Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sorta Paid - Postal History Sunday

Greetings and welcome to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog.  This may be the only place where you can read about snow one day, reusing legal pads the next, interplanting vegetable crops after that and THEN postal history!

Tuck those worries into the trash can and take them out for your mother, your spouse or yourself and then come back and maybe learn something new.  Put on some fuzzy slippers.  Get yourself a beverage of your choice.  And let's see where we can take you this week.

Paying the Postage - Sort of

We're going to start with a letter that was mailed in August of 1866 from Bordeaux, France to Jerez de la Frontera (near Cadiz), Spain.  The sender paid the postage for a single weight letter, but it was found to be too heavy and required more postage.  

Just last week, we showed a series of items that traveled from the United States to the United Kingdom.  Several of those items did not have enough postage - so they were treated as if they were completely unpaid.  The French and Spanish had a different sort of agreement.  This agreement at least provided for some credit when a person put postage on an item - even if it was not enough postage.

The postal convention between these two countries was put into effect on February 1, 1860 and to make matters simple for explanation, the basics were as follows:

If someone in France wanted to mail a letter to Spain, they would have to pay 40 centimes (French currency) for every 7.5 grams of weight.  If someone in Spain wanted to mail a letter to France, they would have to pay 12 cuartos (Spanish currency) for every 4 adarmes in weight (4 adarmes is about 7 grams).

Do you see a possible problem?  I sure do!  Technically, an item that weighed 7.2 grams would be light enough for a single rate in France, but it would require a double rate in Spain.  Clearly a recipe for potential problems.

The treaty also allowed people to send letters UNPAID.  If they opted for this service, the recipient would have to pay a different rate to receive their letter.  If a Spaniard received an unpaid letter from France, they would have to pay 18 cuartos for every 4 adarmes in weight.

So, what happened if a person paid for a letter that they thought was light enough for a single rate letter (40 centimes), but it actually required double rate postage?  Well, we get to find out because that is exactly what happened with this letter.

Apparently, the French post office was aware that this item weighed too much, so they put the red boxed handstamp on the cover which reads "Affranchissement Insuffisant" (insufficient postage).  I believe it was the French traveling post office on the train to Irun that calculated the amount due and put the big red "24" on the front of the cover.  

Hm, so the recipient in Jerez had to pay 24 cuartos for the honor of receiving this letter, even though their correspondent thought they had paid enough.  Why? It weighed more than 7 grams and no more than 7.5 grams.

Unpaid rate of mail from France to Spain was 18 cuartos / 4 adarmes

Double this amount due = 36 cuartos
Less amount paid = 12 cuartos    (equal to 40 centimes in French postage already paid)
Total due = 24 cuartos

And there you have it.  Underpaid mail was penalized for failure to prepay the service properly by charging the unpaid mail rate to calculate the total fee due.  However, unlike many other mail agreements of the time, this one actually gave some credit for the attempt to prepay the postage.

If you would like to read more about this particular item, I have more detail on the GFF Postal History Blog.

Upping the Ante

In this case, the letter was mailed as a double rate letter from Marseille, France to Madrid, Spain.  Unfortunately for the recipient, the letter was found to be underpaid and they were required to pay 30 cuartos to receive this piece of mail. 

Once again, the red box with "Affranchissement Insuffisant" was applied to indicate that the postage was insufficient to pay for the letter to get to the destination without further payment.  The bold, red "30" indicated that 30 cuartos were due at delivery.

Just as a reminder, the process for short paid mail between France and Spain at the time was to determine the postage by using the higher UNPAID mail rate.  Once that amount is calculated, credit is given for the amount of postage paid.

The weight of this item was greater than 8 adarmes (roughly 14 grams) and no more than 15 grams.  This explains why the person mailing thought 80 centimes was enough.  After all, that was the correct amount by the French calculation (40 centimes for every 7.5 grams).  But, if it weighed 14.5 grams, the Spanish weren't going to see it that way because they expected a rate for every 7 grams!

Once again, unpaid mail from France to Spain is charged 18 cuartos for every 4 adarmes in weight.

Triple rate due = 54 cuartos
Less amount paid = 24 cuartos   (80 centimes in France)
Total due = 30 cuartos

If you would like to read a bit more about this cover, you can go here

It Wasn't Just France and Spain

Ok, maybe it has something to do with France...  Here is a letter sent from Bar-le-Duc, France to Padove, Venetia in 1865.  At this time, Venetia was under Austrian control, which means the postage rates to Venetia were the same as those for letters sent to Austria, but not the same as rates to Italy.

Why does that matter?

A person had to pay 40 cents for every 10 grams to mail a letter to Italy in 1865, but a letter to Austria would cost 60 cents for every 10 grams.

