Friday, February 24, 2017

Broader Horizons

I have to admit that one of the things I have difficulty understanding in this world is how we seem incapable of stopping for a second and considering about how other people might think or feel about something.  Then, I wonder what it was that got me to start thinking about things like this. 

I can attribute some these tendencies to my stamp and postal history hobby.  I have to thank my Mom for giving me the colorful bits of paper to put in a little notebook with (shudder) Elmer's glue starting when I was three years old.  Philately has given me an opportunity over the years to view other cultures and viewpoints through the windows provided by their stamps and how their mail was carried.  While I did not always understand what I was seeing and I typically was more attracted to the things I understood from my own country or those that used the English language, I can still recall numerous facts, thoughts and ideas that came from viewing and handling something from any number of locations on this earth.

Over time, I have made an effort to pick up items from parts of the world for which I had less appreciation and/or understanding.  So, when I found a few Persian postal history items that were inexpensive, but interesting looking, I picked them up.  This past Winter, I took the time to research these items and put them on pages of my own design.

I was struck by the pressures brought to bear on Persia by England and Russia as each country worked to gain influence.  England, in particular, was keen to get a continuous rail line to connect interests in India with rapid transportation.  Even more interesting to me was the fact that Persia 'fought back' by providing its own funds to develop the Trans-Iranian Railway in the 1920's and 1930's.  Given the pressures by foreign powers and the sheer amount of capital being thrown around by foreign businesses, this was quite an accomplishment.

One thought that came to mind as I read more about this?  Persia/Iran is the home to a proud and self-sufficient people - characteristics many Americans would be happy to claim.

The Sudan is another area that holds some fascination for me as well.  Prior to looking at some of the stamps and postal history of the area, I could only give someone a very VERY brief accounting of knowledge regarding that area.  Now, it is still brief, but it at least shows a little effort on my part.

If you want to pick on me a little bit here, you will note that both postal history items are addressed to English speaking destinations and each clearly has some level of Western cultural influence.  To be fair, I need some sort of bridge to get even a little bit of foothold in these areas.  An item written entirely in Arabic with no markings that help me get even a start in research would have done little except frustrate me.

While I don't expect others to do what I do with postal history, I would like to encourage any parents that read this blog to consider encouraging children who have a propensity to collect things to try stamp collecting.  I learned about American history, world history, foreign languages, foreign cultures, geography and numerous other topics simply by viewing and researching the topics depicted on postage stamps.  Let me know if you have a child that might like to give it a try and I'll do what I can to help.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

GFF Photo of the Year Winners

We are announcing the winners just a little later than we planned, but as we noted in the prior blog post, the farmer (and writer of the blog) was under the weather for a time there.  But, a quick look at some great pictures can always help.

The second round of voting completed and we had a clear winner this time around. 

2016 GFF Photo of the Year

Title is "If Only Every Evening Were Like This." We can almost feel the soft night time air as we look at this one. This is probably one of favorite angles for photo ops on the farm because we get all kinds of nice sunsets with this foreground. There's a reason we put in the flower planting there.

Other Category Winners

"And All That Chive" It's so much different than all of the other flower pictures we tend to take. Almost feel like I could pluck one and chew on the stem.

"Tree Trunk Art by Mother Nature" This old oak was hit by lightning several years ago The split provides a dividing line for the types of moss on the trunk, except for that little splash of yellow on the left. 

Title is "Got Your Goat." Now, can you find the goats? NO, this is NOT on the farm. Can you imagine how hard it would be to park Durnik the 1940's Ford tractor on that incline. He does not have a parking brake.

And this is how we do a "Farmer Selfie." For all of the introverts out there or those who are 'camera phobic' this is the solution if you have people asking you to take a picture to show you were somewhere. Primary requirement? Sunshine at the correct angle and a surface to show off the shadow.

A big thank you to all who participated in the voting.  It makes it a bit more fun for us when we get some interaction.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Sandman - looking a bit like the farmer's been feeling lately.
There are many reasons why posts might not show up on a blog.  Perhaps those that write for it just don't have anything to say.  It's been known to happen.  Maybe those who write the blog are too busy to get to it.  This too, has occurred on this blog.

But, what happens when the farmer catches a nasty virus and is unable to collect needed zzz's?  Well, one thing is that the blog gets neglected.

Well, here's to getting over whatever has ailed me.


