Thursday, October 29, 2020

A Choice of Litany - Look Back

The post that follows is probably one of my favorite posts to revisit because I still find hope for myself when I read it.  I hope some who read this blog will also benefit.  Originally posted in December of 2016, the writing had started in October of that year and reflects on photos taken in October.  It makes sense to finally put this piece of writing in the month that best reflects what I was referencing.

I did a little formatting to clean it up and I fixed a couple of word choice issues.  Otherwise, I just nodded my head as I recognized each and every melody I reference in this piece.  They're all still in me.  And - they work together -  sometimes...   When they don't work together, things can get pretty noisy in my head.

I hope you can find a song for yourself that helps you to be the best you can be.

============== Look Back to December 2016 =================

Miriam Webster's Definitions of "litanya resonant or repetitive chant

What is the litany you recite to yourself on a daily basis?  Is it a litany of doubt?  A litany of friendship?  A litany of fear?  A litany of success?

Perhaps the litany you sing or chant to yourself changes from moment to moment.  Maybe you are someone who doesn't recognize that you do this.  Perhaps you don't do this at all?   

"Why do you ask?" says the peanut gallery.

What do YOU see here?

I'll start with this picture from our farm.  We all can make a choice on what we focus on in a picture like this and I'm curious what others might see at first glance.  Do you see the Fall colors in some of the trees in the background?  What about that roll of drip tape next to the fence posts?  The clover in the path in the foreground?  The fence posts themselves?  How about the shells of cucumbers behind those posts?  Maybe you see the dead foxtail grasses or the green of broccoli plants a little further back.  Perhaps you see the blue sky or the brown corn stubble in the field beyond our property.

You see, you can make a choice on what you put your focus on as you look at this picture, as can I.  But, because I live in this world, my choice of what I see at any given time is a reflection of the many litanies that are going on in my head as I walk that field.

Valhalla in October this year - what song is it singing?

There are many moments on the farm where a 'fly on the wall' (or on the bill of my cap) would hear me talking to myself.   

"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok.  Just keep getting things done and it will be fine." 

In fact, this has been happening frequently over the last few weeks.  When it is clear the weather is finally going to turn, a very long list of things need to get done to prepare for Winter and the white stuff.  Some of these things happen every year.  Some of them are unique to a given season.  And, some of them are simply things that just keep falling off of each daily list until finally... yes finally... we realize that there is no longer a choice.  It has to get done NOW or it will not get done at all.

The daylight hours have grown terribly short.  The weather isn't as friendly for working outside as it was just a week ago.  It would be so much nicer to go indoors and read a book.  But, things need to get done.  So, I chant the litany of determination.  A litany that reminds me that I can accomplish those things that need doing.  A litany of encouragement to myself that these are things that are worth doing and I will be the one who will do them.

"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok.  Just keep getting things done and it will be fine."
And it works for me.  Even when the wind is blowing, temperatures are just above freezing and there is a light rain hitting me in the face as I do what needs to be done.

But, there are other choices of litany that are echoing in my brain, trying to get my attention.  One of them sounds like this:
"There is too much to do.  There is always too much to do.  You can not catch up.  You can't get it all done.  There is too much.  Why do you even try?  Too much.  Too much... "
And another one says:
"Stop.  Listen to the rain.  Feel the wind.  Observe.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Be still.  You're moving too much.  You need to listen.  You need to feel.  Stop."
And yet another:
"You messed that up.  Why didn't you do that earlier?  That's not the way that should have been.  That's not right.  You need to fix it.  It's wrong.  It's all wrong..."
And one more (of so many other themes and counter themes, along with all of their variations):
"Oh, look at that, we could do more of that!  And, that looks good, we can do that over here too.  Just a little bit more of this.  A little more of that.  Maybe we should do that as well?  A little more... Just a little more..."
I work very hard to avoid letting the litanies with the overpowering negative vibes take the center stage.   Which is why I often revert to the theme that has the driving rhythm:
"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok."
And I live for the days when these litanies actually work together to form a song that has balance and meaning for me - and maybe for others I can share it with.


Here is the first picture again.

What do I see here?
"There is too much to do.  There is always too much to do."
I've got to get those fences and poles down.  The drip tape needs to be gathered.  I need to be sure to get that broccoli harvested on time.  It would be best if I cleaned up the cucumber residue and got the foxtail out of there.  How can I get all of this done before the soil freezes?  And that's only one field!

"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok."
Pulling drip tape isn't hard, it just takes some time and energy.  If you keep moving, the fences will be down before you know it....
"That's not right.  You need to fix it.  It's wrong."
Just a bit more time a few months ago and there wouldn't be so many cucumbers that went bad in the field.  We could have run that field one more time to get those weeds out.  You promised yourself you'd get the cover crops into that rotation this time, so much for that promise.
"Just a little bit more of this.  A little more of that."
This is where we grew those Gold of Bacau romano beans, we certainly could do more of those.  And there are a couple of great opportunities for more flowers in that plot's plan for next year! Why not an annual climbing flower to divide the bean types?  Wouldn't that be neat?
"Observe.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Be still."
There is a beautiful blue sky with the sun highlighting the colors in the landscape.  The dry grasses make a gentle, relaxing sound in a light breeze.  The four-leaf clovers in the path are calling my name.  The soil is ever so slightly warmer in the top inch as it absorbs the light and it is mellow.  I pick up a fist full of dirt and it crumbles easily in my hand.  I let it filter through my fingers as I listen to the song sparrow tell me about the day as it sits on a fence post.

This last melody wins for a moment in time.  It pushes the others down until they are quiet harmonies and counterpoints.  And it reminds me that I can choose which litanies I will give voice to.  And it reminds me that the whole song just might require that I acknowledge each one of them as the music unfolds.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


If you read yesterday's blog, then you may recognize a theme building.  I was exploring some of the examples of good leadership I have witnessed in my life in that post.  But, you may have also missed other parts of this theme.  I spent some time lauding people who reliably take on tasks that are often taken for granted.  I suggested that we have a responsibility to set an example because there are always others who learn from us - both the good and the bad.  I explored the idea that our words and our actions need to be consistent and more meaningful if we really want to make a difference.  And of course, I wanted to make it clear that things are never as simple as we seem to want them. 

