Friday, August 14, 2020

Learn Something New

I enjoy learning new things and I like to share information with others.  Sometimes I follow-up on questions I have had for some time.  For some of the things below, pictures from a recent hike spurred exploration into new topics (or topics I have explored some in the past).  And, there are also times when there are things I have done some extensive research on and I enjoy sharing that as well, in hopes that others will 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!

Jewelweed's Benefits?

Jewelweed, also known as Touch-me-not, is a plant that it blooming right now in northeast Iowa, preferring damp, shady locations.  They are a member of the genus impatiens and as such create seedpods that will burst when you touch them.  I have read that this is where the "Touch-me-not" name comes from, though I am unsure if I can verify that or not.   

The interesting thing I thought I would share about this is that Jewelweed was used by various Native American tribes to treat rashes - including those caused by poison ivy.  A 2016 study published in Pubmed shows that there is at least some efficacy for using a mash concocted from these plants.  The study also seemed to indicate that modern soaps were probably better to deal with the problem, though I suspect from the method description that they did not test it on advanced rashes, but more as a preventative after exposure.  

There you go - something new to me.  Perhaps it is new to you?

Dunning's Spring and Cold Water

There are a number of cold water springs in northeast Iowa that are fed by underground water sources.  The "Driftless Region" of Iowa is known for many of its karst landforms.  Sinkholes, caves and cold water springs are common features of karst landforms.

According to this Iowa DNR Survey in 2005, Dunning's Spring's temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit year round with slight variation if heavy runoff from rain or snow melt joins the stream.  The underground caverns and streams flow through 'carbonate' rocks such as limestone and dolomite, which can be quite strong, but will slowly dissolve as it comes in contact with the acidic waters.

There you go - something that I knew a little bit about and now I know a bit more.  How about you?

Black Borders for Mourning

The 1860s would mark a shift in mail use that saw many more people sending personal correspondence in the United States.  Prior to this, most mail was limited to business or to those in the upper class.  The Civil War prompted more letter writing, just as the surge of settlers to the Western states also encouraged people to 'write home.'  The use of envelopes became more common and specialized stationary followed suit.

While you can certainly find black-bordered envelopes used for mail prior to the 1860s, they became more common and were used as a way to indicate that the contents held a death announcement, hence the label 'mourning cover.'  Their use became less prevalent as the 1800s waned, but you can still find them in later periods of time.

There it is - a partial summery that is likely new to many who read this, but not new to me.  

I hope everyone has a fine weekend.  And, maybe, I'll do this again on future weekends.  What do you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Postal Service and Small Farms

Did you know?

Small, local farms like ours rely on the US Postal Service to deliver the chicks they raise for egg layers, broiler chickens, turkeys and any other bird a farm might raise.  The majority of small, diverse, local farms do not hatch their own chicks simply because it is just one more thing to do that often can't be added to a long list of things to do on a farm.

Did you know?

UPS and Fedex will not ship chicks.

Do you prefer to see farms that have poultry and care for those animals well?  Are you interested in maintaining a local food system?  

Guess what people?  The moves to cripple the US Postal Service are likely to cripple many small businesses - many of them located or amenable to rural areas in Iowa.

I suppose you could argue that if the USPS is dismantled, someone will take their place.  You could argue that UPS or Fedex or... someone will pick up the chick mailing business.  But, I can tell you these things:

  • It will be more expensive - expensive enough to either cause a farm like ours to significantly raise prices and/or expensive enough to cause a farm like ours to cease working with poultry altogether.
  • There will be a transition period where no one will be able to move these birds and small businesses and small farms will likely cease to operate before it is repaired.

Don't think this is really happening?

Go back to the link I provided and read.  Our post office and sorting facility in Waterloo, Iowa is having equipment removed and is not being staffed sufficiently for OUR mail to be handled in a timely fashion.  The volume of mail is so vast that even a short period where the USPS cannot keep up will result in significant delays for you and me.

Other considerations for the USPS in rural areas

It has always been true that things like telecommunications and delivery services are far less profitable in rural areas than they are in more densely populated areas.  It is simple mathematics.  If you build the infrastructure for a delivery service in a city, you get more customers per unit of cost for your base expenses.  Once you get into the wide-open spaces, you have fewer customers available, but you still need much of the same infrastructure to serve an area with fewer sales possibilities.

Why do you think it is taking so long to get reliable internet in the rural parts of Iowa?  The expense is greater than the returns for the relatively small number of customers.  Most companies delayed providing access until they received government support to add access.  

It is not right that rural citizens of this country should be left out of the communications and services loop.

Crippling the US Postal Service is a terrible blow to the rural areas.  We are already behind when it comes to most other services.  But, when it comes to the post - we have had a system in place for over a century that delivers to all addresses, six days a week - for a very reasonable price.  We currently have nothing in place to stand in that gap when the postal service is removed or damaged.   

Did you know?

Small farms such as ours find that shipping seeds from seedhouses is most economical via the US Postal Service?

This is why we need a system that receives government support in some fashion so it can absorb the losses required to provide a system that works for ALL citizens in the country.  In the case of the postal service, it might do just fine if we removed the hurdles placed on it by the federal government.  It isn't even a matter of providing support - it's a matter of at least getting out of the way!

Stand Up for the US Postal Service

There are many more reasons why the moves by the current federal administration need to be opposed.  I want you to take note that I am not even citing any specific political reasons here.  I am simply pointing out that these changes have the potential to further damage Rural America's necessary services.  It should not matter what side of the political fence you think you sit on.  What should matter is that the current trend is taking away important options and services that many of us rely on - and we should not accept it.

  • We still pay our bills using the mail.  Why?  Well, until very recently, we didn't have sufficient internet service to use online banking.  We did not have much of a choice.  And, we actually feel there is more security in using the mail versus an online app.
  • Many small businesses rely on the US Postal Service for reliable and inexpensive shipping of their products.  Collectibles, skilled creation products and numerous other personal or small businesses need the US Postal Service to stay in business.  The Fedex and UPS rates are too high for these low to moderate price and low overhead businesses to remain viable.
  • What about our veterans and others who use the postal service for the delivery of their medications?  Delays are already causing people to go without important medications.  
  • what happens if you are not at home for a Fedex or UPS delivery?  You could drive to their office and get it.  For us, that is a 45 minute drive.  USPS?  5 minutes to the post office.
  • The infrastructure for mail delivery and post offices ALREADY EXIST.  They just need to be maintained by a sufficient number of qualified and properly paid employees.  If we allow the infrastructure to be dismantled, then we have a big climb to get it back.  And, remember, Fedex and UPS probably don't have much incentive to build that infrastructure because the financial returns are not strong.

