Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Farm Update

I hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving weekends and focusing on the THANKS as much as possible. We are keeping busy with visits from friends and a party for our newly three-year-old daughter, but there is plenty of work still going on at the farm. Since I haven't done a farm update in a quite awhile I decided to take just a few moments and paint a picture of what is happening.
  • Inside the house we have been living with the floor down in most of the main living area. But, that all changed this week as we took three evenings (after the kids went to bed) and finished up the main area. Now we just have one bedroom, part of the hall, and a couple of closets left. It wouldn't take that long to finish except for the fact that we have to move a lot of boxes out of the way to get to the areas that need to be done.
  • I'm continuing to work on "project clean up the farm" (or whatever I'm calling it at the time) and have been sorting through the wood to see what I can burn inside, what I can use again, and what will just get thrown on the burn pile. Since the birth of our new little boy I haven't had a chance to empty the "trash" trailer, but I should be able to carve out a time this week.
  • I've mentioned in the past that I was helping out a neighbor with his harvest and I did buy a wagon full of ear corn from him. I'm going to pick it up today (if all goes well). I'm pretty sure the animals will appreciate this.
  • Cutting firewood (and splitting it) has been a chore that I've down a couple of times each week since we put in the stove. I really enjoy doing this and checking out different parts of the farm. I have purposefully been working as far from the house as possible because that is the area that I see the least.
  • The pigs are fat ... and ready to be butchered ... if you want one shoot me an
  • We still don't have our Dexter herd here, but we did make a step in the right direction by finally going over to get some of the cattle panels that I purchased. I think we are going to end up making a fairly big cattle panel lot for our cows this year so we can feed the hay that we baled on our place. It isn't ideal, but with so much else to do the fence just isn't getting done yet.
  • I think we are beginning to lean towards the pole building idea. I have asked the guy that built our house to put a bid together for a 24 x 40 foot building. It would be open all the way across on one of the long sides and have two 20 foot bays. He is going to quote me for the entire project (steel all the way around) and for what it would cost if it just had steel on the roof. I'm guessing we'll go with just steel on the roof this year and make do if we go ahead with the project.
Things are busy and we really are still kind of in the construction stage so that slows things down a bit, but I really love our life out here and wouldn't trade all the little troubles that go with carving a farm out of the top of a hill for anything! Thanks again for sharing so much great advice and encouragement for the course of this blog ... everyone has been a huge help.

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Thoughts On "The Ominvore's Dilemma"

Since this is such a late post today ... and probably a short post ... I thought I would just take a few seconds to share some more thoughts from my reading of Michael Pollan's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I am about half way through right now and and reading through his chapters about his time at Joel Salatins Polyface Farm. It is pretty interesting to see his take on Polyface and the way Mr. Salatin farms.
  • Mr. Pollan's investigation and writing about current industrial farms was very interesting. I feel like he was conflicted, just like the folks he interviewed, on whether or not industrial organic agriculture was a departure from the ideals of organic. My simple assessment ... money does have a way of changing things!
  • I have never been in a Whole Foods, but after reading about them in this book and online at the Epi-Log I'm pretty interested to check one out. Seeing organic microwaveable food is something I just have to check out. But, if what Mr. Pollan writes is true they have industrialized just as much as the industrial organic farms.
  • Mr. Salatin is a pretty cool farmer ... but, I wonder if he tells the same stories over and over and over! The quotes from this book are the same as I've heard him say in speeches, interviews, and his own books. This isn't a judgment on him ... rather just an observation that I have heard or read him a lot!
  • This book is a pretty good read, but I'm glad I started out reading a lot of more practical application books that contained a little philosophy. While this book does a good job of painting the overall picture I really appreciate being able to look at it somewhat objectively ... at least I hope that is the way I can look at it.
So, there are just a few thoughts on "The Omnivore's Dilemma" ... sorry for the late post, but we are having a great Thanksgiving Weekend!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Last year I took some time on Thanksgiving Day to write out some of the things that I'm thankful for. Since that time a lot has changed in our lives and I pray that my thankfulness has grown because God has continually showered our family with blessings. One year ago a farm of our own was still a dream ... no it is a dream in progress and I thank God everyday for the way that he has led our family. Here is are a few of the things that I'm thankful for this year. Also, don't forget to read George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation.
  • I am thankful for my Savior and Creator who continually reminds me of his power and majesty through all that he has made.
  • I am thankful for my wife who is always there for me and supports me along all the crazy paths life takes us. Her love is an overflow of God's love and her help and prayers truly are a blessing to me.
  • I am thankful for our new baby boy, his big brother, and of course his big sister. Those three are an amazing blessing to our family and add the joy of the Lord to our lives.
  • I am thankful for our church and the ministry that I am able to be a part of there. For the people who have brought us in as part of their family for over four years now and the help that they are always giving us (remember, if it wasn't for them I'm not sure if we would even have all the walls up yet!).
  • I am thankful for the little slice of land that God has brought us to and the stewardship for it that he has laid on our hearts. The beauty of the hills, trees, wildlife, and silence all give me a greater appreciation for the wonders of this creation.
  • I am thankful for pigs, chickens, and little Dexter cows/bulls/steers! This past year we have watched our herds grow and expand and we have learned a lot (with much more to learn). It is such a privilege to be able to raise such great food and all of the experiences that go along with that.
  • I am thankful for our friends who have helped us build, move, learn, and so much more. True community is a special thing. I love seeing the community of Christ come together.
  • I am thankful for a country that allows me to worship my God and be so blessed. I pray that his hand works in my life and the lives of others so that people around the world can know the joy of this blessing.
  • And, I am thankful for the hopes and dreams that God has laid on our family's heart. He continues to open doors and move us in His direction ... I pray that we will always be open to his leading.
I pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever you are and that you take some time to reflect on the blessings in your life!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Little Girl...