The really difficult part about all of this is that Rob has been unable to do the work he wanted to do to recruit CSA members.  So, we've got to push now.  Please note the page link at the top right or click on this link right here!  That page includes descriptions of all of our 2017 share options.  We have plenty of openings right now.  Please join us for a new season of quality produce.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Sun in Sunflowers

One of the things we aren't always so good at doing is getting sunflowers into the ground on our farm.  I would say that we manage to put them in on average of 2 out of every 3 seasons.  That's still pretty good, but I really feel their absence on those years when we don't put them in.

Lemon Queen

Sunflowers can be a challenge since they do take up a fair amount of space by nature of their height.  If you want to crop anything nearby, you have to consider the shading that's going to happen as these plants grow.  Not only that, but these can (and do) get knocked over by the wind.  If you've never had to fight your way through downed or leaning sunflowers to get to another crop, then you don't understand.  If you have, then you know why you have to choose the location wisely.  You also need to consider the allelopathic qualities of most sunflowers.  These plants tend to suppress seed germination in a radius around the stem's base. 

On the other hand, there's this.
Sunflowers do establish pretty easily from seed.  They do provide a windbreak and they can provide late afternoon shade for crops that would like to have a little less sun during the hottest months (such as lettuce).

Autumn Beauty
We've found that sunflowers work well with sweet corn.  But, since we're not doing much with sweet corn anymore, that natural fit isn't there for us anymore.  Winter squash and pumpkins don't mind vining up to sunflowers and may even try to climb them.  If you want to try and keep squash 'walled in' you can do a heavy planting of sunflowers on the edge of the field and most of the vines will run up to the sunflowers and either try to climb them or run parallel to the row.  There's always a few that will sneak out, of course.

What we like most about them?  Well, we like the way they look - adding color that you can see from a distance.  But, we also like the natural food for habitat the flowers provide.  Birds get a nice treat through the late Fall and Winter from these.  And, yes, humans like the seed too.

So, here's to a year where we find the niches on our farm for the sunflower!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nota Conference - Seriously

The Nota Conference is on the horizon and the participating farms are gearing up for this important event.  Experts from these farms are feverishly preparing for highly detailed and precise discussions related to technique and practices that will be used in the coming year to make our farms more efficient and profitable.

Things like:
The relative launch angle needed to get a bad watermelon over the fence and into the goat pasture.
A demonstration of how termites cause problems for wood structures.
There will be serious discussion and debate over the relative merits of various approaches each farm favors.

I will wear chacos on December 3rd and there is NOTHING you can do about it!
And some of these events may be participatory in nature.
Now, when the music starts... you're the "Sharks" and we're the "Jets."

We are aware of the need for physical exercise and facilities are provided for those who desire a work-out.
Nine thousand, six hundred and thirty-seven.....
Participation is voluntary, there are no mandatory drills.
That drill is completely voluntary - so there!
Children are welcome and age appropriate activities are provided.
The saw is plugged in, right?
Accommodations are cozy.
And safe from coyotes.
There will be good food.
We'll even sit down to eat it.  But, probably not outside.
Nota Conference 2017.  Serious farmers being serious.
Unless they aren't.
This post brought to you by the Gang of Four + Farms.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Look in the Mirror

It's January and we're actually going to get to our 2016 in review BEFORE the month is over.  For us, that's an accomplishment!  Ok, we've actually done well in the past, as you can see in this 2014 Top Events that was posted in early January of 2015.  It was really our 2015 Year in Review that waited until this past September to see your screens.

Since a "Top 10" list is no longer a "thing," we're going to do a an actual year in review from a calendar perspective.  Now, you should say something like, "Oh, how original!"

Yes, yes, I know.  No one EVER uses the months of the year to write a retrospective for the prior year.  I'm so creative.....


Last year's January was particularly full.  Tammy was working on her portfolio for promotion and finishing work on a book project.  And, of course, Tammy had plenty to do at the college.  Rob was busy with his work with the Iowa Organic Association board, the Pesticide Drift Coalition, Labor 4 Learning with Practical Farmers of Iowa.  He also gave a couple of guest presentations for classes at Wartburg.  Otherwise, it was a normal January.  There were cold days, we fought Winter colds, and we wondered where all the natural light had gone.

