Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grain Elevator

Grain elevator at the end of our road. An interesting sight during a lightning storm! We're actually used to the sound of the train by now, although when you're walking too close it can be a little overbearing.

My Own "Bucket List"

Been reading a book on personal goals and financial planning. While I know that this has little to do with the topic of my blog, I think the most interesting blogs to read are the ones with a human touch. So, with some thought, I've added my (so far) list of 25 things to do before I die, in no particular order.

1. Get another Harley by July '09
2. Go on a cross-country Harley trip
3. Publish a book
4. Be self-employed
5. Learn to swing dance
6. Go white water rafting
7. Create a widely-read blog
8. Backpack Alaska
9. Go on a "croc boat" in Louisiana
10. Get pampered in the Poconos
11. Take a steamboat down the Mississippi
12. Go sky diving
13. See the Derby Day fireworks in Louisville
14. Watch the Iditarod in person
15. Get horses
16. Visit New York at Christmastime
17. Eat a meal by a world-class chef
18. Learn to shoot better
19. Develop some skill on the piano
20. Travel New England in the fall
21. See the Aurora Borealis
22. Visit Prince Edward Island
23. Spend a month in Canada
24. Camp in Montana
25. See our baby smile

The creation of such a list is actually liberating. I discovered a little more about myself: just a year ago, I wanted to travel the world . . . I still do, but now I'm discovering the world in a new light. I'm fascinated by the changes that becoming a parent is bringing. Simply feeling our baby move inside of me brings a thrill that I think otherwise I would've spent my life looking for. Of course traveling is still one of my dreams, for my restless spirit will never go away, but I'm learning that there's a certain peace and contentment to be found in family, and right now I'm really happy. :)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Developing Farmland

Some people may not care about the changing face of our rural and suburban landscape. To them, it's progress. People are growing, expanding, and want to get out of the city. Why not build more houses? There are more than mere sentimental reasons to preserve our old farmsteads: we need to protect our food, and our future.

Personally, I care deeply about the farms and farm families. I can't explain the ties that I feel to the land or the feeling I get as I gaze over miles of land . . . which in some places takes longer and longer to reach by car. I feel that we are connected to a deeper part of ourselves through nature -- something simpler, more raw, more profound. It is a heritage, and a way of life.

But, there are practical reasons as well that give me cause for concern about the loss of our farmland. For those of you that never wonder where your food comes from (other than out of the box or freezer), think about this:

-With the ever decreasing number of farms in our country, most of agriculture is being taken over by large corporate farms. They have already raised prices and in some areas set up a monopoly over the crops. What will keep grain from turning into another oil fiasco?

-It's not just due to our expanding population, either. In the years 1982 to 1997, the US population grew by 17% while urbanized land (development) grew by 47%. Talk about bad planning! It's not useless land that was permanently plowed under, either. It was some of the best farmland in the country. (American Farmland Trust)

-Every minute we lose 2 acres to development, a number that grew 51% from the eighties to the nineties. What will this decade bring? At our current trend, we stand to lose over 800,000 acres by 2050 in the California Salinas Valley alone.

-If we continue losing small farms, what will happen to our rural communities? Farmers contribute greatly to the local economy. It may all become one industrial-style rape of the land with little deviation.

-The quality of food that comes from small farms is generally much more nutritious. Individual farmers usually take better care of their land and animals, and that benefits all of us.

Septugenarian Dick Courteau said: "Human beings don't weigh the pros and cons very closely for the long term. We just do what seems easiest at the time." Shouldn't we care about where our food is coming from . . . the future of us and our country? We can't ignore the problem and hope the grocery stores will keep supplying us with what we want (which, by the way, will become so exorbitantly overpriced that we'll be forced to start complaining). We also can't depend on importing staples, basics of life. What happens if another world war erupts? Will we starve?

It's time to start thinking about the future, because the future is not very far away.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Future of our Food

Read this online:

"Some day food may be the most expensive item you can buy....then people will yell, scream and holler big time, but it will be too late. Until then, things will just continue to progress as they are doing currently. Farmers are being run off of their farms by the dozens, due to the leadership of this country, or should I say 'lack of leadership'. In Japan farmers are practically revered because they feed the multitudes. Where are our priorities anymore? It seems it's more important to have a new Ford Explorer in our driveway than have food on our table at night. " ~ Sarah Brombaugh, Family Farm Corporation

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Should Draft Horses Replace Tractors?