Deciding to farm for us was about more than just food and land, it was also about our family and the life we want them to have. So, today I just wanted to take a second and say "Happy Birthday" to my little girl who is turning three! In fact I can really see the farm starting to grow on her because for quite awhile now she has emphatically said that she wants her cake to have a cow, a pig, and a chicken ... so that is what she is going to have.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I will share a more about what I'm thankful for then. But, today I am thankful for my little girl. For the joy she brings my heart as she bounces around like only a little girl can. For the smile she has as she sits on the tractor and pretends to drive. For the funny faces that she makes. For you cute little size that just makes you want to pick her up and give her a hug. And, for the way that she shows the love of God to our family every day.

So, there you go ... Happy Birthday Little Girl!

P.S. I do realize this picture has nothing to do with my daughters birthday, but I really liked it so I thought I would throw it up. You can check out my Epi-Log later today for a little more back story.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something to Shoot For...

As I spent yesterday afternoon hauling wagons of ear corn and loading them in to the corn crib for our neighbor/friend/church member I got to thinking about feed. More specifically I was thinking about how nice it would be to be able to grow our own livestock feed. Of course we don't have nearly enough land to do that right now, but I do think it is something that I would like to look at in the future.

There are a couple of different ways to look at the feed question. One angle is that it doesn't pay to raise your own feed because someone else who has the equipment and is specialized can do it at a lower cost and more efficiently. Also, having the equipment and maintaining it can also be a drain on time and money. One the other hand though I can see quite a few benefits to raising our own feed (by the way, I'm pretty much talking about pig and chicken feed).

If we were able to raise everything here on our farm we would have complete control of what our animals are being fed. In fact, we would know that from the time they were born on the farm until they needed to move on what it was they ate. Also, I could see it as a good thing because we would be keeping all of the nutrients here on the farm ... in a sort of cyclical way. Having that kind of control would be a good thing I believe for both us and any customers.

But, I do see the time/machinery argument. I think the key would be to have a 1950's line of equipment. For example, the guy that I was helping out yesterday used a small line of equipment that included a four row planter and a two row picker. This is the same equipment that he has been using (except for the fact that he started with a one row picker) for the past 30 plus years. In that time he had a milking herd and beef cattle, but did everything he needed to do with a older and smaller line of equipment. Maybe he would have liked to upgrade with the times, but he realized he didn't need to.

What do you think? I know there are many holes in my "dream", but it was just something that was on my mind as I was driving and unloading...

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Ominvore's Dilemma"

As I may have mentioned recently, in a comment or something, I have begun to work my way through Michael Pollan's, "The Ominvore's Dilemma". I had read many articles by Mr. Pollan (including the "Farmer in Chief" piece), listened to videos, and read various other things by him and about him. But, this is the first time that I have attempted to tackle his most popular piece of writing. When I'm reading some books I like to do a little "book report" after each chapter, but with this bad boy I thought I would just throw out some thoughts from time to time. If you have read the book I would also love to hear what you conclusions were!
  • Mr. Pollan is an evolutionist. There is no doubt about it and it is evident about every other page. I am not an evolutionist and I get kind of tired of reading "this evolved" and "that evolved". I feel like if things evolved one way than they might as well just evolve to the industrial agricultural model, but I don't really want to debate evolution ... plus, he is entitled to his opinion just as I am. One thing though, I can really see the work of creation through much of what Mr. Pollan writes.
  • I always find it interesting to hear the thoughts of an Iowa farmer. It seems liket he guy that Mr. Pollan intervied and spent time with is cut from the same cloth as the farmer that was featured some in "King Corn". But, I know that not all Iowa farmers think like George Naylor ... at least I think so. Mr. Naylor (along with Mr. Pollan) make it seem like corn is grown because to change would be too difficult ... I guess that may make some sense.
  • Just like many others that read this book I am continually surprised at how much stuff corn finds a home in. They always say on "The Big Show" (WHO Radio) that Iowa farmers are feeding the world ... and that truly is the case, but not in the way that some would like to believe. They are doing it through super-duper processed corn, not the idealistic way that it is sometimes portrayed.
  • This is the first time that I have heard about the Federal Granery and the New Deal agricultural policies. I must admit that my ultra-conservative upbringing, leanings, and beliefs makes me cringe at the metion of New Deal projects, but it is an interesting thing that I would love to learn more about. I think understanding the agricultural policy history of our country will help me have better picture of what I understand today. Any thoughts on this subject...
  • Finally, I would be interested to read/hear some contrasting views. I think it would be cool to have a debate between Mr. Pollan and an big agriculture proponent. I have heard some Iowans speak of Mr. Pollan almost as a curse word, but it is always good to hear both sides of the story. I do appreciate the research that Mr. Pollan offers up though!
Remember, if you have read the book I would love to hear what you think!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One Little Regret...

When ever you have a building project you are go to second guess yourself every now and again. You know, little things like, "should I have put that wall there" or "how is this layout going to work now". On our farm there have been times that we second guessed ourselves, but I believe for the most part we wouldn't change much and I know we are completely happy with what we have ... and are in the process of finishing.

With all of that said though ... I do have one little regret. One little thing that I wish I could go back in time and change, even though in order to change the one little thing it would have taken a few more steps. What is that little thing you ask?

A Construction Dumpster!!!

When we began our building project and the post frame guys came out to put up the house, we didn't even have a rock drive. Part of the reason for no drive was just because we didn't get on top of it, but also we were didn't really want to trash it right away with big cement trucks and other huge delivery vehicles. Since we had no drive or parking area we had no place for a truck to come and drop off a construction dumpster. In hindsight we probably should have put in a drive.

What started out as a small pile of mostly wood and a little steel from the builders grew over time until it actually became two separate garbage piles on either side of the house ... all because we didn't have a dumpster. And as if the piles weren't bad enough there is one little thing to add to the mess. We live on a hill, and it has been pretty windy this fall! So, now we have two huge trash piles of wood, steel, drywall, flooring, general trash, insulation, and so much more ... that have begun to blow around the farm and get caught in the tall grass (of which we have plenty).

But, I'm beginning to take care of the problem with my "Operation Take Out the Trash". On Tuesday (before we went to the hospital to have a baby) I filled the livestock hauling wagon with as much garbage as possible and separated all the wood and other burnable things. Now we plan on bring in one or two little dumpsters to fill-up with the light stuff (insulation, plastic, etc.) and I will probably fill up the wagon again after a trip to the landfill.

