Thursday, December 31, 2020

Genuine Faux Farm 2020 Hindsight

Welcome to the final day of the year 2020.  Rather than indulge in the 'year-bashing' that so many fall prey to doing, I thought we would do a year-end retrospective from our farm's point of view.  Yes - it is true that many of the challenges that faced us were part of the general news (pandemic, derechos and hurricanes, confrontational politics, etc etc) - but you can (and probably have) read about that elsewhere.

Personally, I am not celebrating the end of 2020 because that I am glad to be rid of it.  I celebrate 2020 because it was a part of my life and I found some things to appreciate - or, at least, contemplate - in the form of a top ten list.

The GFF 2020 Hindsight Top 10!

10. Swales and Ditches, Ditches and Swales

While we didn't put in as many swales (or waterway ditches) as we had planned, we did get two critical swales put in early in 2020.  You can ask if they worked and the answer would be - "mostly."  Once we determined exactly how much time and effort it took to put in these two swales, we realized that we just don't have the best equipment to do the job efficiently.  However, we also learned that it was just as well that we did not do everything at once because we were able to learn from how the water management changed with just these two adjustments.  


In other words, this is a work in progress.  But, there actually was some good progress!

9. A Year of the "Bird Game"

This might seem odd, but one of our highlights for the year was actually a board game!  Tammy and I found ourselves enjoying Wingspan so much that we have played it nearly every day for the entire year.  

This was something we got to do together and it was not a case where one of us was humoring the other.  Wins and losses are roughly equal even after all this time.  And, we still learn things about our avian friends - all thanks to this game.  We have found that our bird identification prowess has improved because of the repetitions we have had with the images and names on the cards this game features.

8. Rob Gets a "Smart" Phone

I am still not a fan of smart phones.  I probably never will be simply because I see how often they take people's attention away from things that are more important.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of things that practically require that you be able to text has made it increasingly difficult to avoid having one of these things.  So - Rob got a smart phone.  The first thing he did was figure out how to delete the vast majority of useless apps he found preloaded onto the device.  Then, he deliberately figured out ways that the phone could be useful without becoming an appendage.  

Success?  Mostly.  And I was able to use it so I could hold a PFI field day this year.  Score one for the phone, I guess.  And I could record some bird sounds while I was working in the Spring that I can now enjoy in January.  We'll call that a win.

7. Walking There Again

Perhaps we should have done this more often this past year, but we did manage to take ourselves to some of the natural areas in Northeast Iowa and hike around a bit.  

I will admit that our willingness to take the time and do this fell off once the school year really got rolling in August, but we still recognized a benefit to reconnecting with nature at locations that were not our farm.  Don't get me wrong, the farm is a great place for us to maintain our connection to the natural world.  But, it is also a place of work for us.  Sometimes we need to balance our lives out with a walk in the woods by a stream - with nothing to remind us that we need to finish digging a swale or that the garlic needs mulching (it doesn't, we did get that done - phew!).

6. Adjusting Farm Sales Processes

Even without all of the extra 'big events' that were going on with the world, 2020 was going to be a very different year on our farm.  We had already announced that we were discontinuing our CSA Farm Share Program that had been running since 2005 and we went with a Prepaid Farm Credit system for the year.  Add to that a pandemic and the necessary steps to maintain safe practices with foodstuffs and you find us working to adapt how we deliver food dramatically.

We feel that, with the help of our customers, we developed a safe process for delivery that was effectively adapted as the season's changed and circumstances required.  There were some definite issues - primarily with tracking, which was rooted in large part to the next item.

5. Rob's New Job and Tammy's Never-ending Job

Perhaps some of the biggest news of the year was that Rob took an off-farm job for the first time in many years, working as a Communications Associate for the Pesticide Action Network.  As anyone who has taken a new job can attest, there is always a period of transition that has its stresses and requires changes.  

In many ways, Tammy's job was ALSO a new job.  The adjustments and the uncertainty that came with teaching at the college this past year has not been comfortable and it required her constant attention - even during the weeks that she traditionally has been able to step back a bit.  You see, teachers at all levels tend to work for much longer than 8 hours a day, five days a week when school is in session (and usually right before and after each term).  The balancing factor is that Summers are supposed to allow for a little more freedom.  Not so in 2020.

This is supposed to be a positive reflection - so here is the positive spin.  Rob has adapted to his job well and his co-workers feel that he is a useful member of the team.  Tammy has amazing skills and has done more good than she knows for a number of people (some of whom do not yet know how much good she did for them as well).

We both did good - the warts just add character.  And that's the story I'm sticking with.

4. Sharing Information with Others

Pandemic or not, we still did things at the Genuine Faux Farm to share our experiences and knowledge with others.  Rob was given the opportunity to present on various mulching techniques at the conference in January (pre pandemic).  We probably should have taken that as a warning for future months since a Winter storm was bearing down on us and many people had to leave the conference early.  Tammy and I, in fact, stayed an extra night to avoid driving in the worst of it.

During the Summer, we hosted a two-part (initially intended to be three-part) field day at our farm.  The second session, focusing on cover crops and poultry, can be found here.  The first of the two focused more on incorporating cover and establishing new cover.  Rob also was one of a panel at the Iowa Organic Association's Annual Meeting.  

There was even a chance to talk about postal history this year.  Something that I might not have been able to do in a 'normal year!'

3. Working Alone Together

With only a couple of brief exceptions where we were able to get some volunteers to come and help (with appropriate physical distance) the farm crew consisted of... Tammy and Rob.  That meant more adjustments on our part in terms of what we planted and how we went about planting.  

We both missed the presence of a crew and were relieved that we were not responsible for a crew at the same time.  It is clear that no matter how efficient we could be as workers, there was no replacing the person hours we typically received in the form of our seasonal helpers.  The same was true for the removal of our annual festivals at the farm from our itinerary. 

On the positive side of things, the extreme changes to how our farm operates have opened our eyes to some different possibilities and helped us cut ties from some things that, perhaps, we needed to let go.  We are hopeful that we can continue to adjust successfully to a new phase for the Genuine Faux Farm.