Today, I just want to say a couple of simple things.

1. Our goal in life should not be to 'win' or to cause others to 'lose.'  It should not be so much about 'us' or 'them.'  

Things are rarely this simple - so win and lose, us and them, and even 'let's all agree to get along' are probably too easy to actually encompass life and all of the things that go with it.

At present, we appear to have settled on the use of a convenient filter: "If you aren't one of us, you aren't worth talking to. Instead, you are an excellent bulls-eye for target practice."  It's simple.  It's fairly easy to apply.  And the results are pretty clear too.  If you aren't one of us - you are bad.  If you are are one of us - you are good.

Convenient because it is pretty easy.  Until someone you thought was your friend says or does something that is not consistent with your view of what they should being doing or saying.  Are you really so small that you will ignore your life's experience with this individual and drop them into the ring of persecution?   Apparently, many of us ARE that small - but I think we are, on the whole, better than that.

Oddly enough - we seem to also extend MORE grace to public figures that we have adopted as 'one of us' than we do people with whom we have personal relationships.  And, we extend EVEN LESS grace to public figures who are 'one of them.'  

2.We are divided because we say we are - constantly.

And then there is this.

I have long believed in our own ability to create self-fulfilling prophesies.  If we keep telling ourselves that we can find a solution to problem X if we apply ourselves to learning everything about it and working to find the best workable solution - we will do it.  

No, I am not being naive.  I fully recognize that things happen that are outside of our control.  Not everything works out.  Life is not always fair.  Some folks will never want to be a positive part of a team.  Other people may not be able to.

But, I still strongly believe that our choice of litany opens the door for success or pushes us into failure.  If we keep telling ourselves that we are divided and we have no common ground - we'll eventually believe it enough to make it true.  If we change the narrative and focus on finding a positive way forward - then I believe we will.

Yet - everything is so easy when it is all "good and evil" and "us versus them."  You automatically know who to blame - who cares about the truth?  After all, truth is ridiculously messy and complex.

Which is exactly why the truth is so beautiful.


Thank you for reading and considering.  I hope you have a good day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Why Leadership Matters

I don't think it is any surprise to those who know me that I expect a great deal from people who put themselves into positions of leadership.  It does not matter whether I like or dislike a person who is in that position and it does not necessarily matter whether I tend to agree or disagree with them.  What matters to me is that they are in a position of leadership and I expect them to exhibit certain qualities.  

Here are a few examples that I hold up for myself from my own experiences. 

The Crushing Weight from Above Revealed

At one of my jobs as a Software Engineer, I had the privilege to work for a person who was an excellent supervisor.  She quickly earned my respect and I still hold her up as an example of a fine person exhibiting excellent leadership skills.  Immediately after I was hired, she provided me with a vision that she saw for my role in her team.  She allowed me a chance to respond with how I felt about that role and was willing to modify as I learned more on the job and she observed how I worked on the job.

I always felt that it was safe to disagree with her and she encouraged feedback.  Even if the final decision did not go the way I was advocating, I was convinced the decision was based on her best judgement given the facts and the feedback she had received from the entire team and whatever other resources were necessary.

Every member of the team felt valued.  Each person felt like they belonged.  And we learned how much weight she was keeping off our backs when she moved on to a new job.  As I look back, my respect for this person increases when I consider how much pressure she must have been under and how well she dealt with it.

It did not take long for the team and the project to begin falling apart once leadership changed from a model that was consistent, informed and competent to one that was erratic and misdirected.  The atmosphere changed from one that was affirming to one that felt like we worked under constant threat.

The difference for the members of the team was one person.

Same Pieces, Different Results

I mentioned Coach Rowry in this post called Words to Live By in April of 2017.  He was the Junior Varsity baseball coach during my junior year in high school.  I played on both JV and Varsity teams that season (sparingly on Varsity that year).  Typically, a junior who was on JV might get a bit discouraged and finally give up the sport, but varsity was loaded with seniors and I loved the game.

In the end, it was all to my benefit because I was able to experience another example of leadership that I still reflect on.

Dave Rowry was filling in for one season, so he could have done the minimum and then passed things on, largely intact, to the next person who took on the role.  But, he didn't do that.  He built a team that was disciplined and understood that a team often requires people to take on roles.  While he did not waste many words on long explanations, we rarely were asked to do things without knowledge of the 'why' that came with the task.  

There was one coach that applauded my determination to back up first base.   Guess who that was?

It was clear when he was pleased with your efforts and it was equally clear when he was not.  He made more noise applauding hustle and effort than he did when a player muscled a ball over the fence.  He put people in positions where their skill set would be most likely to succeed.  

He even commented that I had played 16 games without an error prior to game 17.  Then he said, "We can't have that."  Sure enough, I had a tough play in right field that would have been a spectacular play if I could have held onto the ball.  He noted that I had lost one step because I initially turned the wrong way on a ball that was driven over my head.  With no small amount of glee, he told the scorekeeper to to award me with an error rather than give a hit to the batter.  The message?  You've done great and I see that - and I know you can do even better!  And I believed it.

That team went 14-3 and every player contributed.

With a different coach and most of the same player-pieces, this same group never reached the same level of success, playing roughly .500 ball over the next couple of years.  There are so many variables, that one can never tell for certain what the causes might have been.  But, I can tell you that strong leadership from one person brought more out of each participant and better results for the whole.

Chaos in the classroom

As a person who has been in both student and teacher roles, I can point to numerous examples where classroom leadership was successful and several others that were not.   More often than not, a successful leader of a classroom shows respect for the subject, respect for the profession and respect for the learners.  

Certainly competence plays a role - I consider that part of the 'respect for the subject.'  But, I have seen clearly competent individuals belittle or make light of the very subject they intend to teach.  Why in the world should students present their best efforts if the instructor makes it sound like they don't think it is worthy of that effort?

Most of us have examples in our lives of teachers we thought well of and those we... well, thought less well of.  Without belittling how incredibly difficult teaching can be, I bet most of us can detect certain characteristics each of these teachers had that made them competent and effective leaders in the classroom.

