Friday, January 22, 2021

Funny or Disturbing

There are a number of manufactured photos floating around right now on social media and I understand why people are sharing them.  But, before I talk too much about them, let me share one.

Apparently one picture from the inauguration shows Senator Bernie Sanders sitting in a chair on the steps with his legs crossed, mask on and some nice wool mittens.  It does not matter what you think of Senator Sanders for this discussion - what matters is what is happening with this photo.  

Because the background of the original is fairy spare, it isn't so hard to lift the image of the Senator and insert it into other pictures - like the one above.  If you do not know the movie, this is from the Shawshank Redemption.  Someone has placed the image of Sanders in between the two main characters.

And here is another one with a photo of the US flag on the moon.  He sits with the space helmet and his nice wooly mittens.  The combination is whimsical and worthy of a chuckle.


Then, there is this one with a baby Robin and the Senators arms, woolly mittens and all, superimposed onto the bird.  Again, worthy of a laugh.  It is clearly in fun and it is clearly made up.

And this is from 2012.  Pictures of Mo Farah running away from things was the rage on social media.  Farah was widely photographed (and criticized) for his reactions in the Olympics.  But, people had some fun with the image, putting him in various situations, some funnier than others.

I get it that it is fun and/or funny to do this.  But, I wonder if we really, really understand what this all means?

It is easy to create things that are not real for social media.  This is especially true because files are compressed and the quality is not the highest for these venues.  The tell-tale signs of manipulation can be hidden.

Feel free to chuckle.  Feel free to participate.  But, there is a price - and that price is your increased dedication toward being a critical thinker.  I'll just leave it at that.  I know it's a downer for Friday - but it's an important reminder.

Man - I really am a spoilsport, aren't I?  Not sorry that I pointed it out.  Sorry that I felt I had to.  We'll be more entertaining on the weekend in the blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Spider in the Door Returns

 Once upon a time, there was a door.
 

Hello!  I am a door.

This door was a very humble door that came from very humble beginnings.  In fact, it was so humble that it was simply glad it had a beginning and that it had not yet reached an end.  Unless, of course, you considered that it was at the end of a hallway that led to a room.  In that case, it was certainly fine with ends since it was also a beginning.  It was the beginning of a room where chickens lived.

And chickens believe they are the beginning and the ending of all.

The door wasn't very pretty.  And, it was sometimes embarrassed that it didn't have a proper latch or that it didn't have a sturdy frame.  In fact, there was another door nearby that was much more attractive.  And, it didn't hold back with criticism when it wanted to feel superior.

 But, the humble door had a job.  And, that job had to be done.  And it was happy to do it.

When his unfriendly neighbor door was opened, the chickens could go outside.  But, if our humble yellow door wasn't there, the chickens would ignore the outside and they would explore the rest of the building.  This was not good, and the humble door knew this.

So, it used its makeshift latch.  And, it stood proudly in its rickety frame.

And, the chickens went outside.
 
Then, one day....

a spider built a web in the doorway!

 Cubbie the cat saw the spider in the doorway and she said,
 
"I would rather have a picnic than worry about a spider in the door."

And, Mrranda the cat looked at the spider in the door and then she said,

"I would rather see what the humans left me for dinner..."

"... than worry about a spider in the door."

The Sandman saw the spider in the door and he declared,

"I will eat the farmers' peach pie, rather than worry about a spider in the door..."

"I, the Sandman, have spoken."
 
The Sandman talked like that all of the time.  The spiders, chickens, both doors, Cubbie and Mrranda all kind of thought this way of talking was silly.  But, they agreed that peach pie did sound rather nice.

And, the farmers hid the peach pie from the Sandman.

Unfortunately, the farmers forgot about Kieran.  Kieran liked peach pies.  And, Kieran knew how to get inside the farm house.

So, Kieran ate the peach pie.
 
And, there was still a spider in the door.

And, it made the humble door unhappy.

The humble door had another purpose, other than keeping the chickens from going where they shouldn't.  The humble door opened and closed to allow the farmers to go to the end of the hall so they could enter the beginning of the chicken room.  But, the farmers did not want to disturb the spider, so they used yet ANOTHER door to get into the chicken room.  This door lost no time in taunting the humble door.

And, the door was sad.
 
The farmers were sad too, because they had no more peach pie.  But, the door didn't care about that.  After all, what would a door want with a peach pie?
So, the sad, humble door cried.

and it echoed around inside the building.
 
Another spider heard the sound and yelled,

"Hey!  Keep it down, you're scaring away the flies!"

The humble door apologized. And, since the spider really was a pretty decent spider, as far as that goes, it inquired what was making the door so sad.  The door opened up to the spider (that's a pun, get it?) and told the spider about its problem.

"Well," said the spider, "you're in luck!  My sister's sister is a realtor.  And she told me about this nice web just 10 feet from here that is ready for immediate occupation!"

"What does 'immediate occupation' mean?" asked the humble door.  After all, the poor door had never gone to school.  So, it really is a bit much to expect it to know such big words!

"Immediate occupation means....

"The spider in the door can move to a new web right now!"
 
"It is priced right!" said the spider. "And....

it has a nice view!"
 
Meanwhile, the farmers made a second peach pie and ate it before Kieran could find it.  Cubbie, Mrranda and Sandman ate the picnic lunch the farmers neglected while they were eating the peach pie.  Kieran was still full from his peach pie, so he didn't care about the lunch or the second pie.  Two spiders were happily wrapping up flies in their webs and the realtor spider took a check to the bank after making a very quick sale.

