Monday, November 30, 2020

Standing in the Rain

As small-scale vegetable and poultry farmers dedicated to local sales, we have become experts at numerous things.  We're very good about doing lots of laundry.  We can tell if there is an invader in the chicken yard from the other side of the farm.  We know when the broccoli heads are at peak harvest quality.  

And we have been very good at standing in the rain.

People who have outdoor jobs, such as farming, can probably relate to the "Five Stages of Being Wet" that we introduced for the first time in the early years of the blog.  Sometimes, you get wet because you don't have a choice.  The job (whatever it is) can't be brought to a halt just yet, so - there you are.  At other times, the job can't continue once things get too wet, so you keep pushing until it reaches that point.

I can recall numerous times that we were pushing to get a 'few more things' planted just prior to a rain.  We would keep an eye on the skies so we would know if we needed to be ready to pack it all in.  But, there was a huge difference between a rain that caused us to rush and gather all the equipment and go versus those light or steady rains that we would just tolerate as we continued with our task.

There were even more times that we pushed to harvest despite the rain, even when it was quite heavy.  You see, if you have two to three deliveries a week, you can't just 'not harvest' when the weather is less than ideal.  Of course we plan our harvests so we pick things that won't be adversely affected because we are working with them in the wet.  "One and done" crops like lettuce or cauliflower are often good choices, but I never did like harvesting wet root crops.  There are only so many times you want to say to yourself, "I know there must be a carrot in the middle of all that mud I just pulled up."

So, I told you those stories so I can tell you about our tolerance for standing in the rain.  

I can recall numerous farmers' markets where we dealt with downpours, strong winds, and continuous rains.  There were even multiple events where it was cold (35 degrees) and the rain was falling sideways in a stiff, northwest wind.  I remember multiple CSA distributions in rainy conditions.  One season, we had nine consecutive Thursdays (typically our Cedar Falls distribution) where it rained during the entirety of each of our two and a half hour delivery periods.

It was not uncommon for us to stand outside the shelter area so our customers could stay dry and we very rarely packed up early, simply because we knew there were some folks who had to come later.  And, if there were still people on our delivery list that had not arrived to pick up their share, we stayed until 'closing time' because that's just what you do. 

I have realized that I have become less willing to stand in the rain than I once was.  Or, more accurately, the reasons I accept as being good enough to stay out in the rain have changed.

I will stand in the rain, the cold and the wind - for hours if I must - for someone who needs me to do so.  I will work in the pouring rain if the task really must be done - I will not forsake it just because I don't want to be cold and wet.  There will still be times that I will stay in the field, work in the pasture or remain on the tractor when conditions are not optimal.  After all, that is part of what I bargained for when I decided to be a grower and raise poultry.

On the other hand, I will no longer stand in the rain for the sake of potential business.  I won't get soaked for the possibility of another $x in sales.  But, I will stand in the rain for you.

I realize this is a fine distinction.  Perhaps I can make it clear this way?  If someone specifically needs me to stand in the rain to get them food that they need - I'll do it.  If someone else's tent blows over and their product is exposed to the elements, I will be among those who will rush over and help them get things under cover - even if I get soaked doing it.  If I'm in one of our fields and I know another ten minutes will finish the task, I can handle getting cold and wet.  If someone has a flat by the side of the road, I'll help them change to a spare even if (and maybe especially if) conditions are poor.  And, if my spirit wills it, I will stand in the rain because I want to.

I just don't see the need to stand in the rain because some unwritten rules says I am supposed to.

This has been a gradual revelation to us over the past several years.  Our farm share customers have probably noticed that we have been trying to move to locations that provide us with more (rather than less) shelter, preferably with indoor options when the weather gets difficult.  (Of course, the pandemic kind of set that idea back quite a bit - oh well.) They have also probably noted that our delivery times have gotten more compact, while still maintaining some flexibility.

Perhaps it is because we now place a higher value on our own comfort than we once did?  Or more accurately, we consider our own discomfort to be enough of an 'expense' to cause us to look for alternatives. 

It is actually even more complex than that.  Over time, we have come to realize that our willingness to be soaked rarely paid off.  At farmers' market, rain usually signaled the end of customers coming to purchase, even if it cleared up well before closing time.  And, with CSA distributions, we had the same number of shares to deliver whether we were soaked or not.  Wouldn't you rather make deliveries without being soaked?  With a rare exception or two - we would prefer to stay on the drier side.  

After all, if we get damp on the farm, we just go into the farm house and change into dry clothes (and maybe, ironically, take a shower).  Get caught in the rain 45 minutes from home?  Welcome to exploring the world of being damp for at least 45 minutes.  Did we tell you about the time the farmers' market in Waterloo experienced a downpour, complete with wind knocking over tables and tents?  It rained and blew so hard that some of our produce washed away and went down the storm sewer that was hundreds of feet away.   After the clean-up, we squelched into the nearby box store, bought clothing and went into their restroom to change.  Yep, we started taking a change of clothing with us to any market or delivery that looked like it might rain from then on and we started backing away from farmers markets the next season.

So, here's to the next time we get caught in the rain and we have a choice of whether we want to get to shelter or if we want to feel the cool drops landing on our shoulders.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Personal Connections - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  Grab your favorite beverage (but keep it away from the paper collectibles!), put on the comfy slippers and pet the purring feline or the puppy with the big eyes.  Take a few moments and enjoy - perhaps learning something new or interesting in the process.

Why?  Because it's Postal History Sunday!

 Today's question is a paraphrase of a question I received from three different people over the past month.  

" How does a person select a theme or a topic for their collection?"

Finding a Focus

Postal history is an incredibly broad area that has plenty of room for people with all sorts of interests - there is plenty of room for creativity here!  I do recommend that a collector find some way to define what they are looking for because this hobby is like any other collecting hobby, you can easily be overwhelmed in so many ways.  It isn't hard for a collector to gather so much that they aren't even able to appreciate or enjoy what they have.  Some people just succumb to the weight of indecision with the sheer volume of options - and there is little enjoyment in being overwhelmed!

One of the easiest ways to start is to find a personal connection that has corresponding material that you find attractive in the hobby.  

For example, my heritage on my Mother's side of the family is Norwegian.  I went to college and lived for a time near Decorah, Iowa, AND I lived for a couple of years in western Minnesota near Morris (and Benson).  How can I parlay that information into a collecting topic?

Norse-American Centennial Issue of 1925

Enter the 1925 postage stamp issue that commemorated the 100-year anniversary of "organized Norwegian immigration" to the United States.  In 1825, the sloop Restauration sailed form Stavanger on July 4 and landed in New York City on October 9.  The ship was determined to be carrying too many passengers for its size (52 passengers) which resulted in a fine, confiscation of the ship and the arrest of the captain.  A month later, President John Quincy Adams rescinded the fine and confiscation and ordered the release of the captain.

