Thursday, February 28, 2019

Traveling At Home

Usually the Genuinely Faux blog features at least one post about postal history during the Winter months and I came to the realization that this had not happened this year.  Rather than disappoint the millions of readers out there, I thought I would share a few things that might be enjoyable - even if you do not share my interest in this hobby.

My area of interest tends to focus on the 1860's.  It is a period that has plenty of things going on in the world and I can acquire things that are enjoyable without spending a whole lot of money.  Each time I find a new item, it gives me a chance to travel vicariously to another place AND another time - without leaving the farm house.

France to Switzlerand - 1865
One thing that might seem foreign to us is the idea that there wasn't a universal postal agreement to deal with mail between countries.  The Universal Postal Union that outlines how we send mail to other countries was initially put into place as the General Postal Union in 1876.  Prior to that countries had to negotiate treaties with each other that outlined how they would exchange mail.

The item above shows a common situation.  Someone didn't put enough postage on the letter to go from France to Switzerland.  They applied a 20 centime (French) stamp, but they should have paid 40 centimes.  The red box translates to "insufficient postage" and the red 40 tells the post office in Switzerland that the recipient would have to pay the entire 40 centimes if they wanted their letter.  Yep, that 20 centime stamp did nothing for them.  Current postal services usually only collect the amount that was not prepaid - but that was clearly not always the case.
Printed Matter Mail in Prussia
 You and I might call this 'bulk mail,' but we are even more likely to just call it 'junk mail.'  The idea of providing discounted rates to mailers who wanted to send out pre-printed copies of advertisements or informational brochures has been a round for a long time and most countries had provisions for what they called 'printed matter.'

 German nations would call this "drucksache" and their regulations, like most other countries at the time, required that the contents should be easily opened and inspected by postal authorities to be sure that the sender wasn't trying to send personal correspondence or other items without paying proper postage. 

This mailer used a paper band that wrapped around the flyer.  They then affixed the stamp so it attached the contents to the band.  The post office could still inspect the contents by pulling down the folded part of the printed portion (as seen above).  This item simply informs the recipient that Hermann Schwarz was going to be in their area soon.  It is not clear what exactly Herr Schwarz was going to be doing there.  Maybe selling brushes?

Where is Mantova?
The item above was sent in 1861 from Brescia to Mantova (also known as Mantua).  Both of these cities are currently in Italy.  At the time this was sent, the Kingdom of Italy was in the process of formation, but Mantova was NOT a part of it.  Mantova resides in the province of Lombardy, right next to the province of Venetia.  In 1861, Venetia was a part of Austria.  Lombardy was a part of the Kingdom of Italy - but Mantova itself remained with Austria.  Why is that?

It turns out that Mantova was part of the Quadrilatero, a set of four fortress cities held by Austria.  The other three were in Venetia.  When Austria lost the War of 1859, they were forced to cede Lombardy, but they did not give up their fortress city in Mantova.  So, while both Brescia and Mantova were in Lombardy, they were actually a part of two different countries.  So, once again, the stamp didn't cover all of the expenses and the recipient had to pay something to get their letter!
An 1863 letter in Norway
Here's one for my Mom!  Christiania is now known as Oslo, which is where this letter was posted.  Arendal is located nearly 250 km to the southwest from Christiania (Oslo) and is only 65 km northeast from Kristiansand.  At the time, Arendal was known as a prominent port in Norway, with shipbuilding being one of its primary trades.  The region also had significant mining, lumber and ironworks industries.

Spain to France 1864
If you'll recall, countries needed to negotiate systems for exchanging letters.  In most cases, they would agree upon an amount that people could prepay to get mail to the destination country.  Spain was not as good at this as other European nations.  They would exchange mails with France, but a person sending the mail could only pay for the postal service to the border.  The recipient on the other side of the border had to pay the cost of mail from the border to their home.  In this case, the stamp paid for the Spanish mail from to the border and the "5c" marking indicates that the recipient at Oloron, France had to pay 5 centimes to cover the French portion of the postal service.

I sure hope this letter was something they wanted.
Switzerland to Italy 1865
Another interesting thing about the mail during this period is that countries often recognized that communities next to the border (on both sides) would require less of the postal services than mail that came from communities further from the border.  As a result, many agreements included a lower rate for mail between communities within a certain distance of a shared border.  In this case, Splugen was pretty much on the border between Switzerland and Italy.  The destination, Chiavenna, was not all that far away from Splugen either.  The 10 centime rate was actually the same as the postage someone in Switzerland would pay for a letter that stayed in the country.

If you are wondering why Splugen sounds vaguely familiar, perhaps you have heard of the Splugen Pass?  It was one of the major passes through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland.

And now you know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Another Sort of Diversity on the Farm

When we talk about diversity on this blog, you might normally expect a blog post like some of our Pollinator Paradise series of posts.  After all, we do believe that diversity of life on our farm is one of the things that keeps it healthy and productive.  But, what about our lives?  Isn't it true that some diversity in our everyday existence is also going to help us to be healthier and happier?

The short answer is - we think so.  And, we confirmed that when Tammy and I took a day that we called our "GFF Retreat" and took a hard look at the farm and how our lives are intertwined with it.   One of our concerns was to look to our own health - because if we fail in this, our farm fails as well.

