A Word About CSA’s

A word about CSA’s, or Community Supported Agriculture:

Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

We do this.  We bought a share with a local farmer we met while working the Tumwater Farmers Market, and each week we pick up our bag of veggies, and it worked out quite well for us.

Do we eat everything we receive?  Honestly, no! There are some items we simply do not enjoy eating, but that’s not the point.

Is it more expensive than, say, shopping at Safeway?  Yes, but again, that’s not the point.

So, what is the point?

From Local Harvest.org:

Advantages for farmers:

  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

 

Advantages for consumers:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

 

And it is that last item which is so important to us. . . we get to know the people who grow our food, and that fills us with a sense of community which we believe is so important in this modern society of ours.

 

 

We have gone from 50% of the U.S. population working as farmers in 1870 to 2% today.  There are 2.2 million farmers in this country today, with an average farm size of 460 acres.  The farmers I know have nowhere close to 460 acres . . . more like 100 acres or less . . . but the point is this is an occupation which is rapidly shrinking in this country, and it takes very little imagination to picture a country where 99% of the food produced is produced by a major corporation, and that vision depresses me.

Anyway, we are doing our part to support local agriculture, and that makes us feel better as we move along this path of localism and sustainability.

Bill

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Memories and Metaphors

I had this written once, but it was about meat processing, and after I finished it I didn’t like it, so here we go again.  When in doubt, fall back on favorite memories.

Rewind tape . . . second take . . . and action!

Charles City, Iowa, is, was, and probably always will be a farming town.  The population today, for the city on the Cedar River, is 7,700 people.  It seemed bigger to me when I first saw it at age five.

Our family drove back there in the summer of 1953 to see my dad’s folks.  I remember brick storefronts.  I remember friendly people.  And I remember corn literally as far as the eye could see, miles and miles of green stalks, reaching for the blue sky, swaying in the breeze, and farmers on tractors, big men, their faces shielded from view by John Deere caps, waving as we drove by.

By 1953 my grandparents were twenty years removed from losing most of their corn farm in the Great Depression.  When I first met them, when I first arrived in Charles City, my grandparents were down to twenty acres and a weathered, two-story farmhouse, built in 1883 using wood from the forests of Minnesota, my dad said, but even those twenty acres seemed like a huge spread of land to me, and I was convinced my grandparents must be rich to live with so much property.

Chickens pecked in the yard, under a hot sun, Grandma out there daily tossing corn to them, shooing them off her porch with a broom, a couple piglets running around, not fenced in, seemingly aware of property lines, and huge oak trees with inviting limbs, providing shade, wooden chairs underneath them, family members sitting in them, drinking lemonade, neighbors stopping by to meet the relatives from the distant State of Washington.

The nights were special with lightning bugs and bullfrogs, the sky so clear, the stars so close, a warm breeze rustling the corn stalks, that rustle a constant companion into the night as sleep came, and the next day grandma on her knees, tending to her small garden, quiet in her work, most likely remembering days gone by when that small garden was much larger, and the dreams of a young couple were smashed by economic forces they did not comprehend.

My Uncle Ike came by, riding a scooter, probably a Vespa, an odd sight for 1953, probably had it shipped home after the European war, and he took me for rides, across the walking bridge spanning the Cedar, me standing in front of him, his large arms on both sides of me, smelling of Old Spice, gripping the handlebars, and I swear that man knew everyone in town, all seven-thousand of them waving at us as we passed by on our way to the A & W for an ice-cold root beer in a frosted mug, and he introduced me to friends, me feeling like royalty, and they all treated me as such, Mister Bill they called me, heady stuff for a scrawny kid from Tacoma.

There’s a point to this story if you look hard enough for it.

I’ve thought often of that Iowa town. I saw it a couple more times, but it was never as special as that first visit in 1953, the sun never again as bright, the stars never again as close.  My grandparents both died within months of each other in 1962, and the town itself was leveled by a F5 tornado in 1968, an honest-to-God weather metaphor sent by the gods, the message learned by some, missed by others, and now just a footnote in Iowa history.

