Thursday, April 30, 2020

Birds on the Farm

The farm is currently the home of three flocks of poultry and we thought everyone might enjoy seeing them.  For those who have slower internet connections, we apologize.  These are youtube videos.  The good news?  You might be able to see them better on your smart phone, if you have one. For those with better internet - enjoy the short videos.

The Laying Flock
The current batch of laying hens, also known as 'the Ladies,' are the veterans - some of whom have survived two Winters on the farm.  Wednesday was a VERY windy day and the birds decided to start coming into their room when we entered it to collect eggs.  The funny thing about hens and wind... if they turn their back to it, it tends to push their feathers forward and can lead to some very silly walks.  When you watch the video below, pay attention to the birds as they enter the room - especially towards the end.

The Henlets
The new hen chicks are really not quite old enough to take on the "Henlet" label just yet - but we do have other chicks on the farm - so this helps to differentiate them.  At the point we took this video they were in the brooder room.  We start them in a smaller area with a heat lamp and covers to keep them warm enough.  As they grow, we expand their space and reduce the extra heat.  We are just now looking to expand that space, depending on how cool it looks like the next couple of nights will be.

The Nuggets
And, the newest addition to the farm are the "Nuggets."  We seem to recall that Anden D helped us with this name when he worked on the farm.  In any event, baby broiler chicks are cute - but they don't stay cute for very long.  So, we thought we'd capture at least one video while they were still in that stage...  The video is VERY short - perhaps we'll do better next time.  Once again, part of the issue is that we have the birds in a smaller, enclosed area with red heat lamps.  All of those things can make pictures and videos a bit of a challenge - especially when you're being impatient in the process.  Hey!  I had chores to do!

And there you have it!  The next batch of new birds will be the turklets in a few weeks.  We'll make sure to post something with them as well when that happens.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Buzz

The history of bee hives at the Genuine Faux Farm is not replete with success stories.  In fact, we have not had a hive survive the Winter until... this one!

Last year was the first year Tammy tried her hand at managing the bees herself (rather than having someone else do it).  Before you tell us it must be something we did, I think she will confirm that we still barely know what we are doing with them.  We suspect it had as much to do with the location we selected and a mild Winter than anything else.

About the only other thing we can think of is that we did not harvest honey from this hive last year (other than the little bit that they deposited on the pallet under the hive itself).  After all, their main purpose is to serve as pollinators on our farm.

We have always taken pollinator habitat seriously on our farm, so you can't really argue that this is the sole difference.  Perhaps we have finally built a system that provides food for bees for a much longer period of time?  I've tried to ask the bees and I believe they are thinking about it. 

Why do I say that?  Well, the response I always get when I ask them a question is "Hmmmmmmmmmm."

Tammy was able to get the hive open this past weekend and she put some extra food (sugar water) into the hive just in case there is a bit of a shortage for a time.  But, we noticed the Nanking Cherries blooming today and we're seeing the violets and ajuga blooming in the grassy areas.  It won't be long until the dandelions go nuts and some of our flowering bushes and trees burst into bloom.

Hang in there bees!  The smorgasbord is on its way!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This is the Title, Read the Content

I thought the whole point of a title was to entice people to READ the content.  Apparently, many individuals feel that the title is ALL you need to read.  I suspect this has always been the case because humans do love 'easy' and they also like to rapidly put things into the boxes they've created to organize their world.  This is very apparent with the number of people who will comment on social media based on ONLY the title. 

If you have actually taken the time to OPEN this blog post, congratulations!  You're doing more to figure out what this blog is about than most individuals who saw the original link!

Is It Better if You At Least Read Headings?
I found this interesting study that used eye tracking to assess what people read when they are given an online article to view.  The basic findings were that people tended to read the sub-title (98%), the title (97%) and...
Fewer people read captions (91%)...
This area of research is not new.  The Nielsen/Norman Group has been researching the question for thirteen years and they report consistent findings regarding the patterns people follow when reading online material.  In short, we do not read online content.  At best, we skim it.  And, you wondered why the 'dunning' letters that try to get you to donate money use one or (maybe) two lines per paragraph, lots of bullets and lots of bold and italic?  It is because studies on reading behaviors, in general, tell us we need to adopt those practices if we want to make any impression on persons who are not already committed to reading the content (for whatever reason).

What Will We Do Next in This Post?
This is a heading that breaks all of the rules!  It doesn't tell you what the content that follows is going to cover so you can move on to the next heading.  Oh... so terrible of me!  Hm... so what was I going to talk about here?