And the humble door?  It continues to be pleased that it could do its job being an end and a beginning all at the same time.  In fact, it is more content now than it has ever been.

Do you know why?

Because it likes stories that have happy endings.
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I had some fun finding older posts from prior years in the same month at the tail end of last year.  There is a fair amount of entertaining writing there that probably never gets visited, so I thought I'd use Thursdays for "Throwback" posts for the next couple of months.  The original for this post was January 13, 2015.

The cast of characters is, of course, different than it was then.  For example, Kieran only worked on the farm for one year.  But, it is actually a little startling to realize that our feline cast of Cubbie, Sandman and Mrranda have all left for the Eternal Hunting Grounds.  The chickens and spiders all still here - but different generations.

But, the door?  The door remains.  And the door is still happy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Joys of Being Different

 


When we moved to the farm in 2004, we had already lived in a couple of 'work-in-progress' houses.  While it is true that every building requires maintenance and home ownership implies work to be done, I suspect that not everyone is as willing as we have been to take some of these properties on.  For example, our farm house had all of one.... count it... one plug-in for the entire upstairs floor.  

Tammy and I do not pretend that we are the best at fixing up old houses, but we can hold our own.  Over time we have recognized that we will just be too slow at some projects and it is better to hire some help once we build up the funds.  And, other projects just go.... slow... because that's the way it is when you do it yourself.

In any event, one thing that has not been completed is the light for the back entry of the house.  To be perfectly clear, there never was a working light for this back entry that we know of... so it's not that we took one down and never replaced it.  Our solution has been a couple of battery powered lights that hang on the railing of the back deck.  They look pretty nice and give a little bit of light on the darkest nights.

And they also look pretty cool when they get covered in frost!

We are also, apparently, a bit odd in our choices for how we grow things.  You see, we have this tendency to want to add diversity to our plantings even though we have been trying to grow commercially since 2005.  

Simply put, adding diversity adds complexity.  Added complexity usually adds labor or introduces inefficiency.  And when labor is your premium resource, that would often be considered a poor choice.

Yet, we make that choice year after year, growing season after growing season.  

Why?  Because we believe that there are ways we can efficiently incorporate a diverse set of crops without completely giving up a reasonably efficient operation.  In fact, we have been willing to try things because we want to find some of those approaches and encourage others to do them as well.

One example of this is shown in the picture at the left.  This is in Eden (our smaller high tunnel), showing a path between two tomato rows.  If you look towards the base of the plants you will see sweet alyssum flowering.   This actually seemed to be a fairly good way to get a little diversity into the high tunnel's ecosystem without creating direct competition for the cash crop.

In fact, once these flowering plants were established, they actually helped to hold down any additional weeds that might want to get started later in the year.  There was more pollinator activity in the area and we kind of liked the fragrance as we harvested tomatoes.

The downsides?  Well, once they got into the path, they did have a tendency to try to trip us up.  But, that was handled by cutting them out of the way - or even pulling a plant or two if necessary.  The real issue was the following season when all of the volunteer sweet alyssum came up and competed with the non-tomato crops that went into these beds.  That was our fault because we suddenly had even less time this summer to do work on the farm.  A normal year and we would have handled it just fine.

Sometimes it is good to be different.  And in our case, I don't think we would have it any other way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Unintentional

We have had a series of light snows on the farm, which means there have been more opportunities to take some pictures of the farm when the 'sins' of our human existence can be covered by white powder.  That actually got me to thinking - which is a dangerous pastime.

The area surrounding the old barn draws my attention frequently when I am out with the camera.  There are several reasons for that, I am sure.  After all, it is/was a pretty big building.  It does standout and provide contrast to other things around it.  There is still some beauty and grace evident there as well.  And, of course, there are many memories - some of them ours, and some that belong to others who were at this farm before us.

Barns like this are a symbol of a time and a place that some still remember and many (even if they have never experienced a barn on a working farm) still glorify with a rich tapestry of stories.  One of the stories this barn tells is one of regret.  I regret that we could not find a way to restore and maintain this building.  But, the reality is this.  It was too big and too far gone when we moved here.  The price was simply going to be too high and we had choices to make.  So, I regret, but I don't regret our choices.  

And now, with the largest part of the building down, we begin looking at how we we salvage the space.  As I do that, I recognize all of the wildness that has crept in over the past several years as we have taken our focus elsewhere on the farm.  There are numerous 'scrub' trees that have taken hold.  It's almost a wild place.

And that wasn't exactly intentional.

If you take a look to the South of the barn and out towards the road, you can see some "intentional."  We inherited two mature ash trees with the farm.  We were aware fairly early on that they would likely succumb, some day, to the Emerald Ash Borer.  So, we added some other trees to that area.  Some were evergreens - to catch some of the road dust.  We also decided to leave the ash trees up for now, even though it is unlikely they will recover after this past season.

We are seeing some rewards.  The woodpeckers have never been happier on our farm.  They love the ash trees and they love the brush by the barn, flying from one to the other.  We even have a Red-Bellied Woodpecker pair that has decided to over-Winter at the Genuine Faux Farm.  That would be a first for us. 

The Cardinals, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Juncos and Nuthatches appear to like the area around the barn as well.  We did not actually intend for the barn area to become what it is now.  But, the unintentionally created wildlife preserve does not displease us as much as you might think.

