Saturday, November 2, 2019


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.

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