We have broccoli stubble in the field to remove!
A Beautiful Weekend to Work at the Genuine Faux Farm
This past weekend featured some gorgeous weather and improved soil conditions so the two of us could do some much needed work on the farm.

We were blessed with beautiful skies and interesting clouds.
The plan was to clean out the Eastern plots on Saturday.  We'd already pulled all of the old drip tape, but we knew we should hunt around in case any stakes were lying in the weeds.  How many of you misread that to say 'snakes in the weeds?  Well, even if you didn't, I almost typed it!  We did find a couple of stakes and we also found a snake.  So, it's all good.
Oh, look!  No more broccoli stubble!
The camera did not come out during Sunday's work.  Rob spent time trying to create a new swale (ditch).  This is the first step toward our plan to raise up our growing areas AND create places for excess water to go.  It is going to be a slow and tedious process, but we are committed to doing it.  Tammy started cleaning the Southwest plot and the nearby asparagus plot.  Guess what she found?

A snake?!  Well, yes.  And a stake?  Yes. 

But, she also found a few small spears of asparagus!

The Barn Is Less Than It Was

Hm... that looks different.
The strong winds this Spring have resulted in the entire Western portion of the barn finally giving up.  It's been a while coming and I have to admit we're past grieving the loss of this old building.  In some ways, this is a relief.  While there is still some danger in trying to clean this up, it is now possible with tools we possess to do some of that work now.

And now, you have read a blog post that had no particular theme and broke several of the rules that it should follow if we wanted engagement in our post.  It's awful, I know.  But, I am sure we'll all get over it.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Pasque Flowers

It's late April and the Pasque Flowers are beginning to give us the treat of their early blooms.  We first 'discovered' these wonderful perennial plants several gardens ago when we lived in Minnesota.  We realize that most perennial Pasque Flowers that are sold in nursery's are the European varieties (pulsatilla vulgaris) where as the natives to the United States may be found as Pulsatilla patens  or Anemone patens .

For those who like wildflowers, I would like to point out that the first link takes you to a page on the US Forest Service website and the second to a site dedicated to Minnesota wildflowers.  I was able to view the first page when I started this post on Saturday and it was unavailable today.  I am hopeful this is a temporary situation because I have found so many of these websites put out by our government agencies to be of use over the years.

A couple of years ago, we grabbed a batch of pasqueflowers and put them out in one of our fields that had shown poor production for our annual crops.  We are reaping benefits this year with some very nice blooms on the Pasques. 

We managed to pick up some different colors.  You might even notice that the first photo shows three different colors.  I suspect we threw three different plants there (they were pretty small at the time).  We may split them later... or not.  They really don't seem to mind.

The other nice thing about Pasque Flowers?  They can handle a little snow and cold.  Even if that snow comes in May (which was when the picture above was taken).  Obviously, I am NOT talking about this May.  Please not this May....
Another thing we like about Pasque Flowers?  The flowers extend out to these 'fruits' or 'seedheads' and they look pretty nice too.  The plants form nice mounds that look pretty good for most of the year as well.

But, the best thing about them?  It's seeing the first bit of green pushing up out of the soil - daring us to hope once again.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


Emotions are raw and many people are struggling.  And I witnessed two acts of kindness that brought people to tears in a space of a few days.  The acts, of themselves, were not terribly noteworthy, but the responses were.

Is kindness and consideration so alien to us right now that even the simplest exhibition of understanding and care can bring about gratitude in its liquid form - perhaps its most precious and valuable manifestation?

Or perhaps it is that much more powerful than we remember and we are ready to open ourselves up to that power right now?

It doesn't really matter as long as we remember to perform good deeds and considerate actions with no expectation of compensation in return.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

How Are We Doing?

I have been trying to put something out on the blog every day and we've maintained a daily presence in Facebook for the farm.  In addition to that, I have also been trying to put a regular postal history post each morning in a couple of collector groups.  You might think that this takes a great deal of time, but I am finding that it can be done fairly quickly as long as I avoid distractions.  I figure a half hour a day is worth it as long as I feel it is serving a positive purpose by helping people feel more connected.

If the Sandman were still with us he would tell us to take a nap.
 Recently, I've had a few people ask how we are doing.  When I asked whether they wanted to know about how the farm was doing or the farmers, the response was 'both.'  That's when I realized that a high percentage of our posts have not been focused on reporting on our farm.  So, this post and the one prior to it, will try to remedy that at some level.