Two stamps were issued as a part of a centennial celebration that had its focus in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin).  The 2-cent stamp (which depicted an artist rendering of the Restauration) was valid for standard letter mail within the United States and the 5-cent stamp paid for the Universal Postal Union letter rate between nations.

The ensuing celebrations featured music from several small colleges, including Luther (Decorah, IA), St Olaf (Northfield, MN), Augsburg (Minneapolis, MN), and Augustana (Rockford, IL).  For those who wish to learn more, you can start with wiki and go from there to verify and find details.

In short, the stamps have a connection to my heritage, to the college I attended and to places I have lived.  Suddenly, I have a focus I can use.   Let's see what we can find!

First Day of Issue

By the time we reached the 1920s, stamp collecting had become very popular and the issuance of new stamps was becoming an event.  You may or may not recall, I have mentioned the concept of event covers in a prior Postal History Sunday post.  A First Day of Issue Cover is simply a collectible item that commemorates the event of the stamp being issued on a certain day by including a postmark with that date AND one of the designated towns or cities for the first day. It just so happens that Decorah was one of the towns selected for the first day of issue for the Norse-American stamps.

And, it also happens that Benson, Minnesota was also one of those cities!

Aha!  Connections galore!

But, Is It Postal History?

This is where my personal interests depart a bit.  I am more interested in studying rates of postage, routes taken to deliver mail and the whole process of how mail systems did what they do.  First Day Covers (FDCs) are the commemoration of an event (the issuance of the stamp) that, in turn, commemorated another event or person(s).  Most FDCs were created simply as collectibles and many of them, especially in more recent times, did not even go through the mail as a letter.

Even so - I still own a couple of FDCs for these stamps.  The first cover in this blog post has both stamps postmarked in Benson, MN on the first day of issue, May 18, 1925.  The seven cents in postage is an overpayment of the 2 cent rate.  But - the person wanted this as a collectible - they did not care that 5 cents of postage was 'wasted.'  The second cover in this blog post was postmarked in Decorah on May 18.  This one properly pays the postal rate of the time.

In short, I am interested enough in the event that I happily found these items and enjoy learning about them and viewing them.  Good enough.  But, I don't really consider them postal history.

Adding the Postal History Bit

You could guess (and you would be correct) that a significant percentage of these stamps were issued to the post offices in the towns and cities that had the highest population of Norse-Americans.  So, it makes sense that if you are looking for postal history with these stamps on them, you will see much of it coming from towns like Northfield, MN (where St Olaf College is located).

How much better would it be to find an item from a bank, to someone in Norway that includes the 2 cent Norse-American stamp as part of the 5 cents of postage needed to send that letter to Norway?  In my opinion, it is LOTS better.  

My collection - my opinion counts the most!  Bwahahahahaaaaa!

Or perhaps, we could find an item to Sweden from St Paul, MN?  This one also pays the 5 cent rate to a foreign nation and was posted a year and a half after the whole Norse American celebration was completed.

I appreciate these two covers because it is fairly clear that the stamps and the event they commemorated were not necessarily the main focus of creating the piece of mail.  This makes it postal history, rather than event commemoration, in my mind. 

For the cover above, I also appreciate the irony that the postmark suggests that airmail would save time.  The year, 1926, was still quite early for airmail and this was mailed prior to Lindbergh's famous Atlantic crossing (note: the first crossing of the Atlantic was in 1919 by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown).  In other words, air mail was going to do next to NOTHING for an overseas letter.  It was going to go via boat, and that's all there was to it!

And A Sidelight

It's a collection.  It's YOUR collection.  So - it is ok if you want to have some stamps in the collection that aren't on a piece of postal history.  One of the fun sidelights you could participate in is finding varieties in the stamps themselves.  Sometimes the inks for the stamp printing come in different shades for stamps that were printed over a long period of time.  

And, sometimes, the method of printing introduces some variety.  For example, the Norse-American stamps were printed in 2 colors.  And sometimes the colors did not exactly line up like they were supposed to.  It can be interesting to find copies of the stamp with a 'fast ship' (too far left), a 'slow ship' (too far right), a 'sinking ship' (too low) or a 'flying ship' (too high).  But, if you ask me, it would be more fun if you found these varieties on a cover that was properly mailed to an interesting location!

Can you imagine a "sinking ship" stamp on an envelope mailed to Bermuda?  Or maybe a 'slow boat' to China?  Perhaps a "flying ship" to Friedrichschafen Germany, where they often launched the zeppelin airships?

And yes, I'd love to find a piece of mail from 1825 that actually references that sailing from Stavanger to New York City.  Or maybe something that discusses the incarceration of the captain and his subsequent release.  Now that would be something!

Thank you for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  I hope you have a good remainder of the day and a fine week to follow. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020


 "You're so quiet.  I can't believe you don't say anything.  I mean, how can you be so quiet?  I almost forgot you were there!"  exclaimed one of the members of our group as we walked from rehearsal to a quick lunch at a local sub shop.  In response, I just shrugged my shoulders.

It was actually a pretty good question coming from a person who was far more outgoing than I ever would be.  Unlike so many other folks who were extroverted in high school, this individual actually seemed to be truly curious - with a bit of actual concern thrown in for good measure.  I am sure, from their perspective, that my presence in the group was a bit confusing.  He's with us, but he doesn't seem to be with us because he doesn't say much of anything.

What were they to make of that?

And what would they do if they realized I could summarize everything the rest of the group had said for the past hour in less than a minute?  I mean, I had nothing to add - if I had nothing to add, why should I open my mouth?

Play Ball!

It was not uncommon for me to play some baseball with a couple of other friends on a regular basis in junior high.  Essentially one person would pitch and one would hit.  And if you had one or two others, they would chase down whatever was hit.

It was a familiar place and a familiar activity.  I usually had some connection with the others who played, but it wasn't necessary - it was baseball!

One day, when I was the 'fielder,' I yelled encouragement, jokes, and good-natured ribbing at the other two participants.  Of those two people, one was a very good friend who knew me well - it didn't seem odd to him.  The other was a ... well... distant friend?  So, he did not know me all that well.

After we called a break to hunt for a baseball that had gone into the tall grass, he gave me an odd look and said, "What's with you?  You NEVER talk that much."

I just shrugged my shoulders and found the missing baseball.

Say What You Mean

The high school class was U.S. Government and the teacher, someone I had come to respect, was trying to get students in this required class to provide some opinions about a particular topic.  

It was high school, so there was very little volunteered discussion and most of the answers were filled with "ums and ers" and very few had much substance beyond the basics.  Per the norm, I didn't volunteer.  But, I did answer when called upon.

I gave a concise four-sentence answer that expressed what I understood about the question at hand and then ... stopped.