The leaders tended to signal to the students that they actually cared about you and your learning.  These people sent consistent messages about the desirability of acquiring knowledge and developing skills.  The best teachers found alternatives to keep as many people engaged and moving forward as was humanly possible  And, in all cases, they presented their topic as accurately as they could and showed professional competence as a model for students to emulate.

Each of us learned to love and dislike numerous areas of study - often because of one person and the qualities of leadership (good or bad) they exhibited.

Leadership Matters

  • Good leadership encourages individuals to be part of a team.
  • Good leadership allows for disagreement and hears different points of view, giving them value even when the final decision can not agree with all participants.
  • Good leadership recognizes the value of roles of all types and understands the different viewpoints each role might bring with it.
  • Good leadership is concerned about encouraging the highest level of excellence each team member is capable of achieving.
  • Good leadership supports members who are struggling when they need it, encourages those who need encouragement, challenges those who could use it and adjusts so the entire team succeeds with the support of each team member.
  • Good leaders are role models - recognizing that they represent the whole.  And, when they do poorly, they recognize it reflects badly on more than just themselves.
  • Good leaders exhibit integrity and competence.  Good leaders instill confidence.  Good leaders take communication seriously and good leaders accept responsibility.
  • Good leaders acknowledge their own failures and work to adapt and change to address them as best as they are able. 
  • Good leaders stand up for all members when any of them feel threatened or weakened.
  • Good leaders are always looking to improve themselves.
  • And the best leaders recognize that they will lead when they serve.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Postal History Sunday

For those who enjoy these Postal History Sunday posts, I am perfectly happy to answer questions.  In fact, I will often take those questions and queue them up as the topics for future postal history Sundays.  This one actually was prompted by a question - "Do you often get items that still have letters in them?  What would a letter from the 1800s look like?"

The first part of the answer is a large portion of mail from the 1800s, up until about the 1860s, was business correspondence.  If there are contents for items from that period, it is likely to be some sort of receipt or business letter with very little of a personal nature.  Most personal letters were mailed between those who were affluent.  When envelopes and covers were released to the collector market, the families would often opt to maintain control of the contents.  In some cases, they might even sell only on the condition that the addressee (and sometimes the address) be obliterated so it could not be easily read.

All that said - I thought I would share a piece of letter mail that did have a personal letter in it!  This item went from Brussels (Bruxelles), Belgium to Bordeaux, France - December of 1845.  

At this point in time, it was common to simply fold up a piece of paper or two and address the outside (keeping letter content on the inside).  Sometimes items were sealed with wax, sometimes they were not.

The markings on this cover are as follows:
Bruxelles Dec 11, 1845
Belg Valenciennes Dec 13 (in red)
B.3.R. (in green)
Bordeaux Dec 15, 1845 (verso)
Bordeaux Dec 16, 1845 (verso)
"14" decimes due at Bordeaux (the pen marking that looks a bit like "1n"

How It Got There

In 1845, railroad development was in its earlier stages for both Belgium and France.  Belgium was looking to create some main lines crossing the country both from North to South and East to West.  France, on the other hand, opted to create a 'star' configuration with nearly all lines starting or terminating in Paris.  At the time this letter was mailed, it is likely it took a train in Belgium to the border.  There may also have been some train carriage to Paris.  At any point in between where a rail line was not ready, this letter was carried in a horse-drawn mail coach.

How Much Did It Cost to Mail?

This letter was sent unpaid from Bruxelles where 14 decimes (140 centimes) were due on delivery for the privilege of receiving this letter.

The postage was comprised of two parts:

Belgian postage: 4 decimes 

On January 10, 1831, the powers of Europe ratified Belgium’s declaration of independence, but the postal agreement operating between France and Belgium was essentially based on the 1828 agreement with the Netherlands of which Belgium had been a part.  There were three distances (rayons) in Belgium with the third rayon requiring the highest rate of 4 decimes.  Remember that "B.3.R" marking?  That stands for "Belgium, 3rd Rayon,"  which helps the postal people to determine how much needed to be charged of the recipient.

French postage: 10 decimes

French domestic rates were based on distance and weight.  The distance this letter traveled in France would be from the border with Belgium (Valenciennes) to Bordeaux (nearly 800 km).  

The internal French postage rate for each 7.5 grams of weight was established in January of 1828 was 1 franc (100 centimes) for internal mail that traveled 750 to 900 km.  

Letter Contents

This appears to be a letter between brother and sister with the family name Vigneau.  The handwriting is remarkably clean.  However, just like any handwriting that is not known to you, there are spots that I have difficulty deciphering. 

Below is an attempt at translating the first portion of the letter from French to English.  Of course, if someone can do better with the translation, I am happy to hear corrections!  It appears to be largely an attempt to get news and gossip about people the writer knows in Bordeaux.

"I wrote to Chatelie, and received a letter from him. He is doing well and gives you a thousand compliments. He is preparing to come around the month of January. I think I will do the work for him. Tell me, my dear sister, what the chronicle says about me when I left Bordeaux. Are you still on good terms with dear Marguerite? Finally, do you live together taking the long winter evenings?

Does Basterre always come to ?? talk about his decoration does he always make the little ??? that Aimee is counterfeit? And is Pechru more cheerful? These are things I want to have knowledge of....

Who were the Vigneaus?

It is possible that these people are descendants of Gabriel de Vigneau who established Vigneau de Bommes (Bommes is SSE of Bordeaux) and the estate apparently changed hands in 1834 to Madame de Rayne.  It does make sense that this letter was sent between members of a family with means of some sort and it is possible that some searching could turn up more information.

Wouldn't it be interesting to find copies of the "Chronicle" mentioned in this letter and see if there was discussion of the departure of the writer?   Was Pechru ever cheerful?  And why was Aimee thought to be false?

We will likely never know any of these things ourselves - and yet, it is still fascinating to be transported back to 1845 and witness simple gossip and conversation between siblings.

I hope you all have a great day!  Feel free to ask questions to guide future Postal History Sundays!  I've got one in line for next week (how long did it take for some of these letters to travel from here to there?).  But, I would love to receive some other suggestions.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Not Ready For This

So, our first measurable snowfall on the farm for 2020 was October 19.  Before we go much further, let us say that we are grateful that we did not get the seven to nine inches some of central Iowa got on the same day.  We are also just fine that we have not received some of the same white stuff points North in Minnesota have gotten and are getting.