Fortunate to Have Income
First and foremost, we want to say how blessed we feel to have consistent income.  Wartburg College continues to pay Tammy as she teaches her classes online.  As long as the college itself survives the coming years, we should be fine on that front.  Rob did start a new part-time (80% time) job this April with Pesticide Action Network.  That organization seems to be strong enough to weather the storm, so as long as Rob does a decent job, that income should also be as secure as anything we can find.

We count ourselves among the fortunate and we intend to push ourselves to help others as we are able.

Genuine Faux Farm Status
We would not be telling the truth if we said we were not relieved that the farm income's importance has been reduced by Rob's PAN job.  Our plan for sales in the coming year hinged on sales to the restaurants and event center at Jorgensen Plaza in Cedar Falls.  With the pandemic, Western Homes has closed down Jorgensen Plaza to protect those who live in the community.  This essentially removes most of the expected sales from that location.  Sales to local schools?  Well, not right now.

This leaves us with direct sales to individual customers.  We can say that demand in that area has increased, but it will not make up for other lost sales.  The difficulty is mostly that we were finally accepting that demand for that service from our farm was unlikely to recover, so we were looking to move on from that.  It is not easy to try to pivot back and capture some of the increased demand - especially when we are not sure that we can believe the demand will remain once things begin to 're-open.'  Even so, we are continuing to advance our 'Farm Credit Program' for 2020 and we will continue to take new people throughout the season if you have interest.  We will continue to adjust our practices to address safety issues related to COVID-19 and food safety in general.

Nonetheless, we are continuing with our plans to grow the subset of crops we planned to grow this season. We are raising poultry as well.  We might cancel our second batch of broilers unless we see demand for the first batch is sufficient to carry through, but that's a little ways into the future.

And the Farmers?
I suspect we're just like many of you.  We're missing some people we care about.  We have been struggling to adjust to doing so many things in different ways and trying to find efficiency with the new processes so we can get at least half as much done during the same time as we did using the old processes.  Sometimes we feel exhausted because we have been making so many adjustments and responding to frequent change.  There is an undercurrent of frustration and worry that we have to recognize and counter consistently.  Otherwise, neither of us would move - and that would do no good for anyone.

We are continuing with projects that have created a bit of upheaval in our daily lives.  The farm house project has moved forward and the siding is complete except for some finishing work.  The kitchen project continues to move forward slowly.  Finally, the dishwasher is completely operational and has been a real treat for us as our time gets pinched during planting season.  We still need to put up another cabinet, some trim, some lights and a floor.  But, at least it is an operational work space for us and we are pleased by that.

Thank you to those of you who have asked about how we are doing.  It is nice to know that you care and it builds us up to continue to do our best for you and others. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Farm Check In

One of the simplest things we could do on the Genuine Faux Farm blog would be to just take a few pictures each day and write about them.  So, why don't we do that?  Well, first off, we're not always in the mood to write about everything that is going on at the farm.  And, second, we aren't always walking around with camera in hand.  Even so, the writing IS much easier. 

Still how many times do you want to hear about..

Chicks on the Farm?
I am sure you are all tired of seeing pictures of cute, fluffy chicks aren't you?    Yep, just terrible, viewing those peeping, bright-eyed birds.  I am sorry to have to subject you to this.

The hen chicks are doing fairly well at this point.  We are past the initial 'loss-point' and they should be fine for a time.  We typically have a couple of points in time where we lose some of the birds as they grow.  The first period is from days 2 to 4.  We usually lose five of them or so.  It's just what happens.  We take care of them all as best we can, but some just aren't able to survive.

The first two flocks of day old chicks for our broilers arrived today.  While the hens look cute for quite some time, the broilers are only cute for the first week or so.  They then go through a 'mutant' phase, an 'ugly' phase and then they enter the 'that looks like it could be tasty' phase.

Kale - less
Or first batch of kale due for Valhalla was looking very good.  Ready to transplant in fact. Until the woodchuck found it could force its way into Casa Verde, where the seedlings were residing.  We have two plants left for that batch.  So, much for early kale.

 We've already planted more seeds, but it can be pretty demoralizing when your work is so thoroughly destroyed.  But, this is not new to us.  We've weathered this story in the past and we'll deal with it now.

Getting the Seedlings to "Pop"
We like to put our brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) seedlings on heat mats and under grow lights to get them to germinate or, as we like to say, get them to pop.  Once they are up, we like to move the brassica seedlings off of the heat mats - assuming we have a place where woodchucks can't get to them.

