Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicken Decoding Special Forces (CDSF)

 [ed. note: the Chicken Decoding Special Forces periodically reports on their efforts to piece together scrambled messages found in the barn.  For those who do not know, we will occasionally put shredded paper in their bedding.  Since the birds do not like to go outside when there is snow on the ground, they spend time trying to piece these papers together.  Here are two recent submissions from the CDSF.]

Special Report: CDSF

We (the members of the CDSF) have been working around the cluck in order to bring you up to date reporting on barnyard events. We remain committed to be at your beak and call for all things scrambled.
This just in: "The sky IS falling."

A "Sky is Falling" Drill
Recommendation: Run around (alot). Make sure you run in a somewhat circular pattern. Paths that interfere with the movement of humans is wise. After all, they are clueless and fail to see the impending danger. And when the sky falls, they are taller than you. Vocalize your warnings insistently until your message gets across to your audience - or until you are presented with more food and water.

Special Report: CDSF
by Sudsbury Six
The Chicken Decoding Special Forces has been in operation for some time and we have requested the opportunity to report recent findings. It is our duty to sort through and decode the shredded materials provided to us on a semi-regular basis.

We feel that we pecked a good one for your review.  We worked hard to pullet off.  It definitely had a wing of truth to it.  Sources were eggselent.  Ignore at your peril.  If you do, the yolk will be on you:

"the do is what from Saturday then once is until was it due bee dew."

Clearly, something is afoot and we are hopeful our willingness to decode these materials and report them will help someone.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Adventures in the Negative

*cue Indiana Jones music*

Wait a minute.  Why does this music have castanets in it?  I don't remember those.  Oh.. that was your teeth chattering?  Umm never mind the music then.

When is wind strong enough to make a snowstorm a blizzard?
So, we just had a blizzard that actually qualified as a blizzard in all senses of the word.  We should all be grateful that the amount of snow was only a few inches.  As far as I'm concerned, the wind is strong enough for a blizzard when:
  1. snowflakes HURT when they hit your face
  2. you lean into the wind at an angle and it won't let you fall down
  3. you consider picking up and carrying a cat because you fear it might blow away
  4. you actually start coughing because a snowflake (or three) was rammed down your throat
  5.  your mailbox is packed full of snow rather than bills and junk mail (this may not be so bad).
  6.  windows on EVERY side of the house have snow caked on them
  7.  you're driving down the road with the wind and a snowflake passes you.
  8.  you throw a snowball into the wind and you hit yourself. (If only it were warm enough to make a snowball.)

Is this January different from other January's?

People are getting a little tired of the weather, and I don't think we're an exception this season.  First, I thought I'd do some looking at past weather and see how this January compares so far.

This January our lowest official temp has been -21 F (which may be eclipsed tonight).  Last year, -7 F was the lowest we got.  In fact, the average HIGH in January last year was 31 degrees F!  This year, it is 21 F.  On the flip side, we had more than twice as much snow in 2013.  In fact, the most similar recent January on the books is 2009 (our lowest temp in Jan was -34 that year).

The conclusion here is that we are all suffering from short memories.  This is both good and bad.  Clearly, this can be considered good because we'll soon forget the discomfort this weather brings us.  Maybe it's not so good because we'll soon forget the things we should do to prepare for weather like this.

(Mis-)Adventures on the Farm

When temperatures take a dive and strong winds join them, it seems like everything conspires against you.  The reality is that "everything" is probably wanting to be warmer too, so you shouldn't blame things for not wanting to work.  And, let's be honest here, it's never convenient or relaxing when things break or fail to work.  It just seems so much worse when it's cold enough to freeze your eyes shut.

What?  You've never frozen an eye shut?

Ok, here's what you do.  Go outside and walk into the wind.  If you are like me, you will tear up a little bit.  Now, close your eyes to help deal with the problem of wind blowing on your eyeballs.  Try to open your eyes after that.  Yep, I hope you know how to get back to the house from wherever you were at.

It wasn't quite that bad.  But, I did have one eye that resisted being open enough that I had to take off a glove and help pull an eyelid up.

Perhaps the thing that bothers both of us the most is how long it takes to get ready to go outside.  And, then, of course, the process of unwrapping oneself once you get back in can be tiresome as well.  We were well bundled today and we handled the cold fine.  But, trying to bend over to get eggs out of nest boxes is a bit of a trial when you have 200 layers of clothing on.  Simply put, things can't get done the same way they get done during the rest of the year.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Frugality isn't Cheap

Well everyone, I've been thinking again.

A dangerous pastime. (yes, we know)

Over the last few months I've heard some of the following comments and I've worked hard not to respond directly to them.  If you wonder why I stay silent, you have to remember that sometimes common courtesy dictates that the time is not right.  But, I still feel that it might be a reasonable topic to explore on our blog.

So, the comments follow along these lines:

"I don't know why I would buy X product from Y business.  Their prices are ridiculous and I can get it for so much less from ..."

"I shouldn't have to pay that much for Z, I can't believe they think I should pay that much."

"I know the product from A is inferior, but it was so cheap!  I had to buy several of them."