The early part of the month was dominated by preparations so Rob could help lead a Beginning CSA Workshop in Montour for Practical Farmers of Iowa.  The Gang of Four held its annual Nota Conference at Blue Gate Farm and it seemed like more things were rescheduled for any number of reasons than there was a right to be scheduled in the first place.  We became curious what the deal was with February 8th?  Why did everyone schedule something that we should be involved in for that date?  We also worked on some farm-related planks that we encouraged people to bring to their caucus.  These made it through one convention in Bremer County and a couple of other counties that we know of.  But the real highlight for us was the end of February.
Waimea Canyon
The month started out right with the farmers continuing to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Hawaii.  Sadly, they were forced to return and you all had to deal with us for the rest of the year.  One of our first tasks on return was to broadfork the ground in Valhalla and start onions in trays.

And, we had to do a farmer selfie in Valhalla as well.
Apparently early 2016 was the time for people to ask Rob to speak since there were three more events in March.  And, on a non-farm related note, Rob won the individual title for the Swiss Map Championship for Ticket to Ride, beating Sylvain from France in the final 5 games to 3.  And, Tammy was granted a promotion after review of her portfolio that she worked so hard to complete at the beginning of the year!

The month when it all really heats up on the farm!  We're busy enough January - March with farm things, but clearly we can spend time on other things, since the highlights are much more diverse.  Hen chicks arrived early in the month and broiler chicks later in the month.  That's a quick way to double your morning and evening chores.  We had a great service trip group come out for an afternoon of farm cleanup and the Gang of Four had the Great Tater Pickup (where we all go get our seed taters for the year from Grinnell Heritage Farm).  We even got 60% of our taters in before the month was out.  And, Soup had her kittens.
Inspector Mewso arrives
Last year, the month of May beat on your farmers a little bit.  Of course, May tends to be rough for us anyway, so maybe this isn't news.  Other than the normal stuff - farmers markets starting, lots of planting, field work, critter management and other farm things - we attended our first Gang of Four work/food day at Blue Gate and we had a group from Wartburg take a tour at the farm earlier in the month.
Lettuce seedlings (Gold Rush)
Things just started to get really interesting in June.  We added turklets and a second batch of broiler chicks mid-month.  This put us at six flocks to manage.  Workers started on the farm as their school commitments ended and the Gang of Four visited our farm.  We had a successful organic certification inspection later in the month and our twelfth CSA season began in Waverly, Tripoli and Cedar Falls.
Who are you?  And, what is that flashy thing you have?
The hardest thing about doing a year in retrospective this way is that you start to realize that it is impossible to give everyone a feel for what happened for the year when so much of it was just doing what you need to do.  You can get a good idea if you read our post about VAPs.  July's bigger highlights were the Iowa Organic Association's field day at Grinnell Heritage Farm followed by the IOA Annual Celebration.  And, despite the rain, we had Iowa Public Television at the farm while they filmed for Taste of Iowa.

The month of August was full of transitions.  School schedules started to take our workers away, Bryan started work on putting in the new walk-in cooler and we still had to keep harvesting, weeding and planting.  GFF hosted a pollinator field day with Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Xerces Society and Steve Schmidt.  Then, we followed that up with our annual Summer Festival the following weekend.

This was also the month that we started a serious effort to remove tools/items on the farm that were no longer working for us (or had never worked for us and were just taking up valuable space).  For example, both of our JD lawn tractors were broken more often than running, so we started to address that issue.  And, we continued to work on the completion of the brooder room in the Poultry Pavilion.  Hosting events are an excellent way to motivate yourself to clean up the farm - that's for certain!

Accomplishments in September did a great deal to alleviate some accumulated stresses on the farm.  We'd been trying to find a good time to put new plastic on Eden and finally got that done with the help of many fine people in the middle of the month.  The walk-in cooler was progressing and we were able to head down to Blue Gate and help with the construction of their new high tunnel.  IOA was also a co-sponsor to bring Emily Marquez to UNI to speak about the new Pesticide Action Network Report.  We still encourage you to learn about this as this is a problem that isn't just going to go away.

October is a month that went by so fast, I can barely remember what happened.  Tammy was certainly focused on school.  Caleb worked to help get CSA deliveries ready on Tuesday and Thursdays.  Bryan worked to finish the walk-in cooler.  Otherwise, farm work was pretty much Rob's territory - and there was certainly plenty of it.  Our regular season CSA came to a close and we held our Annual Great Turkey Pickup after the birds had been taken to "the Park."  We had a different service trip group at the farm for a few hours again this Fall and we were able to help a bit more with the Blue Gate high tunnel.  And, we performed magic by turning two older  lawn tractors, various attachments for said mowers and two trailers for those mowers that we no longer use into a single lawn tractor.  Let's just say we're amazed by how much space we now have.

