October 31, 2006 – Halloween

Happy Halloween, I guess. It’s a late at work night for me, so I missed the festivities. Martin was excited to be a fireman, complete with blue rain boots. Emma was her favorite witch, and Claire, too old to T & T was, if I recall, a “fairy queen, lumberjack” I fear she’s been watching too much Monty Python lately.

This “year ago entry” was particularly popular!

one year ago…

October 30 , 2006 – Getting Soil Ready for Hoophouse

We have a small plot where we’d like to experiment with a small hoop house. The one we are looking at is 20×36 and 12 feet tall in the center. This fall, we ran the chickens on the plot to do their thing killing some grass and leaving some deposits behind. The ground where this is located is badly eroded. When we moved in, it was previously used as a cattle yard and as it is on a slight slope, most of the topsoil washed off, leaving clay behind.

Here it is after a few passes with the middlebuster to break up the remaining sod. You can see the loader ready with a load of compost ready to dump.

Here’s what the clay looks like. Other places of the farm range from a few inches to about 18-24 inches of wonderful black loamy topsoil before hitting the clay layer.

This is what it looks like after 8-10 loaderfulls of compost. In the spring we’ll plant a cover crop for a year to get rid of grass and further enrich the soil. It’s still novel for me to have the tractor and to be able to do this in about 3/10 of a tractor hour instead of lots of shoveling and spreading.

one year ago…

October 29, 2006 – A Light in the Darkness2

Today finally warmed up over 60 so I was able to complete the last coat of finish on the current trim boards sitting on the hay rack in the shed. Now, they can be moved into the house and wait for their time to go up in the attic.

We also went to see candidate for Agriculture candidate Denise O’Brien. When I left the old Coliseum where the event took place, I thought this picture really represented Denise’s message – a light in the darkness.

As an organic farmer, she faces incredible odds to become the Secretary of Agriculture for the state of Iowa. She has already defeated the Democratic political machine as she ran against the current governor’s chief of staff who had endorsements form 90% of the current state democratic representatives and was outspend 3-1 and won with 60% of the vote. Now she is against the Republican political machine which I sense must feel as though they are behind as they have started going negative.

Denise’s vision for a diverse agriculture in sizes, crops, and economic opportunity is not limited to two crops (corn and soybeans) and two animals (hogs and cattle). Although those two are very important, there are many other crops that can yield even greater profits than those can.

one year ago…

October 28, 2006 – Planting Garlic

Today was supposed to be warm, but that never happened! It was the first time to get the middlebuster, or potato fork on the three-point of the tractor. I needed to do some monkeying around to get it mounted.

The biggest lesson was learning that the drawbar needs to be removed; otherwise, when you lift up the middlebuster on the three point, the shovel gets stuck on the drawbar! So I needed to unbolt the shovel and then retract the drawbar.

Once that was fixed, it was time to try to dig a trench for the first time.

It may not be exciting to look at, but what a relief not to have to dig all those trenches by hand 4-6 inches deep! It will sure speed up garlic, gladiola, and potato planting.

one year ago…

October 25, 2006 – Seven Big Ideas by 2011

This morning we heard of two approaches similar towns have taken towards improving their communities. One was Austin MN, which had 5 million dropped in its lap for projects. Successful initiatives were 24×7 day care for all shift workers, a welcome center for new residents to point them towards community resources schools, utilities, driver’s license, English classes, summer education programs, housing, and bus routes at shift change time from major employers to neighborhoods. In retrospect, the biggest amount was spent on the biggest perceived need (2 million on new affordable housing) when in fact some of the other initiatives had greater impact at lower cost.

Then we heard from Dubuque, IA which has transformed itself from a national joke in the mid 80′s (will the last one out of Dubuque please turn off the lights) to a town with strong growth in riverfront development and employment. One thing Dubuque did was a community-wide initiative named “Envision” which called for 10 great ideas by 2010. The process was simple, amazing and very effective.

First, a group of folks conceived a way to gather input from the entire community, not just econ dev’t folks. They created a series of “wish meetings” with handouts where the participants would write down ideas for things or programs that would make their town a better place to live. They handed these meeting kits out to churches, neighborhoods, unions, social sororities, civic groups, at major employers, clubs, – wherever and they could think a wide range of residents would gather.

