The Fatties

We’re raising five pigs this year.  One of them is for a group of friends in town.  Her name is Gracie.

Gracie, chewing on my boot.

Gracie, chewing on my boot.

The other four are named Fatty, Fattie, Fattee and Fattye.

The Fatties

The Fatties

They’re eating fifty pounds of feed per day now.  I misjudged how much we would need so today we’re making the 2 1/2 hour drive, each way, to Sunrise Feeds in Stuarts Draft to restock.

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I taped one of the Fatties yesterday and got an estimated weight of 230.  They’re growing fast these days.

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We’ll only have them for another month or so.

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When they’re gone, it won’t be the same around here without them.

Putting Gardens to Bed

We’re trying to coax food out of our fall gardens, with mixed success so far.  But even though those gardens are getting the most attention these days, there’s work to do on the others as well.

Our spring gardens are sowed in a winter cover crop–a mixture of winter rye, Austrian winter peas, oats and crimson clover.  Cover crops help us maintain soil health and fertility.  Once the cover crops are established, then there’s nothing more to do on those gardens till next year.   They’re tucked into bed for the winter.

The summer gardens aren’t as far along.  The garden that gave us watermelons this summer has been tilled and soon I’ll be planting garlic and onions in it for overwintering.  The peas and beans are still producing, so it will be awhile before I can start putting those gardens to bed. Yesterday I began taking down the fences from around the sweet potato gardens.  With harvest just a couple of weeks away, I’m actually inviting the deer in to to eat the vines, thus saving me the trouble of pulling them all up and hauling them away.

I also spent a lot of time yesterday working in the now-expired tomato gardens, and I’ll be at it again today.

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We use the Florida Weave method to support our tomatoes.  That means we drive in metal t-posts after every two plants and weave baling twine among the posts to create support for the growing plants.  The method works great and is much better than individually staking and tying each plant.  But at the end of the season, after the plants have all died, it’s necessary to go back and remove all the twine and pull up the t-posts, a process that takes many hours. Hopefully today we’ll finish up.

Gardens become unruly messes by the end of the year.  It’s a satisfying feeling to have them all cleaned up and tucked into bed for winter.  I’m actually kind of looking forward to those long dark days of winter.

Water

We had more rain than usual this summer.  And it often seemed to come at inopportune times, interfering with planting schedules.  Our fall gardens are about a month behind schedule thanks to too much rain.

Meanwhile California is experiencing a severe drought and farms there are suffering badly.

Water is abundant here.  So much so that it’s easy to take it for granted.  We have dry spells and even droughts sometimes, but there’s always plenty of water for irrigation.

For much of the world that isn’t the case however.  Water is precious.

Looking down at the Sahara Desert from the air it’s possible to see where there once were rivers and lakes there. Just because there is plenty of water in a place now doesn’t mean there always will be.

Some experts predict that the most dangerous and deadly conflicts in the future will not be over ideology, but rather over water.  The seeds for such conflicts are being sown throughout the world these days.

So as I fret over muddy gardens and delayed plantings, I remind myself to pause a minute, and be thankful for the water.

Good Coffee

I was slow in developing an appreciation for good coffee.  For much of my life I favored quantity over quality.  I drank gallons of the cheap institutional coffee served up in my firm’s break room, starting when I arrived in the morning and not quitting until I went home at night.  Very often I’d put on a pot at 7 or so, when all the right-thinking people had already gone home to their families, and drink the entire thing.  I was hooked on it and it kept me wired.

Eventually my stomach couldn’t take it any more and on doctor’s orders I quit cold turkey.  That lasted a year or so until I ended up on a case that required me to travel to Brazil a lot.  Overnight flights meant I was usually tired and groggy when I was there, so I allowed myself  to partake of the delicious little demitasses of rich dark espresso that were brought into our meetings every couple of hours.  At first I only went off the wagon when I was in Brazil, but soon I was back into my old drink-it-all-the-time practice.

Only after I left that world and moved to the farm full-time did my coffee drinking practices change.  It’s just not practical to drink coffee all day while doing farm work, and I felt no desire to do so.  For the past few years I’ve had one good cup of cafe con leche in the morning and none after that.

And now I’ve gotten used to the good stuff.  I don’t have any interest in pots of Folgers anymore.