I wasn't quite on the ball enough to go out and take a picture before the snow on the ground melted - not that much on the ground stuck around for much more than minutes.  We do still have some significant heat stored in our soils at this point.  But, leaves and branches still had some to show off.

Since I am writing this blog on Thursday night for a Saturday morning posting time, there is a chance I'll have to go out again and take more pictures between now and then and update the status.  But, let me be on record to say that we, at the farm, are not on board with this situation.

No, we did not order this cold, rainy (and potentially snowy) stuff for the middle of October.  Yeah, yeah.  We can quibble over whether October 19 to 24 is the "middle" if we must.  But, it isn't all that common to have persistent snow and cold at this time.  Not impossible and not even completely out of the norm.  But, it isn't what we typically deal with.  We just may be taking turkeys to the park in the snow for the first time since we started raising turkeys (but to clarify, we have had snow before and just after taking turkeys to the park in prior years).

We probably should not complain too much because we have had some very nice days this Fall already.  A bit windy at times, but some very nice days nonetheless.  But, per the norm, Mother Nature did not look at our schedules before she picked the nice days and the.... less nice days.  Or perhaps she did - and she's just having a little fun with us.

Either way, we're not ready for this.  But, I suspect we never had a choice in the matter.  Did we?

And, no matter what we think of the weather - it's still Mom's birthday!  Happy birthday Mom!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Turkey Smiles

 "Oh look!" I said to myself.  "The turkeys are visiting Crazy Maurice.  I should take a picture of that."


"Oh look!" said the turkeys to each other.  


"There's the farmer!  I think he wants to take a picture of us!"

"We should run towards him so he can do just that!"

"Wait?  Why is he putting the camera down now?"

 And so, the turkeys ran the rest of the way to the border of the turkey pasture and hen pasture.  They raised a crowd gobble in an effort to get the attention of the departing farmer - but he continued to walk away.  

Their sounds became a bit more dejected.  "Don't you want a really GOOD picture of us?  I thought we were your favorites?  We'll even smile!"

Ok, that got the farmer's attention.  He has yet to see a turkey smile.

Do ANY of these turkey faces actually have a smile?  You tell me!

Oh - wait!   I found the bird that was smiling.....

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Is Organic Better For You? - Look Back

Welcome to our Throwback Thursday series of "reposts" from prior years on our blog!  The rules are simple - it has to be from the same month, but a different year from our blog.  This one is from Oct 24, 2014 and it looks at research investigating whether organic foods are better for you or not.  

The funny thing about this post is that I learned how many people DO NOT read a post but still think it is important that they sound off.  No... I was NOT asking you if organic ag is better for you - it was the question being asked by research that I am reporting on.  Uff da!  Even worse were the people who proceeded to illustrate that they had no clue exactly what being certified organic meant - all while trying to tell others how it was (or wasn't) better for you.

No, the reactions were not entirely as comments on OUR blog or our social media accounts.  It had more to do with the content being shared elsewhere.  Seriously, we rarely merit that much attention on our posts!

Without further ado - here is the original post with a few edits for clarity, updates, and formatting.


A post by Earth We Are One (in 2014) was being shared by persons who believe organic produce is the way to go.  Before I celebrated, I thought I'd better do a couple of things.  First, I wanted to learn a little about the organization that was sharing these results.  As I viewed their website, it was clear that there would be some definite biases.  That does not mean information found there is incorrect or not worthwhile.  It simply means that there is a definite agenda.  Agendas are not inherently evil, but a person needs to be aware of them when 'facts' are being reported.  This group clearly would want to support these results being claimed by this study.  So, right or wrong, I decided I would not just simply take their word for what they were reporting.

So, the second thing I did was look for the root of the information being given.  What led them to report what they reported?  My next stop was this LA Times article.  Here is an independent media source that is reporting on this meta-study.  I'll leave you to debate all you want about media, agendas and the like.  But, the reality is that I was now able to start checking more links and the flow of information back to the source. 

The Environmental Working Group is another organization that pointed at this meta-study.  I was impressed by how easy it is to learn about this organization.  They put their financial statements and annual reports on their "about us" page I linked to for all to see.  They also display an impressive ranking by the Charity Navigator, which they proudly include on their "about us" page.  These folks weigh in with this report on their pages.

All of this led me to the original journal article that is here:

US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Published in the British Journal of Nutrition
Baranski et al. - Sep 2014

What was this study?

If you are not a researcher, this might sound a bit silly to you.  But, let me tell you about it and why it is useful.

This was a "meta-study" - or a study about studies on a given topic.

The problem is this: there have been many studies of varying quality that try to show that organic foods are better OR no different from conventionally grown foods.  Persons who have an agenda that are served by showing organic foods are better are likely to seize on any study that shows organic products in a positive light.  Unfortunately, they might be attracted to studies with the most dramatic results but with the poorest study designs.  On the other hand, those who are not inclined to favor organics will either find studies that show no difference (again, potentially ignoring study quality) OR they will attack the weaker studies selected by proponents of organic foods.

The net result of this is that there is confusion and disagreement about the facts of the matter.  This leaves us subject to our own preconceived notions and we learn nothing in the process.

The other problem is the fact that it is impossible to study all aspects of food production and quality at once and in one study.  By their very nature, highly focused studies are more likely to produce clearer results, but are also less likely to give us a clear picture of the entire situation.  A meta-study attempts to connect results within certain parameters.

My best example is this.  Let's say Rob did a study on whether or not plants need potassium to grow and he found that they did.  With that study only, should we try to grow plants purely in potassium?  What about all of the other things required to have healthy plants?  Perhaps it would be a good idea to gather the results of studies about plant growth in an effort to come up with a complete picture of what it takes to grow a plant?

I realize I am over simplifying things a bit.  But, my point is that it is important to gather relevant research and try to summarize what is learned on a subject THUS FAR.

This study identified over 300 studies with pertinent results.  After reading the British Journal of Nutrition article, I feel comfortable with the approach to the meta study.

Eat your broccoli!

What did the meta study conclude?