As we gear up for the 2019 growing season and we start to encourage people to sign up for our CSA program, we thought it might be useful to share some of the range of interests we have in our lives.  By doing so, we are hopeful that our supporters, customers, potential customers and other interested by-standers can make meaningful connections with us.

This blogpost has been Inspector approved.
We Are Stewards
Both Tammy and I are stewards in many senses of the word.  Those of you who know us for the Genuine Faux Farm might recognize us for our desire to be responsible stewards of the land as we farm.  The idea of maintaining a pollinator paradise, using organic practices and maintaining a smaller scale farm that sells locally is all a part of that stewardship.

Perhaps it would not surprise you that we are stewards in other ways in our lives as well.  We are also stewards of knowledge and facilitators of learning.  Tammy is a professor of Social Work who is dedicated to advancing her field by helping future professionals hone their skills and shape their ethic as it pertains to their field.  As farmers, both of us perform on-farm research tasks and work to share our knowledge and expertise with others.  Rob is periodically called on to speak about sustainable farming practices at local schools - and he takes that responsibility seriously because he believes there needs to be more voices in that arena.

And, we are stewards of the community.  While neither of us is an extrovert, we still feel a responsibility towards doing our best to make things around us better as we are able.  We just tend to run "under the radar" more often than not.

An appropriate game for farmers?
We Like to Play
We both enjoy some sports, such as volleyball and baseball.  We do our best to make time to play board games on a semi-frequent basis.  We like to play with words and with absurd or silly ideas.  Sometimes, those things show up in our blog posts - even if it is a bit indirect.  Ok, maybe that one is a bit more direct than others.  But, we do still like to play.

One of the goals we set for ourselves was to make more time for play.  But, perhaps it might be better if we used play as a measurement.  Are we more inclined to play if we're feeling better about ourselves?  Or, will playing help us to feel better about ourselves?  This may be a 'chicken or egg' thing.  What do you think?

It probably doesn't matter what the answer to those questions are.  What matters is that we find it in our spirit to play and be playful and that we make time to allow that part of ourselves to be explored.

We Appreciate Creativity
Both of us appreciate music of all sorts and we both enjoy books - but usually different genres.  We like a little bit of photography and can be captivated by all sorts of displays of artistic talent.  Perhaps the one thing that grabs our attention the most is the beauty and power of the natural world.  Sometimes, we don't appreciate it so much when that power reminds us that nothing is under our control.  But, often we just stop and admire because it would be silly not to.  And yes, we both love flowers.

Tammy has said more than once that I am the creative one and that she is not so creative.  It is true that I like to write (witness this blog) and I like to take photographs and I like to research and display postal history items.  I also like to make playlists of music that we listen to and I suspect I do other things that might be classified as 'creative.'  But, Tammy sells herself short in this area.  She can write and be creative in some of the same ways I can.  But, she is most creative when it comes to making connections between people and segments of the community.  And, whether she always sees it or not, ideas she communicates to me often appear here... or at the farm... or in a photograph.

Engaging in Activity Diversity for our Health
This is what it comes down to.  We both like a little diversity in what we do.  When we don't get it, we find ourselves all too willing to perhaps indulge in one activity for longer than we should at times when we really shouldn't.  That often results in paying the piper by falling behind in work-related things, which makes us resent work, which leads to another binge at a time when a binge isn't a good idea.

Will we succeed in supporting diversity in our daily activities?  I bet we will succeed sometimes, because it is on our minds.  And I am certain we will fail at other times, because that's what happens with occupations such as teaching at a college or running a small farm. Nonetheless, we will try - because it is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

GFF Retreat

The Genuine Faux Farm farmers (Rob and Tammy) needed to concentrate on where the farm is going for 2019, so they reserved a classroom and spent most of a day in that room trying to hammer all sorts of things out.  Some of this was simply an effort for the two of us to communicate our own priorities to each other rather than assuming the other person knew exactly what was going on in their partner's head. 

And the results are in:  We done good.

Since our farm would not exist without the support of many wonderful people who purchase local foods and select us to be their personal farmers, we felt it would not be too much to share some of the discussion and results of our 'retreat.' 

Big Questions/ Big Projects
Tammy was a little uncertain, at first, of where I was going with our first part of the day.  You see, I like to brainstorm and she does not.  I think that the word choice (brainstorm) was maybe an unfortunate one since the goal was really for us to see if our expectations and priorities for the year were fairly close together.

We started off by taking a few minutes have each of us write what we thought were the 'big questions' regarding the future of our farm.  We both wrote at the same time in hopes that we wouldn't influence each other.  We followed that up with the 'big projects' for the farm (and home) as we saw them. 

Some people might wonder what good this would do.  As Tammy pointed out, the lists got pretty overwhelming.  On the other hand, if these were all projects and questions that were on our minds, perhaps they were ALREADY overwhelming.  Giving them a name and finding out that we had the same names for many of them was a positive step.  We could at least move on to the difficult, but necessary, step of prioritization.

One result of this process is that we found out that we are on the same page.  This is not surprising because we do talk with each other about things and we did get to spend a sizable chunk of time together during the 'Farmer Break' in January. 

