Natural Pest Control

We’re having a great tomato crop this year, which is a welcome relief after losing almost all of last year’s crop to blight.  Our old-fashioned heirlooms are difficult to grow, but they’re the best tasting tomatoes in the world.  So obviously they’ve been popular with our customers and we’ve been eating like royalty.

Blight is starting to rear its ugly head again, and the harvest will probably be cut short of a full season.  We have another garden of tomatoes on the way though and it should start producing soon.  Hopefully we’ll have tomatoes all summer.

With tomatoes, plant disease is a much bigger problem for us than pests.  But there are pests, the worst of which is the hornworm, which can do a lot of damage.

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When I was growing up I knew these as tobacco worms.  Tobacco is a nightshade, like tomatoes, and these worms love feasting on tobacco leaves as well.

Hornworms camouflage well.  The easiest way to find them is to look for damage to the plants and the worms’ droppings, which are easily recognizable.

Often I’ll find a hornworm that looks like this.

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The white cocoons were made by parasitic braconid wasp larvae. The wasps lay eggs under the skin of the worm.  After hatching, the larvae emerge, build their cocoons and consume the hornworm.

We remove hornworms when we find them.  If a worm has these cocoons on it, I remove it carefully from the plant and drop it outside the garden so as not to harm the wasp larvae

Nature’s hornworm control.   No posions necessary.

Shoveling Poo

Keeping the soil in our 18 gardens healthy and fertile without the use of any commercial fertilizers requires constant effort and attention.  We carefully follow a rotation plan and we use cover cropping.  Our goal is to produce 2 cover crops that are tilled back into the soil for every crop that we harvest.

We don’t use any off-farm inputs to fertilize.  Instead we use compost we make here, the litter from our chicken coops, and manure from our animals.  We like to think that we harvest sunshine and rainwater.  They produce the grass, which feeds the livestock, which make the manure, which fertilizes the gardens, which feed us.  It’s a beautiful self-contained system, designed by nature.

Even though humans have been farming this way for thousands of years, these practices are rarely followed anymore, having been replaced with the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.

But we’re happy doing it the old-fashioned way.  Yesterday morning I shoveled out the horse’s stall, where he likes to hang out during the heat of the day.  I took the wonderful fertilizer that he deposited there and spread it on the garden that produced our garlic this year.  About this time next year it should be producing tomatoes and other goodies for us, thanks to a recipe of seeds, soil, rain, sunlight, compost, human labor and a dose of horse manure.

That’s a good combination.

 

Long Days

Friday night our faith community sponsored an art show in town that we really wanted to attend. Foolishly I thought that it might be possible to finish picking and prepping for the market in time to make it to show.  But as it turned out we were still working into the night to get ready, so we missed it.  Then we were up at 4 a.m. to prepare, load up and set up before the market opened.  Fridays and Saturdays are our busiest days on the farm.

For those of you who are farmers market vendors, obviously you already know this. For everybody else, remember that when you see your farmers on Saturday morning they’ve been up a long time after likely putting in a very long day on Friday.

But I don’t mind the long hours on Friday and Saturday (except on those rare occasions when that interferes with something else we want to do).  For me, as with most of us I assume, it is a labor of love.

And it was especially satisfying that yesterday was our best day ever at the market,  just as last Saturday had been.  Our community is beginning to support local food, and our farm, in a very encouraging way.

 

Rooting for the Bees

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The Virginia Department of Agriculture reported this week that between October and April nearly 1/3 of the managed bee colonies in the state died.  Unfortunately we contributed to that statistic, as our lone surviving hive died in February or March.

This kind of die-off is happening all over the country and a host of explanations have been suggested.  Pesticides are almost certainly responsible in some way, although the details are still unclear.

I’ve seen a lot of references to the supposed disaster that will follow if all the honeybees die off, including claims that we are so dependent upon them as pollinators that if they die we humans will die off too.  But that won’t happen.  Sure it would mean the end of some things, like commercial almond and cranberry production, but sustainable diversified farms like ours would carry on largely as normal.  Nature provides plenty of other pollinators for our vegetables and fruit trees. After all, the honeybee is not native to North America, having been brought over from Europe by the early colonists.

But having said that, the loss of honeybees would be a great tragedy.  They are beautiful creatures, and aside from being great pollinators they also give us honey, arguably nature’s perfect food.

Nature has a way of adjusting to respond to threats and environmental change.  Species do go extinct–far too often these days.  But often they find a way to overcome threats and emerge even more resilient.  Let’s hope that’s what happens with the honeybees.  Without them, the world will be much less beautiful.

Stormy Weather

There was some really nasty weather in our part of the world yesterday.  A tornado touched down a few miles away, which is very unusual here.

Fortunately the bad stuff only brushed us.  We got some much-needed rain and little else.

But it did put on a show in the sky.

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Notice the trees bending in the wind

Notice the trees bending in the wind

The aftermath.  Starting to clear up.

The aftermath. Starting to clear up.