The groups could fill out the idea forms with no involvement from the community, or have a member of the Envision team facilitate. From this process, 2500 ideas were generated. Then the organizing committee had applications for a selection committee (so the group running the campaign would not be selecting the ideas) and they had requirements for a committee that mirrored the community it terms of gender, income, race, neighborhood, etc. These 21 people then by eliminating duplication and other means, narrowed the list to 100. Then they held a series of community meetings to announce the 100 and narrow the options to 30. From these 30 ideas, the selection committee of 21 people narrowed the ideas to 10.

It was not a government initiative, nor was money promised to complete the projects. The thought was that once the community could galvanize around the projects with the broadest community support, it would bolster efforts to complete. If I remember right, they’ve raised over 9 million for these 10 initiatives after the announcement.
Just for kicks, here are the 10 projects that came out of that process:

America’s River Museum Phase II
Bilingual Education Curriculum
Community-wide Wireless
Community Health Center
Indoor/Outdoor Performing Arts Center
Integrated Walking/Biking/Hiking Trail System
Library Services Expansion
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Passenger Train Service
Warehouse District Revitalization

I was impressed at the range of ideas and could recognize many of them as ideas that could work in any community. Ultimately, Marshalltown will undergo a similar process to get 7 ideas by 2011.

October 24, 2006 – Community Seminar

I’ve rearranged my week to be able to attend a seminar on sustainable community development sponsored by a local group tonight and all day tomorrow. The speaker tonight was from the Rocky Mountain Institute (environmental/business think tank published “Natural Capitalism” and “Winning the Oil Endgame” among others).

Micheal Kinsley from RMI led the discussion that basically boiled down to a advocating a new type of collaboration about community development instead of five rich white guys making decisions in a back room and to improve resource use and instructed on the virtues of self-directed, often small-scale, often local enterprises.

It’s a lot of the stuff I spend a lot of time thinking about, but hasn’t hit mainstream thinking yet. So it was good for him to present to 100 or so community leaders.

October 23, 2006 – Guard Geese

These ladies are our chicken protectors! At one time we were losing a chicken about every other night – it would be partially eaten in the coop overnight. Nothing too big could get in the building, so we are guessing unless some animal learned to unlatch the door, it was most likely a mink or weasel.

A neighbor suggested to get a goose, since the geese are fairly alarmist when it comes to new creatures in their space. So we did, and whether by luck or design – we have not lost a single chicken to predation overnight since the geese have arrived.

October 21, 2006 – Cracking the Code!

Today was the seasonal clean out the closet and drawers day to replace summer with winter clothes. Martin and Linda found a “Dick and Jane” book in Martin’s room and all of his letter sounding at school finally clicked as he began reading today! Some people vividly remember the day they first cracked the code.

I will remember the gusto upon which Martin read:

Look, Jane, Look.
See Baby
Oh, oh, oh.
Funny, funny Baby.

He is very enthusiastic and brings life to the rather bland words on the page.
one year ago…

October 20, 2006 – 2nd Stage Garden Cleanup

Today was the 2nd stage garden cleanup – mowing to shreds all the remaining plants and weeds to help them break down over winter. I did find one total surprise – some of the radicchio and chinese cabbage plants have regrown. They are early spring crops and just kind of hibernated through summer and now they are back!

I found out our power cooperative has an off-peak billing option – you pay half price for 22 hours of the day and pay three times the rate from 5-7 pm. It sounds pretty good – put a timer on the deep freezes and water heater to go off for a couple of hours and avoid laundry or clothes washing at that time – I figured it could save us up to $80/month. I’ll keep you posted how it actually works out.

one year ago…

October 18, 2006 – Attic Update

It’s been mainly drizzly/rainy and cold the last few days, so working hours have been spent up in the attic – more insulating. Finally, all the storage area ceilings are finished and 75% of the wiring. So today it is time for a quick visual tour.

View to the south out the new dormer.

View to the north.

View to the west out the smallest dormer – thinking about a window seat or just a rocking chair in here – built in bookshelves on either side as well.

View to the east up the stairwell – nice light up the stairs now with the new window.

one year ago…