We all know people who say things that might fit this mold.  In fact, each of us may utter similar words and phrases ourselves.  And, perhaps it is warranted in some situations.  But, usually, people make such comments for some or all of the following reasons:

1. We like to portray ourselves as being persons who are too smart to be 'victimized' by those who will take away our money by overpricing things AND we like to portray ourselves as being targeted by unscrupulous sellers.  We're hoping that the response will be something like: "How dare they!  It's good that you are far too clever to be taken in by their sham!"  What a wonderful opportunity to collect both sympathy and praise.  It's hard to resist.

2. Most of us have been raised in a culture that praises those who can get more for less.  I clearly remember the lessens in product comparison.  Divide the total cost by the units to determine cost per unit to determine which product is a 'better' price.  This holds true UNLESS we pay alot more, then, it must be because we got the very best quality of that product.

3. If the item isn't a product we have a direct association with producing, we fail to see where the added value might be.  Therefore, we make the assumption that it should not be as expensive as it is.  On the other hand, we seem to feel like it is ok to complain about other people NOT understanding why products we are involved in creating need to be the price they are.

But perhaps, the most common theme of all is this.

We use the one dimensional measure that is monetary cost in order to assess value.  We devalue quality and we simply ignore the value of work.  We forget that when we buy a cheap product that we end up paying in so many other ways.

Frugality is not buying cheap, it is foregoing a purchase when it isn't really needed and saving your purchasing power for when it is needed.

Smart shoppers should be pleased when they receive value for what they pay, just as they should be happy to be paying a fair price.  That fair price helps to insure the continued quality of the product, support for the product and even continued existence of that product.

Products with low monetary cost make us buy them again and again as they break.  We throw more of them into the landfill and go buy another.  What's better, buying a quality item that lasts 10 years and costs $110 or a cheap one that costs $10 and lasts one year?   Trick question.  If you do the math, you will argue effectively that the actual monetary cost is better with the cheap product.  But, consider other costs to you that you are ignoring.  Dealing with a broken product at a potentially difficult time.  Making extra trips and and taking extra time to purchase that product over and over again.  Dealing with the broken remnants.  Then, think about costs that may not be seen by you directly.  How many people were paid inadequate wages to make the inferior item?  Or worse, yet, what sort of shortcuts were used in order to keep the price down so you could get a 'bargain?'

And then, finally, I submit my last exhibit.
I was recipient of a 'cold call' from a company that was targeting farmers.  Apparently "company X" is moving from one warehouse to another.  They have lots of stock they want to sell rather than move.  They suggested that I could get a great deal on "tool Y."  I told them I had what I needed.  The salesperson's response was.  "What if I told you that you could STEAL it?"

Please explain to me how this is a good thing?  Should I feel good if I pay so little for something that I could equate it with stealing?  And, even if it was a situation where I was more familiar with the situation.  How does paying $x for something I don't need save me money when I don't need it? 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Bunny Trap

[ed note: This story occurred at the first house we owned in Lake Crystal, MN.  Since that time, we've had gardens three other locations (including our current farm).  We still get a bit annoyed with bunnies at times.]

GFF Stories: The Bunny Trap
Our biggest nemesis in our early gardens was the rabbit. And we tried several approaches to exclude them from our vegetable crops. We even tried reasoning with them - after all, rabbits have this nasty habit of taking out very young plants - even if more established options were available. Unfortunately, the average education level for members of rodentia is fairly low, so we resorted to fencing.
Iris crop our 3rd year on the farm
Rabbit fencing has smaller holes closer to the ground to keep rabbits and other critters from crawling/hopping/walking through. We had carefully placed timbers around the perimeter of the garden and then erected a fence that tied into those timbers. We reasoned (and correctly so) that this would make it difficult for critters to make a quick burrow under the fence.
We entered the gardening season feeling as if we had prepared well for the inevitable rabbit population explosion in our neighborhood. And, we might have been....UNTIL....
The neighbors noticed the cute little bunnies in the bunny nest. Aren't they cute? Would you like to pet them? No. No, thank you.  Even then, they had beady eyes.  Never trust a critter with beady eyes.  Especially when vegetables are on the line.
The neighbor's dog noticed the cute little bunnies just outside their bunny nest a week later. Aren't they cute? Would you like to taste them? "Yes, I would," said the dog.
Run bunnies! Run! Run dog! Run! Look, a fence! I bet we can get through it because we are still small. Squeeeeeze... pop! Two baby bunnies, complete with beady eyes, in the garden.
Utopia! Veg everywhere! See the bunnies. See the bunnies see the veg with their beady eyes. See them get fat. They cannot not get back out of the garden. They are safe because the puppy dog cannot get in. The humans cannot chase them out. The humans cannot catch them. The humans can't even throw rocks at them for fear of destroying the very vegetables they seek to protect.  Sigh. Anyone for organically raised rabbit?
Eventually, we removed the fence, chased the rabbits out and replaced the fence. We really outsmarted those critters that time, didn't we?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Absolutely For Fun

It is January - which means the farmer can sometimes just do a few things because.  Yes, that's right.  Just.  Because.

First - we still need more votes on the photo of the year.  So, if you haven't voted yet, go there.  Look at them.  Comment or send an email with your votes.