2. Major Repairs and Improvements on the Farm

Yes, we started the year with the big farmhouse project (siding, doors, windows, stairs, etc) and a new roof for the Poultry Pavilion.  It was a pretty major effort all around to start the year.  

We also celebrated our first full year of renewable energy from our solar panels that were installed the prior Summer.  

First, let me say that we are BOTH relieved that we do not have to be outside tearing off siding again THIS December and January.  We are pleased with the results and we continue to make progress on the overall project that this house presents.  And, we are also pleased with the production of the solar panels.  We have successfully managed to cover the electrical use our farm takes, including the walk-in cooler and heat mats for starting plants.

1. Paying It Forward as Best We Can

The number one item on our list is that we continue to do what we can to help others.  I wanted to send a little praise Tammy's way for her recent efforts in trying to address food insecurity for the Wartburg students who remained in Waverly after the early end to the semester.  These students do not have food plans like they might during the normal semester.  Tammy cooked up a GFF turkey and a bunch of winter squash that was snapped up quickly.  And, on another date, she helped connect resources so a catered meal from the Diner in Waverly could be made available to these students.  And, yes, she was also involved in the Holiday Shoppe program in Bremer County. 

So, celebrate the coming of the new year as you see fit.  If you want to burn a 2020 calendar and say 'good riddance!' that's up to you.  But, in my mind, one of the best ways to move forward is to build on a solid foundation with good bones.  

Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

End of Year Giving

One of the things I have become even more aware of since I started working with Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is how much non-profit organizations come to rely on the Giving Tuesday and "end of year" donations that come their way so they can continue with their work.  Certainly I have always had some knowledge of this.  But, there is nothing quite like being on the other side of the ball (so to speak) to really begin to appreciate a different perspective.

A significant portion of the Communication Team's time was spent on crafting the online appeal materials and activities that PAN used to ask for donations from Thanksgiving to Giving Tuesday and onward to the end of year.  This was done while still trying to keep a pulse on things that were happening in the world that we are working to address.  As a 'for instance,' many of us were involved in responses to the search for the new Secretary of Agriculture (it turned out to be Tom Vilsack - not our favorite choice if we want to make progress on a number of things - but maybe he'll listen if we approach it right?).  If you want to learn more, I took my USDA post from PAN and put it on our farm blog as well.

In any event, I realize that the population in general will often grow weary of all of the appeals that come rolling your way once we get into the second half of November and they don't really slow until about... well... January 2.

There are two reasons for this.

1. Non-profits need to combine grants and donations for funding so they can actually have dedicated workers to do the things the organization is trying to do.  Both Tammy and I have been involved in organizations that had little or no staff - leaving a board of volunteers to do the work.  Unless that organization is lucky to have one or two people who are so dedicated to the cause that they willingly put forth the effort, the organization usually fails to meet its potential.  And when those selfless individuals move on?   Well, you can guess what happens.

2. This IS the time of year that requests for donations do get the most response.  

Tammy and I recently received a request to identify organizations with Iowa ties that promote the health of our environment - whether it is by encouraging/discouraging particular farming practices or supporting wild areas in the state.  What follows will NOT be an all inclusive list and I will only include organizations for which I have some personal knowledge.  You should do some of YOUR OWN research on any organization so you know exactly what you are supporting.  I can speak now from personal experience that involved donors are even more of a benefit to an organization than you might think!

Ten Recommendations To Support Environmental Initiatives

We took a moment and checked our recommendations out on Charity Navigator, which does not have complete ratings for every organization, especially if they are smaller.  We encourage you to look beyond the number ratings to see what the rating is based on.  You can decide what, if anything, in these ratings matter to you.  

What we can say is that, in our opinion, all of these organizations would be worthy of your attention.  Read on for some of our opinions and experiences regarding each.

Pesticide Action Network

Charity Navigator - 84

I am going to get my (Rob's) direct affiliation taken care of first.  Full disclosure - I work as the Communications Associate in Iowa for PAN.  Iowa is one of four states (California, Minnesota, Iowa and Hawaii) that have focused campaigns - even though PAN does do national work.  PAN (North America) is actually a part of a much larger, international organization that was initially formed to address the export of banned pesticides to poorer nations.

In Iowa, PAN has a strong focus on trying to reduce (and eventually remove) our reliance on chemical agriculture and the inequities it maintains in our farming systems.  If you are interested in donating to PAN, please make sure you tell them that you want them to continue work in Iowa.  While you are at it, sign up to receive our newsletters!  You'll hear from me more often (ooops, maybe that's not a good sell?).

Iowa Organic Association

Charity Navigator - N/A

The Iowa Organic Association is a smaller organization that has been around longer than you think - yet is just now really coming into its own.  One of its biggest contributions in recent years has been annual sessions to help farmers figure out how they can transition to organic production.  

Again - full disclosure - I served as a member of their board for a couple of years while we tried to bring the organization back after a decline.  I was asked to be a member of a farmer panel at their most recent Annual Meeting and wrote about that in this blog.  The link to the meeting is there as well - so if you want to see more about what is going on, it can give you some ideas.

Xerces Society

Charity Navigator - 91.34 

The Xerces Society is a national organization that has had a strong presence in Minnesota and has also had some good connections to Iowa.  Once again, you can let them know how much you appreciate their attention to a state, such as Iowa, by pointing out how much we need help maintaining our pollinator and invertebrate populations.

Xerces is my "go to" resource when I need to learn more about pollinators and pollinator habitats.  In fact, we hosted a field day with Xerces and Practical Farmers of Iowa in 2016.  Xerces has also helped other farmers (not just veggie farmers) install pollinator strips, beetle banks and other habitat areas.  Our pollinators need support now and Xerces is a key organization.

Seed Savers

Charity Navigator - 80

If open pollinated seed access and preservation are important to you, then Seed Savers should be an organization you consider supporting.  This organization maintains some beautiful land in northeast Iowa, sustainably managing natural areas as well as a heritage orchard, seed production gardens and display gardens.  

