March 16, 2011 – Mushroom Logs Inoculated with Spawn

Wednesday was a good day!  Claire’s been home fro spring break to escape the lingering Minnesota snow.  I ordered small amounts of six different types of mushrooms, 3 oyster varieties and 3 shiitake varieties.  We order the plugs, and I got 100 plugs of each kind – so we have about two logs of each variety.  Of course, we have plenty of wood as the giant maple was cut a few weeks ago – and now is the perfect time to inoculate the logs.

Claire drills the holes in the logs.

Martin pounds the dowels in the logs.  As you can see in the background, the maple syrup boil continues.

The ends and dowels are sealed up with beeswax and the logs moved to to a shady spot to wait to bloom with mushrooms.

one year ago…”Three Cats in the Sun”

March 15, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Events and People

Today I’ll wrap up the review of my trip to Japan, but not my thoughts for the country.

The trip was sponsored by the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  Here at an official function our group is introduced.

Patty Judge in Japan

The head of the delegation was former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge. Here, Patty seems just a little unsure about the different seating arrangement at a restaurant.  The woven mats on the floor are for sitting on, and there is a recessed compartment in the floor for your legs to dangle down.  You can see some of the place settings on the table.

Always toasts to friendship and success before every meal.

In order to do business in Japan, it takes much more cultivation of personal relationships than in the U.S.  Typically, before getting an order in the food business, you’d get introduced on one trip, exchange some *preliminary* thoughts on products and prices.  If all was well after that, you could expect a trip by your Japanese counterpart to the U.S. to meet with you again and tour the farms/facilities the food would be coming from.  Then, there’d be another visit to Japan to make final arrangements.  During this trip I was representing an organic meat company that lasted about five years before high feed prices doomed the products.

Tokyo Street

Navigating Tokyo was unlike most cities I’ve been in.  Addresses are not on a logical grid of any type.  Unlike western address that go from most specific to least specific (address first, state last) Japanese addresses are the opposite.  In a way, that part makes more logical sense.

An address begins the the prefecture (state), city, ward, district, block, building, and street number.  Only the last three are typically numbers.  To make things more confusing, the blocks although numeric, are not in any order, so block 15 may be adjacent to block 76.  Nor are blocks of a standardized size.  Then buildings are also in a block, but not in numerical order, followed by address.  Even though our guide had lived in Tokyo his whole life, he frequently stopped to ask shopkeepers more specific directions as we arrived closer to our destination.

Finally we’ll end with a gentleman from Nippon Organic Agriculture Products.  Fortunately for us, even though it was just after lunch, he was proud to share a bottle of organic sake with us during our meeting.

one year ago…”Checking the Beehive”

March 14, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Kyoto

The Japan tribute continues today with a visit to Kyoto.

One thing that usually strikes me outside of the US is the age of the rest of the civilized world. The Heian Shrine is a baby in terms of Japanese history, built in 1895, to commemorate the 1,100th year anniversary of Kyoto.

Heian Shrine

The grounds inside this Shinto shrine were beautiful.

I love the look of supreme confidence, beauty, and protection this new mother gives to the world.


Kinkaku-ji (also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Buddist temple in Kyoto as well. This temple dates back to the 1300s. The Kinkaku-ji grounds were built to mimic the descriptions of the western paradise of the Buddha, intending to illustrate a harmony between heaven and earth.

nijo castle grounds

Here is a view on the grounds of the Nijo Castle, home of the Tokugawa Shoguns. It was built in 1601, and contains concentric circles of moats and embankments.

zen garden

Ry?an-ji (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is a Zen temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The most famous element of this temple is the ‘Zen garden’ which dates to the 1400s. The garden consists of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders, which are placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above) only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder.

one year ago…”Maple Syruping Season Begins”

March 13, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Tokyo

Today, the Japanese retrospective continues.  I continue to be deeply saddened by the horrors the people there have experienced.  It is impossible to imagine the collective agony of all the people washed away or crushed.

There’s so little we can do so far away, so I’ll continue my impressions of the beauty and wonder of Japan.

Mount Fuji from Tokyo ANA Hotel

Tokyo is a big town!  About 35 million people call this home and it was named most livable megapolis in the world.  Here’s a view of Mount Fuji in the distance from out my hotel window.

Tokyo Rooftop Garden

There’s more green space than you might imagine – sometimes in unusual places – like this rooftop garden visible from the hotel.

Tokyo Side Stret

And some of the side streets in the city are very beautiful.

Ginza District

This is the Ginza District, known as one of the highest-end shopping districts in the world.

Moat of Imperial Palace

The moat around the Imperial Palace.  It is the home of the Emperor and is generally off-limits to the public. During the height of the Japanese housing bubble in the 1980’s the UK Telegraph reported that the grounds and property were worth more than all the property in California.