The Sound of Music
One of the most common memes on the internet is the "what is playing on your ipod" thing that goes around.  I'm not going to do that.  Instead, I'm going to mention a few albums I'm currently enjoying in hopes that others might also find them interesting.
  Common Children - Delicate Fade
No, its not new.  Yes, it deserved much more attention than it got.
   House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want
Yes, this is newer, but not really new.  But, it's pretty new to me.  Now you know what is new.  Even if you never thought I knew.
   Write This Down - Lost Weekend
A good bit 'louder' than the other two.  I may be starting to wind down on this one now, but not quite yet.
   Choir - Burning Like the Midnight Sun
We've liked this group since they started.  This album almost beats our previous favorite (Chase the Kangaroo).  Almost.
   Cello Fury - Symphony of Shadows
Cello music.  We like it.  We like it alot. 

Funny Bone
You all know now that we like a good pun or a decent joke.  A couple of somewhat recent cartoons caught our attention.

The first is from Pearls Before Swine (Pastis).  He missed it by a little bit.  I'd have put a puppy, rather than an adult, dog there.  Then it would be my Melancholy Baby!

BC (Mastrianni/Hart) often catches us with a good definition.  Before any of you that really likes Brussels gets too upset, you need to consider that many people are a bit nervous about that vegetable.  And, frankly, since we are not fond of any sort of monoculture, it still fits us.

Eggs actly
And we washed every one of those eggs in 2013.  We stopped washing some of them if they broke.  Seems pointless to continue at that time.

What Do They Have in Common?
A wonder bar (pry bar), three hole punch, an ear of dried blue corn and a flowcharting template.

I'm not sure either, but they're all on my desk right now.

Good and Sneaky Good
The two of us have been trying to decide on a single one of our photographs to have printed and framed.    We have some that have stood out almost since the moment we took them, like the one below:
South Falls in Oregon
But, that one almost seems like cheating.  It is taken from a 'scenic viewpoint.'  So, it was really mostly framed for us.  But, I don't think I should like it less for that.

On the other hand, there is this picture:

Winter Falls in Oregon
We had to do some hiking and needed to play around a bit with finding good spots to take photos.  And, this one has grown on us over time.  But, then we ask ourselves if we want a picture with snow in it.  After all, it is January...

So, we thought maybe this one would work:
Hanakapi'ai Beach

Maybe we should print two back to back and flip the picture depending on the season.  Picture with snow in July, picture with blue water in January.  That has merit.

Christmas Tree and Lights
We don't always manage to decorate around our house.  There are many reasons or this and it isn't worth going into them.  But, any teachers out there will probably have some ideas already.  We got to it this year and enjoyed having the lights on the tree and on another decoration in the house.  We haven't taken them down and we're likely to leave them up through the whole month of January.  Why?  It gets dark early and gets light late.  For some reason, they are making us feel better when we see them.

Good enough for me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Texting in the 1800's Part III

[ed note - As many of you know, Rob likes postal history and will periodically share an item or two here.  It's a reminder that both Tammy and Rob are more than just farmers.  We have other interests that help to balance our lives.  We hope these short posts hold some interest for some of you.]

If you wanted to send a letter to Spain today, you would pay $1.10 for the privilege.  For that matter, if you wanted to send a letter to Hong Kong, or Australia, it would cost the same thing.

To put this in perspective, here is an item that was mailed to Spain in 1864 from the United States.  At that time, there was no postal treaty between Spain and the United States, so there was no way to pay for the entire service of delivering a letter between the two nations. In other words, you would pay some of the bill and the recipient would pay some of the bill in order to get the mail to its destination.

To view a larger version, click on the image.

In this case, the sender paid 24 cents - of which 21 cents actually went toward the services rendered.  The recipient paid 8 Reales (40 cents equivalent) for the honor of collecting the piece of mail.   It took 61 cents in 1864 to send and receive a letter from the US to Spain.  Consider this - 24 cents in 1913 is the modern day equivalent to $5 and some odd cents.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Drive By Vegetabling

GFF Stories: Drive by Vegetabling
Rob would occasionally work for Grandpa Faux for week-long stints during the summer, painting, cutting down weeds and being an accomplice in semi-frequent "drive-by vegetabling" trips.  We sometimes wonder if Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire heard us call it a drive-by vegetabling or if he came up with the "drive-by fruiting" on his own.  We're guessing the latter.

In order to better understand the beauty of the arrangement, some background may be in order. Grandpa was a contractor (cement and other general contracting) who had a workshop near the edge of town. He also grew up on a farm. Needless to say, some of the land around the shop was pressed into service as a place to grow some peppers, squash and other vegetables. Most of the plants he chose to grow were things that were easy to pick quickly, but were likely to produce more than he could, or would, eat.  In fact, I remember a time that we brought some veg to a restaurant he frequented and he gave it to them and asked if they would prepare a specific meal for him - and they did it.  On the flip side, I also remember he did some work for them when they needed it too, so I'm sure the trade was a good one.

If I could ask him, I bet he'd confirm that he grew Black Beauty zucchini!

So, what to do with extra zucchini? Trailer courts are often a community of their own, with many persons who might enjoy fresh veg once and a while. This was especially true of many of the retired persons living there. Of course, Grandpa was happy to share the excess freely with those he knew. So, what exactly, is the problem with this situation? Person with extra produce meets those wanting some produce. Sounds good, right?