Yes.  I would like to salvage some wood and clean the area up a bit.  Yes.  I would like to have a newer building to house some of our equipment.  And... yes.  I like having an area that is inviting to these birds and other interesting critters.

So, before you criticize our seeming lack of initiative with respect to the barn, maybe you should consider that the unintentional may have a value you don't see right away - and maybe we have discovered it?  Either way, we welcome these Winter birds and we enjoy hearing them chirp and seeing them flit from branch to branch.  

Hey little birds.  Glad you like it.

Monday, January 18, 2021

A Vision for Renewed Purpose

This is the time of year on our farm that we reflect on our past growing season and consider the take-aways we can use going forward. We work hard to accept the lessons that came with failures and resolve our feelings connected to loss. We also highlight the things that went well, and give them equal footing to provide ourselves a healthy balance for the future.

We combine the knowledge of our experience with the picture we have painted for ourselves of what the perfect growing season on the very best version of our farm would look like. This future vision is our guiding star that helps us make decisions for the coming year. With this image in our heads, we prepare to continue our journey toward that future.

Such is the process of renewal. We integrate what has gone before into our knowledge base and we use it to build a plan for the perfect season where our vision is realized. For those who work the soil, this is our cycle of hope — and we value the energy it brings us to do the work that needs doing.

Reflecting on the past

This past year has been a difficult one for many of us — a pandemic, storms, job and food insecurity, political strife and all the rest — and we have no shortage of lessons that come from failure. Corporate dominance in agriculture and food production along with continued reliance on chemical-intensive practices has created a fragile and inflexible system. For example, some farmers found themselves disposing of milk and euthanizing hogs when the pandemic limited the supply chain’s capacity.  

On the other hand, people were re-learning how to prepare foods at home and the demand for eggs and other food staples increased. Many local foods growers reported increased demand, and some farmers were finding alternative ways to continue supplying food to consumers. Many growers showed that they could react to the situation and make adjustments. That alone is a reason for hope. 

Change is possible, now we just need a solid goal to move towards.

Building a vision

On our farm, we jokingly call the process of goal-setting a symptom of “Farmer Delusional Syndrome.” We allow ourselves to build up anticipation for the perfect growing season that is to come. All seeds will germinate and mature into productive plants. The weeds and pests will not harm our crops, and we will get rain in proper measures exactly when we need it. There will be rainbows, butterflies, and tasty green beans and peppers.

The truth is, we do not actually delude ourselves into thinking there will be no problems in the future. We are fully aware of the challenges that face us, yet we still see value in holding up our destination so we can see where we are going. If we believed that we could reach our vision without effort, and that we could make our best decisions without a very good idea of what we are working toward — I would then agree that we were deluding ourselves.

This is a key reason why I joined Pesticide Action Network (PAN) last April. I believe part of PAN’s role is to help visualize the ideal for our agriculture and food systems. I wanted to be part of a team that saw a way to move out of the nightmare and toward the dream.   

It feels like we have lost sight of the image of a diverse and healthy farmscape, and even our farmers are beginning to lose touch with the soil that nurtures the crops they grow. We need to indulge in the hope that vision-building can bring us — so we can point ourselves toward that goal each and every year to come.  

As we head into 2021, I invite you to join me in painting a picture showing diversity in the farmscapes and the farmers. I encourage you to picture healthy soils, clean waterways and thriving rural communities. I want all of us to have access to quality, healthy foods. And, I am still hoping that we will experience our share of rainbows, butterflies, and tasty green beans and peppers.

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This is a cross post from the Pesticide Action Network's Ground Truth blog I wrote for last week's issue.   I felt this was an appropriate blog post because we all, no matter what we do and what our biggest concerns are, could benefit from the process of renewal.  Now is always the best time to build a positive vision for the future and now is also the best time to make plans to move towards that vision.

Thank you for reading our blogs and thank you for considering what we have to say here.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

New Language - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to the space on the blog that occurs every seven days on a Sunday - also known as Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog.  Pour yourself a beverage of your choice and make yourself comfortable.  For a few moments, forget about the dirty dishes and put your worries under the place mat on the kitchen table.  We're going to take a tour together!

A tour around some selected letters from days gone by!  

This week, we're going to teach you a little bit about the language that I read when I look at a piece of postal history.  Don't worry, there isn't a quiz at the end!  We'll just keep it light and... hopefully... fun!

1863 from Boston to London

I'm going to start us by reading about the trip this letter took from Boston to London, England.  There is a single stamp at the top right that represents 24 cents of postage.  It just so happens that the price of mailing something from the US to England at that time was 24 cents, so it was cancelled with a round grid marking with the word PAID on it in black ink.  This was done so people could not reuse the stamp.

From a historical standpoint, you can guess that the American Civil War was raging, with fighting at Stones River (Tennessee) and Fort Hindman (Arkansas).  The Emancipation Proclamation had just gone into effect on January 1.  As momentous as all that might have been, business went on.

Perhaps you remember that we talked about dockets a couple of weeks ago?  If you don't, you can always take the link and read it at your leisure.  For now, we'll just point you to the handwriting at the top center.  This was written by the addressee (Charles H Hudson).  He recorded for future reference the date he received the letter (January 19), the date he sent a reply (January 24) and who sent him this letter (Rideout & Merritt).

