November 16, 2010 – No Better Than This

Time for a periodic music review. John Mellencamp’s latest album No Better than This is a throwback to another time.  The album is a throwback to a time when the music was more important than the production methods.  The album was recorded with a vintage  55 year-old Ampex tape recorder with just one microphone and released in mono.

The album was recorded in three historical locations. First, in Sun Studios in Memphis where he and his musicians  dutifully arranged themselves on the studio floor in accordance with markings that had been laid down by Sam Phillips many years before for optimal acoustics.

Second, in Savannah’s First African Baptist Church which is the first Black church in North America- dating to pre-revolutionary times. The original congregation and ministry were slaves; the church, in fact, provided sanctuary to runaways before emancipation.

And finally in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio where Robert Johnson first recorded in 1936. Mellencamp sang facing the corner of the room that Johnson had almost 74 years earlier.

As for the music, all the songs are written by Mellencamp, although there is some serious channeling of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Prine.  While the album holds together well, some of the songs have serious folk, country, rockabilly, and blues feel.

While the songs were all written the past few year, if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were just-found songs written by Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Dylan.

John reminds us on the first song to

Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream could save us all

one year ago…”High Hopes on Oprah.com”

November 14, 2010 – It’s not Everyday You Meet Someone from Belarus!

Today Martin manned the booth for a project his Sunday School class is supporting – buying solar water purifiers sold through an alternative gift market.

While Martin was giving his spiel, I overheard someone mention the word Belarus and my ears perked up. My grandfather, who spoke Polish and was born in a town that is now part of Belarus (depending on the year, the town was ruled by Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, and others). So I interrupted and introduced myself and of course, they were thrilled to meet someone here with connections to their home country. I saw many of my relatives in their faces and mannerisms.  The translation was very difficult, so we didn’t get to talk too much, but it would have been fun to be able to talk more with them.

one year ago…”Mineral Mix”

November 13, 2010 – Inside the Granary

Now it’s time to go inside the old granary.

Here’s looking in the door – there are two separate compartments on either side of the center aisle.

It does look, however that the center aisle was sealed off with these removable partitions that slid in the door frames.

The door frame had math problems written in pencil all up and down.

It’s amazing to me how straight the door remained for many years using a simple design.

Up in the loft.  Experienced eyes can catch the piles of raccoon dung up here.  Not a pleasant place to be with poor ventilation.  First order of business will be to make ventilation before working inside.

one year ago…”South Side of Barn Painted”

November 12, 2010 – Who Picks Your Fruits and Vegetables and Where do They Sleep at Night?

There’s a little-discussed issue that immigration reform is bringing to the fore – whether you view the person who picks your food as an “illegal” when they require emergency health care or a “guest worker” if you are a large scale fruit or vegetable producer or consumer in the grocery store. More and more, I’m aware of the disadvantages small, family-scale farms run against. I often hear “Why can’t a small farm grow things cheaper than I can get in the grocery store?” The answer is they (we) can’t, because our tax dollars are subsidizing the larger producers directly and indirectly by caring for the “illegals” or “guest workers.” To start out, just a few examples of the direct subsidies that encourage “illegals” or “guest workers.”

Taxpayer-Funded Migrant Worker Housing
Many state and federal programs are set up to pay for housing for migrant workers. Jessie Lane, Washington Growers League says “It just didn’t make a lot of sense for growers to spend the money to build housing that was just going to sit there for 11 months of the year empty.” Gee, it doesn’t make sense for me to buy a hay baler that sits idle 360 days a year, or a tiller that sits unused 360 days a year. Do you think I can get the government to pay for it, like farm labor housing is being paid for by our tax dollars while the profits stay with the private companies who use the housing?

Here are just a few programs I’ve run across the last few months in the Vegetable Growers News magazine.

In New York, loan programs are available to help growers pay for housing that provides growers with 10 years of interest-free financing.

In Michigan – fruit growers have USDA duplexes, which are funded by a loan from USDA’s Rural Development program.

There are more than 100,000 agricultural workers in Washington, about one-third of whom are migrant workers, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department. In 1999, recognizing the need for more farm worker housing, Washington dedicated $8 million to creating new housing every two years. In 2007, the state increased this amount to $14 million every two years and added a $4 million infrastructure loan program for growers who wanted to build on-farm housing.