It is time to make some noise about yet another thing.  This matters to the people of rural Iowa and it should matter to you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What It Feels Like to Succeed

Monday, I wrote a blog where I tried to express what it feels like to fail on our farm.   I did not want people to read it and feel like everything was doom and gloom at the end.  But, I DO want everyone to understand four things after that post:

  1. Failure at a farm like ours is common.  It is part of the price of doing business.
  2. Our experience can help us deal with failure, but these failures still hurt and the hurt can build up over time.
  3. We will only cease to feel the pain of failure when we no longer care if we succeed or fail.  I would rather feel the pain.
  4. Failure gives us the opportunity to learn, to grow and to seek redemption. 

 Creating a Place You Want to Be

We've said it before and we'll say it again because we believe it is true.

A successful field is one that makes the farmer want to be in it.

It is also not a surprise that success breeds success in this case.  If we want to be in the field, then we tend to pay more attention to maintaining that field and addressing any issues that might come up.

Our 2015 melon crop is an example of success that we are still proud of today.  The cash crop (melons and watermelons) did exceedingly well.  We had about 100 CSA farmshares sold for the regular season that year and we were able to give everyone at four melons as part of the share that year AND we could sell others.  The real win here was the beautiful combination of melon crop with support crops such as zinnia, borage, buckwheat, calendula and sunn hemp.  The pollinators loved it.  We got higher production numbers in the same amount of space with fewer melon plants.

Then we replicated this in another field the next season - showing it was not a fluke.

Looking At What Is Behind Success


It wasn't like we had never had melons on the farm before.  In fact, we have grown melons on the farm since 2005 in some form or another with varying levels of success.  In 2013, we were still waiting on melons to ripen in September after a late start to the season (sound familiar?).  So, this was not a 'wow, we tried this and got it right the first time' moment.  Instead, we had our share of failures (uh oh, there's that word again) and we had also seen some reasonable success as we learned how to adjust.  It just so happened that we finally hit on a combination of practices and circumstances that led to a field we were very happy to work in every day.

There were numerous bits of trial and error that informed us as we did our best in prior seasons.  We did plenty of reading and plenty of asking.  And, we kept trying.  If you don't count our growing seasons as gardeners, you could say 2015 was the result of ten growing seasons worth of learning and adjusting - complete with failures.

Success for the Long Haul?

Are we still successful with our melon crop?  Well, not in the way we were in 2015 and 2016, that is certain.  When circumstances change, the goals have to change.  

We still have the goal that we want our fields to be fields we want to be in.  We still prize diversity and habitat for pollinators and beneficial critters.  But, demand for our CSA program crashed and we had no secondary market for the number of melons the old approach would give us.  That, and, we started getting far too much rain to be able to make it work... on a regular basis.  The adjustment has been to give more attention to a row of melons in the high tunnel (Eden to be specific).  You can see them at the left, with lettuce and bunching onions nearby.

Field melons fell back into the 'failure' category and the high tunnel melons because our success story for that crop.  But, up to this season, we have had sufficient fruit to meet the demand we have (and we can eat plenty of them ourselves).  

This year?  Well, the rules changed on us again this year and now we feel that we are back in a bit of a 'failure' cycle as we adjust to our new circumstances.  But, don't count us out - because success breeds success on this farm.  We know how to fail and we've learned from it (and will continue to learn from it).  We also know how to succeed, and that gives us the confidence that we will do so again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Pardon the Interruption

Tammy and I were on edge most of the day yesterday.  We kept looking out the windows when we were inside and we often inspected the sky when we were outside.  You could feel that something big was going on.

The good news?  We could also see that it wasn't likely heading to our farm.  Each time we checked, we did not see anything imminent that required actions on our part.  We were spared from experiencing the damaging storm known as a 'derecho.'  

Our biggest inconvenience?  We lost cell and internet service for a while.  We'll take it.

The graphic above is from KWWL, the 'local' television station.  There were multiple triple digit readings throughout the state.  The crazy thing is that the winds lasted so long wherever they hit.  In Iowa, we are used to storms that pack a short duration wallop.  They may come out of nowhere, smack you once real hard and then go their way.  Derecho winds?  Not so much.  

Power is a pretty big deal for people at this time in history.  This many people losing power in the state is a big thing.  Even if you are philosophical about the loss of electricity (after all, we survived many many generations without it), you should consider that power loss is a symptom that indicates lots of other sorts of damage as well.

Our friends at Pheasant Run Farm were running a 'Sunflower Experience' that was very well received.  The field above WAS a field of sunflowers at their peak.  Ah well.  Needless to say, they announced that the Sunflower Experience has ended for the season.  

Throughout the state, there are fields of corn that are just as flat as this field of sunflowers.  Vegetable growers in this storms path fared no better.  I'll just put a small little plug out there about this.  Commodity growers typically acquire subsidized insurance that is built for their growing methods.  Growers on a small diversified farm such as ours typically have no affordable options for insurance.

So, if you support a local food farm in the affected area, please find a way to continue to support that farm - even if they do not have produce for you for a while.  Be ready to be a consistent and reliable customer for them once again when they recover.  Thank you!

Our friend, Ben, at Wabi Sabi Farm near Granger shared this one.  What you are seeing is a walk-in cooler that was pushed part way off of its slab.  This is a VERY heavy piece that was moved more than a foot in one direction.  Ben reported significant crop damage and high tunnel damage. 

Thank you to those of you who asked after us!  It is appreciated.  Again, we are fine with no damage.  We are, however, very concerned for so many other folks who cannot say the same thing.  We stand ready to help as we are able and we ask you to do the same.

***post-publication addition***

A couple of additional graphics became available as the day progressed that I wanted to include.  The first is a 'time elapse' of the progress of the derecho.  You'll notice that, for the most part, northeast Iowa was not severely impacted by this system.  There were some T-storms that are not shown in this capture, but nothing causing any kind of significant damage.  In fact, our farm only recorded .07" of rain during this period and only had winds gusting to about 30 mph.

The second is a satellite image after the storm.  If you click on the picture, you can see it better.  The lightened swaths in the center of the state show downed crops.  These areas represent over 10 million acres of crops.  Crops, such as corn, need not be toppled completely (as these fields likely are) to be at least a partial loss.  If they are leaning, it may become impossible to harvest with a combine. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

What It Feels Like to Fail

What do you get when you put people who have high expectations for things that they do, ideals that they wish to live up to and an opportunity to own and operate a small, diversified farming operation?

You get a perfect recipe for those people to learn what it means to fail - and to fail frequently.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Ambition gets us into trouble every season... No, wait.  Ambition gets us into trouble every day at the Genuine Faux Farm.  After all, we are the folks who created the daily VAP (Very Ambitious Plan) that included our lists of things that needed to be done.  Our ambition comes from a combination of having high ideals and expectations along with a daily/yearly case of Farmer Delusional Syndrome.  In short, we keep setting ourselves up for ambitious task lists because we have a syndrome that allows us to see how things could work IF ONLY we could manage to push ourselves to excel at least 23 of the 24 hours of each day.  

I am sure you realize by now that some of what I am writing is a bit 'tongue in cheek.'  I am poking some fun at ourselves because we do set a high bar and we actually do know that we cannot accomplish everything we would ideally like to accomplish.  But, I would be foolish not to recognize that we will always expect a lot from ourselves.   And, I suspect this would be a true statement for most others who own or operate a small, diversified farm.  People who do this sort of thing tend to work very hard and they tend to set pretty high goals.  By virtue of the nature of the beast - they also become quite familiar with failure.