A girl next to me who could be described as extremely outgoing and very talkative looked at me and said, "Holy crap!"

It wasn't because I was quiet that she commented - it was because the quiet individual just encapsulated an entire, relatively complex, position in a compact paragraph.  I understood her meaning because I had seen the look that went with her words before.

I gave her a quick look and a small shrug.

Words With Purpose

I was leading a discussion-based class that focused on morality, ethics and science as a professor of computer science.  As was always the case in every group of people, there were talkers and there were 'quiet folks.'  Some of the quiet folks might have been quiet because they were lost, tired or unwilling/uninterested in participating.  But, there were also the quiet listeners and thinkers.  The ones who might suddenly erupt and cause everyone else to say "holy crap!"

After a few weeks of class, I talked about the spectrum of people with respect to introversion and extroversion.  And, I asked them what they thought I was.  The general response was that I must be an extrovert.  Until one of the quiet students broke out of her silence and said - "You are working hard to be an extrovert because it is your job to to be one right now. And you don't have office hours right after your last class so you can recover."

Holy crap.

Nice call.

The Quiet People

Not every person who tends towards introversion behaves the same way or likes the same things and not every quiet person appears to be an introvert all the time.  In fact, some quiet people can really get going when they are with someone they know well and trust.  And, they can often do well when their role calls for being more open and expressive.

Anyway, there are some things that seem to be true for most of us - I can't be sure of this, because we don't talk together to compare notes ( Hey.  That was an 'introvert joke.'  If you are an introvert you may now indulge in a quiet inner smile.  If you are not, you may continue to be confused.)

The quiet people aren't always sure about the purpose of small talk and they often spend more time listening than they speak.  In fact, you might be surprised how much they listen and how often they take what you might think is a 'throw away' comment to heart.  Sometimes they nurture the wrong things for far too long and it festers.  Some quiet people can almost 'bleed out' in front of your eyes when something hits too close to home.  At other times, they can take the glow of an implied compliment and fan it into an inferno.  You won't necessarily know its happening, because they won't advertise.  Just trust me that it does happen.

The quiet people are often unconvinced that you care to hear from them - sometimes because they aren't sure they have much to offer - and sometimes because they are pretty sure you really don't want to invest in listening.  And even if they are pretty sure you are willing to listen, they usually self-edit just to make sure they don't overstay their welcome in your life.  For that matter, they often delete some of the words they might say because they are (often painfully) aware that what they say could hurt you.

The quiet people don't always want to be alone.  They often value companionship as much, but differently, than other people do.  One difference is that they don't always want to experience the stress of interaction for interaction's sake.  Add a little purpose - like a board game, or a volleyball match - and it can work pretty well.  Put them in a large gathering and they won't feel comfortable enough to talk much until it's time to go and they can help put some things away (assuming they lasted that long).  Sometimes, the quiet person just wants to be in the room where it is all happening, preferably accompanied by a special person or two who won't completely abandon them to the 'heathen extroverts' cavorting about the place!  (and sometimes they just want to get out of that place and go read a book!)

The quiet people take solace in conversations that have a predetermined purpose.  And sometimes, the quiet people write words - because they know others who want to read them will - and those who tire of them can move on.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

What I've Learned About Giving Thanks

Here we are, once again, doing our best to celebrate Rob and Tammy's favorite holiday - Thanksgiving.  If you were able to enjoy a holiday meal and are now feeling too full to move, it's a great time to do a little Thanksgiving reading.  Not only will we offer our annual Thanksgiving blog post, we'll also offer links to prior year posts on the topic for those who still don't feel like getting up just yet!

Thanks Requires Effort

Let's just recognize the elephants in the room and move on from there, shall we?  The pandemic has gotten worse.  People are being stupid about politics and about taking sides.  It has been difficult.  I've said it and I've acknowledged it.

And, so what?  Every year brings trials and worries.  Some years seem worse than others and some years we handle it better than others.  Certainly, there have been many big and difficult things for us to deal with of late and they won't just go away until we actually deal with them.  What makes it worse is our human tendency to accentuate the negative and give so much more weight to the one bad thing that happened in a day than the ten good things in the same time span.

If you want to be grateful - you have to put some conviction into it!

"If gratitude were easy, it would not be nearly so wonderful and fulfilling as it is when we work to give meaningful thanks." (from 2017's Thanksgiving post)

Easy gratitude is cheap and cheap gratitude does not last.  It might feel good for a few seconds, but it sure won't take much to tear it down and cover it up with a single negative moment.

Gratitude vs Taken for Granted

I appreciate the concept of a holiday set aside for giving thanks (at least that's how I see Thanksgiving's purpose) because I think it is critical that we all force ourselves to recognize the things that benefit us on a regular basis.  Things that we take for granted - things that we should NEVER take for granted.  But, because of their consistent presence, we still do - because we are humans.

Who are the people in your life that you benefit from their presence on a regular basis?  What are the things, places, organizations and services that you often use and your life is better because they exist?  What about the moments that you experience, the artistry you have observed or the natural wonders you have seen?

Did you see a sunset recently?  I mean - have you really looked at a sunset?  Appreciate and give thanks.

Did someone say 'Thank you' as you held a door open - and really mean it?  Appreciate and give thanks.

Was somebody at the --fill in the blank-- office willing to listen to your complaint and then do their best to fix it?  Appreciate and give thanks (even if you were grumpy at the time). 

Stop looking for the bogey man and start looking for the grace, love and goodwill that we can experience once we stop trying to throw dirt over it all.

In our case, we need to slow down a little so we can acknowledge the good things.  Like so many of you, our hurry to get everything we're supposed to do done winds up burying the things we should be grateful for...

In 2016, we wrote:

"... we sometimes work so hard at trying to do the things we think are right and necessary to fulfill our customers' trust that we may not be transmitting to you how honored we are to be able to work for you.  We give thanks for all of the fine people who support our farm by buying our products.  Thank you for being understanding when things don't go quite as we planned and thank you for telling us when you are pleased.  Those little nuggets are fuel that burns for days, weeks, months and years on our farm."

Tammy and I are grateful that we have had the opportunity to serve so many good people over the years.  We hope you have never felt that we take you for granted.  But, if you have felt that way, please rest assured that we work, every day, to remember - and to give thanks for you.

And if you are family or friends that sometimes feel as if we keep speeding by as we run from one task to another?  We also remember you on a daily basis and we are so pleased that you still are willing to admit that you know us!

Grace and Courtesy
Just last year, I wrote a paragraph that really speaks to me today:

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

To be honest, last year's Thanksgiving post is one of my favorites and I was tempted to re-post it with edits.  But, that felt easy (see my first point) - so I guess I didn't think I should do that!