Our farm has relied heavily on a number of heritage and heirloom seed varieties for our vegetable production over the years.  If you love Black Krim tomatoes, Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash or Grandpa Admire's Lettuce, you can thank Seed Savers for making them available to farms like ours and gardeners like yourself (if you garden).  Our farm has pushed back against the increased reliance on F-1 hybrid seeds by trying to use open pollinated varieties whenever we are able to - we support Seed Savers mission, in part, by simply working to grow and sell those varieties rather than relying on an increasingly small number of seed producers.  Diversity in seed is important.

Scattergood Friends School (and Farm)

Charity Navigator - 100

This recommendation may seem a bit out of place if we are talking about environmental issues, but this is where our personal connection gives us an inside scoop to understand what the non-profit does.  We have friends who teach and run the farm that is attached to the school.  We are aware of how the school uses its farm and surrounding natural areas to educate young people with hands-on experiences.  Exposing young people to nature and to how food is grown (they raise vegetables and meats for consumption at the school) is an excellent way to make a difference in how we care for our world now and how we prepare to care for it in future generations.

Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center

Charity Navigator - 96.81

Rodale is synonymous with organic.  We have at least two Rodale books that have been in our reference library from day one at the Genuine Faux Farm.  While Rodale is centered on the East coast, they recently (in the past couple of years) opened their Midwest Organic Center in Marion, Iowa.  

In my opinion, it is important that organizations such as Rodale, PAN and Xerces put a focus in a state such as Iowa.  Why?  Well, Iowa may be one of the most unfriendly states (in general) for their efforts with the overwhelming strength of corporate agriculture in opposition to their goals.  The strength of these larger organizations are needed if we want to make headway.  If you decide to donate to Rodale, please tell them that you support their center in Marion.

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

Charity Navigator - 100 

Here is an organization that works on preserving natural areas in Iowa by supporting the process for lands to be protected by easements.  I have been a supporter of INHF from the time I took my first job in Cedar Rapids until the present day.  I have watched their efforts as they have helped to preserve the Loess hills in western Iowa and set aside larger contiguous pieces of land in the Upper Iowa River Valley (among others).  

I won't pretend to be perfectly knowledgeable about such things, but I suspect we would have even fewer natural areas in this state if INHF didn't exist.  Oh, and some of the beautiful photography on their magazine is quite worthwhile.

Practical Farmers of Iowa

Charity Navigator - 100  

If you have read our blogs over the years, then you have heard about Practical Farmers of Iowa.  PFI supports on-farm research, which encourages farmers of all types (row crop, grazing, orchards, horticulture) to 'stay curious' about farming and continue to look for better ways to do things, rather than simply accept what agribusiness tells us to do.  Our farm has participated in several research projects and we have held multiple field days for PFI.

PFI strongly supports the increased use of cover crops to reduce erosion, supply fertility, suppress weeds and provide alternatives to current agricultural processes.  It was PFI who helped create videos on pesticide drift and resources for those who have been drifted on.   Spoiler alert, you might recognize one of the two farmers featured in those videos.

Iowa Farmers Union

Charity Navigator - N/A

IFU has been a force for pushing alternative policy approaches in a state that does not seem to want to listen to ideas that don't come from corporate agriculture.  IFU has pushed back against the process of farm consolidation, which results in larger and larger farms.  You may notice that IFU has taken a stand to stop pesticide drift, reduce agricultural runoff into our waterways and encourage diverse farmscapes.

The people at IFU have the energy to push for policy change and they need support to maintain that energy and make some progress.  I have had the privilege to speak one at their annual conventions and have participated in their policy discussions.  I appreciate the heart and tenacity of this organization.

Iowa Environmental Council

Charity Navigator - 85 

The Iowa Environmental Council is probably the organization with which I have the least amount of personal connection in this list.  We can say that some of IEC's work helped us through the process of putting solar panels on our own farm.

If you are concerned about the health of Iowa's land and waterways, support renewable energy and want to take action to respond to climate change, IEC is a good place to look.  IEC is a policy oriented organization, looking to advocate for changes at the governmental level to support renewable energy, clean water and land stewardship.  So, if you are looking for policy level organizations, this is one you should consider.


I hope you found this review worthwhile to read and I hope you found some of the information useful.  Tammy and I are both happy to support each of these organizations as we are able throughout the year.  We are also pleased to support other organizations, such as the Northeast Iowa Foodbank and Cedar Valley Friends of the Family.  We also have traditionally supported Iowa Public Radio and Iowa Public Television.    

Don't get us wrong - we aren't trying to say we are key supporters for any of these organizations, we don't have that much money or influence.  And we are definitely NOT saying we are better than anyone else.  What we are saying is that if you were asking our opinions (and someone did), this is where much of our money and support flows when we are able to give it.

Have a great day and thank you for lending your support to others in whatever way you are able.  Kind words mean something.  Careful and thoughtful actions are important.  And, when you can, donating resources (time, money, etc) is also important.  When we care and put effort into HOW we care, we help make this world a better place.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

August Company

 We're doing the "New Year" thing by looking back on the "Old Year."  As I mentioned when I featured July posts, there are simply too many posts to try to do the whole year in one shot.  So, for those months where I managed to get close to a blog a day, we're going to do a separate post.

The idea is that the writer and editor (that would be me... both of them) got together and selected the best reads from each month and put them into posts for you.  Also included are available photos from that month (sometimes I had to pick one from a prior year though!) because, well, we like pictures.  I suspect you do too - so there you have it.

We eliminated Postal History Sunday posts, PAN cross posts and posts that focused on farm business - you can go see those if you want too!  Just check the 'tag list' at the right of the screen and try some of them out.

Without further ado - here are our selections for August of 2020.

Trying to Bee Good  The swarm was quite heavy and it hit the box with a nice 'thump.'  The branch had a little kick back to it, so some bees rained all over the tractor hood and on to the driver of said tractor.  

Learn Something New   I hope you learn something new as you read this.  And if you don't, I hope it is just because you are REALLY smart and just happened to have already explored these particular topics.  Either way - good for you!

