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Archive for January, 2014

gridlockYesterday was a nightmare for people on North Georgia roads. Accidents littered the highways, people were stranded, and families were separated.  It was pretty scary for a lot of people.  My sincerest prayers go out to every person and family affected by yesterday’s snow dump.

Here on the farm, we got about 3 inches, give or take.  I believe some got more, some got less, but since we were expecting only about an inch, we all got surprised.  Nature does things like that.  Back in Maine, a three inch snowfall would go virtually unnoticed. Everyone has snow tires and/or 4wd, and the road crews are constantly on duty.  Many motorists have snow plow blades attached to their pickup trucks to move snow in their own driveways or to help clear local roads, or even assist stranded motorists. Of course, those folks are used to snow being measured in feet rather than inches.

Here in the South, anything more than a dusting creates nightmare scenarios like we experienced yesterday. We don’t have snow tires. Most don’t have 4 wheel drive. Far too many, unfortunately, are stuck trying to navigate the slippery highways with rear wheel drive vehicles. On top of that, there is no way our road crews are even close to being able to stay on top of surprise dumps, despite the fact that many of them were working very long shifts trying to get the roads clear.

From many angles, it was simply a disaster, but I’d like to take just a minute and point out some silver linings; tiny rays of light breaking through the dark clouds.

First, our emergency Hero Units, Law Enforcement, Fire Departments, EMTs and Ambulances were stellar in their performance.  Its times like this we really see the mettle in those courageous men and women.  They make me proud.

Secondly, we saw once again, how tragedy brings out the best in people.  Families opened their homes to total strangers, without concern for race, creed or political persuasion.  Churches opened their buildings to the stranded and the homeless regardless of denominational affiliations (or no religion at all). Schools, office buildings, call centers, all did the same.  For one night we were just people, the best kind of people.  If only we could hold on to that spirit in the smooth times….but I digress.

The snow was also good for the earth.  For one thing, it provides a blanket of insulation that keeps the soilsnow insulation from freezing too deeply when the temperature tumbles.  Yes, it helped protect your pipes.

Melting snow waters the earth without the same crazy runoff we sometimes get here that takes all the nutrients and topsoil away when it goes. Instead, it leaves micro nutrients behind as it melts and seeps into the soil.  Your lawn and your garden will be better off because of yesterday’s snow.

If you, or someone you love was negatively impacted by yesterday’s weather, you have my complete sympathy and my prayers.  I urge you, though, to zoom out far enough to see that on the tops of all those thorn bushes, roses bloom.

 

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rain manI have always loved Gardening Programs on TV and radio. Maybe not as much as fishing shows, but I do enjoy them. I am a huge fan of Paul James the Gardener Guy. To my mind, he is to gardening what Alton Brown is to cooking; quirky, knowledgeable and entertaining. I used to enjoy The Victory Garden and British Gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, back when I lived in the U.K.  One of my new favorites is P. Allen Smith. Oh, let’s not forget Georgia’s own, Walter Reeves. His radio show makes getting up early on a Saturday morning worthwhile.

These gardeners are amazing.  Their gardens are gorgeous. Their creativity and knowledge appears limitless. I admire them and soak up as much information as possible, because, you see, I am ‘The Anti Gardener Guy’. I am ‘The Village Idiot’. My garden is a hot mess, held together by string, zip ties, duct tape, and glue.  I am clumsy, unskilled and way less than gifted. I am the Rain Man of the garden set. Yet year after year, my garden produces abundantly.

Brittan and I are asked regularly how hard it is to grow food. Some say they could never do it.  I beg to differ. I am of the opinion that if I can do it, anyone can.  With that in mind, I am hoping to launch a You Tube channel in February called, “Gardening With The Village Idiot”.  My goal is to share some of my experiments, experiences, successes, and failures with the world in an attempt to entertain and challenge other wannabe gardeners to jump in, get messy and grow something. After all, everybody likes to play in the dirt.

Please send in your veggie gardening questions or ideas.  I’d love to hear from you.  Each month for the rest of 2014 we’ll be holding a drawing from the names of people who comment on this blog or on the You Tube Page. Winners will receive really cool prizes like; seeds, free produce, books, or maybe even a roll of duct tape so you can fix your own mistakes. Stay tuned.