I continue to work on how I offer grace to others and to myself.  I realize that some people conclude that grace is essentially to "let something that troubles you go."  The extreme seems to be that you should forget whatever it was.  I don't see it that way.  I still believe you should remember because that is part of your experience and remembering can help shape you to be a better person.  But, I also believe that grace is to let the part go that prevents you from being kind, being better, and recognizing the positives for which you should be thankful. Grace gives you the ability to move forward and grow into the person you were always meant to be.

There Are Still Miracles

We short-change ourselves when we convince ourselves that we need miracles with a capital "M," a giant, blinky sign and a supporting marching band complete with baton twirlers.  Heck, I think most of us think miracles need to be ALL capital letters and a chorus of angels bigger than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  

In 2014, I wrote that "the very act of being farmers gives us a front row seat to the miracle of life.  If you don't think it is a miracle, then I challenge you to watch something grow from a seed to a full plant."

I think it is mistake to think that miracles are something that happen TO us.  Instead, I think we might be better off if we consider miracles something we plant and nurture until they reach their full power and strength.  It's a slow process that just might encourage us to take them for granted.  The process may even lead us to expect the wrong thing and we may even become disappointed, so we have to show some grace, let it go and use the experience to become better versions of ourselves.

I think now is a good time to grow some miracles:

Next Steps

Sure.  It's the Genuine Faux Farm Thanksgiving Post.  It is full of grand thoughts and beautiful and, hopefully, compelling ideas.  Lots of pretty words and an attempt at using a soapbox to make a tiny difference by encouraging one or two other people.  But, can we identify some specific actions we can take when we are feeling overwhelmed, upset and angry?  

I don't always know those answers.  But, I can offer some thoughts that work for me sometimes.

"Each day, we try to take a little time to recognize something that makes us see value in our surroundings.  Rainbows.  Friendly and extremely "helpful" cats.  A droplet of water on a broccoli leaf.  A few moments with family.  Another five pounds of spinach.  A note from someone telling us they appreciated something we did.  An opportunity to go help someone with a task of some sort.  A beautiful piece of music.  Or a flower.  Or some time with our best friend."  2015 Thanksgiving post.

Miracles start with a seed.  Miracles require caretaking.  Miracles grow because we put effort into them.

And for that, I give thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Personal Day

Rob's employment with the Pesticide Action Network comes with a couple of flexible holidays that can be used at his discretion.  For the most part, they are intended to allow workers to take a day off for birthdays, anniversaries or religious holidays that aren't the same as observed national holidays.  Since Tammy had to work on her birthday, Rob chose not to take that day as a personal day.  Instead, he moved it to the day prior to Thanksgiving.  

Did you want a blog post from the Genuine Faux Farm today?  Well, this is it!  A picture of a stuffed dragon and a few words.

We're taking a Personal Day today!  

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

I'd want more tools than just a hammer

The idyllic picture of the traditional farm in the United States often features the sun coming up over a big red barn. A rooster crows in the background and a few cows walk their path to the pasture. There are all sorts of green in different shades and forms, implying a variety of healthy crops. Perhaps there is a hay bale or an old tractor in that picture as well. And the farmer, if visible at all, might be wearing a broad-brimmed hat, hiding their face from the sun and from your view.

While this portrayal no longer reflects the reality of most farms in the U. S., I believe that it still holds some basic truths about the value of a healthy farm. One of those basic truths is that diversity is a key to a self-sustaining and successful operation. There is evidence of a healthy crop rotation and the integration of livestock and wild edges on this farm. And the farmer, when visible, still wears a hat with their face often hidden from your view.

Limiting the farmer’s toolbox

A farmer is at their best when the toolbox is full of options at their disposal to handle the uncertainties of farming. My own small farm utilizes cover crops, crop rotation, natural habitat strips, cultivation, intercropping, succession planting, water drainage swales, mulches, and integration of livestock for fertility. Row crop farmers in Iowa could certainly use each of these tools to their advantage as well ⁠— and some of them do, and have done it well for generations.

My concern is that we are allowing corporate interests the power to limit the choices of skilled farmers everywhere, making it that much harder for us to succeed. Agricultural technology development has been centered around insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides in recent decades, and our institutions and regulatory structures have supported this technology. Even the genetically engineered (GE) seeds being developed are primarily concerned with traits that are tolerant to multiple herbicides.

This absurd focus on only one farming technique is equivalent to filling your home toolset with nothing but different hammers. 

The pesticide-first paradigm takes options away from farmers who would rather have the choice to use different approaches. Soybean farmers find themselves deciding to plant dicamba-ready GE seed "defensively" to avoid damage from chemical trespass even if they do not intend to use dicamba themselves. A farmer that might like to add a small grain or alfalfa to a rotation may find that they inadvertently re-activate residual chemicals in the soil when they add phosphate fertilizer prior to planting. Farmers who would like to use cover crops as a part of a soil health program may find that herbicide residuals from persistent use over time could inhibit germination of those cover crops.

Is it any wonder that at a time when commodity prices are low and farmers are struggling to make ends meet, many of our most skilled farmers are deciding to rent their land out to larger, corporate entities and hire themselves out as operators? Our institutions and regulatory structures favor larger, inflexible farming systems centered around one tool (pesticides), while punishing those who would like to use a broader set of tools on a wider range of crops.

Reduced opportunities to farm

In the meantime, the face hidden under the hat of our farmer is aging; our institutions and regulatory structures support continued farm consolidation, impeding new farmers from joining the ranks of those in the profession. If a person is not privileged enough to be a part of a transition plan with an existing farm, one of the limited paths of entry is to grow alternative crops on a smaller acreage. 

Sadly, farms like mine find themselves struggling to keep growing food and raising crops due to the difficulties posed by pesticide drift and misapplication. Beginning farmers who do have access to land and infrastructure find themselves in the same untenable situation our skilled, experienced farmers are in. But, they’re trying to succeed without the wisdom of experience. We’re all farming on a landscape that promotes the use of only one tool — a hammer — and discourages the use of the others.

And when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

What can we do about it?

We have multiple opportunities to influence decision-makers and to direct policy that will support the broader use of tools in the farmer’s toolbox. Each of us has the right to contact our elected officials and tell them what we think and encourage them to make changes that will address these problems. 

We can ask questions of and make statements to those who seek office. In Iowa, we can vote in the primaries on June 2 so we can influence who challenges for these positions. In November, we can vote again to select those we feel are most likely to listen and act as we need them to.

Let’s put farmers and workers back on those diverse, healthy farms. And maybe, just maybe, when you look under the brim of that hat, you’ll see the tiniest bit of a smile.


Are you interested in seeing more content related to the Pesticide Action Network?  Take the link to the GroundTruth blog.   Your "favorite" farmer is featured there once a month on average. 

