Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year's Eve.  I'm going to a small gathering at a friend's house - an open house, so I can come and go as I please, just the right kind of party for a free spirit such as I.  We are supposed to get some nasty weather, but I'm hoping it won't hit until after I am safely home tonight.

Have you made your New Year's resolutions?  Mine is to practice what I preach - get that sugar out of my diet! 

I made cheese a couple of days ago, and the chickens are still enjoying their morning treat of whey.  The calves are doing fine, and they are becoming a little friendlier, especially since I demand a little contact with their noses before they get their morning feeding of hay.  Bribery always works - ask our politicians, especially Joe Lieberman!  The cows are still milking great, and we are all swimming in milk thanks to our two loaner cows, Phyllis and Delilah.  They are fitting into the herd well.  Sam is bored - everyone is bred, so he is on hiatus.  Poor Sam!

We have so much milk that I am having a cheese workshop on Sunday to get rid of the overflow. One of our shareholders couldn't pick up her milk this week and donated it, two others are bringing some extra, so we are going to be able to make Gouda, paneer, cottage cheese, ghee and cultured butter.  I warned the people coming for the workshop that they are all going to be put to work!!  We will have a lot of irons in the fire.  But many hands make light work, and there is no better way to learn than to do.

I'm picking up the fixings for Saag Paneer, and those who want to stay for supper will get a taste of a fantastic Indian dish. 

Well, I'm off to market.  Make that resolution, and try to keep it for at least a week!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The high cost of cheap food - milk

I have spent a good bit of time digging out information on the cost of food as a percentage of income in as many countries as I could find, and then for health care costs.  If I could find both data for a given country, I put it on the chart.  It is not a perfect curve, but in general, the more money people spend on their food, the less they spend on health care. We spend 17% more per capita on health care than the next nearest country.  And we have the cheapest food in the world, being the only country whose inhabitants spend a single digit percentage on food - only 9.3%.  Next nearest is just under 12%.

So you might be asking, "Couldn't one explanation for that be that their higher cost of food deprives them of being able to pay for health care?"  Well, no, because in many instances, their life expectancy is longer than ours here in the US.  Our life expectancy is 38th in the world (that means 37 countries that spend less on health care - because they ALL do - live longer), not exactly a stellar figure, and to my way of thinking a pretty good indicator of how well our health care system is working. I think we are pretty good at fixing things, if you are one of the lucky ones who can afford the fix.  However, we do not do nearly enough to prevent the need for health care. 

And that's where that cheap food comes in.  In our quest for cheap food (sometimes out of sheer necessity, but all too often so that we can use more of our income for bigger cars, cable TV and Nike shoes), we will eat anything - and I mean anything!  And it's a push-pull thing:  on the one hand, we are managing our budget so that we can buy more stuff, and on the other hand we have advertising agencies doing everything in their power to make us buy whatever their corporate bosses tell them to promote.  Sadly, our health is not entering the equation on either side.

One of the things the corporations and their ad agencies promote is really bad food!  When was the last time you saw an ad for a fresh radish --  not in a salad at a chain restaurant, just a plain old fresh radish, straight from the produce section of your local grocery store?  No organization that can afford the suits at the ad agency makes money on that fresh radish, and so it gets no press.  We are all hypnotized by ads at one time or another, and so we may find ourselves whipping into McDonald's, or we buy the name brand convenience food in the freezer section, or we look for "Heart Healthy" products after getting the crap scared out of us by the ads for Lipitor!

Repeat after me . . .
  • One half of the people who have heart attacks have "normal" cholesterol levels.
  • Triglycerides are the best predictor of heart health, and they increase as we eat more carbohydrates, not saturated fat.  Oh, and high fructose corn syrup is the worst for increasing triglycerides.
  • For women, as cholesterol levels fall below 220, overall mortality INCREASES.
  • For men, as cholesterol levels fall below 200, overall mortality INCREASES.
  • In women over 60, the higher the LDL, the LOWER the mortality rates.
  • If one examines the reduced deaths from heart attacks (not overall mortality) due to lowering cholesterol using comparative figures (misleading), yes, it is around 30%, but is really only about one half of one percent if using reduction in deaths over the whole population.  If one uses the same misleading statistical method to look at suicides as cholesterol levels are reduced, then the INCREASE in suicides is about 170%.  Disraeli was right when he said "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
  • This is the biggest one.  There is no group of women, based on age, ethnicity, general health or any other factor, that benefits from statins.  In EVERY group of women, mortality rates increase or stay the same with statin use.
 Okay, back to cheap food and milk.  Milk is the cheapest of the cheap, and it is so pervasive in our diets!  Here is what we have done to one of nature's most perfect foods.  Instead of cleaning up filthy urban dairies, we started pasteurizing the milk - killing all of the bad bacteria (along with the good) rather than preventing them.  Pasteurization wasn't enough; we started homogenizing it as well.  Homogenization incorporates the cream into the milk so that the cream doesn't rise to the top.  What, it was too tough to shake the jar? Homogenization changes the molecular structure of the fat, and it has been hypothesized that homogenization may lead to increased susceptibility to atherosclerosis.

But we weren't done.  So what more could we do?  We could start putting it in plastic.  You may have heard that plastic has estrogen-like properties.  It is far worse than you know.

Bisphenol A (BPA) was developed as a hormone replacer, but was shelved until polymer chemists discovered that it could be polymerized to form polycarbonate plastic. Since we began the wholesale use of plastic in packaging, we have seen the incidence of breast cancer in women rise from one in 40 to one in 7.  That is far too short a period for evolution to be blamed.  The sperm count of men is about half of what it was in 1940.  The range for "normal" has been revised, lest you get distracted by that term.  Also, men's penises are getting smaller, and at some point I should think that that one would get the attention of our august lawmakers, but to date it hasn't.  We still wrap our lives in the pernicious stuff - plastic water bottles, plastic wrap on our food, plastic baby bottles - the list goes on and on!

Are there other things we need to look at besides plastic?  Yes.  About the time we started using plastic, we also started hailing "grain fed" as something good in our diets.  Grain means the cows give more milk, the steers fatten up for market faster, and the bottom line gets fatter faster.  Since so much of what we do in this country is measured by its effect on that bottom line, pretty soon the amount of free range meat and animal products fell.  The products of grain fed animals, whether meat or dairy, have only a small percentage of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) - the reduction being as much as 80%.  CLA boosts our immune system to help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and the cost to treat those three is astronomical! 

As if grain feeding wasn't enough (read about that in detail here:  Why you shouldn't feed grain to a cow), Monsanto gave us recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH), a hormone that would increase milk production.  So your daughter is getting female hormones in her milk?  Small detail.  Just change the  "normal" age of onset of menses; problem solved.  Yes, Disraeli, you were absolutely right!

About the time they started using rBGH, we also got "ultra" pasteurization.  This assures that your milk is absolutely dead - every last living thing is gone.  100% of the good bacteria, and 100% of the natural enzymes - natural enzymes that help us to digest milk.  Mother Nature knew what she was doing, contrary to the milk processors!  There are people who have trouble drinking milk that CAN drink it just by finding a brand that is not ultra pasteurized, although it is getting harder and harder to find, because if milk is not ultra pasteurized, the enzymes are still alive and help them to digest it.

What does all this have to do with cheap food?  Well, the dairies can ship milk with very high bacteria counts and it can sit longer in the coolers at the farm between pickups - and longer in the tanks at the processor.  That saves money.  The amount of milk a single cow can give is more than doubled by using rBGH, feeding grain and picking Holsteins over heritage breed cows.

Enter factory farms where the cows are milked three times a day.  More milk, uses less land because they are jammed inside small buildings 24/7, and all that filth from being crowded?  Just put antibiotics in their grain as a preventive practice.  So your kids are getting minute amounts of antibiotics in their milk - not to worry, the scientists will come up with better and stronger (and more expensive) antibiotics when your kids develop resistance to the ones they get on their breakfast cereal and with their school lunches.  While public outrage finally put a stop to the wholesale use of antibiotics in feed in many states, it is still legal in some, and it is virtually impossible to find calf milk replacer that is not laced with antibiotics.

And of course plastic - how much does that cut down on cost?  Cheaper to buy, cheaper to ship, no need to sterilize returned glass jars.  So your kids are getting a little added female hormone, in case the rBGH wasn't enough.  Just shift those "normal" numbers and all will be well.

As if all of this wasn't enough, the government subsidizes the grain farmers, and the gas that hauls the milk to the producers.  So now we have REALLY cheap milk - and really cheap fast "food," since corn and beans are the building blocks of all that manufactured fast food and convenience food.  And remember, if tax subsidies are helping to underwrite manufactured food, then it is you who are paying the bill, whether you whip into the McDonald's drive-through or not!

You can buy milk at the corner gas station on special for $2.75 a gallon, maybe less.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can buy lightly pasteurized non-homogenized certified organic milk in glass jars from grass fed cows for $3.95 a quart, or just under $16 per gallon, sold by Trader's Point Creamery near Indianapolis, IN.  Quite a difference.  The latter example is good milk except for one thing - it is pasteurized, which kills off all the good bacteria along with the bad, but it's the best you can do unless you can find a cow share program and get raw milk.  You might be asking why it is pasteurized.  Well, that is to save you from the perils of raw milk.  LOL!  You should be laughing with me on that one if you read this blog very often.