If you are able - read the abstract that resides at the last link above.  If it only confuses you, I found both the LA Times and the EWG's summaries to be clear and concise.

I boiled it down to a few things.

1. fruits, vegetables and grains grown using organic practices has less chemical residue
2. fruits, vegetables and grains grown using organic practices have more antioxidants - which are good for you.
3. there is so much more to learn.

And, in the end, one of the best quotes I found can be found in the LA Times article.  One of the study authors, Charles Benbrook (Washington State U) stated, "The first and foremost message is people need to eat more fruits and vegetables. Buying organic is the surest way of limiting exposure if you have health issues, but by all means, people need to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables whether it's organic or conventional." 


And here we are in 2020 - still debating the question.  Or, more accurately, we are ignoring the question for the most part. As near as I can tell, if a new meta-study were to be undertaken that would consider any research since the last meta-study, we would come up with similar results.

The USDA regularly tests food for pesticide residues and that data is freely available.  Organizations such as PAN and Consumer Reports have provided tools that can give you information as to how much and what types of pesticides can be found on our foods. 

And, of course, when you consider how much better organic practices would be for our soil, for our environment and for our farmers, you would think we would be happy to support certified organic practices even IF they were not found to be "healthier" than non-organic.  Why?  Because the whole system would be healthier.  And when the whole system is healthier, so are we.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Backing Up First Base

Yep, that's me in the background, playing first base in the adult baseball league I played in some years back.  But, that wasn't the only position I played.  My favorites were center field and pitcher.  But, as a person who throws left-handed, the conventional (and non-creative) wisdom was that I had to play either right field, first base or pitcher.  So, of course, when I was not pitching in high school ball, I played right field (with a rare appearance at first).

One of the things they drilled into us during high school practices was that players who were not immediately involved in a defensive play should be moving to back up that play.  As a right fielder, one of the least glamorous and most frequent tasks was to run to back up first base on any ground ball hit to the infield that might require a throw to first base.

  • Every ground ball hit to third base in practice - I would run to back up first.
  • Every ground ball hit to the short stop in a game - I would run to back up first.
  • Passed ball that gets by the catcher with a runner on first? - I would run to back up first.
  • Pitcher tries a pick off to first base - run to back up first.

You get the idea.  There was lots of running to back up first.

Did it pay off?  Not usually - other than the fact that I got some exercise.

Did anyone really notice?  Well, they only noticed if the ball got by first base and the right fielder was NOT there.  Otherwise, it wasn't really something people paid much attention to.  Yes, my Dad did tell me I did I good job getting into position to back things up.  And the coach did once or twice as well.  But, really - who is looking for how the right fielder backs up first (other than someone trying to teach another right fielder to back up first)?

Often, if the ball DID get by the first baseman, I had so far to go in the first place that it was unlikely that I could get there any faster than another player.  And, hopefully, we could throw and catch well enough that there would not be that many times a backup was really needed.  But, there were times...

Times when the ball hit a pole on the fence and caromed crazily, making my effort count for something.  Times when someone else forgot to do their job, but I was there, ready to get the ball that had eluded others.  

Times like that one time - one glorious time - my effort got me to the ball so I could throw a runner out at third and get my team out of a tough inning.


We have all got our tasks that are very much like a right fielder backing up first.  It's not glamorous.  It's rarely recognized.  In fact, it may not seem necessary much of the time.  But, when it is needed, it is needed.  And when it is missing at a time when it is needed, we all notice.

Tell a right fielder in your life that you appreciate their efforts to back up first and encourage them in their endeavor.  One day you'll need them to throw someone out at third base.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Henlet - A Sililoquy

To lay, or not to lay, that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the double yolk misfortune

or to add to the farm's troubles, by pecking end them.

The eyes of a hen are placed on the sides of their heads, though we have noticed some are a bit more forward in placement than others - even in the same breed.  It is said that a hen has approximately a 300 degree field of vision.  But, if she wants to a get a good look at you, she will turn her head to the side so she can get you in full focus with one of her eyes.

To fly, to leap -- some more

and by leap we oft end in heartache, suffering the natural shocks that poor flight is heir to. 

'Tis a frustration as flight is devoutly to be wished.

If you have seen Chicken Run, you may have the mistaken assumption that all laying hens are unable to fly because they lack "thrust."  This is largely true for "heavier" breeds of chickens.  But, lighter breeds are perfectly able to fly.  In fact, we have found that the California Whites and the Americaunas on our farm are much more capable of attaining the appropriate thrust for some flight.  There is a reason we have six foot tall fences around our main hen pasture.

However, just because you can fly, it doesn't mean you are particularly good at it.  Don't expect any aerial acrobatics out of a hen.  Sometimes, our hens will misjudge their attempt at flight and run into walls, doors, humans... other hens...

Let's just say that innovators of airplanes and helicopters did not use a chicken as a model for figuring out ways to fly.

To sleep - perchance to dream: ay, there's a bug!

For in that sleep my breath in snores and whistles may come

After we have shuffled to our perches, and gripped them with our talons.

Chickens actually do have an REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle that indicates the capacity to dream - possibly catching some tasty six-legged things in their sleep or soaring over the treetops, since they typically can't do that in reality.  While sleeping, we have noted that some birds will 'snore' in various fashions.  Some will emit a long whistle, not unlike some of the exaggerated sleep sounds found in cartoons.  

And, as far as perches are concerned, there has actually been research on what the best perches for a chicken might be.  At the Genuine Faux Farm, we tend to favor 2 x 2 square boards that are slightly rounded.  Some birds prefer other surfaces in the hen room and a few prefer staying on the ground.  In fact, if you look closely, they may not be gripping the perch as much as you think once they settle in!

There's the respect that makes calamity of a rooster's life.

For who would bear the snips and scorns of hens,

The crows are long, the proud rooster's song rings about the farm.

Ignoring dawn's delay, wearing the insolence of his office.

Stu is the name of our current rooster on the farm (he wants you to spell it right - after all, "Stew" would not do).  He is an Americauna rooster and he displays a fine ruff of feathers around his neck and a pretty decent set of tail feathers. Of particular note is Stu's amazing, extendable neck.  While most chickens can extend their neck out, Stu can go from the resting position you see above to holding his head up a good six to eight inches higher when he straightens up.