In California, President of the Nisei Farmer’s League says “We’ve recommended to many of our growers: Don’t put housing on your farms,” Cunha said.  “You’re asking for trouble.” Cunha envisions a scenario that might solve the state’s migrant housing problems: Let cities take over the construction and management of migrant housing.

Reliance on Migrant Workers

Of course, this is all due to the heavy reliance large growers have on “illegals” or “guest workers.” The US Homeland Security Secretary said “Efforts to secure the border will fail unless the magnet that attracts illegals is turned off,” the fact sheet said. “Unfortunately, the fines for relying on illegal workers are so modest that some companies treat them as little more than a cost of doing business. No sector of the American economy requires a legal flow of foreign workers more than agriculture.”

The treatment of these workers can be gleaned from this common-sense advice to growers from Vera Bitsch, an agricultural economics professor at Michigan State University. “Simple things like readily accessible drinking water can make a huge difference in worker productivity and morale.”  Really, someone has to say this?

There’s a reason that no one wants to touch this issue politically. Depending on where you sit, the same person is an “illegal” or “guest worker.” So when politicians rally about closing down the border and stopping the flow of illegals as part of campaign rhetoric, then cash the checks from their big agricultural friends, it’s not surprising that little reform of any kind happens.

I would like to point out that I certainly can sympathize with those that want to make a better life for themselves.  It points out that there are powerful interests at work that are not being truthful.  In the end, it’s all about how important we think food is to us (if you remember Maslow’s Pyramid of needs – shelter and food were at the top of the list, but while shelter is at the top of how we spend our money, food is not.)  The following tables highlight the differences from 1901 to 2003.

food expenditures

In 1901, shelter accounted for 32.8% of income, in 2002 shelter accounted for 23.3 % of income.

Food, meanwhile required 42.5% in 1901 and only 13.1% in 2003, with approximately 35% of that spent at restaurants.  I argue that we should pay the real cost of food at the store, and not in our income taxes.  If the real price of food was reflected in the grocery store price, more smaller farmers could compete, increasing rural vitality, and more people would find it worthwhile to grow their own, and be able to take more of their own needs, making them more resilient to economic downturns.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #184″

November 11, 2010 – Thingamajig Thursday #233

Here’s this week’s thingamajig Thursday.  This week is a bit different.  I found this tacked over a hole in the granary.  Not only is it interesting that the soybean oil used to pack these sardines that could have some from this very county where the lid ended up years later on a granary.  The question is, what is the closest (inter)national park to the town where these sardines were packed?

Also check out the last thingamajig answer.

As always, put your guess in a comment below.

Look for the answer in the comments after next week’s thingamajig is posted.

one year ago…”Makeshift Trailer”

November 10, 2010 – Veteran’s Day Rant

Veteran’s Day is one holiday I just don’t understand. Can someone please explain to me why government workers and bankers get the day off, but Veterans have to go to work? I tried writing my congressmen to sponsor a bill to change it to give Veterans the day off instead of postal workers and bankers, but it didn’t gain any traction.

Thanks to all who serve.

one year ago…”Updated Web Site”

November 9, 2010 – Starting to Say Goodbye to an Old Granary

Comes a Time – a time for the building containing Neil Young’s lifelong collection of memorabilia to burn down and for the old Granary to come down. I’m sure I could make a pretty good connection if I thought long enough.  Looks like it could be part of a cover of a Neil Young album.

This building now rests in the back pasture.  It was one of the original farm buildings.  The building’s fate was essentially sealed 40 years ago when the previous owners removed it from its cement foundation close to where the metal machine shed now stands and dragged it out to the pasture.

The bottom floor joists are shot and now the wall on the right is starting to separate from the building.

I’ve managed to save many of the original buildings by putting new roofs and/or siding on them.  This one doesn’t have enough going for it.  I’ll salvage as much of the lumber that is still good and throw the rest on the bonfire.