Because if you don't fail regularly at this job, you aren't trying hard enough.

Opportunities to Fail

Our farm has so many wonderful opportunities for failure every single season.  If you do not quite understand what I am saying let me spell it out with an example.

Every succession of every crop you grow in every season that you grow it, could - for any combination of reasons - end in a complete and utter failure.  For the sake of argument, let's look at the lettuce crop.  In our most ambitious lettuce growing season, we planted twelve successions of lettuce.  Each succession had five varieties.  If you look at it this way, you now have sixty (60) opportunities to fail with your lettuce in a single growing season.  Just imagine the opportunities to fail if you are growing thirty different crop types, with an average of five varieties in each and with anywhere from one to twelve successions of each crop type.   That is easily hundreds of opportunities to fail every season.

This gets even better because there are so many WAYS you can fail.  Not all of the causes of failure are under your control.  In fact, a significant number of them are not something you can do much about.  And, usually, if you are a fairly good at what you do, it takes several issues to result in a complete loss.  Sometimes, you can successfully grow out a crop and still find failure when you are unable to find homes for what you have grown before it goes bad (hint, this is one reason for animals on the farm).

I gave myself sixty seconds to list the number of ways we have experienced failure with a vegetable crop and this is what I came up with:

too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, spray drift, weeds, pests, diseases, poor germination, transplanted too early, transplanted too late, transplants too old, failed to irrigate, irrigation broke and flooded part of the field, windstorm, hailstorm, deer, rabbits, woodchucks, raccoon, cultivation equipment malfunction, mulch lifting up and beating young plants to death, bad genetics in purchased seeds, inconsistent moisture, worker misunderstanding instruction, farmer giving unclear instruction, mistake on plant or row spacing, other chemical incursions, improper fertility, soil composition imbalance, shortage of available labor hours, lost sales or inability to generate sales, harvested crop placed into a dirty meat cooler by mistake, turkeys or chickens breaking out of pasture and into field, harvested product not cooled quickly enough, seed trays blown over by the wind or otherwise damaged, something dropped on a stored crop (or the stored crop dropped), rodents in the stored crop and even a perfectly good batch of speckled lettuce being thrown by the destination kitchen when they thought the speckles meant the lettuce had 'gone bad'

Do you know what is sobering about this list?  This focuses only on vegetable crop failures on the farm.  This doesn't address failures with livestock, equipment, book keeping, marketing, building maintenance, pollinator and wildlife support, soil health, neighbor relations and a work-life balance. Yikes!

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!

Handling Crash Landings

Here is where I am supposed to impart wisdom with respect to how you land with your feet under you so you can emerge from each failure much better than you were before.  Well, we'll see how that goes...

Sometimes, the truth hurts - and so do many of the failures.  Frequently enough, very little good comes from a farm failure and it is pretty difficult to identify a take-away that can turn how you feel about the situation into a learning experience.  Over time, the scarring from various failures have become psychological callouses.  We have developed a thicker skin so the sting of certain failures doesn't hurt so much.

How many times have we thrown away trays of starter plants because we couldn't find a combination of resources and conditions that would allow them to be put into the ground?  Every season - often more than once a season.

Does it get any easier to toss those plants into the compost?  Not really.  There are always varying levels of regret and loss each time that happens.  And the day that I toss these plants and feel nothing will be the day I will mark as the moment I no longer care enough about growing green things to keep doing it.  There are callouses, yes - but the nerve endings are not completely numb.  I don't feel the pain as long as I might have in 2006, but it is still there.  What has changed the most is that I recognize the failure much more readily and I am quicker to process that failure and prepare to move on.

Who Dunnit?

I had someone ask me a great question during a presentation.  They wanted to know whether it was harder to deal with a farm failure that was your fault - or one that was not your fault.  I re-phrased and re-framed the question to this -

"Do you feel differently about a farm failure if there was something you could have done to prevent the problem from happening versus a failure for which there was nothing you could have done to prevent it?"

Over time, I have found that failures that come about because of something we did or failed to do are often easier to process on a case by case basis, but they sure can wear on you as they accumulate over time.  When we do not have to wonder why something happened we can get on to the figuring out how to handle it and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.  In other words, it is usually easier to move forward when you can point to something you did or failed to do.

The long term wear and tear from our own errors has more to do with our unwillingness and inability to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and our limitations.  If we can't find it in us to forgive ourselves, then our failures build up and weigh us down.  It would be great if I could say that I have figured out how to grant myself the grace I need on a regular basis.  All I can say is that I am continuing to work on it.

But, when something happens for which you have no control?   A plane sprays chemicals on your farm.  A hailstorm takes out your maturing crops.  In these cases, I find the feelings of loss are sharper and they are tinged with a sense that you have been violated in some fashion.  For example, when we lost crops to the overspray incident in 2012, we had to deal with a sudden "about-face" from crops that looked like they were successes to crops that were complete failures in moments.  It was a bit like walking down a quiet street, humming to yourself, only to have a truck barrel down the road, hop over the curb and hit you because the driver was texting. 

Failure and Opportunity

We have seen and will continue to experience failures at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Up to this point, they continue to frustrate us, worry us and cause us pain.  This is only to be expected because we do care, we do set high expectations and we try to operate withing the ideals we believe in.

Believe it or not - despite everything I have written thus far in this post - I see value in failure.

Failure gives me motivation and opportunity to learn and improve.  And, I greatly value learning opportunities.

Failure reminds me that things worth doing are not easy, but that when you succeed you have REALLY done something.

Failure brings with it the opportunity for redemption and forgiveness.

Success without failure is static and dead.  Failure without success happens when you don't look for the chance to learn, grow and seek redemption.  Here's to a healthy balance for the farmers at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Here's to a healthy balance for you as well!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Sharing Something You Enjoy

There are numerous activities that I personally have a good understanding of why people seem to enjoy doing them.  Gardening?  Well, I kind of do that professionally, but I get it.  Music?  Yes, I have enjoyed both playing and listening to music.  I even tried to (very badly) make up some of my own music once.  Collecting rocks?  Yep, did that too when I was a kid.  Once I started gardening, I started to collect good throwing rocks to scare the varmints out of the garden.  I am pretty sure that is not exactly the same thing.

And, of course, there are hobbies/activities that people partake in that I don't appreciate nearly so much.  Snowmobiling?  Off-road ATV?  No, I don't have an attraction to those.  But, that doesn't mean other people don't have good enough reason to enjoy these activities.  Some might appreciate the physical activity portion and perhaps they get an extra boost by combining their own power with the power the vehicle provides?  Perhaps they can see the world as it goes by from a different perspective?  

