Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Look in the Mirror - 2017

We try to create a "year in review" type of post every January and we succeed - sometimes.  Last year, we did just fine, using the 'original' idea of using a by the month approach for 2016.  The year prior to that, we used the 'original' approach of doing our 2015 year in review and posting it in September of the following year (oops).  And, in years prior to that, we succumbed to ye ole Top Ten List for our year in review.

This year, we actually produced for ourselves a schedule of "year in review" posts that can be found in our January Newsletter.   We're actually going to meet our self-imposed schedule and get them out there on time.  I know, it's amazing and fantastic - but we won't let that go to our head now, will we?
onions and lettuce just getting started in 2017
Saying Good-bye to Things We Have "Always" Done
When I first started looking at doing this post, I was having difficulty trying to figure out what to highlight.  It's a normal product of working day to day on the farm.  If you are submersed in the environment, it is amazing how quickly you begin to accept a major change as the "new norm."  Then, I realized that last Winter we were making some very difficult decisions that led to some significant differences in how the Genuine Faux Farm operates.

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions was to remove ourselves from the Waverly Farmers's Market entirely.  We realized this was the correct decision when it seemed as if people didn't really notice that we were absent from the Saturday market until they ran across us at some other venue on a Saturday morning.  A corollary decision was to cease the early season plant sales that we had been doing since our farm started in 2005.  We still raised plants for people who pre-ordered from us, but we did not grow an "additional couple thousand" plants for sale to customers.  The net result is that we "re-acquired" many hours of labor for use on doing a better job on the farm at the cost of an acceptable income loss.  In fact, the net result for us in labor savings was better for the bottom line.

We also restructured our CSA program in an effort to serve the changing needs of our customers and our potential customers.  By the time we reached October, we were so immersed in the new system we almost forgot this was the pilot year for the new system.  The good news here is that there actually WAS a reduction in management required by us by adopting the changes we did.  The bad news is that it did not really prevent membership from continuing to decline, but it does appear that the decline slowed.

There was one theme that led us to all of these changes - the desire to find our balance once again.  Certainly some of the motivation for change had an origin in maintaining a reasonable success in running the farm business.  But, most of the drive for adjustment came from our need to stay healthy in body, mind and spirit.  The old processes were no longer serving us for where we are in our lives.  Rather than walk a path that led to discontent and resentment, we took a leap or two in other directions.

Iowa Ingredient came to our farm in 2016 to feature our farm and Muscovey ducks used for meat and egg production.  We had raised duck for several years, even doing some PFI sponsored research on duck breeds.  Sadly, the cost for raising duck and the relatively low demand in our area led us to the decision to only raise duck if we received sufficient pre-orders.  We didn't actively pursue those orders and we did not raise ducks in 2017.
Not going quackers so much in 2017
Perhaps we will return to raising Muscoveys in the future.  But for now, we periodically bask in the irony that our farm is featured in re-runs of the Iowa Ingredient show featuring duck production and preparation.

Pesticide and herbicide drift issues are the number one challenge our farm has at this time.  You could argue that the weather is actually the number one challenge and you would have a point.  However, we agreed to deal with the weather when we signed up to farm.  We did not sign up to deal with the misapplication of chemicals by others in the state.  Rather than let this topic over-ride everything else that is here, we will simply acknowledge that it is there and move on.  There will certainly be other posts that deal with this topic in the future.

Celebrating Consistency In a Year of Change
Our farm has been in operation since 2005 and you could argue that it really started during the Summer of 2004 since we did attend a few farmers' markets, but we did so without a farm name or a CSA program.  We celebrated our 1000th blog post this year and we estimate that we have now presided over 750-850 CSA distribution sessions since the farm started (no, I am NOT going to carefully count that!).
Red Express - consistent producer of small red cabbage
We continue to find a way to get a wide range of crops to produce enough that our CSA customers can't usually tell if we're having a bad year with any particular crop unless we tell them about it.  While we're at it, we can still manage to set new records for production as we did for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage this past year.  Experience does have a pay-off it seems.

Speaking of Pay-Offs
Rosie the tractor is now entirely ours!  Our final yearly payment was made this past Spring after her initial acquisition in 2014

Rosie is now completely part of the family.