I could certainly make things more complex by telling you that the Austrians used yet another weight measurement (1 loth was about 16 grams), but that doesn't come into play with this item.  It is far more likely that the sender simply identified Padova as a part of Italy rather than Austria.  But, the good news for them was that the French and Austrians also agreed that postage paid - even if it was not enough - should count for something.

Just like the agreement with Spain, Austria and France had separate rates for paid and unpaid letters.  The prepaid rate was 60 centimes per 10 ounces and the unpaid letter rate was 80 centimes.

Single Rate due for unpaid letter = 80 centimes
Postage paid    = 40 centimes
Difference due    = 40 centimes
Convert to Austrian kreuzer = 16 kreuzer due 

After awhile, you start to recognize that the postal clerks that handled foreign mail throughout the world in the 1860s had a job that was a bit more complex than you might expect.

No Explanation for This One!

In each of the three previous examples, it wasn't too hard to speculate as to why the sender applied the wrong amount of postage.  In fact, I think it would be safe to say that the sender likely thought they had done everything correctly to avoid having the recipient pay any extra money.  But, I can find no such explanation for the letter above that was sent from Paris, France to Vienna, Austria in 1875.

The rate was still 60 centimes per 10 grams, though it was soon to change for a lower amount with the General Postal Union.  The sender attached a 40 centime stamp and a 15 centime stamp, totaling 55 centimes.

The postal clerks didn't care what the reason was, they just simply marked it as short paid (red marking at top right), wrote the expected amount in pencil (_60) and calculated the amount due from the recipient (a blue 10 in a circle).

Unpaid letter rate = 80 centimes / 10 grams
Postage paid    = 55 centimes
Difference due    = 25 centimes
Convert to Austrian kreuzer = 10 kreuzer due

Why a Different Rate for Unpaid Mail?

With the invention of the postage stamp (the British issued the first one in 1840), the idea that letters should be prepaid in full, rather than sent collect (or partially paid) gained strength.  It was not at all uncommon for recipients to simply refuse mail rather than pay for it.  This was especially true with the extremely high rates of postage required for items that had some distance to travel.

It should not be surprising that postal services would rather receive payment up front rather than risk receiving no compensation for services rendered.  To encourage prepayment, many postal services offered lower rates for prepayment, while others simply added an additional fee for underpaid or unpaid mail.

And, there you have it!  Another Postal History Sunday in the books!

I hope you enjoyed reading about something new and that you have a good remainder of the weekend and see good things throughout the coming week.

For those who would like to explore other Postal History Sunday posts, please check out the Postal History Sunday tag on this blog.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Interplanting in Tomatoes

A while back someone asked me some questions about the types of intercropping we have done on our farm over the years.  Apparently, we have developed a bit of a reputation for looking at ways to add diversity into our food crops - even while we try to grow efficiently for a commercial sales.

As with so many things on our farm over the years, change has happened... and we will no longer grow field tomatoes, moving them all to the high tunnels.  The reasons for that are threefold: 1. wet years have made field tomatoes difficult for us to grow, 2. herbicide drift have made field tomatoes difficult to grow, and 3. our demand has decreased.

But, that should not, and will not, prevent us from sharing what we have learned over the years on our farm.

The Layout of the Field

For several years in a row, the layout of our field followed a consistent theme.  One of our seven plots in the East, measuring roughly 200 feet by 60 feet.  We ran our rows the long direction (of course) in these plots to reduce turn-around time with our equipment.  This is more important with the tractor, but it still applies if you are using walk behind tractors and even wheel hoes.  The more time you spend turning, the less time you are actually doing the work!

Rows were five feet apart on center, which allowed us to run our tractor over these rows without infringing on the growing space.  This also gave us an easier time laying out drip tape for irrigation.  We also found that once trellising (usually cages) were in place there was still decent paths for walking and/or running a wheel hoe without much problem.  Remember - we're hoping to harvest lots of tomatoes and we need to be able to get them out of the field quickly and easily!

The picture above shows the field in the process of cultivation and in row weeding which tended to happen prior to the application of straw mulch under the tomato plants.  The row in the center is basil and we were just finishing wheel hoe passes on either side.  Yes, it had been wet so the weeds were bigger than we wanted.  But, it worked out fine.

Depending on the tomato type, our spacing was either 24, 30 or 36 inches.  Large varieties, such as Dr Wyche's Yellow tended to need the three foot spacing, while smaller varieties, such as Cosmonaut Volkov could be put closer.  But, in all cases, we preferred to provide a bit more space to allow for air circulation as we got later in the season.  Failure to do so could easily lead to powdery mildew and other problems.  Blight diseases also spread more easily with proximity.