Basically, I want to get the outside cleaned up so before everything is covered with snow and ice. Then I can concentrate on the big projects inside...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Really, This Does Have Something to Do With Farming...

"A saw a few minutes of news last night while dining at the mall to celebrate my niece’s half birthday. (God forbid a television not be on at all times in all places.) A smart looking guy in a suit used the words “economic crisis” more times a minute than a thirteen year-old says “like.”
That was the opening paragraph of Shaun Groves' (musician/Christian/blogger) blog post the other day. He is pretty much spot on in the assessment that people are saying "economic crisis" a lot these days, in fact I have even found myself writing about the past few days. But, it is what he had to say after that opening paragraph that really got me thinking about the farm ... our farm in particular.
We, we’re told, are having some major financial problems ... But iPhones are selling like, um, iPhones. And so are Apple computers - now accounting for 25% of all money spent on computers in the U.S. And they aren’t cheap. I know. I’m using one right now.

And most of us - wouldn’t you say? - are still buying soft drinks, snack food, texting plans, cable, vitamin water, and lots of other stuff that’s hardly essential too. We’re not exactly living like people in the midst of an “economic crisis.”
Mr. Groves also linked to the blog of Seth Godin, who is some sort of marketing guy that I've never heard of.
Marketers taught well-fed consumers to want to eat more than we needed, and consumers responded by spending more and getting fat in the process.

"Marketers taught to us amplify our wants, since needs aren’t a particularly profitable niche for them. Isn't it interesting that we don't even have a word for these marketing-induced non-needs? No word for sold-hungry or sold-lonely...

Thirsty? Well, Coke doesn’t satisfy thirst nearly as well as water does. What Coke does do is satisfy our need for connection or sugar or brand fun or consumption or Americana or remembering summer days by the creek...

People don’t need Twitter or an SUV or a purse from Coach. We don’t need much of anything, actually, but we want a lot. Truly successful industries align their ‘wants’ with basic needs (like hunger) and consumers (that’s us) cooperate all day long."
There is a lot of truth in what Mr. Groves and Mr. Godin both say. Each has a little different take on the subject (and in truth the "economic crisis"), but I believe both are relevant to farming ... especially beginning farming.

First of all both bloggers, and especially Mr. Godin, do a good job of explaining what we Americans are really like. We really have done a good job of transforming things into need that really are wants all along (television, cable, pop/soda, name brand stuff, pre-packaged foods, etc.) and so when we hit what may or may not be tough times in the economy and we begin to cut back on the "wants" there really is a lot more that we could cut back on. As I have mentioned before I experience that often in the ministry.

But, these shift of things from wants to needs has also be a part of the changing face of agriculture. Since the time that our society began creating and marketing the "cool" things I think we may have seen a decline in the amount of money we are willing to pay for the needs. What I mean is this ... take food ... it is pretty darn near the top of the needs category, yet no matter how important it is to our lives we don't really want the price of food to get in the way of the cool things we want. So, we have created a system that makes food really cheap ... but not really good for us.

Why else did it make me think of farming, or more specifically our farm? Well, because the things that Mr. Groves is talking about are the things that will make or break our farm (because we are starting with nothing). As we begin our farm, and as followers of Christ we seek to live Christ-like lives, it is important for us to live like we are in an "economic crisis". Not that we are fearful of the world around us, because really there is no reason to fear, but rather because it is all about good stewardship.

We desire to be good stewards of the livestock and land that we have, well than we should also be good stewards of the "stuff" that we have. We need to make sure that we are taking care of the needs and then look for ways to cut down on the wants. Just as good land stewardship is good for our farm and those who live around us, good life stewardship is good for those who live around us and beyond.

I really do encourage you to check out both of the blog posts that I have mentioned today. I found them very thought provoking and even encouraging. Oh, and one more thing ... if you want to see an "economic crisis" don't look here in the United States. Even in times of "economic greatness" there will always be those facing a "economic crisis" of some sort here in the U.S. But, if you really want to see what "economic crisis" is we need to look beyond our own borders ... that is just my opinion though and my opinion, so you can take out of it whatever you would like.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Alway Can Use More Help...

With all the work that needs to be done around our place I can always use a couple of extra hands. That is why I'm so excited to announce that we are the proud parents of a new baby boy, Isaac Daniel! He was born Tuesday night without many problems and we are planning on going home today. My wife did a great job as always and is recovering very well ... she is a great mom.

So, now I will have another set of hands to help me with chores and follow me around the farm ... and I have to admit that I'm really looking forward to it! More to come later...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Good Time to Be a Beginning Farmer...

I do believe that it is a good time to be a beginning farmer, but I actually want to take it one step further. I think now is a great time to be a small-scale diversified crop/livestock beginning farmer (or veteran farmer). I have mentioned before that I'm not real big into letting myself fall into the trap of an "economic downturn", but on the other hand if everyone wants to have one than I may not have a choice. That is why I think it is such a great time to be a diversified farmer. Here is why I think that...

Lately I have enjoyed checking, not because I have any vested interest in the stock market, but rather because I love watching the price of oil fall (it is down to $53.92 as I type, but I'm sure it will change). Since I have been checking the oil every so often I have also checked out some of the articles on the page. One such article I read was this one, "We'll Be in Great Depression 2 by 2011". I can't really comment at all on any of the things that Mr. Paul B. Farrell has to say, nor do I really want to, but his article does make me appreciate the farm.

As I have read through American history of the Great Depression (especially Iowa's part in it) and seen documentaries like, "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" I am constantly reminded that the depression altough still painful for many farm families wasn't nearly as bad as it was for others. In fact many of the Iowa farm children of the depression era talk about how they didn't really even know there was a "financial crisis" (to use today's term).

Why were the effects of the depression lessened for those on the farm? Because they had the bounty of the farm to provide for their families! Of couse the same wouldn't be true for all of today's farm that have moved to the industrial specialization side of agriculture, but for the diversified farms...

Today's diversifed farms (like ours is working towards) would be able to supply the family with beef, pork, produce from the garden, eggs, fruit, and even milk if they needed to. So, even if it may be a bad time to start a farm from an "economic crisis" point of view, at least we will have some food to eat if it does become Depression 2. But, I'm not saying that it will...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At the Neighbor's Farm...

