Slowing Down


In the summer the days are long, but they’re never long enough.  At times keeping up with all the work that needs doing seems next to impossible.

But now the days are short, and so is the list of things that must be done.  Of course there is always work to be done on a farm, regardless of the season.  But this time of year there are few things that absolutely have to be done now.  So the pace slows down.  Nature rests, and so can we.

It’s also the time of year when we can enjoy a little time off the farm.

Saturday night we went to a concert.  Yesterday we went to a play.

I love the long busy days of summer.  But it’s nice to slow down sometimes too.


Endings and Beginnings

The last of the summer gardens has now been put to bed.  Some of the cherry tomatoes held on valiantly until the bitter end, but eventually Jack Frost reduced them to a tangled clump of dead and dying vines. So now we enter that portion of the year which, for all its joys and pleasures, is sadly tomatoless.


The best of our cherry tomatoes this year were all volunteers that I plucked up out of the asparagus garden (having presumably emerged from seeds in the compost) and transplanted into our late tomato garden.  They fed us, and many other people, very well.


After unwinding the twine we’d used in our Florida weave, and after jacking up all the t-posts, I bushhogged the vines, then tilled them in.

Along with the tomato remains, I tilled in a snake’s skin, shed voluntarily,…


…and a terrapin’s shell, from which he appears to have been removed against his will.


I broadcast winter rye over the newly-tilled garden, but I don’t know if it will germinate now.  If not, maybe I’ll have a chance to put in a quick spring cover crop next year.


Either way, in a little over five months I’ll be planting squash and cucumbers there and looking forward to the return of summer vegetable goodness.


There is a sentence in my thesis that reads: “The modern food system seemed to be personified in scientists, chemists and biological engineers, rather than in a farmer and his mule.”  One of my advisors commented, “Farmers today have to be commodities traders.”  He was correct of course.

Consider this from this month’s issue of Progressive Farmer magazine: “An Iowa farmer with a 195-bushel APH and an 85% RP policy spent 10 cents per APH bushel to guarantee $4 corn on Sept. 5. That’s equivalent to a strike price of $3.60 on a put, he says.”

Much of the magazine reads like that.

My grandfather subscribed to Progressive Farmer from as far back as I can remember. He would have no idea what to make of sentences like those.

Today industrial scale farmers not only have to deftly trade futures contracts on the commodity exchange, they also have to navigate the complexities of federally subsidized crop insurance and the myriad of federal programs upon which a significant portion of their revenue is dependent.  Those kind of farmers probably spend more time filling out paperwork and meeting with accountants than they do on the tractor.

That’s what farming in America has become.

Worth Getting Dressed Up For

Last night Cherie and I were at a reception in the Governor’s mansion in Richmond.  Forty-eight hours earlier I’d been out in a pasture, wearing a headlamp, pushing a prolapsed pigs insides back to where they belong.  I’m pretty sure I was the only person there would could say that.

It was the first time I’ve worn a tie since my last improbable invitation to the Capitol.


The First Lady, Cherie and some guy who ruined the photo

The reception was to announce the creation of a task force whose objective will be to “bridge the nutritional divide” in Virginia.  Specific objectives (taken from the press release) include :

·       Improve food distribution systems to better serve a diversifying Virginia agricultural economy

·       Improve accessibility to farmers’ markets

·       Increase acceptance of SNAP/Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and WIC/EBT at farmers’ markets

·       Encourage the development of innovative and sustainable retail models to provide access to healthy foods in areas classified as food deserts

·       Increase farm-to-school and other farm-to-institution programs

We’re hoping this project is a smashing success.


To avoid having to eat the products of China’s rapidly increasing industrialized and chemical-based food system, government officials and others in positions of privilege get “tegong” (meaning “special supply”) food–food produced naturally, organically (and discreetly) and especially for them.  As this article in the Los Angeles Times describes it:

Organic gardening in China is a hush-hush affair in which the cleanest, safest products are largely channeled to the rich and politically connected.

Many of the nation’s best food companies don’t promote or advertise. They don’t want the public to know that their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes. The general public, meanwhile, dines on foods that are increasingly tainted or less than healthful — meats laced with steroids, fish from ponds spiked with hormones to increase growth, milk containing dangerous additives such as melamine, which allows watered-down milk to pass protein-content tests.

“The officials don’t really care what the common people eat because they and their family are getting a special supply of food,” said Gao Zhiyong, who worked for a state-run food company and wrote a book on the subject.

Athletes receive tegong pork, the article reveals, because the growth hormone residues in factory-raised pigs were causing false positives in their steroid testing.  Unsurprising to me.  As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, a recent study found 20% of the pork sampled in U.S. grocery stores to be contaminated with the rapactomine, a pork growth hormone.

We’re exporting a lot more food to China these days than we’re importing.  But if you buy seafood, garlic, apple juice or honey in a grocery store, there’s a good chance it came from China. And an increasing amount of the food we export to China is processed there and then returned to us.  We can be sure none of it is going into the tegong system.

We’re fortunate to live in a country where wholesome natural food is not reserved only for those in positions of power and privilege.  But our supply of good food depends upon the continued support of consumers.  The existence of something like the tegong system is evidence that we ought not take for its availability for granted.

Rainy Day

It was cold and rainy yesterday.  It would have been a good day to spend inside writing and relaxing, enjoying an extra cup of coffee or two.

But as we prepare for another premature Arctic blast this week, I spent much of the day out in the gardens working in the cold rain, trying to salvage a harvest. Because the weather won’t allow us to let it mature, our broccoli was very disappointing this fall and our cauliflower was worse.  But we had excellent spring and summer gardens, so I suppose we were due for a failure.

It was a dreary day in more ways than one.  Our cat Mr. Fabulous didn’t come home yesterday morning and has now been missing for over 24 hours.  That has us concerned of course.

And when I fed the pigs last night, just before leaving to do our Monday deliveries, I noticed that Gracie had a rectal prolapse.  So when we got back I had to don the headlamp and go out the pasture and push her insides back into where they belong.  Not an experience I care to have often.

After a day like that, last night’s glass of wine was particularly welcome.