What is in the Field?

Most years, we had twelve rows (or beds) in the plot:

  • 1 row of larger flowers
  • 2 rows of tomatoes
  • 1 row of basil
  • 2 rows of tomatoes
  • 1 row of basil
  • 2 rows of tomatoes
  • 1 row of basil
  • 1 row of tomatoes or eggplant or peppers
  • 1 row of tall flowers

At our peak of tomato production, this field would hold somewhere from 400 to 500 tomato plants, 500 to 600 basil plants and lots of flowers.  We had a preference for heirloom and heritage seeds and usually had 20-30 different tomato varieties and as many as six basil varieties.  

A young Dark Opal Basil plant is shown above (about two weeks after transplant).  

We gave a significant part of the load to the Italian Heirloom variety and had blocks of 20 to 25 plants for other, important types such as German Pink, Nebraska Wedding, Black Krim, Wisconsin 55 and others.  To improve access, we left breaks in all of our rows at the 1/3 and 2/3 mark so we could walk into the center from the paths that separated each of our plots.

What does it look like when all is Right in the Plot?

The picture below shows me a field that I liked being in (at least until heavy fall rains made it less of all that!).  The zinnias are blooming on the right and the Dark Opal basil is of a size that harvests can be made.  The straw mulch is down to prevent soil splash on the tomatoes (which can spread disease) and the tomatoes are all caged.  

Each row has a line of drip tape under the mulch - including the flowers.  The only area that is not straw mulched is the area closest to the basil.

But, as you can see with the picture below, the straw has migrated closer to the basil plants over time, so it looks as if we had mulched them as well.  Between the mulch and the canopy in row, there won't be much problem from weeds in this field for the rest of the season.

You might be able to see our breaks at the 1/3 mark in these pictures (sort of).  And if you look carefully, you'll notice the basil variety changes at that point. 

Over time, we invested in the square, collapsible cages (some 3 foot height, some 4 foot height) and do not regret that addition.  We found the stake and weave trellising method did not fit our available labor and we prefer to let the tomatoes spread out naturally with the cage reining them in.  As with any trellising method, there were periodic 'training sessions' required to remind the plants that we would like them to restrain themselves at least a little.

There's Always More to it!

As I worked on this post, I began to realize that there are many, MANY additional things I could add about how we did things with this planting.  For example, some years I would use a single point chisel plow to break the center of each row open where we would plant the tomatoes.  

Nearly every year we did not have enough demand for basil to justify all of the plants we put in - but that was ok because we wanted sections of it to bloom for habitat purposes.  If you like this layout, pick sections that will be maintained for harvest and sections that will be allowed to be habitat. You won't regret it. 

We selected tall flowers because we wanted them to help provide additional leaf cover later in the year for some  of our smaller heirlooms that didn't have a great canopy.  This was a natural way to reduce sun scald on some of the fruit.  We often would choose taller varieties with strong leaf cover to be south of another variety that did not for the same reason.

Sometimes we would throw flowers into rows to mark the change from one variety to the other and we almost always had flowers on the ends of the rows.  We even looked into planting basil in between tomatoes in their row (not a good idea) and we wanted to consider alyssum in the same capacity.

More Variations on a Theme

Over time, we came to the realization that spreading straw mulch was a time sync that our labor situation was not handling well.  The combination of initial pruning, cultivation, mulching and caging simply took to long.  Thus, we moved to using paper mulch in the tomato rows with good success.  While paper mulch may cost money, it cost less than the labor and we dealt with a bottleneck that caused us problems every year.  When all was said and done, we saved money (we had to buy in the straw).  But, it is also true that we weren't adding as much organic matter to our soils - but that's what cover crops and compost are for!

Speaking of which, we did try to put in a Dutch White Clover in between the paper rows one year, but the weather did not cooperate, failing to rain to aid in the cover's germination.  Well, that was true until September - then it rained like nobody's business!  It drowned the tomato and basil crops, but the clover started germinating just fine once the puddles when away - alas!  I suspect if we established the clover in the paths earlier it might have worked out pretty well.  My only concern would be having to trim non-clover weeds in the row.  But, we never did get to that point in our experimentation.

Now that we've reduced the number of tomato plants we will grow (and the number of varieties) we will move them all inside our high tunnels.  We can control the amount of water they get (for the most part, unless the water table rises like it has some years) and we can provide some protection from herbicide drift.  

Actually, there were several years where we grew the outdoor plot AND a couple rows of tomatoes in the high tunnels.  So, we have had some experience with interplanting inside as well.