Let's look at the cost of our milk association's raw milk.  We don't pay for the milk, but we do divvy up the operating costs among the shareholders.  To calculate the cost of milk per gallon, the shareholder would have to keep track of the gallons they got and divide them into the amount they paid in assessments over a year's time.  One of our shareholders did this last year, and it ran about $9.00 per gallon, considerably less than $16 per gallon, but also considerably more than the gas station milk.  In addition, I'll give you another price point for raw milk.  You can get it in a lot of places around here, this being farm country, by paying the dairy farmer a boarding fee for your share of a cow.  The boarding fee is in line with how many gallons of milk you got, and many farmers offer this for $5 or $6 per gallon.

That is quite a range!  And is the cost indicative of the quality?  Sort of.  The range in raw milk will be due to things like plastic containers, breed of cows and grain feeding.  But you can be pretty sure that you won't be getting antibiotics or hormones in your raw milk (if you are smart, you will confirm that with the farmer).  The gas station milk will be in a plastic jug, it will be from factory farm cows, the cows will be Holsteins, the milk will be ultra-pasteurized, it will be homogenized , the cows will have been fed grain, almost assuredly genetically modified grain, and their feed will have a hefty dose of prophylactic antibiotics in it, just to make sure the cows don't get sick from living in confined spaces.  Oh, and they will probably have been injected with rBGH. 

What does this have to do with your health?  Many people would say nothing.  They shop price, and that's all she wrote.  But this is what is wrong with our food!  GMO grain passes into the cells of the cows, and on to your milk, and through your gut.  There is now definitive proof that we do in fact experience cellular changes in our bodies when we eat genetically modified food.  The industry says not to worry, that to date they haven't found that those cellular changes will damage our health.  Do you buy that - are you okay with being a guinea pig in their mad experiment?  Are you okay with disabled Vitamin C in pasteurized milk?  Do you just take a vitamin tablet to replace it?  Will your bones and teeth mind that the D3 has been destroyed and the milk companies "fortified" your milk with D2, a poorer form of D that is less readily absorbed by our bodies?  Just get some Fosamax, right? Does your tummy mind that you can't digest the milk properly because the digestive enzymes were all killed by ultra pasteurization?  Take a Tums.  Do your arteries care that the milk was homogenized?  Just get some Lipitor, hey?  Do you see what is happening here?  Because we drink cheap milk, we end up spending a lot on our health, maybe just a Tums after eating, or maybe by-pass surgery on our plaque-laden arteries. Or that low sperm count leads to in vitro fertilization at $15,000 a pop!

Maybe you think milk isn't all that great a food.  Well, at one time, Mayo clinic used milk as a cancer cure.  Cancer patients were fed nothing but milk (and it was all raw at that time) for six weeks, with many cures.  Milk is not bad for us - it is what we have done to the milk, and to the cows, and to the containers, that is bad for us.  Milk is still a perfect food.  If I were diagnosed with cancer, I would put off any treatment until I drank a diet of pure raw cows milk for six weeks.  Then let them test me again, and I will go from there.

Do you want the best milk?  Then get raw milk, get milk that is in glass jars, get it from heritage breed cows that are fed a diet of grass and organic hay.  You just simply can't do better than that.  It won't be the cheapest, but it won't be the most expensive either.  And any compromises you make, you make at the expense of your body.  It is your choice.  There will be no advertising firm telling you this in the magazines you read, or the TV programs you watch.  This is one decision you have to make for yourself.

Go to Google and check out the facts I have put forward in this blog.  Argue with me, tell me where I am wrong.  I welcome your comments and I will get back to you.  I may learn something from you.  I sincerely hope you have learned something from me today.

Happy and HEALTHY eating!

Friday, December 25, 2009

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Last night we celebrated Christmas.  I decided to pass on my Christmas dishes to my two oldest granddaughters, Kate and Abby, who will be getting an apartment together next year.  I haven't had the dishes out in two or three years, and I wanted them to go to someone who would use them and cherish them - not the sort of thing to send to Goodwill.  But I was not sure how it would be received - used dishes - would they like them?  Kate, the oldest, is not a sentimental person.  She is in her second year of medical school and relishes giving us details of her latest endeavor in the operating room.  She is not the type who needs a tissue in her pocket when watching "It's a Wonderful Life."

When she saw the dishes, she asked me, "Grandma, do you really want to do this?  Give up these dishes?"  I said yes, but she just stared at them and said, "Are you SURE?"  When I assured her I wanted them to go to a good home where they would get used, she began to cry.  Kate, if you read this, I hope you do not feel embarrassed that I have shared it here.  You made my Christmas.  Knowing that you care, that you knew it was a gift of generosity and that I gave them to you because you are so special, listening to you and Abby talk about where the dishes would go in the new apartment, seeing the joy on both your faces - you made it my best Christmas ever.

May all your days be merry and bright.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another jewel at my feet - and a bit about the calves

Of all the weird things, I found another egg on the ground outside the Moop.  If I hadn't been looking down carefully, I would have stepped on it - white egg lying in the snow, you know.  One of the girls is confused, or has a rather unusual sense of humor - or perhaps she is just testing me to see if I am smart enough not to step on an egg as I am leaving the Moop.

Today was a six-egg day, but last three yielded only four eggs each day.  And it has become daily habit for all of them to lay in the same nest.  Not the same nest every day, but once one of the girls does her thing, then they all use the same one that day.  I used to find them in two or three different nests, but it has been at least a week since I have found them spread out.

Now a bit about the calves, the calves which I have pretty much ignored this year.  Except for Jack giving me a scare with his bit of illness, which turned out to be only some constipation, I pretty much keep their water tank full, throw a couple of flakes of grassy hay over the fence for their morning treat each day and call it quits.

Last year's calves were our first.  We sold both the calves the year before, since we were still keeping our cows at Steve's and it would have been pretty much impossible to do anything else.  But last year we kept our first three heifer calves, and I fed them every morning for 90 days.  I babied them, and they were so cute!  When I went in the pen with them, they were all over me, would head butt me if I didn't give them enough attention, and in general were my good buddies.  I don't quite know what happened this year.  Blasé about our second set of calves, I guess, and also my mood was not too good doing that morning milking for three months this year.  For some reason, it was harder this year than last - just because I'm a year older, perhaps.  But it could be that these calves just simply weren't as friendly.  Two of the mothers were not particularly easygoing - Lola was skittish, and Quattro is just plain mean - and maybe those were traits they passed on to their kids.

All that being said, I have found myself bellying up to the three of them lately, trying to get them to warm up to me a bit.  It is a little more difficult at this stage of the game.  Essie May has always been shy, and her mother Quattro is no one's friend, so that one is probably a lost cause, but Jack and Zelda are getting a little friendlier over time.  Perhaps one of these days I will get a kiss, just like I did from Lucky, Smarty Pants and Dolly.

Oh, I found the second disappearing chicken's body this morning, about 20 feet from the door into the Moop.  I don't know how I missed her for the past few days.  Perhaps Tashi brought her home.

I am the animals' caretaker - all of them:  cows, calves, bull, hens and rooster, cat and dogs - and it is a bit burdensome to know that another of them died on my watch.

The magnificent cows!

I haven't posted anything about the cows lately. 

What a winter!  Usually we have very little milk, all of us looking at our half empty totes of milk and fondly remembering those spring and early summer days when we didn't know what to do with it all!  We are there again - more milk than we know what to do with!  Steve lent us two cows for the winter.  He comes down for a gallon of milk every week or two, and he did ask us to keep the calf on one of the cows for four weeks.  Other than that, the milk is ours to keep and distribute.

You might ask what is in this for Steve.  First, he doesn't have to feed them.  They will eat about $1,000 of organic hay this winter.  Our shareholders gladly paid this as a special assessment, because the one time assessment amounts to less than half of a regular month's fee, and these two cows have DOUBLED our production.  Steve's second reason for lending them is that they both freshened very late in the season - that is why they are giving so much milk - and he dries up his herd on November 15.  So he would have lost a lot of milk.  By having us milk them through the winter until he is ready to start milking again in the spring, he gets several months of milk next spring that would have been lost.

You might be asking how two cows can double the production of our own six cow herd.  Well, first, our cows freshened between April and early July, so they are all winding down.  Second, Quattro was dried up entirely about three months ago.  She is just not a very good milker, and I think we are going to use her for a nurse cow next year.  Third, we dried up JP last week.  She is a heifer, and she freshened first last spring, April 7, so it was a miracle that she milked so long!  Many heifers dry up in five or six months their first year of milking. 

Along come Phyllis and Delilah, our two borrowed cows, one fresh on August 31, the other just three days before she came down here along with her bull calf.  Steve said the bull calf wouldn't drink all that much milk, maybe a gallon a day, then up to two gallons by the time he was ready to leave.  Well, we knew better!  We hand feed our calves, and they get two gallons a day for the first month, drinking every drop of it and begging for more!!  The day the bull calf went to market, our production shot up by three gallons a day!  Since we measure our production in quarts, not gallons, that is 12 quarts, and we fill for five shareholders per day.  Do the math - they are all delighted. 

I am now getting so much milk again that I can make a three pound block of cheese every week and a half, even leaving plenty for myself and the dogs.  My dogs each get a small bowl of kefir every day.  I love my vet, and I respect his opinion, but about milk we differ.  He is livid that I feed it to my dogs.  He says all dogs are lactose intolerant.  Well, kefir grains pretty much wipe out the milk sugars, so my dogs digest it just fine, and since I have a dog with Cushing's Syndrome that should have been dead years ago, in this case I think I know more than the vet.  Bear celebrated her 15th birthday with a big bowl of kefir!