One thing that stood out for us was a desire to make significant progress on our old farmhouse.  As some of you know, the kitchen is already started.  But, having no kitchen is a good way to get really disgusted with a house fairly quickly.  So, that project needs to be finished.  There are also issues with insulation, the back entry, the stairs to the basement, the doors into the house, the siding on the house and some windows.  Oh... and we still have one electrical outlet for the entire upstairs.  It's not that we haven't done things to work on this house.  Since we got there we've put on a new roof, new heating, new windows (for most of the house), new electric service, a new well...  you get the picture.  It's an old farm house and it has had its needs.  The weather extremes have been highlighting some other problems and we realize we have to keep moving forward on the house.  After all, we would prefer to LIKE living here versus tolerate living here.

Another project that has been on our minds for years is the idea of adding solar power to the farm.  In a very real way, our farm matches perfectly with the months when solar production is at peak.  We use more power for seed starting and the walk-in cooler during the warmer, sunnier months.  We've taken steps to do this, but usually get stopped.  We're hoping that participation in a 'group buy' just might push us over the edge and into action this time around.

The number of building and repair projects on the farm are numerous at all times, but it seems as if we've had many come to a head recently.  The reality is that we may just be losing patience with the bubble gum and baling wire approach for some aspects of our farm.  Clearly, we can make do without some of these things.  We've been doing this farming thing since 2004 - so apparently we don't HAVE to do all of this.  But, if we want to farm beyond 2019, we believe that we need to make strides towards completing many of these projects.

Details, Details

Of course, we didn't stick with the bigger, more abstract stuff for long.  We worked to identify all of the things we needed to do this season in an effort to begin prioritizing and assigning tasks.  The scary thing about all of this is that these lists run around inside Rob's head all of the time.  Every once in a while, he needs to let them out so he can have room to think about things more objectively.

During these portions we worded together to come up with the list.  Several things popped up that had been forgotten.  Though, forgotten is probably the wrong word.  "Buried" is probably more appropriate.  We'd both let getting forks for the tractor bucket fall off our list last year UNTIL we needed them.  But, they'd fall off the list again UNTIL we needed them AGAIN.  I'm sure no one reading this has any idea of how that feels.  Oh... You do?  Ok, then.

We spent time on identifying our research projects, how we were going to handle labor this year, administrative tasks and...

Figuring Out the 2019 CSA Program
This was probably the thing that was preying on Tammy's mind the most.  We did not have time to finalize anything before we took time off from the farm in January.  That means we have to work quickly this month on what we think will be a program that will adapt to the way people are living now.  We spent some time discussing options and integrating ideas and we think we finally have a solid design. 

Now, we have to implement it AND we need YOU to join our program and make it a success.

Here's a preview.  Stay tuned for the grand unveiling!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Really Something

 The forecasters have been adamant that this was going to be a very strong Winter storm from the get go.  Once this thing showed up on the forecast timeline, it didn't seem like they wavered on the "when" of it much at all.  While they were very cautious about snowfall amounts and exactly where the rain/snow line would be, they never backed down from the predictions of high wind and likely blizzard conditions anywhere there was a few flakes of snow to push around.

Our bedroom window at dawn.
We had a little icing overnight on Saturday.  Enough to make us happy we had decided not to go anywhere.  And the snow started around sundown.  It didn't take long to get everything covered.  Then the wind hit... somewhere around ten PM.

We live in an old farmhouse in the country.  So, strong winds aren't foreign to us.  But, by the same token, we might be a bit more keenly aware of what they are doing too.  The old farmhouse is part of the reason for it.  You see, old farmhouses always have something that's going to bang around in a strong wind.  And, unless you've got a huge windbreak around the house, you're going to feel the house shudder when those big gusts broadside it.

There is an old capped chimney that goes through the center of our house.  That cap apparently has something worked loose that is banging around this Winter.  The hollow chimney amplifies the noise of that something as it hits the tin covering.  Lovely.  We do love our music and we're fine with percussion.  But, we have a bit of trouble with a drummer that doesn't know which time signature to keep.
Early stages of a drift

We woke up in the morning and tried to look out our second story bedroom window.  We couldn't see much of anything other than the snow that was plastered to it.

So, we tried other windows.  They were the same.

It did not matter which direction the window faced, nor did it matter whether it was the first or second story.  Each window has well covered with snow.  Hmmm.  Must be windy.


Again, thanks to the excellent forecasting and communications, we didn't plan on going anywhere on Sunday.  But, that didn't stop us from looking at road condition reports.  Ya.  That's a fair amount of "impassible" roadways in the state.  And, people thought roads were poor a few days ago when most of the states roadways were 'partially covered.'
One of the 'a bit less' moments.

We do have hens that need food and water - and we do need to collect eggs.  So, that meant we had to venture into the great, wide world a few times during the day.  Usually, we tried to time our trips to where it seemed a bit 'less' - so to speak.

Inspector and Soup are less than pleased with this turn of events, but they've got some good places to snuggle up in the Poultry Pavilion. They come down to nibble on the food we bring or check out the fresh water, but they go right back to their hidey hole soon after we leave.

The chickens have their room with fresh straw and nice perches.  The room is not, however, air tight (nor should it be).  But, that means some of the fine snow is finding a way into parts of their room.  Not too much, just a dusting here and there.  But, it is enough to cause a few hens to give the farmers the 'evil eye' as they (the farmers) snatch eggs from laying boxes and pour water into waterers.