 

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gmo-tomatoI totally, positively, completely hate GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). And I hate it when defenders try and cloud the issue by claiming that hybridization is Genetic Modification. That is playing a game with words. It’s the kind of argument that is born of Legal, Public Relations and Marketing minds spending time together behind closed doors. It is a diversion tactic, a classic case of spin doctoring to muddy the water. I’m not sure how these people sleep at night.

Hybridization, most commonly seen in cross-pollenization in plants and selective or, cross breeding in animals, is using natural processes, sometimes encouraged, sometimes accidental, to create new strains, or varieties of the same organism.  It’s why we have dozens of varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and the like. Its the same way we got all the dog breeds we have in the world.

GMOs are something different. These happen in a laboratory where scientists tamper with genetic material to create a desired trait, like Round Up Ready corn and soy beans, salmon that grow faster and larger, or goats that produce silk in their milk by adding silk spider DNA.  These are not natural. This is The Island of Dr. Moreau.

I don’t buy the, ‘it’s perfectly safe’ argument either; especially when much of it is brought to us by the same people who gave us ‘Agent Orange.” Just ask any Vietnam veteran, who’s Autumn years are clouded with Parkinson’s Disease how that one turned out. These GMO organisms are already creating super weeds and super pests. What are they doing to us that we won’t realize for 30 or 40 years?

I truly believe the science is incredible, even fascinating. I don’t think all the people working hard to find ways to increase crop yields and feed more people are evil.  I do, however, find the spin and deceit practiced by some of the big corporations to be spawned in dark places of the soul. For example, using the argument that labeling will only confuse and frighten the masses is condescending and insulting, as is the notion that package labeling will be cost prohibitive for the manufacturers. Pure poppycock.

Having said all that, I oppose mandatory labeling. My opinion stands me in somewhat of an awkward position with many of my dear friends and farmers, as well as with some of my heroes in the “good food movement” like, Michael Pollan.

Some of my reasons for opposition are political, some are ethical, and one, economic (and a bit self serving).

On the political side, I already believe Government is way to big and intrusive.  Every time we open the door to more oversight and regulation, we lose a bit more of our freedom.  Sacrificing liberty for the feeling of protection is making a deal with the devil and cannot end well.

Ethically, I have two big grievances with mandatory labeling. The first is, it exempts consumers from personal responsibility in knowing what we ingest and from whom we buy. I find that selfish, and being redundant, irresponsible.  “I don’t want to think or behave like an adult, so I’ll let Nanny take care of me,” is pretty immature and narcissistic.

A second grievance with mandatory labeling is the forcing of my will and opinions on those who differ from me in opinion. I find that arrogant and bordering on hubris. It reeks of, “I know what’s best for you and I know more than you do, so I will force my choices on you, regardless of how it may affect you and your family economically.”

Finally, I have a personal, economic, self serving grievance against mandatory labeling; it takes the high ground away from me. If I voluntarily label and/or promote my products as “GMO Free”, I set myself apart from the competition both nutritionally and transparently.  I like being able to promote my Unique Selling Proposition and my openness.  We proudly label the products we sell.  I don’t want anyone to take that away from us.  The air is clear up here on the high ground.  I respect anyone, GMO opponent, or supporter, who has the integrity to voluntarily promote what is, or is, not, in her or his products. Coercion never won over a single heart.

Most people don’t read ingredient labels, anyway. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. If we read labels, we wouldn’t buy much. The majority of consumers go by their senses; Does it look good?  Does it taste good? Does it smell good? Did a celebrity endorse it? Does it fit my budget?

Mandatory labeling is a placebo. If I voluntarily label, I am focusing on my target audience; those who take their food chain seriously enough to read.  I’m also working on getting the right products at the right price point for the masses who are budget conscious.

There you have it. Politically, ethically and economically (mine), I cannot get on board the “Mandatory Labeling”, bus.  Here I stand.