But as a testament to the building, this is one of many future posts dedicated to preserving the building through extensive photo-documenting its construction and demise.  Kind of a modern-day reverse archeological deconstruction.

one year ago…”Buttercup Squash Yeast Bread”

November 8, 2010 – Advice to Stay Alive: Compost, Don’t Burn

Believe it or not, two people have died in Iowa this fall while burning leaves. A rural Keokuk man died after his clothes caught on fire. A man in Cedar Falls died after he was burned when he threw gasoline on a fire. It would be very easy to make light of people who died from burning leaves, but they no doubt left families behind that are devastated.

I’m still not sure why people burn leaves, other than satisfying the seemingly human need to be around a fire (I’m one of those). However, burning leaves is usually a smokey, unsatisfying affair. In the closest hamlet of Melbourne, raking leaves to the street and burning them seems to be part of the culture. I feel sorry for the houses downwind of the smokey, long-lasting fires, especially those with asthma or other health conditions.

Organic Gardening has a brief article about composting leaves for those looking for some recipes!

one year ago…”Fall Ritual – Digging Gladiola Bulbs”

November 7, 2010 – Passive Solar Stock Tank

Just in time for the colder temps forecast for later in the week, the passive solar stock tank is complete.  Like the Dude, I abide with Joel Salatin who advocates for things that work, rather than look pretty and painstakingly built to perfection.  We have heated water buckets that use a lot of electricity and don’t seem to last very long.  I found some designs for passive solar cattle and horse tanks, and used those as an example to build one for goats and sheep.

It’s not rocket science – build a box with insulation and seal up all the cracks you can with insulating foam.

The tank was black, I spray painted the interior black and made one major adjustment from the horse and cattle heaters I saw.  I didn’t think this one had enough height to get much solar gain, so I made an additional clear partial top on a frame that is not attached to the box, so I can take off the top polycarbonate lid out easily if I need to remove the tank.  I also cut a piece of foam and painted it black and snugly fit it on the top of the left 1/2 of the tank or so (you can’t see it here, because of the glazing cover).  The glazing is polycarbonite panels I got dirt cheap at the Farm-Tek store in Dubuque because they were odd sizes.  Since the tank is designed for goats, I reinforced the top panels with some rebar crossbars in case the goats jumped on top.  I also added some insulated lids to set down at night to keep the heat of the day in.  If needed, I can run a tank heater in on the coldest days of the year to keep the water from freezing. I didn’t want to use treated lumber, so used cedar and finished it with an outdoor polyurethane.

The only thing I might do different is to try to find a tank with a drain plug in case I need to drain it.  I might also make a bed of sand or gravel to set it on so if any water leaks out of the drain holes drilled in the bottom of the box, it will have an easy escape.

one year ago…”Garlic Tasting”

November 6, 2010 – Drumline!

I took Emma and one of her band friends to the Drumline Live! theatrical show at Stephens Auditorium in Ames.  We had seats early, and landed in the fourth row.  It was a fantastic show.  The outfit is made out of the best of the wild and crazy southern college marching bands.

They did the usual marching band stuff, but the show was much more than that.  It was basically a living history of African-American music through time.

They started out in traditional African tribal dress.

And covered many eras of music – jazz, soul, Motown, gospel, funk, pop and rock.  The cast was extremely talented – were great musicians, singers, and dancers.  It’s hard to describe, but if you can imagine where an energetic marching band, southern gospel revival tent and burlesque show intersect, you’ll have a sense of the show.

(photos from Drumline Live! publicity; no cameras were allowed at show)

one year ago…”New Layers”

November 5, 2010 – Nifty Animal Separator

In the fall/winter, we have a special ration we feed the sheep, but have had trouble keeping the horse from taking more than her fair share.

Linda had an idea to put a board across that the sheep could go under, but horse not get through.  So, a couple of 2×4 brackets inside the door, a 2×4, and there you have it – sheep running in for a treat.  It won’t prevent the door from closing and  is easily removed by just sliding it out of the brackets.

The horse can just sit and look – rebuffed from the treat inside!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #183″

November 3, 2010 – First Lego League Practice

It’s Wednesday, so it’s First Lego League.

The team looks over the robots and the mission table.

There’s a lot of concentration during a lego league session.

The robots are programmed via a computer and USB cable.  Here, some adjustments are made to the robot program.

Of course, one of the best parts of Lego league is treat time.  We had “Lego Pie” this week.

one year ago…”City Hams”