There was some reason to believe the hens were not sure WHO it was that was caring for them today since both farmers were bundled up more than the usual.  Inspector was not fooled and Soup didn't care.  So, in the end, as long as we were all warm enough and got our jobs done, it didn't matter much.

Our poor weather station is having one heck of a start to the year.  Not only has it recorded its lowest temp on the farm (over a 3 year period) at -29, windchill at -53, but it also looks to have set the highest reading of barometric pressure at 30.90 and very close to the lowest at 29.20 (we hit 29.18 in 2017).  At one point on Sunday it reported the average windspeed over a 10 minute period as 30 mph. It's true weather watchers can't complain about being bored over the last few years.

We'll grant everyone that we were blessed to only have gusts up to 43 mph according to our weather station.  But, it was pretty hard to tell the difference between the gusts and the consistent winds.  And we also have to add the caveat that smaller weather stations like ours tend to be a little unreliable with accurate wind measurement with high gusts.  It doesn't matter.  It was windy, that's all there is to it.

Oddly enough the skies were clear - not that you'd notice.
So far this Winter we have only lost a few chickens.  It is not abnormal for a few to die during the Winter months, but we have to admit this one has been harsher than most starting in January of this year.  Today we lost a little lady who just never did get very big to begin with.  Lowest hen on the pecking order and a runt to boot.  We probably should be surprised she made it this far, I suppose.  On the plus side, it looks like she just went to sleep and didn't wake up.

The end wasn't nearly so dignified for another bird earlier in February.  This one somehow got herself STUCK in a cinder block.  Yes.  She had her head sticking out one end and her feet sticking out the other.  Sadly for her, the humans did not notice her predicament.  After all, who is going to go looking to see if a chicken has decided to shove herself into a cinder block?  Let's just say it wasn't on our collective radar.  Of course, this bird did this on what was to be one of our colder nights so Rob went out the next morning and found frozen chicken in a block.  A chicksicle, if you will.  Chicken ala cold.  We were wondering if there was a clique in our flock that had been watching mob movies and this was their version of putting someone's feet in cement and then throwing them into Lake Michigan.

But, the worst part?  We had to wait until temps got warmer to get the darned thing OUT!

Things farmers gotta do.

Well, here is something farmers don't gotta do.  Check road reports.  It looks like things be getting a bit worse out there at 8:30pm on Sunday.  I think we'll sit tight.  And, we DID check cinder blocks this evening when we went out.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What Do I Do With That?

I suspect many people can identify with what this blog post is going to cover at some level or another, but I suspect those of us who have a small (or maybe even a larger) farm might be able to relate to this even more readily.  When we walk around the farm during the Winter months, we often have a chance to look a little more closely at some of the things that are ignored by necessity during the growing season.  If you do not know what I mean by 'ignored by necessity' then perhaps you need to come out to our farm for a while and work with us for a few days.  You'll get it then, I suspect.
You see, we walk by things like the picture above on a daily basis during the growing season.  We have an old wood pile with a pick-up topper that was adapted to shelter chickens at one point in time.  Not far away are some large rocks and chunks of cement that have accumulated over the decades that this farm has existed.  Some few of them are the result of things we have done, but much was there when we first acquired the farm and became its new stewards.

It's the snowy February days that we stop and look at things like this because it is often a safe time to consider it.  Why?  Well, it is unlikely we'll be able to do much about it at this moment - for one.  And, we actually have the luxury of a few moments to even bother to consider doing something with it - for two.

We actually have designs on the topper, but that project never seems to make the top 100 for our projects list.  The rocks?  Well, they don't usually even make a list.  The wood appears now and again on our lists, but it rarely lasts for long.  Part of the reason for this is the uncertainty we have.  What exactly should we do with/about these things?  If you don't have a good direction, it's pretty unlikely that you'll go any further than look at it and say, "Hmm.  Might want to do something about that someday."  It gives us new perspective into the "Pa Kettle" attitude.  No reason to get uptight about it if it's not really causing a problem and it isn't critical to whatever else is going on.

The other thing to consider is that the wood pile and the rock pile both provide an area that we don't disturb often where some wildlife could reside.  We admit that we are picky about what tends to reside there since some are not the best of neighbors.  But, we do try to be understanding to the needs of nature.

There are moments, however, when I look around and hope that we're not getting too terribly close to the Pa Kettle philosophy of things.  This little tacked on walkway was built at the time the Harvestore went up (sometime in the 1970's?) as a shelter to cover the auger.  It hadn't been in use for some time prior to our moving to the farm and we've had no use for this area ourselves.  The roof was already mostly gone when we moved here and once a roof goes...

We had a couple of good poofs of wind this past Summer and one of them did its best to finish the job, so to speak.  I walked by it this Winter and wondered, what should I do with that?  Clean it up?  Sure.  But, then what?  It doesn't help that it is in a low-traffic part of our farm.  And, as I said, where do we put that on our list?  Number 214, I suspect.  Not good chances it will reach the actual, "it could get done" section.  Not that I am asking for something to occur that puts it up higher on the list.  That sort of thing is usually mildly catastrophic in nature and we really don't need to do that, thank you very much.

Then there are things like this.

