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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: The Great Pumpkin Debate

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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Those who know me know just how much I LOVE Halloween. Tom and I even got married on Halloween, in the ultimate DIY labor of love. Half of the tower is packed with Halloween decor, most of it being the classy Martha Stewart-esque type of decor. No plastic crap for us.

So it was kind of a surprise last year when I decided to forgo growing pumpkins. Between pumpkins and zucchini, I didn’t want to deal with the whole saving-seeds thing. (Both are the same species, C. pepo.) I also decided not to “waste” space on nonedibles. Pumpkins, the jack-o’-lantern types, are edible but bland, watery, and stringy. We just don’t eat them. Of course, when I made my decision, fall, my favorite time of year, was well behind us. I think my judgment was clouded, because now I’m sitting here mad that I didn’t grow any pumpkins.

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Granted, I did grow some Musquee de Provence squash, otherwise known as “fairytale pumpkins.” They’re gorgeous but they just aren’t the same. They aren’t easy to carve, and I would prefer not to waste them on jack-o’-lanterns because they are good eating. But they’re also big, and I find that, around here, big squash go uneaten because we never want to cook a whole one all at once. We generally don’t want to eat squash two days in a row, either. The other squash we’re growing this year, rather unsuccessfully, is Marina di Chioggia, also known as a sea pumpkin. (Notice a theme here?) It’s a type of turban: big, green, and warty. It has the most amazing flavor I’ve ever had in a squash. But they don’t make very good substitutes for pumpkins.

DIF3I’ve spent years growing pumpkins. Most years were pretty disappointing, but I continued to try to grow them. I remember how excited I was about the very first pumpkin I was able to produce. The plant in the picture at left gave us four of these monsters, each weighing more than 50 pounds, with the largest topping out at 75 pounds. These weren’t even a giant pumpkin variety. They were Howdens, the typical jack-o’-lantern, grown with a good helping of chicken manure. if you couldn’t tell, I’m very proud of these. So is Squeek.

This is what I want to start growing again. Big orange pumpkins. So this coming year, I’m going back to growing pumpkins—and also some other squash, such as Tromboncino, Acorn, Spaghetti, Marina di Chioggia, and probably some other random types. I’m rather enamored with Iran squash, which Baker Creek now carries seeds for.

Are you growing gourds this year? What kinds? Got any suggestions to add to the Leftover Pumpkin Parts 101?

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better! 

HOMEGROWN Life: Farmer Bryce’s Take on New USDA Funding

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150I’m a small farmer struggling to pay the bills and keep the farm alive. Farming takes time and money, which sometimes turns out to be the same thing. Even if everything works out and the harvest is good, it takes money to buy more animals or to build fences or to pay for seeds or soil improvements.

So, like the vast, vast majority of farmers, my wife and I both work off the farm to pay our regular bills, and we try to keep the farming happening at the same time. That doesn’t make us special or unique. Net farm income is actually negative, as farmers tend to defer paying themselves in favor of reinvesting in their farms’ future capacity. USDA Economic Research Service reports, somewhat startlingly, that 85 to 95 percent of farm income comes from “off farm” sources.

In terms of off-farm work, I count myself lucky. I work on a variety of rural economic development projects related to local food production, expanding access to resources for small farmers, rural infrastructure projects, and renewable energy programs. Generally, I help do paperwork: writing grants, getting startup capital in place, writing business plans, et cetera.

Involvement with projects like these puts me in a position of being very attuned to the policies, priorities, and investments made by USDA through a wide variety of programs. And, as you might expect, I get frustrated and confused about what exactly USDA’s multipronged approach means when it comes to distributing resources on the ground.

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For instance, one of my favorite USDA programs of all is the Community Food Projects Grants. This week, USDA announced that it would be providing $4.8 million in funding to innovative local food and healthy eating projects. In terms of combining job creation with nutrition and healthy food distribution, CFPs are a hugely impactful and beneficial program. Some of my favorite organizations, like the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Cultivate KC, have paired CFP investments with internal and private funding sources to build long-standing efforts that support urban and family farmers in improving access to good food for low-income families.

That said, it boggles my mind why such an impactful program like CFP continues to have such a limited volume of funding compared to other USDA funding streams. This week, for instance, USDA also announced a $40 million bump to the commercial canned salmon industry, in order to “clear last year’s inventory” as they are canning up this year’s catch. The canned salmon will be distributed to food banks across the country.

Now, I’m not complaining here about the purchase of salmon—a healthy food and possibly sustainable industry in its own right—for low-income families. I want to be clear that I have no problem with using resources to feed hungry families with nutritious food. But what rattles me is the wide disparity of scale between the two programs, $4.8 million versus $40 million: one to prop up small organizations building healthy food infrastructure and jobs to support local economies, the other to bail out a well-established industry from overproduction.