This docket has nothing to do with the postal aspect of this envelope - but it gives us some background as to the purpose of this mail.  It also provides us with checks for consistency to be sure all is as it should be here.  The red London marking at the right (by the name Hudson) also gives a date of January 19 - that's a match with the docket, so things are lining up nicely!

You might also note that both the London and Boston markings are in red ink and they both include the word "PAID."  If you'll recall, we talked about ways the postal service communicated that postage was properly paid in a blog in October of last year.  So, this all makes sense - there is a stamp that is the right amount for the postage of the time.  There are two markings that seem to show that the postal service saw this letter as paid to the destination.  And...  the dates line up with expected travel times and dockets.

Let's look more closely at the Boston marking!  There is actually more information that I can extract just by knowing what I am seeing - by knowing how to read this "language."

"Br. Pkt"

This is an abbreviation for "British Packet."  A packet was a steamship that carried the mail across the Atlantic Ocean.  Some mail packet companies had contracts to carry the mail for the United States (an "American Packet") and some had contracts to carry mail for the United Kingdom (a "British Packet").  This marking actually gives me a chance to identify the ship that carried this letter from Boston and across the Atlantic!

On January 7, 1863 the Europa left Boston.  This ship was owned by the British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company - a shipping line that is often referred to as the Cunard Line (for its founder Samuel Cunard).  It arrived at Queenstown, Ireland on January 17 and probably went on to Liverpool the next day.

"19 Paid"

Well, we all understand the "Paid" part.  But, what's with the "19?"  Didn't we say that it cost 24 cents to mail this letter?

Indeed we did!  And, indeed it DID cost 24 cents.  The issue is that the United States provided some of the mail service and the British provided some of the mail service.  At this time, it was important to account for how much of the 24 cents went to each post office so it covered the expenses.

Five cents covered the mail service within the United States.  Sixteen cents paid for the Atlantic voyage.  Three cents covered mail service in the United Kingdom.  Since the British had the contract with the Cunard Line, they had to pay the shipping company.  So, the British needed 16 cents for that and 3 more cents for their own mail services.

This marking simply says the United States must pay 19 of the 24 cents they collected in postage to the British Post Office.   They kept the remaining five cents.

New York to Tampico - 1918

Below is a much more recent letter.  The New York Life Insurance Company sent this item from their offices in New York for their "Mexican Branch" to a grocery store company (tienda de abarrotes) named "El Relampago" in Tampico, Mexico.  The letter was sent from New York on August 21, 1918. The cost to mail this item from New York to Mexico was 3 cents.

World War I still had a couple more months to go until Armistice Day (Nov 11) when Germany surrendered.  The second wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic was just getting underway - fueled by troop movements (among other things).  The tape that reads "Opened By" at the right of this envelope shows that this letter was opened by a censor prior to its delivery in Tampico.  Interesting enough, censors may well have redacted items that might have been related to military actions as well as the pandemic, feeling that dissemination of information on the illness would give rise to panic.

This cover also has another marking that was applied in Tampico.   The marking reads "Lista Oct 7 , 1918."  Clearly, the letter had been in the Tampico post office for a while, but no one had come to claim this mail.  "Lista" is a reference that the item had been advertised in local papers as being available at the post office.  This was still a common practice for mail sent as a "general delivery" item.  General delivery, also known as "poste restante" in Europe meant that the letter was sent to the post office and not delivered to the recipient by a carrier.  It was the recipient's responsibility to come to the post office and check to see if they had any mail.

Le Havre to Philadelphia - 1873

If you detect a big change in postal processes, you can usually attribute it to one or more historical events that led to the adjustments being observed in the postal history.  For example, mail handling between the United States and France had been fairly consistent since 1857, when a postal treaty was put into place.  Once we get to 1870, letters look quite a bit different.  Interestingly enough, France lost to Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which included the Siege of Paris into early 1871.  It would be incorrect to say that the war was the sole cause for the change.  But, it might be accurate to say that the conditions that led to that war also contributed to the postal changes.

First, we can exercise our "docket reading" once again.  The top left reads "Via Queenstown, p. Steamer City of Brooklyn."  It just so happens the City of Brooklyn was scheduled to be in port at Queenstown on June 6.  This ship was owned by the Liverpool, New York & Philadelphia Steam Ship Company, founded by William Inman.  I suspect you see a pattern here.  People have historically looked for shortcuts when referencing things - so this company was routinely known as... the Inman Line.  (imagine that!)  The ship would arrive in New York on June 16.


The words around the circle of this marking read: "Le Havre Le Port."  Le Havre would be the city and Le Port would be the post office branch that received this item for mailing.  And if you look at the words inside the circle, you will likely recognize the date: June 3, 1873.  You might, however, be uncertain as to what the "4E" might reference.  Larger post offices had multiple mail distribution and departure time each day.  This would be the 4th collection period of the day on June 3.  This was apparently early enough for this item to get to London on June 4 by a channel steamship.

Holland to France - 1836

Now we'll take you back before there were postage stamps!  Here is a letter from Amsterdam to Montpellier, France in September of 1836.  At this point, the Netherlands was still trying to hold on to Belgium, despite the latter's proclamation that it was independent in 1830.  This conflict would not be settled until 1839.


At this point in time, the cost of postage for a letter was calculated as much by distance as it was by weight (or sometimes the number of sheets in a letter).  Most letters were sent unpaid or partially paid, with the expectation that the recipient would pay for the honor of receiving the item.