Originally published on Pesticide Action Network's Ground Truth blog on May 28, 2020.



Monday, November 23, 2020

Echo Chamber

If you are one of those who have read this blog for a while, you will recognize that I tend to balance what I say as much as I am able.  I prefer to be as thoughtful as I can and I do my best to show respect for others as I put things down for some few others to read.  I realize my understanding is imperfect, so I try not allow my opinions to become fully entrenched - preferring to continue to improve my understanding so I can better represent myself and the things I choose to say something about.  And I still feel like I fail at least as much as I succeed in my efforts - but I hope I am setting a high bar to leap over.

Like so many other people - I have been struggling of late.  I am upset that so many people are 'content' to repeat the same tired (and unfounded) arguments on so many things, without actually exploring the worlds of fact, logic and empathy.  We're drawn to the 'fantastical and dramatic' explanations by 'self-important self-promoters' who make their noises for the attention rather than the intention.  And, it seems we are so quick to draw lines in the sand and choose sides.

We struggle because of the echo chambers we all put ourselves into.

I pull the door open on its slides, revealing a dark room that smells of old hay and dirt.  The door rolls shut behind me and I am alone.  When I speak, I hear only myself or things that sound like me.  There are whispers that encourage me to be my worst self.  I don't know if these voices actually come from me or if there is something else in this echo chamber of a room that is trying to break me down into something I do not want to be.  Or maybe I do want to be that thing - and the thought shames me.

"If they don't agree with you, they are stupid."  says one voice.

"They're out to get you and they will ruin it all." says another.

"They have betrayed you and they will not listen, just give up." rasps a third voice that still sounds too much like me.

"Tell me again what you believe, because you certainly have it right!" says another.

"There's no reason to double check that.  It agrees with what you believe, so it must be true."  "You can't trust them, they don't see things the same way you do." 

"They are taking the people you love away from you."  "It's better if you just cut ties before they drag you down with them."  "It doesn't matter if they suffer, they deserve it."  "They attacked you, defend yourself!"

"There is evil afoot but we'll stand with you."  

Then it dawns on me that the door is still right behind me.  And, I open it.  And the light floods in.

"You don't want to go there!  That's where THEY live!  Come back!"

I close the door.  And I walk away.

Then I shake your hand and listen to your story and find the humanity, the flaws, and truth in it.  And I hope you will also listen to mine and find the flaws and the truths.  Perhaps we'll find a better idea that is a combination of our understandings.  

And, maybe we'll identify the evil that was afoot...  after all, it was telling us all about itself in that echo chamber.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

In the News

Welcome to this week's edition of Postal History Sunday!  The blog post where you check in your worries for a time and learn something new and hopefully - interesting.  Remember, if you wish to see one of the images in a larger format, you can click on the image.

I realize that newspapers and magazines no longer hold the same prominence in our culture as they did even a decade ago, but in the 1860s and 1870s, periodicals and required substantial attention from the postal services around the world to get these items from the printer to their various destinations.

While letter mail was typically the first thing addressed in postal agreements between countries, they could not escape the fact that newspapers and other printed documents required a different type of handling.  You certainly don't have to read the blurb shown above.  It's just a sample of text from the 1867 convention between the United States and the United Kingdom that mentions newspapers and other "printed matter."  I offer it only as proof that this kind of mailed matter got its own treatment!

Remember - you are reading a blog written by a postal historian who enjoys collecting these things - so he just might write a blog simply because he found something he likes!  (oh no!)  You see, I have been aware of the existence of mailed newspapers from the 1860s in the collector's market for some time.  But, normally, the nice looking items have prices that exceed my budget... and the things that are a price I can willing to pay?  Let's just say I can smell the must and mold through the computer screen most of the time.  No thank you.

Well apparently, there are more examples of Italian printed matter than the market will bear, or I just happened upon a person who was happy to sell at a lower price - so I was able to pick up a few things that illustrate the mailing of newspapers and printed matter.  How cool is that?

You have now been able to view the Belluno, Italy newspaper of March 2, 1871.  It almost looks as if it was never removed from the wrapper band that was used to keep it all together as it went through the mail.  I suppose I could gently remove it to view the rest and then work carefully to put it back in the wrapper....  but, maybe not.  I'm pretty happy with it the way it is.  That, and, well, the news probably is a bit dated.

This newspaper I show above cost only 1 centesimi to mail to Vittorio, Italy, and maybe it cost less than that!  Wait... what?

Letter Mail in Italy

Let me back up for a second so you can see the whole picture.  Above is a piece of letter mail.  It cost 15 centesimi to send from Chiavari, Italy to Torino, Italy.  The envelope is a personal or business correspondence and it weighed no more than 10 grams.

Letter mail provided great flexibility.  You could mail one item and you could seal it up, placing whatever you wanted (within reason) inside the envelope or folded letter - as long as it was flat.  The only reason the postal service might open the letter is if they couldn't find the addressee and it went to the Dead Letter Office to be processed.

You could include a picture, an invoice, paper money, a newspaper clipping, a lock of hair and even, perhaps, the letter you got from Aunt Mable so your cousin could read it too.

Printed Matter Mail

Printed matter mail, on the other hand, could not be sealed up.  It had to allow the postal workers to be able to check contents to be sure there weren't personal messages or other non-permitted material being snuck in with the mailing!  The item above was mailed from Torino to Allessandria (both in Italy) for 2 centesimi for items weighing up to 40 grams.

2 centesimi for 40 grams vs 15 centesimi for 10 grams.  

Ok - I think we see an advantage for the printed matter folks to send their newspapers, magazines and advertising!  But, it only makes sense.  People were used to paying, perhaps 5 to 10 centesimi for a single copy of a newspaper at a newstand.  Even if you could pass your costs on to the customer, it was unlikely that readers would pay that much more for the privilege of mailing it to their home address.

Newspapers and Journals

The next item is a sample Farmers' Journal of Agricultural Practices in Italy.  The white band at the bottom essentially indicates that this sample is being provided 'gratis' and that the recipient should not delay in sending in for a subscription!  At top right is a 1 centesimi stamp that is paying for the mailing of this item from Casale Monferrato.  Sadly, the "where it was sent to" portion has been lost.  But, it is safe to say it stayed in Italy - and likely landed somewhere in northern Italy.

There was a 'concessionary' rate that provided a discount for newspapers and magazines that pre-sorted their bulk mailing by the destination and the route the items were to take to get to that destination.  In fact, some bulk mailers paid even less than one cent per item if they were regular customers.  A weekly newspaper got a better rate than a monthly magazine, for example.  The thing is, there weren't stamps with denominations for all of these fractions of a centesimi - so they just used the 1 centesimi stamp and the bulk mailer simply paid the bill at the agreed upon rate.  In some cases, the stamps were adhered to the newspaper before printing and you can find examples where the printing goes OVER the stamp.

