cilantro at market this time of year!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Getting a concrete slab poured in our pole ban was a big step forward. By the peak of market season, I expect to have a walk-in cooler built in the back corner with washing/prep stations set up along the slab. Produce will flow from either garden or field, with quick washing and handling on-site, into this central location where it can be sorted and stored in the cooler for market sales. I designed the slab in an L-shape, such that the truck can be backed in on a gravel pad (where the tractor currently is) and loaded/unloaded even in bad weather. As part of our recent water line extension, we ran water to this barn as well.
Fencing is an ongoing project. I was recently contacted by a reader who had noticed our mention of fencing plans, and offered to sell us the hundreds of used T-posts he'd been pulling out on his place. We love used stuff at used stuff prices, and jumped at it. All told, I'll be getting around 300 posts which will go a long way toward establishing our pastures and fields. Below, the loaded truck delivering posts to our temporary orchard fencing, itself a significant project.
From the same source, we got a set of used aluminum field gates, just the sort of thing I've had an eye out for. These will save me building some wooden gates or using portable net gates. Very happy to have them. Thanks, Chris!
I've been rebuilding the market garden fence as well, especially around the prep shed. Now that the shed is completed, we intend it to be integrated into the garden, and so needed to alter the fence to include it. I also wanted wider and more secure gates to make it easier to get carts and loads in and out. Those updates are well underway:
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Closer to our own interests, consider this from the Washington Post:
A breakdown in air cargo shipments into the largest cities in Europe, including London, Paris and Berlin, left supermarkets warning of looming shortages of fresh produce. The groundings meant fruit from Africa and South America were rotting in crates in their countries of origin.
Much of our world economy is based on finely-tuned global import/export which cannot handle disruptions. Whether or not importing produce from Africa and South America to Europe is a good thing is another argument; this incident makes it clear that having local, diversified sources of food also serves as a buffer and backup to disruptions.
Again, imagine a similar situation in the US, something that stopped shipments of produce from California for a few weeks. The eastern half of the country, despite containing almost all the nation's useable farmland, would run out of vegetables. That's absurd.
Note to policymakers: rail networks and local foods are not indulgences for good times. They are diversifications for all times.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
In short: we're not impressed. It contains numerous errors and misrepresentations which we were not given the chance to review or correct (we moved here from Virginia, not Vermont; Organic certification is NOT a seal of product quality; that bed in the photo contains scattered overwintered onions, not our robust garlic plantings). One would think a business publication could be counted on to get the business name right. The farm is Chert Hollow Farm, LLC, not just Chert Hollow Farm (or Chert Hollow Farms, as the CBT main page shows). The article really carries no more detail or insight than can already be found on our website.
In addition, while they technically asked us to confirm quotes, they didn't use any of the edits I asked for in those quotes. Over the course of a wide-ranging and busy 2-hour interview, a few things are going to come out oddly. I understand keeping exact quotes in a news article, but really, a business profile is not news, it's an attempt to show a business in a positive light. Is it really so bad to let the subject gently massage their quotes to be more accurate to their context and meaning? The "Mayas and DuPont" quote is classic here; I have no idea where my mind came up with those specific names off the cuff, but the point is just as well made with "ancient peoples and chemical companies" and sounds less absurd. Furthermore, the photo captions and associated quotes were never fact checked with us, and the quote attributed to Joanna contains inaccuracies.
I know it's advertising, but what's the point when it doesn't say what you want to say? I agreed to work with the CBT in the hopes of depicting the business side of this kind of farming, including marketing plans, regulations, subsidy policies, etc. No context is given to the statements about us, leaving them hanging and unexplained. I specifically told them I wasn't interested in just another "people living off the land" story, but that's what we got anyway.
Maybe it reads better to others. I know we hold very high standards and may be too harsh as critics, and for all I know the original piece was far longer and better before being butchered by an editor. But I don't think the two hours were worth the result. Frankly, there's far more information, detail, and context on our website. I could have written a 700-word business profile myself, done a better job, and gotten paid for it.
Time to tighten our media policy once again.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The first is a recent summary of developments in the Senate's food safety bill, which is moving forward rapidly. According to this online piece, advocates for small and direct-market farms have made some real headway in offering amendments to ease the pain of this over-ambitious set of regulations.