Ok, you've forgotten something. Remember Aunt <fill a name you want here>?  You know, the one who would try to give you money for everything and anything - especially when you were trying to be nice and provide a gift.

Or, is this an Iowegian thing?  I'm not sure, but I do remember the struggle to do the right thing with another relative.  She would always want to give a dollar or two to each of the kids for whatever reason when we visited.  A seven-year old kid is going to have a difficult time looking at a dollar bill and not be happy to take it.  Of course, manners dictate that you should not accept the money. The resulting tumult of repeated offers to pay/give cash and refusals to accept payment/said gift could become tedious, frustrating, uncomfortable and...well... you get the idea.
Entering the picture is a grandchild who is capable of dashing from the cab of the truck, to the front door with a bag of produce and back to the truck in a few seconds. After all, he does need to stay in shape for baseball. 

Grandpa Faux looks at me and says, "Let's go to the shop."  Hey, he's my ride, I can't exactly say no.  So, we go to the shop.  We trudge out to the long single row of plants and he gives instructions on what to pick.  Once we've picked it all, we run back to the trailer and put the excess into paper bags because we have some 'errands' to run before we go to dinner ourselves.

I am positive Grandpa enjoyed this game more than he let on.  But, I'll tell you this, I took it as serious business.  I was NOT going to get caught and I was going to make each delivery without squashing any squish (yes, you read that right)!  He'd stop in front of a place and tell me where to put the bag.  I'd run up to the target home, rap quickly on the front door or ring the doorbell and dash back to the truck.  This was followed by burning rubber (ok, I exaggerate a bit there) as we zipped away. There it is, the anatomy of a drive-by vegetabling.

As I look back on it, I am not sure who was having more fun - me, Grandpa...or the people who began trying to anticipate when we would arrive so they could find some way to catch us.  In one case, we noticed someone peaking out through the blinds of their window as we pulled up.  So, Grandpa sped back up and we went on.  We drove up on the road that was a block away and he gave me instructions to run through the backyard and then slip it onto the front porch.  We drove around the front so we could wave as they picked up the bag from their porch.

I realize now that I only did this a few times since I only stayed with him for a week at a time twice a summer while I was in high school.  But, I still remember the joy of giving - with a little bit of "daring do" to put an edge on it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Getting over it?

It is now January, 2014.  It has been nearly a year and a half since a plane flew over the Western portion of the farm and sprayed insecticides and fungicides directly on us.  And, we are just now getting into the part of the paperwork on the farm this Winter that has Rob working on our legal case documentation. 

We received a small 'Christmas' present when Practical Farmers of Iowa published a summary of the physical public records at IDALS on horticulture-related spraying cases over the period of 2009 and 2012.  We are the last record on the report.  We've periodically asked for status on the IDALS case and had been told that it was not yet complete.  Admittedly, we haven't thought to do this part of the paper chase during the off-season until now.  The summary by PFI probably shouldn't be used as a replacement for the official documents, but it prompts us to have our legal representative get the official documents.

This post will go live at 1:30AM, which is about the time I was writing a post titled Collateral Damage when I couldn't sleep the night after the spraying.  I actually exercised restraint at that time and didn't post.  Instead, I waited a day plus and did a bit of editing.  Amazingly, I didn't have to work too hard to tone it down to an acceptable level.  I re-read that post now and again and find that my feelings are still pretty much in line with what I said then:

"I suppose it is possible we can get some monetary compensation for lost crops, etc.  But, it doesn't cover what I'm feeling right now."

I might forget some of the initial steps, we took in response to this situation. And we did our best to keep everyone updated as we forged ahead.  In fact, I do sometimes forget how much we DIDN'T know at that time about what we could/should do.  And, it took a long time to get official lab results (August 15) to confirm some of what we already feared was going to be true - all of the produce in the sprayed area had to be condemned.

But, what I don't forget is how both of us FELT during that time.  In fact, I am typing this because I still react strongly whenever I have to spend some time working on the case.  But, as I reported about 9 weeks after the spraying, the feelings of anger, frustration, worry, fear, helplessness, confusion and hurt are still there.  I don't necessarily feel these on a daily basis anymore, but they sure do resurface quickly when something calls my attention back to the whole thing.  But, now, my feelings are dominated by anger, frustration, worry, fear and helplessness because it could happen on our farm again.  And, it DOES happen in so many places - over and over and OVER again.

I probably need to work to control these feelings since I am slated to lead a PFI farminar in February on the topic.  In fact, I am asked, periodically, to present to classes in the area and I have added a little bit about the spraying incident to most talks.  I dislike including that topic because I am not giving talks to generate sympathy.  I do them because I want to aid in education and the dissemination of important information.  And, frankly, this an incredibly important topic. 

Therefore, I will continue to address the topic.  I may be slow to get started because I don't want to overwhelm whomever I am talking to.  Usually, I want to be certain that the person(s) I am talking to are receptive to hearing what I have to say and to gauge about how long they are willing to hear me say it.  It can take most of my self-discipline to find a stopping point once I've started.