If you think about it, this makes a great deal of sense for the post offices as well.  They can count on consistent business rather than the whims of those who send a single letter at a time.  A pre-bundled batch of newspapers to go from Belluno to Vittorio required about as much handling as a single letter from Belluno to Vittorio - until you got to the delivery part.  And, yes, they typically weighed more.

When I unfolded the Farmers' Journal item, I found it was a larger piece of paper that was printed as four separate pages on each side.  Other than the title page, it was all advertising for agricultural implements, plant stock and other items.  At a guess, the actual sample of the journal had been wrapped inside this covering and is no longer part of the whole.

Perhaps someday I will find an actual copy of this Farmers' Journal of Agricultural Practices.  Then, I'll brush up my Italian - and learn something new!

I hope everyone has a wonderful day and thank you for joining me on Postal History Sunday.

Saturday, November 21, 2020


Sometimes it is nice to think about the things we are enjoying in our lives - if only to remind ourselves that there ARE things we enjoy.  With that thought in mind, I thought I'd share a few things that are 'trending upward' in our household right now.  

Besides, it's Saturday - it can be healthy to change things up a little on the weekend.

A picture we like to look at

It was a great hike and the tall trees threw snowballs at us.  And, this picture hangs in the kitchen where we can see it every time we go out the back door.  But, perhaps, now that it is getting colder outside, we should put a 'warmer' picture up in that spot?

Fuzzy, sleepy critters

 We have a glider rocker in the office.  I don't often get to sit in the glider rocker.  You can guess why.

But, Bree does know how to be a love sometimes.... when she's not whining, chewing plants or having a hairball.  Oh, wait!  This was a positive post!

And I'm positive she's going to whine, chew plants and...  never mind.

There is always music

We always love our music.  Admittedly, Rob tends to be the one of the two of us who puts the playlists together, but Tammy makes her opinions known.  So, in the end, it is a collaborative effort.

A few tunes that we're appreciating right now:

Please Let Me Be - Future of Forestry

Thunderhead - the Elms

Tears in the Ground - Sam Phillips

Take the Moment - Classic Crime

How about music AND video?

Generally, we don't do much along these lines.  But, someone pointed us at this video and it was just too fun not watch a couple of times.  Now, we share with you.

Something different to eat

We were introduced to the Loco Moco at Koke'e State Park on Kauai.  With rice, hamburger, eggs and gravy, this certainly classifies as a 'comfort food' as far as we're concerned.  The recipe we link is not necessarily a 'recommendation' as Tammy simply made the Loco Moco how she felt like making it (and it tasted great).  However, we realized it might be a good idea to link a recipe so others can at least see what we're referring to.

The other nice treat was breaking out one of our bags of frozen asparagus for our veggie recently.  In the past, we've always kind of figured we'd get all the asparagus we wanted during asparagus harvest in May to early June.  This year, we had some excess - so we decided to try freezing some.  While it isn't the same as fresh, it was still a treat.  We'll call it a win.

There are a few dishes that we have encountered over time that we have enjoyed enough for Tammy to try her own hand at.  It might be time to think about Cincinnati chili again?

Have some Poirot with that?

Tammy and I enjoyed picking up a set of dvds of the most recent British TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet, earlier this year as we began to realize that the pandemic was going to encourage us to look to a bit more home entertainment. If I recall, this box set was seasons 8 through 13 and we have spread viewing of these out over the past eight months.  Sadly, we have one more installment to view.

Night-time reading

We both enjoy reading when we can.  With a little enforced 'down time' for me recently, I was able to plow through a couple of books that I have been waiting to read.  

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files have been on my reading list now for several years.  I will readily admit that I came into the series in the middle after someone else recommended them to me.  And, frankly, that is likely all to the good because Butcher had settled a bit into his character development at that point.  The books classify as urban fantasy with a little noir and supernatural all over the place.  

Oddly enough, I find I am now reading them more to see how the characters grow and change over time than I am to see how the plots move.  Huh.  Who knew?

If Tammy wants to share any of her reading, she will.

How about some flowers?

 We have a few indoor plants that have decided they will gift us with color.

Have a great weekend - and I hope you, too, have some good things trending in your lives as well.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Missing - Teamwork

I remember putting the cello into the back of the Mercury Marquis and driving to the community theater for another rehearsal of Annie Get Your Gun.  Members of the pit orchestra actually just played in the wide aisle in front of the stage - but you use what you have.  The members of the orchestra were comprised of various community members and a smattering of a few high school students and the cast was a fairly diverse group of people from the community.

After so many repetitions, everyone in the orchestra could repeat all of the lines by the time we got to the dress rehearsals and we knew when the audience was supposed to laugh.  And, like the cast, I suspect we were a bit relieved AND pleased when people did, in fact, laugh at the right times and be somber when the play called for it.

There were, of course, things that did not go as planned and there were stressful moments.  In one scene, the main characters are on a 'boat' and Annie proceeds to 'shoot a bird' that was flying by.  A stuffed bird was supposed to drop from the ceiling and land at their feet.  There was some rustling and it did not materialize.  The actors covered well and suggested to the audience that it 'fell in the water.'

That same bird materialized later, dropping from the rigging and landing on the two main characters during the 'kissing scene.'  I realize that wasn't supposed to be the funny part - but it went over well.  It became part of the 'lore' we all took with us as a part of our team effort once we completed our performances.

I took pride in doing my part as well as I could, of course.  But, I think I was happier still to be a part of a group that worked together to create something.

Later on, I would get to experience these feelings again in high school for My Fair Lady and at college for productions of West Side Story and Die Fledermaus as a member of the pit orchestra.  I was even involved in a movie spoof titled "Star Trak."  Imagine that!

And who could forget the effort it took to be a staff member for a six week Upward Bound Program.  Talk about the importance of working as a team to accomplish a big (and complex) goal!  

I have good memories of time spent with a group of people in Madison, Wisconsin playing co-ed volleyball.  Tammy and I were on a team that was mostly comprised of current students at the University of Wisconsin and we were not long out of college ourselves.  We actually would get in some practice at open volleyball nights and played enough that we were fairly familiar with each others' strengths and weaknesses.  We actually made it to the finals, and after a hard fought and very close match, prevailed to win the league.

We enjoyed spending time with that group of people and we gained something valuable by figuring out how to reach our potential as a group.

I remember staying at my parents house while we all worked to replace the roof on their house in the country.  It ended up being more work than we thought it was going to be when we discovered the underlayment needed to be replaced.  I recall long days where everyone did what they were able to do to make the job happen.  You were assured to sleep well once you got over the aching muscles!  And we all managed to NOT fall through the roof.  That's always a plus.