But I will remember . . . and I do every single time I work outside on my urban farm, and every single time I do a farmers market, and every single time I sit in the backyard and thank those same gods for a little slice of the past.

Bill

 

The Life of a Farmer

 

My grandfather used to rise and shine at four a.m. to feed and milk his forty cows on his Iowa farm.  Grandma would get up with him, and while he was doing his first chores in the barn she would be fixing a huge breakfast for him.  When he finished feeding the cows he would come into the kitchen, kicking the mud and dirt off his boots, sit down and eat, and then return to the barn for milking.

Every single day, 365 days per year, rain, shine, sleet, snow, or hail.

I was reminded of that the other day when I was out on my stepson’s goat farm.  Every day he climbs out of bed, goes out and feeds and milks the goats, and then spends the rest of his day repairing things, making cheese, and just living the life of a farmer.

1955 . . . 2017 . . . the life of a farmer is not an easy one.  It is not for the weak of spirit.  You’ve got to love farming or you might as well not get into it.  You’ve got to love animals or you might as well not have any.

If that sounds like I’m trying to discourage anyone I’m not.  I think we need more small, independent farmers in this country. I believe strongly in localism and sustainability.  I believe strongly in farmers markets.  I would love it if someone reading this article was inspired to take up farming . . . but there has to be a reality check beforehand.

Farming is work!

You gotta love it!

And you gotta love animals!

Even on our urban farm we have enough animals to keep us busy.  Our chickens, quail, and rabbits all require, and deserve, special care.  They have to be fed, and watered, every morning and every evening.  They have to be provided with weatherproof housing so they are protected from the elements.  There have been many mornings, when the wind is howling and the rain is coming down horizontally, when I have not wanted to go out and feed the critters, but I do it because one, they are my responsibility and two, because I love it.

One other memory of my grandparents’ farm . . . fresh baked bread right out of the oven . . . I salivate now just thinking of that smell.

Random thought . . .

By the way, in 2006 the Billion Tree Campaign was begun by some Pulitzer Peace Prize winner who shall remain nameless because, well, I can’t remember his/her name. Anyway, it was an attempt to help the Earth by planting a billion new trees by 2007.  It was successful, by the way, and since the inception of that program there have been somewhere in the neighborhood of fourteen billion new trees planted.

You don’t have to be a farmer to help the Earth!

Random thoughts!

Bill

Taking A Deep Breath

I’m taking a deep breath and releasing a deep sigh.

Can you hear it?

October has come to an end and all winter preparations are completed. The new roof is on. The woodstove is cleaned. Firewood is stacked.  Critters are protected for the winter.

All is well on our little farm.

And now attention turns inward. There is painting to do inside the house.  The kitchen and bathroom floors need tiling.  We will do those things as time allows.

There is also planning to do for next spring.  We have to decide what we are going to sell at farmers markets and oh, yes, speaking of farmers markets, guess who was elected as Board President at the Tumwater Farmers Market?

Me!

There I was, at the Board meeting, minding my own business, when my loving wife entered my name into nomination for the President’s position.  Naturally there were no dissents because, let’s face it, nobody wants that damned job.

And now I have it!

My complaining is really hollow and we all know it.  I believe in farmers markets. I believe in locally-owned and grown products, and sustainability, and all those other catch-phrases which signal a return to our roots and a departure from Costco and WalMart.

So it’s all good.  The winter will be a busy time as we prepare for the spring, and next spring I’ll say the spring is a busy time as we prepare for the summer . . .

And so it goes!

Bill

Give Your Chicken A Hug

My first experience with chickens was when I was seven.  As I’ve mentioned before, my grandparents had a 150-acre corn farm in Charles City, Iowa, and when I was seven my family took a road trip back to Iowa to visit my grandparents.

There are still some scenes from that trip long ago that are vivid in my mind.  I remember the wonder of seeing 100 acres of green corn stalks blowing gently in the wind, the sound of them rustling against each other.  I remember the joy of ice-cold lemonade sipped under the shade of a giant oak, and the sight of lightning bugs at night, catching them in a jar, and the crickets playing a symphony.