I am in a pretty good mood today.  After several days of getting up between 3:30 and 4 am and just chugging through the list of stuff to get done for my booth at market, as of 8 pm last night, I AM DONE!  :)  Today it is last minute holiday shopping, hauling milk into my booth at the market and relieving Annemarie for the last three hours of the workday, then home to start wrapping presents.  Maybe I will get my holiday cards and letters out before January 15 this year. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday hassle - I'm behind!

No posts lately.  I am too, too busy!

Here are the highlights of recent farm happenings.

I lost a second chicken - this is two in two weeks.  No sign of illness, and the body that was found was not eaten, not even a nibble.  It might be that they both got egg-bound.  Happens with pullets sometimes, but two of them?  In my tiny little flock?  Sigh . . .

Egg production is pretty good.  Wednesday they laid six, yesterday only one, but back up to six again today.  BULLETIN!!  I just went out to button up the girls, and there were two more eggs!  Their first EIGHT EGG DAY!!  Pretty amazing, considering I only have 12 hens left and it is just 48 hours from the shortest day of the year!   

Milk production is fantastic.  All of the old shareholders are delighted - this is usually the time of year for slim pickin's.  The new shareholders are getting spoiled and will wonder what hit them in December of 2010 - unless I can pull off another coupe like the one that led to this great production!  I'll post more about how that is working out later.

Still two more presents to buy, but easy ones.  I'll not say what I still have to get in this post, just in case - by some miracle - my grandkids are reading my blog.  "A prophet is without honor in [her] own land."

My Norfolk pine is lit, Christmas music is playing and I'm finishing up 12 loaves of bread.  Life is good.

:)

Monday, December 14, 2009

And now, a six egg day!

Friday the girls laid five eggs for the first time.  Saturday we were back to four.  Yesterday, every time I peeked into the Moop, there was a chicken in the top right nest - their favorite.  At 3:30 I made my third trip out there, and yup, there was one of the girls hunkered down in the same nest.  Well, 3:30 is a ridiculous time to be laying an egg!  It is dark by 4:30.  They should be all done!  I was pretty sure it wasn't a broody hen, so I reached under her.  She stretched, then stood to get out of my way.  And there in the nest, under her fat, warm little body, were SIX EGGS!  At a time of year when production should be dropping, or at best staying the same, these Belgian-bred Golden Campines are INCREASING their production.  Gotta love 'em!

Each hen should lay five eggs per week, pretty good production for a heritage breed hen.  Thirteen hens left, so when they reach their stride, they should be producing nine or ten eggs per day.  So they are already getting close.

I picked up eggs when I was a kid, with a tin can in my hand in case their was a broody hen that didn't want to give up her eggs.  Put the can over the head, reach under, and you can get the egg without being pecked.  But that and throwing scraps over the fence was the sum total of my experience on my mom and dad's farm.  This is all so exciting to me. 

My husband and I had a commercial egg system - 12,000 caged layers.  If there really is Purgatory, I figure I will have to spend some time there for that operation.  Or maybe I have repaid my karmic debt by doing what I am doing now on this farm.  Who knows? No one, really.  We cling to what feels right for us, and what feels right to me is this turning of the Wheel, this everlasting passing of the seasons.

One year, when the Wheel turns, I will no longer be here to celebrate, but while I am, I do, and this Saturday, I will celebrate Yule and the Return of the Sun God.  At last, the days will be a little longer, the light will stay a little later.  Blessed be!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Found the missing chicken

Last night the milker told me she found the missing chicken, dead, down by the hay.  It is puzzling.  Wasn't a wild animal, because her body would not still be there, untouched.  I have a lot of turkey vultures here, and they didn't take her either.  She was lying on the ground with her neck twisted in an odd way.   She went missing on Sunday, was found on Saturday.  Why didn't anyone see her sooner?  Was she out on her own for several days and eventually froze to death?

It is a mystery, and one that will likely never be solved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

To market, to market

I spent most of the day getting ready for market tomorrow.  I still have to wrap a few more holiday soap bars.  Soap is selling very well at the market.  These tough economic times may have something to do with it.  Give a gift, yes, but make it practical.  My soaps are pretty, and a good bargain considering how long they last, so what better gift?

My friends Tama and Rich came out late afternoon for our annual party.  They have cut their tree here for the past several years, and it has turned into a bit of a ritual.  Tama brings homemade cookies and I make eggnog.  The kids, Willow, Forrest and Autumn, have a great time.  It snowed just in time for their arrival.  The kids brought their sleds and had a blast before we hiked out into the fields to find a tree.  The trees are so big now that Rich just cut the top out of one.  Next spring, the whole family is coming out to plant new trees so that we have some of the appropriate size again.  I guess we should have thought of that a few years ago!

I saved gathering eggs until the kids got here, was hoping for three today so that each of the kids could take an egg out of the nest.  Would you believe, it was the girls' first FIVE EGG DAY!  Yay!!!  It is hard to believe that they are actually increasing what they lay in this brutal weather.

There are 11 loaves of bread in the basket, ready to take to market tomorrow.  I can't eat bread, really messes with my blood sugar and aggravates inflammation in my hip.  But I love to bake.  So until I'm sick of this, which will happen one of these days, or until I get too busy with the greenhouse and the garden, I will enjoy kneading, forming loaves and smelling the rich, yeasty scent of baking bread each Friday. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas . . .

When I bought this place in 2000, I immediately took it out of production.  The farmer took his crops out that year, but that was the end of conventional farming on this place.  I planted about 8,400 trees, among them 2,400 white pines.  They were just little wisps of trees that year, maybe about 6" tall on average.  Two years later, I was able to harvest one and put on a table for my holiday tree.  In the ensuing years, they got bigger and bigger!  So big, in fact that for the last two years I have brought in volunteer cedars - always plenty of those about - since the pines are all far too big, and I hate to just take a top out.  Cedars smell divine, but they are so stickery that I need to wear heavy jacket and gloves (no knit mittens!) and I actually get out the safety goggles.  The gloves and jacket stay on while I decorate.  Taking it back down is even worse, since by then the needles are dry.  I cannot imagine what the inside of a cow's mouth is like!  They eat these things for a treat.

This year I decided there would be no tree. Last year's tree was not seen by one person save me!  Weather was bad, so some get-togethers I usually host were not held here.  My kids didn't make it up at all over the holidays - much easier for me to go their way, just one person, than for all 11 of them to get up here.  And there was the weather problem.  So I am being "brumsch," as my mother would say of pouters, and decided I would not bother with a tree since NO ONE came to see me last year!

Yesterday I went to a building supply place to get more insulation for the Moop.  I cover the hardware cloth in the back window with Styrofoam to block out the cold and wind in the winter.  But the wind blew it off - 50 mph winds will do that - and I needed another piece.  There at the front of the store were lovely little Norfolk pines.  I came home with the insulation - and the pine.


No lovely scent of cedar, but one string of lights and a dozen ornaments did it, and I have a lovely LIVE tree in my living room.  I'm happy.  And if no one sees it but me, that is good enough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The egg game

The girls gave me four eggs yesterday.  In the past few weeks, they have had a bad day following a four-egg day.  Today, I got another four eggs!  Wow!!  These girls are really cranking them out given the cold weather, and all of the WIND!  The weather is really nasty today.

It is ugly out there tonight, down to 21º.  The milker buttoned up the chickens because I was at Purple Porch delivering spices and freshly baked baguettes at sundown.  When I got home, I went out with some warm water for them and found that the door on the Moop was frozen shut.  I used half of the water to unfreeze the handle, then left the handle turned into the open position.  I'll get out there with the big extension cord and my hair dryer and do it right tomorrow morning.

Did I say I liked winter?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .

Okay, I am one of those sick people who prefers winter to summer.  Yes, I have to get bundled up and do morning chores now, but I have the right gear, insulated coat with collar that zips up over my mouth and nose, hood that snaps closed over the high collar, insulated socks, insulated boots.  By the time I'm dressed, I'm toasty warm and looking forward to the cold air that will hit me when I walk out the door.

See, in the winter you can keep adding layers of warm clothing.  You can back up to the wood stove.  You can cross country ski.  In the summer, you just can't take off enough clothing to be cool, and air conditioning is not my cup of tea.  I resort to it on really bad days, mostly to pull the humidity out of the air.  And the flies!  Oh, yes, try hanging over a fence feeding three voracious calves - a trick in itself because I'm using two hands to hold three buckets - and have flies biting your legs and arms.  Give me winter!

We had -26º last winter, coldest weather since the first year I moved out here, when we hit -28º.  I was milking that week, and two days in a row it was -4º when I headed out to the barn at about 2:30 in the afternoon.  Yup, that was the high point of the day.  The worst of that is frozen water lines, ice that makes me worry that one of the girls will slip and fall, equipment that won't start.  But in general, there are ways around those things.  I move a small space heater out to the milk room, and it warms the corner where the piping sits.  When the spigot freezes in the barn, we hook the hose up to the sink in the milk room.  That works just fine, and I always run a little hot water through the hose at the end - it softens the heavy duty hose and makes it easier to curl up neatly when I'm done watering.   We don't have a heater in the calves' watering trough, just break out the ice and toss in some hot water.  Last winter it was so cold that I had to bring out my big long-handled sledge hammer to break it out.  But as I said, it all works out, and there are no flies or mosquitoes biting me while I work.

It is snowing right now, supposed to continue all day.  Tonight we may get some icing.  Now that is NOT good.  But that means it is time to stay home!