Renewing Commitments to Local Resources
The more I look at 2017, the more amazed I am by the number of changes we made in one season.  Another fairly major change was to move to using poultry feed from the Canfield Family Farm near Dunkerton.  The Canfields are working hard to get away from the pervasive 'commodity-based' agriculture you find in the state of Iowa.  A big part of their effort to take their destiny into their own hands is to use their own crops to make feeds.

We often talk about how we want agriculture to change in Iowa and this was one way we could put our money where our mouths are.  If we want farms being run in ways that support local economies, work reasonably with the environment and provide opportunities for farming families then this change made a great deal of sense.  The Canfields are close to us and we like what they are doing.  It's a good change.

We also continue to take our birds to the "park" at Martzahn's in Greene, we buy about 40% of our veggie seeds from Seed Savers in Decorah, we get our seed starting mix from Iowa businesses and we have acquired trees, bushes, etc from K&K in Hawkeye, Cannon's in Westgate and Tiedt's in Waverly.  We like to do business as close to home as we can and 2017 was a good year to review and renew that commitment.

Praise for the Helpers
We can usually find help for the farm most Summers, but we don't often have the opportunity to have returning workers.  This year, Emma and Caleb returned for a second season of weeds and veggies and Jocelyn joined them, each a vital part of the group.  When you have three quality people working on the farm consistently, everything just goes more smoothly.  We can even have a little fun listening to Bohemian Rhapsody and dealing with 'garden zits' (that's Colorado Potato Beetles if you want to know).

Watch out, there might be horned, fanged bats!
We were pleased to have interested and genuinely helpful groups from Wartburg Service Trips join us in some Spring tasks and Mrs. Borglum's Waverly Shell-Rock High School group came out and helped for part of a day as well.  And we had excellent help from many of our members in set up and clean up for the Summer Harvest Festival.

Then, there is Bryan.  We have a walk-in cooler and a portable hen building because this man likes these sorts of projects.  This is yet another instance where the farmer learns that it could actually be a good thing he can't get everything done himself.   If he could, he would not have had the opportunity to interact with each of these quality individuals who have come to help on the farm.

Incremental Improvement vs Delayed Perfection
Ohhh!  That's why it's called S-tine.
Every year we make adjustments to how we do work on the farm.  Each season we improve in some way and we work to avoid taking steps back as we make changes.  It can be difficult to explain some of these efforts to those who are not involved in day to day operations, but we will still give it a try!

The addition of the walk-in cooler space is a huge improvement that is still on-going.  One reason why it is a big deal - Rob did not have to haul several tons of produce down the slippery stairs into the basement of the house (and then back up again to make deliveries) once the weather started turning too cold for produce to stay in out-buildings.  We have nothing against exercise.  We still pick up and move produce regularly, so there is still lifting and movement going on.  The main difference is that it is now reasonable and MUCH safer.

We have tried to use our S-tine harrow in our fields in the past, but we always found it to be wanting for one reason or another.  Often, the issue was a maintenance thing.  Well, we got it figured this year and we were quite pleased with how it keeps the wheel paths clean in certain fields.  We continue to improve our tool set and we are always getting just a bit better using the tools we have.

We even made more changes to our field configurations this year.  It's official, we're removing a field that has given us troubles over the years and changing its purposes.  We expanded another field to get it closer to the size of the others and started preparations for another new production area.

Off Farm Adventures
On the shore of the Georgian Bay
The farmers even got off the farm a few times this past year.  Rob and Tammy took a trip in July to Minnesota to visit Tammy's family and to allow Rob to place his postal history exhibit in a competition.  The visits were enjoyable and the exhibit won the Reserve Grand Award (essentially 2nd place overall).  Rob was also invited to speak at the EFAO conference in Ontario, Canada.  We were blessed with beautiful weather during that visit and were able to take a moment and enjoy some wonderful waterfalls.

If you recall, one of our themes for renewing ourselves this year was to refind some balance between the farm and the rest of our lives.  We're still working on improving in that area, but these instances of off-farm adventures provide some evidence of our efforts.

Weather Wythards

And yes, there were weather events.  We gave some farm statistics in our January newsletter for 2017, but we can give a bit more summary here.