I bring both sides of this coin up for inspection because I do have hobbies that I enjoy very much when I give myself permission to do so.  Sometimes I wish I had more contact with others who enjoy these hobbies as much as I do so I could really dive into the subject as only a nerd can!  I am happy to share what I enjoy with others who have a passing or greater interest.  I always appreciate when someone lets me share at least a little and I try very hard to watch for signs that they have had more than enough!

In return, I remind myself that I should be patient and pay attention when someone else gifts me with some of their enthusiasm for something they enjoy.  Who knows what I will learn?  And, why shouldn't I also pay a kindness forward by actively listening?

Well - since this is MY blog, I get to do the talking here... unless you put in some comments at the bottom.  So, I am going to share a little about something I enjoy in hopes that you might appreciate it.  In return, feel free to share a comment with a little information about some activity or hobby YOU enjoy.  Why not?

What Does A Postal Historian Like in a Mail Item?

I am showing you an item from my collection that I enjoy very much.  Without getting crazy into the nerdy details, I thought I would point out some of the basic things that I like about it.  

  1. It doesn't really look as ratty as you might think a 147 year old piece of paper should look.  But, it is clearly that old.
  2. The handwriting is clear.  Nice penmanship!
  3. If I wanted, I could research both the sender of this letter (Louis Horster) or the recipient (Renstrom & Co).
  4. I can tell you where it started (Brussels Belgium) and where it was delivered (Gothenbourg, Sweden) and I can even determine most of the steps in between!
  5. The postmarks are clear and the dates can be read (this includes some markings on the back of the envelope) so I can puzzle out even more about how this piece of mail traveled and how quickly it went.
  6. I can even figure out how the money from the 40 centimes in postage paid by stamps in Belgium was split between Belgium, Germany and Sweden.

In short - it looks nice, it provides enough information so I can figure out a puzzle or two AND it connects me to a point in time of history, so I can research connected stories of the past.

A piece of mail doesn't have to be that old to get my attention.  In fact, it can be a bit messy looking and still be of interest!  The item above is from World War II.  This was a piece of mail sent to a serviceman in Italy.  Unfortunately, this person could not be found as they had been killed in action.  

I appreciate this one for the story of real people who struggled through a difficult time and suffered the loss of a loved one.  The story reminds me of things that I should not take for granted and helps me to honor others for the lives they have led.  On top of all that, this envelope gave me a number of puzzles to solve as well.  I call that a great piece of postal history.

And, sometimes, your lovely bride just sighs and throws up her hands!

Tammy and I have a bit of a running joke about the purple stamp you see on this envelope.  You see, every young stamp collector who got packets or bags of stamps would be at least mildly dismayed by the sheer volume of this particular design that showed up in every, single envelope of mixed United States stamps.  I bet her once that someone had actually put together an exhibit of mail pieces featuring this stamp.  Admittedly, that's hard to believe because you really would have to work to make one of the most common stamps interesting.  Nonetheless, I did win the bet when we saw such an exhibit some years ago.

But, the item above illustrates how that could happen.  It is a letter from Des Moines, Iowa to Venezuela during the World War II period.  The United States was still neutral at this point.  Even so, the tape at the left shows that the military censors had checked the contents.  Even more interesting is that this item was carried via air mail, which was still a pretty big thing in 1941.  

Some history.  Some puzzles to figure out how the mail item traveled.  It is fairly clean and clear.  You can figure out who the recipient is.  You could explore air mail or military mail censorship in WW II.  In all, it is something a postal historian might enjoy.

There you are!  Thank you for letting me share.  If you only tolerated this - then many many thanks!  If you enjoyed it, you are welcome and many, many thanks!

Your turn to share something with us!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Guest Phauxtos

We were honored to have Tammy's sister and niece (Brenda and Nicole) reside on the farm with us for a period of time this Summer and we were gifted with a few pictures that they took while they were here.  It is always interesting to see the perspectives people show when they are the ones taking the pictures.  So, I thought I would share a few of the pictures and write a bit about each one.

Who knows where this will go?  But, I suspect it will be fun for someone... just not sure who!

Borage is a flowering herb we have long enjoyed at the farm.  They are a very bee friendly plant, they bloom for an extended period of time.  And... they are great companions for vine crops in particular.  

On the negative side of things, these plants can easily be toppled by a windstorm and the plants do not always provide a perfect appearance if you are looking for beauty over function.  It just so happens that we are more interested in function because that is where we see so much of their beauty.  They attract pollinators and provide habitat for critters such as cucumber frog and the various 'shelob' spiders we like to see in our gardens.  

In prior blogs, I have also shown my own close up pictures of borage flowers.  It is good to see someone else who notices that each of these flowers is their own work of art.  You want beauty?  Look close at these flowers and you will find it.  I don't think our appreciation of these flowers is misplaced.

We take pictures of our chickens more "in passing" than anything.  I can think of one time in particular when I actually decided to try for a 'nice' shot of chickens.  And, for the record, it worked out pretty well.  In fact, we've used a couple of those pictures in our blogs and other material for some time.  

But, we always underestimate exactly how much people who do not live on the farm will gravitate toward the chickens.  It's true, when they are content and are not worried about who is in which nest box, they can be pretty relaxing.  But, when you are the people responsible for the bird chores each and every day... it can be a bit more difficult to stop and see the hens from this sort of perspective.

In short, it was nice to have someone come and take some pictures of the ladies without being in a rush to get from one place to another while doing chores.  

This picture, in particular, is striking because it really shows off the combs on these white hens.  That sort of hairdo would be the envy of all in the mosh pit!

We will close with a picture that I am in.  Ok.  That's my hand.

The focus of the photo is, of course, the Inspector.  We will leave it to you to decide.  Is this dignified?  

You could say 'no' with the logic that no self-respecting feline would allow himself to have a belly-rub without also threatening to take a chunk out of the hand that offers it.

You could also say 'yes' because only a cat who is secure with his place in the universe could look so darned happy to be getting a belly-rub.

I asked the Inspector his opinion.  His response was to just crank up the purrs.  I will also leave that up to you to interpret as you see fit.

Thursday, August 6, 2020


Here we are, sitting on the cusp of schools starting again and a debate is still raging on so many levels about how schools of all sorts are going to move forward.  Rather than enter that debate and rehash everything everyone has already said (and sadly there is lots of saying and not a great deal of listening going on), I am just going to look at our own situation and trace the ripple effect we are going to need to consider in our home and at the Genuine Faux Farm.

As always, I am not really concerned that those who read this feel 'sorry' for us.  That is NOT the point.  I am using our example to make a larger point that educators, school staff, students and their families are right to be concerned - and that concern is not just for themselves.

Why am I doing this particular post?  Two reasons:
1. We need to consider the safety of our customers.  It is our responsibility to look ahead at possible problems and be prepared for them - and we prefer to communicate our reasons and how we plan to address things.
2. I made a comment that I thought we were not ready to re-open schools.  I was told I was being selfish.

