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HOMEGROWN Life: Bryce on Growing Up in Farm Country

Friday, May 8th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150Ahh, the glories of spring. Morel mushrooms. Dandelion bacon salad. Mornings with extended sun. Frisky livestock. Weekly lawn mowing.

OK, so maybe I could go without the lawn mowing, but I suppose it’s a small price to pay for nutritious and growing pastures and plants (and correspondingly animals).

In my neck of the woods, spring is also a time for the annual ritual of reflecting on one’s school years. This year that reflection is an incredibly rich mix of joy and regret and memory. Maybe it’s because my wife is a teacher. Maybe it’s because I can’t believe my boys are already concluding their third and fifth grade years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting ready to attend my 20 year high school reunion here in a couple of days.

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Regardless, I’m feeling a swirling bundle of thoughts pertaining to what it means to grow up in farm country in today’s world. The complexity is interesting.

Take the graduating class of souls at the little country school where my wife teaches art, creativity, open-mindedness, and lessons on growing up in the city (my wife is from St. Louis originally). There are seven graduates. Yep. Seven. It’s a class filled with good kids most of whom have grown up on multi-generational family farms. They have been expected to work with their families to help out where they can. They have learned skills regarding mechanics and biology. They have absorbed worries of economic disparity in the farming sector, moral questions about how to be a good person, confusion about an urban dominated media landscape (local radio and TV stations are sent out to us from Kansas City) and tenuous positions as modern teens trying to figure out what they should do next.

In most ways, they are similar to graduates of public schools in small towns before them. In other ways, I feel like they face some important differences. Mostly, I am feeling a bit of despair for them as they struggle with questions of continuing their education, getting into the workforce, or joining the military.

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I should say now that no one gave me a word of caution when I came up through my small town school about whether or not I should attend college. I didn’t give a minute of concern as to whether or not I would be able to pay for it. My older brother was in college, and we were the first generation in our family to attend University. I was a good student, got good scholarships (the best I could get from Missouri’s public University) and still left school with thousands of dollars in student loans.

The big difference is that these 2015 graduates fully understand their possible college debt load. They’re scared of it, and rightfully so. They’re making some important considerations for what this debt load would mean for them in their life to come. That’s a good thing for these students. Remember, we’re talking about seventeen and eighteen year old kids here.

My big questions to throw into the great bonfire of public discourse here are: how do we as a society help a gang of confused Farm Belt graduates make good choices within the parameters of their understanding? Do we want to maintain the status quo of developing a pipeline of military prospects from the places with questionable economic futures? Or should we rethink our educational system and try to develop new pathways of economic opportunity for the future leaders coming up through our public school system every year?

The choice is an important one. And the lack of a public dialogue about these important issues is disturbing. But maybe this, like the issue of student debt, is something we can illuminate in the important years to come.

There is much, much more to write about this topic. I’ll keep thinking about it as I attend graduation and alumni and reunion festivities over the next few weeks.

My hope is that society will do the same.

MORE FROM BRYCE:

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: (FIELD) KURT; (TRACTOR) RICHARD MAXWELL

HOMEGROWN Life: Farmer Dyan’s Spring To-Dos

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN LifeWith spring officially here, days are filled with a billion and one things on the to-do list. How to pick and choose which comes first is always a challenge.

There’s the ancient fallen apple tree, one I’ve been waiting to take scions from in an attempt to propagate more of this unidentified fruit. The taste of these apples is a combination of fruit and flower. There are many apple trees on this property, but this one in particular produces a fruit I’ve not found in any store or farm stand.

There’s the pond, finally uncovered from the wrath of winter’s snow and ice. Each spring, I drain as much of it down as possible to start fresh with clear water and a bag full of new inhabitants in the form of algae eaters. The ducks are particularly happy when this chore is finished.

There’s the pine tree that landed across the fence and into another apple tree. It went down in a gust on a winter day when storms were blowing up over the Gulf of Maine and right across the farm. The sheep have been enjoying bark from it’s limbs and trunk all winter, using it as a mineral and vitamin supplement to keep them going through the long, dark months.

Romeo & Ariel

Then, there are the garden beds. My kitchen garden, the one right outside the new back door, has softened and seems ready to accept the hoe. Its dirt is a deep, dark brown. I’m adding the ashes from the fireplace and heading to the sheep compost pile to add carts full of sheepy richness. It will be ready to accept this year’s crop of basils and parsley. Can you really have too much? I’ve enjoyed Lemon and Thai Pesto all winter. Each time I open a jar, I’m reminded of warm summer days. It helps when the snows are blowing sideways and the temps are, once again, down in the teens.

There’s the dairy barn. Overwintering for this building means deep compost, all needing hand forking out. It’s a big job. I usually wait until the nights are a bit warmer, just to give the girls some nice bedding under them during the transition from winter to spring. In the fall, we start with a couple inches of fresh soft shavings. The girls do the rest throughout the winter, pulling hay from their racks and laying it where they need it. Goats are fussy eaters. They selectively eliminate the bits out of the hay they either don’t like the taste of, don’t have the particular nutrition in it they need, or just because they want a softer, drier bed. No matter. I indulge them, and their feet and legs benefit from not standing on a cold hard surface all winter.