The growing season started with much less sun than we're used to getting.  As a result, our high tunnel crops were very slow getting out of the gate.  They eventually got going, but it did cause a little stress for the farmers, who wanted to start things out right for our Whole Enchilada share holders.  Then, we hit the active May period where we had to deal with high wind gusts more than once in the Tripoli area (with three such events in one day from three different directions!).  The highest wind gust was estimated to have been around 70 mph.

Jocelyn had boots on the the rain.
Overall, we had a wetter than average year (40.58 inches of rain vs about 34" average) and it was actually a bit cooler for us during what we would say is some of our peak growing period.  And, of course, we had that ridiculous rainfall in July while Rob and Tammy went to Minnesota.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Real Medicine 2017

We have done our Best Medicine posts for several years and beginning last year, we gave a nod to some of the posts that are more serious in nature.  This was Tammy's brainchild as she felt our end of the year retrospective posts seemed to ignore some valuable writing.  Thank you Tammy for thinking these were worthy of another look.

Our 2016 Efforts are linked here.

Enjoy the excerpts - and if they motivate you to read the rest of some of these posts, please follow the links.

Gratitude is something you need to work for.  But, once you put forth the effort, the rewards are significant.  Give thanks today.  Give thanks tomorrow.  Give thanks every day you are able.  And, when a day comes where giving thanks is difficult, let those things of value and worth that have led you to be grateful sustain you until you are able emphasize the positive once again. 
from  If It Were Easy, I Wouldn't Do This November 23 

Until you remind yourself that there is a strength in knowledge.  If you are careful about what you share and you think hard about what goes out there, perhaps you can help inform people about things that they should know about.
from Enough to Make You Cry July 19

A combination of recent events led me to consider what some of the reasons might be for why I have reacted the way I have to them.  I must warn anyone who is reading this post that it is NOT happy.  There will be a few photos that are disturbing.  And, if they do not disturb you, then I am worried for you because they represent truly awful situations and terrible suffering.  I am sharing these photos as a reminder to myself and anyone else who might read them why should work harder to understand each other and find ways to live together respectfully - regardless of what else we might hold as our basic beliefs.
from   Dangerous Pastime August 18

Busy lives with heavy responsibility and daily puzzles that need solving can be a bit like the Winter.  The relentless weight of the cold can numb your senses and turn your thoughts toward negativity.  There are only so many days that a person can work long and hard to accomplish all that needs doing only to find that the effort wasn't enough.  It can be just as demoralizing as the upcoming windchills we are looking at for the next few days.

But, there is still that life stirring just under the surface.  And once you open your eyes there is beauty to behold.  Even in Winter.

from Baby, It's Cold Outside December 25

Rather than continue to rant about how things are not right in the world, let me say this:
I think many of the farmers and land-owners in this state want things to change.  But, I also suspect that there are two things that are stopping them.

1. Change is scary and it is hard to know where it will lead and whether it will hurt you or not.
2. People aren't sure how to go about making change.

from What's Wrong With This Picture September 5

Our favorites for 2016 are below. Enjoy. Rob and Tammy

Success is doing the right things in the right way and doing it even when the situation is difficult and maybe even in situations where it didn't seem to make a difference at the time.  
from Words to Live By April 22

One thing I need to do more often is to look at things in different ways.  So, I put together an exercise for myself on the farm.  Why?  Because I believe that if I practice changing my point of view with little things, I will have an easier time exercising it on bigger things. 
from  Point of View October 25

Monday, January 8, 2018

Best Phauxto of 2017

It is time to vote for the best GFF photos of 2017!  We have selected some pictures and put them into categories.  To vote, you may either submit a comment in reply to this post 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!

CATEGORY 1: Around the Farm
a) Different Point of View

b) Mr Moon Visits the Farm

c) They Went Thataway!

d) This Must Be The Place

e) Weeder's Eye View

f) Close the Hightunnels NOW!