Caretaker   Those tough, thick-fingered hands don't blister much anymore because they are all callous - but they can still hold a small bird.  Gently.  Kindly.  With awe and wonder.

Local Foods Reality Check   I have seen this before - this zeal and excitement.  And, I have watched it fade rapidly.  If past history is any indication, I predict that 75% of the new CSA subscribers that jumped on getting a share this year will not return for 2021.
Prove me wrong.  Prove me wrong without needing a pandemic or other disaster to encourage you.

So-Called Media Madness   Facebook: "We're guessing that fifty people thought they might see something you posted somewhere, so we counted that and made a nice chart.  If you gave us some money, we'll make a nicer chart that has better numbers.  We take all major credit cards and Paypal!"

What it Feels Like to Fail   The two of us have given ourselves plenty of opportunity to fail since we started raising poultry and vegetables on our farm in 2004.  And, for good or bad, we have experienced our share of failures.  You might even be tempted to say that we are quite good at it!

--------------AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION----------

Thank you for reading!  If you are so inclined - tell me which of these August posts were your favorite.  While you are at it - which of the pictures shown on this blog do you like best?

Monday, December 28, 2020

Monday Karma

 It's the first Monday after Christmas and the last Monday of the year.  That calls for some sort of celebration!

For those who can't read this picture:
"We like Mondays
Mondays are good
Some don't like them
Like maybe we should
Today is Monday
We work on a farm
Do a good job
It's good for the karm...a"

Actually, I recognize that many people suffer from some level of post-holiday let-down and many of them are also NOT fans of Mondays.  This got me to thinking (dangerous pastime!) on a theme I had written about many years ago on this blog.

Lack of Joy

Several years ago, I read the book Blithe Tomato by Mike Madison.  It is a series of short writings that often chronicled his work as a grower and some of his interactions at market and with other growers.  One of his observations was that if he could be criticized for anything, it would be his "lack of joy."  That got me to thinking about the possibility that joy was difficult to attain - especially when you work and live the hard job that is growing for the direct to consumer, fresh-food market.

Tammy and I both enjoy animated films, so it should be no surprise that the film Inside Out got our attention.  This film actually puts the emotional development of a young person center stage and illustrates it in the form of five characters (Disgust, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Joy). Initially, the emotions are pretty easy to separate and Joy exerts the most control over the key memories the child has.  But, after a traumatic experience, things are no longer as cut and dried.  Key memories are no longer tinged by one emotion.  Moments of joy are now colored with sadness.

So, here we are - some years later.  We still work on the farm - even if we work in a different way than we have in recent years.  Our jobs take a good part of our attention and we still have to run out multiple times to deal with the laying hens was the weather grows cold.  We still work hard to accomplish things and typically get a good deal done - but we don't celebrate because we're usually just on to the next thing that must be done.  A walk around the farm is colored by all of the tasks that we recognize are still waiting for our attention.  This year's iris flowers were beautiful, but we lamented the weeds surrounding them and the loss of several for a whole host of reasons.  We make an effort to see people we care about in "zoom" meetings and start thinking about how we're going to be distanced in a few minutes before the call even ends.

So, I ask myself again the same question I asked years ago.  Can I be criticized for a lack of joy?  Or is this just joy tinged with sadness or a little bit of fear or maybe even a little anger?  There's certainly a dose of disgust at myself for not fully appreciating the good things when they are right in front of me!

Eroded Peaks and Filled Valleys

Things on a farm such as ours simply do not go 'as planned' and require constant adjustments.  As a result, we learn not to get too attached to mental pictures of how things should be.  In fact, I've found that I have adjusted my expectations and worked to temper my feelings about failures and successes simply because failure is an integral part of the farm.  And, if you take failure too personally, no amount of success seems to balance those shortcomings out.  In turn, we don't celebrate successes because we're all too aware of how fleeting they can be.  Too much celebration can lead to too much disappointment - so we try to avoid extreme peaks in hopes that we can avoid the deepest valleys.  

This sounds like a pretty good coping mechanism in principle.  Maintain emotional consistency so you can keep moving.  It sounds efficient.  It appears to be practical.

And I wonder sometimes if it is wrong.  

Is is possible that this just leads to a slow, downhill journey when you dull the high moments to avoid steep drop when a disappointment follows?  Is this why we sometimes start thinking about the letdown even before the moment we should be enjoying is over?

Talking Myself Into It

A couple of summers ago, I wrote the "poem" about Monday at the top of the chalkdoor list our workers saw as they came to the farm that morning.  I didn't do this sort of thing on the board all the time, but once in a while I had the energy to do it.  In this case, I was probably writing as much to convince me as much as my workers that we all could look upon our day with more positivity.

I was trying to talk myself (and others) into realizing that Monday is, in part, a state of mind.  And, if that's the case, we have the ability to change how we see it.  Hopefully, if we change how we see it, we can then change how the day goes - for the better.

So, I find myself trying to talk me into believing that joy is attainable and worthwhile - just as my Monday can actually be a pretty good day.  

Mondays can be difficult.  It can be hard to find joy in your life.  I understand that and I accept that this might be true.  But, I won't back down from a challenge.  And neither should you.

Have a good Monday - and I hope something brings you a glimmer of joy today.  Let yourself feel it.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Telegraph, Steamships & the Mail - Postal History Sunday

Our last Postal History Sunday of the year!  It's Winter and you don't have anything better to do that have a hot chocolate, put on the fuzzy bunny slippers, curl up in a blanket and read about something that might just be new to you!

Well - even if you DO have something better to do, this Postal History Sunday post is still here for you when you're ready.  It's part of the benefit of asynchronous communication.  And, speaking of types of communication - that's where today's post is taking us!

Today's featured item was mailed in Zurich, Switzerland to Aarau (also in Switzerland) on November 30, 1860.  

This is a blue folded letter sheet with pre-printed content on the inside.  The outside was addressed with a pre-printed label, which is not something I've seen very often from this period in time.  The label was clearly cut from another sheet of paper and somehow glued to the wrapper.