Last week I received a call from one of the guys at our church who lives out on a farm. He told me that he need to clean out his wire corn crib and was wondering if I wanted the ear corn that was still left in it. Of course whenever there is the potential for free feed I'm interested so I jumped on the opportunity. Well, yesterday it was finely dry enough for me to go over and get the corn so I hooked up the barge box wagon to the back of the truck and headed over.

I'm very glad that I was able to go over and get that corn because it will be nice to have, but also for a few other reasons that are less about the feed. First of all it was nice to be able to lend a hand to a friend, brother in Christ, and neighbor. They actually live on the same road as we do, except our two portions of the road are not connected! I didn't save him a ton of work, but it was nice to be able to spare a couple hours in the morning to help get the job done more quickly.

The other great thing about helping out was that I was able to hear some great history. The farm that this family lives on has been in the "home place" for over 150 years now. His great-grandparents moved out from Pennsylvania in 1854 (or 56, I can't remember exactly) and had a land grant of 160 acres. That first year they built a log cabin and would soon after build a L-shaped house because they needed the room for their 13 children. When they arrived much of the land was wooded and they cleared out what they needed as they needed it. He also mentioned that his grandmother would tell them about the Indians in the area that would take clothes from the laundry line!

Around 1917 they built another house, which is the one that stands today, and moved into it (I'm not sure if someone continued to live in the original house). And now, over 150 years later this same land is still being farmed by the same family. Not farmed on a large-scale by any means, but they do raise some cattle and this year he planted 20 acres of corn (the reason the bin needed to be cleaned out).

Today he is planning on picking corn with his two row New Idea picker. If I can't free up some time and get a new belt for the power steering pump on my tractor I would love to go help out by pulling some wagons for him. I have a feeling that there is a lot to be learned over at that farm ... including some more history.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Art of The Woodstove

One of the things that I love about being a beginning farmer is that so much of what I'm learning and doing is an art. That doesn't mean that I'm always successful or that I get everything done the way I would like it to be done, but I do appreciate the fact that our farm life is so much more than a bunch of ordered steps. In my case I have experienced and grown up around much of what we are doing, but never have been the "one" doing everything. I would just lend a hand here or there and often observe. Now, I am having to learn how to be the artist...

Case in point. Burning wood in a woodstove is an art. You might as well just throw away that instruction manual or better yet, just use it to start a fire (just kidding). But, really it is an art form to get a good burning fire in a stove. Each stove is different, each home is different, each chimney is different, and even every log is different. You must learn how to make all of those pieces come together to make the picture.

I am slowly learning our stove and the wood. Getting a good hot burn with the stove full open is easy, but finding that perfect long burn position is taking some getting used to (and the manual was worthless for this). Nevertheless it is in the low thirties outside right now and really windy, but in our house it is 73 degrees and rising! I will admit that there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing our house, that was built by a community of our friends and us, is being heated by the wood I cut this afternoon on our farm!

Hopefully at some point very late in my life I will be an accomplished artist that can pass on a little bit, but for now I'm enjoying learning the art from those around me.

**P.S. Our walls aren't yellow ... they just look that way in the picture.**

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Looking for Some Reading Suggestions...

It's a Saturday, and a very busy Saturday at that (it's the annual Harvest Dinner at church)! So, I thought I would just take a second today to pop in and throw out a request. If you read yesterdays post (and others about "Harris on the Pig") you will know that I'm just love that book and the fact that it is book that was written over one hundred years ago. So, with Christmas coming soon and my families looking for list ideas I was wondering if anyone knows of any good agricultural books that I should check out. Something from at least the 18th or 19th century.

Also, thanks for the responses from yesterdays post about feeding boiled feeds to pigs. If you haven't yet, you should check out that link that Rich posted. Not quite as old as the book by Mr. Harris, but it looked like some interesting reading if that is your kind of thing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Who Knows About Pig Feed?

I am just about done reading through, "Harris on the Pig" and I have to say that it has been quite the read. The depth and detail of the study of different breeds, raising techniques, on farm research, and even more has been very enjoyable. Plus, you have to add in the fact that this is good historical knowledge that that has been tested over time (not saying we need to go back to all of it). What I'm trying to say is that it is a good book for the small-scale pig farmer. It may not have all the practical applications of other books, but the tidbits that you can glean are pretty cool.

But, there has been one thing that has been running though my mind as I read through this book. Often the book talks about boiling or cooking the feed. In fact in the chapter about piggeries and pig pens almost all of the buildings included a boiler. I know that boiling the swill/house waste is was a practice used to kill germs and what not, but that is not the only application Joseph Harris talks about.

The book also mentions many different times about boiling the feed, whether it been peas or oats or corn or what ever. I understand how they would do it, but I am wondering why the would do it? Can anyone enlighten me on the story behind this and if there are many people doing it today? I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Are Pigs That Smart?

Here is a lighthearted post after yesterdays "thinker". I ran across this neat little video blog over at the Sustainable Farm website. It doesn't really have a ton of practical application other than proving the point that pigs are pretty smart and can take care of themselves when give the opportunity. Although I'm not quite ready to place the intelligence of a pig over myself...

For those of you with slow internet (like myself). This is a two-minute video that took about 4 or 5 minutes to load on my computer. I just paused it and then let it load.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oprah, Starving Families, Chickens, and California's Prop 2

When my in-laws were here this past weekend they dropped off another supply of back issues of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman". As usual I began skimming through them from the oldest to the most recent (I especially enjoy reading the old long range weather forecasts and seeing how they fare). In the October 29th issue there was an especially interesting editorial from Laurie Johns of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. She was writing about Oprah, the California Proposition 2 legislation (which passed), food. Since you can't view this article online I'll pull out a few interesting quotes.
"The world's population: 6.7 billion. The number of hungry people in our world today: 923 million. Oprah's daily audience for her TV talk show: 7 million. What it would mean for Oprah to realize that starving children are more important than chickens: priceless."

"Oprah is utterly under the spell of the charismatic, Armani-suit, blow-dry-hairdo-wearing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spokesman Wayne Pacelle."