One of the funny things about postal history of the 1800s is that numbers don't always look like the numbers you and I might expect.  One must remember that postal clerks were often handling A LOT of mail and we have to expect some shorthand.  What was important is that they and their compatriots understood the markings.  

What you see above is a "19."  This represents 19 decimes or 1 franc, 90 centimes, which was the amount the recipient was going to pay in order to receive the letter.  That is a fair amount of money considering the cost would only be 60 centimes when we get to the 1860s.

The postal rate calculation is aided, in part, by this marking that appears at the top right of the folded letter.

L.P.B.5.R. = Les Pays Bas 5th Rayon

The French know the Netherlands as "Pays-Bas" or "Les Pays-Bas," which is literally translated as "Low Country (ies)."  This shouldn't sound odd since the English refer to it as "the Netherlands" with "nether" being defined as "lower in position."  You could also, of course, refer to it as Holland(e).

The 5th rayon refers to a region or a distance within Les Pays Bas.  The 5th region was furthest from France and required the most postage to cover the distance from Amsterdam to Thionville in France.  Then, French postage would be added for the distance from Thionville to Montpellier.  If you want to know how that works, I went through that process with this Postal History Sunday post!

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Thank you so much for taking this little postal history journey with me.  I hope you were able to relax, learn something new, and take comfort in the enjoyment I have with sharing my hobby with you.  As always, I am happy to take questions and turn them into future "Postal History Sundays."  I expect to keep writing them as long as I have motivation and energy to do so.

Have a great remainder of the weekend and I hope your coming week is a good one!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Decent December

Saturdays are good days to catch up on some reading, so I thought I'd move the next installment of 'best of' posts for 2020 to this Saturday!  Well, it made sense at the time.  


Once again, I offer up what the editor and writer of this blog (that would be... ahem... me) came up with for best posts in December of 2020.  Part of the rules were that I could not include PAN cross-posted blogs, Postal History Sunday entries and any throwback posts I re-worked.  In some ways, those rules remove some awfully good reading (my opinion), but you have to draw the line somewhere.   

However, if you just noticed - I didn't really draw the line.  I just provided you with links to ALL of the posts that fit those topics so you can go read those too!  Maybe you just wanted to do some reading while drinking hot chocolate today?  Or, if you are in Australia, you would prefer a colder beverage.  You choose what you want to drink and you can choose what you want to read!  

My, what a friendly blog we run here!

I figured I could start you off with a couple of posts that are more informational.  Well, ok, the first is very informational and still worth a read to see what organizations we appreciate with Iowa ties and connections to environmental concerns.  The second is yet another attempt to explain why we feel organic farming is the way to go.

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

Why Certified Organic? - we still reap rewards when Mr. Bunting sings, the Bull Snake slithers by and Cucumber Frog jumps and startles us.  We see the benefits when green beans taste fantastic and the fresh spinach is heaped on our plates.  Why do we grow organic?  We do it for us. And we do it for nature. And we do it for you. 

I was pretty pleased with this pair of posts that were unveiled right around Christmas. Apparently, many people liked them as well as they both got a bit more traffic than many of the posts on the Genuine Faux Farm blog do.  I like them enough that I re-read them just to set my mind straight this morning.

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

Gifts Unwrapped - But, we slowed down enough this year to actually watch... the.... moon... rise.  We stopped walking to the next chore and we watched.

And, the best of the rest!  In case you had not noticed, I have included a short excerpt from each post.  Maybe they will give you a flavor and you can decide what you might like to read (if any) on this fine day!

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

Less Time to Do It All In - With temperatures dropping, we can't expect to be able to do this much longer.  But, if this is all I manage to move this season, I won't be too unhappy.  That's actually saying something when you have less time to do it all in.

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

-----------------Audience Participation----------------------

As with the others, I welcome feedback on posts you liked the best, photos you liked best or just... well... feedback.  The current goal is to keep writing at this pace for the next two to three months.  Then we'll see where the world is and where my head is.  As long as it feels like this is a gift that I am willing to give and you are happy to receive, I'll keep at it.

Friday, January 15, 2021

VAP Angst

The days of the Very Ambitious Plan (VAP) seemed like they were past.  Then, I got to January and realized I might need some sort of a VAP in my day to day efforts.

What is a VAP?  

The Very Ambitious Plan (VAP) had its origins at the Genuine Faux Farm as our daily 'to do' lists that were necessary if we wanted to manage our farm and all of the moving parts.  We made our first blog reference to them in 2016, when we discussed VAPs and even suggested some VAP statistics that we could use (but didn't - look... it was all in fun, ok?!).  We had a bit more fun with another blog post titled VAP Revisited that just took us even further down the 'silly road.'  

Regardless of how much fun we had with those posts, the VAP was actually an extremely important tool for us over the years as we farmed.  It was a good way for me, in particular, to organize my thoughts as to how I would utilize precious resources - the most precious of which was time.

I still recall conversations with Denis (who worked on the farm several summers) about how he was always aware that there was a plan behind the decisions and reactions to unplanned events that happened every day on the farm.  Well, Denis, I owe a great deal of that to the creation of a daily VAP.  The time I took to put it down on paper helped me get things straight in my head so I had a prayer of getting through the day.

But What If We're Unambitious?

I have certainly considered making a VUP (Very Unambitious Plan), but when I want to make a VUP, I usually don't have the motivation to do it (get it?  Huh huh?!?).  