CATEGORY 2: Just Vegging Out

a) Unsquished Squash

b) Slaw Ingredients

c) Up Close and Personal with Jaune Flamme

d) What to Dew with Kale

e) Lettuce Enjoy Forellenschus

CATEGORY 3: Ain't They Purdy?!?

a) More to Dew with Borage

b) Ambitious Daylily

c) Chive Got Something to Tell You

d) Beauty in a Small Package

e) Thornbird in the Wild

f) St Helen Returns to the Farm
CATEGORY 4: Cast of Characters
a) The Inspector Inspects

b) Turkeys in Their "Gated Community"

c) Yeah, We Did This!
d) Tomatoes Admiring Those Who Transplanted Them into Pots

e) Why Does Jocelyn ALWAYS Get to Pull the Cart?
CATEGORY 5: Off the Farm

a) Root for Me!
b) Up for Falls

c) Persistence

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Best Medicine 2017

A "year in review" of humor in the blog was started back in 2009.  We're not sure how many people enjoy it, but the farmer has fun with it - so that will be enough.  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: 2016, 2015201420132012, 2011, 2010, 2009

CATEGORY: Line of the Year

Honorable Mention - Line of the Year
 "Yes, yes... we get the irony that the melon with the word "Emerald" in the name doesn't have green flesh.  Look - we doesn't names 'em, we just grows 'em."
from Heirloom Melons - 5 Years Later, December 14

"I also suspect they take great pleasure in getting the farmers to do a double take as they zip around trying to get their work done.  Maybe they are a little bit vain, laughing quietly to themselves as they notice us nearly trip as we try to get from here to there quickly while still wanting to get a second glance at what they are doing now."
from Grand Iris Tour of 2017,  June 17

"This may come as a surprise to some, but plants grow in the soil.  And, when it rains, the aforementioned soil becomes mud.  Some of that mud adheres to the fruit we harvest.  It's a thing.....Really."
from Raining Cats and Dogs, September 26

 from Humble Pie, August 27

"I still find myself stopping and being confused 25 feet SHORT of the end of the row in Valhalla because my internal measurements say I should be finished with the row by then.  It actually gets worse - I get confused in Eden now too because the rows are shorter than they should be. Ah! The life of a farmer - always confusing."
from Time Capsule, December 18

"Others who work in education can probably relate to this.  After all, the approach of the end of a term that also coincides with preparations for holidays at the end of the year is always on the edge of frantic.  We won't say WHICH side of frantic it lands on.  But, it isn't the side where sanity usually lies."
from Baby, It's Cold Outside,  December 25

"Well, I've got fence posts up for a permanent fence for the turkey pasture.  But, clearly, there is no fence there, so we're using a portable electric netting fence immediately to one side of the permanent 'not quite a fence.' "
from A Walk on the Absurd Side, September 14

Runner Up - Line of the Year

"Meanwhile, we get visits every 28 days from the Moon.  Who else can say that?  We're pretty special, huh?
What?  What do you mean the Moon visits you too?  Wha? "
from Cast of Characters, August 25

Winner - Line of the Year
 "Rob gave them a list of things to do "if it didn't rain" and "if it did rain."  He failed to give them one "if the heavens opened up and dumped never-ending buckets of water onto the farm."
from Storm Front, July 28
CATEGORY: Post of the Year

Honorable Mentions - Post of the Year
"Every VAP has a set of chores that are common to nearly every day of the farm.  They don't usually need to be written out much more than something that looks like this:
T, H, H, N - W F
Translation: Turks, Hens, Henlets, Nuggest - Water, Food

Why even bother writing anything?  Well, if you have to ask, you aren't a list maker."
from VAP Revisited, May 27

The saw is plugged in, right?
from Nota Conference - Seriously, January 31

"Tammy went to check the room the morning after we moved the turklets and found this rat stuck and unable to get out of its predicament.  Queen Boss Tammy's wrath resulted in the smiting of said rat and it is no more."
 from Rats in Your Room, July 15

Runner Up - Post of the Year
All I said was, "Look! A snake!"
"What would you give to get Rob to STOP writing these silly blog posts.  Perhaps we need a KickStopper campaign?"
from Better Late Than Never, April 2

Winner - Post of the Year

"It does seem to us that sports broadcasters are working way too hard to say something special about a player or team with statistics.  Things like 'this is the first time a player who went to middle school in Walla Walla, Washington swung at a third pitch in an at-bat since last week.'"
from Things Farm Records Are Made Of,

Monday, January 1, 2018

January Newsletter

New Month and a New Year to Go With It

We started the monthly "newsletter posts" in March of the prior year (yes, yes - that is how we must now refer to 2017) and had some success putting them out in a timely fashion.  We admit that December was late, and the release of the post for each month was NOT always the first of the month.  But, we feel that people were starting to pay attention to the newsletters and that they found them interesting enough to visit them.  With that in mind, we'll try trotting out a newsletter every month in 2018 as well.