We took this flair box off of a running gear so we could make our new portable hen building that has served us so well.  This box has plywood sides that were beginning to show their wear.  That, and we were moving away from using flair boxes for transporting things once we purchased Rosie the tractor with her bucket.  So, now what do we do with the flair box?  We can just keep letting it sit here until it looks like the lean-to I suppose.  But, despite the theme of this post, we really don't like to leave that many things lying around in a terrible state of repair.

Until next time, you will find us wandering around the farm asking - "What do I do with that?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Click Here for Shocking Ways to Revive Your Meme-ory

In order to fulfill our "Ode to Clickbait" series goal of more than three posts, we now present you with something completely different!  Well, it is different for us.  We are actually going to re-use other people's work this time around and make this more of a click baity post!  Hurray for us.

Well, actually.  This is an opportunity to share some of the interesting things that have been shared with us over the past couple of years that fits, more or less, the definition of a meme.  If you don't know the new definition of the word meme, it refers to an image, video or text that copied and spread (and often modified) by internet users.

Whether it's a meme or not, it's the weather.

Oh!  Wait!  The first one we are sharing is not actually a meme.  It is a factual graphical representation of a ridiculous weather day last April.  The farm was in the Winter Weather Advisory officially, unofficially, we were in more than one category.  There was thundersnow and some rain, if I recall correctly.

We showed the last image so we could bridge to the meme at the right.  It was shared with us by several different people over the course of the past year.  Of course, we also saw the same meme with various other states (South Carolina, we're looking at you specifically) replacing the spot where Iowa is.

We can go on record that fans don't really work.  Neither do giant straws.  And, we couldn't move the giant sponge once it soaked up all it could hold, so never mind.

We will admit that strong winds do help dry out the soil.  But, we don't have any extension cords rated for the amount of power necessary to plug in a fan that is quite that big.  How about we just have an average precipitation year this time around?  We'll call that a plan and then we'll actually plan for that plan not to be followed.  There's a plan!

Since it is February and we have had some extreme cold temperatures of late, we thought we would do a public service announcement and share a temporary solution for those who might be filling a bit chilly.

Poultry in Motion
Since we do have chickens and turkeys (and we did have ducks) people could not resist sending us a poultry related meme or cartoon that plays around with those topics. 

While the first is not a meme, the second is most certainly a meme.  It was forwarded on to us by a farmer friend who is aware of our poor sense of humor.  We say I have a poor sense of humor because it seems people are in pain whenever we exhibit said sense of humor.  It must be the puns....

My response to this one was that the book in question was published in the late 1800's, which shows that the problem with ducks failing to pay their debt to society is a long-lived one.

Actually, we should have located this book when we were raising ducks.  Maybe we could have turned a profit with them then?

Cats up?
Other than poultry, cats are the animal most likely to appear on our blogs.  So, we thought we'd make sure this post also has cats in it.

Slippery Slope
I expect there will be at least one typo or poor word choice in this blog post.  It happens.  But, I do try to proof-read what I write, even if I know it is for a small audience.  The question is - did anyone try to proof-read this one?

It had to be the bananas?  They slipped on the peals and suffered brain damage.  That's got to be it.

I can just see the parent with their child in their lap.  The parent's brain 'auto-corrects' what they see and the poor child protests that this is not five.  Yet another child doomed to struggle in math.  Remember - 2 + 2 = 5 for extremely large values of 2.

Not to get stuck on math, we can also visit literature.  There was a series of memes that give extremely short, but disturbingly accurate summaries of well-regarded classical works.  I had to select the one that featured farming.  Because.  Well, whose blog is this anyway?

That's Where He Went!
I always wondered why Marvin wasn't in any more cartoons.  He's been waiting for us to land some of our rovers on Mars.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Genuine Faux Farm Raises Excellent Produce Using These Five Weird Tricks!

Welcome to our third installment of the "Ode to Clickbait" series of posts on our blog!  In case you haven't figured it out yet, we're poking fun at clickbait and perhaps a bit of fun at ourselves while we're at it.  Underneath it all..  well, we'll let you figure that out.

Raising excellent produce isn't just the result of some tricks - despite what the clickbait title says.  But, remember, clickbait is SUPPOSED to mislead you!  Ha!  Mission accomplished.  Nonetheless, we ARE going to give you a few thoughts on things that help US to raise excellent produce.

1. Visit Other Farms and Do A Little Work There
This one actually just *might* fall under the 'weird tricks' category if you were thinking that we were going to divulge some special recipe for a tincture we apply to all of our plants to make them grow twice the size they normally would.  But, it is an actual line item on our 'must do' list every season since we started with the Gang of Five farm group several years ago.  Every visit each of four farms (and they all come visit us once) to do some sort of a project for a few hours.  Then, we have excellent food and even better conversations. 

See, we're all working.  Wait... where's Tammy?
The obvious positive result for the farm being visited is that they get a nice batch of skilled laborers for a few hours.  It's absolutely amazing how much this group can get done, with much less instruction needed.  But, it's actually the conversation and moral support that comes along with the event that does more for us.  We probably can't accurately measure the difference these visits make for our attitudes as we return to our own farm.  And, we have lost track of how many ideas, tricks and tips we have introduced into our own operation as a result of these visits.

So, trick number one is essentially: Cultivate relationships with trusted people who are also involved in your profession.