Anyway, the very nature of list making tends to lead some people to be more ambitious and others towards less ambition as they get overwhelmed.  Why?  Well, the Law of Expanding Lists takes over and the VAP just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  This can either fire you up to get as much as you can done or it buries you with expectations.  

Tammy and I both know where each of us lands on lists - like the farm VAPs.  Tammy dislikes creating lists - finding them stressful.  This is especially true if we make a list with a longer view.  To her, it only feels like a list of things to be disappointed about because we won't get to them.  On the other hand, I find creating these lists useful as they help my brain focus on a subset of tasks.  I know its time to make a list when I feel the paralysis creeping in that comes with being overwhelmed trying to figure out what's next.

On the other hand, give Tammy a nice 'check-off' list of things to do today or this week - and she's happy.  In fact, I've found many who have worked on the farm loved having a list of things to check off when it was done. 

But, What If It Doesn't Work?

I realize that January is not my best month - as far as being motivated and keeping myself on task.  In high school, college and prior to working at the farm, I was pretty faithful with my ability to catch some sort of cold or flu that made matters worse.  It's just a cycle I go through and I have my strategies for dealing with it.  The question is - will the return of the VAP become one of those strategies as I go through a January with very different purposes than the past twelve (or so) January months? 

So far, I've met with very mixed success.  Not surprisingly (to me) the days it worked the best were those where the list was more farm oriented AND where there was more active 'doing.'  Thus far, I have had much less success getting my own person to accept that VAPs are also good for office work.

We'll give it the ol' college try and see what happens.  Worst case scenario - I'll give up making the VAP ahead of time and write things down as I accomplish them so I can then check them off.  Or, better yet, I'll start making lists that break each task down into smaller actions so I get to check MORE things off.

  1. Climb stairs of the house
  2. Walk down the hall
  3. Enter the office
  4. Sit in desk chair
  5. Turn on computer
  6. Wait for computer to start
  7. Hum a tune while waiting
  8. Pet a cat while waiting
  9. Connect to internet
  10. Load up blog web page
  11. Scratch head and wonder what to write
  12. Start writing
  13. No, never mind, try another topic
  14. Another false start
  15. Write blog
  16. Upload pictures to blog
  17. Proofread
  18. Schedule blog to publish next morning
  19. Stretch a little
  20. Look at list for next thing...

Ups!  Nothing more there.  I must be done for the day.

Good work me!

Have a great day everyone!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Eagle Has Landed Again

The new normal for me (and for many) is Zoom meetings and wistful looks out the window.  During a meeting not too long ago I looked out the window to see a Bald Eagle sitting in the tree.  It must have noticed me turn my head because it took off almost immediately.

A few days later, it was there again and I was able to explain to people in the meeting why I kept looking away from the screen.  This, of course, derailed the meeting for a time while people talked about Bald Eagles.  Frankly - I don't feel it was a waste of time.

This reminded me of some reading a did a couple years ago regarding the number of extinctions that have occurred on this planet since 1900 and found myself becoming increasingly disgusted by humanity's lack of foresight and general selfishness.  While it is true that some extinctions are a result of natural changes and natural disasters, the most common primary cause appears to be the intentional or unintentional results of human actions.

The Bald Eagle - so far - is an exception.  It has come back from near extinction.  Tammy and I are among the members of the current population in the United States that maintain a fascination for these raptors.  As we were growing up, there were perhaps 500 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in the entire lower 48 states and we were told that it would be a very rare thing for us to see a Bald Eagle at any point in our lives.  If you do not recall, the population had been declining as a result of habitat destruction, DDT poisoning and people shooting the birds.


And now, we have Bald Eagles landing on the oak trees at our farm. 

A 2007 report showed 200 breeding pairs in Iowa alone.  Clearly, the population is recovering, though it is far from its former glories.  And despite the fact that Tammy and I are often graced with a sighting of a Bald Eagle multiple times a week during the colder months, we still find their presence to be a reward of a sorts.  You see, it was impressed upon us that preserving this population was important.   Having a Bald Eagle on the farm is rewarding for us - even as we realize we need to monitor the chickens a bit more while they are around.  We welcome them with the realization that they symbolize the possibility that humanity CAN, if it wants to, do something to support the success of other species.

The problem is that we have to do more than just leave things alone to prosper.  There are all sorts of unintended consequences that can cause the decline of a natural population.  For example, Bald Eagles in our area are subject to lead poisoning when they consume the offal left by hunters.   It is not necessarily a bad thing that the remains are left for the scavenger birds (such as Bald Eagles), but the lead ammunition is causing a problem. 

Just think - I am sure hunters are not intentionally looking to harm the eagle population, yet they are.  If we can cause so much harm without meaning to, just think how rough we are on other species when we go after them with a will.  I'd tell you to ask the Passenger Pigeon, but there aren't any to ask. 

----------------------------------------

The original post on this topic was shared on our blog January 9, 2019.  I updated it a little bit and added a few edits.  But, the topic is still a very important one.  In particular, I want to emphasize once again that we CAN make all sorts of good things happen if we decide we want to.  The question is - what will it take to get us to decide to do good things?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

World's Most Challenging

We've had multiple mornings where Mother Nature has dressed up in hoar frost or rime ice.  In both cases, we can end up with some spectacular effects that are neat to see (and take pictures of).  Our external clothes drying machine accumulated a fair bit of rime ice several days ago after a heavy freezing fog.