And, so, I stop for now.  We hope to have updates on the process and what we know in the very near future.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cubby's Corners

Cubby's Corner
[ed. note: Cubby is one of our farm managers, typically spending her time keeping tabs on the surrounding territory. Her official position is "Mighty Huntress" and is also the "Senior Feline" on the farm.  With the very cold weather, she was invited into the farm house basement until things warm a bit.  Since she is inside, we asked her to share some of her thoughts.]

Cubby taking a break from a busy day.

 Warm, sunny spots are nice. The hay in the Poultry Pavilion is comfy. Mice make crunchy noises when you [see them walking on Rice Crispies. ed]!

The humans don't skritch me nearly enough, but they do seem nice. Excuse me. [at this point Cubby is checking out a nook in the basement, more later. ed.]

[10 minutes later] I'm sorry, did you want something? A blog post? Why would I want to do that? I'm very busy, can't you see that? [Cubby walks haughtily away] 

[ed. note: What did you expect? She's a cat!]

Friday, January 10, 2014


Once again, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the kindness of others.  We've posted in the past about our history with bonuses for our work, or the lack thereof.  We want to be sure you don't take this wrong.  We don't exactly consider these a 'bonus' ala 'corporate America' where the nebulous 'business entity' provides a little extra for employees around the holiday season.  In all senses of the word, these are all heartfelt gifts from wonderful people who wish us well.  And, we are most grateful for them.

We won't publicly name names - but we will make note of some of these here in the hopes that those who gave the gifts will understand how much they were appreciated!

We received a gift card to Hy-Vee and wondered what specifically we should do with it.  Well, both of us have a fondness for seafood, but it isn't something we have at all often in Iowa (for obvious reasons).  At one time in our lives, we would treat ourselves to a home cooked seafood feast around New Year's.  So, we used the gift card to purchase some scallops and the makings for an excellent vermicelli dish.  The raw materials added to Tammy's ability to create excellent meals resulted in some really good food!

There are some folk who are fully aware that we appreciate the opportunity to go to Rudy's Tacos for dinner after CSA distributions in Cedar Falls.  As a result, we received some gift certificates for Rudy's that we will most certainly use - and think kindly of those who gifted them as we use them!

And we would be remiss if we didn't note the gifts of sweet breads and cookies.  We hope those who gifted them to us don't mind that we shared.  After all, there are only two of us - and we do like to share.  The great news about this is that there are even MORE people who are pleased with the goodies than just the two of us.

We also had a few people insist that we 'keep the change' on a couple of transactions recently.  Don't think we didn't take note of this.  The temptation, of course, is to just let that cash merge into the rest of the cash and do nothing special.  But, the spirit of the gift was maintained.  We like cheeses, so got ourselves some different cheeses from Hansen's to try during the holidays.

Ok, ok.  So, everything was food related.  What can we say?  It's what we do.  So, it makes sense to be consistent.

Thank you all for your kindness.  What a great way to start a new year! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

This and that

As consumers of food, we are all a bit guilty of judging the proverbial book by the cover.  And, granted, some of it is justified - because we should inspect our food before we eat it.  But, we make judgements based on how something we intend to eat LOOKS versus how it TASTES and how NUTRITIOUS it is.  We're selling ourselves short here.  It is my understanding that most of us have more than the sense of sight.  I've also been led to believe that people know how to think.  And yet, many still think tomatoes have to be round and red (and apparently a little waxy looking).

Case in point is the six-fingered carrot shown below.  First of all, it is a variety called Yellowstone, so it is supposed to be yellow instead of orange.  Second, it doesn't look quite like the picture-perfect carrots we see in the grocery.  On the other hand (hahahaha...uh... ok, not so funny), is there anything wrong with this carrot?  There were no signs of rot or damage.  The carrot was firm and smelled a carrot.  When we broke off a 'finger' it snapped cleanly and didn't show a pithy core.  The only issue with this carrot?  It might be a bit hard to clean between its fingers.

You have six-fingers, someone is looking for you.
On another front, there was a Facebook meme that was shared with me a while back.  I usually take these things with a grain of salt (or three) because it is too easy to throw these things around without verifying facts or considering who it might offend.

However, the sentiment does ring true with how we feel.  GFF is certified organic.  To get that, we create a portfolio that is reviewed by the certifying agency.  It is reviewed and critiqued.  Our farm is inspected.  We pay money for the certification process and to pay the inspector.  Assuming we pass (and we have every year so far), we can tell you that our produce is certified organic.

If I opted to drop organic practices, I could stop spending hours on the certification process, have no one inspect my farm, get rid of an expense AND I wouldn't have to tell you a thing about what I sprayed on my crops.  I wouldn't have to divulge the use of GMO seed either.  This is a little simplistic because there are food safety laws I have to abide by regardless of whether I certify organic or not.  And, of course, there is no way we wouldn't answer your questions honestly and directly.  But, this isn't exactly about us.  It's about the way things are done.  Labeling should not be the purview of only certified organic growers.  It should apply to all growers.

On the lighter side!  (about time, they all said).

We received a great picture that shows one of our bags (certified organic, mind you) traveling to the Daniel Boone National Forest.  This is a great idea!  Take your GFF bag with you on a trip and snap a photo of it in a different location.  Let's see where we can go with this!  What?  You don't have a GFF bag?  Well, we've got them.  Let us know you want one ($5).

How did that bag get there?