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Living Liberation From Industrial Food

Below is our presentation from the Food and Faith panel at this year’s Wild Goose Festival. We deviated pretty significantly from this script to address the criticisms the prior presenter had made of the food movement, so the following ended up being merely an outline and not a verbatim record of what we said. It was meant to be a basic introduction to the food movement, and we tried to tie it into the festival’s theme, which was “Living Liberation.” Cherie and I divided this up, usually alternating paragraphs, but not always. The images below the paragraphs were displayed on a video screen during the presentation, coinciding with the text.

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Good evening. I’m Cherie Guerrant and this is my husband Bill. We are the owners of White Flint Farm in Keeling, Virginia, where we farm full time, raising goats, chickens, pigs, and vegetables. We farm sustainably, using no herbicides, pesticides or harmful chemicals. Our journey began when we purchased the home place that had been in Bill’s family since the 1870s. At the time we lived in Tampa, Florida, where Bill was an attorney and I was a law librarian. We spent the next few years restoring and healing the land, converting to all-natural, chemical free practices. In the beginning, I lived full-time on the farm, while Bill split his time between the farm and his law practice. Since 2011, we have both worked full time on the farm. In addition to being farmers, Bill has his Masters in Theological Studies, with an emphasis on food and spirituality, and I have my Masters in Human Services, with a concentration in health and wellness. Our presentation discusses the current industrial agricultural model that permeates our food system and introduces healthy alternatives to this destructive system.

What comes to mind when you think about where our food comes from? Pastures and gardens? Peaceful country scenes? Happy contented animals? Apple pie cooling on the window sill? Farmers in straw hats and bib overalls?

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Sadly, the reality is much different. Almost all the food we eat in our culture comes from the industrial agricultural system. For the next few minutes we’re going to talk about some of the problems with industrial agriculture, and how they can be avoided.

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There are many ways the industrial food system harms our bodies, our communities and our planet. We’re going to touch on a few of them. The industrial system relies on huge unsustainable monocultures, which destroy biodiversity and require massive amounts of chemicals and poisons.

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The system is a major contributor to environmental degradation and climate change. It consumes 20% of the fossil fuels and a third of the water consumed in the U.S. The system is destructive of local food economies and relies on an exploitative labor system. It is like a cancer destroying small family farms.

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The industrial system engages in systematic cruelty to animals, imprisoning and torturing them in confined spaces in an effort to maximize corporate profits. In America, billions of God’s creatures live lives in which they never see sunlight or a blade of grass. Often, they aren’t even able to turn around.

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These industrial practices strip food of nutrients and taste. Much of it is processed into chemical-laced food-like substances that are responsible in large part for our obesity epidemic and national health crisis.

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As recently as 1996 no state in America had an obesity rate of more than 20 percent, but by 2010, a mere 14 years later, every state in America did, and in 12 states the rate now exceeds 30 percent. More than 35% of all American adults and over 17% of all children are now obese.

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One of the effects of the obesity epidemic is the shocking increase in type 2 diabetes. As startling as this graph is, the occurrence of type 2 diabetes increased almost 800% between 1935 and 1996. Studies have shown that this increase is directly related to the increase in processed food, especially high fructose corn syrup.

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This is all a far cry of course from the images the industry presents with its multimillion dollar advertising budgets, creating enticing packaging while passing laws to prohibit taking photos such as this one. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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The rest of the images you’ll see are from our farm. Fortunately, there are thousands of farms like ours these days, tended by farmers dedicated to preserving the land, raising delicious healthy food and being good stewards to the animals and plants entrusted to their care.

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Natural sustainable agricultural practices like ours promote and preserve the things that the industrial food system is destroying. We promote biological diversity, rather than monocultures. We use natural practices, rather than chemicals and poisons.

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The local food movement promotes and supports local economies, rather than exploiting seasonal labor. Natural farmers treat animals with compassion and respect. We don’t use growth hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics. Our animals are happier and healthier, resulting in meat that is better tasting and more nutritious.

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Instead of destroying the natural world around it, sustainable farming occurs in harmony with nature. And when we live in harmony with nature, rather than in conflict with it, the earth rewards us with abundance.

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Food raised naturally, on diversified, chemical-free sustainable farms, is nutrient-dense. Whole natural foods–unprocessed and free from poisons, growth hormones and antibiotics–promote rather than destroy our health.

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And food raised this way simply tastes much better than industrial food. The taste of naturally-grown vegetables, eggs from free-range hens, pastured pork and grass-fed beef is incomparably better than that of the industrial food found in supermarkets.

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So how can we opt of the industrial system? How can we refuse to contribute to the profits of the corporations that are destroying our bodies, our communities and our world? How can we be a part of a natural alternative instead? How can we be a part of changing, and maybe even saving, the world?

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The best way to start is by growing as much of your own food as possible, using whatever space you have. Use a window sill, containers, a flower bed or even your entire yard. Raise some chickens in your back yard. Connect with the source of your food.