2. Carry a Notebook Everywhere
I think I did warn everyone that we actually believe in providing real content in our blogs.  So, in a way, we meet the criteria for clickbait because you were expecting something other than what the title seemed to imply.  Unless you think this is weird: Rob prefers his 'carpenter' jeans in part because they have a side pocket that holds a notepad and a pen.

Seriously though, the tip here is not the jeans thing - it's the notebook thing.  Our farm is a diverse operation which implies we have many things going on that need to be managed.  You can't remember everything that you observed that needed recording or needed attention by the time you get to the end of the day, so you need a convenient recording tool so you can revisit those observations.  It doesn't particularly matter to me if someone else wants to use an "app" or some other electronic tool.  That's their choice.  But, I bet you the notepad and pen app is much more flexible in its uses than any app you'll find on your smart phone.

You can pull a page off and drop it in a box of potatoes that have just been harvested and weighed that includes the variety name and weight so it can be dealt with later.  You can hand the pen to someone who needs it so they can write a check for your potatoes.  You can record measurements for the placement of the toolbars on a mulch layer.  You can make a list of things you need to pick up from the farm supply store and you can write a poem to your lovely bride.

No, seriously YOU can write a poem to YOUR lovely bride.  My lovely bride knows my poems tend to be silly and are always off-the-cuff.  Ok, they're not really poems.  They're more like exercises in silly rhyming.  Always better to NOT write those down.

3. Periodically Visit a Place that Calms You Down
I am beginning to think that these weird tricks may actually be kind of weird!  Good for me, I am meeting the goal the title provided.

Running a small, diversified, vegetable and poultry farm can be stressful.  When a person is stressed, overwhelmed and tired, they tend to make more mistakes.  Things like - "I want to go eat dinner, so I will now forget to close the gate to the hen yard."  Hasn't happened recently, but you get the idea.
Sweet Marsh Wildlife Area by Tripoli
One small thing we've taken to doing about every other week during one of the weekend mornings is making a visit to Sweet Marsh for a short visit.  Usually, we don't even get out of the vehicle.  We roll down the windows and watch ducks, eagles, snakes, turtles or... just the water and trees.  Often, we'll talk awhile about what is on our minds.

In short, good farmer health leads to better produce.

4. Grow Something You Love
There is nothing quite so difficult as selling something you really do not like.  At least, it is difficult for people like us who do not appreciate misrepresenting facts and opinions.  The best solution is to grow things you really like.  This does two things for you.  First, you have even more personal motivation to make things work because you ALSO want to get a taste of these crops.  And second, selling something you really like is so much easier to do!

Over the years, Tammy and I have stuck with growing a few heirloom varieties simply because we love the taste.  If we were only looking at production, we would have dropped these years ago.  The idea is that we believe we can find a way to make these cultivars productive on our farm.  We get a little extra motivation to explore options in growing that might result in success for these persnickety, yet scrumptious, veggies.

It's actually an amazing thing.  As a produce grower, you can make some choices about what you grow.  Exercise the freedom of choice and use that choice to help motivate yourself to greater success.

5. Keep Exploring New and Old Ideas
Every farm is different as is every growing season.  A static growing system will never be able to respond to a dynamic environment.  This is why monocropping and hydroponic growing systems seem to appeal to so many people.  They eliminate variables to reduce the need for knowledge of craft and exploration of ideas within that craft.

In our opinion, the best produce comes from diverse farms.  So, if you want to grow the very best produce, you need to be willing to innovate and make change while still using things that have worked in the past.

BONUS TRICK: Comfort a cat that needs comforting.
We're not sure how it will help you with raising excellent produce.  But, the cat will likely appreciate it.

Friday, February 8, 2019

You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

Welcome to another installment of our "Ode to Clickbait" series of blog posts that we are doing simply because WE CAN!  If you don't like them, you can always encourage us to follow up on the idea of a KickStopper campaign to get us to... well... stop.  Now that I think about it, I should START a KickStopper site so people could fund efforts to make certain things come to a conclusion.  Please note that I am not pointing at anything in particular (yet).

Now, you might be wondering why I chose this title... "You Won't Believe What Happens Next!"  I am guessing you won't be wondering for long.

We are deep in the middle of and towards the end of and at the beginning of our farm planning season here at the Genuine Faux Farm.  You might actually understand what I said if you also realize we were taking a sabbatical during the month of January this year.  We worked hard in December to get as far ahead in the process as we could.  But, of course, some things didn't get done and the order of things has been a little different from other years.

And so, we're a little bit out of sorts with the planning process right now.

For example, we have the penciled out field plans that I put together in December.  No, I didn't just take time to take a photo of one of those pages, this is something from some other time.  But, I do have some plans.  After taking our farmer sabbatical, I am finding I have to read through the plans to familiarize myself with some of the things we are planning on changing for this year.  It's actually a good idea because this works much like a proof-reading pass.

Speaking of which, after catching typos in some of my blog posts, I am thinking I need more than one proof-reading pass.

So, as I was saying, we got most of our field plans penciled in and then we took our farmer sabbatical.

You Won't Believe What Happened Next!

We actually took a vacation.  Other posts will tell you about some of the highlights, but we haven't mentioned this one yet.

We heard and saw Meadowlarks on the island of Kauai.