I guess I never quite understood that running a small, diversified farm would require so much writing.  We write emails every week we have a CSA delivery and we write emails for each egg delivery.  We try to write about 100 blog posts every year and doesn't include countless ideas that get written partially in my head while I'm in the field - only to be forgotten by the time I sit at the computer.

There you go parents!  Tell your children that they need to practice their writing if they want to be a farmer!

Picture of the Month
It's a throwback to 2013.  We knew this was a good picture the moment we took it - and it really fits the current environment on the farm.

Interestingly enough, this wooden flair box is no longer what you see in this picture.  The running gear now has a portable hen building on it.  The wooden frame is now sitting next to the blue Harvestore, waiting to see if we can think of a use for it.  Got ideas?  Give us some in our comments below!

Farm News Shorts and Announcements
  • 2018 CSA Sign up will begin January 15.  Watch email, Facebook, our website and our blog for details.
  • Rob will co-present at the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference with Carmen Black regarding on-farm research.
  • It is now official that there was chemical drift on the northeast corner of the farm this year.  The plot impacted by this drift had no crops harvested in 2017 and is not going to be placed in production for 2018.
January Calendar
This calendar is subject to change as we let ourselves not think about farm sales duties, etc during the Holidays.  Yes, we did feed the birds.  Yes, they got water too.  And, we did collect eggs.
  • January 3 (Wed) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • January 4 - Best Medicine Post for 2017 on the blog.
  • January 8 - Best Picture Candidates for 2017 on the blog and Facebook
  • January 10 - Real Medicine Post for 2017 on the blog
  • January 12 - Voting for Best Picture Ends
  • January 13 - Best Picture Revealed
  • January 15 - The 2018 CSA Program is announced and signups begin
  • January 16 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • January 17 - Look in the Mirror 2017 on the blog
  • January 19 and 20 - Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference
  • January 30 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
Weather Wythards
We are adding a new section to the newsletter called Weather Wythards so you can get some farm weather statistics and commentary.  Why?  Well, why not?  It could be fun right?

2017 Summary
High Temperature: 95 F
Highest Heat Index: 111 F
Highest Barometer Reading: 30.85
Highest Recorded Wind Gust: 56 mph out of W
     (remember, these smaller stations don't record the highest winds terribly accurately, we estimate it at 70 mph)
Rainfall for 2017: 40.58 inches
Low Temperature: -17 F (as of 10pm on Dec 31)
Lowest Windchill: -32 F (ditto)
Lowest Barometer Reading: 29.18

December Summary
High Temp: 65 F
Low Temp: -17 F
Rainfall: 0.02 inches
Barometer Range: 29.25 to 30.85
Highest Wind Gust: 38 mph from NW

January after One Day?
High Temp -4 F
Low Temp -20 F (lower than any reading in 2017)
Barometer: 30.89 (higher than any reading in 2017)
Windchill: -34 F (lower than any reading in 2017)
Relative Humidity: 83%
It's not the heat - it's the humidity.

Song of the Month
Music is a big part of our lives, so we give a nod to that fact by including a song of the month.  These are songs we have enjoyed recently.  Sometimes it's because there is a message in the song that applies to us and sometimes, it's just because we like the darn song.  Here is our January 2018 selection - Let it Fall by Over the Rhine:

Recipe of the Month
We will take a break from the recipe of the month to let Tammy have a chance to select some recipes for the rest of the year.  Though we just had pasties today and they were VERY good.  Maybe we'll add that in its own post later.

Time to Have Pun
So, it is pretty cold outside and it makes it very difficult for your farmers to do much more than trudge out to deal with the chickens every couple of hours.  We've got to make sure the water doesn't freeze and we have to collect eggs regularly since they will also freeze if left too long.

After taking the time to bundle up (which can really take a while this time of year) I braved the cold earlier today to do the chores.  As I was walking out, I noticed a large number of rabbits hopping away from me, each following the same path through the snow.

Yes, my friends, it was a receding hare line.