This is the entrance to the Senso-ji Shrine.

one year ago…”Tree Pruning”

March 12, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Food

With the horrific photos and stories coming out of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, I thought this might be a good time to take a few days out of the blog to reflect on the goodness of Japanese culture and the beauty of the country.  A few years ago, I was part of an agricultural trade delegation with the State of Iowa to Japan.  We visited Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.  Today’s entry will be devoted to food!

Norman Makino

The gentleman on the right is Norman Makino, who lives in Tokyo, but works for the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  Norman is the point man for Iowa-Japan relations in Japan.  He helped arrange and guide our tour. I was grateful to hear his voice over the phone on a news broadcast the day after the disaster.

Fugu Tank

I’ll start with something I didn’t eat the “river pig” or Fugu.  This is the one of the most legendary Japanese dishes, as if it improperly prepared, it can kill you with a poison.  The preparation in Japan is tightly regulated and chefs who prepare it are highly trained. It has been part of Japanese culture for 2300 years.  Here’s a poem from the time of the American Revolution:

I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.

– Yosa Buson

Here’s the first course of a more formal Japanese lunch.  I was not prepared for the great quantity of pickled food that appeared on my plates during the ten days.

Here’s the 2nd course of a more formal lunch.  It’s got the aesthetic you might expect from an Eastern chef, with the placement and arrangement of the meat, onions, and peas.  I particularly am drawn to the split pea pod with peas missing.

bento van

The bento van is a fast food version of a Japanese lunch.


Here’s my bento, pretty traditional in that it contains rice, breaded shrimp, meat, pickled vegetables, lemon, and grated vegetable – I’d be much up for this than a Happy Meal!

One of the more exotic and more recent additions to the Japanese diet is this extremely well-marbled beef known as Wagyu.  This beef is so fat, it cooks up like bacon.  Here, it is in a grill built into the center of a table in a Korean barbecue restaurant.

beer vending

Finally, we’ll end with a beverage photo.  This is a vending machine for beer on a sidewalk in Tokyo.  How long do you think one of these would last on a US sidewalk?  And do you think it would only be patronized by customers over the age of 21!

one year ago…”Third Ewe Drops Triplets”

March 11, 2011 – Local is New Overused Buzzword

I’ve noticed since the appearance of local food into consumer’s lingo, many other businesses are using the word as well, not all with the same values as local food presents.  To me, a large part of the lure of purchasing local food is its freshness, and to many others the primary motive is the idea that the money stays within the community, using the local multiplier effect and it lifts the entire local economy when money circulates locally rather than siphoned off to a  multinational corporation.

My Menards bill came in an envelope from this company with the interesting slogan “The World’s Local Bank.”  I would never consider that Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is local.  In fact, from their worldwide establishments, they sucked 19 billion in profits out of local communities in 2010. (During a better banking year they removed almost 40 billion in2007 from “local” communities to their shareholder’s wallets.)

I fear this could be the latest term to lose all meaning because of co-option by large corporations, much like “natural” “sustainability” and “green” have been.  Indeed author Wendell Berry recently reminded us that it is not the words that offer us hope, but the relationship:

“Too much of the talk and politics of conservation consists of slogans, such as ‘Think globally, act locally’ or even single words such as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic’ that act like slogans. Such language finally does harm. It becomes useful, in fact, to land-abusing corporations. What gives hope is actual conversation, actual discourse, in which people say to one another in good faith fully and exactly what they know, and acknowledge honestly, the limits of their knowledge.”

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #199″

March 10, 2011 – Thingamajig Thursday #249

Here’s this week’s thingamajig Thursday.  We’re going to try something different this week.  I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge lately, with the Keith Richards biography being the  selection from popular culture.

Choose the false statement from the list:

1) As a child, Keith was a featured vocalist in a children’s choir that sang in Westminster Abbey for the Queen.
2) Keith once dumped a girlfriend because SHE did too many drugs.
3) One of Keith’s five homes is in a remote part of Iceland near a thermal spring.
4) Keith’s “aura” and mannerisms are the inspiration for Johnny Depp’s portrayal Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

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…”More Fog”

March 9, 2011 – Silly Putty Snow

We awoke to a few inches of very heavy snow with a thick layer of slush underneath.

It’s the kind of snow that tends to swoosh off the barn in one giant slide.

It’s also the kind that isn’t fun to drive in.  Emma needed to be to school early, so she was off before the roads were plowed. The road had three ruts, with each lane sharing the common center rut – a semi-truck approached and as she moved over into the deep slush and the semi blinded her with a windshield full of slush, she lost control and avoided a car traveling behind the semi and ended up resting in the ditch – thankful that she didn’t collide with the oncoming car or roll as she traveled down the steep ditch. She wasn’t the only one as there were 4 vehicles in the ditch on the way to town, including a jeep that had rolled.

one year ago…”Discarded Toyota Marketing Slogans”

March 8, 2011 – Kids Have it Soooo Easy Now

Here’s a bit of an old man rant. One of Linda’s students used a web service named Easybib to prepare a list of works cited, but wasn’t quite alert enough to take the extra step to save as a Word Document and instead just printed off the web page, complete with URL of the citation service.