Once again, I recall the event with fondness because we all worked together.  Each person offering their abilities as they fit best for the overall project.  A warm meal at the end of the day - even if it was simple - never tasted so good.  But, it sure was hard rolling back out of bed early the next day!

And hey!  We even helped put up a yurt once!

There was a database building project that a class I facilitated at University of Minnesota-Morris undertook as a service learning project for the Land Stewardship Project.  There are so many moving parts with these sorts of efforts - but in the end - the class pulled together and there was, in fact, some useful progress that was made for the client.  I remember feeling pride in the young people who found ways to work as a team, despite the fact that this was a class and it was their learning that was the real focus - whether they knew it or not.

I do not mean to imply that there were not struggles and uncomfortable moments during each of these group efforts.  There were times when people were unhappy with each other and moments when I just wanted out.  And there were flaws - always flaws.  But, somehow, the flaws never seemed all that big once the group became a team.  

Flaws became a decorations.  A part of the lore that makes the story of our working together unique.

In recent years, the big team projects I have been involved in have largely revolved around the farm.  We typically would introduce a few people to the farm to help us with our work here in late spring and they often would leave in late August, sometimes staying longer.  We would start with some uncertainty as to how everyone would work together and then we would suddenly realize that we had pretty much reached a certain level of peace with the roles people had.  We would be better at accessing strengths and dealing with weaknesses.  

When it came time for people to leave, Tammy and I would try to be sure to have some tasks that showed completion in hopes that those that were leaving would feel a sense of closure.  I suspect it didn't always work out, but we tried.

Once everyone left for the season, there was always more to do.  And, there was always a combined sense of relief (oh, thank goodness I don't have to manage a bunch of people all the time now!) and grief (but, I actually liked working with a team to make this farm successful!) when people moved on.

We worked together as a team with the goal of doing what we had to do to raise quality produce on the farm and I got something positive (beyond the produce) from that.  

Sometimes, we even built a high tunnel.

The only consistent workers on the farm this year were... Tammy and Rob.  And even they were involved in other things, so they could not dedicate themselves to the task.  Don't get me wrong.  Tammy and Rob are a team - and we are working on a bigger project than just a farm.  We're building a life together - and that takes some effort - and it is worthwhile.

However, I was wondering why I was feeling a sense of dissatisfaction recently about - well - everything.  And I realized that I might simply be missing the satisfaction of working on a difficult project with a larger team of people who bring their diverse skills and opinions together to accomplish a goal.  Building a life is a long game - but sometimes we need some shorter games to help us see progress.

Perform a musical.  Roof a house.  Build a yurt.  Play volleyball.  Make an Upward Bound Program successful.  Build a database.  Harvest the garlic.  Put up a high tunnel.  Grow peas and cukes.

Teamwork.  It's what I am missing right now.  

Maybe it's what we're all missing right now.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Too Long on the Farm

You know you've worked on the farm too long when ...

  • see the words "harrowing experience" for a Halloween advertising and you immediately think of a using a farming implement.  
  • ... even worse - you consider writing a blog about your latest farm "harrowing experience."
  • ...someone asks you how you are doing and you say, "the lettuce looks good."
  • ...and the fall-back answer is "well, the weather has been nice/difficult."
  • know there are cobwebs on your hat from the Poultry Pavilion.  You've had people point it out to you.  And, you still haven't cleaned them off.
  • ...stains on the knees of your jeans do not mean your jeans are not clean - at least from your perspective.
  •'d like to CHUCK the wood at the woodchuck.
  • ...after seeing recent commercials, you wonder if the woodchuck might actually CHUCK the wood back at you.
  • ... there is a small jolt of surprise when you meet someone who doesn't know what kale is...or kohlrabi, bok choi, etc (sorry, had to stick with k's).
  • ... but after doing this for many years, you are now surprised when someone DOES know what kohlrabi is!
  • ... there are six or more shovels in your possession and you wonder if you should buy a *few* more.
  • ... and even after the pandemic has reduced the number of people at the farm - you still think about adding shovels, rakes and other hand tools.
  • ... you strain your neck trying to look behind farm buildings and in the tall grasses by farmsteads for tools that might be useful to you.
  • ...and then after many years of farming, you start wondering how you can get rid of tools that turned out not to be so useful and wonder if you should adjust and get some NEW tools that fit you better.
  • ... you wonder if people are straining their necks to look behind our buildings and in our tall grassy areas.
  • ... someone asks you what you've been doing lately and you are tempted to say, "Lemme, there is too much.  Lemme sum up."  (See Princess Bride)
  • ... you edit your comments regarding other peoples' response or opinions about the weather.
  • ... you editorialize about the weather to whomever will listen (or appears to listen)
  • ... all of your analogies seem to refer to farming, vegetables, poultry or the weather.
  • ... most of the catalogs on the end table have pictures of drip irrigation, greenhouse heaters, chickens, tractors or tomatoes on them.
  • ... the back entry has twleve or more pairs of shoes/boots for two people.  
  • ... every shoe on the back entry seems to have poo on the bottom of it when you need one that does not.
  • ... someone asks if you like tomatoes and you reply with a diatribe about heirloom versus hybrids, the relative merits of trellising techniques and the yield levels of three of your favorite varieties.
  • ... a picture promoting a cross country team makes you wonder if you could convince them to train on the farm by either fetching the needed tools, taking the harvested produce back to the packing are or (worse yet) you consider hitching them up to plows or cultivators.
  • ... you appreciate Winter for the physical break it gives.
  • ... your picture of Summer when it is Winter is always so much better than what it ends up being.
  • ... your biggest gripe about Winter has less to do with cold, wind, snow or ice and MORE to do with the lack of daylight hours so you can do work outside.
  • ... the line between 'just enough farm talk' and 'too much farm talk' in casual conversation is too readily crossed.
  • ... the line between 'just enough farm talk' and 'too much farm talk' is rarely crossed because you have convinced yourself that no one really wants to hear farm talk.
  • ... you get surprised when people actually DO want you to talk about the farm.
  • ... your dreams include giant turkeys chasing you with a wheel hoe.


 edit note: the original version of this was posted all the way back on November 18 of 2010.  It has been updated because there are always more silly things to add!


Wednesday, November 18, 2020


When your sweetie makes a comment on one of your blog posts that makes a specific request, it is normally a good idea to listen and act upon said request.

Ok, Tammy - here are some waterfalls for you!

We featured Dunning's Springs back in a Learn Something New blogpost that featured Jewelweed as well.  Since both of us went to college nearby and lived for a time in the Decorah area, we are pretty familiar with this beautiful waterfall.  We should walk there again (and again).

