Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Diverse Farm ...

As you can see from the picture above there was a new litter of pigs born Sunday night in the storm and things seem to be going well. But, if you look closely at the picture you will also notice a chicken in the foreground. I think it's a perfect example of the diverse farm and also helps remind me that the chickens are out doing their job in the pig lot, the pasture, and all around the farm. Plus, they are laying eggs ... although I wouldn't mind having some more egg layers around!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Need a Sign :: Need Your Help

Okay ... the first farmer's market is coming up very quickly and I need some serious help on a sign for the tent. I am feeling sort of uncreative at the moment which is why I have seven sign ideas instead of just one. I feel like I've tried to cram too much information onto the signs, but here they are anyways. You may have noticed that I'm focusing on the "heritage breed meats" thing a lot instead of the farm name. Part of that is because the heritage breeds are something important to the farm and I'm new to the market so it helps differentiate me from the other livestock farms there. And part of it is ... well it is because I got stuck on that phrase. Please let me know if there is one You particularly like ... or if I should just go with a simple "Crooked Gap Farm" sign. Just place your vote in the comments, and as always ... thanks for the help!

Sign #1 ::

Sign #2 ::

Sign #3 ::

Sign #4 ::

Sign #5 ::

Sign #6 ::

Sign #7 ::

Friday, June 24, 2011

More Thoughts on D.C.

The biggest most recurring thought I had while I was in Washington D.C. meeting with congressional leaders and their aides ... the fact that ever meeting I had with someone was a meeting that was preceded by another meeting. That's just how Washington D.C. works I guess. I was there to speak on behalf of some beginning farmers and talk about how the current governmental programs do or don't help a beginning farmer and what could be done to level the playing field (or at least allow me on the scale) slightly. But, while I was out there I realized I was a small fish in a rather vast ocean. One meeting before mine included six very well dressed men with briefcases and fancy charts ... they were with a road construction company and I'm fairly certain they were there for a similar reason as mine ... to share their story and ask for support (which in governmental terms usually means money).

All of that made me wonder what I was doing there ... was my voice going to be a voice or a murmur ... did it matter if I shared my story ... where those "asks" I was asking for even worth the time? There was always a thought in the back of my mind that was a little cynical about the system. But, at the same time I will admit that I was slightly intrigued by the process.

The main reason that the our group was out there was to paint a picture of beginning farmers across the country and speak with congressional leaders about the upcoming farm bill ... which I learned may happen anywhere between 2011 and 2013 ... although it is scheduled for 2012. In fact the thing that we were sharing with people was what is considered a "marker bill" for the next farm bill. In this case it was probably one of the first "marker bills".

As I looked at the bill there were things that really intrigued me and things that I questioned. Some of the ideas for allow beginning farmers microloans through the FSA were interesting, but I was always wondering where so much money comes from! As I mentioned last time and will mention time and time again the biggest thing I shared with the people I met with was that I just wanted to be able to compete in the market without having to always fight an uphill battle against my bigger farm neighbors ... there is room for all kinds of farms as long as one of the farming kind doesn't get pushed off the cliff in favor of the other (and I know both sides probably feel like they're the ones headed for the cliff at times).

Just some more of my thoughts ... oh and the picture above is of my (blurry me) and Tom Latham a representative from Iowa ...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mr. Smith (Book) Returns from Washington

Somehow I accomplished it ... my first plane ride ... the D.C. Metro by myself ... hailing a cab ... wandering the halls of the U.S. Congressional offices ... and roaming the streets of the nations capital. And as you can see from the picture on the right I have proof that I was actually there (picture lifted from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog ... check it out). Before I say anything else let me just say that I really enjoyed myself. The planes, trains, and cabs were no big deal and even though I was nervous and spoke without thinking once or twice I loved the experience and would jump at again if given the chance. As some of you may know I'm a talker ... so I was really in my element with the meetings where I was able to talk about my passions and the issues that face a beginning farmer. I'm not sure if I made a lasting difference, but I was able to speak my mind and that is all part of the process.

I hope to share more in the coming days (or weeks considering my recent blog activity), but thought I would just give a brief overview this morning. As I mentioned just a moment ago my "fly-in" was sponsored/put together in part by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), and the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) ... acronyms are big in the District of Columbia (DC). But, the trip included beginning farmers from all over the country representing different areas, types of farming, and other organizations. There were farmers from New York, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, California, and even more states. What was really exciting about the group was to see that even though people were coming from different types of farms (CSA's to cattle ranches to dairies to transplant farms) they came together on many of the issues that effect beginning farmers.

Over time I will share some of the neat things I learned about and spoke about, but the biggest thing that all of the beginning farmers (and myself) talked about and wanted was a more level playing field. One congressman I talked to said that everyone wants "a level playing field as long as it is tipped slightly in their favor". I had to disagree with him because I felt (and believe the others felt the same way) that level would be okay, but more than anything as a beginning farmer I'd just like to have the chance to get on the scale with the bigger agricultural industry. I'm not saying my way is the only way, but rather don't exclude my way or shut me out because it's not your way ... if that's what happens then I think you would be missing out on a lot of great young farmers!

More to come later ...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Price Taker or Price Maker?

From page 83 of Success on the Small Farm by Haydn Pearson ::
For every hundred men who are good producers of the scores of products that come from America's farms, only a few are good salesmen. 
The profit made on a farm depends upon the marketing ability of the farmer. For about a century now, farmers in general have labored under an economic handicap that no business except farming could survive. That is, farmers have sold their products at wholesale-price level; they have bought their equipment, grain and, in most instances, from 75 to 90 per cent of their food at retail-price level.
An interesting quote from 1946 ... something to think about at least ...