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Find and support your local farmers markets. Get to know the farmers who grow your food. Visit their farms. See for yourself how they raise their vegetables and how they treat their animals. Shake the hands that feed you.

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Growing your own food, and supporting local sustainably and ethically operated farms, are acts of rebellion against and means of liberation from the industrial food complex. The damage being done by the industrial system is reversible, and the change begins with us.

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A good way to find responsible sustainable farms in your area is by going to localharvest.org. Just type in your zip code and you’ll get a list of farms in your area with descriptions of what they grow, how they grow it and how to find them. Call them up; visit them, read their websites. Become informed about their practices.

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Unlike our industrial counterparts, in the food movement we are not locked into a paradigm and we are not enslaved to the profit motive. While there are valid criticisms of agriculture, even if practiced sustainably, our goal is a food system that is resilient, regenerative and restorative–good for us, our fellow creatures and our planet.

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Properly practiced, we believe agriculture and farming are gifts of God, and we cherish the vision of a future in which instruments of violence and war will be turned into farm tools. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

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A food movement is sweeping our country and our world. The folks joining it are refusing to be complicit in the damage caused by the industrial system. They’re choosing to eat better food and by doing so, to help save the world. If you’re not already part of the movement, get on board! Be the change you want to see.

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Reading the Signs

I was working in one of the gardens when I felt a little breeze come up quickly.  I turned around and saw this.

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This is the time of year when any rain we get usually comes in “scattered thunderstorms.”  So rainfall amounts can vary widely even in a small area.  Last week we got an inch of rain one day while my mother, who lives less than a half mile away, got only two-tenths of an inch.

If you spend a lot of time outside, and if rain is very important to you, then you can become pretty good at reading the signs.

So I could tell that this storm, even though it was close, was going to miss us.  I kept right on digging up potatoes and sure enough we didn’t get a drop, though I could see it raining not far away.

Linda (Shoreacres) also has a job that requires an awareness of the weather and approaching rain. She is one of the best bloggers on the world wide web and discussed “reading the signs” in a recent post on her blog, which I recommend.

As the great philosopher/poet Bob Dylan once said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

The Earth’s White Blood Cells

We hold a weekly meeting of all employees of White Flint Farm on Sunday mornings.  In other words, once a week I have an extra cup of coffee and Cherie and I discuss farm planning and other business and administrative issues that need attention.  This time of year is so busy on the farm that if we didn’t carve out specific time for that sort of thing, it wouldn’t happen and important things would fall through the cracks.

Last Sunday we were reflecting on coming off the farm’s best week ever.  We’re adding new customers every week as the word spreads about our farm and what we’re doing here.  Folks who try our veggies almost always come back for more.  It’s very encouraging.

We just added another delivery drop to our schedule, so we’re now doing four of them each week, as well as selling at the farmers market and off the farm by appointment.  It’s keeping us very busy but we’re thrilled to see the booming interest in chemical-free, ethically-produced, locally-grown food.  Our community has been slow to get on board with this movement, but I believe the tide has now turned.

On a podcast I was listening to yesterday the podcaster commented on how the human body has natural defense mechanisms that activate when the body is threatened by illness.  Perhaps, she said, the growing food and permaculture movements are like the earth activating its own defense mechanism to fight the disease of industrial food.  I like that image.  We are the earth’s white blood cells.

Ars Moriendi

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Our friends The Collection have released their new album Ars Moriendi.

It’s been in heavy rotation here the last few days.

You can listen to it free HERE and, if you like what you hear, buy a copy HERE.

You can see the video for “Gown of Green,” my favorite song on the record, HERE.

We enjoyed having the band spend a week on our farm last summer, staying in our old farmhouse and crafting this album.  They’re an awesome group of talented and inspirational young people–the kind who help sustain hope for the future.  They’re out on the road now, touring in support of the record.  Check them out if they’re in your town.

And this is the 2,000th post on Practicing Resurrection.  Looking forward to the next 2,000.

 

Something We Can All Agree On

The food movement stretches across the political, religious and socio-economic divides in our society.  We have customers and farm supporters who are far to the political right, far to the political left, and everywhere in between.  Our customers are poor and well-to-do, religious and not religious.  They are white and not-white.  They are a fairly representative sample of our community.

In a time when so many things seem to deeply and bitterly divide us, the food movement can be a unifier.

Some folks become supporters of the food movement for health reasons.  Many are looking to purge their diets of chemicals based on doctors’ advice, or to help fight or avoid disease.  Some are drawn to it for ethical, spiritual or religious reasons, such as a desire to care for creation or a concern for the ethical treatment of farm animals.  Some folks just want food that tastes like the food they ate at their grandparents’ house when they were children.  The motivations of the new farmers, homesteaders, backyard and urban gardeners are similarly varied it seems to me.

Underneath this food-movement umbrella there is a diverse and growing group of people who appreciate the significance and importance of good ethically-produced food.  They defy the divisive labels that are so prevalent these days.

I think that’s one of the best things about it, and a cause for continued optimism.