I'm going to head down to the garden after market this afternoon.   We are supposed to get into the low teens on Thursday, high of only 18º.  I'm going to grab another armload of kale.  This could be the end of my garden.  :(

Monday, December 7, 2009

Say it isn't so . . .

And now there are 14.  One of the hens hasn't shown up for two days now.  I was hoping she would be running around the coop this morning, but alas, she wasn't.  Then I thought she might re-join the flock today and show up this evening.  No, she was not there.

I am sad.  They are such happy, sociable little things.  I hope her death was quick.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter hath come with a vengenace

After being lulled by a spectacular November, the cold came rushing in night before last.  I left for market as daylight was just breaking.  Every morning except Saturdays, when I have to be at market early, I take a walk around and make sure everything is okay.  My weather station died in the night, so I didn't see how cold it was.  Had I known, I would have gone out with the flashlight to check for frozen water tanks.  The weather station let me down in another way.  It is also my alarm clock;  alas, I got up an hour and 45 minutes later than usual.  The deer hunter's headlights coming up the drive woke me or I would probably have been a good bit later.  In my rush to get milk loaded and be on my way, I didn't feel the cold.

Brad, one of our newer milkers, was on deck Saturday.  He called me as I was on my way home from market.  Not only was it cold, but it had remained cold all day, never getting above freezing.  When he got there, the water tank inlet was frozen.  The cows had managed to knock a hole in the ice and had drained the tank dry, but one tank of water is not enough for 13 animals!  They were thirsty.

Luckily Clay and I had emptied the tank near the barn and moved it near the holding pen, where we can fill it by hand in cold weather.  The automatic watering system is of no use once the cold sets in.  When I got home, I got out of my market clothes and into my work clothes and insulated boots and went to work.  It didn't take me long to find one of the water tank heaters, but the other is lost.  I put the one I found into the tank by the barn and found the heavy duty extension cord.  I could only hope that it worked.  Then I went out to the east pasture to see what I could do about the tank that was frozen up.  The answer was nothing.  Even the quick drain hydrant was frozen solid.  Since it was in the open position, there was no quick draining, and the water couldn't get through the frozen coupling on the tank.  So I just turned it off and consoled myself that at least it didn't matter that I couldn't find the water heater for that tank.

Brad is new, but he has good intuitions.  He had taken the cows out to the east pasture but hadn't fed hay on the off chance that I wouldn't be able to get the water running out there.  That was a smart move.  I would never have been able to get them back to the barn, where they could get water from the tank with the heater.

This morning I went out hoping that the heater had worked and that they had been able to get to water through the night.  Yes!  Water wasn't frozen.  They had drunk it right down to the bottom.  I refilled it, knocked the ice out of the calves' water tank, hauled the hose back into the milk room and got my mind wrapped around the winter chores that lie ahead of me over the next three months. 

This is my first winter with the chickens.  I wish now that I had let the bedding build up as insulation.  What, did I think that it was going to stay in the 50s until Christmas?  Oh, well, we will start this week adding fresh bedding over the old as the winter wears on.  They have two waterers, so I bring one in the house at night to thaw, take it out in the morning and bring the other inside to thaw during the day.  I'll stop in at TSC and see what they have in the line of heated waterers.  So many new things to learn!

The hens are laying pretty well, three or four eggs every day for the last four days.  I think they are getting the hang of it.  I wonder if this is the best they will do until the days start to lengthen?  My friend Phyllis says they are very dependent on day length, more so than the cold, and I should see production start to go up late December.

I really need to get this whole chicken operation under control before I start my next project, but I will tell you that I have 125 tilapia ordered for delivery next spring.  Stay tuned for more on why I am doing that, and what I hope to learn about fish.

Well, it's time to go out and count the girls.  I still count them every night.  After all of the losses last summer, I just need the reassurance that there are still 15 birds in that Moop each night.  If it is too dark, then I touch each one to count them.  I love the feel of their feathers under my hand.

I just went out to the Moop.  There are only 14.  Buster is in there, so it is one of the girls.  There is still a whisper of light out.  I will check back in ten minutes and count again.  Hopefully I will be writing that they are all home after my return trip out there.

Four more trips.  There are only 14.  I had to button up the Moop.  I saw a chicken wandering by herself in the woods today.  Maybe she is broody and sitting on a nest of eggs.  Maybe she was sick and went off by herself to die.  I saw the them down by the creek today.  Maybe a critter got her.  Maybe she will be waiting for me in the morning . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jewel laid at my feet


The hens (I can call them hens now that they are laying) are a bit erratic in their laying habits.  I suspicion that they are still laying under a bush here and there, although I am now getting two or three eggs each day.  I always make sure to leave one in a nest to lure them back, although with the cold weather coming, I will have to quit that unless I want frozen eggs.

I thought it was time you saw the Moop.  Isn't it quaint?  The new gray tote to the left of the can with their laying mash is full of cracked corn.  I need to add flax meal to it to get the protein up.  I want to avoid soy, which is a bit of a trick once they are laying.



Here is a pic of their nests, and another of a nest with an egg.  It is the nest that I put extra hay in, just stuffed the excess in there and thought I would draw on it as I needed it for the other nests.  I didn't think a hen could get in there.  Yes, she can, and she does.  It is one of their favorite two nests. 

This morning, I let them out mid-morning and found three new eggs.  As I walked back out of the Moop, there on the ground was an egg.  I picked it up and it was still warm.  The ground where it lay was cold and bare.  Did she know I was picking up eggs and so would be sure to find it there?  Did she not want to go into the Moop and lay the egg while I was in it?  Very curious.  I have never seen this before.


It was a lovely sight, and so nice to cradle a warm, newly laid egg in my hand.  One of my hens laid a jewel at my feet.  :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sleep and production

For some reason, I feel as if I am personally responsible when the cows don't milk well.  To some degree, I suppose I am.  I pulled the girls off the pastures, put them in the winter lot, about three weeks ago.  I feared them eating down the pastures too close, and then it is harder for them to recover in the spring.  Steve told me to keep them on pasture another two weeks, and that helped production.  He pointed out that they were a LONG way from that problem.  So the girls are back out to pasture every day.

I found their mineral feeders completely empty yesterday.  I hadn't checked them in two or three weeks.  They eat a lot more minerals when they are on hay, I am told, so I missed the boat there.  I'm off to the organic mill to pick up minerals and organic laying mash this morning.

But I can't control the weather.  It is normal for production to fall once the girls are pregnant and making babies.  It is normal for it to fall even if they AREN'T making babies.  It is a natural rhythm, and one I have a hard time getting used to.

When I deliver milk, I find myself apologizing if production is down a bit from the previous week.  Apologizing for what?  For nature?  I must remember that.

And now I have this egg production to worry about.  I count the eggs per day.  I got four the first day I locked them in the Moop for the day, a number that has not been repeated since.  I was elated that they laid anything when I started letting them out again, but it was two a day, and then only one a day.

It's a good thing I go back and read comments from my followers.  Mark wrote that I should leave the eggs in the nests.  They are more apt to come back to a nest with eggs than to a bare one.  So I sneaked back out night before last with four eggs from the house and put them into what were their favorite nests.  Voila!  Yesterday there were three new eggs!!  Thank you, Mark.

I left all seven eggs out there.  The girls will stay in the Moop until I am back home with their feed.  Will there be FOUR more today?

How much milk will we get?  Will we get to Delilah before her bull calf does?  It makes a difference of several quarts in our production.

Last question?  Will I sleep well tonight?  LOL

Really, when I lie in bed and think about good egg and milk production, I sleep like a baby.  When production was down, I stew and don't sleep well.

This has really got to stop, don't you think?  If it doesn't, I am going to be in real trouble come February.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Healthy eating - a lesson on digestion, short version

My earlier post is so full of information that your eyes may have glazed over quickly, so here is a shorter version.

This is not so much about your digestion as that of the cows and why it is important to us humans.

I was a vegetarian for 15 years.  Continued slips in overall health finally got my attention and I started reading something besides books that supported my views.  At some time, we have to be brave enough to examine opposing views.  My poor health pushed me to be brave.  If you are a vegetarian, I hope you are brave enough to continue reading this post.

Let's start with the biggest myth and the one I am focusing on today - that it takes sixteen pounds of grain to make one pound of beef.  In truth, it takes ZERO pounds of grain to make a pound of beef.  Cows and steers live on grass if allowed to do what nature intended.  They can live quite comfortably on marginal land that could only support cultivation of row crops through the use of fossil fuel fertilizers, or massive amounts of compost that will only work over time if it is mixed with animal manure.  And remember that worm castings are worm manure and the dead bodies of the worms.  Worms are not vegetables.

While the cow or steer is grazing on this marginal land, it is defecating and urinating copiously, adding nutrients to the soil and actually creating more topsoil than the grass it's eating will utilize.  The myth about how much water a cow needs completely ignores the fact that the cow puts the large majority of the water back on the ground, but now it is full of nutrients.  And the gas from cow belches pales when measured against the gas produced by wetlands. 

Let me add that I am not talking about factory farming in which animals are cramped together, fed grain, and live in filth.  I am talking about small family farms that use rotational grazing and take care of the land.  But there are factory farms that are not raising meat animals; there are factory farms that are stripping the land of nutrients to grow lettuce, tomatoes, corn, oats and wheat, then replacing them with fossil fuel fertilizers.  They are using heavy machinery that runs on diesel fuel, and their farming methods kill hundreds of animals in the process of plowing, cultivating and harvesting.  Factory farming feeds a lot of people cheaply, but it is not healthy for our planet. And please do remember that factory farming undoubtedly produced your soy burger.