Barnie & Sea Princess munching apple branches

There is a method to our madness in farming. It comes in many forms. Everybody seems to have their own, but it always seems to come down to the same thing: it’s a lot of work. The reward comes in the form of lazy summer days with gardens bursting at the seams with fresh vegetables and herbs. While we work away in spring, uncovering and freshening beds, pruning and trimming to let sunshine in for bigger juicier apples and other fruits, cleaning and wiping and painting and hauling and digging out from winter, the spring sunshine warms our backs and lightens our hearts.

At Bittersweet, Romeo is growing into his amazing lamby self. He is enjoying days playing in the pasture with Ariel, our other great lamb from last spring. He’s romping about, doing that springy lamby thing with Buttermilk. Seeing each other from behind the old pine tree or from across the spread, they run to greet each other. Just before they literally run into each other, they stop in their tracks, gently lower their heads, and touch each other on the forehead. Connections.

Romeo lap cuddling

Romeo and I are soon visiting Story Hour at our Jackson Memorial Library here in St. George to read the tiny book he inspired me to write. The message is about building confidence in kids. I’ve found a farm to be a place where that can happen.

In a few short weeks, goat kids will arrive. Frannie is up first and her big Mama belly is starting to grow at the seams.

Frannie & her baby bump

She’s lazier now, slower to get up and down. In her gentle motherly way, she looks at me with her big doe eyes and comes to my side. She leans against my leg and once again, I pat her head and remind her, I’ll be there for her when the time comes. Connections. I don’t know who benefits from it more, her or me.

Welcome spring! We’ve waited a long time for your arrival. Thanks for coming back to visit, even if it’s only for a short while.

MORE FROM DYAN:
Raising Romeo, a Love Story
Farmer Dyan Gets a Four-Legged Valentine
A Bittersweet Month on the Farm
Lambing, Loss, and the Cycle of Renewal

HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage 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. Her farm is also 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.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: Household Items You Can Use in the Garden

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

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The following tips for frugal gardeners are not only quick, safe, and easy, but also involve using items you probably already have in your house.

ASPIRIN: Dissolve ¾ of an uncoated aspirin tablet in 1 gallon of water. Spray plants every 2-3 weeks with the mixture to prevent fungus problems, including powdery mildew and black spot. It’s also been found to help some plants yield more fruit than using commercial fertilizers.

baking-sodaBAKING SODA: Mix 1 Tbsp of baking soda and a ½ tsp liquid soap into 1 gallon of water. Spray this weekly on plants that are prone to powdery mildew. This works as more of a preventative, as it won’t do much after the powdery mildew has taken hold. Make sure to spray the undersides of leaves. Also, apply it in the evening if you can, as it can burn some leaves.

BEER: Put beer (or water with yeast in it) in a shallow container. Sink the container so that the lip is at ground level in the garden. The beer attracts snails and slugs. They’ll fall into it and drown.

BORAX: This is a common laundry additive (20 Mule Team is a popular brand), especially for those of us with hard water. But it also works as a nontoxic ant killer. Ants are a huge problem for us as they “farm” aphids and mealy bugs for their honeydew. We have tons of ladybugs but they are useless if the ants are protecting the pests.

CORNMEAL: Corn Gluten Meal can be used as an effective pre-emergent herbicide, but most of us don’t have that just laying around. Cornmeal, however, is an effective soil fungicide. For every 100 square feet, work 2 pounds of cornmeal into the soil. Water well. One application per season is all that is needed.

DRYER SHEETS: If you’re having a picnic or BBQ and are being plagued by yellow jackets, aka meat bees, and mosquitoes, place dryer sheets around the area to deter them.

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EGGSHELLS: Save all of your eggshells! Rinse them and then crush them when they are dry. When preparing a planting bed for tomatoes or peppers add the eggshells (approximately the shells from 1 dozen eggs per plant) to the planting hole to avoid blossom end rot.

 

 

EPSOM SALTS: Epsom salts contain sulfur and magnesium and are good for using as a foliar fertilizer. Dissolve 2 Tbsp Epsom Salts in 1 gallon of water. Mist plants as a foliar feeding.

MILK: Dilute milk in a 1:1 ratio with water. Spray your tomato and pepper plants weekly to avoid blossom end rot.

RUBBING ALCOHOL: Apply 70% isopropyl alcohol to a cotton ball and apply to scale insects. The alcohol desiccates them. Rub them off when they’re dead so you can continue to monitor their levels.

SHAMPOO: Mix 2.5 Tbsp Shampoo and 2.5 Tbsp cooking oil with 1 gallon of water. Spray insect pests with the mixture to control them. Do not use in full sun, and a few hours after application, rinse the plant off to reduce injury.

If you have other tips on using household items in your garden, please share them!

MORE HOMEGROWN GARDEN HELP:

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!

PHOTOS: (BAKING SODA) RACHEL; (HOMEGROWN EGGS) PETE & IZZY’S MOM