The early part of the month began with a Work for Food event at the farm, followed by a trip to help more with the Blue Gate high tunnel and then a Game Day gathering at Grinnell Heritage Farm.  After that, Rob and Tammy had to dash back to the farm and take broiler batch number 3 to "the Park" and then "Freezer Camp."  We harvested tomatoes from our high tunnels until November 12 and we proved that we can move Eden with one person, a tractor and lots of patience.
There be beans under that cover!
We had a longer than usual Fall, but Winter does eventually take over.  Rob was able to give a talk at the Phil and Lit Society in early December that was well received (and fun to do), which brings us full-circle from January's speaking efforts.  Then, Andy and Carlos (from Grinnell Heritage Farm) came up for a day helped Rob do a number of tasks that would NOT have gone so well if he was by himself.  The 'skirt' of plastic at the base of Valhalla being a case-in-point.  And, we shouldn't ignore the mulch on the garlic.  We were able to leave our produce in the walk-in cooler (to keep it warm) until December 8 and did not have to move nearly so much to our basement as we have in prior years.  We completed our Fall CSA December 15, which brought our season to a close (for the most part).  This gave Rob enough time to participate in what turned out to be his U.S. team's second consecutive win for the Ticket to Ride Nation's Cup.  This year, two teams from the United States made it to the final.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Real Medicine 2016

We have done our Best Medicine posts for several years, but we have not really given a nod to some of the posts that are more serious in nature (unless they happen to have a great funny line hidden in there somewhere).  In fact, one person mentioned that it was a shame we couldn't award 'Post of the Year' to a couple of these posts in this year's Best Medicine 'award' posting in our blog.

Well, is this our blog or isn't it?  We can do another post that highlights our best SERIOUS (ahem ahem) posts for the year.  Enjoy the excerpts - and if they motivate you to read the rest of some of these posts, please follow the links.

Help those around you to become the best version of themselves that they can be.  Help them to raise their standards.  Help them to remember their essential purposes in life.  Positively challenge them to do and be their best.  And, in so doing, you will have achieved.  And perhaps, so will they.
It Must Be All About Me - October 2
One person exclaimed, "What a beautiful place you have here!"

My first reaction to this?
"What?  Can't you see the weeds in that field?  And, those bushes over there aren't doing well.  I really don't know what to do about that.  That fence needs to be mended.  Ooops.  I forgot to clean that pile up before you all got here.  I told myself we wouldn't have another festival where the back door entrance wasn't in such poor repair.  I wish I had time to finish painting that building... etc"

And... I wish that tree hadn't been struck by lightning.

Yet, you look at it closely and you find that it's actually quite beautiful just the way it is.  Huh.
The Whole Picture - August 31

The National Organic Program guidelines support long-term soil health and pushes growers to consider long term consequences to short term actions. If there is no other reason for someone like me to go through the certification process than to improve our ability to be the best stewards we can be - then it should be enough.
Long Term Hopes - May 10

When I walk by our Northeast asparagus patch, I remember help received to plant the crowns out there several years ago.  Each time I enter the new walk-in cooler, I think of the persons who worked hard to make that construction project happen.  I see the new plastic on our smaller high tunnel building and I am reminded of all of the great folks who came early in the morning to help.  I remember the time our old truck was crushed under a building and someone immediately loaned us a truck so we could make deliveries.  We cannot repay, we can only give thanks.
Trials, Tribulations, and Thanks - November 25

Our favorite for 2016 is below. Enjoy. Rob & Tammy

This melody wins for a moment in time.  It pushes the others down until they are quiet harmonies and counterpoints.  And it reminds me that I can choose which litanies I will give voice to.  And it reminds me that the whole song just might require that I acknowledge each one of them as the music unfolds.
A Choice of Litany - December 10

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Best Medicine 2016

A "year in review" of humor in the blog was started a couple of years ago, so we thought we'd treat you to the same for this season.  There are two categories.  Line of the Year may appear in any type of post.  Needless to say, it may actually encompass more than one sentence/line.  Hey, it's our blog, we can use whatever rules we want!  Post of the year was selected for the perceived entertainment value.  Of course, entertainment value is subjective.  And, since the farmer and his lovely bride were the only two judges, you can feel free to comment and correct our flawed insight!  

If you wish to read any of the posts that have been highlighted here, feel free to take the links provided.