"While Oprah opined plenty about the feelings of chickens, she thought little about the hungry children who seem to be growing in numbers. Look no further than your local food bank to see the need; foreclosures, job losses and a tough economy have tripled and quadrupled the demand at food banks across the nation."

"The simple truth is: Iowa livestock farmers care about their chickens, hogs, cattle, and livestock"

"Pacelle claims he can look in the eye of a chicken and know what it is feeling. I would suggest he visit a local food bank and look in the eye of a hungry child whose mother was turned away because their shelves are bare. Her food stamps can barely cover a meal a day for her family, much less "cage-free" eggs. Choices are hard. Times are tough. Families struggling to make ends meet need food on the table, not politics shoved down their throats."
So, there you go ... those are the highlights from the article. Now, here are my thoughts:

-First of all I don't really care for Oprah and here "religion" or whatever she is about for the moment so please do not take anything I say as a defense of her.

-Secondly, how many of the 923 million hungry people in the world today live in the United States? I'm not trying to be critical, I am just curious about that statistic because I believe that the people in the United States have it pretty good compared to some places...

-Also, what is with the crack on the blow dryer? When I was in grade school all the way through Jr. High I had a blow-dry-hairdo! Does that make me a bad person :)

-Okay, now for the real stuff. If you haven't heard of Prop 2 yet, then check out the link to read all about it. Basically it says that chickens, sows, and veal calves need to be able to stand up and turn around (that is a very simplistic explanation). I am not really sure where I come down on this issue. On one hand I don't really mind the spirit of the law, but on the other hand my political nature mostly opposes silly governmental regulation. I do not think it is a bad thing for a chicken to be able to get up and move around a little bit, but that would change the way factory farming is done ... at least until they find a loop-hole.

-Each side likes to take shots at each other on this issue and I think both are crossing the line a little bit from time to time. I do understand that the lines may be growing at food banks, but I also heard today that in Iowa (I realize this is localized, but the editorial is also in an Iowa publication) giving is actually increasing at local food banks. I guess that the people are realizing there is a need and they are responding. I will tell you one thing, I like that a whole lot more than I like more food stamp funding in the FARM BILL!

-I do not disagree that Iowa livestock farmers care about their livestock. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know of any.

-And lastly... I really do agree with that last quote that I posted above. Families don't need politics shoved down their throats. But, I hope that goes both ways. Just as the large farms don't want government regulations holding them back the small farms or sustainable farms or local farms (whatever you want to call it) should be free to do business as they desire and let the customers decide. Again, I don't know where I fall on everything, but there are plenty of people out there that don't want agricultural subsidy politics shoved down their throat. Or maybe they don't want corn-based ethanol politics shoved down their throat. Or maybe they don't want a confinement building opening up next door politics shoved down their throat.

I totally agree. A human is WAY more important that a chicken! Although I would also argue that a Gospel for Asia chicken is pretty important to a human life ... maybe even more important than egg factory legislation in California?

So, read those quotes and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life on the Farm: Really Fast, But Still Slow

**How funny ... on a day when I was talking about how really fast life on the farm is, but still slow I scheduled the wrong day to make this post! I actually wrote this Monday night and then scheduled it for what I thought was Tuesday ... the 12th ... I guess I'm just a day ahead this week. Anyways, sorry for the super late post.**

Now that we have owned the farm for over half-a-year, been building since the summer, and have now actually lived here for about three weeks I have an observation. Life on Stoneyfield Farm is plenty fast, but actually slow. By fast I mean that we seem to be doing a lot of stuff whether it is working on the house, working with the livestock, planning for what we are going to do next, cutting wood, or even catching up on church work. And by slow I just mean the general feeling of life. But, let me break it down a little more...

When we lived in town and my office/youth center was connected to our house it was pretty difficult to get that "separation" from work feeling. I would pop back and forth between work and home all throughout the day and even into the evening from time to time. It seemed like I could never get away (although it is hard to completely get away in ministry). Plus, there was just a general dissatisfaction rumbling around in my brain because of where we were living.

Don't get me wrong we were blessed to live in the house and I really do believe that God set it all up because when we moved here we would have never been able to buy and build a farm and the church wasn't really at a place to have the youth center at the church building itself. So, it was great for beginnings. The beginnings of our family in Knoxville and the beginnings of our youth ministry at NCC.

But, now that I am going on with my fifth year here and we are expanding our ministries at church it really did seem like it made sense to move the youth to the church and move the family to the country ... we really wanted to be in the country, and God opened the doors in His timing.

Anyways, back to the fast but slow stuff. Our life is still plenty busy with church, youth group, activity day, school events, and now the added time of driving to town. But, even with everything that is going on it still seems like life has slowed down a little bit. I think it is because I (and we) can change gears from time to time which brings some refreshment back to my life.

I love the fact that I can put in a good days work at the church planning events, working on messages and studies, and meeting with students. But, after all of that is done I can come home and feed the pigs, cut firewood, or do any number of chores. Even the work on the farm is still work it is a change of pace and I think it helps keep me fresh on all fronts.

So, there is my simple observation ... life on the farm is really fast, but still slow. Of course it probably helps that we haven't hooked up the T.V. and the fact that we have slower internet keeps us off the computer a bit more.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Some Agricultural History For You...

Since tomorrow is Veterans Day (or Armistice Day) I thought I would post this interesting article from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Mostly they talk about the duck hunters who lost their lives in the awful Armistice Day Storm of 1940, but they also mention the huge impact the storm had on farm life. I can't even begin to imagine what this would have been like! So, enjoy this interesting article.
By Lowell Washburn
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Imagine this. A powerful fall weather system had just topped the Rocky Mountains and was careening eastward toward the Mississippi river. At the same time, a huge Canadian cold air mass was sliding down from the north, while warm moist air pulled up from the south. Call it a Weather Bomb, Widow Maker, Perfect Storm, whatever. Any way you looked at it, the atmospheric brew spelled trouble for the Heartland.

But no one was looking. The year was 1940. Primitive by contemporary standards, professional weather forecasting was something that most folks put little stock in. In fact, according to the National Weather Service’s own data, no one was even in the building at Chicago’s Mid-west Weather Headquarters during the late night hours of November 10, 1940.