We refuse to grow only one crop in a high tunnel because we believe deliberately choosing to promote a 'controlled diversity' inside the building will help us with pests and diseases over the long run.  The picture at the right shows our two tomato rows in Eden (our smaller high tunnel) with the walking path between.

The tomatoes are stake and weave trellised and there are sweet alyssum growing at the base of the plants. I don't recall, but there may be some marigolds on the ends.  

Earlier in the season, the north sides of the tomato rows were the home of lettuce plants that enjoyed the shade the tomatoes provided until we rudely cut them off at the base and gave them to customers!  Other adjacent beds had crops such as carrots and beets or green beans.

I wonder how we'll do things in 2021.  I can tell you one thing is certain, there will be some sort of intercropping with the tomatoes.

Have a good day and I hope you got an idea or two for your own growing!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Remember to Waste Not

It is January.  And, it is this month that I tend to spend more time thinking..... a dangerous pastime!

In any event, this post is a dangerous pastime/thinking post and a 'faux real stories' post because I get to combine both into one!  It is a momentous occasion.  You might want to mark your calendars and make an entry in your diary chronicling where you are right now.  It could be important.  Then again, you could just enjoy this blog post, for what it is worth.

Upon further thought - perhaps you should just enjoy the blog post, let's not make too big a deal of it.  Next thing you know there will be singing all sorts of silliness!

Ok.  So, now we've had some silliness and singing (assuming you viewed at least a little of the video above from the animated version of Beauty and the Beast).  Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post:

For some reason, I was thinking about the tendency of  people to be wasteful.  We are all wasteful at some level and in different ways.  But, specifically, my thoughts were drawn to three things.

1. I heard on the radio (NPR) that those with wealth tend to be wasteful of resources as opposed to those who struggle to meet ends meet, who tend to be less wasteful of resources - if only out of necessity.

2. I have had a discussion (more than once) with others about the tension surrounding decisions regarding new versus used versus repairing what you have for tools on the farm.


3. I was realizing an unhappy anniversary since it was about this time in 1995 that I learned of the death of my best friend from high school, Jeff Mellick.

All of which reminded me of this story.

Jeff and I were partners for the Newton High School debate squad and we went to many tournaments during the school year.  We were a reasonably good team, but lost our Junior year due to a faculty change at the high school.  That put us a year behind in experience during our Senior year.  Can you imagine how painful it was for us to have judges say, "Wow!  You guys are pretty good.  You'll be winning all sorts of tournaments next year."

Our thought bubble: (Yeah, thanks.  Can we get a redshirt option?)

Teams from school "B" were clearly from an affluent area and their teams had a number of resources other schools did not have.  We found these people to be (typically, but not always) rude and they often found ways to belittle others.  This was made worse by the fact that school B teams often won.  Jeff and I didn't begrudge them winning.  After all, they went to more tournaments, spent more time practicing and simply focused on it more than we (and most other teams) did.  In fact, we could forgive some of the attitude as well.  Some of it may have been bred by the peer group they were in and there are many other possible reasons we couldn't be aware of.  And, frankly, we did not have to spend any time with these individuals outside of the debates we had with them.

But, the tipping point was watching how most of the members of these teams would waste materials.

A debate team consisted of TWO members and it was the norm for each member to use legal pads to keep notes of the 'flow' of the debate.  Jeff and I would each use a whole legal pad over the course of four or five tournaments, using both the front and back of the sheets as needed.  These people would use up one to two legal pads EACH per match.  To put this in perspective, there were usually six matches in a tournament, plus play off rounds.

Folks, that is a conservative estimate of 12 legal pads used over a two day period of time for one team from school B in one weekend.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that these people attended twelve to sixteen tournaments a school year.  That's easily 150 legal pads for one team of two people.

It wouldn't have been so bad if these legal pads were used entirely.  But, usually there was one line written on each page and many pages toward the back were still blank.   And once the round was over, they would discard the entire pad.  Sometimes in the trash.  Sometimes, just left on desks..or the floor...or wherever.

Jeff and I were not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth.  We would often pick up these legal pads and make use of them ourselves.  Why not?  Just cross out or erase one line on a page and it is good to go.  But, that's not the best part.

One day, we noticed that a careless member of one of school B's teams had left a copy of a key argument sandwiched between pages of a discarded legal pad.  Normally, an opposing team would not have much time to view and prepare against such an argument prior to a debate.  But, we had a break and we were going to be facing one of the toughest teams from school B the next day.  Simply put, the oddsmakers didn't give us a chance in that round.  But, oddsmakers didn't know what we had in our possession.

We spent some time dissecting what we had and preparing a counter argument that was specific to it.  Often, teams could only come up with more general attacks against a particular argument, so this was a step up.  But, we also took the time to figure out what their counter arguments might be and prepared for those.

