February 28, 2006 – Fast Seed

The seed I ordered the other day from Albert Lea Seed House has already arrived.

They have a good selection of organic and regular seeds for pasture and small grains and are very fast. I even like the packaging with the custom-sewed bags and handwritten labels on the bags. So, tomorrow it looks like frost seeding begins.

February 27, 2006 – Kids

Well, after being gone for a few days, it’s time for a fresh look at the kids.
Claire has a new doo and grows up more each day!

Emma’s last basketball game was Saturday and today she picked up the bat.

Martin, is, just Martin – wearing his favorite pair of mismatched boots, maybe, just maybe on the right foot today (or not).

Had the first grilling of the season today. Got the mulch unloaded from the truck and hauled some brush to the burn pile. Ordered an incubator so we can raise our own laying hens and some red and Ladino clover, and trefoil for a little frost overseeding in the pasture.

February 26, 2006 – Replacement Composter Done

I drove home this morning, so after unpacking and the like, didn’t have too much time for farming, other than taking a walk around the farm with Linda looking at it with slightly new eyes, finishing the household composter, and getting a small load of mulch from the pallet plant.

I tired of driving on the interstate on the way home, so I got off at hwy 20 and started zipping south and east on county roads for diversion. I was really struck with two things – all the hog confinements and the rural poverty. I don’t know if it just looks worse in this brown season – or if it was the contrast between the overflowing life of the conference attendees and their hope for a self-directed future and the run-down and abandoned farmsteads. It made me sad that forces have run so many off the land and that an alternative exists that many have yet to try/are unable to try.

February 25, 2006 – Conference Day 2

After I go to these conferences, there are so many things I want to try and so many things still to learn. Since noon yesterday I went to a session on starting a grassfed beef herd, from a third year farmer and a company that buys 100% grassfed beef. It’s all genetics, great forage, and management!

Next up was a small ruminant course. Lots of good health information and little tricks to try, especially regarding parasites. When in an active breeding program, the speaker said most farmers find that with 5-6 years, after selecting for qualities important for your farm, problems with animal health and vigor almost disappear. A common phrase in both sessions was “sending them down the road” meaning that if goats are susceptible to worms, cows like to crash fences, those animals are removed.

I went to see a film by Chris Bedford “What Will We Eat” about the search for local food. Linda and I worked with Chris when he lived in Iowa for a few years running the “Care for Iowa” project. A group is trying to get a referendum on the Michigan ballot to require locally produced, healthy food in public schools. It is predicted the ballot will fail, but will bring a discussion and perhaps help some districts implement it.

The keynote was Michael Ableman who presented an impassioned view of the importance of the interconnection between food, farmers, and community. Micheal started a famous urban organic farm in Santa Barbara CA, many years ago. He also challenged the industrial organic paradigm saying he would rather purchase a conventionally produced head of broccoli from his neighbor than from an organic farm 1500 miles away.

The next sesssion was by Paul Otten, publisher of Northland Berry News. He came across as a very knowledgeable, congenial curmudgeon. He impressed upon us the importance of soil and proper mineral balance above all.

“Farmscaping for beneficial insects” shared lots of fascinating work with trap crops, using bats and owls, perimeter cropping and other things. The presenter has an extensive resource on the ATTRA site on farmscaping plants, pests, etc.

The final session was on growing shittake mushrooms. It’s something I’ve recently thought would be fun and a great addition to market. I’m not sure I could time the fruiting as well as I need to, but will probably try some just to see.

After I have some time to go through my notes and papers, I’m come up with a list of things we are going to try this year as a result of the conference.

February 24, 2006 – Upper Midwest Organic Conference

Today I’m at the Upper Midwest Organic Gardening Conference in La Crosse, WI. I haven’t been to the meeting since it moved from the convent to the convention center. This year over 2,000 people will attend – it truly is nice to be among so many others that share a vision of an environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and economically profitable method of farming an living.

La Crosse is a charming river town – here’s a peek at the street across from the conference center:
On the other end is the Mississippi River.

It was a rather striking view, driving down the valley to the river this morning as the sun rose.

Only one session so far – I went to an organic calf session. Turns out it was more for dairy than beef cows, but still interesting. The keynote was about seed and breed diversity and how organic farmers can help promote seed and breed biodiversity.

February 22, 2006 – Warmth Returns

Was able to get outside and get a few more things moving along. Warmed back into the 40’s today. Almost completed building the new household composter – just need to insert a few more eye bolts and make the center partition.

