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: 
Keith...you'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 ..um.  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.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Philatelic Pheast

 It is January and Rob is allowed to do some things with his hobby.  Some people who read our blog like a few of the fun facts that come along with some of the things in the postal history collection - so here is the most recent installment of what will typically amount to 2 or 3 yearly posts.  Don't worry, lots of farm-related stuff in the pipeline as well.

Half a Childhood Memory
I seem to recall a time when I was along for the ride with Dad or Grandpa and we stopped at some repair shop of some kind.  There were drawers full of these little square brown envelopes that held different kinds of gaskets and other small parts.  I don't recall that these envelopes had stamps on them - if they did, I am pretty sure I would have noticed.  I do remember that they were filed with tabs to organize them like any other filing cabinet system and I seem to remember there was an address printed on some of them.

I finally ran across one of these at a stamp show this Winter and was happy to pick it up simply because I had this half-memory tugging at me.

Tin Can Mail
The island of Niuafo'ou has no harbor, so the method of delivering mail in the late 1800's and early 1900's - all the way until a small airfield was built in 1983 (or so) - was by dropping sealed tin cans off of ships.  Then swimmers came out and got the mail (or brought mail from the island out to the ships).
In the 1930's, some enterprising souls started encouraging philatelists to get their own "Tin Can Mail" by sending mail to be be postmarked on the island, etc.  If you find this story interesting, you can learn more at this link.

We Don't Do It That Way Here
 Studying postal history reminds me constantly that different countries, cultures and organizations have different norms than those I am familiar with.  One such difference (as well as some similarities) is shown below.
This is a letter from Singapore to Devakota in India.  It is interesting to note that they had registered mail (the label at the top right indicates this, among other things) which essentially increased the tracking of the mail as it went through the system.  This is consistent with most other nations with postal systems at the time this letter was posted. But, what is so different?
Well, they put their stamps on the BACK of the envelope.  It seems they do a nice job of helping seal the flap AND they don't interfere with all of the addressing and directional markings on the front. 

Keeping Up with Everything - or - Keeping Everything Up
And finally, an advertising envelope from 1910 for suspenders.  And, rather than leave you in further suspense, I'll just get right to the picture.