Of course, a close reading of the article demonstrates just how foolish some of the original legislation was. For example,
FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify, or audit those plans.
Well, that's nice. Are you serious that the original plan WOULD have required us to hire consultants to comply with the new regulations, and it's only through the action of lots of advocates/lobbyists that this was changed? Lovely. Also,
FDA will be instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods.
Also very nice. Except that it means very little, given that the people who ultimately determine HOW to "provide flexibility" and what all these other vague terms mean are usually political appointees. I have no faith that over the long run the FDA or USDA will be continually staffed by people familiar with and sympathetic to small farms. So why pass legislation that can just as easily be ignored or misinterpreted by the next generation of leaders? Once this is passed, we're likely stuck with it; we need to stop passing laws that are only effective if the right kind of people are in charge.
Assigned reading #2 is a long piece from the Riverfront Times of St. Louis, offering a nicely evenhanded discussion of the growing faceoff between the Humane Society and agriculture, both nationally and in Missouri. The issue at stake is animal rights in agriculture, and who will influence legislation setting standards for animal treatment in all settings from CAFOS to dog breeders to small, independent farms. This was fascinating to me, as it nicely captured the difficult position small farmers like us end up in when polar opposites fight. We have little interest in supporting corporate agriculture, but when a well-meaning advocacy group pushes an agenda too far in the other direction, it has the potential for lots of unintended consequences. This is exactly our concern with overdoing food safety legislation, and it was interesting to see a similar trend playing out in this case.
The fundamental problem, as in many cases, is that the proposed solution doesn't actually go to the root of the problem. If you wish to stop the practices of corporate agriculture, you need to understand why they exist in the first place. Cheap food is in demand, and government policies make it easy to achieve that through corporate means. Simply attempting to ban certain practices will be no more effective than banning drugs without dealing with the reasons people use drugs, or why they produce them.
Also of interest in this piece was the current situation of Troy Hadrick, the rancher who cooperated with Michael Pollan to track a single steer's life in The Omnivore's Dilemma. Hadrick feels betrayed by the negative publicity his cooperation produced, and by the perceived animosity toward farmers in the general public. I see his point, though I read the book differently as criticizing only the end result at the feedlot, not the practices of independent ranchers themselves.
I don't have time to go into more detail. Both pieces are well worth the time to read and think about. Reactions welcome.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Scrambled goose egg on toasted homemade roll, with fresh chives and melted farm-aged cheddar, topped with home-cured bacon. That last is a special treat we make a few times a year, about the only meat we buy off the farm (raw meat from JJR Farms). Extra eggs on the side.
Fresh-ground farm cornmeal, farm-made yogurt, leaveners, bacon drippings. Served with local honey.
Farm-made yogurt from our goat milk, with preserved blueberry sauce put up from local berries in 2009.
Take that, fast food. This lasted us at least a few hours before we were hungry again.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Egg farming is governed by a supply management system in Canada, which means provincial egg marketing boards control the number of eggs produced...Any farmer is permitted to keep 99 laying hens without buying quota, which is worth thousands of dollars, and they can sell their eggs from the farm gate without grading them, a process that evaluates quality. But they are forbidden from selling them elsewhere unless they are graded, which, for the small farmer, is a tough regulation to meet because grading stations are often a long way from the farm and it is expensive to set one up. This has created a grey market for eggs. If you know the password, you can buy a verboten dozen at an Ontario health food store. Often those popular eggs at the farmers’ markets are kept out of sight – for a reason. “It’s more like Prohibition,” Mr. Henry says, “with far more people ignoring the regulations and selling eggs.”
This is like the raw milk situation in the US, but for eggs. Can any American small farmer even imagine living with a situation in which the government literally sets a production quota you cannot exceed, and forbids you from selling eggs away from the farm? Eggs!
This is why over-regulation of food and farming, especially at a small-farm, direct-market scale, is a very bad thing. Basic economics are usually more powerful than laws; people will search out and find the products they want, and others will make those products, regardless of unenforceable laws. I never knew a college student who didn't drink or smoke pot solely because it was illegal. So the result of such laws is simply to force otherwise honest people into a black market they don't want to be in, or in scrupulous cases like ours to simply stay out of a market they could otherwise make money at (meat and dairy products for us).