For those that are completely agog that we should leave our wooden attachment technology for clothes drying out in this sort of weather, I thought I would first confuse you by calling clothespins wooden attachment technology.  If you were not confused, I am guessing you fell somewhere on the spectrum between amused and annoyed.

In any event, we did use our external clothes dryer just a couple of weeks ago.   Or was it three weeks ago?  I don't know.  But, we've used it more recently than you might think.  And, the clothespins cling patiently to the line waiting for the next moment we should look at each other and say, "I think this laundry load might dry most of the way if we hang it out today."

Speaking of attachment technologies....  

I kept the refrigerator magnet shown above in its package for longer than normal because I was amused by the instruction sheet found in the package.  The magnet stayed in the package until the day came that I would actually take a picture of the sheet.  Now the instruction sheet is immortalized in a GFF blog post!

Well, the actual instruction sheet went into the paper recycling and the magnet went to the refrigerator.  According the instructions, that's where it should go.  Who am I to argue with the instruction sheet for a refrigerator magnet?

Clearly, we received no such instructions for the clothespins - which is why they are still out on the line collecting rime ice.

Speaking of instructions...

Last Christmas I received a puzzle as one of my gifts.  I am pleased to say that this was an age appropriate gift for me (see the top right).  Essentially what that means is that I was not tempted to swallow and choke on the pieces and Tammy was not tempted to say "no" repeatedly as I approached the table where the puzzle was sitting.

Sadly, the puzzle got placed in a location where it got covered by other items last year and we uncovered it again this year - right around Christmas.  I thought - "ok, let's give this thing a real try."  After all, I'm up for what could be ..."the World's Most Challenging Puzzle!"


Fifteen minutes later, the child in me completed the puzzle.  The adult remained confused.

I did take a picture of the completed puzzle, but I sent the puzzle along to someone else and I didn't want to ruin the fun by providing a key for solving it.  I probably shouldn't worry about putting the solution out on the internet because I find it unlikely that something I put on this blog is going to put much of a dent in the sales of this item, nor is it likely to spoil someone's fun in solving it.  After all, if you're willing to look at the solution prior to solving a puzzle, you probably don't appreciate the process of puzzle solving all that much.

Besides - I want this to remain mysterious and impressive.  Look at me!  Solver of the World's MOST Challenging Puzzle.... perhaps.  

It almost sounds like something I would write!  Make a grand statement!  Then qualify it with "perhaps" or "maybe."  Or add something on the end:

The Worlds' Most Challenging Puzzle.... unless you happen to solve it in fifteen minutes then we're probably wrong because you really aren't smart enough to solve the world's most challenging puzzles all that quickly, are you?


After all, I'm the guy who gets confused if you go tell him to stand in the corner of a round room.  I stared at the orange juice container for an hour because it had the word "concentrate" on it.  I once climbed a glass wall to see what was on the other side.

And, I'm not sure I'm all that worried about whether it's rime ice (typically a result of ice fog) or hoar frost (typically you'll get this on a calm, clear night).  I just know it looks good.

Be well and take care of each other.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

E-Miscommunicating

I am coming to realize that many who read this blog may not know or have forgotten that I have degrees in Computer Science and that I have a fairly long history of involvement with electronic communications methods.

I have watched the rise (and fall) of newsgroups, discussion boards, blogs and all sorts of social media.  The more things change with these tools, the more they stay the same.  Usually, there is a very short 'golden age' where the people who have found the tool make great use of it.  But, then the tool follows a typical cycle. 

Initially, people begin to flock to the 'latest thing' to reconnect with their friends.  After an initial contact, most participants start getting lazy and begin to share material they did not create - often flooding the channel with item after item after item...  A small subset of people set themselves up to be over-achievers, seeking some sort of stardom by creating content for the platform.  Many of these actively seek approval by getting others share THEIR stuff instead of somebody else's stuff.   "Trolls" appear and start pushing buttons, looking to start conflict (I remember when these were called 'flame wars').  And that often seems to be the only time people get re-motivated to use their own words - when they have a chance to take sides.  Especially if they have a chance to make someone else look or feel bad.

Pretty soon, it's all noise.  And the only things participants seem to want to read are things that are sensationalized or that serve an agenda that is currently at the top of their list.  And the trolls?  They're still out there.  Continuing to fan the flames and sitting back to enjoy the havoc that follows.

Despite all of this, I find myself continuing to seek out ways that I can cultivate words so that they might plant more seeds that grow into something amidst all of the static.  I suppose I could do what everyone else does and let a host of the pre-written messages do the talking for me, but I prefer to write my own words - only periodically grabbing a meme or a quote that I particularly enjoy to supplement what I write.  And I don't normally concern myself about encouraging people to share the things I write.  I guess I prefer to believe that the quality will speak for itself?

Why do you think that is?

First, I prefer to believe that things are always far more complex than we are often willing to admit.  My feelings about anything of substance are often just as complex as the topic itself.  In fact, those feelings may not be fully known to me.  As I consider the words I might want to write, I give myself an opportunity to explore what really matters to me and what I want to know more about.  I provide myself with an opportunity to learn, to change my mind and/or to affirm and refine what I believe.

I cultivate the words so I can grow.