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Wow, that’s a mouthful.  If you read that less than stimulating headline and still came to the article, you might need to see a doctor.  It’s even worse for me, I wrote the darned thing.  Still, you’re here so let’s chat.

Two articles I’ve read the couple days have brought me once again to the subject of Govt. intrusion into the food chain. They remind me of the hypocrisy and silliness of our current USDA and FDA regulatory system, and of our abdication of our personal responsibility in taking ownership of our lives.  Once upon a time those agencies may have been about food safety and availability, but now it appears to be about power, money and control.

I don’t mean to drag this space down into the political mire, it’s supposed to be a fun place to follow our adventures and misadventures here at the farm. Sometimes, though, I feel compelled to digress. This is one of those times.

The first story is about Tyson recalling 34,000 lbs of mechanically separated chicken. The second is an announcement that the State of Maryland is considering decriminalizing raw milk.

In the first story, Tyson is voluntarily recalling 17 tons of potentially dangerous, salmonella affected chicken, unlike Foster Farms who recently refused to do so. (Side note, FF were at least partly right in citing proper food handling and cooking as the best way to minimize risk).

I congratulate Tyson on their action. My purpose is not to point fingers at the big chicken companies, but the inconsistencies of the system set up to monitor the food chain.

As a side note, the funniest part of the article was the reporter’s declaration that the food was destined for ‘institutional’ use and would not have made it into the public arena. Oh, good; instead of Kroger and Walmart, the chicken would have found its way into schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. That’s much better, considering the agencies’ propaganda machines consistently use protection of children and the elderly as justification for their regulatory over reach.  Hmmm….

Do your research, the overwhelming majority of food borne illness outbreaks come from Big Agra sources rather than small, local farms; yet it is the small producer who suffers the burden of the regulations.  Am I the only person who thinks that doesn’t pass the smell test? It is small dairies, farms and meat producers who are raided at 0 dark thirty, with their families terrorized by armed authorities wielding power like an invading army. Produce and livestock are confiscated, fines levied and sometimes arrests happen. Families are left in tears, their lives and livelihoods shattered while Foster Farms and Tyson hire a cleaning crew and production rolls on. What a great use of taxpayer money…not.

The second article, while encouraging, highlights the almost comical inconsistencies in the food regulatory system.

We all want food to be safe to consume (There’s a d’oh moment for you), but do we need to resort to Govt over reach and propaganda to achieve food safety? Again, the historically serious health risks have come from big rather than small, local operations.

For thousands of years, and still today in agrarian societies, humans milked their livestock and consumed the milk and cheeses without mass deaths to them, their neighbors or their children. Oh, did I mention that they did it all without even refrigeration?  How did people ever survive without Government regulation?  Thank goodness Nanny is here to rescue us from ourselves.

As people left their rural existence and moved to the city, enterprising farmers moved their dairies closer to their customer base and grew larger. Eventually, due to overcrowding and lack of sanitation or good handling practices, things like e-coli, listeria and giardia became an issue.

Fortunately, Louis Pasteur, learned that heating the milk would kill the bugs and make the milk safe again. Similarly, Alexander Fleming, living and working in overcrowded London, discovered penicillin and we could fight the bacteria already invading our bodies. Problem solved.  Or not.

What we now know is that the proliferation of antibiotics (we take them like candy), has compromised our immune systems and has promoted the rise of super strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is good for the pharmaceutical companies, but not so good for people.

We also know that pasteurization kills the vitamins and the good bugs in milk  as well as the bad ones.  Therefore, we have to fortify our dairy products with the vitamins we killed and we have to add probiotics to our yogurt to replace the ones that existed naturally in the milk before we pasteurized it.  How do you spell, ‘irony’?

Common sense is dead!  So is critical thinking!  Ok, if not dead, both are certainly on the endangered list. Today, we have abdicated our thinking to Government oversight and have sacrificed our liberty to their agencies. Shame on us.

I have nothing against pasteurization or antibiotics. They have a place.  So does raw milk, cheese and yogurt. Chances are, when a person switches to raw milk, she/he will suffer some digestive challenges as the body builds up a new set of probiotics, in the same way beginning a regimen of exercise after a long spell of inactivity leaves us sore and tired.  After a while, though, we are healthier than ever.

