Life in the Urban Jungle

The battle continues!

Here’s something they don’t tell you when you are a kid, and your mom is reading you a book about Farmer Bob, and it’s all fun in the hay and frolic with the animals . . . there are predators out there who aim to eat your animals the moment you let down your guard.  It probably makes sense that they don’t mention that in the Farmer Bob Series.  Little kids don’t need to know about disemboweled chickens and headless quail, do they?

Winter is a particularly brutal time of year.  Raccoons and other critters are hungry in the winter, and finding food is tough for them.  Hell, we live in the middle of the city, and I’ve spotted two coyotes walking down our street.  A new neighbor lost his cat to a coyote last week.  They are out there!  I don’t blame them at all.  In fact, I applaud their ingenuity and determination in finding something to eat.  It’s my job to make sure their next meal doesn’t include Bill’s chicken & quail tortilla, minus the tortilla.

Hopefully a protector

That was quite the introduction, all leading up to the fact we have lost eight quail in the past month.  Something has dug a hole and gotten into the enclosure.  Drags the quail out one at a time.  Leaves feathers behind.  Annoys the hell out of me.  So I have work to do.

We also lost a chicken recently.  Bev had brought home four rescue chickens, and we introduced them to their own coop, did everything correctly, and the next night two of them decided they would rather roost in a nearby tree.  So we played that game for a few nights, dragging them out of the tree, putting them in their coop, until one night they were more clever in choosing a hiding place.

Well, eventually, their cleverness cost one of them their life.

Raccoons are always hungry in the winter.

So life goes on.  Winter will be over soon, and then spring chores will begin, and repairs undertaken, and the trees will bud, leaves will appear, and temperatures will signal the coming of a new season, one of promise, one of hope, and one filled with more things Farmer Bob should never speak about to little children.


Winter Randoms

Sorry I’m late with this . . . the holidays tend up upset the apple cart a bit.


It’s interesting, serving as President of the Tumwater Farmers Market Board, the things you learn about farming.

Here in Thurston County there is a non-profit organization called GRuB.  I’ll let the information on their website explain what they do:

  • We inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture.
  • We partner with youth and people with low-incomes to create empowering individual & community food solutions.
  • We offer tools & trainings to help build a just & sustainable food system.


Cool, right?  A great mission statement with great benefits for many . . . what could be wrong with a program which does all that?

GRuB is subsidized by the government.  The low-income children who work on the GRuB farm are not paid but instead are taught the skills of farming and gardening.  All well and good, but . . .

What we are seeing, and what we are hearing from local farmers, is that GRuB is hurting the family farms by undercutting them in price, so in essence this non-profit organization, which is serving a real purpose, is also hurting some small farmers in the process.

I’m not here to bad-mouth GRuB.  I love their organization and what they are trying to do.  My only point is there are always pros and cons to any undertaking, and we should always be aware of both sides of a debate.


We are in the dead months of the Farmers Market.  No one wants to discuss a farmers market in December, so we will meet again in January and begin nailing down the specifics of the 2018 Tumwater Town Center Farmers Market.  We have decided on a location (same as last year), and now we have to decide on which vendors to retain, which new ones to invite, increase our sponsorship, and develop a successful marketing plan to increase sales.  Since the market begins again in April we really won’t have that much time to get the ball rolling, and I’m excited to be involved in expanding this valuable community asset.


The soil is healing and preparing itself for the next growing season.  All is well.  We lost one chicken to disease last month, but gained four more as rescue chickens.  In February I’ll incubate quail eggs and start raising the quail once more.

I am determined to increase our gardening space next year (the straw bales are already out seasoning), and I’m also determined to do more canning of berries.  We also need to pick up a freezer to handle the bounty next fall.

The cold rain falls.  The woodstove is warming the house.  The cat is sleeping.  The puppy is wreaking havoc.  Christmas presents are being wrapped.

Life is good!


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

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.


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.



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!


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?


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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.