Previous Best Medicine posts are linked here: 2015201420132012, 2011, 2010, 2009
Well, it certainly is better than me trying to make puns about the Okra Winfrey show or the shootout at the Okra Corral with the Urp brothers and Dock Holliday.From 101 Uses for Okra : October 10

Look Jill, I don't think bent knees should count against me.  I clearly got further off the ground.
From High Tunnels R Us: October 4

2013 - Wow, we have walk-in cooler panels, we should put them up.
2014 - No, really.  A walk-in cooler would be a very useful thing, we really should put them up.
2015 - Look.  We need this walk-in cooler thing to be a go.  It's going to happen this year. Seriously.
2016 - We're too embarrassed to put this on the list.  We both KNOW it's on the MUST DO list anyway.

From Cooler Than You : December 14

I know, we've shown this before.  Give us a break, our teams stink.
From Just a Few Observations : June 4

It was dawn and we were selling eggs and asparagus, eggs and asparagus, aaaaaaaaaaaspaaaaaaaraaaaaaaaaaagussssssssssssssssssss!
From Refusing to Punt : May 17


 From So, It's Not Monday : December 27

"Short Fortuneteller Escapes Prison: Small Medium At-Large!"
From Keep On Keeping On - November 14

GFF's Response to Keith:'re not supposed to be accurate, just creative.
Everyone ignore Keith! Keep being creative.

From Tater Digger : September 18

...if you stand up from a typical harvest position, you will discover your remaining dry spots on your person.
From Why'd You Call Me A Drip? (Revisited) : July 2

High Speed Internet - Oh, wait. That one belongs in our myth list on the farm. Put it between "weed-free" and "on-schedule".
From GFF Dictionary Part I :August 21

If the number of items with high VAPCONs is ridiculous and your VAPWWYTRat is high enough to warrant a farm-wide Red Flag Warning, then you are probably not actually dealing with VAPs.  Instead, you have succumbed to the temptation of creating OAPs (Overly Ambitious Plans).  And, we all know what that leads to...

A NAP (No Ambition Plan).

From VAP : July 8

Some of them graduate and then go on to further schooling or to a 'real job,'  leaving us behind with ne'er a backward glance.  Others, for some reason, find themselves taking things called 'internships' in their field of study.  Still others do things like 'get married' or take 'full-time employment' or whatever sad little reasons they come up with.

From New Month, New Blog Post : April 1


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Best Photos for 2016

It is time to vote for the best GFF photos of 2016!  We have selected some pictures and put them into categories.  To vote, you may either put a comment and identify your votes for each category OR you can email us OR you can tell us on Facebook what your votes are!  If you want to see each picture better you can click on it to see a larger version. Enjoy!

I. Candidates for Best Farmscape Photo 2016
I have to admit that this season was not one of our better ones for taking photos during the growing season.  It had nothing to do with subject matter and more to do with energy for photo taking pursuits.  Perhaps part of it has to do with the last category.
a. Frosty Fence in February

b. The Sun Always Rises in the  Southeast
c. If Only Every Evening Were Like This

d. Fluffy December Snow

II. Candidates for Working on the Farm Photo 2016
Tammy is most often the picture taker when people are the focus of the picture.  All but the last photo is Tammy's in this category.  We figure that's because Tammy likes people and people like Tammy.  Rob, on the other hand...  Well, let's just say he tries to be nice...   Yes, that's it!  He's very trying.

a. March Prep in Valhalla

b. the New Branch Office
c. We Dare the Vampires to Come for Us Now!

d. It Takes a Village to Put On Plastic

e. Farmer Selfie

III. Flowers on the Farm Photo 2016
We always try to take a photo or two of some of the nice flowers that grow at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Sometimes we are tempted to put alot of these on here simply because the flowers are pretty.  But, we control ourselves and pull out which ones seemed to come out the best.

a. More Color Than Most Iris

b. And All That Chive

c. Who Needs a Vase for a Flower Arrangement?
IV. A Little of This, A Little of That Photo for 2016
There are always pictures that don't fit any other category, so we just put them together and see what everyone likes!
a. Tree Trunk Art by Mother Nature

b. Beans, Beans, the Miracle Fruit

c. One of These Things...
V. The GFF Off Farm Photo 2016
We do try to get off the farm once in a while.  Sometimes, the destination provides some incredible opportunities for photos.
a. Got Your Goat (can you see them?)

b. Dew Drop Inn

c. A Path Worth Walking
There you have it!  You get one vote for each category and we will reveal results by the end of January.