To say that we took great delight in dismantling school B's team the next day would be an understatement. 

Recycling or Re-purposing at its best?

I still miss my good friend.  And, the one thing you want when you lose a good friend is the one thing you can't have - a chance to talk to them again.  Instead, I partake in the next best thing, remembering Jeff and the stories we created together.


The post above was first shared in January of 2015 and I still hold Jeff in my thoughts and I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I could still talk with him.

On the other angle of this post, I am still struck by the attitude or maybe the values system that leads people to be so blatantly wasteful.  Yes, it was true that neither Jeff nor I came from wealthy families, so we were aware of the cost of things like notecards, pens and legal pads.  We both were not above picking up these free 'gifts' at every tournament and using them for our own efforts. 

But, this was all made worse by the fact that there was no paper recycling system in place at the time either.  It all just went in a landfill.  I recognize that our recycling system on this world is not doing everything we think it is doing - but it is, at least, doing something.  

In the end, I see this an example of how our attitude in the small things translates to how we act and what we support in the big things.  And maybe I make too much out of these little things some times.  But, I'd rather that than the alternative.  Making too little out of them and making nothing out of the big things...

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Snow Blanket

Thus far, the Genuine Faux Farm has gotten snow, but we haven't really gotten "socked in" with what I might call a significant snow this year. Yes, we did get five or so inches in the last one.  But, it's January in Iowa.  It's January in Northeast Iowa.   We're supposed to have snow cover, as far as I am concerned.

We've had to get Rosie out a few times now this season to clear the driving paths and I am grateful we have that tractor to do the heavy lifting.  Thus far, I haven't had to do snow removal in bitter cold - which I am also grateful for.  Our tractor doesn't have a cab, so there really isn't much protection from the elements and there have been some pretty rough moments clearing snow in a strong wind out of the North in prior seasons.

I was just remembering the Winter of 2018/2019 at our farm.  We had plenty of opportunities to test Rosie's ability to move snow (and my ability to handled Winter conditions).  We had so much snow that the drifts on the north edge of the farm were still about 15 feet tall in March, after there had been significant melting.

It might be hard to see in the picture above, but I was standing ON the drift and I could see OVER the high tunnel.  What is not so obvious in that picture is that the drop on the left is quite steep.  We didn't get pictures of these drifts earlier because it was difficult to get out to the North line.  My estimate based on observation from a distance is that there was maybe a foot or so of our bush line of Wild Plum and Highbush Cranberries that were visible when the drifts were the highest.  Those bushes are about 20 feet high.

There is certainly plenty of time if Old Man Winter wants to pile on more snow this season.  After all, if it's going to be cold, we might as well have some snow.  But, I am not so certain I have a need to be able to walk on a drift and look down on our bush line again.  

Part of the concern on our farm with excess snow are the high tunnels themselves.  If there is too much weight on the sides, we have to go out and remove snow.  After all, snow does not stay on the domed roof, it slides off and piles up.  I suspect many of you know how difficult snow that has melted part way and then frozen again is to shovel.   Well, it gets a bit harder when you're trying not to damage the plastic sides of the building.

I suppose we could bring Rosie out to help clear the snow, but that's a tricky operation.  After all, the whole point of removing some snow is to avoid damaging the high tunnels.  One slip up with the bigger equipment and we... damage the high tunnels.  

And then, there are the solar panels!  Typically a little sunshine with a lighter snow will cause it to melt off (just like the high tunnels).  But, that also results in a pile at the base that just might need to get moved after a bit.  Tammy and I just completed one iteration of snow removal in front of the solar panels before this last snow.  I suspect we'll do it at least one more time, if not twice.

With heavier snows, we have gone out with a push broom to pull as much of the snow off as we can.  We can't reach the top, but all you need to do is get what you can reach.  When the sun hits the exposed portions of the panels, it heats them up nicely.  It can be amusing to watch a whole section of snow slowly slide down until it falls off the bottom.

I wonder what we'll get with the end of the week snowfall that is forecast for the state?  I am pretty sure I won't be able to predict it, but I can tell you that the farm will probably look pretty white once its done.

Bold predictions, that's what we're all about around here!

Have a great day everyone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Didn't Know We Needed It

I am going out on a limb here - but I am guessing that most people can think of a time when someone did something nice... or something positive happened... and it really made a huge impression on you because it was apparently something you really needed.   In fact, it was just last Spring that I wrote about a couple of kindnesses that brought people to tears.  Apparently, those small acts I offered up meant more than I thought.

Well, we've had a few such occurrences over the past week or so - except the direction was reversed this time around.  We were the recipients rather than the givers.

The Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference was last Thursday through Saturday.  It was, of course, a 'virtual' conference using some of the new web software that the pandemic has added value to in recent months.  Both Tammy and I had short "lightning talks" to give on Friday morning.  Hers was on raising turkeys and mine was on finding places to put support for pollinators into a farming operation.  They were eight minute talks - one after another.  So, there really wasn't any time for interaction or questions.  You present, then the next one presents, then the next.   

It's not that the concept was a bad idea - it was just fine.  But, you're talking and you're not seeing any audience and getting no response.  It can feel a little like you're just pretending that people are listening to you.  It's the land of Make Believe and you're wondering if King Friday is going to show up, or maybe Daniel the Tiger.

And perhaps that is why I was really tuned in when others talked.  Is it possible that the shortcomings of this sort of interaction heightened my awareness as I looked for any kind of feedback?  Or are we just starved for positive connections?

Before we got started someone made a comment that the picture of baby turkeys on Tammy's first slide was "wonderful."  I heard it.  Tammy heard it.  And it made us both feel pretty good.  It was a small recognition in the grand scheme of things - yet it felt so important and it carried a positive force that was far greater than you might expect.

At other points during the conference I received some compliments that I was not looking for, yet they pulled me up at a time when I wasn't entirely aware that I needed boosting.   

I have to admit that I get a little startled when an unlooked for compliment is sent my way.  In fact, I realize that I may sometimes seem ungracious when it happens, but I have worked on that and I am much better than I used to be.  It has less to do with failing to be gracious and more to do with my own surprise that someone felt I was worthy of some sort of praise.  It's also not that I have never been given positive reinforcement in the past either - I am fortunate to have been in many positive and affirming environments.  

What it is....  well, I just don't always think of myself and the things I do as drawing that sort of attention.  And, I guess I expect so much more out of me that I sometimes am surprised that what I've managed was actually enough to make a difference.

To make a long story less long - we have been recipients of a number of kind and positive messages from many circles.  We have had supportive comments from some of our CSA community that mean a great deal to us.  There have been several compliments of late sent my way for some of the writing in this blog and elsewhere.  Tammy received some positive responses at school as well as other circles.  

We didn't know how much we needed all of this until we got it.

It reminds us that she and I both need to continue to do our part to build up rather than tear down.  Because so many others must have sensed that we could use a little affirmation, we just might have a little more energy to continue to pay it forward.

For those who offered a kind word, no matter how small it might have been - we thank you.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Charge! (After Retreating)

It took longer than we originally intended, but we managed to complete our "Farm Retreat" to plan for the 2021 iteration of the Genuine Faux Farm.  If you have been watching the blog for hints as to what will happen this growing season at the farm, you won't be surprised by much of this.  If you haven't been, maybe the whole thing will be a shock.  I suspect there might even be a surprise or two in the mix for most anyone who has paid any attention to our farm.

The farm looks like the picture above right now, which is about as much of a blank slate one can get for a new year.  Lots of white!

Not A Surprise

Our poultry plan for 2021 should not be a surprise because we are - as of this moment - going to execute a similar plan and schedule.  Once again, we will raise 75 turkeys and two batches of 250 broilers, splitting each batch into two 125 bird flocks.  Our expectation would be sell at least 50% of the meat poultry to 'bulk purchases' with the rest being direct to consumer.  

We will once again purchase a new laying flock (baby chicks) that replaces the current flock in August/September.  The laying flock will remain somewhere in the 80 to 100 hen range. At present, the plan is to continue with direct to consumer sales for eggs while looking to add an egg handler's license to allow for other, bulk sales.

We will continue to day range the birds and we plan on maintaining our connection to Canfield Family Farm for their top quality feed for our poultry.

To summarize, we know our eggs and poultry are high quality and we're pretty darned good at raising these birds and treating them well.  We illustrated last year that we could maintain our jobs AND do the poultry.  So, we'll keep our hands in on these enterprises for 2021.  Our next step is to do an enterprise budget review for each to determine if our prices correctly cover expense and provide a reasonable return.

Brand New

We will enter into the vegetable seed production scene in the coming year.  Seed Savers is looking for more seed growers and we have always supported Seed Savers mission.  We have received, and intend to accept, contracts to grow seed for Napoleon Sweet bell peppers, Black Valentine green beans and A&C Pickling cucumbers.  These are all varieties we are very familiar with, which makes it easier to succeed in the growth, selection and harvest.  The hard part is going to be figuring out the seed extraction and cleaning part of the job.