And I remember three lessons about chickens: don’t ever run barefoot across the chicken enclosure; roosters are not gentle, kind birds; and it is downright gross when your grandmother wrings a chicken’s neck and it starts flopping all around the backyard.

With those as my only chicken memories it is amazing that I enjoy raising chickens today.

But I do . . . I absolutely love watching our flock of twenty . . . they provide much amusement and satisfaction for me.

They are intelligent birds, despite what some people think.  In fact, I’ve found chickens to be much more intelligent than some people I know.  They have individual personalities.  They respond to tenderness.

And they are great gardeners!

I went out yesterday to gather some potatoes for dinner, and the chickens had saved me the trouble of digging up those potatoes.  They love to do that, turn over the soil, and in the process they will unearth potatoes and just leave them there for me to pick up.

How considerate is that?

Listen, I admit, I’m a big softie when it comes to our birds and animals.  I’ll never wring a chicken’s neck.  I’ll never kill one of our rabbits for meat.  The quail have a free pass for life on our property.  I simply enjoy the process of raising them all, and I enjoy interacting with them.  I find them to be soothing at a time when outside influences are anything but soothing.  When Facebook feeds become maddening, and the evening news is driving me into depression, my animals and birds are there to soothe me.

They are my drug of choice, a much-healthier drug than the alcohol which once ruled my life.

And just for the record, I still don’t run barefoot across the chicken enclosure.  That’s just a tad too “back to nature” for this boy.

Bill

The Silent Future

No more lawn

Sustainable Living . . . a nice little catch-phrase which has hammered its way into our consciousness over the past couple decades . . . an attempt to lessen our carbon footprint on this planet by making lifestyle choices which are Earth-friendly!

I was raised during the 50’s and 60’s and I have to tell you, the concept of sustainable living was a non-factor in Tacoma, Washington back then.  My dad loved to fertilize the lawn, loved to water the lawn, loved to mow the lawn, loved to burn stuff in the burn barrel, loved to use pesticides on the plants and trees and lawn, poured used motor oil into the gutter, stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

That’s just the way things were back then.  Dad didn’t know any better, despite Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” which I am certain my dad never read.  Hell, in truth, I didn’t know any better back then, and when I purchased my first home I was just as guilty of harming this planet as my father had been.

But I know better now.  I have learned things, and armed with that knowledge I can no longer claim ignorance and unlearn them.

I was talking to a friend the other day, telling them that we got rid of our lawn and replaced it with thirty berry bushes.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

“Because lawns are a waste of resources and there’s no point to them,” I proudly answered.

To which he replied:  “What the hell difference does it make? It’s only one lawn in a world with millions of them.”

It’s hard to argue with his logic and yet I will.  Yes, it is one lawn.  No, in the grand scheme of things, it probably makes no difference at all.

But to do nothing in this world, at this time, is unacceptable to me!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have berries to freeze.

Bill

My Responsibility

 

“They rely on you, Bill, and that means you have an important responsibility.”

Yep, words from my dad, talking to me many moons ago about taking care of two baby bunnies I had adopted at the age of eight.

God they were cute!

But the cuteness wore off pretty fast when I realized that I couldn’t go play baseball until I cleaned out their hutch, and one night when they somehow got loose and were running around in the backyard during a rainstorm, they weren’t too damned cute then either.

But they were my responsibility, and they relied on me to provide a safe environment for them.

I took those words to heart, and I still do.  I think of them each morning when I go out to feed the chickens, rabbits, and quail.  I think of them every afternoon when I’m cleaning up poop and repairing animal enclosures.

I watched a documentary a couple weeks ago about a chicken farm where eggs are produced for supermarkets.  It was disgusting!  The chickens, by the thousands, were all crammed into small cages with barely enough room to move.  That was their home, a space no larger than 18 inches by 18 inches.  There they were fed.  When they laid an egg it would drop out the bottom of the cage, roll down a chute, and be picked up by the egg people.

Just for the record, that is not what I consider “taking care of an animal.”  To me, that kind of treatment is inhumane, and I won’t be a part of it.  And no, I do not support that kind of animal care at the supermarket. Our chickens provide us with eggs, and our meat comes from farmers we support who have functioning hearts.

