Blogging

A couple of weeks ago Laura from Applewood Farm said some nice things about this blog.  She shared some interesting facts about herself, listed some of her favorite blogs, and invited me (and others) to do likewise.  So, for what it’s worth, here’s my response.

To begin, here are seven random possibly interesting things about me:

1. I was a disc jockey at a college radio station.  I was on the air the night John Lennon was murdered.  

2. I was a sports junkie for much of my life.  I spent countless hours in stadiums, arenas, at race tracks or sitting in front of a television watching other people play football, basketball, baseball or race cars.  I wish I could have those hours of my life back.

3. I was a music junkie for much of my life.  I spent countless hours in stadiums, arenas and clubs or sitting in front of my stereo listening to music played by other people.  Those were hours well-spent.  No regrets.

4. Famous people I’ve seen in airports:  Loren Green, Wolfman Jack, Waylon Jennings, Jennifer Knapp, Jesse Jackson, Johnnie Cochran.

5. I totalled two different 1972 Ford Mavericks when I was a teenager.  I flipped one and drove the other one into a light pole.  Fortunately I walked away nearly unscathed both times.

6. My father died of a heart attack when he was 49 years old.  His father died of a heart attack when he was 56.  His grandfather died of a heart attack when he was 53.  Until I met Cherie I had no expectation of living past middle age, and I lived like someone who didn’t expect to live long.  All of that stupid way of thinking is in my past now.  I’m 53 and in great health.

7. Although I loved this farm when I was growing up, I could never have imagined someday choosing to be a farmer.

Now I’m supposed to list up to 15 of my favorite blogs. That one is just too difficult for me.  I read lots of blogs (probably way too many), and it’s honestly just too hard for me to narrow my favorites down like that.  I can honestly say that Laura’s blog is what I’d like mine to be like. I envy her wit and her wordsmanship.  I also appreciate that her posts are always about farm life.  But I don’t expect I’ll ever be able to write with a sense of humor, nor do I expect to have the discipline to blog only about farm life.  So, alas, this blog will likely stay as it is, for better or worse.

Although I’m not going to make a list of favorites, I will mention a couple of blogs that helped me rethink blogging and caused me to change the direction of this blog.

I’ve been blogging for over five years, putting up a new post nearly every day.  For a time my posts were often angry rants.  I never commented on the blogs I read and I rarely responded to any comments on this blog.  My blog-reading was passive and my blog posts were monologues, not conversation starters.

Somehow years ago I discovered the excellent blogs of Teresa Evangeline and Shoreacres (The Task at Hand).  Teresa’s posts were beautiful combinations of art, music, poetry and thoughtful reflections.  Linda’s (Shoreacres) were finely crafted essays that never failed to fascinate and wow me.  As much as I enjoyed their posts (and still do of course) I didn’t try to imitate their blogging styles.  That would have been a ridiculous (albeit amusing) failure.  But from their blogs I learned that blog posts can be great conversation starters.  They always responded thoughtfully to comments and I found myself often enjoying the comments almost as much as the post itself. I still don’t comment as often as I should, but I did adopt their practice of responding to comments and that has added a new dimension to blogging that I’ve come to really enjoy.

There are lots of really great blogs out there, and I keep finding more.  Sometimes I resolve to just stick with the ones I’m already reading, then I think of the great reads I would have missed had I done that earlier.  So for now I’ll just keep reading my ever-growing list.  Feel free to pass along any recommendations.  🙂

Happy Blogging in 2014!

Pig Planning

This weekend White Flint Farm will hold it’s annual executive retreat to review the results of 2013 and plan for 2014.  Put differently, Cherie and I will spend a day at the kitchen table figuring out where we go from here.

I’m a little nervous about it.  We have to be honest about what makes sense and what doesn’t. As a friend of mine put it, if we operate at a loss then we’re essentially paying people to eat our food. If the reality is that we’ll always operate at a loss, then what we’re doing isn’t sustainable.

I expect the results of our review will be positive.  But I know it’s likely that we’ll end up making some changes.  We’ll see.

Whatever other changes we end up making, I’m confident that we’ll keep raising pigs.  I love having them on the farm and they don’t require a lot of effort.  I feed them twice a day, keep their water fresh and make sure they have a wallow and a dry place to sleep.  If only everything on the farm was as easy to raise as they are.

We set the price of our sausage at $6.50/pound and are having no problem selling it.  Several folks have told us it’s the best they’ve ever had.  It’s encouraging that people are willing to pay a little extra more for quality.

Assuming the numbers work out as I expect them to, I’m planning to raise four next year–two for whole hog sausage and two for the other cuts.  I may try to plant some turnips in the pasture.  I’m still considering fencing in some of the woods around the pasture so they can finish on acorns, even though that would have been pointless this year since we ended up having no acorns.

I’m still hesitant to get a boar and start breeding and farrowing.  I like bringing in weaned piglets, raising them to slaughter weight, then taking a break.  That also allows me to open up their pasture for the goats in the winter.  We’ll think about that possibility for 2015.

Whatever else 2014 may have in store for us, I’m sure it will include pigs.