Please, do your research. Think for yourself. You are more capable of making decisions about your life, your health and your diet than any Government agency ever could be. King George would be very proud of our current reliance on our Government benefactors.  I on the other hand, take my lead from Patrick Henry (in the misquoted version), “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  First though, I think I’ll have a nice cold glass of raw milk.

(p.s.) Stay tuned for my next feather ruffling installment, ‘Why I’m opposed to mandatory labeling of GMOs”.  He said WHAT?

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Organic_logoOne of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “Are you ‘certified organic’?”  I almost hate answering it, because it’s so loaded.  I put that question in the same category as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Every answer is wrong. It’s a no win scenario.

The simple answer is, “No”. The longer, more controversial answer is, “I wouldn’t even consider the idea.”

Most of the time, those who ask the question do so with good intentions.  They want to ensure they are buying produce and meat that is healthy, natural, has no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and is GMO free.  That’s a noble and reasonable desire.

Giving the shorter answer implies (wrongly) that we don’t meet those criteria (when we do), and can lead to people writing us off as a source. The longer answer can sound offensive or condescending to the one asking and could sound offensive to  those who have chosen to seek certification. I never want to sound that way and I would never intentionally denigrate another farmer’s decision in this regard.

The simple fact, though, is; we will never seek a Govt. sanctioned certification, of any kind, ever.  Let me explain.

First, in my opinion, organic doesn’t mean what it used to.  The word still connotes something natural and sustainable, but the reality is, the actual legal practices allow for ‘fudging’ around the  edges, as it were, so the certification doesn’t necessarily match the connotation.

Most ‘certified’ farms are legitimate, but the rules leave the door open to cheating by the less scrupulous. I don’t want to take the risk of being lumped in with cheaters. Some very good farmers don’t mind taking that risk. I have nothing but respect for them.

Secondly, “Certified Organic”violates one of my political core values. I’m a small Government Libertarian and believe Govt. should stay out of my (and your) business. Once one opens themselves to Government oversight in any form, they control you. There are no free lunches.  I truly believe it is not in anyone’s best interest to ask for any Govt. certification.

Instead of certified anything, we opt for transparency.  Our customers, potential customers, and even the merely curious are welcome to visit us. Since we started back in 2009 (yes, we’re still farming adolescents), we’ve had many individuals and groups come to see what we do. We even hosted a group of environmental educators back in 2011 and had a blast with them. They spent the day working with us, touring the place and left praising our operation. Some even recommended us to their friends. We are an open book. I’d much rather have the approval of our customers than that of the Feds.  To channel an oft heard radio commercial in metro Atlanta, “That’s the biggest no brainer in the history of earth”.

It is our opinion that knowing your farmer and seeing where your food comes from is even better than certifications. When we say we’re a ‘local farm’, it means something. In short, we are way beyond organic and we’re  way too proud of that to step down to the Government’s level.

Oops, did I say that out loud?

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veggie2014 arrived right on schedule a few hours ago.  Funny, in all my life I’ve never seen one arrive late.  The same thing can be said of Birthdays, darn it. Birthday CARDS are sometimes late, but never the birthday itself. Shame, really.

I wanted to begin the adventure that is 2014 by formally announcing we will be attending at least 1, and probably 2 Farmers Markets this year. We will have a stand in Cartersville on Saturdays, and possibly Calhoun on Thursday nights.  Please stay tuned for changes and additions.

Also, may I have a drum roll please?  After three years of threatening, we are offering a limited CSA option this year.  Since its our first CSA program we are offering an incredible price. Therefore, the earlier people sign up, the better the chance of taking advantage.  The 2014 membership is $400.  Members who pay in full by March 25 will receive a $50 ‘earlybird’ discount  ($350 total).  After March 25, the membership reverts to the $400 price, while shares are still available.  There is one other option. Memberships can be reserved with a $100 deposit and paid in 20 weekly installments of $17, from June 1 – October, making the total $440.  We’re making this offer now, because it’s a first come, first serve basis.  Feel free to use the contact page or email any questions.

Oh, before I forget, Happy New Year.

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