I run a small, urban farm.  I am not in this to maximize my profits or increase my tax deductions.  Taking care of my animals and providing a safe, loving environment for them is, to me, a labor of love.  The smallest “cage” I own is a 10’x12’ aviary.  Every animal and bird I own has been picked up, held, and hand-fed by me or my wife.

I don’t want to sound preachy, and I’m sure not telling anyone else how to run their small farms or how to take care of their animals.  All I’m telling you is this is what I believe.  To me, it is not a large leap to go from mistreating animals to mistreating humans.

They rely on me and they are my responsibility.

And I consider that responsibility to be of great importance.

Bill

Guest Post by Carol Stanley

I get a break today.  A good online friend of mine, Carol Stanley, asked if she could do a guest blog and I jumped all over that opportunity with both feet.

Carol recently published a book on healthy living, and you can find a link to that book at the end of this post.

Without any more b.s. from me, here is Carol!

THE IMPORTANCE OF FRESH FOODS

By Carol Stanley

The grocery store can be a scary place in today’s landscape. The aisles are filled with packages of complete meals, vegetables with mysterious sauces, cans of a variety of vegetables, meats and sugary snacks. And most of the packaged foods contain additives and preservatives that are often claimed to be safe for human consumption. Even though you may feel self-righteous purchasing organic produce and packaged foods you cannot be totally sure of their freshness. If products have “certified organic” on the package you can be assured that it is organic. However, you will be a few steps ahead of the game if you base your diet on fresh foods.

Since I personally don’t always trust labels I am happy to claim that 95 percent of what we eat doesn’t have labels. Home gardens are sprouting everywhere today and many people are getting in the “fresh”game. This year we began our first little garden growing herbs, tomatoes, peppers and ochre. I love going outside and cutting fresh herbs and adding them to different recipes.

Speaking of herbs and spices these little leaves of flavor offer huge amounts of vitamins and minerals. Did you know that Oregano acts as an antibiotic? Along with the wonderful flavor of fresh produce, you can control the soil and create truly organic products. I will not do a tirade on all the processing that goes on with food today, but we do know that we are not getting the vitamins and minerals that were in the food 30 years ago. For example there is so much publicity on the negatives of gluten today. I am wondering if it is just the over processing of wheat that is causing people to suffer from digestive problems. Anyway you cannot go wrong growing your own produce.

There is something spiritual about going outside and watering our little garden and gathering food for dinner. You can start your own little garden with just a few pots and soil.

Here is a link to my newly published book on Amazon “Feel Better Every day” where I share many healthful ideas to support a healthy lifestyle http://a.co/8Y7LHwq

THANK YOU, CAROL!

I especially loved the comment “there is something spiritual about going outside an watering our little garden . . . “

Anyone who loves gardening understands that statement!

I’ll be back next week with some more of my own thoughts on urban farming.  Until then, I hope you have a spiritual week in the garden.

 

Bill

The Changing of the Seasons

I like the changing of the seasons. I really don’t have a favorite.  It’s the process of change I enjoy, watching Nature move to the next stage of the yearly evolution, and me becoming a part of that whole scene.

I like preparing for the upcoming season.  I like the challenge of it all, knowing much of it is within my capabilities, knowing I can meet the challenge and be fine, and knowing I have animals who depend on me to meet those challenges successfully.  No, this isn’t the 1800’s, and the challenges, and outcomes, aren’t severe, but still . . .

Having an urban farm makes me more aware of life.  I watch as the chickens molt.  The rabbits’ fur seems to double in quantity.  Geese fly overhead, their vacation spots already reserved and waiting for them.  Squirrels are busy doing what squirrels do best, prepare for the future.  I love the crispness of the fall mornings, and evenings.  I love the firewood pile, the smell of it, the anticipation of winter nights spent in a toasty home safe from the cold and dampness, feeling at times as though I’m revisiting the womb.