Quick Background

For those who do not know, Tammy and I operate the Genuine Faux Farm, which produces vegetables and poultry (meat and eggs).  We sell direct to individuals and we also sell to the kitchens at Jorgensen Plaza in Cedar Falls.  Tammy is a professor of Social Work at Wartburg College.  Rob also works for Pesticide Action Network.  Rob's job is remote.  Tammy's, as of this moment, is scheduled to return to (adjusted) face to face learning in late August. 

That should be plenty to be getting on with...

The College Petri Dish

Between the two of us, we have many years of experience where one, the other, or both of us have taught in post-secondary institutions.  We are both reminded every year what it means to be a young adult as we watch (and try to guide) college students as they navigate all of the new experiences that come their way.  College students have blind spots that have nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with personal development and experience.  They are going to make mistakes.  They are going to do things that seem careless or uncaring.  Some few of them will blatantly decide there is not a problem and ignore all precautions while others will diligently follow all guidelines.  In short, they are just like the rest of us!

The biggest difference is that the younger and healthier individuals are more likely to be asymptomatic when it comes to COVID-19.  Add in normal human blind spots, mistakes, predispositions and occasional carelessness.  Voila!  The likelihood that there will be some level of outbreak at any college/university is going to be pretty high.  And I don't think it is all that far afield to extrapolate the same logic for any other school system that gathers children from many families together and then sends them back home each day.

Bringing It On Home

Tammy has been teaching at Wartburg since the Fall of 2004.  Every year, the student body runs through cycles of various illnesses that are going to be spread for all of the reasons any disease goes through a population.  Every year, she does what she can to stay healthy and not add her name to the list of people who have succumbed to whatever crud is going around this time.  She does this while working hard to help her students to learn to become excellent Social Workers.  She does this while serving as an advisor and while facilitating numerous experiences that improve student experience.  She is just like so many other professors at small colleges who care very much for their students and work very hard on their behalf.  I am proud of her and what she does.

Every year, at some point, she gets caught by one of the contagions that are going around.

Every year, something Tammy brings home also catches up to Rob.

Here's Where We Are Selfish?

Apparently, this is where we are selfish.  Neither of us wants to contract COVID-19.  How dare we put our health in a prominent position?  After all, students are desperate for face to face interaction and instruction.  Truth be told, most teachers are ALSO desperate for that as well! 

Sometimes, we have to forego what we want so we can do what needs to be done.  We are fortunate to live in a time where we have so much technology that can be used to connect us when we need to reduce physical contact and increase physical distance.  So, I don't buy the argument that we can't figure out ways to deal with the social discomfort and shortcomings that physical distancing brings about.  And I don't buy that Tammy and I should be willing to experience COVID-19 so people can get the face to face experience they want at this moment. 

But, that's not the whole picture.  This is not just about us.

Ripple Effect

Once school starts, we will be even less able to visit family because it will be that much more likely that we may become carriers of COVID-19.  This will be true for anyone else who is an educator at any level.  Whether each educator realizes this and acts on it or not is another matter.  But, again, that is not the point.  The point is that educators will have to isolate themselves even more from family and personal support networks that they might have been able to enjoy during the past few months.  Considering how hard teachers work during the school year, I suppose that might not be so different for many of them. 

This is where we remind everyone that most of us have fairly complex networks of personal interaction.  Teachers and professors have religious, professional and personal affiliations outside of school.   If the teacher gets sick, and they are not aware that they are sick, they can potentially spread it to those networks, to their families, to other teachers and to their students. 

Now, tell me again how selfish teachers are when they say they are worried that face to face instruction might cause them to become another number in the COVID-19 count.  Is it allowed that they be worried for their own health?  Of course it is.  Does it make it more acceptable if they are ALSO worried about the health of their family, their students, their students' families and anyone else with whom they might have contact?  And, why should they have to justify this concern for health and safety?  Shouldn't we be able to show that the threat is removed or controlled before we push them into the classroom just to see if it won't be quite as bad as some people fear?

Genuine Faux Farm's Preparation to Respond

Not everyone has to consider food safety and pandemic safety as a small farm like ours does.  Our customers consist of people from all risk categories.  We always take food safety and customer health seriously.  It is only natural that we will adjust what we do to protect our customers from potential infection of COVID-19.  This is what it means to be responsible.

We will continue to maintain 'no contact' food deliveries.  We will continue to abide by food safety guidelines and we will continue to adjust as the situation warrants.

However, should the ripples of COVID-19 reach the shores of our farm.  We will cease deliveries until we are cleared as having survived the virus. 

Let that sink in.

Crops that ripen during the time we are ill will not be harvested UNLESS we, ourselves, are going to eat it.  And this is assuming we feel well enough to go get it.  So, assuming we are out for the minimum quarantine time, we lose at least two weeks of production that would otherwise be available for sale.

If we fall ill at a point when we are supposed to be taking turkeys or broilers to "the Park."  We will either have to hire someone else to do it if we think we can safely do so or we will try to reschedule.  Why?  Because we are not going to be responsible for bringing this virus to those who work at Martzahn's.

Once cleared, we will re-sanitize anything that was in our environs while we were ill or that we may have touched.  We will be overly cautious so that we will not pass anything on to anyone else. Then, we will move on and make the best of it.

And that's a plan we don't want to be forced to implement.

Everyone Is A Link

Everyone is a link to some other group of people.  There is a ripple effect for each person that becomes ill that impacts another group of people. 

One teacher has a spouse who is a manager at a local restaurant.  The restaurant does carry-out menus right now and is doing what it can to safely serve customers and protect workers.  The teacher becomes ill.  The manager of the restaurant becomes ill.  The restaurant may be forced to shut down.  The employees of the local restaurant are looking at no income again.  Perhaps the entire staff will half to isolate for two weeks.  Etcetera etcetera.

Another teacher is the primary care-giver for a special needs child.  Who cares for this child when this teacher becomes ill?  If the child becomes ill, will that child survive?

We Are Better Than This

There are people who are becoming very creative with reasonably good solutions right now and we should applaud and support those efforts.  There are many who have created 'social bubbles' with members who interact with each other (as a family might) and limit their interactions outside of that bubble.  We can figure this out and make some good things happen.

While we are at it, those of us who are privileged enough to be reasonably healthy and have secure resources to support our little bubbles need to find ways to encourage and support those who do not.

If we are going to provide face to face instruction, we should focus on those who are less able to survive with distance only education.  Children with different abilities may truly need the face to face interaction.  We need to support building bubbles so they can get that interaction.  Households that are still without employment and have little hope of that changing soon need to have their bills covered so they can concentrate on building social bubbles, adjust to new circumstances and have a clear mind to see where they might be able to go next.

Every day, I learn how someone else's circumstance is different and it requires some adjustments to make life more livable.

And this is why I am "selfish."  I am selfish because I think we can do a better job protecting everyone else if we deny ourselves some things we want very much.   And, we give ourselves the things we really need.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Eligible from GFF August 5

Welcome to August and the annual August 'fall-like days' just prior to the typical 'state fair heat.'  We hope everyone is hanging in there!