Of course a bag of coffee lasts a long time when you only drink one cup a day. For quite a while now I’ve been enjoying a great coffee that my daughter brought home from a study abroad program she did in Guatemala last year. But with that almost gone, it was time to restock.  So yesterday I bought a bag of freshly roasted and freshly ground Ethiopian coffee from our coffee-vending friends at the farmers market.  Even still in the bag it has an amazing aroma that filled the house.

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We’ve made the decision to only buy tea, coffee and chocolate that is certified fair trade.  It only costs a little more per cup to buy fair trade coffee.  These kind of third-party certifications aren’t ideal, but with so much distance between the growers and the users, I know of no other way to assure that that we aren’t contributing to the profits of corporations that are unfair to growers and workers.  Fortunately for us our friends at the market share that ethic, so we’re able to buy fair trade and help support their business as well.

Imagine what might happen if our coffee-loving culture decided en masse to buy only fair trade coffee.  In short order, all coffee would be fair trade.  In short order, all coffee growers and workers would be treated fairly.  We’d get great coffee, while help making the world a better place.  That would be a win-win.

Left Behind

Our pasture fences are five feet tall.  Deer can easily hop over them, and often do. Adult deer that is.

I keep seeing this fawn in the paddock where the pigs live.

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My guess is that she was born in the pasture and sometime later, when she was old enough to wean, her mother moved on.  Normally the fawn would follow her but in this case I’m assuming the fawn wasn’t able to jump the fence and therefore got left behind.

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She is often laying by the fence when I go to feed the pigs in the morning.  At first she was easily startled and dashed away whenever I came into sight.  But lately she’s been a little more curious and a little less afraid.  That’s how I was able to get the pictures. I don’t expect to be seeing her much longer though.  It’s about time she jumped over the fence and resumed living among deer, rather than pigs.

Buying Happiness

For if neither thousands of gold or silver, nor any of the advantages or pleasures purchased thereby, can prevent our being miserable, it evidently follows that they cannot make us happy.

Are the rich and great the only happy men?  And is each of them more or less happy in proportion to his measure of riches?  Are they happy at all?  I had well nigh said, they of all men are the most miserable!

John Wesley (1748)

Ethical Eating

Eating is not a morally neutral act. Of course few things are. But while the moral issues associated with some acts are well-known and universally accepted, with other acts the moral dimension may be less obvious and subject to dispute.

Because our food system is industrialized and globalized sometimes the moral issues are easy to obscure or conceal.  If we had a neighbor using enslaved children to make chocolate bars few us of would buy them, regardless of how cheap they were.  But if a company is using enslaved children to harvest cocoa in Africa we’re not likely to notice, and few people feel any guilt about buying their chocolate.  Likewise most of us would refuse to buy meat from a neighbor who abuses and tortures his animals, but we’ll buy meat in a grocery store from animals raised cruelly in high-intensity confinement feed operations.  Not because we approve of that way of treating animals–few of us do–but because we’re able to stay sufficiently separated from it to keep our consciences clear.

These are just a couple of obvious examples in a web of moral questions that surround what and how we eat. How we treat and care for our bodies is a moral issue.  How much food we consume is a moral issue.  Whether our food choices make us complicit in environmental degradation is a moral issue.  Whether we are helping to sustain a food system that contributes to poverty, hunger, food insecurity and destruction of indigenous agricultural systems is a moral issue as well.

Of course sorting through the moral issues can be difficult.  If forced to choose, is it better to eat organic or eat local?  If locally and naturally produced food is more expensive, does that make it a privilege of the affluent only? Does eating ethically require a person to be a vegetarian?  A vegan?  Is it only ethical to eat meat from animals raised humanely?  What about people who can’t afford that kind of meat, or who live in food deserts? There are plenty of vexing questions like these.

Now that I’ve put one major writing project behind me (for now at least), next up is an attempt to put together a practical guide to ethical eating.  Expect some posts on that subject over the next few months as the project moves forward.  You’ve been forewarned!

What we’re aiming for is something for folks who want to eat ethically, but who aren’t sure how to navigate through all the claims made about food these days.  Hopefully we’ll come up with something that gives people the information that need to help them make informed decisions, without being overly intimidating and without coming across as just some sort of list of rules to follow.

Now that the days are starting later and ending earlier, it seems I’ll have plenty of inside work to do.