I like watching as the weather patterns transition.  Highs move on, lows settle in, the wind shifts from the north to the west, and the taste of the air changes.  Cloud formations are different, not only in color but in shape, and they move with a rapidity in the fall, as though an urgent calling must be answered.  There is an unsettled feeling to the fall, and just below the surface is a hint of threat, watch out now, be prepared, or winter will scrape and claw on our delinquencies.  It is foolhardy to ignore the fall, Nature tells us, so heed the signs and whittle down that to-do list.

And every year I think of the seasons as a metaphor for life, how I am now in the fall of my life, spring and summer gone, only one season left for this body, and a brief melancholy passes over, but then every year winter comes, and goes, and I find a new spring calling to me, rewarding me, one more year to come, a life not yet at the terminal.

So welcome to fall and all it entails.

I will be ready.

Bill

Learning By Mistakes

Don’t paint outside when there is a forest fire raging 100 miles away.

That was the lesson I learned the hard way last week.

Just when I start to think I might have a little intelligence, I do something like the following . . .

I woke up one morning last week to a fine dusting of ash on the ground and cars.  There was no doubt where the ash had come from.  We have four major forest fires going on in Washington State, and with the wind shifting, blowing from eastern Washington to western Washington, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the ash was a product of those fires.

So I did my writing thing for a few hours that morning and then decided to paint the picnic table the same color as the outside sheds.  It was a hot day and that was pretty much all I planned to accomplish outside that day, but I was determined to at least do that. I whipped through that chore in good time, washed off the paint brush, put everything away, and poured myself a nice, tall, cold glass of water, quite pleased with my accomplishment.

An hour later I was reminded that I’m not nearly as bright as I want to believe I am.

Yes, the ash fell on the new paint job, stuck to it, and left the picnic table looking like a cheap knock-off of some Jackson Pollock painting.

Sigh!

Welcome to my world!

I do that stuff quite often.  I get so focused on getting a job done that I don’t take the time to properly plan the job out.  Part of the problem is no training.  I’ve had to teach myself practically everything related to home improvements, so I make a ton of mistakes.  But I do learn eventually, so there’s that to embrace.

PLANNING FOR NEXT YEAR

That’s our main focus right now, getting ready for next year.  There is still about 30% of our backyard which is not used for much of anything, and that bugs the hell out of me.  Bev and I need to figure that out fairly soon.  The problem is the chicken population we have.  Planting in that remaining 30% yard is problematic with the chickens running loose. They would love to dig up anything we plant.  Yes, we could cage them, but I won’t do that to my birds.  Perhaps, and I’m not joking about this, I’ll cage the new planting section instead.  I have enough leftover chicken wire.  All I need to do is make a hay bale garden section and cover that section with a wooden frame and chicken wire.

New puppy

Something to think about, and that’s a project I can do without worrying about forest fire ash.

SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT

Three years ago I built our first aviary.  I followed that up with another one the next year.  We have a third out at our son’s farm.

No, I know nothing about building, but I studied enough framed buildings to understand the basics, so I did all right.  I was a half-inch off plumb with that first aviary, 10’x12’ in size, so that ain’t bad for an amateur.

Soon to be a greenhouse

Anyway, the reason I mention it all is this: those three aviaries have been great multi-use structures.  One is currently holding our firewood for this coming winter; the other is holding fifteen nine-week old hens until we sell them as pullets.  Those aviaries have also been homes for quail, other chickens, and have served as greenhouses.

One thing I would suggest for those of you who are not talented in building things: plan the aviaries, or any building projects, so they are the size of pre-cut lumber.  Please note I said my aviaries are 10’x12’….those two sizes are standard cuts for 2’x4’s at any lumber yard, so I didn’t have to do much cutting while building the aviaries.  That may seem like a small thing, but I don’t like to do any more work than is absolutely necessary on any project.  Anybody who would build a structure 15 feet in length has a screw loose.  LOL  Pardon the pun!

THAT’S ALL FOR THIS WEEK

Rain is coming!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to report that news after the summer we’ve had.  Of course, check with me about November and I’ll be singing a completely different tune. J  And I’m really not complaining about our weather.  After watching not one, but two hurricanes on the news, I’m quite pleased with Western Washington weather.

Bye for now!

Bill