Thinning the Arugula

The arugula I planted in the spring was a fail.  Most of what I planted never came up and the seeds that did germinate didn’t grow well.

So for our fall planting I tried sowing the seeds more thickly, in case we had poor germination again.  This time I think every seed I planted must have come up.


So I’ve spent a lot of time thinning it out.

Before and after thinning.

Before and after thinning.

The benefit of that is having lots of baby arugula to eat.


It’s so good that I may plant it this way intentionally from now on.


Simple Food

There are 73 ingredients in a McDonalds “Big Mac,” including chemical additives such as ammonium chloride, sodium stearoyl lactylate,  sodium phosphate, polysorbate 80, and azodicarbonamide.

A Little Debbie Oatmeal “Creme Pie” snack cookie has 45 ingredients, including corn syrup, folic acid, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, thiamine mononitrate, ammonium bicarbonate, dextrose, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, corn starch, caramel color, carrageenan, red dye 40, sorbic acid, and yellow dye 5.

Here’s the 59 ingredients in a Burger King strawberry milkshake (note that strawberries are not among them): amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethylpropionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone (10% solution in alcohol), ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylace-tophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphtyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, undecalactone, rum ether, rose, vanillin and solvent.

Not very appetizing, is it?

In our broken food culture, we’re regularly eating chemical concoctions like this.

Meanwhile, what are the world’s finest restaurants serving?  Locally produced food with few ingredients.  Here’s an interesting blog post contrasting the simplicity of the food served by the world’s leading restaurants and the mindboggling complexity of the processed food that now comprises about 70% of our diets.

For breakfast I had two eggs laid by our chickens, scrambled with onions and peppers grown here on the farm. I cooked them in butter.  The butter didn’t come from our farm, but according to the package it has two ingredients:  pasteurized cream and natural flavoring.  Total ingredients in my breakfast: 5. Total number of unprounceable chemicals: 0.

“Keep it simple” seems like good advice when choosing what to eat.


So I read in this blog post that Americans own, on average, 19 pairs of shoes.

When I read that I probably snorted or mentally rolled my eyes.  Ridiculous, I thought.  Why would anybody own that many pair of shoes?  Just another indication of how addicted our culture is to foolish consumption.

But then I paused and wondered.  How many pairs of shoes do I own?

I counted them and the answer is nine.  I own nine pairs of shoes.  While I was relieved to discover that I was well under the national average, I was a bit surprised to discover that I own so many pairs of shoes.  Five of the nine haven’t been worn in well over a year.  So while I may not be Imelda Marcos, as the owner of 9 pairs of shoes (five of which sit useless in my closet) I’m in no position to be judgmental of my fellow overshoed Americans.

The blog post that caused me to count my shoes addresses the great need for shoes in some parts of the world. Maybe we could get by with a few less shoes and help get shoes to those who don’t have any instead.  It reminded me of something that happened to us in Haiti once–told HERE.

Why We Don’t Save Watermelon Seeds

It’s easy to save seeds from watermelons.  The seeds are abundant and large.  Just keep as many as you need for next year, dry them out and put them in a jar. Nothing to it.

But we buy our watermelon seeds every year.  Why not just save them?

We grow two varieties of watermelon–Crimson Sweet and Moon and Stars Yellow-Fleshed.  Crimson Sweet watermelons have red flesh and black seeds.   Crimson Sweet is the most popular watermelon.  Seeds are inexpensive and easy to find.  Moon and Stars Yellow Fleshed is a less well-known heirloom, with yellow flesh and white seeds. Its seeds are expensive and difficult to find.  Saving seeds from the Moon and Stars, at least, would seem to make a lot of sense.

This year we had a Moons and Stars volunteer come up in our beans garden.  A bird must have dropped the seed there last year.

Here’s what it looked like when I cut it open.



And that is why we can’t save watermelon seeds.   Some plants, like watermelons, will cross-pollinate if you grow more than one variety.  The bees feeding off the blooms of both varieties will pollinate one with the pollen of the other, and if you plant the seeds from the fruit of cross-pollinated plants you can end up with a cross between the two.  In this case we ended up with a watermelon that looked like a Moon and Stars on the outside and a Crimson Sweet on the inside.  Unfortunately this watermelon didn’t inherit the tastiness of either variety, so it went to the pigs.

If you’re thinking of saving seeds (a very good thing to do), and you’re growing more than one variety of a vegetable, just check first to make sure it isn’t a plant that cross-pollinates.

Pigs on Pasture


We raise our pigs on pasture.  So they get to live the kind of lives pigs enjoy, rather than suffering in cages and on concrete floors.

Our pigs have lots of room to romp, run, play, root and wallow.  They have fields and woods in which to roam and forage.


Yesterday I mowed their pasture.  It made their day.  They chased me, ran along beside me and occasionally played chicken with me–running in front of the tractor then darting out of the way at the last minute.