This is another example of "printed matter."  If you'll recall, printed matter could not be sealed - and this item has no wax or other seal on it.  This was done so the postal clerks could check to be sure the rules were followed for the special rates given to this type of mail.  

This rate was 5 rappen (or 5 centimes) for domestic mail in Switzerland.  But, just to show you I don't always find the answers right away - I can't find actual beginning and ending dates for printed matter rates in Switzerland prior to 1862, when the rates were 2 centimes up to 15 grams and 5 centimes up to 60 grams.  At this point, I can only confirm that 5 centimes was a printed matter rate in 1860.  

But, this won't stop me!  I'm always up to learn more and there's a fun story to tell even without that knowledge.

The label states that the contents are a Telegraphic Market Report from Perret, Schutz & Bertsche in New Orleans and Mobile.  The report is mediated or forwarded by Hans Voegeli in Zurich.

The contents, printed on the other side of this piece of paper are in German and are shown below (you can click on the image to see a larger version):

My rough translation follows:

The reports of impending signs in the European money market interacted here, and prices are accordingly (various numbers) the political turmoil in the country is generally very demanding and may have contributed to your results.

We note Liverpool Middling
Freight: to Liverpool
Course: London nominal
Weekly feeds up to and including 60,000 bale today
Sells for the week up to and including 42,000 bales today
shipments of the week: to Liverpool 36,000 bales

The uncertain status of the exchange rate paralyzed the market,and caused further pressure on prices so that they can be regarded as nominal.
The rivers are on the rise and shipping is back in full swing. 

There are all kinds of interesting tidbits of information in this short report that most likely is referencing bales of cotton.  Clearly, the news of the tensions between the states was worthy of mention to all who might be interested in the economic impact.  And, limitations to transport of cotton (low river levels on the Mississippi especially) would also be pertinent information to those who might be interested in cotton that came via New Orleans.

For those who might be interested - the process of loading large cotton bales onto the paddle wheel steamers on the Mississippi was quite a process.  Sometimes implementing a chute to drop bales from the surrounding bluffs down to the river level.  This article by historian, Rufus Ward, gives a nice summary.

More to this Story - How the Information Got to Switzerland

I would like to call your attention to two things printed on this item:

  1. Telegraphischer Markt Bericht on the front
  2. per Anglo-Saxon at the top of the market report (letter side of the sheet)

The telegraph system in the United States rapidly expanded beginning in the 1840s centering initially around Washington, D.C.  New Orleans was linked into the network as early as July of 1848, when a line via Mobile (Alabama), Macon (Georgia) and Richmond (Virginia) had its final section connected between Macon and Montgomery (Alabama).  By the time we reach 1860, there appears to be a second line that runs north towards Natchez (Mississippi) from New Orleans.

Above was an unattributed piece of artwork available for prints by North Wind Press. 

The reference to New Orleans and Mobile makes it entirely likely that this market report was initially sent to New York (most likely) by telegraph, where the message was printed and put into a letter that was sent to Switzerland for Hans Voegeli in Zurich.

At the time this was sent, telegraph services were covered by companies in the "Six Nation's Alliance" of 1857. Essentially, it was an agreement between telegraph companies to allow monopolies for services within the areas each controlled.  By the time we get to 1866 (and the year the trans-Atlantic cable was active), only Western Union remained.

The letter created from the information wired from New Orleans traveled via normal mail services via the mail packet (steamship) Anglo-Saxon.  This ship was an Allen Line steamer that ran from Quebec to Derry (northern Ireland) and Liverpool (England).  Once Mr. Voegeli got this report in the mail he had it printed out, labels affixed, and mailed to his clients using printed matter mailing rates.

Demise of the Anglo-Saxon

photo taken from: "Wreck of the immigrant vessel "Anglo-Saxon" off Newfoundland, April 27, 1863, artist's impression, detail," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College

Two and half years later, the Anglo-Saxon was lost in wreck off the coast of Newfoundland (April 27, 1863). The steamer was headed from Liverpool to Quebec when it got lost in a heavy fog.  The ship ran aground in Clam Cove, four miles north of Cape Race.  After hitting the rocks, it rapidly broke apart.  Two hundred thirty-seven of the 445 aboard were lost.  And, as a side note, none of the mail survived the wreck. 

However, I bring this up to point out the many directions a person can take postal history.  If I were inclined to do so and persistent enough to do it, I could hunt for mail carried by the Anglo-Saxon on its last voyage prior to this accident.  I could look for items carried on its first voyage.  I could look for mail items that were sent or received by persons who were known to have survived this accident.  It is possible I could find other items that reference this event as well.  

Postal history - it's an opportunity to explore the stories that interest you as they connect to an item you can have resting in front of you.  That's a big part of what I enjoy about this hobby.

Thank you again for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  I hope you learned something new and stayed warm and comfortable while doing so.  Have a good rest of the day and I hope your coming week treats you well!

Saturday, December 26, 2020


This post will be the 270th entry into the Genuine Faux Farm blog for 2020.  That is NOT a typo.

It started as a project to regularly provide some reading material for others and a chance for me to explore my own thoughts in the early stages of the pandemic.  I've found, over time, that this is something I can do and that it is appreciated by some good people.  That's enough reason to continue for as long as it doesn't feel forced and unproductive.

Typically, I do various "look back" posts when we get to the end of a year and beginning of the next.  This year is going to be difficult.  Why?  Well I am used to looking back on 80 to 100 posts, not 270+ entries.

I'm not sure what I'll do - if anything.  However, I did take a moment and look at July 2020's posts and I snagged the ones that I was most happy with.  

If you missed them - here's a chance to go read the editor's and the writer's picks.  Ok... the editor and writer are the same person.  I eliminated Postal History Sunday, GFF News Items and PAN cross posts from candidacy - whether you like that or not.  You can see all of the Postal History Sunday posts by looking at the "Postal History Sunday" link in the right margin.  Same for PAN posts.

I included a quick snippet from each blog to entice you to read more.  If it is new to you - enjoy!  If you read them before - enjoy!  Think of it as if you're just enjoying opening a gift all over again!

