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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

short, short days.

December 21st is one of my dates to mark every year. It seems right around this time the light is gone and winter has its full grip tightening on this little spot in Ohio. I get really sad, there's not much to do and I'm usually pretty broke.

So I look for December 21st, the shortest day of the year. That means it's all up from here. The days will keep stretching. Soon the snow will melt and the grass will shrug off the cold and turn into beautiful April pastures with happy dandelions springing up everywhere. Yes, it's all looking up from here, well, except those two and a half more months of brutal cold.

But my first order is piling up from High Mowing Organics and soon I'll have dirt all over my house and little seedlings sprouting up to some far off tune of the promise of another growing season. (CSA future members, any High Mowing requests?)

And crap if this darn hawk didn't find my little flock of laying hens that are limping through the winter. The last batch of meat birds was a total and complete failure as they one by one were taken by either the cold or the hawk. So as soon as the weather breaks in March, I've got some chicken orders to fill. I don't like starting the year already behind, but it won't take me long to catch my tail and start moving forward again. I've got plans for a better chicken tractor system for some fresh egg layers and I think I have my system down for meat birds, when the weather isn't below freezing. Live and learn, I guess. Sorry for those short on chicken dinners this winter.

I've been sick all day, eating only bread with honey on it and drinking hot tea, but now I'm buzzing with thoughts of spring, dancing around to Metric with thoughts of spring strawberries.

All this darkness and winter has given me plenty of time to obsess over my new plan, to build a cord wood building that will eventually become a store front. Here's a pic from with a green roof, because of course after building a sustainable small wood and cob building, why wouldn't you plant grass on the roof?

Now the logistics part is where I am getting a bit muddled. I'll have to plow through zoning permits and whatnot... mostly the battle is getting my dad to turn the zoning from commercial to agricultural. He has big ideas of re building the old mill into this giant convention center and wants me to get investors and contractors and I'm pretty sure that's not what I want to do.
Maybe I'm not looking at the big picture, but I think I'd prefer to use this opportunity to start small and work my way up. Start small. Kinda like the CSA, every year we keep adding something and try not to bite off more than we can chew, well... I guess I had no idea how much interest I'd get from the meat share and hate being behind in that, but otherwise we did pretty well.
In keeping with the organic mindset and trying to be sustainable, I'd love to not have to borrow money from a bank, if at all possible. The supplies for a small cord wood building are somewhat cheap, except for time and labor, but I'd love the learning experience of once again working my ass off for no pay. Heh. But it's all in fun.

Anyway, if anyone wants in on this fun / hard labor project, just let me know. Of if anyone has any supplies around, old doors, bricks, liquor bottles, or anything else that might be useful, let me know.

Until then, I'll keep trudging through the cold, hopeful that the days are getting longer as I feed the pigs expired sweet rolls and keep a wary eye on the sky for that beautiful feathered cannibal. Oh, and pluck Christmas turkeys in the dark. At least today is the darkest day. It's only going to get lighter after this. Sweet!

Friday, December 3, 2010

food safety and store fantasy

It's only after the second cup of coffee that my feet start to warm up. The snow is a light dusting that's falling at a decent rate and I am at my winter ritual of constantly checking craigslist while updating about all the things I did during the super busy season.

Also, I'm sifting through all the information I can find on the new food safety bill that just passed.
Ah, thank you Jon Tester for exempting farms that sell within a 275 mile radius that sell under $500,000 a year. Check and check. So we should be alright for next year. I panicked for awhile thinking - do I need to call my CSA a "rabbit food" co-op? And the meat share could be really high quality "cat food." I'm still thinking about how things are going to be different next year, but at least I won't have to worry about tons of paperwork and the FDA looking over my shoulder now. I like personal accountability better. These are my eggs, I collect them fresh (when the darn hens are laying!!!) and this is what I feed my cow, this is what I enrich my soil with, and here's a list of anything that I spray.

I love watching food safety issues come and go just to see how much focus is spent on it. The alar scare with apples in the '70s is amazing to read about: a spray that was designed to make harvesting easier by getting all the apples to ripen at the same time, causes cancer? Noooo, really? The mad cow disease footage was enough to make anyone stop eating beef, but I think it also opened people's eyes up to the fact that they don't know what their beef was being fed - which was the underlying more disgusting story to be told.
Now there's salmonella in the eggs and this outbreak keeps happening. Why? Because the massive factory farm that these egg layers are kept in don't know which hens are laying the bad eggs and they don't want to post a loss by getting rid of the bad hens.
I think everything is getting too big to fail now.

Right now the whole nation is sitting on top of a teetering tower of subsidized corn and a complex network of food haulers and producers where a beef cow can start in West Virginia, travels out to the southwest and then back to the east coast again before it lands on a plate. I certainly wouldn't want the job of tracking lettuce from California or Argentina through all the trade routes, processors, packagers, and grocery store chains.

But then again, I'm sitting here drinking coffee from South America and my dogs are cheaply fed, so I'll try not to throw stones. Just sitting here thinking about the way things are, I guess.

I've switched over to tea now and have made the necessary phone calls to get both my cows into the butcher on January 9th. I was hoping for earlier, but I just couldn't swing it. Now I've got to find something else for christmas presents and apologize the the meat share members for their empty freezers.

Now I'm looking to next year. What am I going to do...
Now is when I look back and see what went right and figure out how to adapt and make things better. There's always a slight twinge of reflection about this time now as well where I say- do I really want to keep doing this?
I got attacked by a 700 pound pig this year. I popped out a rib. I didn't go on vacation. I did many rounds of poultry killing. I sold out of everything and had to turn people away. I raised my own piglets for the first time. Hell, I watched my first lambs getting born last winter! And baby goats are ridiculously cute. And I mended fences, beefed up my garden soil, planted a cherry tree that didn't die yet, more plums, paw paws, blueberries, gooseberries and a new strawberry patch. I had an amazing plant sale and loved my CSA member's recipes and feedback and excitement at picking up their baskets. I got my first cow and learned that butcher dates fill up fast and I probably need to get a trailer now. I bought my first truck and consequently started getting a myriad of craigslist gems like cheap new hens, picked up hay and was able to get feed and goats without shoving it in the back of my honda. I grew carrots successfully this year! First time ever!!! I actually got a few carrots... of course they were in October, but still they were delicious!

So I guess there's the good and the bad. The ups and the down vary day to day, almost to the point of being bipolar. Things can go so right or so wrong, but I guess it's all a learning experience. I didn't grow up on a farm, but geez I love animals and still somehow am perfectly fine with eating them.

With the slowing down of winter, I'm sure these blogs will become more frequent as I've found that most of my problems are best worked through via writing, venting, reassessing, and therefore planning. Like right now, I'm playing out in my brain the possibility of opening up a little farm store. Yes, I know I just kinda said that I work too much as it is, but seriously, how cool would a little farm store be where you could buy local honey, organic grains, vegetable seeds, maple syrup, organic gardening sprays, and pickup for CSA under a roof, and have a freezer for the meat share people to pickup instead of the cooler system or waiting around for me to be home to pickup chickens. Just something small, maybe a strawbale building with skylights and a wood burner in the corner. Jason looked at my the same way he looked at me after I pitched the meat share idea to him - both happy and wary of how it is going to pan out. He wants to go on vacation, and rightfully so. Maybe this is just a winter fantasy, where when the snow is blowing I tend to forget how short on time I am in the growing season and I tend to over-order on seeds and have grandiose ideas about what can get done in a day.

Do I really want to keep doing this? The answer is more than likely yes. And well, if I'm already doing it, why not do more?