And, CSA recruiting season is upon us.  For those who were with us in prior seasons, you know we warn you about certain snack sized tomatoes.  They taste great, but have a tendency to decorate one's shirt if you're not careful.  The Wapsipinicon Peach tomato is one of the biggest culprits.  Join us for 2014 and get your share of delicious GFF snack tomatoes.

Shannon models the newest rage in fashion.
And, from the "it must be Winter" files.  We rely on our clothesline to dry most of our clothing for as much as the year as we are able.  Let's just say we haven't seen this sight for a while now.  Even in Winter, life on the farm works with (and around) the weather.

But, wet clothes on radiators add humidity to the house.
We hope you enjoyed this post and stay warm this January!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ten Year Anniversary in 2014

Tammy and I moved to the farm Summer of 2004.  We sold produce from our garden that year at Tripoli and Waverly Farmers' Markets.  But, our first official year as the Genuine Faux Farm was 2005 and marked our first efforts at running a CSA/Farm Share program.  Therefore, 2014 will officially be our TENTH year as the Genuine Faux Farm and the TENTH season we have shared our produce using the CSA Farm Share model.

We are hoping you will be willing to celebrate with us this season and help motivate us to make this happen another ten years.

This will be a theme on and off during 2014 and each post that does this will have the "Ten Years" label so it can be found easily.

First picture we took of our farm
Our first garden on the farm is about 200 foot long by 40 foot wide.  We spend more time on perennial flowers than vegetables.  Our first farmers' market in Tripoli results in $6.50 worth in sales.  It cost us $5 to set up the table.  Does that count as a profit?

We had a year where we only started that many tomatoes?

A business plan is created and Genuine Faux Farm comes into existence.
First year of the CSA has 21 members and we deliver bags to each member's house.  Gas prices go through the roof.  Maybe that much driving wasn't such a good idea after all.

An early snowstorm picture on our farm.
We decide to go with a 'menu' or 'bulk' style delivery where people take their share from containers based on a list provided to them.  We end up with 27 members and our garden space is between 1 and 2 acres.  Hey - we didn't measure it that carefully - we were trying to weed it and didn't really want to know.

Do you remember turkeys by the barn?
We add more garden space and add Cedar Falls to our list of distribution sites.  The CSA is now 42 members and we have a presence in farmers markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  Heavy rains in the fall introduce us to how weather can change plans dramatically.  Rob learns how to juggle watermelons while trying stay upright in mud up to the mid calf.  He loses a shoe in the mud and doesn't realize this for a half hour.

This building came down in 2007 - on top of our truck.  Oops.

Our gardens now approach 5 acres in space (our current size).  Many may remember that there was significant flooding in Iowa during the Spring.  Nonetheless, we continue with 4 farmers' markets a week and 58 CSA members.  Amazingly, this is the first year we add cell phones, wheel hoes, nest/stack harvest crates and the use of hydrocooling.   Really?!? 

Hard to believe some of the tools we did without early on.
This was the first year we decided to reduce our farmers' market presence and increase the CSA share numbers to 115.  We begin holding distributions at Roots Market in Cedar Falls.  The farmhouse gets a much needed new roof, Thursdays seem to be the designated day for rain and the Harvest Markets occur for the first time in Waverly.  This introduced our first use of coolers to keep things WARM.

Durnik the tractor is a hit for more than the farmers.
Rain, rain and more rain.  This is the year that could have been the end of GFF, but instead it was the beginning of our re invention.  Our first high tunnel goes up in early July and the first harvests for the building occur that fall.  Durnik the tractor joins our farm, we hold our first extended CSA Fall, add the portable feed bin and make a room for the turkeys in the newly dubbed "Poultry Pavilion."  Oddly enough, we often forget that the year started with an emergency new furnace and a roof on the back addition of the farm house.  The latter was planned, of course, which is why the former happened immediately after.

Many hands still meant alot of work!
In a sense, this year seems like a lost year in our memories because it was overshadowed by events in the surrounding years.  Efforts were dedicated to climbing the learning curves for using the tractor, the high tunnel and dealing with fields that had been damaged by excess rain in the prior year.  Barty, the tiller joins us, we revamp the truck barn and put a roof on the granary.  But, perhaps, most important to our well-being on the farm, the first year of the "Gang of Four" farm visits occurs.

The granary used to have an additional feature.

So, things have been wet, right?  Well not this year - as drought strikes Iowa.  GFF handles it pretty well until the aerial spraying incident in July.  We move Cedar Falls deliveries to Hansen's Outlet, complete our first SARE grant for farm research and make a new home for the laying hen flock.  Rob sets a record with multiple 5 t-shirt days.

We were once honored with fox kits on the farm (look in the foundation crack)

You've just had a chance to see our year in review.  And, if you haven't, just scroll down a post. Or take this link!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Top Events at GFF for 2013

Every year we do a "Year in Review" Top 10 list with respect to our farm.  Once again, we have no real 'rules' and, as far as that is concerned, we would probably break them if we had them.  

Previous Year in Review Posts can be found in the links provided next:
2012, 2011, 2010, 2008
We are not certain how we missed 2009 - but if forced to, we could come up with a list.  No, not now.  You'll just have to deal with this one.  I'm sure it will be enough for the time being.