Pasque Flowers Make An Appearance

 Now, the first trick to this blog is that I am using pictures from prior years to represent things we have been seeing the past couple of days.  Oh, wait.  I am not supposed to tell you that.  But, it IS true.  The pasque flowers are blooming.  And, it's too dark right now for me to go take pictures of them.

Uh. Ooooooh.  Now I've Gone and Crossed a Line.

Bree's going to let me have it now.  The good news?  It's sleepy time and she's ready to go to the kitchen and find her sleepy chair.  So, all will be well.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


I am writing this blog post after we escorted our, now adult, cats to the kitchen, where they spend the night.  "Their chair" is there and this is the place they have been taken every night since they were kittens.  Bree still will often 'require' the 'taxi service' in the arms of a human while Hobnob prefers to stroll on in.  The ritual offers comfort, to break it is to sew concern and discord.   To understand why this ritual is comforting, it might be useful to explain some of their transition to our home.

Hobnob and Bree were typical kittens in that they had tons of energy - bouncing around everywhere - until they didn't have energy anymore.  But, unlike some kittens we've dealt with in the past, these two wouldn't just go to sleep.  We've watched some baby animals go from full-tilt to asleep in seconds.  Not this time.  These tired kittens cried and would only calm down when we would pick them up and sit with them for a while.

After a little bit, we would set them on the shelf that they had claimed as their 'sleepy spot.'

Sometimes, they would be fully asleep.  But, usually, they were just drowsy, soon to close their eyes the rest of the way.  There was something comforting to us when we saw them finally relaxing and being willing to trust that the world was "right enough" for them to catch a few zzzzs.

As I recalled this memory I wondered:  Is it more comforting to be comforted or to offer comfort?

Perhaps the answer is that this is the wrong question.  There is no reason for us to worry about whether giving or receiving comfort is more valuable to us.  The real question is why we don't offer and accept comfort more often? 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Walk On the Beach

Take off your shoes and socks.  Wiggle your toes a bit and get some sand between them.  Breathe the salt air deeply and absorb the sunshine that warms you.

Watch the waves come in.  Quickly at first, then slowing as they roll over the rocks and fine grains of sand alike. 

Oops, you were standing a bit too close and your feet got wet.   Well, that's ok.  We'll move back a bit, sit down and stretch our feet out so they can dry.  There is a light breeze, which should help.

Maybe we can chat about things that matter to us.  Perhaps even about things that don't matter at all.

Or we can just sit and listen while the water talks to us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020



Every time I write something for our farm blog - especially when it gets into this territory - I worry that I might sound like I think I "know it all."  On the contrary, I know perfectly well that what I know is far less than what I do not know.

But, here are two things I am pretty certain of:

1. Containment requires knowledge of where the item(s) are that you wish to contain.
Part of the reason the invisible man is hard to catch is because you cannot see him. In H.G. Wells' "Invisible Man," it takes a bit of luck and footprints in the snow to deduce his location and finally catch him.

If we would like to move forward with 'opening things back up' then that means we think we are moving to containment of the virus.  But, if we are not testing frequently and broadly, we cannot see where it is.  It has already been shown multiple times that many individuals do not show symptoms, but they do carry the virus.

If we want the state of Iowa to "re-open" sooner, then we should be sending our comments to Governor Reynolds and our federal government that we want testing and we want it sooner rather than later.  Otherwise, we're just hoping we 'get lucky' with it all.

Me.  I'd rather be good than lucky.   Because even if I am lucky, someone else won't be.  And, I am not ok with that.

2. Be Supportive of Those Who Are Potential Vectors for the Virus
We posted earlier in the month our plan for addressing the fact that Tammy and I are potential vectors for the virus because we produce food for others and we deliver that food to multiple people.  While we carry a much lower risk than so many other professions, we take our precautions seriously.  Why?  Selfishly - we do not want to get sick.  But, also, we do not want to be the reason someone else falls ill.  It's pretty simple.

The great news?  The people who get food from us have been wonderful!  They have followed our instructions and helped us be as careful as we can be.  They understand that we do not want to pass this nasty thing on to others and they see that we do serve some people who do fall into higher risk categories.

Now, let's think about some other possible professions that might be vectors that the virus could travel through.  No really - think about some of the people who take appointments for their services.  One person after another.  I will not go through the process of naming these professions because I'll miss some.  But, I know you can think of several that you patronize on a regular basis.

Before we start to protest the inconvenience of being unable to avail ouselves of those services right now, please consider this:

If you happen to be a carrier for Covid-19 and you go to this person, how would you feel if someone was able to show you that YOU were the person that infected them and made them ill... possibly very ill?  Even worse, how would they feel if they contracted from you and then they unknowingly transmitted the disease to the remainder of their clients scheduled for that day?