Screwy Data  Stepping up and doing what seems like the right thing always sounds so easy when we say it.  But, if it is really all that easy, why don't we do it more often?  A big part of it is because you and I are all too worried about what others will see and think about us.

Sun-Kissed  Sunflowers make me think of people, past and present, who don't tend to put themselves out in front of others as if they were important.  And, yet, there they are, standing head and shoulders above everyone else simply because of who they are.  A person of integrity who comports themselves with calm, comforting dignity.

Ree-chard!  We had some stormy weather pass through today.  We noticed that their songs stopped just prior to the point that we started noticing lightning.  We're pretty good at recognizing when the weather is going to turn, but they just might have a leg up on us.

The Inspector Checks In  The Guy with the Red Hat seems to need consoling more often than Pretty Lady does, but once I give him some attention, he usually does exactly what I want (typically a really good skritch).  Pretty Lady is a bit more like a cat (a big complement, as far as I am concerned) and it is harder to predict what she is going to do next.

Be a Real Fan  I learned that heckling and jeering has no real value overall.  At best, it is ignored as background noise.  At worst it can permanently wound a person.

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm  In my mind, a true professional IS responsible, but that's another matter entirely.  My point is that a responsible professional is going to be aware of the surroundings and the risk for injury or damage that surrounds the act of doing the job in question.  A true professional is always looking for possible problems and working to remove or mitigate them.  These people are the ones that will accept some inconvenience if that is part of the cost of doing the task safely and well.

Gentle Reminders  Perhaps a new goal or dream might seem too modest to even call it a 'goal,' much less a 'dream.'   Don't let that stop you.  Do not let anyone judge you for how grand or how mundane these goals might be (including yourself).  If they give you purpose and they give you joy as you move towards them, they are good enough.

--------------AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION----------

Thank you for reading!  If you are so inclined - tell me which of these July posts were your favorite.  While you are at it - which of the pictures shown on this blog do you like best?

Friday, December 25, 2020

Gifts Unwrapped

Merry Christmas!

In yesterday's post, I challenged myself (and anyone who will accept the challenge) to unwrap the gift that is the year 2020 and to spend the gift card found in that box as I (and you) saw fit.

I chose to look at some things for which I am grateful to have experienced or witnessed in the past twelve months.  To make it easier - I chose to have 'photographic evidence.'

We were able to see the transformation of our farmhouse from a place that looked like it was on the decline to one that showed the occupants actually do want to be good stewards of the things in their care.  As is often the case for things like this - we couldn't have done it all by ourselves (even though we have often tried).  It is good to see the progress made and to have the ability to pursue further repairs and improvements.

There were several of those "deep blue" sky days that I love for running out and taking pictures. Perhaps I was looking for them more this year than I might have in the past.  It's not that I didn't take note and appreciate them then - because I did.  I think it had more to do with how much effort I made to be deliberate in my admiration.

Because we cut back significantly on our growing plans for 2020, I found that I was much more laid back about Spring weather.  When you are working so hard to get things done around the weather, it can be hard to actually just enjoy what happens.  I was given the gift this year of having the opportunity to just watch and view the beauty that comes along with some rain (or snow) that would have been a terrible annoyance in other seasons.

The flowers that covered the apple trees, cherry trees, raspberry vines, service berries and... well, most every fruit bush, cane or tree we had were a source of a myriad of positive feelings.  Pleasure that things we had planted and cared for were now doing fairly well and showing a promise for tasty treats in the future was among them.  

Per the norm, some of the crops were pretty darned good (thank you apple trees) and some struggled a bit when it came to production.  But, that is the way with each season and perennial crops.  Some will love the scenario that is this year and some won't.  

I probably ate more apples right off the trees than I have any year prior to this.  Why was that?  It wasn't because this was our most prolific season for apples.  Maybe it was because I was more willing to let myself pick and eat them?

Some things aren't what they once were.  Our perennial beds and iris show is a shadow of their former selves.  That doesn't make me happy, that's for certain.  And yet, there were still beautiful iris and I was still able to take many pictures of them.

Would I like them as much if the bloom season was year-round?  Maybe not.  But, that's not really an option.  I'll just accept the gift of what I get and enjoy it.

The clover on the farm had a pretty good year - which is great for the pollinators.  And our poultry love to snack on clover in the pasture areas as well.  

We even had a little bit of good luck visit in the form of four-leaves (can you see them? You can click to see a bigger image).

We may have grown less and we may not have seen the success that we've had when we put more of ourselves into it, but we still grew some wonderful things.  If you like a good tomato - we had some of those.  And some of them even looked fantastic while still tasting great.

We even had BLTs in November.  What's not to like about that?

We took the time to watch the moon rise and the sun set just bit more often.  Or more appropriately, we have seen many moon rises and sunsets (and their counterparts) and we have recognized them when they happen.  But, we slowed down enough this year to actually watch... the.... moon... rise.  We stopped walking to the next chore and we watched.

If you look closely at the photo below, you can see that reddish orange glow that is the moon rising above one of our bush lines on the farm.

Our bees had a very good year.  We even caught a swarm successfully and we witnessed them visiting a good bloom year for the asters on the farm.  I even caught one bee in mid-flight in one of our pictures.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our bees the past couple of years.  I suspect part of the winning formula is that we aren't treating the bees like a 'farm enterprise' where we expect a certain amount of honey to offset their cost.  Instead, we are happy to get a little honey for ourselves that comes in part with hive maintenance.  Otherwise, these little workers pay by pollinating our fruit trees and our vine crops (among other things).  And, yes, we love our native pollinators too!

And, we had a full year with our solar panels harvesting the sun and turning it into electricity.  All of the electrical consumption by the farm was covered by this production and it is now helping us use less propane for heating this winter.  As the year went on, we spent less time being startled by their very presence and more time just appreciating that they are there. 

The cold weather months don't have the same feel they have had in prior years because we have both worked inside far more during the growing season than we have since 2003.  With the farm being my primary consideration for some time, the outdoors was my office and I very much looked forward to Winter simply because it represented an enforced break from some of the constant tasks that came with the farm.  Not a shutdown, mind you, but a definite slowdown.