Why is this a big deal?  Well, the song of a Meadowlark is one of my favorite bird songs.  When I was in high school and college, I distinctly remember drives down county roads with the windows down where I would hear a meadowlark every "county block" (about 1 mile) as I cruised down the road.  In 2013, I wrote a blog post bemoaning the very few Meadowlarks that I was observing at that time.  Sadly, we haven't found things to be getting any better since then.  My observations are being borne out by other observations and research.

The biggest cause of these losses is being attributed to the loss of grasslands.  I think we can figure this out fairly quickly when we look at how few farms in Iowa now have hayfields.  Then, add in our encroachment into ditch areas and fence rows and you can see where the habitat is going away.

So, I had to go to Kauai to hear Western Meadowlarks.  The irony is that they are an introduced species on the island, taking the place (most likely) of now extinct or endangered native species.   Talk about situations that make you feel conflicted!  I loved hearing those birds while were on the island.  And, then I would feel a bit guilty because they are not native to the island.

Regardless, one of my biggest wishes for our farm is to host some Western Meadowlarks.  Sadly, we are probably too small of a parcel, have too much activity on the farm and too isolated from other hospitable areas to attract them here. 

So, I went to check something in our bird book about Western Meadowlarks and...

You Won't Believe What Happened Next!

There was a little blue dragon at the bottom of the stairs in the farmhouse.  This little blue dragon usually sits on/in a basket-thingy that hangs on the wall not too far from the door to stair.

Why was the dragon out its basket?  Did it jump out on its own?  If it did, why did it do that?  Were the cats teasing it?  Did it want a drink of water?  Or was it defending our house from an intruder?

We did not see dragons, but we saw geckos in Kauai!
This reminded me of the Gold Dust Geckos that hung out with us at various places in Kauai.  At once restaurant, the servers would occasionally leave a cherry for the geckos to eat on.  I was pleased to see how they worked to make customers comfortable with their presence.  Why?

Because it seems like people are, in general, so afraid of any life other than themselves and invited pets into their living spaces.  But, geckos actually help control numerous insect populations that can be destructive (termites) or bothersome (flies).  They do tend to chirp at night, which takes some getting used to.

You Won't Believe What Happened Next!

Ok, this didn't really happen "next," but it did happen at some point in our own house.  Just to prove that we aren't comfortable with just anything living in our living space with us I submit exhibit A (or B - or whatever letter you want here).
NEVER Floss with This!  (how's that for a click bait title and photo?)
We did have a Garter Snake visit our living abode once.  It was a bit unhappy being there as it was, so I suspect it tolerated the handling and removal to the outdoors.  The cats, on the other hand, were a bit disappointed that the 'fun' was brought to a premature ending.

Living on a farm, especially one that has farmers that actually would LIKE to have a healthy snake population to control other pests, it feels like we don't have as strong a population as we should.  Once again, snakes are, in general, a creature that does us more harm than good, but too much of the human population can't manage to accept them.  And, like the birds, snake populations are declining worldwide.

Scientists are reticent to give specific conclusions for these declines largely because the causes are actually very complex.  Every species population is going to have a series of natural challenges that could weaken it.  Specific diseases, parasites and weather variables could cause a decline at any time.  Add in habitat reduction, active eradication attempts by humans, and unintended side-effects such as those caused by non-target losses due to pesticides/herbicides and you now have conditions for a population crash.

I WANT to believe this is what happens next!

We need to spend more time educating ourselves, our children and each other about these beneficial populations of species other than homo sapiens.   You don't have to handle a snake to respect it.  You don't have to see the Western Meadowlark to appreciate its song.

Things that may just make the most difference in this world are the little things each of us do consistently and constantly because we want this world to be a better place.  By the same token, there are a whole host of little things too many people do consistently and constantly that make this world suffer.  While you can't control your neighbor, you can control yourself.  Be a model for that neighbor and invite them to join you.

Because you might not believe what happens next.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

12 Things You Didn't Know About the Genuine Faux Farm

Welcome to a new series of GFF blog posts that will be an "Ode to Clickbait!"

Wait?  You don't know what clickbait is?  Well, let's start with that first:

Clickbait is a title or link that intentionally over-promises OR misrepresents in order to pull people to a particular website.  The idea is to give you a sensational headline that you just can't resist so you come read our blog!  But, to fully qualify as clickbait - we're supposed to fail to deliver what we promise with the headline.

I already have a problem with that.  We might have to rethink this.

Other characteristics for click bait?  Content is usually short (under 300 words).  Uh oh.
They often steal content from other sites and very little is original.  Uh oh again.

Maybe we'll just stick with click-bait-like titles for a few posts and see if we can have some fun with it.

Here we go!  12 Things you might not have known about the Genuine Faux Farm.

1. We are not "Faux Farms"
We ARE the Genuine Faux Farm, honest and for true.  Please note two things about the name.

First, we are only ONE farm.  The "s" is not applicable to us.  We own only one small farmstead of about 15 acres, which hardly puts us in the same category of organizations that have gathered multiple farm-sites under its farm name.  If you would like for us to become "Farms,"  please contact us about the 50 acres of prime veggie growing or turkey pasture raising land that you will donate to us so we can make the "s" applicable.   Or, you could just remove the "s."  Choices... choices.