The question seems especially pertinent now, when we are constantly consumed with shock at the ever-increasing price of gas. Any vehicle-owning American is alarmed at the changes that oil could effect on individual lives, but how many wonder what it will do to our food supply?

Conventional farming relies almost 100% on oil. It runs the huge equipment over hundreds and sometimes thousands of acres. Its needed for processing. It transports the food thousands of miles and countless states away.

For those that think our food supply is better in the hands of a few large corporate farms, think about what that actually does to our economy. We can't support that forever. Do we really want to depend on something so volatile -- oil -- when it comes to "what's for dinner"? Granted, more power than ever to the alternative fuel research. But, maybe we have another option as well.

More and more small farms are returning to horse power. Why? Besides the romance of it, their reasons are very practical:

-Horses reproduce. Tractors don't.
-Horses fertilize, elminating another costly aspect of farming.
-Horses can feed themselves off the land. Hello? Cheap.
-Horses don't mind the weather.

It's sustainable, and in this day it's more important than ever to make a move towards sustainable food production. Dick Corteau, in his article "Horse Power" presents a very compelling argument for the place that horses have in our future. While he understands that they can't do what machinery can on large farms, he poses the question: why can't our farms decrease in size so we have more people working in agriculture?

In a business sense, horses makes work. It's the romantic ideal of having a relationship with your livelihood, though, that makes it last. :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Genetically Modified Seeds

I don't really feel like going into a drawn-out post about this topic right now . . . mainly because the article that I read in Vanity Fair still has me blown away. The only points I have are:

If we farm sustainable and organically, do we really need genetically modified seeds? (My opinion, by the way: NO) If we keep things simple, the way food production should be, we wouldn't need a huge corporation like Monsanto anyway.

Whose side is the government on? Rather an obvious question, I suppose. It's still shocking to me that so many people are mistreated when all they are trying to do is make a living.

I will probably write more on this topic later, but I wanted to get the article in here.

Just My Ramblings

IThinking about what it is about farming that I love, in an attempt to bring some order to my thought process. On a quick run through, this is what I came up with:

How do words capture a love of the land you seem to have been born with? It's the way a sunset thrills you, and a sunrise over misty fields touches part of your soul. when you can feel nature pulsing to the beat of your own heart, you know you will never be satisfied unless you immerse ourself in it. You may curse the rain for killing a crop, but inside you revel in it because when the wind is ravaging and the sky is being torn open . . . you feel alive. Some wild and primitive side of you responds and you know that it's the give and the take that yyou love about farming. It's life. It's the joy of helping things grow, it's the gamble against the forces of nature that keeps it interesting. It's hard work that satisfies you. It's helping to get the harvest in before the stomr hits, a camaraderie found in few walks of life. It's beautiful because farms don't, and shouldn't, compete; the must work together to survive.

So yes, I love farming. When our children are growing up I want them to look around their home and realize that Mom and Dad started with a dream and nothing else . . . and that dream became a reality that takes care of the family, as long as we take care of it. What a lesson to teach them!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Local vs. Organic?

Due in part to an excellent Time article that I read this morning (Eating Better Than Organic), I decided to confront myself to determine which is more important to me. As a soon-to-be farmer and a consumer, which fits in more tightly with my beliefs and values?

On the one hand, just because you buy local doesn't mean that it can't be organic. I work on an organic vegetable farm that enjoys a very large part of the profits at the local farmers market each week. However, a lot of the fruit that I buy at the farm is sprayed with chemicals and I know this; I also know that fruit is difficult to grow organically and many of these farmers have families to feed. Sometimes, you just need the money.

Also from what I have seen, "organic" has turned into nothing more that a politcal game. Numerous regulations and fees does not ensure that the farmer is growing sustainably, which is what the root of organic used to be about. I care about growing without the use of any chemicals because when it comes right down to it, nature works just fine without them. It takes a little more knowledge and skill to use the organic method, but it works. It's amazing how much natural pest repellants are already in nature . . . plus crop rotations . . . companion plantings . . . the list goes on.