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I’m only using the salmon purchase here to demonstrate a very small point because, in reality, both of these programs are a drop in the bucket. I mention the salmon program because I heard about it on the radio while I was watering my spinach patch. The truth is USDA invests nearly all of its resources in SNAP (food stamps) and a safety net for crop producers (crop subsidies and crop insurance). That’s where the true disparity resides.

Here’s what’s frustrating: spending time and effort to build a project team, budget, and people’s hopes that we can make meaningful change in their lives. And then competing with other, similar projects that could make meaningful change in people’s lives. Frankly, it seems like we’re fighting over the crumbs at the table.

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Once again, I’m glad USDA has these minimal local food programs available. I’m glad important soil and water conservation programs are up and running and that USDA is committed to renewable energy. I’m glad USDA has expanded its work with beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farming communities, including African-American farmers, Latinos, and Native American agricultural efforts. I even support a strong safety net in place for family farmers raising crops and livestock, although my system of support would look wildly different from the one we have in place for now.

But at times like these, when so many of us are looking for jobs and pathways to building a better economy through clean and green industries, it seems like a no brainer to shift resources away from giant agribusiness interests and toward high-impact, community-based ventures. I am not naive about the prospects for making this shift happen through the political process. Still, it’s worth the conversation. Back to work, I guess. Back to work.

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HAPPY GARDENER) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CANNED SALMON) PAT JOHNSON; (COMMUNITY GARDEN) SALLIE GORDON

HOMEGROWN Life: Goats Will Be Kids

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN LifeAs a farmer, one thing I’ve come to terms with is that goats will always have the upper hand. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier your life will be.

Take my Frannie, for instance. (Please, take her!)

No, not really. But sometimes, when I forget that goats are quicker, smarter, and have much more of a sense of humor than me, it feels like it would be a good idea to have a time-out space for Frannie. Last week I decided I’d take a day and bear down on goat foot care. Just trimming hooves, really. So, I grabbed my tool bucket and filled it with my trimmers, brushes, knives, iodine spray, tube of zinc ointment (something I swear by to keep things healthy), and a wad of paper towels. The herd was already out in the pasture for the day. It was sunny, a bit of a breeze—another perfect Maine end-of-summer day.

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Dollie was first in line. She was already lying down, and she’s such an easy girl to work with, I decided to just crouch down next to her and do the job. Dollie is what I would call the perfect goat. She has the most docile disposition, never argues with anybody, isn’t a food hog, is always gentle with the little ones, and chews with her mouth closed. (Not that I mind Frannie’s chewing, even though it’s “Katie bar the door!” on things flying out of her mouth in all directions while she munches away on her daily ration of grain. But I digress.)

Dollie came to me when she was a year and a half old from a herd where she had been bullied. I think having been on the receiving end is what makes her such a nice girl. I worked with her for four months when she first came, as she hadn’t been handled much and wasn’t interested in being touched. Now, she can’t get enough of it. Not in a demanding way. She’s just always so happy to have an extra pat or kiss on the top of her head or nose.

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We began the job with her front feet, with her lying calmly next to me while I worked. I had finished the major part of the trimming and was checking things over, getting out the iodine spray to give her a quick dusting, when I pulled the tube of zinc from the bucket. I keep the paper towels in the bucket so that when I finish with the zinc, I have something to wipe my hands on before moving on to the next hoof.

Suddenly, Frannie, who had—dare I say—sneaked up behind me, snatched the wad of towels and took off. She didn’t go far. Just out of reach. I yelled her name (yes, sometimes I do that in the case of Frannie) to no avail. She was munching as fast as she could, and by the time I got up off of my knees and started towards her, I realized it was hopeless. “Oh, well. It’s only paper,” I laughed to myself. At least, I think I was laughing.

I watch these girls chomp their way through brush and piles of hay every day, but I swear I’ve never seen a wad of paper towels inhaled before. I’ve never seen anything disappear so quickly. What was even more remarkable was the expression on Frannie’s face. She was grinning—or maybe it was a smirk.

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Since I still had 59 more feet to go, I decided to proceed without paper towels. I guess you could say, “Why didn’t you just take the goat you were working outside the fence and do the job?” But for me, the lesson is in taking things as they come. If I try to outsmart the girls, I usually end up with the short end of the stick. But I sure am having a lot of fun in the process. Goats are like human kids: Every one is an individual.

I like that. Most days.

HOMEGROWN-life-dyanDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

ALL PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK