Friday, November 29, 2019

What Makes Us Tick?

Over the years I have been working on exercising my 'gratitude muscles' in hopes that I can use them in moments when the last thing I want to do is give thanks.  What I have found is that these muscles are just like so many other things that require effort to build up - it only takes a little bit of time to tear them down.  When that happens, there is only one way to respond.  Build them back up again.


synonyms for gratitude:gratefulness, thanks, appreciation, recognition, acknowledgment, credit, regard, respect, grace, honor, praise, responsiveness... thanksgiving

A silly trick that high school extemporaneous speakers used when faced with a topic for which they had only thirty minutes to prepare a seven minute speak was to look in the thesaurus for inspiration.  It didn't always work, but sometimes it provided useful ideas.  Since I was having trouble figuring out how to write our Thanksgiving post this year as I was 'fresh out of ideas,' I went ahead and gave that old trick a try.  The result?  Well, you see some of the words above and I was actually a bit surprised by some of them.  But, once I thought about each word a little bit more, I saw exactly why they were a synonym.  I also saw clearly why gratitude, and the concept of thanksgiving, is something Tammy and I find so compelling for our lives.  Gratitude is something that 'makes us tick.'

It Takes Recognition to Be Grateful
If you're going to recognize something or someone, you need to actually observe that which goes on around you in a meaningful way.  It is so very hard to find the energy some days to look around and see the good things that are happening, especially when there are so many bad things grabbing our ears, eyes and minds and stealing our attention from worthy acts, natural beauty, kindness and love.

We have to take the time and make the effort to recognize those things that deserve our gratitude.  The good news is that this is one thing that gets easier with practice.  Did you recognize a piece of music that really moved you today?  How about the design some ice crystals on the window pane made recently?  Did you notice when a total stranger held the door open so you could go through with both arms full of groceries?  Have you considered how much effort people who run food banks or community meals put forth on a regular basis?  What about the small group of people who take on the responsibilities for those organizations you like to participate in when it is convenient for you?

Take a moment to recognize the things that are worthy of your gratitude and you might be surprised by how much you take for granted.


Slow Down for Appreciation
Recognition, by itself, is an imperfect synonym for gratitude because it only represents your own awareness that a good thing exists.  For example, here are some pretty flowers.  You can walk by them from location A to location B and a part of you will recognize that they are pretty.  But, that doesn't mean you actually appreciate their beauty.

You see, appreciation takes a little bit of your time.   And, sadly, time is something so many of us feel we have so little of.  As a result, we barrel madly through our lives from place to place, trying to get it "all" done.  When we finally do slow down, it is often because something bad has happened and we dwell on negative things.  It is no wonder that we all struggle so much to balance out our struggles with something wonderful.. or even something that's just kind of nice.  How can we expect to have a life balance if we are unwilling to take the time to appreciate the good stuff and we are too willing to wallow in self-pity or glory in the faults of others?

Take some time to smell the iris and listen to the goldfinches express pleasure that you planted sunflowers and left the stalks with seeds for them to explore and consume during the colder months. Take another good look at the shelves your Dad built for you some years ago that continue to serve the farm well.  Read that passage in a good book just one more time.

Acknowledgement of Those Things You Appreciate

Gratitude is meant to be given and shared.  If there is no acknowledgement of the things for which you are thankful, then you are missing out on a key part of the process.  Certainly, some things a person might appreciate are not going to respond to your acknowledgement.  However, Tammy and I have been known to actually applaud our fields on Frost's Eve (for example).  In that case, it isn't so much for the plants, soil and critters that worked with us to produce tasty food as it is for us.  It does not hurt for us to remind ourselves at that moment that we didn't do ALL of the work to cause our plants to grow and productive.  We can't do it without pollinators, soil micro-organisms and Russell the Cucumber Frog (among others).

Our farm would not exist if it were not for the people who actually purchase vegetables, eggs and poultry products from us.  Our farm would have difficulty producing these products if we didn't have local suppliers for feed (Canfield Family Farms) and seed (Seed Savers).  We might not even raise poultry for meat if we didn't have a local processor we trusted (Martzahn Farms).  Rather than make a super-long list here, please believe us that we recognize those who help make this farm work and we do our best to acknowledge what they have done to help us succeed.

It's About Respect

I have come to realize that respect is an important part of what makes us tick at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Respect for other people.  Respect for nature.  Respect those who have gone before and those who follow.  Respect for the creatures that live on and around our farm.  Respect for our crops.  Respect for all of the crafts that surround our professions. Respect for our professions.

And even some respect for ourselves.

Showing gratitude for the good things - and even some things we aren't feeling so good about at the time it happens - is part of showing respect.  I am not talking so much about the shall 'thank you' so many of us (myself included) have been trained to share with others either.  While these are important in their own way, it is the practice of real gratitude for acts, things or people that deserve to be shown the respect that gratitude brings along with it.

Respect implies effort.  Respect implies integrity.  Respect implies quality.  Respect implies growth and learning.  Respect and gratitude walk hand in hand, but they can be demanding companions.  No wonder we need to exercise our gratitude muscles!

Grace and Courtesy

Grace and the courtesy it entails are necessary because it is difficult to show true gratitude when there is a lack of civility.  Grace implies tolerance for differences and acknowledgement that we don't hold all of the answers.  I shudder to think how bad things would be if it were all left up to me.  This is not just about manners, even though good manners are a good place to start.  This is about offering understanding and forgiveness and accepting understanding and forgiveness offered.

Happy Thanksgiving
Once again, we are approaching our favorite holiday - Thanksgiving.  Most years, we try to write a thoughtful blog post that either reflects our gratitude or encourages us to exercise our gratitude.  In fact, there are some very good posts from prior years out there that might be worth a read on your part - I know they have already done me some good as I worked to figure out what I should say this time around.

Tammy and I are grateful to our friends and family for their unconditional support.  We cannot repay, we can only give thanks.

To all of the people who have supported us in this farming endeavor in big and small ways since its inception in 2004, we acknowledge your gift and hope that we have shown respect for those gifts by simply trying to do our best to do what seems like the 'right things' on our farm as best as we are able.

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There is actually a TWO part post in 2014 that featured those things we were particularly thankful for at that time (many of which we are STILL thankful for now!).  I have found writing the Thanksgiving post a bit more difficult some years, even neglecting to write one last year!  It has nothing to do with being ungrateful and everything to do with wanting to do more than list things we for which we should be thankful.   In 2015, I was struggling with some of the negative things that were going on in the world and found myself asking "What am I going to do about it?"  That post is still one I make myself read every once in a while when I feel like I can't make a difference.  The take away is that all of us have more power to make a positive difference than we give ourselves credit for.  But, when I found myself feeling pretty down about the time Thanksgiving was rolling around again two years later (2017), I came to the realization that gratitude requires real effort but that effort is truly worth the reward.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Pipeline

Like many things in life, there is an ebb and flow to the writing on our blog.  Sometimes, I have much to say and energy to try to find ways to say it.  Other times, I have much to say and no real desire to try to communicate it.  And, there are also times where I feel I have nothing really to add to whatever noise might be in your lives right now.  For much of this year we have been trying to figure out our new directions at the Genuine Faux Farm.  There has certainly been much to say, but the energy to say it has been low AND we're not always entirely sure what it is that we want to share.

What I can tell you is that we have a whole bunch of posts sitting in the pipeline waiting to be completed.  Perhaps the farmer needs to get off of thinking these need to be 'perfect' before they are shared.  Nonetheless, I thought I would share a little bit of what is coming your way.  Teasers - if you will!

The GFF Solar Project
 Putting up a solar array in 2019 was a very big deal for us and we did share a little bit about our motivation in July on this blog post.  There is actually so much more that we wanted to share regarding this project, but it isn't an easy writing task because I want to be sure I get things put down accurately and clearly.

So, how tall is the farmer.  Here is a clue.
 We have now had a few electric bills since the array was connected to the grid.  We can happily report that we have only been paying the service fee for the electrical connection since that point in time.  I'd say Eagle Point Solar did a nice job of calculating what we needed to cover our electricity use.

More on Mulch
Earlier in the year, we put a post out there about some of our approaches to using mulch with our crops.  Since that time, I have been asked to present at the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference in January about some of our mulching practices.  In preparation for that event, I will likely use the blog to put some of my thoughts on the topic together.  The work on those posts has started, but it qualifies as a 'bigger' project that I want to 'get right,' so it might take a little time to put it out there.
Paper mulch was still evident in November
One of the things on my mind right now is how some of our mulches are behaving at the end of a wet season at our farm.  I am particularly pleased by the paper mulch from Sunshine Paper Company.   I am also pleased with the grass mulch we put down for select crops.  Just writing this little teaser has me wanting to work on the bigger project - that's a good sign.

Veg Variety Winners

Every Fall/Winter we publish a post that features the veggie varieties that we feel performed the best on our farm for the past growing season.  This year is no exception as we intend to publish such a list for 2019.  In fact, that post is ALSO in progress (about 40% done).  We prefer to wait until we have enough information about the growing season to be able to give an accurate accounting and I think we are clearly at that point for this year.

So, what's causing the delay, you might ask?

Well, it turns out that the farmer didn't take some of the pictures he thought he was going to take. Or, if he did, he can't find them.  We'll figure it out, of course.  But, sometimes it only takes a bump or two in the road to bring you to a stop.  I suspect if 2019 were a better overall growing season, I might be more excited about pursuing this project.  But, it wasn't all that good, so it takes more energy to write about it.

Now that I've thrown out a downer, let me say this.

Despite a tough year, I have had no problem identifying the fifteen varieties we are going to feature in our post.  That's the thing about our farm - no matter how difficult things have been, we still have our successes.  It is testament to diversity, resilience and persistence.  Now I think I might enjoy working on this post.

GFF Postal History Blog
I certainly enjoy writing about the farm and all of the things related to it.  But, the farmer needs other outlets to keep a healthy balance.  One of those outlets is postal history and some of my writing energy goes to the GFF Postal History Blog.  I use that area to gather resources and my thoughts on various items.  But, unlike this blog, I tend to put my in progress work out there. 

An 1860's piece of mail to Russia from the U.S.
That 'blog' really doesn't have much of anything for readership and I really don't have a schedule or need to publish regularly to it.  But, it has taken some writing time of late.  Why?  Well, I needed to put a little distance between myself and the past growing seasons.  A hobby can be a good place to go to do that very thing.

Re-Imagining the Genuine Faux Farm for 2020 and Beyond
Of course, the thing that has been on my mind the most lately has been trying to figure out how we will re-invent our farm for the future.  It is true that we consider various changes and improvements every year for the Genuine Faux Farm.  But, this off-season might be as close to a 'death and re-birth' situation as any we've been through with respect to the farm.  
We have settled on some overall strategies that we are likely to pursue in 2020, but so much is still very much up in the air.  We hope to share some of the process of reflection, discovery and planning with you on our blog.  That time is coming, but we were wanting to reach the semi-official end to the 2019 season - Thanksgiving - before we do so.

Speaking of Thanksgiving - I think there is a post in the pipeline for that as well!  Sounds like some good reading coming your way.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Disbelief

Every year about this time I take a look at some of the pictures we have taken during the season and this year I was struck by two things.

1. We don't have very many pictures for this season.
2. I found myself saying "That was THIS year?  I don't believe it!" ... a LOT.

Record Snowfall - Winter 2018 / 2019
Yes, really.  that was just this PAST Winter.  Considering the current weather seems like we have already entered Winter 2019/2020, I am guessing you don't want to be reminded about the last one.  But, you know me, I'll just do it anyway!

In a very real way, I find this therapeutic.  Why? 

Well, I've found that I am VERY grumpy about the colder than normal weather and the fact that we've already had multiple snowfalls by November 11.  It's not just because there is still so much to do on the farm before the ground freezes.  After all, if I am completely honest with myself, I am always rushing to get it all done before the ground freezes.  Every.  Single.  Year. 

Picture from atop a drift on the farm in late March.
I am the sort of person that suffers from "Moving Target Syndrome."  My to do list is never done because I keep adding more on to it.  "If I could only get X done before the snow flies" becomes "if I could only get X and Y done" which then becomes "X, Y and Z."  This doesn't mean anything on the list is unimportant.  It is simply a recognition that there is much to do and less time to do it in.

Getting back to the point I was failing to make.  The grumpy feelings may well have something to do with how much we were feeling Winter not that many months ago.  We had drifts at our North bush line that had me standing tall enough to easily see OVER the top of our high tunnel.
Late April snows don't usually help May flowers too much

That's not all of it.  We had late snows again this past year with a measurable snow in late April.  Yes, that snow went away fairly quickly.  But, if you were thinking it was less than half a year between our last snow of one season before we had our first of the next...  you were correct.

This has nothing to do with amounts of snow.  It also has nothing to do with this being completely out of the ordinary.  We know full well that snows can happen in late April and in mid to late October.  But...

It took us until late June before our roads recovered (most of the way) and I was just getting used to the idea that it was ok for me to wear short-sleeved shirts.  Now I am back to wearing enough layers that I have to turn my whole body in order to look to my left or right.  The laying hen flock is already giving me "that look" that they give me when the weather gets cold.  The Outdoor Farm Supervisors (the outdoor cats Inspector and Soup) have already taken to giving me the 'pitiful look' in hopes that I'll let them into the basement.  The Indoor Farm Supervisors (Bree and Hobnob) won't let me sit down to do office work without one or both of them attempting to command lap space so they can feel warmer.

Looking on the bright side.  I got to throw a frozen tomato.  Instead of 'splatting' it kind of cracked apart.    And, I am already looking forward to the forecast that has daily highs in the 30's.  My how quickly we can re-frame for ourselves what 'nice weather' can be!

Now watch this... we'll hit 60's in December.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Downstream

It's only natural.  We curse those upstream from us and ignore those who live downstream from us so they can have their turn cursing at us.  I am not particularly found of curses, so I wonder if that is why this particular tendency bothers me so much.  I am guessing, however, that this is not the reason I am bothered... read on if you want to learn more!

Big Picture Issues with "Sending it Downstream"
When we established the Genuine Faux Farm in 2004/2005 we ushered in a phase in our lives where we were to become ever so much more sensitive to the weather, the climate and the things we all do to our environment in the course of doing whatever it is we do.  I'd like to think that Tammy and I were aware of many of the issues that come with living in the 'commons' that is our world and that we were doing our level-best to not be part of the problem.  And, maybe, just maybe, we were sometimes part of the solution.

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."  – Maya Angelou


It turns out that we were woefully uninformed and lacking full appreciation for what is going on in our world.  And, oddly enough, I am hopeful that I will continue to experience life and learning in the years to come so that I can say the same about us now at some later point in time.  In the meantime, we'll get by with what we think we know now and we'll continue to do what we can to do the right things in the right ways, whatever we think these actions/goals might be.

Iowa has experienced an increased number of excessive rain events since the inception of our farm and the flooding has been setting record after record throughout the state.  Whether you "believe in" climate change or not, we are foolish if we fail to learn from the floods that have been happening and prepare for future floods (or fires or droughts or...  you get the idea).  Failing to plan for the future is the equivalent of sending the problem downstream for someone else to deal with.

“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”Maya Angelou

And my own corollary to that?  Forgive others for not knowing as well and help them to learn it. 

Let's say for a moment that we all agree heavy rainfalls have happened and that more could certainly happen in the future.  So, what are the things that could be done that might alleviate this situation?  Clearly, our most common solution for far has been to "get the water AWAY from here."  In other words, we are passing the problem downstream to someone else for them to deal with it.  If we really want to be effective, we are going to have to make ourselves a bit uncomfortable and do some difficult things.  Things like taking acres out of row crop production and putting them into hayfields, wetlands and woodlands.  Some solutions that might mean some personal property is lost, production of commodity crops may not be the best option and perhaps even whole communities may need to be moved.  Any worthwhile solution is going to have its painful moments and are going to require some soul-searching and commitment.

But that isn't going to happen until we stop looking for someone to blame - we need to start looking for someone (many someones) to begin the work of adjustment and restoration.

A Personal View of What it Means to NOT Send It Downstream


I want to turn the focus of this post on to the things we think we need to do right now so we are not passing current Genuine Faux Farm problems downstream to a point where the problem is only bigger and badder - or just not "ours." 

1. I don't want to ignore a problem and pass it downstream to a later point in time if I can help it.  A known problem usually doesn't just go away - it tends to get more difficult to solve.
2. I don't wish to pass any of our problems/mistakes on to someone else.  Though I admit to being imperfect, so I am sure we'll make a few mistakes in the process that will result in someone else feeling some pain.  Sorry in advance.
3.  I hope that I can stay alert for unintended consequences that only result in passing things downstream.
4. There comes a point when a band-aid will not work.  If all you can do is a baling wire and duct tape solution, then that's what you have to do.  But, if you have a choice to do better, you should do that - even if it is frustrating, annoying, inconvenient and even ... painful.