One of the things we have noticed over time (and several roosters) is that roosters can have a wide range of temperaments.  Some can become overly aggressive towards both the hens and humans.  Others can be bullied by the hens (a recent rooster never had a chance to grow out a full tail because the hens kept pulling out the feathers).  Some crow a lot and others not so much.  

The biggest reason we keep one or two roosters with our flock is the reliable "alarm" call that you can learn to respond to.  No - I don't mean an "alarm clock."  I mean a call of alarm.  Once you learn the language of the rooster(s) in your flock, you can learn the difference between regular flock noise and a call that indicates there is a problem that requires a farmer's intervention.

To cluck and scratch under the blue sky, but that the dread of something swoops down,

for we live in the country, where a traveling hawk passes by and returns, 

the rooster's call makes us scatter from the ills that may befall us - perhaps to fly to others that we know not of?

thus being chicken makes cowards of us all...

It is true that hawks, owls and other flying predators can be a problem for a laying flock.  But, if you watch closely, the rooster and some of the hens will often turn an eye to the sky to watch for problems.  In fact, in our flocks, we typically have one rooster and seventy or more hens.  With that sort of situation, it is not uncommon for a couple of hens to take on more aggressive, protective roles to supplement the rooster's role.

It is also interesting to note that a flock can learn which sort of predators they need to fear (such as the hawk over head) and those they might be able to intimidate (such as Inspector).  If you look closely, you can see that the hens who are warning Inspector away have extended their necks.  The hen at the right is a flock caretaker in our current flock and will usually lead a charge towards our poor cat - who just wanted to come say "hi" to the farmer who was taking pictures of hens.

While you might think hens are really pretty smart (and they are in their own ways), please consider that there are reasons for some of the stereotypes.  We have seen chickens in the pasture get surprised by something as innocuous as a leaf falling.  One hen gets startled and that leads to a whole flock running for cover!

We hope you enjoyed Henlet - A Sililoquy.

Alas -fair Ophelia!

Monday, October 19, 2020


I have had people periodically make a comment that they would like to see more pictures of the farmers and workers on the blog.  I don't hear it all that frequently - but often enough to take note of it.

I actually understand where this is coming from, it can be a bit easier to feel a sense of connection if you can actually have visible evidence of the people with whom you are hoping to make a connection.  I also understand that many people would rather see one or two pictures than five hundred words - no matter how personal those words might be.

But, what do you do when you have a couple of people who are not inclined to pose for pictures or take "selfies?"  What if you are not inclined to stop work to take pictures?  Or more likely, you think about taking pictures early and late in the day, but your mind is on other things at all points in between?  Besides, I tend to find a picture of zinnias or frogs or butterflies to be more appealing - but I know not everyone sees it the same way. 

Well, the answer in the past was to host some sort of work day or host a gathering and ask someone else to take pictures for you.  Amazingly, a few pictures of the farmers pop up now and again! 

But, that is not really the point I was hoping to make.  

It seems to me that expectations for farms that hope to sell locally are a bit out of whack sometimes.  It is almost as if we need to be performers more than we need to have quality product.  Being friendly and approachable is good (and necessary), but it almost feels like you must be the equivalent of a friendly, approachable, non-threatening, dancing bear - who just happens to grow some pretty incredible veggies.

Yes, I understand the realities of business.  If you have a product and you want to sell it, you must have salesmanship.  That's fair and expected.  Though I suspect many veteran growers would like their experience and solid reputation to speak for them a bit so they can have a little room to breathe!

But, over the years, I have noticed there are a subset of people who act as if they should be given an award for supporting a local producer of food.  "Look at me!  I went to the farmers' market and I bought $10 worth of produce!  Woo hoo!  Now I can tell everyone I support local food and rest on my laurels for... oh... a few years.  Then, I'll go back again... if they have some live music... and special sales.... and a food truck.  Because I think local food is important."  

Just last season I had an "ardent local foods" supporter tell me that they were surprised that they did not see us at the farmers' market on some random Saturday.  In the past, I have been polite and conciliatory (remember - friendly dancing bear!).  This time, I was polite, firm and I did not brush it off.

I informed them that we had not been selling at farmers' market for the past five (or so) years, pursuing other, hopefully more fruitful, approaches to selling our product.

Did you really expect any farmer to consistently attend every Saturday, in all sorts of weather, year after year... waiting just for that moment when you tell yourself you might like a fresh tomato from a local May... when it is way too early in Iowa?  Eventually, the bear stops dancing if there is no one in the audience to applaud and toss it treats. 

My apologies if you were the person I talked to that day and I characterized you with this broad brush.  Perhaps you support local foods via a CSA or U-Pick or On-Farm sales - all things I could not know.  But, I suspect you would be the exception (good for you!) and I bet the person I am referencing will not read this and is looking forward to their next appearance at farmers' market in two years time - looking for spinach in August because they saw a neat recipe on some cooking show that told them farm fresh spinach is the best.

So, what got me started on this rant?  Well, it has nothing to do with our farm specifically.  Instead, I am aware of several other small farms that sell locally throughout the Midwest.  Many of them are very engaging with their social media posts.  They hold events at their farms.  They reach out and interact in all sorts of creative ways.  Good, hard-working people.  Many of whom are far more outgoing and willing to photograph themselves than I ever will be!  They also don't write blogs that periodically chastise local food supporters! (oops)

They get plenty of reactions and "likes" on social media.  Lots of positive strokes from people who buy $10 of produce from them every three years so they can bask in the glow of doing something good.  But, I am sure these "local foods supporters" also tell themselves how much good they are doing for local foods by liking and sharing social media posts.

Folks -  your local farmers are often doing things to show their personal side - and you reward them with the most impersonal and the least useful support you can give - because hitting a "like" button is incredibly easy - and means so very little in the end.  What means more are personal recommendations for a product and, more important, your own patronage.

Do you really want to make your support worthwhile and personal?