So, now we are settling in to figuring out new ways to appreciate December, January and February.  I am, however, glad that we do not have to work on the farmhouse's siding THIS winter like we did last!

What gifts did you unwrap in 2020?  They don't have to be big.  They don't need to cost lots of money.  They don't even have to make sense to someone else.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Gifts Left on the Table

We have a couple of young crabapple trees just East of our driveway that managed to be moderately successful this year.  Most of the fruit remains on the trees - available for the recent hoar frost to decorate as it saw fit.  The birds did not avail themselves of the gift these little fruits provided in the Fall.  

This is not unusual as I have noticed this for many of our fruit bearing plants as we enter the coldest months.  It is normal for some of the fruit on the highbush cranberries to remain into the winter, for example. And, our apple trees have some ugly fruit still dangling from some of their limbs - usually on the ones that are pretty difficult for the humans to reach.

I know what will happen to most of these fruit.  In the early stages of Spring, the earliest returning birds will find these wrinkled fruits and consume them at a time when this will be part of a limited food supply.  These gifts left on the table serve a purpose - the time for opening the gift is just not now.

Recently, Tammy worked to arrange for lunches from a local restaurant to be brought to students at Wartburg who may be fighting food insecurity right now.  The whole story includes generosity from a local church and efforts by some Wartburg staff members who help run the St Elizabeth's Bread Basket at the college.  

A certain number of students signed up to receive these meals - and many showed up and were, I assume, appropriately gracious in accepting the help this provided.  But some who signed up did not show up at the designated time to accept the gift of food - some of the meals were left on the table.

Who knows what the reasons might be for someone missing the pick-up time?  I am sure the list of circumstances and events that might cause a person to miss any event is quite long and I am hopeful that every meal got where it needed to go eventually.

Don't take me wrong.  I am not criticizing or judging.  A person could be ill in body or mind, making the trip too much.  Someone could be overwhelmed by work or concentrating on a task or distracted by any number of things.

This too is how gifts may be left on the table.  It is not necessarily because there is a future purpose - like the crabapples on a tree.  It is because we are not ready - or not able - to receive a gift just now.  Or maybe we just can't manage that particular gift at this specific moment in time. 

Then we have the gifts that are left on the table because we aren't so sure they were something we wanted in the first place.  Gifts like... the year 2020.

It has become a running joke or a common theme that people just can't wait until 2020 is over and done with.  Well, sure.  There were (and are) some significant events that have been (and continue to be) very difficult this year.  2020 is like the gift that was left on the table and got shoved behind the napkin holder and that jar that holds all of the lids, bolts, caps and other oddball items that we are sure we'll figure out what they belong to some day (but we likely never will).

Let me remind me (and you) that each year we live is a gift that needs to be opened and enjoyed for what it is - and that includes 2020.

Let me also remind you (and me) that it was just last year at this time that numerous people said things like "thank goodness 2019 is over... I am sure 2020 will be better."  And they said it about 2018 and 2017 and.... just pick a year.

No, I am not making light of anyone's troubles.  And yes, I understand that sometimes we just want to get past difficult and horrible things.  In fact, I am fully aware that sometimes, things are really, really so terrible that it is all one can do to just endure.  But, one of the best ways to endure is to find the things that make living worthwhile and hold onto them.

If we leave the gift of our present lives on the table, unopened - we fail to give ourselves the chance to see those good things.

It's not too late.  Open the gift.  Dig through the packing peanuts and balled up paper and you'll find a gift card that you can spend.  How you spend it is up to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Winter's Flair

There are those that love Winter and those that do not.  I have to admit that there are times I love Winter and times when I clearly do not.  For example, after today's deliveries of eggs, poultry and veg to wonderful people, I admit to feeling a little less excited about it.  That tends to happen when the winds are brisk and it cuts through whatever you wear.

Once we got home and got the truck emptied we put on some Christmas music and played a couple of games.  After that I was suddenly feeling a bit more charitable towards the long nights and cool days.

The two of us managed to get the garlic covered in straw mulch this morning - a task we have just been putting off.  It only took us an hour and a half - which made us wonder why we delayed.  

The answer is actually pretty easy.  We used to plant three times the garlic we put in this year, maybe more.  The process of mulching was a MUCH bigger task in years prior than it is this year.  But, the memory of how large the task is has not been modified to match the new scale.  

Straw mulching is not one of my favorite tasks.  There is just enough dust to get my asthma going a bit and there is always a couple pieces of straw that go down the back of your shirt or... other places....

Delivery day always has a host of things to do that take odd lengths of time.  In other words, they can be difficult days to navigate.  Today was a bit easier because we both stepped away from our non-farm jobs.  There were eggs to clean, sweet potatoes to bag, garlic to weight out and other orders to fill.

We tossed in some tire repair and brush cleanup to make the day full.

At the end of the day, I took the time to look at more of the frost pictures from a couple of days ago.

Now I am feeling a bit more fond of Winter.  

Spring makes it easy to like her, but Ol' Man Winter?   He can be pretty cranky, but he's got a pretty good artistic flair when he wants to show it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

I Dream of a Better USDA

The season of paperwork, repairs and planning starts at our farm during the weeks immediately following Thanksgiving. It is also the point when we have a little more time to interact with other farmers. This is our opportunity to talk about successes, failures and future plans with people who have the experience to appreciate what we do.

This year, the selection of the new Secretary of Agriculture has taken a significant amount of space in our farmer discussions. At present, it seems that former Secretary Tom Vilsack will serve once again. While many who are tracking this appointment are skeptical of the choice, conversations I've been part of are now focusing less on "who" and more on "what" we want from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the coming years.

The purpose of the USDA

The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for the agenda of the USDA and its functions. I was curious to see how the USDA presents its purpose to the public, and this is what I found:

We provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management.

We have a vision to provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation's natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.