I'm going to stop there regarding digestion.  If you want to read the nuts and bolts of how ruminants operate, and more about vegetable farming vs. animal farming, then go to my previous post.  Healthy Eating - long version  But I hope that by reading even this shorter version, I have give you some food for thought.

I have come to believe that it is some innate fear of death in our culture that leads us to poor decisions in land management and food production.  We are part of a circle of life.  At some time, we will be predators and we will be fodder.  We will eat living things, whether it is a carrot or a steer.  And we will eventually be eaten by the microbes that comprise a good percentage of our soil.  Our acceptance of this circle will help us to accept that something must die so that we might live.  To say that the carrot's life is less important than the steer's, that the weed's life is less important than the carrot's, to create some hierarchy of life that is linear, implies that we are on top, that our lives are the MOST important.  Remembering the circle, whether it is the circle of life or the circle of the seasons, will help us to live better, and to accept death as part of life.

Healthy eating - a lesson on digestion

This is not so much about your digestion as that of the cows and why it is important to us humans.

I was a vegetarian for 15 years.  Continued slips in overall health finally got my attention and I started reading something besides Vegetarian Times and books that supported my views.  At some time, we have to be brave enough to examine opposing views.  My poor health pushed me to be brave.

In part, I was a vegetarian for ethical reasons, believing that vegetarianism led to best use of the soil (it doesn't), that it was a sin to kill animals to eat them (it isn't), and that raising animals was "factory farming" and raising spinach wasn't (wrong in part on both counts).

If you are a vegetarian, you may be ready to quit reading right now, but vegetarians especially need to read this.  Be brave; read this opposing view.

Let's start with the biggest myth and the one I am focusing on today - that it takes sixteen pounds (or four pounds or six pounds, depending on which vegetarian publication you are reading) of grain to make one pound of beef.  I even got a letter published in Times or Newsweek, can't remember which, spouting this "fact" during my vegetarian days.  And they published it.  No fact checking there!

Here is the truth.  It takes zero pounds of grain to make one pound of beef.  Yes, that is right, ZERO pounds!  And now I get to my lesson on digestion.

Ruminants include bovines (often referred to as cows, but technically, "cow" only refers to the female bovine), goats and sheep, to name the three that most are familiar with.  Their systems are designed to process grass, which is cellulose.  I can't digest cellulose, you can't digest cellulose, but the female ruminant can, and then she very efficiently turns it into milk, which I CAN digest, and her brothers (meat producing bovines are steers, meat producing goats and lambs are wethers), efficiently turn cellulose into meat, which I CAN eat.

Here is how their digestion works.  Ruminants have four stomachs, the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  The last in line, the abomasum, is pretty much like our stomachs, lined with glands similar to ours, and secretions of hydrocholic acid and digestive enzymes, same as ours.  The three stomachs that precede it are the factories that turn the cellulose into something the final stomach can digest.

The first of these, the rumen, can hold up to 25 pounds of grasses.  Conditions are right for the growth of microbes that promote fermentation.  It is also the stomach that provides the "cud" that the cow will chew while resting.  Grain fed cows will not chew the cud as much, if at all, since the grain is small and not in need of further processing.  However, it is believed that cud chewing releases nutrients.  I don't think it is out of line to say that grain fed animals will not extract the nutrients from their feed that their grass fed sisters and brothers will.  And this may have something to do with CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids) being four to five times higher in ruminants fed grass only, CLAs that we need to boost our immune systems against cancer, diabetes and heart trouble.  

On to the next stomach.  The reticulum hopefully gets a very small workout in our animals here on my farm.  It is where nails and other indigestible sharp objects will drop out.  Heavy or dense feed would fall into this stomach; our cows don't get any of that, being strictly grass and hay fed.  I think it is significant that the stomach that deals with nails also has to deal with grain.  There is a message there.

The next stomach, the omasum, absorbs water and feed material - the hay and grass that has proceeded through the first two stomachs.  The feed material between the leaves of tissue that line this stomach will be drier than that found in the other compartments.

Then it is on to the abomasum, the one that closely resembles our stomachs.  By the time the fodder reaches this stomach, it has been converted by the actions of the previous ones into something that would be digestible even by non-ruminant stomachs.

If cows are fed grain, then this optimum system is put out of whack.  The grain will decrease rumination (cud chewing), and aside from the nutrient issues, I can tell you that a cow chewing her cud is a happy cow.  When the cows come into the barn to be milked, if they are chewing their cuds, they are calmer and much easier to handle. 

Eating grain affects the pH of the stomach, decreasing acidity levels of its natural state into higher pH levels that can support the growth of E. coli 0157:H7, or E. coli 57 for short.  Let me elaborate a little here and explain that there are many strains of E. coli, most of which are of no concern to humans.  But E. coli 57 that flourishes in the digestive tracts of ruminants that are fed grain is the one we definitely do not want in our diets.  While there are naysayers out there who dispute this claim, I have not found one study that looked at strictly grass fed animals with no contact with grain fed animals vs. grain fed animals.  The studies have looked at organic vs. non-organic (organic animals are often fed grain), or at grass fed animals that were mixed with grain fed animals and so were exposed to their feces.  Neither is useful in ascertaining the levels of E. coli 57 in grass fed animals.  To my knowledge, there have been no incidences of E. coli 57 from animals on small rotational grazing operations where animals are never fed grain and are not mixed at any time during their lives with grain fed animals.

Back to digestion.  This marvel of ruminant digestion works hand in hand in the circle of life of which we are a part.  Here we have an animal that can live on land that is not fit for cultivation, eating the grasses that we could not eat, spreading manure and urine on the ground while she eats, and over time, improving the soil and increasing our precious topsoil.  And do not overlook the fact that grazing cows can move without diesel fuel.

Bovines need about an acre of grasses and legumes on which to subsist, and they provide enough fertilizer for three acres, a pretty good return, don't you think?  They will increase the depth of the top soil, rather than decrease it as row crops (corn, beans, wheat, spinach, tomatoes, i.e. vegetation) do.  Polyface Farms in Virginia lays claim to increasing the depth of topsoil by inches per year, through intense animal rotation.  Lest you think this is a ho-hum statistic, be aware that vegetation eats top soil.  When you put a seed in the ground, it must eat nutrients out of the soil in order to grow.  It is not some magic; remember that matter may neither be created nor destroyed.  And so the plant builds itself through the absorption of the nutrients in the top soil.  Those nutrients must be replaced or the depth of the topsoil shrinks.  In the Midwest, where I live, the topsoil when the buffalo were running free was about twelve feet deep.  Today average depth of topsoil here is about four inches.  When it is gone, what will we do?  We must farm using methods that increase rather than decrease topsoil.  Enter the cow, with that 3:1 ratio.  Without animals in our circle of life, eventually there will be no life.  If you are dead set against killing animals for food, then partake of milk, cheese, eggs and honey in abundance.  Bees, goats, cows and sheep are all workhorses that improve our land.  Let them be part of it; don't elevate them to some holy realm where the product of their labors must not pass our human lips!

If these marginal lands that are ideal for grazing were to be farmed for grain or vegetables, they would have to be heavily fertilized.  If the land is not organic, it will be fossil fuel fertilizers that are used.  If organic, it will have to be fertilized with complete compost that includes animal manure or it will wear out.  Pure vegetative compost does not contain enough nutrients to feed the soil.  When I pointed this out to a vegetarian, she told me that she didn't use manure and her soil was fine.  I asked what she used, and she said she used worm castings.  I gently pointed out that worms are not vegetables, that she was in fact using worm manure.  And whether organic or not, it will be farmed with machinery that is powered by fossil fuels.  Hundreds of small animals will die as the farm equipment plows, cultivates and harvests. 

I have come to believe that it is some innate fear of death in our culture that leads us to poor decisions in land management and food production.  We are part of a circle of life.  At some time, we will be predators and we will be fodder.  We will eat living things, whether it is a carrot or a steer.  And we will eventually be eaten by the microbes that comprise a good percentage of our soil.  Our acceptance of this circle will help us to accept that something must die so that we might live.  To say that the carrot's life is less important than the steer's, that the weed's life is less important than the carrot's, to create some hierarchy of life that is linear, implies that we are on top, that our lives are the MOST important.  Remembering the circle, whether it is the circle of life or the circle of the seasons, will help us to live better, and to accept death as part of life.

Friday, November 27, 2009

My $3,500 breakfast


The chickens are old enough that they should have started laying by now.  I have been concerned that they are just laying their eggs in the woods, where I won't find them.  So I locked them in the Moop all day on Tuesday.  When I got home from market and let them out, there were four eggs in their nests.  My friend Pam tells me that I will have to keep them locked up most of the day for at least a week, and then they will get the idea what the nests are for.  She said after that week, they will come back to the Moop to lay.  I sure hope so!!  It requires a whole lot more cleaning when they are in all day.

Here is a rundown of my investment.
  • The truck, retail value at time of conversion, $2,500
  • Materials to convert it, $200
  • Chicks, $75
  • Organic starter feed and laying mash, $136.50
  • Fencing and posts, $60
  • Feeders and waterers, $35 (used)
  • Payment to shareholders who helped with conversion (in eggs), $425
  • Shotgun shells to scare off the hawk (didn't work), $15
  • Monofilament fishing line to keep the hawks out of the pen (did work), $3.50
They were excellent eggs!  I savored every bite, as well I should have.  I just keep reminding myself that I learn the best by doing, and I did it, didn't I?