Quick news (details lower in this email):
#1. Upcoming Schedule
#2. Crop and Poultry Report
#3. Farmer Update
#4. Spray Season
#5. New Blog Material
#6. What if it Rains?
#7. Egg Carton Guidelines
#8. 2020 Farm Credit Program
#9. Welcome to New Members
Waverly: Wednesday August 5  5:00-5:30pm St Andrew's parking lot
                                                       5:45-6:00pm Yogi Life parking area
New Delivery Method: Please maintain appropriate physical distancing.  We will place your order into a tray and put it on our table.  Once we step away, place your order in your bag/box you bring.  then set the tray in the 'dirty' pile next to the table.                                                  
Available to members (order by noon Wednesday!):
    eggs - $3.50/dozen (limit 2 doz - we will try to fill 1 doz for all orders first, unless you order for two families)
    green beans $3/pound
    lettuce $2/head
    golden beets $2/pound
   zucchini $1 each
   garlic $2 head
   frozen broiler chicken $3.60/pound (avg 4-5 pounds)
   basil $1 bunch (about the size of our oregano bunches - perfect for a vase)
   oregano $1 bunch
   eggplant $1 each
   carrots $3/pound

1. Upcoming Schedule
  • August 5 - Waverly (St Andrew's and Yogi Life)
  • August 13 - Cedar Falls (Jorgensen Plaza)
  • August 19 - Waverly (St Andrew's and Yogi Life)
  • August 27 - Cedar Falls (Jorgensen Plaza)
  • Sept 2 - Waverly (St Andrew's and Yogi Life)
  • Sept 10 - Cedar Falls (Jorgensen Plaza)
  • Sept 15 (Tuesday)- Fresh Broiler Chicken delivery (anticipated - no egg/veg delivery this week)
  • Sept 22 (Tuesday) - Waverly (St Andrew's and Yogi Life)
2. Crop & Poultry Report
The tomatoes are starting to ripen on some of the vines, so we may begin offering tomatoes on our lists.  Peppers are in a similar spot.  When we have smaller amounts of a crop, we may offer items such as these to people on a 'name out of a hat' basis.  It just makes no sense to offer tomatoes and have orders for 30 pounds when we know we will only have four pounds on a given delivery date. 

The second succession of green beans are really getting going now, so you might notice we are offering beans in one pound increments (rather than a half pound) and at a better price.  This is a reflection of the supply increasing as we start harvesting the Jade green beans to go with the already producing Providers.  Speaking of legumes (we were?) we are going to put in one more high tunnel succession of green beans and we are also going to try a Fall snow pea planting.

On the 'not so good' side of things, we will not have bulb onions this year.  We will not bore you with the whole story here.  But, we started by making the mistake of buying an onion cleaner to help us prepare onions for sale after harvest.  We should have known that investing in specialized equipment would doom that crop.  We are now looking to sell that piece of equipment so we can have onions in the future.

3. Farmer Update
Every day has its ups and downs.  Sound familiar?  It is something I think everyone can relate to.  The weather over the last few days has been absolutely gorgeous.  Tammy and I LOVE green beans (and we have plenty of them to eat).  Peaches are in-season.  Yo-Yo Ma and company released Not Our First Goat Rodeo.  So, things are pretty good in many respects.

On the other hand, we are in the familiar position that we have much to do and less time to do it in.  Spray season has been taxing, trips to see doctors have eaten up valuable time and energy and world events wear on us all. 

This is not so much an update on the two of us as it is a recognition that we still have the ability to exert some control on where our focus is.  As always, we are a work in progress.  For the next twenty or so hours, we are going to focus on harvesting some quality food and getting it to some quality people.  We look forward to greeting you in person tomorrow!

4. Spray Season
Spray season won't officially end for a week or so.  We admit that we are a little less on edge now that we've gotten into early August, but it is still important that EVERYONE who witnesses off-target spray should report it to the Pesticide Bureau in Iowa.  Make note of the time, date and location as well as any additional details so you can report accurately.

Neither of us likes to force beliefs or issues on other people.  But, we are even more adamant that we want people to fully understand what it means to be a victim of chemical trespass without having to experience it themselves.  Even more important, we are hopeful we can make some real differences.  For example, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act,” which would update U.S. pesticide rules to be more in line with more health-protective laws in other countries. We will try to use this space in our weekly newsletters to periodically inform you of things that just might address the problem. We think we can do that and respect different viewpoints and the general intent of this newsletter to cover farm news and offer good food.

5. New blog material for you
6. What if it Rains?
We have been fortunate that rain has not been in the equation during deliveries for some time now.  Rain should not be a problem tomorrow either!  However, we are considering options for the days when the weather is a bit less amenable to the current delivery method.

Option 1 will be to revert back to our early season method where we place orders into vehicles so you do not have to dampen yourselves unnecessarily. 

Option 2 will be to either use a portable shelter (pop up tent) or use overhangs at our delivery locations.  There is a small overhang at St Andrew's that may serve and there is the nice area near Jorgensen Plaza that we may also end up using.  At present, there is not a good option for easy shelter with appropriate physical distancing at Yogi Life or Hansen's Outlet. 

As always, we will keep our eyes on the weather and inform you if we have to make modifications to our normal delivery patterns to account for what Mother Nature brings us.

7. Egg Carton Guidelines
We are grateful for the volume of egg cartons that have come our way in recent weeks.  Thank you so much for being kind and helping us re-use resources!

We have had a few questions about what egg cartons we will accept and I thought this would be a good time to address them.
  • we will only take chipboard cartons, no styrofoam or plastic.
  • we will take cartons for large to jumbo eggs, smaller sizes need not apply
  • 12 egg cartons are wonderful, we are not using 18 egg sized cartons at this time
And finally, if an egg broke in the carton or something else happened to seriously dirty a carton, please don't give it to us.  While we aren't unhappy about doing the recycling ourselves, these cartons can actually remove more than one carton from the re-use option.  If the carton doesn't look like something you would be happy to receive new and clean eggs in, then do not give it to us.  Recycle it as you normally would.

8. 2020 Pre-Paid Farm Credit Program
We will run the system in $50 increments.  In other words, you can purchase a minimum of $50 of farm credit at a time.  We will cap the maximum amount of credit at $200 and you can refill your farm credits at any point.

Like the CSA program, this gives you the advantage of not having to pull out money at each delivery.  Instead, we will have a ledger with tracking for your current credit balance.  This also provides us with some working capital to start the season.  Also, like the CSA program, we will give participants better pricing and opportunities than those who might prefer to 'pay as they go.'

A major difference this year is that farm credits can be used for ANY farm product the Genuine Faux Farm offers.  If you buy farm credits, you can apply them to purchasing meat chickens, vegetables, eggs or any other thing we offer this year.

We are accepting purchases of credits now and throughout the season.

9. Welcome!
If you are new to this email newsletter for the Genuine Faux Farm, we would like to welcome you.  If you are an 'old hand,' we want you to feel welcome too - but we were gently reminded that we need to introduce people a bit more to the system.