Is your inconvenience worth their well-being?  Or perhaps the well-being of other, unknown individuals?  I think we can pay that price to avoid that possible cost.

3. Some Positive Suggestions
If you are among those who is not struggling financially because of the pandemic, consider writing a check to some of the people who cannot provide their services to you AS IF you were receiving that service.  If you are like us, we have budgeted for these things and we hope these fine people will return to providing their excellent products once we can contain Covid-19.  Don't ask for anything special from them.  Tell them and show them that you value what they do.  Let them know that you look forward to the day when you can see them again.  And, go from there.

Once we do contain Covid-19, schedule services with these people as you did before - but be aware that many of them will be swamped with a great deal of catch-up!  Be patient and be supportive.

And second, here is a program that Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand has helped to launch called Help Iowans Help Iowans.   This is a remarkably simple way that we might be able to help each other out.  We can support local restaurants and keep them moving while getting food to people that might be struggling.  If this doesn't fit you - that is fine.  If it does, consider it as an option to help others.

Monday, April 20, 2020

It Really Looked Like That?

Sometimes I look at older pictures of the farm to get inspiration for a post.  Here are a few juxtapositions that others might find interesting.

The Barn...
When we first moved to the farm, the barn was in reasonable shape, but the roof was not.  Anyone who has lived on a farm knows that, when a roof goes, the building follows soon after if something isn't done.

We actually used the barn for a few seasons as the night-time shelter for poultry.  And, we investigated getting the roof fix - until we found out how much THAT would cost.  We looked into some grant and other funding ideas and just never could get it all to come together.

 Things look a good deal different now.  Of course, the first picture was during Spring and this one is before anything greens up.  The area around the barn isn't being kept up right now and we've allowed some bushes and trees to grow.  The entire West section of the barn is now down (you are looking at the East section in this photo).

Farmhouse and Outbuildings
Some changes are for the good and some can be sad.  I'm going to leave both photos near each other so you can do a "find all of the different things in the picture" puzzle with them.


There have been many changes for the good over the years.  As many who read the blog know, the house has undergone a transformation this Winter as we have torn off two layers of old siding and replaced it with new.  You might also notice the roof on the house.  What else do you see?

One of the things in this picture that is sad is the large tree at the right of the house.  Sadly, this gorgeous tree was the result of someone letting a tree grow for decades into the foundation of the garage.  As a Silver Maple, it was a quick grower and had great potential for breaking and falling on things...  maybe not a quality we wanted for that exact location.  On the other hand, we liked the birds it brought to us - and the shade - and the feel.  But, it threatened to come down and take many other things with it - so we arranged to have it come down in a 'mostly' controlled fashion.

Over the years we have done our best to add trees and bushes.  Some of them have seemed to take pretty well to their locations.  Others, not so much.  But, we'll keep trying.  Because that's what we do.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Space Chickens

Sandhill Cranes love Sweets Marsh near Tripoli and the farm is close enough that we can often hear their croaking call in the early morning as we do chores.  Every once in a while, they fly over, croaking as they go.

The picture above, oddly enough, was taken during a driving trip to see family in Florida.  We really should break out the camera at the march as well and try to capture a Sandhill on 'film.'

The National Park Service has a recording of a large flock of Sandhills making the croaking call.   The Cornell Lab has a page with multiple examples, including single birds calling - which is more like what we hear on the farm.

Oh, and the "Space Chicken" title?  That's what Tammy and I often call them.  They remind me a little bit of the 'Instant Martians' that Marvin the Martian employed in cartoons.  Isn't that lovely?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Learn Me Something Good

What will we learn during this shared time of trouble?

You can take this question whichever way you want.  You can look at it from your own personal point of view, or the point of view of the people you relate to most.  Or, you can take it as a question for all of us to answer as we are thinking about how ALL of us move forward.

The nice thing about this is it can be a useful exercise no matter how you frame the question.
ok, you got our attention.  Get this over with so we can nap.

Will we learn that there are a whole host of things we, as individuals don't need so much of?
Suddenly it is not so easy and convenient to get more 'stuff.'  What sorts of things are you 'doing without' during the pandemic and finding - if you think about it - that maybe these things weren't such a big thing for you after all?  I am guessing there are several things you haven't missed at all, except for perhaps the fact that it was a part of routine.  There are other things you have missed, but you might be realizing you put too much importance on them.