Pigs have a great zest for life and they never fail to make me smile.

What we have done to these wonderful creatures in exchange for cheap pork is just shameful.

When we buy pork, we are voting on the kind of world we want to live in.  I know it’s all the rage to joke about bacon.  But do we really want bacon enough to do this to a pig?


CAFO pigs


Following up on a few of my recent posts–

We didn’t win the Bon Appetit grant contest. One of the Maryland college project finalists rallied the student body and carried the day in a landslide.  The other winner was a North Carolina seafood company, selected by the staff based on its years of good service to the company.  All the projects were worthwhile and we’re happy for the winners.  We got a lot of positive publicity for our farm and advanced our relationship with our local university, so it was good for us too.

Ginny is almost fully recovered now, which is a great relief.  We seriously worried that she wasn’t going to make it. Had we followed through with all the veterinarian’s recommendations (including surgery) she’d probably be dead by now.  Instead Cherie gave her herbal and homeopathic remedies and changed her diet.  Now she’s eating peas, sweet potatoes, eggplant, green beans and venison (all from the farm).  She’s eating better than the vast majority of the people in our country.  I expect lots of sick people would benefit from such a diet, as she has.

On a less positive note, after a series of health issues in the family our friends the Harkonens were put on a medical furlough.  They have temporarily left the Congo and gone to Finland, to stay with Timo’s family while they recover. Janey’s condition did not improve and she ultimately was hospitalized for a week.  She’s returned home now but is on pain medication and her problem still hasn’t been diagnosed.  Their experience is a good reminder for us of the hardships and risks that so many people are taking in the world today in order to help care for those most in need.  I know the Harkonen family would appreciate your prayers.  The best way to follow them is to friend them (Laura Harkonen and Timo Harkonen) on facebook.

Lastly, autumn is upon us in its full glory.  We’re enjoying it–watching the gardens grow.


Corporate Welfare

News came out here recently that the citizens of our nearby town are going to have to come up with millions of dollars the city handed over to a couple of corporations as subsidies, on some pie-in-the-sky promise that they were going to locate here and generate jobs.  The jobs never happened, the businesses are belly-up (or never even materialized) and now the citizens are out a couple of million bucks.

Sadly that seems to be a fairly regular occurrence around here.  Our powers that be are enchanted by the dream that high tech businesses are going to locate here, bringing with them high-paying jobs and economic prosperity. Nevermind that we don’t have a workforce here with the education needed for such jobs. About the only thing that would make this area attractive to industry is our large unskilled workforce willing to work for low wages.  That is what attracted the company that once employed about half of the people around here–one of the largest cotton mills on earth.  All that’s left now of that once booming company are abandoned buildings–the corporation having declared bankruptcy several years back after years of decline.  It’s remaining assets were bought by a company in India and moved there.  Those jobs are gone and they ain’t coming back, as Mr. Springsteen said.  But our industrial legacy, such as it is, is what our political leaders seem to be fixated on.

Our area’s greatest resource is our farmland.  But while politicians here routinely promise that they will “create jobs,” I’ve never heard one say a word about agricultural jobs.  The vast majority of that work is now done by imported seasonal labor, despite our very high unemployment rate.  Our policymakers ignore agriculture, while flushing tax dollars down the toilet in pursuit of some industrial messiah.

The problem certainly isn’t limited to our part of the world.  Yesterday I read a blog post noting that nine states (Virginia is not among them) dole out 58% of the state subsidies to private businesses. The states doling out the most corporate welfare are both red and blue.  It seems to be something the two sides agree on.

The post quotes a study by Veronique de Rugy, an economist at George Mason University.  Her conclusions make a lot of sense to me:

Targeted state subsidies to private businesses are often promoted as a “market-friendly” means to boost growth, jobs, and development. However, the empirical studies on state subsidies find that these programs have little to no effect in producing their intended goals.

What’s more, as Christopher Coyne and Lotta Moberg write in their recent Mercatus working paper, “The Political Economy of State-Provided Targeted Benefits,” these subsidies are often ultimately damaging. Targeted state subsidies misallocate scarce public resources while encouraging rent-seeking, regulatory capture, and cronyism. To encourage sustainable state economic growth, policymakers should shift their focus away from tailoring policies to benefit specific firms toward policies that create a general environment in which all can flourish. The first step is to end the practice of targeted state subsidies.

With all the money our community has wasted on corporate handouts and now-abandoned “industrial parks” we could have put in high speed internet, for example, expanding the opportunity for home businesses and telecommuting, and creating “a general environment in which all can flourish.”  And for a small fraction of what’s been wasted on phantom “high tech” businesses, our community could be promoting and developing our local food resources.  Better yet, they could have just left all that money in the pockets of those who earned it.

I’ll keep dreaming.

Here’s an amusing sketch Cherie brought to my attention that is relevant.