Nonetheless, I do not agree with buying organic food grown in Chile. I'm sorry, but that's stupid. One of things that appeals to me about farming is learning about how much actually grows in your area, and when you eat that fresh you really do get all the nutrients you need. Yes, you might not be able to have citrus year round and some nutritionists I'm sure are gasping at that thought of that. But guess what? There's lots of vitamin C in my fresh strawberries, blueberries, and Concord grapes! I like organic growing because it's good for the soil and the plants and the food, but not if it's shaped over thousands of miles for days on end.

I've really grown to enjoy the relationship that I have with my food now. I've never bothered to freeze anything, but this year I brought some veggies and fruit home and we have them stored safely away for use this winter. It's one of the deepest feelings of satisfaction: to know the food in our kitchen came from, and to take the steps to preserve that for the year. I like to know that we're taking care of our family that way.

So while nothing is better than growing your own food, I'd have to say that I choose local over organic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plans for Next Year?

Well, the past week at Jon's farm saw us beginning to tear out some of the old tomato plants. Being five months pregnant, there's a lot that I can't do so I've been sticking with the simple stand-bys: cleaning garlic, onions, and salad mix. I'm still able to learn quite a bit though from the tidbits of info that are dropped throughout the day and the myriad of questions that I ask (maybe not really a myriad, but I try).

Kenny and I have been talking about what our plans are for next year when the baby's born and moving on with our farm dream. If we don't move to his uncle's to begin planting, we think maybe we'll both work on Jon's farm. We'll be able to split the day in two so we could both work for a few hours, then be home with the baby while the other one went in. The convenience of living five minutes away allows that, plus I would feel a lot less overwhelmed at the thought of having him so close so we could help each other as much as possible. The thought of him working at his current job next year, in which he does twelve hour days five and a half days a week, completely overwhelmed me. I can't take care of a newborn by myself for that long! Plus, we'll both be able to learn more about planting and be a little more prepared for our own farm than we are right now.

Still, we would like to at least begin the business so we can start counting on some extra income. We're thinking about doing dried flowers to sell online and at the market, as well as perhaps doing selling some container gardens at the market. We're lucky to have a great area that is very supportive of local farms, and the farmer's market is a big deal every weekend. I guess there's really no way to tell how well we would do with the dried flowers, except to try it. The time to begin actually chasing my dreams, instead of just researching them, is fast approaching.

It's a little scary, but still exciting. :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ah, Time.

Dreams sure can be elusive things to chase sometimes. As for us, we know in our hearts what we want and the more we are learning and talking to people the more we are figuring out the route to take to find our heart song . . . but some days one just feels a little lost.

I'm blessed enough to be able to work part-time right now (on an organic vegetable farm, coincidentally) which leaves me with many many open hours each week to research and prepare for next year's season; however, sometimes I just feel that I am lacking direction and wasting too much time. I wish I had something to follow, but alas, we are making our own road as we go.

Given the somewhat transient nature of the rest of our stay in Illinois (3 years, probably), we are thinking about focusing efforts on what we can grow/make and sell online -- eg, dried flowers and his woodworking. I'm researching what crops we should grow for the farmer's market next year . . . thinking just the basic vegetables and strawberries. We're planning on getting chickens, so hopefully we'll have some eggs to take as well. Eventually our plans go much bigger, with livestock and honey and perhaps some row crops to be processed (by us) into grain for market sale. Trying to figure out what we can do in three years while renting from his uncle is the difficult part.

Money is, as always, tight. We're pretty much used to it and we're finding more and more ways to get farther with less, but the difficult part is starting a business with such a small budget. What do we spend money on, and when? Thankfully seeds are cheap and a lot of internet marketing is as well, leaving us with more options in our local community.

I guess I'm just trying to figure out the plan and stick with it. It's September, so we have plenty of time to tweak our business model thankfully. I also seem to be having trouble with the research for my book, but I think that's something that will come with time. Darn us for being so impatient.

On the positive side, we're so much closer to our dreams than we ever have been. I hope that I can do enough internal exploration soon to bring some order to this blog, and our business. :)