  • When a local business you support offers something do more than "like" their post.  Link a friend to the post and publicly state "Hey *person I know*!  This is where I got those great tomatoes I told you about. It's easy to get them yourself - here they are!"
  • Every so often, give a specific piece of praise to your local grower.  Give it to them face to face, on the phone, text, email or social media.  "Hey *local business person we appreciate*!  I really like how clean your produce is, you must put a great deal of effort into that.  Thank you!"
  • Honor them with kind and useful feedback - especially when it is requested.  "I liked it when you had lettuce nearly every week in the CSA, but I might like it better if you had two heads of lettuce every other week or every three weeks.  But, by all means, keep getting us that great lettuce!"
  • Consistently support them with your own purchases for as long as the product fits your needs.  But, if life changes and you must move on - be forthright and honest.  Do your level best to promote that business to someone you know who is at a stage in their life where the product does fit so your loss for the local business is balanced by a new customer who could replace your support as you move on to a new phase of your life.
  • Be persistent and consistent in your support.   
  • Be honest with yourself.  How much do you actually purchase from local sources?  Could you do better?  Is it the right thing for you to be doing or is there something better you can expend your energy on?  In the end - do something good!
  • Let the dancing bear have its human moments and extend grace when it is needed.  

Thank you so much for reading our blog.  I suspect, if you read this, that you probably already do some fine things to support local businesses of all sorts.  But, we can all do better in all sorts of things in all sorts of ways - myself included.

Let's all do what we can to take care of each other.  See - we even shared a farmer selfie with you all!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Here - You Pay For It!

Here we are!  Must be time for some Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!

If you'll recall (and even if you don't), we had a post two Sundays ago that talked about how the clerk or carrier would know whether a letter was fully paid at the point of delivery.  The main reason this was important was because it was a common practice to send mail unpaid or partially paid until the middle of the 19th century.  As we get into the 1860s, the system was moving steadily towards prepaid mail as the normal process.

It should be no surprise, then, that markings were important to indicate whether an item was paid or not.

India to France

Below is a piece of business correspondence that was sent from Calcutta, India to Lyon, France in 1863.

Let me explain quickly some of the markings that are clearly visible here.  The black circular marking (that is upside down) reads "Calcutta India Unpaid," which makes it very clear that this item will have to be paid by the recipient.  The red circular markings is a French transit mark that doesn't really play a part in today's story.

The numerical markings, however, do play a part!  The "27" in black ink tells the clerk in Lyon that they need to collect 27 decimes from the recipient.  And, just as a reminder, 27 decimes is equivalent to 270 centimes.  This is essentially the same as a person in the United States saying 270 cents or 27 dimes.

The other numbers (in blue) read "17/3."  The seventeen indicates how much this letter weighed in grams (17 grams) and that much weight required triple the base rate of postage (3).

The rate of postage from India to France using British sailing ships to Marseille was 90 centimes for every 7.5 grams of weight.  The recipient owed three times that amount or 270 centimes (27 decimes).

Pieces of the Puzzle 

Whether you knew it or not, you have just been exposed to one part of how a postal historian checks out an item for consistency and authenticity.  While it is not unusual for an item to have odd and unexplained markings that might even contradict, the vast majority of items should show a consistent story.  It is really a matter of reading the evidence.

The contents of the letter (click on the picture to see a larger version) clearly show a dateline from Calcutta that is consistent with the marking on the front.  The recipient and their location cited in the letter is also a match with the addressee and the Lyon postal marking on the back.  The number of days between the dates given with the postmarks for Calcutta, Marseilles, and Lyon are consistent with traveling times in 1863.  And, as we showed above, all of the postal rate markings can be explained as being consistent with the rates for mail between these two locations at the time.  We can even identify at least one of the ships that carried this letter if we wished to do so!

Thank you for joining us for our Postal History Sunday post.  We hope you enjoyed at least a little of it and we shall endeavor to keep helping you to learn something new each week!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Around the Bend

When Tammy and I take a hike on a trail, we do like to take a moment and enjoy our surroundings as we go.  This is even more pronounced if we bring a camera along because we like to try and look at things different ways and capture different viewpoints of where we are at that point in time on the path.

Most of the pictures don't turn out to be much of anything from a 'photo' perspective.  In fact, most of them end up being deleted.  But, some few of them look pretty good and many of them help transport ourselves back to that moment.

Then, there are pictures that - even though I remember that moment and place - make me wonder, "What would I find if I stepped into that picture and followed the trail I see?  What would be around the bend?"

Would the trees welcome our presence?  Would there be a light breeze or would it be perfectly calm?  Are there birds in the underbrush to the right and left?  Would they grow silent as we stepped through or would they continue to chatter, not caring that someone magically appeared on the path nearby?

Would we remember to look carefully at where we are now and appreciate things like the texture of bark, the smell of leaves and the rustle of sound as a small creature darts around in the brush?  Or will we focus too hard on our destination - the area after we turn that bend in the path? 

I just hope that we can be happy to be on the path in the first place.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Mishmash of Goals

Are you the sort of person who sets a whole bunch of goals for yourself with the full knowledge that there is no way you can manage to accomplish most of them?  Perhaps we are kindred spirits then?

Frankly, I prefer to reframe this in a more positive light.  I see a whole bunch of opportunities to accomplish things and I have a pretty good idea of where I might like things to go.  But, at the same time, I am fully aware that they can't all be done 'soon.'  I tend to believe that it is better to have some idea where you want things to go and to be aware of things that need to be addressed someday than it is to be unaware and unwilling to consider what might be needed down the line.

So - today I am sharing a small batch of 'goals' I have for 2021 that may or may not come to fruition.  We'll see if either the opportunities arise or the priorities line up!

Get Durnik Out and About

Durnik (the Ford tractor shown above) joined our farm in 2010 and was an excellent tractor for us to learn some of the basics.  After a few years, it was clear that a newer tractor would fit us better and would likely be a safer alternative for the things we were trying to do.  Add to it the fact that neither of us is inclined to do much with mechanics and it just made sense to get a newer machine.

Don't get me wrong here.  If you aren't particularly good with mechanical things, the simpler engines and equipment from the period this tractor came from are much easier to learn on and work with.  On the other hand, if you do not particularly LIKE to do these sorts of things, you DO have to do that sort of work more with an older machine.