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Another kind of harvest - saving seeds

    I have been drying some seeds on a plate, tomatillo seeds and beans.  The beans are Aunt Ida's Italian Pole Beans, and they are my favorite bean ever!  When I see ads that talk about the "beany" flavor of beans, I think to myself, "Well, what are they supposed to taste like?  Beans are beans!"  While there are differences between Italian flat beans, French mini filets and the ubiquitous Blue Lake beans, they are all good and they all taste like beans.

    And then there is Aunt Ida's Italian pole beans.  Oh, yes, now that is beany!  I just can't get enough of them.  Frozen beans - ugh!  Canned beans, tolerable but a whole different animal, in my humble opinion.  So the joy of those few weeks in the summer when I can gorge on Aunt Ida's is appreciated, remembered and anticipated as the wheel of the year rolls around.


    I save my seeds.  Beans are so easy to save - just let the pods dry on the plant, bring them inside, shell and store.  A few years ago I discovered instructions for making seed packets, a sort of origami type envelope that you can make out of scraps of paper.  I usually find myself rooting through the waste basket in my office when I need another envelope.  The instructions were quite clear, I realized, once I had finally succeeded in making one envelope.  Talk about trial and error!!  This pic shows the left hand side finished, the right hand side still open so that I can insert the beans.


    Then once the beans are safely inside, the right hand side is secured and the beans are tucked in until next June, when they will travel back down to my garden.  Here is a pic of the beans going into the envelope.

    You can see the tiny tomatillo seeds on the top of the plate, kind of behind the envelope.  Aunt Ida's seeds are the big fat tan ones on the plate.  And that reminds me - most beans don't taste all that great boiled or steamed once the seeds start to expand - if you can see the outline of the seed in the bean, then they are past their prime.  Not so with Aunt Ida's.  The seeds lend their own spectacular flavor to the beans.  They are still good to steam when they are fat with seeds!


    And here is the picture of the finished envelope of bean seeds, along with my Thanksgiving Day greeting to you.  There will be no time for blogging tomorrow.  I'm cooking up a storm already, and it will be frantic tomorrow.  I hope everyone has a wonderful day, filled with family, laughter, minimal family tension, and pumpkin pie!

    Happy Thanksgiving from the chickens, three dogs, one cat, eight milk cows, one happy bull, three heifers, three calves, and me, the Accidental Farmer.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Asparagus, atriums and chickens

    What do these three things have to do with one another?  Absolutely nothing.  They just represent three things that caught my attention today.


    The Dark Side of Asparagus . . .  Do you love the look of spring asparagus on your plate?  Maybe with some Hollandaise sauce, or perhaps just some butter and lemon?  Or how about raw, with a good mayonnaise based dipping sauce?  It is such a fleeting treat, those few weeks in spring when the new shoots pop up overnight.  Sometimes it seems that if we look closely, we will see them growing!  And then, poof! they are gone.  Well, not really gone, but the spears get thinner and thinner until it is time to let them go.  What happens to the plant then?  If you have never seen it, it is hard to believe.  The asparagus makes a big plant as tall as me, with fern-like branches, and some with small red berries.  They need to be allowed to grow to provide nourishment for the roots.  Properly cared for (or maybe even ignored), asparagus beds can live for 50 years; however, the average life of a plant is about 15 years.  Sometimes spears will reappear in the fall, but if you cut them, you risk decreasing the life span of the plant, so just leave them alone.  The plants are actually pretty when they first rise up, especially on a foggy morning.  But in general, they are leggy, dry, full of prickly bits, and ugly.  I leave mine until spring, when I clear them off and weed around the roots to make room for the spears in the spring.  And so the cycle begins anew. 


    My Beautiful Atrium . . .  It may have been foolish to build a passive solar house on the east side of Lake Michigan, but I am far enough south that I get more than the 65 insolation days per year that South Bend gets.  Today was one of those days when it earned its keep.  It was only 32º this morning.  My house was pretty nippy - I keep the thermostat on 62º - but it wasn't cool enough to warrant building a fire in the stove.  I turned up the furnace for just a bit while I enjoyed my morning espresso.  By 9 am, the sun was pouring into the atrium, and I opened the doors and windows between it and my main living space.  There wasn't a lot of heat to start with, but before long I could feel it rising into the living room. 

    It's a good room.  I don't use it often, but sometimes on a very sunny winter day, with the snow bouncing the light into the atrium, I haul my chaise lounge out there and take a sun bath.  And today, it brought the house to a comfortable 72º, with the only expense being the effort it took to open and close the doors and windows.

    Chickens - They are Driving Me NUTS! . . .  The chickens think the garage is their second home.  They find my Prius to be a suitable roost.  Chickens poop while they are roosting.  I have had to put the bird seed in a tote to keep them out of it.  They hang around the bird feeder in the hopes of getting the scraps.  Since Campines are such good fliers, I fully expect to find them hanging on the feeder helping themselves one of these days.

    Tashi keeps them out of the garage when she is outdoors.  She lies on the concrete pad outside the garage, and that is enough to keep them at bay.  However, she was in the house for a good bit of the morning, and when I went out, they were all sitting on some cartons of canning jars stacked in a corner.  They did NOT want to leave.  I have mentioned a couple of times that these are flighty birds that will not let you touch them unless it is dark.  However, one of them just sat there defiantly, looking me right in the eye and refusing to budge from the seat of my bicycle.  I finally picked her up - in broad daylight! - and carried her fat little body outside.

    Tonight, there are still 15 chickens, in the Moop where they belong, and all other animals are accounted for.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Our milk association - the nuts and bolts of it

    Let me tell you a little about how our milk association runs.  I have touched on some of this in previous posts, but it's time for a refresher.  (To that end, I will remind you that when a cow has a calf, she "freshens.")

    Indiana does not allow the sale of raw milk.  I will not get into what they imagine they are saving us from by depriving us of this wonderful food.  The law is the law.  Fortunately the law does not prohibit imbibing in this white magic if one owns the cow.  Many farmers have devised a way to accommodate potential customers by allowing them to buy a "cow share," which entitles them to come to the farm to pick up their milk and pay a boarding fee for their piece of some cow in the amount of so much per gallon for the milk, the assumption being that if you need more milk that week, then you need to pay higher boarding fees for your chunk of a cow because you need a bigger chunk of it that week.  Okay, it works.

    I participated in three such cow share programs over three or so years.  Each one was an improvement over the last - first one had a problem with freshness, fresher milk at the second farm because of state of the art cooling system, glass jars at the third farm instead of the ubiquitous plastic.  But none of the three were certified organic, and they all fed grain.  Grain boosts production.  Never mind that it also reduces conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) dramatically, by as much as 80%.  Sorry if I am repeating myself, but we are sorely in need of those CLAs.  They boost our immune system to help us fight heart disease, cancer and diabetes.  So I wanted milk from grass fed cows.  I just couldn't find it.

    When I did find it right in my own neighborhood, the farmer didn't want to do these "loophole" cow shares, especially since he was shipping to Organic Valley and didn't want to compromise that relationship in any way.  In the end, we bought two organic cows from him and rented his milking parlor to get our own milk.

    One would think that there are not that many people willing to make such an effort to get those three things - organic milk from grass fed cows packaged in glass jars.  I didn't think there would be.  But in no time all of the shares were sold, and we had seven shareholders lined up to milk. Eventually we moved the cows to my farm.

    We are unique.  Steve suggested that we put together a contract that was on the lines of one he had with his former partner, so we used that for a springboard.  Then we called the Weston A. Price Foundation to get some legal advice.  They pointed us to their lawyer, and after many phone calls and emails with him, we had an agreement that met the law in both letter and spirit.  We are wholly owned and operated by the shareholders.  All of the milk is distributed to the shareholders each day, each shareholder receiving milk one day a week.  To make the math a little easier, we chose to sell seven shares per cow - as we add a cow and sell seven more shares on her, we can keep the number we fill each day equal on all seven days of the week.  This is plenty of milk in the spring and summer.  However, in the fall, when the cows are all pregnant again, a lot of the fodder they are taking in is going to grow a baby instead of making milk.  Production drops, and rather precipitously once the cold sets in and the pastures are providing no grass at all.  Hard to graze on a paddock covered in snow!

    So we have this huge variance in production - more milk than we know what to do with in the summer, and not nearly enough by January and February.  We have dried them up on February 15 the last two years.  They need a two month rest  before freshening again, and since most of the herd freshens in April, it makes no sense to keep milking only a couple of cows that may not be due until June or July.

    During the good months, shareholders make and freeze butter, mozzarella and ricotta.  If you leave some headroom in the jar, the milk freezes quite well, and it is sure better than store bought milk, come February.  We have gotten used to this rhythm in production and no one complains.  That is just how it works.

    This year, Steve butchered two young cows and asked me if I knew of anyone who wanted to buy some of the meat.  I posted a note on our e-board and was able to help him sell quite a bit of it.

    Steve called me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I wanted to take in one of his cows because she freshened late (August 31) and he was going to dry up his whole herd mid-November.  Would we milk her all winter and then send her back in the spring?  I reminded him that we quit milking in February, so I thought that would be that.  Then he called back and asked again if I wanted the cow.  I said, "Since we will dry her up in February, what's in it for you?"  He said he wanted to say thank you for my having helped him sell so much meat.  Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather!  I jumped all over that one.  It would cost us about $500 for hay, and $2.50 a day to milk her.  So down she came.  She is a great milker, producing nearly 50% of what our whole herd was doing.  Then Steve called again.  One of his cows just freshened, is just as good a milker as Phyllis, would we take her, too?  Would we?  Forgive me for waxing poetic.
     