During the wee hours of the following morning, the systems’ combined energy unleashed a storm of unfathomable fury. Barometric pressures plunged to some of the lowest ever recorded, reaching a record 28.92 inches at Charles City. By then, the storm had already begin to cut its thousand mile wide path of death and destruction. Within 24 hours the system would become the most famous and disastrous blizzard in U.S. history. A storm without equal, it is remembered as the day the winds descended, the heavens rained ducks, and duck hunters died.

For mid-western waterfowl hunters, the fall of 1940 was warm and uneventful. And as the doldrums continued into the second week of November, hunters were becoming impatient. Cocking an eye to the North, they watched and waited. Sooner or later the inevitable cold fronts would arrive and birds would move south. For those willing to stick to their marshes, the annual ‘Big Push’ would be a sweet dream.

On November 11, 1940 sportsmen got their wish. But the day was not what gunners had anticipated. Instead of realizing their “sweet dream“, hundreds of waterfowlers suddenly found themselves plunged into a horrific, Stephen King-grade nightmare. Temperatures plummeted from near 60 degrees to below freezing, and then into the single digits --- all within a matter of hours.

By the time it concluded, the storm had dropped more than two feet of snow, buried vehicles and roadways beneath 20-foot drifts, killed thousands of Iowa cattle, and destroyed incalculable amounts of poultry --- including more than a million Thanksgiving turkeys. All told, the storm claimed 160 human lives. At Winona, Minnesota the city bus barn became a temporary morgue as, one by one, the bodies of frozen duck hunters were retrieved. Since many hunters were from out of town, identification was delayed until bodies thawed and pockets could be searched.

On an island near Harper’s Ferry, sixteen-year-old Jack Meggers was one of the hunters who fought for his life that fateful day. A retired Iowa game warden currently living in Mason City, Meggers, now 84, has spent a lifetime on the water. Today, no outdoor event remains more deeply etched in his mind than the morning of Nov. 11, 1940.

“It was Armistice Day [now called Veteran’s Day] and we were out of school,” Meggers begins. “Me, my Dad, and two brothers headed out to an island at Harper’s Ferry. One of the things I remember most is that, just before the storm hit, the sky turned all orange. It’s hard to explain, but I remember that it was really strange.”

The big winds arrived suddenly recalls Meggers, and with the wind came ducks. Not just a flock here or a flock there, but rather hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands. It was a scene seldom witnessed. A scene that in terms of sheer magnitude, will never be repeated.

“We’d never seen anything like it,” says Meggers. “When the ducks arrived, they came in unending waves and they came in all species.”

“Those ducks were all flying about this high off the water [his hand indicates around waist high] and they were all doing about 90 miles an hour with that wind,” he continues.

The Meggers party lost no time in taking advantage of the astonishing flight. But although waterfowl continued to pour down in unending supply, connecting with the wind driven birds presented a major challenge, recalls Meggers. The boys concentrated so hard on the task at hand, that none of them seemed to notice [or care?] as the winds began to attain hurricane force.

“All of a sudden, Dad said, ‘ Grab the decoys --- We’re getting out of here.’ But we were throwing an awful lot of ammunition into the air, and none of us wanted to quit. The sky was just full of ducks,” says Meggers. “Finally Dad said, ‘Grab the decoys NOW or we’re leaving without them. That‘s when we began to see how bad it [the weather] was getting.”

Meggers’ Dad had made the right call. In addition to raging winds and unfathomable legions of ducks, the storm had also begin to deliver pelting rain which quickly turned to sleet, then heavy snow. Visibility dropped to near zero as hunters all up and down the Great River struggled --- many unsuccessfully --- to return to shore.

“It was really rough. By the time we finally made it to the shoreline, you couldn’t even see the shoreline,” Meggers recalls. “By then, the combination of snow and wind was just incredible. Our group made it back. But not everyone did.”

An island away from where the Meggers party hunted, a father and two sons were equally mesmerized by the arriving swarms of waterfowl. Lured into staying beyond the point of no return, their shallow draft duck boat proved no match for the wind and waves. As visibility and daylight faded, the hunters found themselves stranded.

“The oldest son was a college athlete,” Meggers continues. “When things started getting tough [probably the onset of hypothermia] he told his younger brother to jump to stay warm. Every time the younger kid quit jumping, his brother would punch him. The Dad and older brother died on that island. The younger brother just kept on jumping through the night. They rescued him the next day. His legs were frozen hard as wood below both knees and he lost them. He was the sole survivor of his group.”

“That kid was 16, same as me,” says Meggers. “I’ll never forget what happened that day on the river.” A short distance downstream, four more hunters died during the night on an island near Marquette.

For as long as he can remember, Clear Lake’s Max Christensen has been an avid waterfowler. Today, it seems more than a little ironic that Christensen nearly missed out on history’s greatest duck hunt.

“I still remember nearly every detail from that day,” Christensen begins. “I was a high school senior when the November 11 snowstorm arrived in Ventura, Iowa. I lived on a farm and we hadn’t even had a frost yet. The livestock was still in the fields and all the poultry was still outside.”

“I got on the bus at eight o’clock, wearing just a light jacket. The bus driver was Max Millhouse, and I always sat right behind him because he liked to talk about hunting. As we got closer to school every cornfield had little cyclones of feeding ducks. The closer we got to Clear Lake, the more we saw. There were so many ducks that it was almost eerie.”

“By the time we arrived at Ventura, I had already decided to head back home. There were just too many ducks in the air to be in school. Max [the bus driver] suddenly announced we was going with me.”

“When we got back to my house, the storm was coming up fast and my folks were trying to get the chickens inside. We helped, and so instead of being in trouble for skipping school, I was a hero.”

“With that finished, we went to a nearby 30-acre marsh,” said Christensen. “It was already snowing when we got there, and at first we didn’t see anything on the slough. I thought --- ‘Oh No, the ducks left.’ Then we saw something move, and suddenly realized what was happening. That slough was completely covered in ducks – so many that you couldn’t see any water or make out individual birds. We started shooting, and it was something. Every duck on that slough was a mallard. You can‘t even imagine what it was like.”