Second, we are the GENUINE Faux Farm.  If we're Faux Farm, then we are either just fake/false or incapable of creativity because we'd just be using our last name for our farm name.  Hey!  Look at this blog post!  Creativity abounds!  Please let us be a little bit clever and give our "Genuine Faux Farm" name a chance.  It's a small thing to do in order to build up our confidence.  You can still roll your eyes after you say it - especially if you do that while reading the blog because we can't see you. 

Or can we?   Hmmmmmmm.   NOW, I've got your attention!

2. Our farm has been producing food since 2004 and blog posts since 2008.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but on our farm - we'll do both a picture AND a thousand words.

Since we've already broken some of the rules of click-bait, we'll just go ahead and break more of them by providing real information.  We moved to the farmstead during the Summer of 2004 from Chokio, Minnesota where Rob worked at the University of Minnesota-Morris in the Computer Science Discipline.  We moved to Tripoli so Tammy could take a job at Wartburg College as a professor of Social Work.  We actually received permission to plant a veggie garden at the new place before we even closed on it.

That might give you an idea as to some of our priorities in life.

7. We know how to count.
See!  I toad you so!

3. Kohlrabi Yes, Fennel No
When we are asked what we grow, we often answer with either "everything from A to Z" or "name a vegetable."  It's true that we do grow asparagus and zucchini, but we have to cheat a little with "Q" by saying we grow Quadrato asti Giallo bell peppers and we have no idea what to do with "X."

When we offer the "name a vegetable" option, we usually get a fairly common answer that is easy to say yes to... Tomato?  Yes.  Green Beans?  Yes.  Onions?  Yes.

Sometimes, a person will get clever and try "Kohlrabi?"  Why?  Because it sounds fun and the plants look kind of weird.  And, we can still say "yes" to it because we do grow a few types of kohlrabi.  On the other hand, we've never grown fennel.  Why?  Well, for one, we don't particularly care for it.  And for two?  We haven't had any demand indicated for it.  Well, I guess we'll hear now from fennel lovers!

4. The cats aren't (Quite) in charge (Yet)
But, they WILL sit on things you are about to move.

5.  It takes two PhD's to run a small diversified farm
Ok.  It takes two PhD's to run the Genuine Faux Farm, which just happens to be a small, diversified farm.  Rob is the 'Farm Boss' and he works full-time at the farm (and is the principle blogger and spreadsheet maker).  His PhD is in Computer Science and Adult Education.  As you can see, he is fully applying his education in this profession.  And, while that is meant to be somewhat facetious, I can tell you that pattern-matching and problem-solving are two skills that are needed in both Computer Science and farming.

Tammy is the 'Queen Boss' on the farm.  Our joke is that when you don't like something, you complain to the 'Farm Boss' and if you do like something, all praise goes to the 'Queen Boss.'  If you want to get something done, go to the Farm Supervisors (the cats) and they'll tell you to make the two 'bosses' do it.  All kidding aside, while it may not really take two PhD's to run a small diversified farm, it DOES take two PhD's to run THIS small diversified farm.  Rob could not succeed at the Genuine Faux Farm without Tammy (and hopefully she feels the same way about Rob).  The Farm Supervisors do NOT have PhD's, but that's ok because they know everything and didn't need to study.

6. The View on the Farm is Incredible
There isn't actually a GFF West... yet.  Does this qualify as appropriate for clickbait?  Or is it just silly?

8.  We Thrive on Variety
We believe in diversity on our farm and we've talked about this topic many times on this blog and elsewhere.  That said, we need to tell you some things that you didn't already know about us....

Oh, and 6 cucumber varieties
This year we will grow 20 different varieties of lettuce and 30 different varieties of tomatoes.  Most of these will be heirloom or heritage varieties.  We grow a wide range of veggie cultivars because we know people have different likes and dislikes for taste and texture. and we also know that many varieties of the same vegetable type feature different tastes and textures.  We also grow a wide range of varieties because we are aware that some like certain types of weather and conditions and others prefer different conditions.  Since we grow in Iowa, we try to cover our bases so that we have some successful crops each and every season.

10. No farmers' markets for us, but you can still get our products
Here is a fact about our farm that we are guessing a number of people who do know about us might not have actually realized.  We have not been involved in a farmers' market for three or four years now.  And, before that we were reducing our presence at markets significantly.   We're still amazed that people ask us if we were 'at market.'

On the other hand, you can still purchase a CSA share or make other direct purchases from us even if you are NOT a CSA member.  Contact us and find out what options there are for you and watch these pages for the 2019 program unveiling!

9.  We work in all sorts of whether
Tammy says that we work in all sorts of whether because we work
- whether or not it is raining
- whether or not the sun shines
- whether or not the tractor is running
- whether or not it's the 4th of July or Memorial Day or Labor Day
- whether or not we want to on any given day

And that is today's whether report!

11.  There is NO Number 12 on this list.
But, here are some baby chicks.  That usually makes up for it.

11. We like to educate and have a little fun
In case you hadn't noticed, one part of our farm's mission is to educate and inform others about sustainable farming and local foods.  One part of our own personal mission is to enjoy life and have a little fun once in a while.

We also actually like to provide some value with everything we produce - even if we use a 'click bait' type of title to draw you in.  We hope you enjoyed the post and even got something positive out of it.