This is the face the USDA believes it is showing to the people it serves. Like any purpose statement, there is plenty of room for interpretation and disagreement. But, I found myself starting to dream what things might be like if parts of this mission were actually fulfilled.

Helping rural America thrive

If one of the goals of the USDA is to help rural America thrive, it is about time for leadership to make changes because that goal has been neglected for decades.

The USDA must address the issue of land access and the continuing process of farmland consolidation. We have endured a string of administrations, including Vilsack’s last tenure, that have done nothing to slow migration of land control to absentee owners and large corporations. Instead, we need to facilitate the redistribution of land to landowners who are present and will be active stewards for that land.

We need to provide bridges for the next generation. While the status quo promotes farm consolidation, it fails to support young and new farmers who are looking to enter the profession. If we build a system that provides support for a wider range of production alternatives, we will also provide multiple entry-points for individuals who wish to farm. 

The new Secretary of Agriculture must address the loss of small scale infrastructure in agriculture. Our rural areas were once rich with local seed houses, grain millers, poultry and livestock processors, and small scale food distribution operations. Reviving these local systems will provide the small to midsize farms with a chance to be price makers rather than price takers and provide more opportunities for individuals to find meaningful employment.

It is time for the Secretary of Agriculture to take a hand in rural health care and other public services. If the USDA is serious about their commitment to thriving rural areas, then they need to be part of the solution for places in our nation where communication services, physical and mental health services and transportation services are rarely a profitable endeavor — but no less necessary.

Preserve our natural resources and provide nourishment

Another strong theme in the USDA’s mission is to care for our natural resources and address hunger. While we might agree with the principles, the USDA has pushed us away from land and resource stewardship and towards unhealthy foods.

There needs to be a new commitment to changing our subsidy structures so they reward farming practices that support natural processes, clean water ways, healthy soils, diversified farm landscapes, and reasonably scaled production. We need to give a hard working farm family the opportunity to earn a decent living for their efforts without sacrificing habitat, soil health, and the well-being of neighbors.

A significant part of these changes must lead us away from production for the purpose of creating processed foods. The pandemic very clearly showed that our food chain is not resilient as it is. Policies need to change to support the production and distribution of healthy, unprocessed foods.

Providing leadership

The USDA paints a picture that they are leaders in agriculture, food systems, and land stewardship. If that were the case, it would not be so easy for large agribusiness entities to push their agenda through. If leadership is the goal, then they must stand up for those who do not have power, protecting them from those who do.  If the USDA would lead, they should work to move us to a just and healthy food system.

The USDA needs to halt chemical trespass so all farmers have the opportunity to farm successfully without the added wildcard presented by drift or misapplication of pesticides that may destroy a season's crops. And, it is necessary that we force large agribusiness to prove the safety of their products before they are approved for use, rather than fighting the removal of products even when damages are discovered after the fact.

The USDA seems to have forgotten that innovation often comes in small packages. Rather than looking for the next GE corn or a major breakthrough in pesticides, we should be supporting local and regional solutions by people who are in tune with their surroundings.

USDA as it was meant to be

Regardless of the individual who sits in the Secretary of Agriculture’s office in the coming years, they need to be encouraged to make the USDA what it should have been all along. Perhaps we can open their eyes by showing them their own mission statement and encouraging them to act upon it.

Right now, we subsidize agribusiness instead of agriculture. We promote farming systems that pollute and destroy instead of employing established systems that work with nature. We move economic benefits out of rural areas and give them to international corporations. And, we struggle to get healthy food to some of those who need it the most.

In this moment of transition, we have an opportunity to influence incoming leadership before they settle into business as usual.  We must act together and advocate for the USDA we want and need.  We have an opportunity to change this — let’s make it happen.


This blog post was first published on December 16, 2020 on Pesticide Action Network's Ground Truth blog.  If you find that you agree with some of these ideas, feel free to investigate PAN and consider supporting my work with them by joining the organization as a supporting member.  If you are able and you feel inclined to include this organization in your year-end donations, I would be honored if you would do so.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter Clothes

The grass on our farm is fading now that we've had many nights below freezing in a row.  It held off longer with a rather healthy green than it has for many years now.  We even had a hardy little dandelion open a flower under our oak trees in front of the farm house.

Yes, it is true that the leaves on the trees and bushes have been gone for a while now.  We don't really have anything growing in the high tunnel this year - a first for some time now.  So, the outdoor landscape was feeling a little barren to me in recent weeks.  

I don't like to critique Mother Nature - especially when the human residents on this planet often do a fine job of tearing up her artistry.  But, things were looking kind of blah - and I was letting that affect me a fair amount.  It really did not help that Saturday was about as gray and uninspiring as a day could get.  Well - that's how I felt - it doesn't matter if it was fair or not.

Tammy did help out a bit when she put some solar lights out on the bushes that reside in front of the solar panels.  They are new, so they were brighter than some of our older strings get.  It added a little bit of cheer late in the day - and it was kind of nice to see them when I got up in the middle of the night.

That's when I noticed that it looked like it might be foggy outside - or maybe my eyes were bleary from sleep.  It didn't matter, because my brain registered fog - and when there is fog this time of year, you get hoar frost!

Sure enough, Mother Nature had put on one of her finest pieces of clothing just for us at the Genuine Faux Farm - right at a time when she knew we could use a "pick me up."  

We got ourselves outside and decided to go to the Sweetwater Marsh, thinking it might be pretty fantastic there.  It was nice, but there wasn't much for hoar frost at our normal haunts.  Though, it was pretty neat to drive through a shower of frost falling from a tree that a light breeze is knocking from the branches.

So, we drove back to the farm - and realized we were getting the best show right at home.

The tricky thing about taking photos of hoar frost is that it always shows up better when the sun comes out.  But, the reality is that it has a different sort of beauty when the clouds still cover the sun.  And, it is even better when you can see the transition between sun and cloud cover.  

We found that we were motivated to work outside for a time - in large part because it had been so pleasant to walk around and enjoy the beauty of nature in the morning.  

We put another string of solar lights on another line of bushes.  

Maybe Mother Nature wanted us to show her something beautiful too?