“The storm really picked up and Max announced that he was heading back while he still could. I went to a different marsh closer to home and kept hunting. I don’t think it would have mattered where you went that day, every place was full of ducks. They were everywhere.”

“The snow finally got so bad that I had to take my ducks and walk for home,” said Christensen. “A school bus came down the road, but it couldn’t make it in the snow and had to turn back. Before leaving, it dropped off 17 school kids at our house. They had to spend the night.”

When Christensen entered his farmstead, he was informed that a Garner dentist by the name of Doc Hayes had parked in the yard and then walked to a nearby marsh. Since he hadn’t returned, the hunter was feared lost. Tossing caution to the winds, Christensen immediately launched a daring rescue.

“I knew I had to try and find him,” relates Christensen. “I was young and didn’t think of any danger. I had a good idea of where Doc would have been hunting and started up a fenceline that led from the buildings. I don’t think I could see more than 15 feet in front of me, that’s how bad it was.”

“I found Doc Hayes on that fenceline. He was just standing there, stuck in a drift. He couldn’t move. When I got up to him, he started crying. ‘I thought I was dead,’ he said to me. I took his gun and a big bunch of ducks and we started back. I told him to step in my tracks. I broke the trail, and our tracks would disappear almost instantly.”

“When we got home, my Dad and all those school kids were already in the basement picking my ducks. I don’t know how many mallards were down there, but it was a lot. It was really something. We still had fresh tomatoes from the garden, all those ducks, and snow drifts piling up outside,” said Christensen.

“The next day we shoveled out Doc’s Cadillac which was buried in the yard. When we reached the road, something moved in the snow. I had shoveled out a live coot. That bird had lit on the road and become buried in a drift. The coot was just fine and flew away.”

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Woe is Me ... The "Economic Downturn"

Don't you just love the term, "economic downturn"? I don't think I liked it at first, but it is starting to grow on me now. I must admit that even though I can be a little, "woe is me" at times, for the most part I am a pretty much an optimist. So, when I look at the current "economic downturn" I just try and look at the bright side of things ... one of the bright spots right now is that gas is below $2.00 a gallon and with my 7¢ off for using a Wal-Mart gift card it almost seems like I don't mind filling up (but really it needs to go down more and stay down).

But, gas prices aren't the only thing being affected by this "economic downturn". I just read over at Allan Nation's blog that the Whole Foods chain of stores is seeing a huge decrease in growth and is trying to get out of some leases. It seems with people thinking that the financial word is and is going to crumble they have decided that buying food from Whole Foods isn't as cool as it used to be. To quote the quote that was in Mr. Nations blog post, "Two to three years ago, it was cool to shop at Whole Foods. Now you might say it is cool to shop at Costco".

There are only a couple of things wrong with that. First of all I've never been to a Whole Foods, so I don't know exactly what they sell. But, if they sell food that is organic/natural/just plain better for you than I'm guessing that the reason you shop there should not be because it is cool. It should be because you have a reason to shop there. And secondly, how bad have we become as a country if we shop at grocery stores because of the status symbol that they are ... it is bad enough that we do it for clothes and everything else.

So, here is my question. How do you see the "economic downturn" impacting small-scale family agriculture? I have noticed time and time again comments from people over at the Epi-Log that they are cutting back on their farmer's market purchases and other local food things because they just can't afford it (by the way, how does an "economic downturn" effect a 20'something with a secure job and no need to withdraw money from their pension?). So, what will the impact be? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Can We Revisit the Barn/Shed Thing...

Okay, I realize that I spent two days already discussing this, but I have to admit that it is what has been consuming much of my farm thought lately. Each day as I'm out doing chores and uncovering things under tarps all over the farm I am reminded of how nice it would be to have a place of storage for some small square bales, pig feed, the tractor, tools, and so much more. In fact I'm also reminded of how nice it would be when I'm in the house also because right before we started building we decided to add a room and that room ate into the storage area.

So, earlier I mentioned what the buildings were that I was considering (check the link to refresh yourself) and then after that I talked about location (again, take the link). I think that I have settled on spot number three for our location because it is good proximity to the house, the garden, the water hydrant/line, and the electrical box. Also, it is a relatively flat area with a nice flat area behind it that would be a good place to have the cattle when the rest of the farm is fairly wet.

What I can't figure out is what kind of building to build and how big to make it. The building above is what the "carport" style barn would look like and it does have its pluses. First of all I could get a 34x26x12 building for just over $6,000 and it would be installed fairly quickly. Also, this building would have three bays with all of them being 12 feet wide. That would be nice for running equipment in, and I could then live the middle bay for hay which I could stack up to the highest point of the building. I guess the down side is that it is basically a carport...

On the other had for that same amount of money I could only build a pole building with steel siding about half that size. That would mean that I would also out grow it more quickly. On the plus side I feel like it could be a bit more sturdy and it may be better if I wanted to do some additions on my own.

Lastly, I have heard the idea of a hoop building thrown around. I don't really know much about these or their costs and would love to hear some thoughts. If you have any more opinions I would love to hear them ... if not, well now you know what is going through the mind of a beginning farmer!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Conservation Stewardship Program

I have heard and read that the updates to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) was one of the highlights to the 2008 Farm Bill. I must admit that I didn't know much about the CSP until I started hearing/reading that so I looked it up and tried to figure out what it is all about. Like most governmental programs it was a little difficult to figure out, but I did just come across the "Conservation Stewardship Program Fact Sheet #9". You can check out the .PDF file for yourself by clicking on the link.