It’s rather amazing, since with a click of a button change the citation style from MLA, to Chicago Manual of Style etc. Back when I was growing up, getting the citation format was a major time sucker. Kids these days have it so easy!

one year ago…”Fog Sets In”

March 7, 2011 – Mess at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Recently, there has been more disappointing news regarding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The interim director appointed after the previous botched search has resigned.  In addition, Rich Pirog, Asssociate Director and face of the Center across the U.S. is leaving at the end of the month.
Essentially, the University Administration has literally hijacked the leadership of the Center by appointing three consecutive “interim directors” in a row after relieving Fred Kirschenmann of his duties. You may remember in the last search process, the search committee, composed of a broad range of people, selected four candidates to interview on campus. Of these, they recommended two to the President. Ricardo Salvador was the preferred candidate and another was acceptable, while two were deemed unacceptable. The job was offered to the 2nd candidate and at the same time Dr. Salvador, the #1 choice was sent a flush letter. The 2nd candidate eventually declined and the university was left with no other options.

According to the article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, a comment Dr. Salvador made during a presentation that “cows evolved to eat grass” is counted as his downfall (this is a state whose agriculture is dominated by corn and confinements and feedlots that feed ruminants corn; the emperor did not appreciate this comment that suggests there was a lack of clothing.)

The Chronicle interviewed the Dean of Agriculture and asked her if she believed that “cows evolved to eat grass.” She said she had no opinion. (As though this is a question of opinion!). The Chronicle continued to push her and finally she said something to the effect that she was trained as an entomologist and should not be expected to know about everything! Hmm. I’d think for $227,000 dollars a year, a Land Grant university could find some genius who is underemployed who is not an animal scientist who might have a broad understanding of agriculture that includes the knowledge that cows are ruminants.

Obviously, the Dean knows the answer, and no matter who was in that position might have answered the same. There is a structural problem. The problem is that the concept of a Land Grant University funded by public taxes, no longer serves those who pay the taxes, but captains of industry, much like many politicians in Washington serve who do not vote for them.

Somehow, this seems appropriate on the anniversary of our democracy. There’s still work left to do! A recent billboard for Iowa State urged students to “Change your zip code and change the World.” If the University blocks progress on changing less than 2% of Iowa farmland and intercedes to maintain the status quo, there is no hope the world will change anytime soon. There are many bright faculty and students at Iowa State – they deserve leadership that allows them to do just that – change the world.

So, it’s time to go back to the founding legislation and mission of the Center, as put forth in the Groundwater Protection Act that established the Center to:

(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices,
(2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and
(3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings. It is important to recognize
that this mandate creates, by design, a dynamic tension between conventional and alternative forms of agriculture.

The latest string of administrative actions and the litmus test of needing the approval of the powers of conventional agriculture run counter to the designs of the center. It’s time to move the administration of the Center out of suffocating hand of the College of Agriculture and to a more broad-based reporting structure so it can fulfill it’s mission.

one year ago…”Real Life Marauder’s Map”

March 6, 2011 – Martin the Accordionist!

Who’d of thunk that a few weeks after our visit to the accordion restaurant, we’d have an accordion in our very home!

A long-time friend has recently been unable to resist the temptation to buy accordions in the last year or so, and offered to let Martin try out one of her recent acquisitions.  As he already has the keys down, it’s just a matter of learning the buttons and getting the arm strength to move the bellows.  Martin loves music, so along with the piano and trombone, he’s going to see how he likes accordion.

one year ago…”Ewe Lambs Birth with No Problems”

March 5, 2011 – The Worlds Collide or Coalesce?

I thought this pair of socks I found at K-Mart represents something special. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a Remington shotgun and organic farm, but frankly, I didn’t think there was enough of me to make a market for branding organic socks with the Remington brand!

So, I’m not sure they were in the 75% off rack because they didn’t sell or because it is the end of the warm sock marketing season.

one year ago…”Basement Woes Over?”

March 4, 2011 – Coming Soon to a River Near You

Looks like yet another Iowa farm field is set to whisk the water quickly out of the field and into a waterway.

Here’s a bunch of field drainage tile, waiting to be buried under the field, to quickly drain excess water away. There’s been a number of reasons for increased flooding lately, and this is just one – an expressway for rainfall from farm fields (which cover 88% of Iowa) to the rivers. It wouldn’t be so bad if our tax dollars were just supporting the farmers to install the tile, but we also get to pay for flood relief for the increased frequency and severity of flooding along Midwestern rivers.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #198″