February 21, 2006 – On the Olympic Podium

Not many people know that I have stood on the Olympic podium!

Here I am with daughter Claire and mother-in-law Joanne in Park City, UT, which hosted the downhill, bobsled, and ski jumping for the 2002 Olympics. Our medals were stripped once it was discovered we did not train, nor did we appear in any events. Evidently our ties to the governing body were not strong enough to maintain the medals.

I did live in Park City for a very fun summer back in the 80’s when it was still a sleepy little ski town. It was at a very upscale (cough, cough) ski lodge called “Chateau Apres“. I cannot, believe it is still standing on the high-priced real estate that surrounds it. I was there for geology summer field camp and we started mapping the ground around there, starting in the Heber Valley and up to the tops of Alta and Snowbird by the end of the summer.

February 20, 2006 – Trying to Make it all Work

The last few days I’ve been working on a high hopes newsletter and order form for the upcoming season. Today I called the locker where we take chickens to find out the minimum number we could sell to individuals and let them pick it up. They wouldn’t do it period. So something that was inconvenient for our customers becomes impossible.

Out options are to butcher the chickens on the farm or go to a locker licensed to sell retail – that would add about $3.50 to the price of the already expensive chickens without much of a margin for us. This is one enterprise where economies of scale sure help – driving 100 chickens to the locker plant vs driving 1000 would drive a lot of the costs significantly down, but growing 1,000 chickens does not fit into the balance of our farm at this point.

The chickens are such a wonderful product – but we can’t do it for free or little profit with all the risk that goes along with it. We NEED a plant closer to make it more economical.

So until we decide what to do – the newsletter is on hold.

February 19, 2006 – All Things Not Created Equal

It makes complete sense to us that animals raised eating and acting the way they traditionally have been treated make better food. Evidence is sometimes hard to come by since these producers are for the most part, small family operations and lack multi-million dollar lobbying and industry organizations.

We strongly believe that the husbandry and diverse food choices, in addition to exercise makes all animals healthier, including livestock. Just think how healthy you would be if you were confined to a cage just slightly larger than you were (how most chickens and pork are raised).

For example, the following chart shows a comparison between conventional cage-raised grocery store eggs and free-range eggs.

For more information about eggs, see information from the University of Michigan.

Likewise, there is mounting evidence of a connection between mental health and diet. A number of recent studies have indicated a link between a healthy diet and mental health (depression ADHD, Alzheimers).

For example the report said chickens reach their slaughter weight twice as fast as they did 30 years ago, increasing the fat content from 2% to 22%.
Industrial chicken culture has also altered the balance of vital fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 in chickens which the brain needs to ensure it functions properly. Pastured poultry has been found to have elevated levels of omega-3. See a story about the study from the BBC.

February 18, 2006 – Coldest Day of the Year

Well, Tuesday’s 65 degrees have been replaced by -12. Although it’s not as cold as growing up in Minnesota, it still gets my attention, especially with the wind howling. I’m happy for this cold snap as it helps prevent the “southern” bugs from overwintering, especially with it so cold and blowing into every crevasse and crack. I’m also grateful for the electric, heated waterers for the goats and chickens!

February 17th, 2006 – Where’s the Snow?

The 5-9 inches of snow we were supposed to get never materialized. I don’t think we even got an inch, but we did get the wind and bitter cold. The weather forecasters often miss the snow, but never seem to miss on the cold! (Maybe it’s because the cold covers 3-4 entire states and it is hard to miss!)

February 16, 2006 – Thingamajig Thursday #11

Here’s this week’s “Thingamajig Thursday entry.” Also check out last week’s answer. Here’s something I look at at least every 4 days!
As always, put your guess in a comment below.

It is indeed the “handle” to open the gate on the gravity wagon that lets the grain out at whatever speed needed – wide open at the elevator, and barely open to fill up the 5 gallon buckets for the corn stove.

February 15, 2006 – Gettin’ Ready for Snow

Yesterday’s 60’s will soon be a memory. Today, I tried to get some time outside to get things wrapped up before the snow and cold revisit. Got the tree all cut up with the chain saw, wood stacked and limbs hauled to next year’s bonfire pile.

Other housekeeping chores included filling corn buckets for stove, started work on the household composter, did a garbage run, and cut some boards for the attic.

It went without notice that Monday was the 1st anniversary of the high hopes blog. 367 entries and counting!