            Does a pig oink?
            Does a cow moo?
            Is ice cold?
            Is the sky blue?

    I posted a poll to our e-board and asked if the shareholders were willing to pay a one time hay assessment to feed these two girls in exchange for getting a lot more milk.  Then I asked the milkers if they were willing to give up their two months off in the February to April dry time.   Everyone is on board!  Milkers are lined up.  Delilah came down with her calf in tow, and even with the calf taking his six to eight quarts a day, we are swimming in milk again!  Rosie, Buttercup and Lucy freshened late, so we can milk them through those two months.  It is certainly worth it to keep milking when there will be five cows still giving milk.

    These shareholders are hardy souls, willing to go along with whatever the cows give, showing delight when their totes are chock full of milk in July, and giving thanks for the extra cream they get when the fluid milk production goes down in late fall.  They deserve this wonderful gift!  Make hay while the sun shines, and make butter while Phyllis and Delilah are here.

    There are 15 chickens in the Moop tonight, one snoring old black dog beside me, one yappy little one, one young black one, a white cat purring on my lap, three heifers in their proper paddock, three calves in their pen, one bull, and not seven but NINE cows!  Oh, yes, and one little five day old bull calf, hanging out with his mom, Delilah.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Busy day . . .

    Today we brought another cow down from Steve's place.  Her name is Delilah.  Steve never names his cows, and when we had our first three cows down at his place, he would scoff about the names.  I would say something about Rosie, and he would say, "You mean 930."

    The other day I left him a message and told him we had named the first cow he sent Phyllis.  I expected to take some heat for it, but when he came down today after Delilah was delivered, he actually referred to Phyllis as . . . Phyllis!  When I told him the one we got today was Delilah, he just chuckled.

    Delilah came down with her calf.  That is good.  It is a strong little bull.  He will stay here for a few weeks, until he goes to the sale barn.

    Steve is not easy to get to know.  He has always seemed pretty removed from the emotional end of farming, as evidenced by "930."  But he told me that he didn't want to ship the bull calf to the sale barn just yet, please keep him with the cow for three weeks or so.  It surprised me.  He actually said that he hated to part them too soon.  It is not what I would have expected from him.

    I don't mind keeping the calf for awhile.  It is bothersome to me as well.  When we separate our calves from mom, the calves are in a pen near the barn, and the mothers can stop and talk to their young 'uns on the way in to the milking parlor.  It does seem to be a good thing.  There is much lowing, and often some nose touching through the fence. 

    Steve said we needed to keep the cows on rotation in the pastures, even though I didn't think there was any decent forage in them.  He said that wasn't true, there was plenty and it would make serve as a catalyst to help them absorb the nutrition in the balage they are now getting every day.  So I went to #12 and #13 to set up the gates for tonight.  I knew the electric fence wasn't sending out much current, but the animals were staying in, so I hadn't gone looking for any problems.  Well, there were problems in #13!  The fence had gotten completely knocked off a corner post.  That had to be deer.  The cows haven't been in that pasture for weeks, and I would have noticed it.  The fence was touching metal in at least three places.  I got that taken care of, used the fence checker and found a heavy draw on another piece of fence.  It was a long walk, but I found a broken insulator, and on another post the fence had popped out of both insulators.  In all cases, there was electrified wire  against metal.  The insulator problem meant walking back to the barn to unplug the fence, pick up tools and replacement parts, than another walk out to the fence - almost at the far end of the pastures, of course.  I got everything fixed, then hiked back to the barn with the tools and broken parts.

    I'm making sauerkraut and ribs tonight.  It smells divine.  So do the four loaves I baked for market.  But I still need to make a batch of lip gloss and some organic yarrow cream for market so I can't quit just yet.  By the time I get to those ribs, which are in a very slow oven, they will melt in my mouth!

    Well, back to the Moop.  Henny Penny didn't want to go in yet, so I have to make another trip.  Oh, and Buster is doing his thing.  Gosh, that is a violent act with chickens!  There may be some little Campines running around here in the future.  Wasn't in the plan, there weren't even supposed to be any roosters when I ordered the chicks, but who am I to mess with Mother Nature?  I got what I got, and they're doin' what they're doin'!

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Lucy update

    Lucy is having some problems.  The automatic milking quit two days ago, and I have had to hand milk her again.  She really fights it, the milk is slow coming out, just a few drips, and then it lets loose and she calms down, lets me milk her out.

    Tonight I noticed some lumps in it again, so there must be a little mastitis in there.  It will clear up, just have to be very diligent about milking her out each evening for awhile.  I'm not sure that we will be able to milk her with the milker at all during this whole lactation.  We will see.  The healing is progressing slowly but surely, and hopefully the whole teat will be covered with skin again soon.  Then I shall try one more time to put the milking machine on her.

    It's been dreary, rainy, but warm for November.  The calves lie out in the rain even though they have a shed to go into.  Their winter coats are very heavy.  I wonder if that is a sign that we will have another winter like the last.  It was brutal, worst morning -26º.  All I can say good about last winter is that we had nearly continuous snow cover, and that is good insulation for any perennial plants.  I think that really helped our pastures.

    With the new cow, Phyllis, down here, I have enough milk again to make cheese.  Made cottage cheese tonight, and should have enough to do another five pound wheel of Gouda this weekend.  I'll be cutting into my first Gouda for Thanksgiving.  It will be interesting to see how it turned out.  I did one with mustard seeds, another plain, and a third with hot peppers.  Maybe I should quit with the Gouda until I know that what I'm doing is working.  That is the thing with hard cheeses - it takes a lot of patience.  And a cheese that is dipped in cheese wax is a complete mystery until you cut into it.  I will let you know next week if it turned out well.

    There are 15 chickens in the Moop tonight.  They will be very happy tomorrow.  They love whey, and there are a couple of quarts from the cheesemaking to take out to them in the morning.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    The other part of my job . . .

    I had a show at the Holiday Inn in South Bend this evening.  I haven't done shows in years, and I found it cumbersome to have to load my car with my products.  Of course, I forgot something important.  But it really didn't matter.  Sales were very slow.  The clientele was completely different from my friends and customers at the Farmers Market.  There were a couple of Farmers Market regulars there, and I laughingly said to one guy, "Well, I think it is a good thing I didn't bring kale tonight."

    He replied, "I would bet that there is not one person in this room who would have been able to identify it."  Quite right!

    I was able to get the word out about my holiday gift giving deal - buy 12 bars of soap and I will design a label just for the customer, let them pick out a picture or provide one of their own, make their own message.  Soap is a good gift.  It's disposable.  For those who read this blog every day, you will know that my mother considered toilet paper to be a fine gift - you don't need wall space or space on the coffee table for it, you don't have to dust it, and eventually it will be all used up.  All that could be said of soap.

    I got home well after dark.  The chickens were nicely lined up for the night.  I parked the car where the headlights would cast some light so that I could count.  Yes, there are still 15.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Harvesting the last of the root vegetables

    Clay came down tonight and we worked in the garden.  Hard to believe it is November 17 and it is still bearable to be in the garden!  It rained today, pretty windy this evening, so it was hardly what I would term bucolic out there, but still, gardening in the second half of November?  I'll take it!


    I picked my last lovely large head of buttercrunch lettuce, and I am going to eat the whole thing for supper.  Note the large worm who is having his last supper as I write this.  I have peppers and onions from the garden to top it, and will use some shredded homemade Caerphilly cheese mixed with sour cream and mayo for the dressing.


    For the first time since I moved out here and started my garden, I have deer damage.  My Nero de Toscana winter kale must have been just too tempting and tender.  It is quite young, planted from seed in late August, and is supposed to mature mid-December.  They are leaving the big stuff alone, but they ate the tops off about half of the Neros, and also ate little shoots of dill.  Or maybe it was rabbits.  I don't know.  But the party is over.  They are now protected by a row cover. I don't mind sharing with worms - they really don't eat all that much.  But a deer or a rabbit can do quite a bit of damage in a short time.


    I got out the potato fork and Clay grabbed a couple of buckets when we were done with the row covers.  I loosened the earth around the remaining carrots and beets and he pulled them and knocked off the dirt.  I had some big carrots in there!  I also had some that were not what I thought I planted, namely some round ones.  But that's okay.  We found a lot of wild carrots in the row, threw most of them away, but there was one that was quite nice.  It's the long skinny white one in the picture.


    Here's a picture of Clay, just before we started washing the vegetables.  He does a good job in the garden.  This is his fourth year of working down here, and he is a really big help.  I couldn't do it without him.   

    Well, it's already time to button up the chickens.  These short days just keep getting shorter.  But soon.  Only 34 days until the the Sun God takes over for his half of the year.  I am looking forward to sunny snowy days in January, with the orange of the setting sun spilling over the snow a little later each day.  That is when I will be hunkering down at the computer to update my greenhouse plant catalog for 2010.

    Off to the chickens, then back to the house for that fantastic salad!!

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Winding down . . .