Thus you punish the most honest, reward the medium-honest/stubborn/desperate, and ruin the few unlucky folks who get caught selling eggs or milk outside the lines of law but well within the lines of basic economic demand. Stupid.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Another week of glorious weather coming up, after an overnight frost. As always this time of year, lots of bed prep, seeding, transplanting, etc. Implementing a planting plan involving over 250 varieties, interplanted within beds and across a time arc from March through August, is quite an experience. Corn & soybeans this ain't.
Kidding should happen soon; Garlic is showing most of the signs of imminent labor. New life, and new work, to look forward do. Everyone should witness the birth of an animal once in their life; preferably during adolescence.
The geese aren't laying the way we expected; only one is producing right now. Keep this up, and they're meat this fall. Geese are too much work and too much mess not to get full egg production and goslings.
Had a visit from the Columbia Business Times on Tuesday; look for an article soon. It'll be interesting how they approach the story; we tried to make it clear we weren't interested in another "homestead" story, but wanted to focus on the business aspect of the farm (I had to all but ban photos of the animals). The writer is working to start his own market garden/farm and was fairly knowledgeable about the topic, asking good questions and being very perceptive. Overall one of the best media visits I've had in a long time; hope it turns out that way in print.
Not much new on the food safety front. I'm burned out on paying attention to it. Let an inspector or agent show up at our gate, and we'll see how that plays out. I need a good reporter on speed dial just in case. Does speed dial even exist anymore, or is that an anachronism for this non-cell-user?
Closing quote, from Douglas Adams:
Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
I'd make that more like twenty-five, but yeah, that pretty much captures us.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Peas are coming up nicely. We've planted quite a lot of peas, and hope they'll do well for us at market. Snap, snow, and shellers are all in the works. Seeing nice lines of fast-growing pea plants is inspiring.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Grilling is such an obvious Easter tradition, and we didn't skip it. Below we have skewers of goat cubes marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, our garlic, and our basil. We have plenty of storage onions left, and chose a nice set of the smallest ones that are perfect for grilling. At top is the first asparagus produced on-farm. Joanna took over the grilling on this day and got it just right, with the meat juicy, tender, and flavorful; the onions sweet and just the right texture; and the asparagus good enough for even me to want more.
The whole meal featured a basic brown rice pilaf, along with homemade fresh-grilled flatbreads topped with fresh chives and farm-made feta cheese. Grilled meat and onions wrapped in fresh flatbreads with fresh feta & chives is a heavenly taste. A fresh salad would have been nice, but our lettuce isn't big enough yet.
It was a comfortable afternoon, a bit unsettled as various strong storms had been building all day, but we were able to relax and enjoy the outdoors. It wasn't until after dark that the rain, intense lightning, and brief hail arrived. At least we weren't a bit farther north, where tennis-ball-sized hail and at least one tornado were reported.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Getting many garden & field beds cleaned up, hoed, shaped, and ready for planting. Some of these, particularly in the field, took some work as we hadn't kept them quite fully maintained last year. We do all this work manually, which takes time and energy but results in excellent soil quality and no reliance on equipment that would still get bogged down in these conditions and do more damage to the soil than benefit. Below is a set of narrow field beds ready to go:
Seeding and transplanting aren't terribly photogenic, but we got lots of things started. Radishes, lettuce, and peas are already up, with more newly seeded along with beets. Onions will be transplanted soon. Some early brassicas are seeded for our spring saute mix. Garlic is looking great. We'll have a later post on what's growing and what to look for at market in a few weeks.
Prior to last week, we finished another significant project, inoculating a set of fresh-cut logs with shiitake mushroom spawn. This is another long-term test project to see how we do; with lots of logs potentially available, this could be a good diversification if we can manage this test set effectively:
Saturday, April 3, 2010
We expect to start selling either April 24 or May 1, weather depending, with radishes, lettuce, chives, mint, possibly goose eggs, and more. Speaking of which, anyone who wants goose eggs can come out to the farm for some, we're producing more than we can keep up with. They make great souffles, custards, and more.