In addition to the contracted seed, we intend to continue to work towards seed garlic and we will start to build up some Purple Majesty potatoes for seed.  For the time being, these would be largely internal processes for possible future expansion.  We will also refine our own personal collection of zinnia, marigold and other flower seeds.  In addition, we intend to refine lettuce seed collection with the intent of potentially growing lettuce seed contracts in the future.

At present, we do not intend to sell seed to the general public.

A Departure

For the next month or three, we will continue with our egg/poultry sales every other week (with adjustments due to weather, etc).  As we get closer to Spring, things will change even more.

We will help our current Farm Credit customers to clear out their balances and move away from Farm Credits.  We will not return to a CSA.  We will not return to a Farmers' Market.  We are moving away from offering a broad range of veggies and towards a smaller selection.

Instead, direct to consumer sales will largely consist of eggs, poultry and periodic veggie excess offered through our emails every other week throughout the year.  We anticipate moving all sales to an online order system with a connection to electronic payment at the receipt of the order.  We also plan to limit what we are offering - with the potential to offer more flexibility to those that might come to the farm to pick up.

Most of our veggie production for food will be targeted for a couple of bulk buyers and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.  The rest will be for our own consumption, for our volunteers and potentially offered to those on our egg/poultry email list.

It is most likely that offers of veggies will be for larger amounts.  Offers such as 5 pounds of our apple 'seconds,'  five pounds of golden beets or a batch of canning tomatoes are most likely.  Perhaps we'll offer up a "box of produce" every so often that we would prepack or only offer for farm pickup?  We will not restrict ourselves entirely at this point - there is still plenty of time to adjust as we go.

Our motivations are as follows:

  1. We have to reduce our labor hours - and the number of hours that individual orders take for veggies is significant.
  2. We feel a call to provide food to the food bank and to others in local food deserts at this time.  People are hurting and we may be able to help by doing this.
  3. We have to introduce more efficiency to our operation, which means simplifying our grow list.  We will still maintain diversity on our farm, but it must take another form if we wish to be successful.
  4. We need to move away from systems, such as CSA or Farm Credits, that leave us 'owing future production' to those who invest in our farm.  It was a good system for us at one point.  Now, we need to be able to have more flexibility so we can adjust to other demands in our lives.

This change is going to be difficult for us to accept, as we find ourselves continuing to talk about 'exceptions' and falling back on old processes and growing plans.  But, 2020 illustrated to us - in many ways - that we must adapt if we wish to continue to farm in any capacity. 

Workers at the Farm

At this point, we intend on progressing through the 2021 growing season without hiring any seasonal workers (as we did in 2020).  We are looking to either a volunteer or work-in-trade situation for those times when we need more than just a couple of hands on the farm.  If all else fails, we may employ a small group for a half day or day depending on circumstances.

Part of our efforts to simplify our crops is to respond to the limited labor hours.  After 2020, we have a very good idea as to how few labor hours will be available to us and we must be very efficient to stay on top of our crop needs.

Thank you

We appreciate all of the support we have received over the years and we are thankful for what we might receive in the future.  We are also grateful that we have an opportunity to change with the circumstances that surround our farm.  We look forward to being able to continue to do good, honest work in the coming year.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

That Doesn't Seem Fair - Postal History Sunday

Welcome again (or maybe for the first time) to Postal History Sunday!  Take a moment of time to read about something different and maybe learn something new.  Stuff those worries in the cookie jar for a little bit and make sure you take some cookies out to enjoy while you read.

This week I am going to write about a topic that I often find myself explaining to other postal historians who do not share my specific area of interest.  Now, before you think this will be 'too much,' I can assure you that if you have read any of the other Postal History Sunday posts, this one won't get any more into the weeds than those.  You're going to do just fine.  

It's me I'm worried about!

Oh - and you do happen to be a postal historian and you do want to get more into the weeds, the GFF Postal History Blog gets these posts as well as some that go into more depth when I have time to write them.

Sending A Letter to England

In 1862, a person who wanted to a send a letter from the United States to England would have to pay 24 cents for a letter that weighed up to 1/2 ounce.  For comparison, you can send a letter that weighs up to one ounce in today's mail for $1.20.  So, if you're thinking, "Wow.  It sure does seem like it cost a fair bit to send a letter to England in 1862."  You would be correct.

In fact, the letter rate actually decreased to 12 cents in 1868 and was reduced further to six cents not long after.  By the time we get to the days of the General Postal Union (1875), that price was 5 cents!

You might recall from last week's Postal History Sunday post, that the postage was split into three pieces:

  • 5 cents was kept by the United States for their internal mail service
  • 16 cents were paid to the sailing company that carried the letter across the Atlantic
  • 3 cents were kept by the British for their internal mail service.