    It has been a stressful few days.  We moved a new cow onto the premises - look for a future post about Phyllis - and it has caused a bit of extra work.   Just in case I wasn't busy enough, I decided to bake a couple of loaves of bread for the market Saturday, since the laws in Indiana have finally changed back to the way they were about ten years ago, and I can sell baked goods from my own uninspected kitchen.  I made two braided loaves late on Friday so that they would be as fresh as possible.  I was hoping to get orders for Thanksgiving, can do about eight loaves in my non-commercial kitchen, and they are fun to make.  I am a light sleeper; I still cannot believe that I dozed off and slept through a timer than rings for two full minutes!  I awoke to the smell of bread - very well done bread.  The loaves were dark.   I am reminded of the scene in "Julie & Julia," in which Julie sleeps through a timer reminding her to take her casserole of Beouf Bourguignon from the oven.  "That is not real," I thought at the time.  "No one would sleep through a timer, especially when preparing something as important as a meal for a food critic!"  Hah!  I now believe.  Strange how that works.

    The loaves were on the ragged edge.  Could I take them in or not?  I woke up a couple of times in the night (and a short night it was), each time thinking about the damned bread!  At  4 am, I was lying there wide awake and thought to myself, "There is time to make two more loaves."  So I hopped out of bed and got with it.  When they were done (and perfectly done, if I do say so myself), I observed that they didn't look all that different from the over-baked ones from the night before.  So I bagged up the dark loaves, put the newly baked ones onto a cooling rack in the car and took off for market with all four, sure that the dark ones wouldn't sell.  I told my friends Julie and Annemarie at the next booth that we would divide up whatever didn't sell by the end of the day, expecting to pass on to them at least half of one of the loaves.

    First one of the new loaves, warm from the oven, sold.  Then a dark one, then another dark one!  Go figure!!  Wouldn't have guessed it.  Annemarie came back from a walk around the market laughing.  "Your bread must be good," she said.  "I saw a woman pulling chunks off of one of the loaves and eating them while she was strolling along."  What a compliment.  I was very happy about that.

    After market, I went to our annual service auction at church.  Clay was coming over to button up the chickens, so I didn't have to run home.  When I got to the church, I parked, put the seat back and took a nap.  When I woke up, much refreshed, I tried to turn the car on, and I got nothing.  This is the second time this has happened with my Prius.  And just let me say that when it dies, it dies!  The wheels lock, it cannot be put in neutral, it cannot be towed, and if put on a flatbed tow truck, its locked wheels must be dragged unless the tow truck has this handy device designed for hybrid cars that allows them to run just about long enough to drive them onto the flatbed.  (Funny that the person at the garage told me this has never happened,  yet there is a handy gizzy-whiz designed for hybrid towing jobs.  Hmmm!)  Okay, I'm whining again, but it really put a pall on the evening.  Everything was closed and would be the next day.  I was 30 miles from home.  Mary said they had two cars, would take me to their house after the auction and I could drive to the farm in one of them, then return in the morning and pick her up for church.  Dealing with car problems is far easier in the morning, in daylight, so I took her up on it and did my best to enjoy the evening.

    I went home and fell in bed.  I'm a light sleeper, and a long night is six hours.  I got up at 7 to do a little business, let the chickens out of the Moop and laid back down for a short rest.  The phone rang at 9 am, waking me!  Wow!!  Ten hours!!!  That is a small miracle for me.

    I got to church a bit late (sorry, Mary), then after church got a ride to the rental place at the airport, went back to my dead car to move the totes full of clean, empty milk jars to the rental car, stopped at the garage with the key and a long letter (I did hold my temper, didn't figure it would get my car fixed any faster to lose it) asking them to get the right towing service there in the morning and call me to let me know what was up.  Then I headed home, fed the dogs, picked up a cooking magazine and promptly fell asleep.  Ayn Chee's sharp little barks woke me up a couple of hours later.  Okay, that makes twelve hours of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's in the last 24.  Yup, today Farmer Susie is winding down . . .

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    More on food - a bit about organic standards.

    I have been struggling to write this blog for three days now.  If you are interested in learning more about how to shop for organics, read on.  It is not as straightforward as one might think.  Otherwise, I'll see you later.

    What comprises a "good" diet?  Good question, difficult answer.  Our bodies didn't come off an assembly line, and we metabolize our food differently from person to person.  There is no single best diet, but there are some dietary guidelines that everyone would do well to follow.  Most people could improve their health by cutting down drastically on carbohydrates.  If you get 10% of your calories from carbs, that allows you a baked potato now and then, lots of good green leafy vegetables, and if you go to 15%, maybe an ice cream cone every once in awhile.  You can keep track at  FitDay  to get those percentages with very little work.

    But first and foremost, for everyone, whether omnivore, vegetarian or vegan, whether a low carber or a pasta and bread lover, eat organic and local.  It is possible to do both, no matter where you live.  Farmers markets are so underrated, although I think that is changing. Between 1994 and today, the number of markets has exploded, growing by 250%!  That is good news, because you can get to know your suppliers and producers, and I believe that is the #1 most important thing when you shop. 

    It you buy "organic" and it is from a large corporation a few thousand miles away, I'm not sure you have accomplished much.  In the first place, that carbon footprint is pretty big given the fuel it takes to get it to you.  In the second place, you can't check up on the company that grew it.  You have to wait for the investigative reporting to hit the internet, and then you can try to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are.  At a farmers market, you get to know the person who is growing it and selling it.  She knows that if she doesn't take care of her customers, there is someone else with a booth who will get some of her business.  He knows that if he treats his laborers shoddily, he won't get his crops harvested on time.  There is no one person to talk to in a corporation.  If the company is big enough, it will have a customer service department with canned speeches, and it can afford to hire lobbyists - those in charge know it is easier (and cheaper) to get the rules changed than to change the way they do business

     Let's talk eggs.  There is no legal definition for "cage free," although that should be obvious.  Free range does have a legal definition, and it is troubling.  It sounds like agribusiness got involved in this one.  The law states that the chickens "must have access" to the outdoors, but can be raised in houses and need never set foot outside - they just need to be given the opportunity.  Most of these housed chickens have a tiny little door with access to a tiny little yard, and it is doubtful if more than a handful spend more than a few minutes in the yard.  Yet you will pay more for those "free range" eggs.  You are not getting what you think you are getting.

    If you are buying from Eggland's Best,  you can do a little research.  Here is what I found out -- they are not free range.  They are cage free, and that means that they are not in cages inside a building, but they ARE inside buildings and do not ever leave them until they make their final trip to Lipton's.  I'm not knocking Eggland's Best, but I'm not endorsing them either.  I use this as an example to make a point.  It is good to know the source of  your food, and since I don't know Mr. or Ms. Eggland, I'll get my eggs from Barb, who is a shareholder in our milk association.  Her chickens run free and I know it - she sends me pictures.  I get one with a blue shell every now and then, too. That is always fun and entertaining.  The yolks are a lovely dark orange, and those egg whites stand at attention!  They are FRESH - almost as fresh as Barb.  Getting to know your producer can be fun and entertaining, too.

    If you are buying from the local farmer, you can go to the farm and inspect the premises.  I let people do that here, and most farmers will oblige you if you ask.  Isn't that great, to be able to see the source?  When you buy a gallon of milk in the grocery store, you have no idea where the milk came from, or how old it was before it was processed.  But you do know that it was pasteurized - so you can rest assured that you are getting dead milk.  Yum!!!

    As for the organic issue, ask your producer how the crops are being raised.  "Do you spray?  What products do you use?  Are your beef steers fed grain?  Do you raise any GMO (genetically modified organism) crops?  Do you raise hybrids or open pollinated?  Were your plant starts raised in organic potting soil?"  My personal belief is that most farmers will be absolutely honest with you.

    So it isn't necessary to have that USDA organic stamp.  However, I do get concerned with farmers who say they are "same as organic."  When I ask them if they have downloaded and read all of the many MANY pages of the organic standards, they always - I mean every time - say no.  So my question then is, if you do not know what the organic standards are, how can you say that you are meeting them (which is what is implied when you say you are "same as")?  That is when it is good to get informed yourself, and then you know which questions to ask.  Few farmers are aware of all of the rules and regulations.  "Organic" is more than not using bug spray, hormones or chemical fertilizers.  I had to put a few rows of my garden into transition because my potting soil was not organic.  Regular potting soil's wetting agent is a petroleum product, I didn't know it, and there you have it.  It's a big faux pas that many gardeners make, and I'm pretty sure that they have no idea that they are putting their gardens out of reach of organic standards (at least for three years) by using plants raised in standard potting soil.  Says something for those of us who like to put the seeds right in the ground.  No foul there!

    There is a thing called self-certification, and I think it is a very good thing.  USDA certification is going to cost even a small farmer a minimum of $600.  How can you recover that if you have a one acre garden?  So most states allow a farmer to do self-inspection.  This means that they must download those onerous rules, read them, and then go to a certifying agent such as OEFFA and send in a paper acknowledging that they have read the standards and are meeting them.  They send in $50 or so, and they can advertise that their products are organic, by SELF certification.  They cannot call them "certified organic."

    So you are asking, big deal, if they do their own inspection, is it valid?  Yup, I think so.  They have done the work, they know where they need to improve, they then know about the organic potting soil and 50 other things that are new to them, and then, when they meet all of those standards, they can look you in the eye and say, "We are same as organic.  We are self certified and meet all of the standards of the organic program."

    If you have slogged through all of this, I'll say one more time - do your body a favor and feed it with organic food.  Pay the extra price.  Put down that expensive sweater.  Be happy with 100 channels and give a pass to the 200 channel package.  Carpool to the family reunion, even if you have to listen to Aunt Maude blather on and on (so long as she doesn't smoke).  Take a vacation close to home --  have you REALLY explored all of the beauty that is within 100 miles of where you live?  Then take what you saved and spend it on good food.  Start with a big plate of organic vegetables and some baked organic really truly free range chicken for dinner.  Bon appetit!