The basics are as follows:
  - we deliver once per week - alternating between Waverly and Cedar Falls locations.
  - Waverly is on Wednesdays
  - Cedar Falls is on Thursdays
  - anyone with farm credits can order from either location, you just have to arrange to get what you order.
  - to order, you only need to respond to this email - sent the day prior to the delivery.
  - a "gentle reminder" email is sent the day of the delivery.  This email confirms that we have received orders by listing those from whom we have received orders.
 - delivery instructions will be in this email each week.  Please pay attention as circumstances may require a change.

Be Well!
Rob & Tammy

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

How Will We End the 2020 Growing Season

In the post just prior to this one.  Yes, that was yesterday's post.  Yes, really, I did put a post out there yesterday.  You didn't read it?  Really?!?  Well, you can scroll down to that one and read it if you like, then come on back.

Done yet?

How about now?

Anyway, as I was saying, we were grading our efforts at the Genuine Faux Farm for the year thus far.  I thought it might be a good time to discuss what we are thinking we are going to try to do to end this growing season on a positive note.  In other words, we're applying a little 2020 foresight once again!

What are we looking to do with the farm for the remainder of the year?  What can you expect from us?  What can we expect from us?  And perhaps, how is 2021 shaping up for GFF?

Poultry - A Foregone Conclusion?
We have a flock of about 75 turkeys.  We have an old laying flock of about 70 hens and a new laying flock of about 95 henlets.  There are two flocks of 125 broiler chickens at the farm and there are over 100 broilers in freezers.

We have the poultry.  We are set up to care for them.  There really isn't much choice in the matter - we'll see them through.

About the only things that would stop us would be if we could not physically care for the birds or if there was a natural disaster that eliminated the flocks.  And no, we are not asking to try either of those out.  And, it is not actually all that easy to transfer the care of existing flocks to someone else.  So, for 2020, at least, we will have poultry and we will sell broiler chickens, turkeys and stewing hens.  We will continue to collect, wash and sell eggs.  And, we will continue to care for these birds with our day-range system. 

Besides, the turkeys have learned how to eat zucchini.  That's amusing to watch.  There is entertainment to be had!

As far as 2021 is concerned, we will likely maintain our laying flock through the Winter, just as we have for many years now.  We won't make any decisions regarding poultry until we get into the December through February period.  Sorry, no crystal ball forecast on this one!

Veggies - How Hard Do We Push?
We admit that we have not pushed to get the Fall successions of crops into the ground.  There were some things up in the air that might have made any efforts in that area completely moot.  Rather than plant and then bemoan the fact that we could do nothing for them, we just didn't put them in.  There is still some time if we push this week.  And, we'll likely put some things in.  But, I suspect we are not going to push all that hard.

But why? 

First, the labor situation will not get better at the Genuine Faux Farm.  If anything, it will get worse as we get into mid to late August.  And second, with the trends in Iowa for COVID-19 infection rates, we do not expect that we will be able to do much more for bulk sales than we have done thus far.  We can move twenty pounds of green beans to individuals, but the potential orders for fifty pounds or more are not going to be there.  Twenty heads of lettuce?  Yep, probably can sell that.  Twenty pounds?  Not likely.  And third, the dry weather and likelihood of no rain for some time will make getting seeded crops established very difficult.

When we consider the current dry spell, we actually see an opportunity here to complete some of the farm re-organization and re-imagination that we started last Fall.  Dry soils will allow us to work them and put in more waterways.  In short, we have a chance to set ourselves up for future years if we wish to do so.  If we foresake that plan and try to do more than we able this season, then we are less likely to continue with veggie production in 2021.

So - what is the outlook for 2021?  Let's put it this way.  We love to grow green things.  So, we will grow something with some volume next season.  With this year's experience, we may have a better idea of what we can do reasonably.  It is mostly a question of motivation and endurance for us. 

Veggies - What's Already Going?
We do have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, broccoli, winter squash and other veggies already in the ground and we will continue to care for them and harvest them as they ripen.  There are melons in one of the high tunnels.  There are some carrots and beets.  There is basil.  So, it is not like we don't have anything for the future.  Shoot, we're hoping the batch of watermelons we put in do us proud as well.

But, you see, this is all part of the picture we have to look at.  Can we maintain what we already have while starting and raising new crops?  Can we do all of that while properly caring for the poultry?  Is it possible we can also perform well in our off-farm jobs? 

Ah!  You get the picture.

The 2020 Picture as We See It
So, the plan is as follows:
  1. See all of our poultry flocks through the process and (hopefully) sell poultry meat and eggs.
  2. See our current veggie crops through to the end and (hopefully) have some good harvests to sell.
  3. Plant (smaller) new successions of lettuce, peas, green beans, zucchini, cucumber, beets, carrots and spinach and call that good for the year.  Maybe add a few late plants of broccoli just to see if we can get them to go in a high tunnel.
  4. Get some cover crops in the ground
  5. Dig another swale or two
  6. Deal with new asparagus plants and maybe we'll have more asparagus in the future.
  7. Hope for a good apple harvest and maybe share some of those with others
  8. Do a great job preparing growing areas for 2021 by adding fertility, etc
  9. Fix a whole bunch of things that need fixing if we intend to keep farming.
  10. Continue to make progress on exterior house projects before we get to November (famous last words?)
  11. Clean up perennial beds around the house (we aren't happy with our grade in that area)
  12. Continue to alternate sale/delivery dates with Cedar Falls and Waverly until mid-October.  Select a couple 'weeks off' where we do not do a veg/egg delivery.  These may coincide with weeks that we have trips to 'the Park.'
  13. Plan on scaling back deliveries around mid to late October, but continue to offer eggs and whatever we have left at that time.
There you go.  That's what we're thinking.  Let's see if we can manage it!

The 2021 Picture as We See It

Every year holds its promises.  So, we are looking at 2021 with optimism.  Oddly, that optimism does not hold a perfectly clear plan for the Genuine Faux Farm.  But, you know us - whatever that plan ends up being, we'll do our best to do it well.

Monday, August 3, 2020

GFF 2020 Report Card - August edition

Every year when we turn the page of the calendar to the month of August on the farm, we start assessing how the current growing season is going.  Part of the reason for this is that there often isn't much that can be done to change the course of the season at this point unless you are looking at shorter, late season crops.   Mistakes that were made early are now being paid for and gambles that were made are either paying out or are in our list of 'don't do that agains.'

I thought we might share a little bit of what we are thinking with everyone else right now - so here you go!

Handling the Water (Incomplete but earning a B- so far)
We have made it no secret that heavy rains are one of the hardest things for us to deal with on our farm.  And, of course, we had issues with wet fields early in the season, which now seems like eons ago since the rains have very much dried up over the past four weeks.  Just to give you all some idea of how long we've dealt with wet conditions at the Genuine Faux Farm, I'd like to point out that our fields are in great condition for cultivation and other work right now.  We haven't seen good soil working conditions at our farm for over two years now.  We're not sure how to handle that.