Monday, June 06, 2011

Rock Stars and Professional Bass Fishing ...

There was a time when I saved up all my extra money and bought rock star gear. I had electric guitars (still have one for sale if anyone is interested), I had multiple bass guitars, I had amps, I had heavy speaker cabinets, and I even was putting together a modest set of recording gear so that I could record the next great song. I played shows for 10's of people and for 1,000's of people (at least once or twice) and I thought about taking the whole music thing to the next level ... at least I wanted to ...

But, I just don't think I was cool enough for the rock star gig. So I thought to myself ... surely I'm cool enough for the professional bass fishing gig! I started trading out some of those bass guitars and amps for fishing poles, lures, reels, more lures, more poles, and more and more and more lures. I began reading Bassmaster Magazine and clipping out the articles ... I knew what all the hot lures were just as the were becoming popular ... I wanted to be a professional bass fisherman! I wanted to fish and talk fishing and sell fishing and be outdoors ... at least that was the plan ...

Then came the farm ... my guitars are out of tune and tucked away in a closet ... the only two amps I had left are at my mom's for storage ... my stash of lures and rods and reels sit about ten feet away from me collecting dust and catching spider webs ... none of those things are relevant for what I'm doing right now and what I want to be able to do. But, there are times that I wonder ...

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just give up on the farming dream. I know the statistics for new business start-ups are very dismal (and that is what this farm is), so sometimes I wonder if I'm just one of those many businesses that are just prone to fail for whatever reason. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to come back after work and sit down for a leisurely meal or a quick bit of yard work. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just sell it all ... get a small house in a small town near a lake and just work for the weekends ...

Please don't think I'm complaining ... I'm just wondering ... But, the reality is that I want to farm. I want to make the farm go and be as profitable and sustainable as possible and I want to throw myself behind it one hundred percent. Maybe someday I'll look back at the farm as one of those phases or dreams that just never materialized (like music or fishing), but right now I feel that if I look back at the farm and see it had failed it won't be because of lack of effort.

:: A Positive Note :: As I read over what I just wrote I realized it was kind of a downer ... so let me just end with this thought ... if I'm going to be a farmer I'd like to bring a little rock star influence into the world of farming!!

Friday, June 03, 2011


I think (or at least I hope) that everyone has their "thing". You know ... the "thing" that they are passionate about, that they enjoy doing no matter how challenging, and that they can really wrap their minds around. For some people it is art (music, painting, sculpting, video, etc.), for some people it could be baking/cooking, for others it may be writing, some will find communication to be their thing, and some people have the mechanical "thing" down. Of course there are many, many, many other "things" that people are passionate ... knowledgeable ... and skilled at, but that is a sampling at least.

Me ... I think my "thing" is talking. Ever since I was a preschooler my "thing" has been talking (I had the time-outs and detentions to prove it). Now, I'm not saying that being a talker is a bad thing and it surely has a place in the type of farming and selling that I do ... But, sometimes I REALLY WISH my "thing" was being mechanical! Because with the type of farming that I do and the type of money I have to invest in infrastructure it would be nice if I could do a little work for myself every now and then. There are to many times I find myself just standing and looking (trying to figure out how to do something) instead of actually doing ... and too many times what I'm trying to figure out how to do is rather simple!

Case-in-point ... right now my tractor is absolutely giving me fits. I understand that this is just all part of owning a 50 plus year old tractor, but at the same time I wish it was working like a charm! Currently my starting is going bad (and has been for over a year) ... my PTO (which was fixed last summer ... for a few months at least) is not functional ... and just recently a cylinder went to pot on my loader rendering the tractor immovable until I get the loader off (which had me standing and looking last night). Eventually ... hopefully ... I will get it all straightened out, but in the meantime I'm standing and looking and wishing I could find a great mechanically minded person willing to barter with a guy that is very talkative ...

That's life at the Crooked Gap ...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Doing it Right ...

Blogging has unfortunately been pushed towards the back of my work load lately, but I have been bouncing around a lot of things that I would like to write about ... one of those things was this topic ...

From the beginning of the farm (and to be honest even before the farm was owned) I have been going and going and going and trying to attain my perfect farm. Often that has meant that I just head out and get what I ... only to fully realize that I am not quite ready yet for that particular animal or venture yet. Actually, now that I think about it ... it's not that I don't realize I'm not ready, but rather that I don't care that I'm not ready and that I think I can just push on through it anyways.

It was that kind of thinking that had me start out with a cow and a calf over an hour away at my dad's and then eventually end up with over a dozen cows and calves at my dad's and then eventually bring that whole bustling herd to the farm before I even had a perimeter fence up yet. It was that kind of thinking that saw me bring up a load of sows that actually had one farrow in the trailer ... and ... well ... you get the idea. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and sometimes I just think I can do more than I really can.

This spring I have actually been doing a good job though. I don't have things set up nearly like I would like them to be and I'm not close to as far along as I thought I would be. But, I'm not doing things half way. I'm not running the pigs out into the woods in a paddock that will only keep me from doing it right ... I'm not just turning the cows out all willy nilly with out a plan ... I'm not raising meat chickens yet (which is something I very much wanted to do).

No, this spring I'm doing things the right way. It is taking more time, but hopefully in the long run I will see a difference for the better ... that is the idea at least ... I'll let you know how it works out.
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