In any event, once Rosie joined us on the farm, Durnik did not get used all that much.  Part of the issue is that we do not have a great place to keep both pieces of equipment sheltered and easy to access.  So, an odd little goal I have for 2021 is to get Durnik back out and running.  Then, we need to decide if Durnik sticks around the farm or if we find him a new home.

More Painting

We have a number of things that could use some paint.  I actually like to paint, but it requires chunks of time with the weather being right for painting.  That is normally prime farm work time - so it is difficult to take the time to put a coat of paint on something and enjoy doing it.  And, let's be honest, if I've been outside working hard day after day on the farm, I might rather do something that is a bit more different than ... painting on the farm.  

Even so, I have this goal that I want to paint more on the farm in the next year.  It sounds good right now.  But, I also know that the conditions won't be good for painting over the next few days - so it is easy to say it.  What happens when conditions are good for painting again.  Will I still think it is a good idea then?

More Zinnias

This one is a goal we know we can do.  Hey.  We had a four hundred foot row of zinnias this year.  We can do zinnias.

Sometimes, you have to set a goal you can have a really good chance of meeting.

Grow a Burgess or Marina Winter Squash in 2021

Here is a "shoot for the moon" goal for our farm.  We used to LOVE our Marina di Chioggia and Burgess Buttercup squash.  But, as we scaled up, we found they were largely incompatible with everything else we were trying to do.  

For 2021, I am not looking to grow these squash commercially.  I simply want to grow a dozen or so plants and harvest a couple dozen squash of one of these two types.  Perhaps, as we scale some things down, we can grow these varieties successfully again.  Or, maybe, our definition of success for the larger scale just didn't allow for the kind of success that is possible with these types on our farm?

It's hard to know - but that's why we make goals.  The results are not foregone conclusions.  

It will be interesting to see how they turn out in 2021.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Buggaboo 2020

It's October and relatively close to Halloween.  So, we thought we'd show you some scary pictures.

The scene - our high tunnel.  Home of some beautiful tomatoes and green beans in October.  The tomatoes are on the left, the yellow box holds some green beans we were picking... in case you want to know.

This picture seems tranquil enough.  Harvest was going relatively well.  We decided we should scout the tomatoes and see what was going to be available to pick.  

We found this beautiful Black Krim tomato.  It tasted pretty darned good too.  All is right with the world.  The birds are chirping.  The sun is shining.  The farmers are happy.

Suddenly, a scream chases thoughts of pleasant work in a sun-enhanced enclosure on a mildly chilly day.  What could possibly be wrong?

Ok, now wait a minute.  You are ruining the mood with your questions.  We are not going to tell you who screamed or how they screamed.  Seriously... no, we aren't telling.

Look.. It's a metaphorical scream.  Just a symbol of the unhappiness felt by this discovery.  Ok?  No one actually screamed.  yeeesh!

NOOOOO!  The horror!  Defoliated leaves on the tomatoes.  It is awful.  Horrifying!  Whatever has done this?

And it gets worse!

========== SENSITIVE VIEWERS ALERT========= 

What you are about to see is uncensored.  Some viewers may find the following to be unsettling and, frankly, a bit gross.  Viewer discretion is advised.

The farmers let out a collective gasp as the magnitude of the situation sinks in.  It is not just the loss of some leaves.  That loss, while disturbing and less than positive, is not the end of the world.  The plants are nearing the end of their life cycle as temperatures sink lower each night.  It is the loss of ripening fruit that hits home. 

Who is responsible for this reprehensible behavior?  Is it the butler?  The maid?  Professor Peacock in the solarium with a megaphone?

Aha!  The culprit.  A hornworm.  Evil little feller.  Actually, it was more like a few dozen of them throughout the tomato row.

An excellent summary resource about tomato hornworms (larva for hawkmoths) can be found here:

How do we handle the hornworm on the farm?
We have had very little issue with hornworm damage in the past.  But, then again, we have not grown in the high tunnel all that long.  The high tunnel provides a beautiful location for a late hatching.  We look for hornworm damage and then look for the hornworms themselves.  Once found, we pull them off the plants.  If we are feeling ambitious, we take them to the turkeys.  If we are not, we find that they do not survive a quick compression with the sole of a shoe.  (step on it, Rob!)

Green tomatoes damaged by hornworms or other critters should just be pulled off the plant - especially earlier in the year.  this allows the plant to focus on other fruit.

Note - you will find that hornworms can grip the plant or leaf in a way that it could be difficult to pull them off.  They may startle you a bit as they curl towards your fingers - and there is a bit of an 'ick' factor for many people.  They will pinch you a bit if you carry them any distance (as we do when we take them to the turkeys), but it is more startling than painful.  They cannot do any permanent damage to you.  And they certainly cannot do the damage you can do to them.

Parasitic Wasps

 If you find white growths on the worm, you probably should find a way to let the worm live by moving it somewhere you can tolerate it.  This will increase the parasitic wasp population.  Thus, building up a natural control.  Thus far, we have not noticed any of this on hornworms we have found.  Sad.


Sooooo - did you see the other scary critter that we did not mention in the original post?  Go back and look at the 3rd picture from the bottom.

Are you back yet?

Good.  You should have noticed the striped worm on the tomato that was closest to the center of the picture.  That little nasty was clearly NOT a hornworm!  That critter was an Armyworm, which is known to primarily damage fruit, though they will munch on leaves too.  Over the years, I would say we have lost more crop to the Armyworms in high tunnels than we have to Hornworms.  But, it has never been so much that we've been tempted to do any more than pick them off and squish them.

And, have we seen evidence of parasitic wasps since the original post?  No.  But, we also have not seem much of the Hornworms in our tomatoes since that time.  It would not be hard to guess that we may have a population of those wasps on the farm as well, even if we have not seen evidence.

Have a great day everyone - and don't dream of Hornworms or Armyworms!  Ooops..... maybe I shouldn't mention that? 

I actually enjoyed sharing some older posts from prior Septembers last month, so I thought - why not?  I can do ye old "Throw-Back Thursday" on our blog like others have done in the past.  

As with the September editions of this series, I add a little commentary and do a little editing to clean it up or add a little depth - but otherwise, it is pretty similar to the original.  This one was first posted on October 23, 2011.