Joey’s Hay

Jesus said:  Woe to the Pharisees.  Like a dog dozing in a food trough for cattle, they neither eat nor do they let the cattle eat.
Gospel of Thomas, Saying 102.

Reading this recently, I had to chuckle.  Evidently this kind of thing has been going on a long time.

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It’s been almost a year since our Great Pyrenees guard dog Joey died.  We still miss his big goofy slobbering self.

Often when I’d put out a bale of hay for the goats Joey would come over, sniff around it, then climb on it to nap.  I suppose he just assumed the hay was intended for his comfort.

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I used to get a little annoyed at him for doing that.  But now I wish I could look outside and see him sleeping on the goats’ hay.

Eating Well

Despite the exceptionally cold weather we’ve been having our gardens are still producing, albeit grudgingly.  We have brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, 4 kinds of kale, turnips, turnip greens, mustard greens, cabbage, chinese cabbage, senposai, Yukina savoy, spinach, bok choy, arugula, chard and even a little lettuce.  The lettuce is growing in my improvised cold frames (old windows laid over the raised beds), but the rest is growing outside. We don’t have a high tunnel or any row covers.  That’s a benefit of being in Zone 7.

I don’t know how much longer things will last though.  Just when I’d adjusted to the idea that cold winters here were a thing of the past, this crazy one comes along.  But of course it’s just getting started.  Maybe it will warm back up.  Maybe not.

Even if the gardens give up the ghost for the winter (and I’m not expecting that), we’re well-provisioned with food from the farm.  We have pork, vension, fish, chicken and summer veggies in the freezer.  We have potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic in the basement.  We have pea shoots, green onions and sunflower greens sprouting in the window sills.

Almost everything we eat now comes off this place.  This morning I had eggs and potatoes for breakfast.  Last night for supper I had broccoli salad, green beans, potatoes and fish.  All from this farm.

Cherie just asked me to bring in some things for her to cook: spinach, cabbage and broccoli. No problem, I answered. It feels good to be able to say that.

The Homestretch

I’m coming down the homestretch now with my thesis.  It’s 179 pages long as I enter into the clean-up/editing phase.  Whether it will be any good remains to be seen, but I no longer worry that it won’t get done.

When I began this process a little over a year ago, I was motivated in part by a desire to make the case that churches and Christian faith communities should embrace the food movement. It’s beginning to look like that argument will be passe by the time I finish.

Many in liberal and progressive Christian traditions and denominations began to get on board over the last couple of years.  The North Carolina Council of Churches, for example, released a curriculum in 2012 titled “Eating Well:  For Ourselves, For Our Neighbors, For Our Planet.” Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle featured Joel Salatin, Norman Wirzba, Marion Nestle, Bill McKibben and others in their speakers series this year.  Many more examples could be cited.  Church gardens and programs to promote healthy eating have been popping up all over the country.

Conservative evangelical churches were slower to join, but now they’re coming on board as well.  Evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren has just published a book promoting healthy eating.  Liberty University has launched a community garden.  It seems that if the food movement is going to have a religious element, it’s going to be ecumenical.

Of course that doesn’t mean the problem is solved.  Health problems caused by poor food choices are the greatest in the states that have the highest levels of church attendance. In those states, church-goers are more likely to be obese than those who don’t attend.  And pastors are more likely to be obese than their congregations.  I don’t think there is necessarily any correlation between attending church and eating properly, but it does seem fair to conclude that pastors in general aren’t doing enough to combat obesity in their communities and congregations.

I’m hoping to describe a Wesleyan food ethic that is consonant with the food movement and that might add something worthwhile to the conversation. Maybe by the time I finish this thing that will already have been done. If so, that would be a good thing.

By the way, if you see an ad at the end of the posts, it’s because I’ve chosen not to pony up the money WordPress requires for an “ad-free” blog. I have no control over the ads and whatever they’re advertising, I don’t endorse it.

Apples and Oranges

As we try to figure out how to turn a profit off of a few acres of organic vegetables, a flock of chickens, a herd of goats and a few pigs (in other words, off a traditional diversified farm), when I read about the giant commodity grain farms of the Midwest I realize how completely different we are from them, in so many ways.

According to a recent article in Progressive Farmer about small grain farms, most farms were under 600 acres in the early 1980s.  Today most cropland is on farms with at least 1,100 acres and “many farms are five or 10 times that size.  The midpoint for Midwest grain farms more than doubled since the 1980s.”

GMOs have played a big role in the farm expansion/consolidation.

“Technology accounts for some of the surge in grain-farm size, especially with the adoption of herbicide-resistant seeds since 1995, USDA explains.  It notes that labor requirements on a 1,500-acre Midwest farm using conventional seed runs about 4,421 man-hours per year, while someone with herbicide-tolerant seed introduced since 1995 needs only 3,160 hours to produce the same crop.  With growing weed resistance to Roundup technologies, however, that pattern may slow in the future.”

So how are these giant chemical-based GMO grain farms doing financially?

According to the article the profits per acre on corn average about $347 and on soybeans about $287.

With farms averaging over 1100 acres and with many being 5-10,000 acres, that means the average size farm is turning a profit of over $300,000 and the big boys are raking in millions per year.

I can only shake my head in amazement.