For example, Tammy and I tended to take a trip into town every morning to fill up our mugs at the convenience store.  It was a ritual that we used to 'reset' our day after chores were done.  We really didn't need to spend that chunk of time driving to town, nor did we really need those drinks.  For that matter, we often added a donut to the list - also not the best choice.  But, that happened often on days when the chores had longer bits to do and we had not taken the time to feed ourselves.  Even though all of the animals were fed and plants were watered, we had not yet cared for the humans.  Well, that ritual has been halted... and perhaps we don't need to re-institute it if the time comes that it is possible to do so.

Perhaps I can change the question to: What sort of things are you finding to be MORE important?
As farmers that raise poultry and grow vegetables, we do have a bit more access to food than some.  But, this time of year, there isn't much new product coming in.  What we are finding is that we are taking even more time to make sure to use and enjoy that which we have stored in our freezers, etc.

We are, of course, finding internet access to be even more important to us than it ever was (with both of us working from/at home now).  We're appreciating our books and music more (if that's possible) and our ability to be outside.  How about you?

Will we learn how important it is to take care of our environment?
Fewer people on the roads.  Less activity in factories.  And what do we see in places like Los Angeles?  Blue sky?  Is that even possible?  NASA even put out a neat graphic showing how much lower air pollution levels are in the northeast region of the US right now.

The lesson here is for those who might not allow themselves to believe that we, the human population, have very real impacts on our environment.  And, we, the human population, actually have the power to do something about it.

Will we learn what it means to live in the 'commons' or are we still too unaware of our impact on others?
The 'commons' is simply a way to refer to that which is shared by all in a community.  The environment is part of the commons.  Our infrastructure, education, emergency services, postal services/communications, medical services, mental health services, sanitation services and food production and delivery services are all part of the commons.  I am sure I am missing some things and I don't pretend to make an all-inclusive list.  I just want to make the point.

We are getting a lesson of the important parts of the commons in this world.  Will we take this lesson and find ways to value these things?  Will we value them enough not to abuse them?   

Will we learn that humanity has a problem with priorities and move to fix that?
Our biggest problem is recognizing when we have enough - in my opinion.  I have that problem.  You have that problem.  We all have that problem.  Some people exhibit it more than others.  And we all exhibit it in different ways.  There are many individuals that have far too much and so many more that do not have enough.

Explain to me again why, if I need ten rolls of toilet paper, it is better if I buy fifty?  Explain to me once more why an offer of $5 million a year is insulting and you should get $5.2 million?  Convince me that it is okay if one person can institute a rule that workers earning minimum wage will be terminated if they are unlucky enough to become ill - meanwhile the person who made the rule is away from the business at their third home in the Caymans?

Will we learn that we shouldn't wait for things to 'go back to normal' before we start applying the lessons we think we have learned? 
What we need to do, right now, is recognize that 'normal' is not good enough.
What we need to do, right now, is identify how we can be better.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Peaceful Visions

I have read that some people find it calming to think of place and time that you felt safe, secure and at peace.  I am hopeful that everyone has some memory or experience they can go to.  Failing that, I can hope that those who have overly tumultuous lives can use their imagination effectively and create that place and time.

Here are a couple to try out.

Snow Muffler
The camera comes out in the Winter whenever we have a hoarfrost.  This is especially true if we have also just had a recent snow.  One such event happened several years ago.  We had a snow that covered things with a light blanket.  There was no wind and the night brought about the hoarfrost.  The next morning was gray, with leaden, heavy skies.  No wind stirred the new snowflakes and the hoarfrost clung to every surface it could find.

It was cold, but we really didn't feel it.  Footsteps in the snow were muffled - yet they were the loudest thing our ears were detecting.  It was almost as if all of nature was holding its breath, as if it was stunned to see how good it looked in this new garment.

Close Up
Bleeding Hearts were probably one of my first introductions to a perennial flower.  A very large, nice example resided on the north side of our house in Newton.  Bleeding Hearts can be very attractive plants for a good part of the season if they are placed in the right location.  When they bloom, they can certainly add a nice splash of color to the landscape.  But, you are missing something if you don't take a moment to get up close and personal with one of these plants when they are in bloom.

Sometimes, I would go sit next to the plant and just observe the shape and texture of these flowers.  Each flower was incredibly soft, yet quite sturdy.  The fine details of each bloom were captivating - encouraging my mind to be at peace with the world.

I am not sure a picture of a kitten is entirely peaceful.  And, yet, this picture of Bree as a kitten reminds me both of how small she was then and how much wonder there is in the world.  There is so much in this world to see and explore... even in your own home.  Sometimes it takes the exploration of the young to remind us how to find things that ignite curiosity and wonder.