Not farm events, but worthy of mention:

* Wait!  It's your 50th too?
We had the distinct pleasure to help both Tammy's and Rob's parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries this year.   Hurray Moms and Dads!

* Life beyond the farm (Kauai) 
 We also had the opportunity to visit the island of Kauai over Thanksgiving.  It was a tremendous opportunity to renew energy and purpose.  Plus - we got to see nature in her best clothing.  We hope we did her justice with some of the photos we took. 

The "Official GFF Top 10"

10. A year where pun was had by all.

When the year started out with some difficulties, we decided we would do our best to stay positive - no matter what.  One way we managed to accomplish this feat was by inflicting puns on our poor CSA farm share members.  Since some of our readers have not received this gift from us:

I've been wondering how ravens and crows differ.  It turns out, the long feathers at the tip of a bird's wings, the pinion feathers, provide us with a way to tell them apart. A raven has four pinion feathers and a crow has five pinion feathers.
The difference between ravens and crows is a matter of a pinion!

No, we are not sorry.

9.  Pick a weather extreme, any weather extreme.
It really seemed like 2013 was intent on trying to find a way to provide for us an example of every weather extreme it could find.  After 2012's early, early, EARLY Spring, we just couldn't seem to get one started this year. 

After snow, here's our temp reading midday on May 3
And, after our nice little snow storm, someone turned on the faucet and left it on.  Not only was it hard for us to get into our fields, the corn/soybean farmers also had their difficulties.  Many fields not too many miles to our North were left empty for the entire season. 
We had no idea this was lakefront property.
Once things dried out, it got warm and forgot how to rain for some time.  Happily, it did not get nearly as warm as it did in 2012 - but much of Iowa headed back toward drought conditions.  The amazing thing is this - despite below average rainfall through Summer into the Fall, we still had enough rain in the Spring to have total rainfall for the year up to that point that was ABOVE average. 

The extreme weather forced our hands on several fronts.  We spent energy and time we couldn't spend in the fields working on raised beds, converting a building to protect seedlings and numerous other things that simply needed doing.  We admit that weather is likely to land in the top 10 every season since it is the nature of the beast, so to speak.  But, it drove so many of the other things you see in the top 10 that we had to include it.

8. What was the woid on the boid hoid (flock)?

Speaking of weather, how about the gnat attack we had this year?  We found out the hard way that these insects carry a parasite that attacks ducks (and turkeys) so most of our ducks were lost.  Usually one a day died over an extended period of time.  Luckily, chickens were not affected and we kept the turkeys inside a little longer until the gnats were done.  As an added bonus, Rob landed a nice ear infection courtesy of gnats.

Ducks and gnats do not mix
But, there were many positives as well.  We managed to expend energy and time on some poultry projects.  The permanent hen fence was (finally) completed, a few "mobile" poultry buildings were created and we were in a position to make adjustments with our flocks to handle most of the adverse weather conditions.  We even got to save a batch of young broilers by climbing into their building during a rainstorm and shoving straw under them to prevent hypothermia.

Now that's mobile
New perch!

7. Williams Tool Bar et al to the rescue

We allocated capital to an equipment purchase this season that looks like it will do good things for us in years to come.  The Williams Tool Bar attaches to the back of our tractor and allows us to cultivate difficult to weed crops, such as onions. 
We climbed the learning curve quickly
And, while we were at it, we purchased a couple of used flair box trailers at auction.  Neither cost us too much, though they both needed a little rehab to be useful.   Durnik the tractor was pleased to pull them around and the farmers found them to be far more efficient than a wheelbarrow for large loads.  No - that wasn't a surprise.


On the amusing side - it ended up that Rob bought one of the flair boxes and Tammy bought the other one.  We will both claim that ours is the best flair box on the farm.  Actually, both were very useful (don't tell Tammy I said that).

6. You look familiar, where have we seen you before?

Despite the early difficulties, we actually had some successes on the farm.  Some of these were a mild surprise since recent history would seem to indicate that these would not be most likely to do well on our farm.  For example, we've implemented the use of cover crops on the farm, but have had only limited success.  We have to admit that part of the problem was an equipment issue.  The addition of a tractor, spreader and the William Tool Bar and the use of a roller resulted in fantastic germination of our cover crops this Summer.
Buckwheat - bees love it!
Another example would be our carrot crop this season.  There is a reason Jeff Sage is our carrot guru.  The window for getting a good carrot crop on our farm is small, and it is hard to hit.  And, of all things, we hit it this year.  We ask you - how did we hit that window with all of the rain we had?   We also wonder how they managed to survive all of the excessive rain.  CSA members were treated to Jeff's carrots AND our carrots.  Gotta like that!
We still love seeing weeded carrots
Finally, yes finally.  We got our first apple crop of a decent size from our trees.  What a treat for us.  We were able to eat apples from our trees (about 1 each a day) through November this year. 
Special award to our fruit trees in 2013!
5. Great people helping
We've spent blog posts singing the praises of the people who help us succeed every year.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep singing their praises.  If you helped us and are not mentioned here, please don't think we don't value you.  But, each of these mentions were critical changes/additions/events that were key to the season.