If the words I write were only influenced by what is in my head, then I suspect I would learn nothing new.  So, I look for others who cultivate words and I look for sources that provide facts and support learning.   Often I prefer primary sources and actual studies or the language of bills being proposed in our lawmaking bodies.  Why?  Because I want to learn the facts so I can come to my own conclusions. 

I combine all that with my own observations and then I look at what other people are saying.  I'll admit that sometimes the whole process starts because someone makes a provocative statement and a bunch of people jump on board to "say what they think." But, I work hard to back up before I am tempted to 'engage.'

I took a brief moment today and sampled five different "provocative posts" in social media today.  Each of those posts had a link to some sort of article.  I went to each article and read it.  Then, I read the comments.  It was clear that nine out of ten people who felt it important to post on the topic had NOT read the articles.  They had merely come to their own conclusion based on the often misleading title or provocative statement provided in the post.

I now work for an organization that realizes it has to use social media to get attention for the things it advocates for.  There is a very real tension between trying to find words, phrases and images that are accurate and representative and balancing them with words, phrases and images that will get people to actually pay even a little attention to the problem and the possible solutions.

I wish we had a better forum than social media to communicate - because more often than not - we end up e-miscommunicating using this so-called media.  More and more, I feel that social media is about promoting anti-social behaviors rather than actually connecting people in meaningful ways.

Through all of these iterations of electronic communications, I have always found myself trying to be the peace-maker.  Seeking the common ground and hoping to find ways for a wide range of views to be allowed with a civil discussion rather than name-calling and derogatory comments.  I doggedly seek to make these tools forums for real conversations that build up, rather than tear down.

In each and every instance, I have come away disappointed, disillusioned and very weary of it all.  

And yet, here I am.  Trying again.  Either because I am absurd or I see something in this word that is better than what it is showing right now.  You can decide which it is for yourselves.

So - a new challenge to you, if you use social media.  Read the link before you comment.  Check your facts before you post.  Consider whether you might actually have it in your own personal arsenal the ability to communicate better than an insensitive meme or sharing a post that describes anyone else in derogatory or unflattering terms.  

I think you can do it.  And so can I.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

2021 Crops

We are now fairly certain as to what crops we will be growing in 2021, but there are still details to work out - aren't there always?  The general rule for us in 2021 is that we must simplify our crops significantly if we hope to continue growing, doing our off-farm jobs AND raising poultry.  So, without further ado - here's a quick run down on the plan as it stands at this moment in time.


Seed Production

Assuming the contracts come through for us, we are planning on growing out certain crops for seed that will go to Seed Savers.  The combination of our experience growing many of their varieties and our organic certification makes this a logical step if we wish to continue to grow vegetable crops.  

At present, it looks like we will be growing out Black Valentine green beans, Napoleon Sweet bell peppers and we may also grow out Amish melons (cantaloupe).   

Essentially, that means we will have more row feet of one variety of these crops rather than the wide array we have grown in prior years.  This makes it easier for us to manage with fewer labor hours - a key factor in our decision making.  In particular, the harvest becomes concentrated to one event rather than the continuous harvest, clean, pack, deliver cycle that takes a great deal of time.

Other Crops in Bulk

There will be some other crops as well that we will target either for bulk sales, canning/freezing specials for individuals or bulk donations to local food banks.  Some of these were selected because we have a very good history with them, others because they only have a single point of harvest and some because it will help us keep tabs on how we convert our farm to new systems of growing that will hopefully be sustainable with the new labor hours limits we have.

The order for the Red Adirondack and Blue Adirondack potatoes is already in - so we'll have a decent sized crop there.  There will be Waltham Butternuts and there will be Touchstone Gold beets.  We expect to grow onions as well... and there is garlic in the ground already.  And lettuce is something we are quite good at and we will likely grow a fair amount of it.  There will be tomatoes in the high tunnels.

Asparagus is a perennial crop, so that will not go away either.

To put it in perspective, in the past, when we would just grow a "little bit of something" it would take at least 50 row feet - and usually more.  Even now, there will be a definite difference between our "little bit" and what a personal gardener might say is a "little bit."

And The Rest

Our high tunnels and some of the smaller crop space will have more diversity - in part because we want to eat veggies!  It is likely we will have excess of these things, but we will not be growing them with the intent of maintaining sales other than when convenient.  Again, excess could just go to a food bank if that's what works best.

There will be green beans and peas, of course, because we love them both.  There will probably be some cucumbers and zucchini and there will certainly be spinach.  The list here is certainly much more fluid and subject to change.  But, that planning is what January is for!  We'll grow broccoli, romanesco and cauliflower, but it will be nothing like prior years when we would put in successions of 400 broccoli plants at a time.  Perhaps that would change if we got a contract to grow that many for someone - because we are good at broccoli - but there is none forthcoming, so that's where it stands.

Saying Goodbye

This has been a bit difficult because we know we need to say goodbye to a number of vegetable varieties that have served us well for years.  We won't be growing Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash, for example.  And there will be no eggplant at all on the farm next year.  We will focus on a subset of our normal heirloom tomato varieties and we will likely let varieties such as Red Zebra and Green Zebra go.  There won't be turnips and very little kale and we will likely limit our carrots to one "little bit" planting.

Starter Plants 2021

That said, we are willing to start extra plants for those who talk to us ahead of time.  We will not be growing out a whole bunch of extras in hopes of sales.  Instead, we will only grow plants out for people who specifically request that we do so.  So, if you have a request, let us know.

Here's to 2021 - and a new growing season.