In any event, we put in a couple of swales early in the season and have done some field reconfiguration.  The swales are looking like they will help us eventually, but it would be nice to complete that task (it takes a long time to make these).  Let's just say that we do not regret the path we are taking with our fields right now.  We just wish we could get the project finished so we can move to next steps.  It's getting old telling ourselves that we will 'get to that.'

Supporting the Pollinators (B+)
We always want to support the pollinators on our farm.  From our perspective, this has been a pretty good year for us in that category.  Perhaps some of it is because we really reduced the crop load and we still made sure to have some good flowers going in. 

Another thing that may have something to do with it is that we have fewer work hours, so we've let some things go a bit longer?  But, the more I think about it, that does not seem to be the case.   I think this is more a case of a better weather situation for the pollinators this year combined with our normal efforts to support them.  In other words, we did not drop the ball here despite all of the changes to the farm.

Dealing with Reduced Labor Hours (C-)
Ah.  Here it is.  One of those we feel we are handling the least well right now.  We expect a great deal from ourselves in whatever we choose to do.  Both of us have off-farm jobs now.  Both of us intend to do well at those jobs.  We have no workers at the farm other than an infrequent volunteer or a visit from family members.  We always appreciate that help - of course.  But, like all of you, we are still trying to figure out how to do things with the pandemic raging in the U.S.

I think we will both admit that we are working less hard on the farm this year.  This was partially by design and partly due to reduced motivation.  When someone is coming to work on your farm each day, you tend to be motivated to .. well... work on the farm too.  But, that's not the whole story.  We do still work hard enough.  The issue has been trying to figure out how much work is the right amount of work and when will that work occur, given our new labor distribution.   Those of you who work two jobs will get it.  Once you get off of work, are you really ready to go to work right away?  If you enjoy both things enough, the answer might be yes - but you still need to find the balancing point.

Managing a New Sales System (C+)
Going to the farm credits system seems to have worked for the customers who continue to patronize us.  We are grateful for their willing and supportive participation.  The move to farm credits has allowed us to drop production expectations so we can try to figure out some of these other things (address the water issue, figure out a new job, etc).  There was no way we could make so many major changes and stick with the old CSA structure.  This was the right call.

The down sides are a bit harder to explain.  The tracking overhead is much higher for us.  So, if you were to consider the amount of labor we put into each dollar of income from sales, you would find that this amount if much higher than it was in prior seasons.  Sure, some if it is because we continue to adjust and refine as we figure things out.  But, CSA is a good system because it simplifies a number of things for us.  The fact is that CSA is a stressful system to use and use it well because you have to have so many crops doing reasonably well.  This system reduces some of the crop stress but increases management stresses.

Either way, this is where we need to be right now.  We'll just keep improving on it.

Further Refinements in Poultry (Incomplete - but pulling a B+ so far)
The good thing about poultry is that wet years do not necessarily cause great harm to our poultry production.  Another good thing is that if there is herbicide drift in the spring, it does not necessarily end the flock as it might for many of our vegetable crops.  We have some useful buildings and we have built up some of the infrastructure to keep getting better at what we do with our day-ranged birds.

Each year we try to refine the process a bit more.  The biggest change this year is to have two concurrent flocks of broiler chickens at one time.  The days that surround the 'trip to the park' are some of the hardest for us, so we hoped that this would reduce our trips while still maintaining a similar amount of production.  I think we agree that the process from arrival to brooder room to pasture has gotten easier for us with this system.  About the only thing we can say about the 'trip to the park' is that we're about as tired as we usually are once we are done.  If we can reduce the number of overall days we do that process, I think we'll call it a win.

Our modification to the laying flock will not be able to be assessed until the new layers begin laying.  So, we shall see.

Farmer Mental Health (A for effort)
If you have been following our blog for the past few years, you will recognize that we have been searching for that life-balance that allows us to continue to farm successfully while also living successfully.  We never expected this process to be easy - because that's part of the point.  Life has its challenges.

Asking us to assess how we are doing in this area might actually be a bit unfair.  After all, we did not order a pandemic on the side with all of the fixings.  Add in some family health concerns and shake well!

Let's just say this.  Tammy and I talk often and we still like each other (a lot!).  We do our best to stay in touch with others and offer our talents when we are able to help as we can and when we can.  We still play Wingspan most every day.  We go to Sweet Water Marsh on a regular basis.  Tammy still makes fantastic bread and now we have some of our own honey to put on it.

In short, we are struggling with the world and with our own lives just like all of you are doing.  But, we are also making time to enjoy life and enjoy what we do have.  We'll never be perfect, but I don't think we'll regret our efforts to live well.

Reviving the Farm Grounds and Plantings (Incomplete - we signed up for too many courses)
We've watched as our perennial plantings around the house and elsewhere have fallen into disarray while we spent our energy on the rest of the farm.  We set some goals to try to reclaim some of this during the current season.  We always set the bar too high.  We'll just leave it at that.

Making the Farm House A Positive Rather than a Negative (A-)
I am actually going to be very nice to us with this grade because there is still so much we have to do.  And, I am not even going to start listing all of the things that are not quite finished.  Instead, I will point out that we have new siding, some decent air conditioning, a working solar array, a functional kitchen and some new windows and doors that were in desperate need of repair. 

All of the help we received (and are grateful for) was needed to get this far.  We also put plenty of ourselves into the process.  We are grateful to have better entry to the house and the basement.  We no longer cringe when we look at the exterior.  Hopefully we can keep these trends moving in the positive.

Vegetable Crops (C-)
It isn't what we wanted.  Our history tells us to expect better from ourselves.  It will be what it is.

We learned and we'll continue to adjust.  In a way, this also needs to be chalked up to the signing up for too many courses in a term thing.  The other problem has more to do with things we can not control.  Another wet Spring.  Field areas that are rough because we were digging swales when soil was still wet (not that there was much choice).  Likely dicamba issues (again) and the labor thing. 

Actually, it's ok.  The challenging courses are where you learn the most.  We're learning, even if we don't test well this year.

Giving Through Writing (A-)
Since Rob's new job had a significant component of writing to it, it made sense to hone those skills.  When the pandemic hit, it was clear that everyone who could do so needed to give of themselves to help others out.  It only made sense to exercise the writing skills and hope that it helped a few other people along the line.

I can't measure how much or how little this has helped anyone else - and I am not sure I need to know.  What I do know is that the effort has been there and the intent is good.  The content is often decent and the writing skill has improved.  I hear from people now and again that the effort is appreciated.  In fact, it happens just often enough to encourage me to keep it going.  Maybe one day I'll make you laugh and another I might encourage you to think a new thought or consider something differently.   Perhaps you will learn a new fact that will be interesting to you. Maybe you will recognize that I don't pretend to know it all, that I am critical of my own thinking and that I fully intend on learning and changing as I learn.  Is it even possible that you will try something new that you might find rewarding or you will act on something that you feel needs to be acted on? 

Or, you'll just feel a connection with two people who do their best on a small farm in Iowa - even if you can't sit down and share a face to face conversation with them.