So, here are some of the "facts":
  • The CSP used to be called the Conservation Security Program ... the name change is probably to make us feel good (I am just kidding).
  • It is a program for farmers that are using or interested in using conservation practices on land that they are currently farming for row crops or pasture ... unlike the Conservation Reserve Program.
  • It seems the new and improved version of the CSP is open to all farmers, not just those in certain watersheds as with the previous version. I would think this is a good thing for farmers out there that are actively farming and working on conservation at the same time.
  • Whether or not you receive a CSP contract (5 year contracts) will depend on how many acres are enrolled and what conservation practices the farm is using and whether or not they are willing to do more. I'm still not totally clear on what kind of conservation practices they are talking about, but I'm sure that is because I just don't know enough about the program (old or new).
  • The amount of the CSP payment will take into account three factors. 1) What are the environmental benefits. 2) What costs does the farmer have because of the measures. 3) Will there be some income lost by the farmer.
  • You will be happy to know that the payments have been capped at $40,000 per year (per farm) instead of the "virtually unlimited payments" of other programs. (I'm being a little tongue-in-check here, but they did say those "virtually unlimited payments" can go to millionaires and corporations)
So, there you have it. Facts from the fact sheet ... with a few comments along the way. Like I said, I don't know too much about this program other than the fact that some people felt like it was one of the best parts of the Farm Bill for conservation minded farmers. I would love to hear from someone that knows more about it, or anyone else interested in agriculture policy!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Election is Over, Now it is Time to Vote...

Well, yesterday was what it was and the results are what they are. That is about all the comment you will get from me on the election. But, I don't really believe the voting is done ... in fact I honestly believe that the campaigning needs to continue and that the people need to vote and keep voting. I'm talking about voting with their forks, stomachs, and food purchases! Those are the votes that will matter to the small scale farmers out there. Those are the votes that will matter to the people that want to see America's agricultural systems change. Those are the votes that really matter because they are more than a popularity contest.

Out in California it looks like their Proposition 2 will pass which will put some more regulations on the confinement industry. On the surface that may seem like a victory for grass-based or free-range producers, but I have a feeling that it is going to take more than a ban on confinement agriculture to really change the face of farming in the United States. What it is going to take is for consumers to start dictating what they want with their purchases.

Here is what I think this means... If you are a producer/farmer who believes in the ideas of grass-based agriculture and the fact that it can feed our country you need to get out there and campaign. Not for legislation to help you (although it may be a good idea to campaign for less regulation in some sectors), but rather campaign to the consumers ... the people who buy food for themselves and their families. Let them know what is so great about a farming system that is different from the current conventional norm and then let their stomachs and their forks do the voting.

And, if you are a consumer ... well then get informed, make your decision, and cast your ballot (so to speak). Don't just make the assumption that a cheap food culture is the best way, or that government regulation will give you the safest and healthiest food available. See what is out there. Talk with your local farmers. Then start eating!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

From Grain To Grass

I have often wondered what it would look like if a number of farmers in Iowa just began converting their row crop operations back into grass for pasture. It would be quite the site and I'm sure there would be many other farmers who would look at it like the farmers looked at Ray Kinsella when he made a baseball field in the middle of his corn field (yep, that is a "Field of Dreams" reference). But, what if it really did happen? What if some of those flat and fertile acres in central Iowa were taken back to pasture and managed with rotational or mob grazing? I bet they could support quite a few head per acre!

This is exactly what one farm family in South Dakota has done. I read the article quite awhile ago in the October issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer", but hadn't had a chance to write about it yet. The farm family in question had been raising conventional row crops and feedlot cattle on family land when the decided that the wanted to make the switch. So, the moved from away from their crops and machinery and planted wheatgrass, big bluestem, switchgrass, and other grasses ... oh, and now they only have one tractor that they try not to use very often.

Along with their switch to grass they also made a chance in the cattle genetics and moved their herd to smaller framed bovines of the Irish Black and Hereford breeds. They feel, just as many others feel, that genetics and frame size has a big impact on how well a beeve will finish on grass and they have been very pleased with their results (at least that is what the article indicated).

One other thing that was mentioned in the article was their use of windrow grazing. This is a technique that I have read about previously, but must admit that I don't know much about it. What they are doing is using three of what had been their hayfields and rotating through those. Each year they will use two to make hay for their calves after weaning and then use the third for windrow grazing (sort of like strip grazing). Each year the windrow graze a different field in the winter in order to spread around the fertilizer.

I'm not exactly sure this windrow grazing idea would work on a farm our size, but it is an interesting concept and something I would love to learn more about. Plus, the article encouraged me ... maybe in 20 or so years when our place is mostly paid off the row crop field across the road will come up for sale. Then I could see what the transition looks like first hand!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Farming Conferences

With fall here (although it is going to reach the upper 70's today) and winter right around the corner there are a number of small-scale farming conferences across the country. These conferences are a great place to get ideas, learn about different techniques, discuss what works with other farmers, and just plan learn how to do stuff. In fact you can find sessions at these conferences on everything from processing to marketing to transitioning you operation to a new direction. Below are a few conferences that I know about, but I would love to hear any that you know of or what you think of these if you have ever attended them.
  • 2008 Small Farm Today Trade Show and Conference (Nov. 6-8): This one is right around the corner, so I suppose if you haven't made plans to attend already it might be a bit late. I'm not able to go this year, but this seems like it would be a great place to learn because of all the great speakers and sessions they have every year. If the calendar works out next year it will be high on my list.
  • 2008 Acres USA Conference and Trade Show (Dec. 4-6): Acres USA is a pretty popular publication (I've just read samples and online articles) and their conference is fairly popular as well. Their list of presenters is pretty cool, including a session led by Joel Salatin. They even have a pre-conference intensive class that you can take if you would like.
  • 2009 Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference (Jan. 9-10): This is one that I'll actually be attending. In fact I will even have the chance to do a short presentation there about blogging! But, my little bit is hardly the reason to go. This year the theme is "The Biological Harvest: The Sustainable Farmer's Hidden Opportunity". In fact they are even having the "King Corn" guys back!
  • 11th Annual Midwest Value Added Agriculture Conference (Jan. 22-23): I had actually not heard of this conference until I started looking through the Practical Farmers of Iowa events calendar. It does look like a pretty neat conference though with wide variety of speakers.
If you know of any other good ones let us know...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

This Weekend...

So, this weekend I'm spending my time with 400+ high school students in Des Moines. Last night I had about 2 hours of sleep beginning at 4:30 AM. Today I'm going to spend my time cheering on kids as they compete in various things... So, this is all I have time to write today. I would love to hear your thoughts on our possible building though ... check out the Thursday and Friday posts to see what I'm talking about.

Enjoy your weekend!
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