Tyler Albers joined us as our Labor 4 Learning participant, working on our farm 2 days a week for several months.  Tyler brought with him mechanical and building skills that we could employ on the farm.  Since we were unable to do much in the field early, we could focus on many things that made use of these skills.  And, when he needed to move some of his own crops that started in sandy soil, they matched up pretty well with things we were short on.

Shannon and Graham agreed to a work share this year and we were all pleased with the results.  Cedar Falls CSA farm share members received the royal treatment in part because these two fine people helped us to get things out on the table quickly and efficiently.  And, it never hurts to have another person there to discuss what to do with the veg you are picking up.

Hurrah for Blue Gate Farm!
Last, but not least, Blue Gate Farm came to GFF and helped us catch up on some planting that had been delayed greatly by the weather.  Some of the lettuce, cabbage, kale, melons, winter squash, cauliflower and other crops got in the ground because they came and helped.  It was a critical juncture for us this season.  While things on the farm improved rapidly after that visit, it might have been our attitudes that were improved the most.

4. The garlic turnaround

Garlic in Iowa has suffered greatly from 2012's "aster yellows" infection that spread through most of the state.  The theory is that our super early spring caused garlic to come up extremely early.  So, early that they were one of the few green things for a period of a couple of weeks.  The early spring also caused an early leaf hopper hatching.  The leaf hoppers went for the only green things they could find and spread the aster yellows disease.

Garlic drying in the truck barn
The result was some pretty ugly garlic in 2012.  Most of our garlic last year was poor quality and had no storing capability.  As a result, we went looking for some new seed and found it at (oh, them again!) Blue Gate Farm.  We planted about 2000 heads of BGF seed and approximately 500 of our own.  We harvested about 2000 heads from the BGF garlic and about 5 of the GFF garlic.  Good thing we didn't rely on our own seed.

The result, we have a nice seed crop for 2014 in the ground and we've had high quality garlic for our customers.

3. Oh... Well.

We wrote about the farm well saga and received positive reviews from those that read all three posts.  The blog posts were entertaining, but the process of getting the new well drilled (and paying for it - still) was/is a bit less enjoyable.

On the plus side, we went with a pump that maintains more consistent pressures that help with our irrigation.  With the dry Summer, this turned out to be more important than we thought it would be at the time.
2.  High Tunnel to the Rescue!

The difference between 2010 and 2013?  We had an operational high tunnel.  Oh... and we had some experience dealing with excessive rains in the Spring.  And.. um.. we had better equipment.  Ok ok.  It wasn't all the high tunnel.

Snack tomatoes - yum!
But, we can say without reservation that the high tunnel gave us that bit of insurance that helped us provide our Farm Share CSA members with an excellent distribution every week of the season despite weather problems.  We were able to give our members green beans because of this building.  The volume of snack tomatoes was sufficient to give everyone a treat for several weeks.  And, peppers - we would have had no Jimmy Nardello's, no Tolli Sweets, no papricka peppers....without that high tunnel.

As Tammy said - the high tunnel was our 'happy place' this year.

1.  Dream Big and Grow

The previous item leads nicely to the last entry.

We took the challenge and entered the Cedar Valley Dream Big Grow Here grant contest.   We were overwhelmed with all kinds of support from many good people.  As a result, Rob was allowed the chance to make a pitch for this grant to be applied to a second high tunnel on the farm.  The net result seen in the picture. This grant will cover about 25% of the total cost of this project.  Absolutely nothing to sneeze at!

We've gotten an estimate to prepare the field and are progressing towards ordering the building.  We hope to put it up in April.  Stay tuned as we keep you informed on our blog.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Nominations for Best Picture

Rather than simply give you our "best pictures" of the year, we thought we'd try to get your votes as to which ones you like the best for 2013.  There are likely others, but there's only so much time - so we'll go with these.

Feel free to comment here, send us an email or respond to facebook.  We'll tally and report in a future post.

Want to see last year's winners?  Take this link.

Include a vote for best of each category (pick your favorite 2 in category 5) AND a vote for best overall for the year. The first comment shows a sample vote.

Category 1  - Best Critter shot for 2013

a) Turkeys in the Straw
b) Sandman in a box
c) Bumblebee bumbling
d) Shoestring Bandit
Category 2 - Best Veggie Picture of 2013

a) Pok choi
b) Swiss Chard
c) Carrot top?
d) Dr Wyche tomatoes
Category 3 - Best People Picture
a) Feed the Birds
b) We "Glove" our CSA members
c) Working on the farm CAN be fun

Category 4 - Best Flower Pictures of the Year

a) Stargazer Lily
b) Bluebells
c) Painted Daisies
d) Iris Fest
e) Stubborn Pasque flower
Category 5 - Best of "On The Farm" for 2013

a) High Tunnel
b) Barn Perspectives
c) Garlic harvest
d) Seedlings everywhere
e) Durnik at work

Category 6 - Outstanding in Our Fields
a) snow on raspberry canes
b) High tunnel at peak
c) Garlic and Zucchini in June
d) Straight row of cucumbers
Category 7 - Best of Travelog for 2013

a) Hanakapi'ai Beach
b) Kalalau sunset
c) Napali Coast
d) Waimea Canyon
e) Waipo'o Falls
Category 8 - Wild Card
a) Charlie takes pictures at night

b) Rob's finger froze to the camera

c) we like cardinals