Bringing It Home to the Genuine Faux Farm
As many of you know, we found ourselves trying to fix our old farm-kitchen when it became apparent that it was falling apart and it needed to be done soon.  This was not a 'I hate the paint color and want different cabinets' thing.  This was a 'hey look - there's a hole developing in the floor' thing.

We could have 'band-aided' the whole thing by taking out the sink, the lower cabinets on one wall and the offending area of floor and fixing/replacing that.  But, there were a couple of underlying problems that were causing the rot issue.  One was that the plumbing was placed on a cold outer wall over a granite foundation.  The other was that the blown insulation from a prior generation was collecting moisture and causing rotting issues in the walls.  Without going much further into it, there were a host of other problems we could have covered up and passed that issue downstream to either a later version of ourselves or to some future owner.  We opted to do our best now in hopes that our choices were the right ones and there were a couple of times where the irritation of being delayed so we could just do it right was pretty high!

With the kitchen (mostly) done.  We find ourselves looking at some big problems with our farm that we can no longer push downstream.  We realized as this season progressed that we have been applying band-aids for the past few seasons just to continue to serve the demands of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  For those who do not know what that means - we have run a subscription program for fresh produce since 2005.  In recent years, we have had deliveries for 32 weeks each season.  That means we have had 64 deliveries where we needed to have a sufficient quantity and diversity of product to supply members with a good CSA product each time.

So, what exactly is the problem with that?

Well, if you are focused on doing whatever it takes to grow produce for the share program, when do you have time to address other issues that crop up over time? (I am not sorry for any puns, intentional or otherwise, that appear in my writing - so there).

This is where we find ourselves after fifteen seasons of running a successful CSA program.  A combination of changing weather patterns, chemical drift issues and declining local food sales are making things difficult.  When you add in mounting crop failures due to the first couple of problems you might understand how this could have an effect on the psyche of the farmers.  It is very difficult to feel successful when you are surrounded by so much failure.


One example of the issue is shown at the left.  This is one of our onion beds that was planted in June(late for an onion crop).  Wet fields forced the delays in planting until we found we could wait no longer if we were hoping to get anything in.  That meant we had to till a bed when the soil was too wet.  This is bad for the overall health of the soil, so we hate to do it.  But, it isn't just bad for that reason.

Take a look at the 'pebbling' in the planted area.  Those 'pebbles' don't break down for most of the season.  The soil contact with the new transplants is inconsistent with this type of soil, so transplant loss is often higher.  Cultivation, if it dries up enough to allow it, doesn't work so well either when you have all of these solid clumps of soil, which means you often have to resort to hand weeding.

The good news - we actually got some nice onions anyway.  Why?  That's a topic for a future post. 

I don't want this post to be all about the negatives, but it is important to get a better idea of the scope of the problem first.  The picture at the right shows one of our fields that had melons and winter squash planted into it.  We put down paper mulch in the planting rows this year, which was one of our responses to the wetter seasons.  If you can't cultivate, try to prevent weed growth with mulch.  And, to some extent this worked.  Until we started noticing our squash and melon plants showing signs of inhibited growth. 

You can argue that some of the issue was the late planting.  You can't argue that the transplants were poor - these were some of the best we've put in over the last several years.  You could also argue that the wet conditions may have contributed to the issue.  But, the variable that may well have got us the most was the extended herbicide application range on the corn/soybean fields in the area.  Remember, dicamba drift does not have to come from next door, it can come from a couple of miles away in the right (wrong) conditions.  To make a long story less long, we harvested no melons from the two eastern plots that held them.  We harvested a single butternut squash and very few other winter squash. 

The signs are there that tell us we have to change.  We can change what we are doing and do something else entirely or we can change how we do what we are doing.  Maybe we can even do a little of both.  But, the reality is that we cannot work to find a solution without getting a bit uncomfortable.  We simply cannot do a CSA program and make the changes we think we need to make next year.  But, even with declining enrollment, the CSA still provides our farm with the majority of its income. 

So, what are we going to do?

We're going to do better.  Once we have a better idea as to what all we need to accomplish in order to do that, we'll let you know.  We just know we aren't sending this downstream if we can help it.