Washing Away Worry

Tammy and I are both attracted to waterfalls.  Obviously, the natural beauty is part of what leads us to find and observe them.  There is constant motion and sound, of course.  But, there is also consistency of motion and sound, that becomes soothing if you allow it to become so.  Sometimes, I can imagine that water cleaning out the rubbish left by worries in my mind and crushing it at the base of the falls.  The remains are then carried downstream - banished for a time from my memories.

The Value of an Individual
I am sure anyone who knows me will not be surprised to see yet another flower here.  In this case, it is a Columbine.  The flowers for these plants are also wonderfully complex in their form, holding two different sets of petals that have surprisingly different shapes.  Columbines are covered by a solid flush of blooms for about ten days on our farm.  Then, they rapidly fade.

I am reminded of the beauty of the community of flowers on each plant at peak bloom, but I am also reminded of the beauty of each individual flower when I allow myself to enjoy them.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

20-20 Hindsight

If you could have predicted exactly how the current pandemic was going to play out, what would you have done differently?  This is actually a very important question and not just a game for us because there is a very real LARGER consequence than just our own personal success or well-being.  To help make the point, I am going to reference our laying hen operation, but it isn't just about that.

Pre Covid-19 Trend Toward Convenience Over Local
In the three years prior to 2020, many small farms that raised/grew food for local outlets were finding the demand to be soft and declining for their products.  Part of the issue had to do with the 'convenience' factor.  The additions of places like Whole Foods and sections in larger groceries touting 'local' options gave an already limited audience even more options to acquire product that they believed were, in fact, from local growers.  Sadly, part of the problem is that the definition for 'local' was inconsistent and usually expanded far beyond what the customer was envisioning.

You can also point to trends for how people eat, but you have to remember that the trends in rural Iowa are often behind the trends cited in the larger media markets.  In 2018/2019, there were claims that the trend was to eat more meals at home.  But, the driving force was prepackaged delivered food.  Again, convenience was the driving factor.

Let's be perfectly honest.  Local food is often inconvenient.  At least it is not convenient in the same ways that people seemed to be wanting.  A small, diversified farm is not able to maintain full store hours at multiple locations.  They are often unable to find the time to make home deliveries for all of their customers.  Usually, local food is grown in amounts that are too large to just be a 'hobby' and too small to interest the groceries and retail outlets, unless they too are a small, local business.  Most local growers have a full slate of tasks as it is, so pre-cutting your meat and veggies so you have an easy time of preparation usually does not land on the 'to-do list.'

As many Iowa growers looked at 2020 from the lenses that they wore towards the end of 2019, the outlook was bleak.  Weather, among other issues, were already making growing challenging.  But, many of these growers would have accepted that challenge with relish if they had felt there was a solid demand for their product.

Case Study: The Genuine Faux Farm Laying Flock
Over the past several years, the Genuine Faux Farm laying flock has produced over 20,000 eggs every calendar year.  Our production typically ranged from 20,000 in a year when the laying flock puckered up (stopped laying) during a very cold stretch to 25,000 during a season when all went well.  These are production numbers that average between 52 and 68 eggs per day.  Considering we have to wash all of these eggs, package them and get them to customers, I can still honestly say that we were comfortable with this level of work and fine with the amount of compensation we were receiving... as long as we could sell all of those eggs.  But, we couldn't.

This next part is not meant to be a criticism of the fine people we have served over the years.  Many of you have moved on to new locations or new phases in your lives.  Some have made other choices.  It is what it is.  But, the fact is that we were often finding ourselves trying to move extra eggs when our storage refrigeration was too full to put in new eggs.  We donated eggs a few times - nothing inherently wrong with that - except there is a very low limit to how much a farm, such as ours, can claim for food donations on our taxes.  So, we end up paying for the privilege of having the egg enterprise on our farm.  If our income balanced out differently, we might even have been willing to raise a flock and donate everything.  We threw eggs into our CSA shares, even though they weren't technically part of the CSA a few times as well.  That might have bought some goodwill (and I hope made people happy) but it did not show us that we had the demand to justify continuing at the levels at which we were consistently producing.

We saw our own trends and the larger trends toward convenience and we made some adjustments.  Our flock now lays around 45 to 48 eggs a day... and Rob looked for some off-farm income.  If we over-produced, then we'd donate and not worry about the farm's bottom line.  We would still have eggs for the folks who want them at about the numbers the demand seemed to be calling for and maybe everyone is happy?  As a matter of fact, since we reduced the flock we HAVE been consistently selling out, but not saying 'no' to requests either.  It felt like we had hit the new mark for demand/work hours balance.