Speaking of walking - the first time we saw this waterfall, it was not the easiest hike for me, but I was willing to go with Tammy to find it because - well - she wanted to - and you do things that are difficult for you because you love someone.  Since that time, we have visited the same waterfall and taken the same hike - getting easier each time to deal with feeling that the edge of the cliff is going to reach up, grab you and toss you into the wide expanses.  Next time we should just go and plan to hang out there for a couple of hours...

Sometimes a waterfall can be mesmerizing.  Drawing you back over and over again.  You stop to look at it "for just a second." Before you know it, a half hour has gone by. 

There are other moments in time that you remember to take advantage of circumstances and make sure to take an opportunity that is offered.  What is gained if you don't give yourself that gift of visiting a waterfall?  Nothing.  What is lost?

Well, you might never know the answer to that question.  So perhaps we should not dwell on it.  Instead, we should consider what was gained and what it means for us. 

The two of us have taken to referencing Bilbo Baggins as we tell each other that we are ready for 'another adventure.'  It doesn't have to be a big thing either.  Little adventures can have as much value as the big ones.  Just as long as you be sure experience them together.  

Some of these photos adorn the walls of our home, bringing the adventure into the secure bubble of our lives at the farm.  These are reminders that we can be brave and we can be content and calm at the same time.  They transport us back in time and to other places - where the air is moist and cooler than it was just five hundred feet down the road.

And these photos also show us what focus can do.  Feast your eyes upon the waterfall and crop out the surroundings that don't please the eyes or feed the soul.  Suddenly, there is only the waterfall and the surrounding natural beauty.   There is no bridge with a railing.  You don't see the vehicles driving past and the rest area, signs and parking lot are no longer in view.  The helicopter on the horizon?  Don't see that either.

It's just water following gravity to a pool down below.  And a light breeze.  Some sunshine.  Rock formations and trees.  Maybe a few birds.  And a chance to enjoy it all with a good friend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

I want to grow healthy food for you; Here's what's stopping me

I was recently asked what motivates us to raise poultry and grow fruits and vegetables on our small, family farm in Iowa. Aside from our love for growing green things and caring for animals, I realized that my answer could be boiled down to the simple idea that we care about the well-being of the people in our communities and the environment that surrounds us.

My spouse, Tammy, and I founded the Genuine Faux Farm in 2004 with the idea that we would produce healthy food for the local markets. 

Farming is difficult, and there are numerous challenges that come with the job. But, we are willing to face the natural risk that one (or all) of weather, pests, weeds and diseases may cause problems.  We are fine with ‘signing up’ to wind our way through the maze that is marketing, and we will even accept that we must make adjustments for a changing climate.

However, the one thing that has threatened our survival as a farm the most was something we did not consider when we started - off target applications of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides.

Chemical misapplications - food growers lose

In 2012, a spray plane flew over a neighboring soybean field, applying a combination of insecticides and fungicides in the early evening on a Friday.  I was outside checking on the poultry and taking a few photos for record keeping when the plane roared directly overhead.  I felt drops of liquid as it passed by, and I realized we were about to experience our worst fear for our farm.

The plane took multiple passes over half of the farm, failing to turn off the spray on each pass.  The spray landed on our turkey and hen flocks.  The high tunnel, our most productive field, and a native area we treasured as pollinator habitat were in the flight path.  

To make a long story less long, we navigated the process of reporting the event to the Iowa Pesticide Bureau and our organic certifier.  We secured testing to determine if our vegetable crops would be safe for consumption.  They were not, so we destroyed all of the crops in the spray zone. We moved the poultry out of the spray zone and opted not to sell eggs for three months, destroying those as well.  I sought medical attention for breathing problems in the days that followed and noticed that I was getting sunburned easily.  Both symptoms were listed as possible acute reactions for exposure to two of the chemicals.

This off-target application (and other less serious drift events since that time) have encouraged me to think hard about this problem. I have come to a few conclusions.

This is about food safety

The vast majority of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides listed for use on row crops are not intended for fruits and vegetables grown for direct human consumption. Fresh produce is not considered safe if there are detectable amounts of these chemicals over a certain threshold level.  For those chemicals that might be rated for fresh produce there is a ‘set-back’ period, during which time the product is not considered safe. Unfortunately, drift from row crops is usually not timed to match the set-back period prior to anticipated harvest of the food crop.

This puts the food grower into an untenable position. If the grower opts to sell the product anyway, and someone becomes ill, it is up to the grower to deal with the liability that might follow. Most farms, like ours, are concerned about the well-being of their customers and they would not consider this first alternative. Meanwhile, the significant monetary cost and delays in test results means growers aren’t likely to get results in time to sell the crop, even if it is negative.

For most farmers, the only real choice that can be made is to destroy the crop.

This is about worker safety

Small-scale and diversified farms often rely on farm workers to accomplish the tasks necessary to raise the products they sell. Our farm tends to hire seasonal employees who are out of high school or college for the summer months. If the weather is ‘nice enough’ to spray, then it is highly probable that we will be outside with our crew performing farm tasks.

Farms like ours care about their workers’ health. We recognize that these are the sons and daughters of people in our communities. If there is a chemical application nearby and the wind is heading our way, we pull our workers out of the field. If we are lucky, we can move them to another location on the farm. If not, the work simply does not get done. It does not make sense that one business should halt operation at the whim of another.

But, again, the only real choice is to protect our people.

This is about environmental impact and the future of growing food

Our farm relies heavily on the services nature provides. We consider our pollinators to be an important workforce that needs to be paid with appropriate habitat and food sources. Our crops do best in healthy soils with a diverse microbiome to support germination and proper growth.  

The continued over-use and off-target applications of pesticides are negatively impacting the environment in which we grow your food.  We have noticed spotty germination of many of our direct-seeded crops that cannot be attributed to the seed or natural causes, but are consistent with herbicide residual effects. We have observed inhibited plant growth in our peppers, tomatoes and squash, indicating the likelihood of dicamba drift damage. 

It seems that our only choice is to stop growing.

We still want to grow food for our community

Despite everything, we still intend to raise poultry and produce for people in our surrounding communities. But, our stamina is not what it once was. Farms like ours need help if they are to survive. Part of the help can come in the form of changes to our policies surrounding the application and use of pesticides.

So, what can we do? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Make it easier for farmers to test for pesticides on food crops.

  2. Provide tools for efficient reporting of drift events.

  3. Get pesticide applicators to carry more of the responsibility for communication with neighbors.

  4. Increase penalties to levels that serve as a disincentive for improper pesticide application.

  5. Encourage the EPA to raise the bar for pesticides that can be approved for use.

  6. Build a future where farmers are not reliant on chemical-intensive agriculture.


Are you interested in seeing more content related to the Pesticide Action Network?  Take the link to the GroundTruth blog.   Your "favorite" farmer is featured there once a month on average.

ed note:  orginally published on PANs GroundTruth blog on Apr 30, 2020.