The wild card here was that some sailing companies had contracts with the British and some had contracts with the U.S.  It actually mattered which ship carried this letter because it determined which mail service got 16 cents worth of the postage.

The US Post Office sold the stamp for 24 cents to the customer, who put it on the envelope to show that they had paid for the service.  This letter went via a British packet (steamship), which means the British needed 19 cents (16 + 3) to pay for their part of the services needed to get the mail to the Reverend A.P. Putnam in London. 

What if it Weighed More than a Half Ounce?

But, what if it weighed more than a half ounce?  Well, 24 cents would not cover the cost of mailing that item - of course!

Here is a larger envelope that must have been more than a half ounce, but no more than one ounce in weight.  It was mailed from Chicago to Shaftsbury, England.   Below is a summary of the rate table for mail from the US to the United Kingdom from 1849 through 1867.

You might notice that the rate of postage was not 24 cents per 1/2 ounce.   It might be better to think of the 24 cent rate as a special rate for very light mail.  The actual rate might more accurately be said to be 48 cents per ounce.

But, wait a minute - did I say that the letter above was mailed from Chicago?  How did I know that?

 One of the magic powers postal historians develop over time is the ability to recognize certain markings and understand where they came from.  The "6 Cents" marking was used in Chicago to show that the British got 6 cents out of the 48 cents in postage.  There is a similar, more commonly found "3 Cents" marking used for letters that were a half-ounce or less in weight.

But, What if They Didn't Pay Enough?

People don't always get the postage right - so there had to be some sort of an agreement to determine how "short paid" letters would be handled.  For example, the letter below (from 1867) has a single 24 cent stamp on it - but it must have weighed more than a half ounce, so it needed 48 cents in postage.

The New York foreign mail exchange office placed a "Short Paid" marking on the envelope and used black ink for their circular marking (the one that has a "42" in it).  The interesting thing is that this letter must have caused the postmaster some trouble because there is a red marking just to the right of it that indicated it was paid.

You can guess how that might happen.  The clerk was going through a pile of letters, stamping them with the red paid marking and got into the rhythm of the work.  He hit this one and then said "hmmmmm."  Weighed it out and realized his instincts were correct - so he put the "short paid" and the black circular marking on the envelope.

The British Post Office agreed with this assessment and wrote the squiggle on the envelope that is a 2 with a squiggly tail.  This was their way of saying the recipient owed 2 shillings for the privilege of receiving this letter.  The envelope contained a death announcement, which is indicated by the black border.  I have a suspicion most people would have found a way to pay the 2 shillings in this case.

How much was 2 shillings in US money?  48 cents.  

The agreement between the United States and the British at this time was that a letter that was not paid in full would be treated as COMPLETELY UNPAID.  Well, that's one way to make a death announcement sting a bit more.  The sender spent 24 cents to send it and the recipient had to pay the equivalent of 48 cents to receive it.  Ugh!

It Could Be Worse!

The letter below has 72 cents in postage applied to it AND the recipient had to pay 4 shillings (equal to 96 cents) to receive it.

This larger envelope must have weighed more than one ounce, so it would require more postage.  So, let's remind ourselves of the postal agreement rates:

Oh... yeah.  It isn't 24 cents per 1/2 ounce - it's 48 cents per ounce once you get to things heavier than a half ounce.  But, that's not what everyone understood when they mailed things.  After all, if you wanted to send a letter inside of the United States it was 3 cents for EVERY 1/2 ounce.  It would be natural to expect a rate to a foreign country to follow the same pattern - and that's what the sender of this envelope did.

The letter must have weighed over one ounce and up to 1 1/2 ounces.  They figured 72 cents was correct if you had 24 cents per 1/2 ounce.  But, they were wrong - which means the letter was Short Paid.  Which means it is treated as UNpaid.  

Ugh again!

Oh My Goodness!

If you thought that was bad - what about poor Mr. Robert Stiver (sp?) of Dundee, Scotland?   He had to pay 6 shillings for this item sent in the mail to him.

You can guess what happened here.  There are five 24 cent stamps - probably put on there by a sender who figured this letter that weighed over 2 ounces but not more than 2 1/2 ounces should require 5 times the 24 cent rate per half ounce.  But, sadly, the rate is really 48 cents per ounce.  The letter weighed more than 2 ounces and no more than three ounces - so it needed $1.44 instead of the $1.20 affixed to the envelope.

When all was said and done, this letter cost the equivalent of $2.64 between the stamps paid for by the sender and the 6 shillings given by Mr. Stiver.

I sure hope the content of this envelope was worth every penny!


Thanks for joining me in this Postal History Sunday and that maybe, you learned something new!  Have a great remainder of the weekend and a good week to come.

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.
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.