Then, suddenly, we have a pandemic.  And, everyone realizes that perhaps we might have been better off if we had more local food sources because our industrial food supply chain isn't built for the conditions the pandemic has created for us.  Demand for our eggs now outstrip our current supply. 

At some level, we, the farmers, feel some guilt for not just having extra capacity for just such an emergency.  Yes, of course, we would love fill every single request.  It's nice to make sales and bring in income.  It is also nice to know your product is desired.  But, there is also a very real feeling that this is an area we could contribute and we are failing to do so.  It doesn't matter that we made decisions based on the best information we had at the time, we still have to deal with those feelings.

Local Foods Is Not A Faucet
Local foods is not a faucet you can turn on and off when you feel you need it.  It might feel that way at some level because the pandemic is hitting us at the beginning of the growing season.  It is likely that local growers will do their best to put in more product in hopes that this demand will not fade by the time their crops reach harvest stage.

I'll say this once and then get off of it.

If we all worked to support local foods consistently, then it would be a stronger asset to us now, when we need it most.

As it is, there are some who will do their best to support our communities by raising local food and making it available.  We will count ourselves among those individuals.

What Is the Genuine Faux Farm Doing to Respond?
We would not be telling the full truth if we said we believed this resurgence would last without a hiccup.  We WANT to believe it will, but we have enough experience in local food farming that we're unwilling to buy the car without a test drive.  On the other hand, we feel a responsibility to do our part and do the right thing.  So, here is our response:

1. Rob will continue with his off-farm job, so there are upper limits to what we can achieve.  But, we're still trying to make adjustments.
2. We received hen chicks today in a number that takes us back to prior production levels.  Again, you can't just turn the faucet on - these birds won't really get to laying until late August and September.  Hang in there with us and I bet we can provide eggs for all who have expressed interest so far.
3. We are still planning on raising 500 broilers this year.  This comes to about 400-450 available for sale. 
4. We have ordered 70 turkeys to raise and will have them available in the Fall, just as we have for many years.
5. We are still planning to grow only 2 acres of produce, as compared to prior year's 5+ acres.  But, we are making a shift to increase some products that produce more crop iterations so we can have more food available (lettuce for example).
6. We will continue with the flexible farm credit sales approach.  It is receiving positive reviews and will give us flexibility to offer what we have - when we have it, without the pressure to just fill bags and boxes.  Our feeling is this just might feed the people who patronize our farm more effectively right now AND it does provide you all with a bit more convenience.

Gratitude Is Still Part of the Package
Thank you for supporting our farm.  Thank you for supporting local foods.  And, please continue to support local food consistently.  We are getting an illustration of how important it can be as we watch product being destroyed in our bulk food system while people go hungry.  This is NOT about our farm but it IS about ALL of us.  If you know people where you live who have the heart and soul to produce local food, loan them a tiny bit of your heart and soul and an appropriate amount of your cash (if you are able) to pay for their labors - so local foods can be strong for us all.

Rob & Tammy Faux
Genuine Faux Farm
Tripoli, Iowa

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Chick Week

We should have seen it coming.

You see, we scheduled our first order of chicks (in this case, hen chicks) for this week.  The first chicks of Spring mean we have to get a number of things done before they arrive.

First, you need to make sure you have the necessary supplies.  We made sure to get ahead of the game and acquire chick feed, bedding and new heat lamp bulbs.  We have some new, clean oat straw and we made sure that we did NOT empty the paper recycling bin just prior to the arrival of chicks.

For those who are unfamiliar with raising chicks, we have a brooder room in one of our buildings that is fairly secure from intrusion by predators.  The brooder has areas that can be segmented off so we can start more than one flock in the same room.  Each chick starting area has a bed of straw and bedding placed over the cement.  For the first few days, we have a layer of newspaper placed over that bedding.

We use heat lamps and put poly-carbonate pieces over the top of the brooder area.  A couple of small feeder and a waterer are also placed in the area so the birds have all of their needs met.

We just spent time on Tuesday, cleaning the remaining detritus from last year's efforts out of the brooder and moving things that were stored in that room for the Winter out of the way.  We are feeling pretty good about how we've prepared.

So, what should we have seen coming?

It happens every year.  We schedule the arrival of our first chicks and THAT is the week the temperatures DROP well below normal.  Which means we have to take additional measures to make sure we do not lose chicks to the cold.