Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Unfinished Business

I was invited to the celebration and I wanted to participate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had just announced that “it will stop the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on all food to better protect human health…” This is what PAN and many partnering organizations have been working on for years. Getting here has not been easy, and people are understandably ready to give a sigh of relief and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. 

Unfortunately, despite this very real success, I could not get into the spirit of the celebration — and I still can’t. The chlorpyrifos ban we’ve been celebrating isn’t quite finished. And, it is the people who live in the rural areas, where soybeans and corn fill most agricultural fields, who will continue dealing with this insecticide unless EPA finishes the job.

Catching the Drift

Back in 2015, our farm participated in an Iowa drift-catching campaign with PAN. Tammy and I were well aware that our work on our small-scale, diversified farm likely exposed us to a number of pesticides, none of which we would have applied ourselves. Rather than rely on an educated guess without any specific data to back it up, we took the leap and faithfully took samples and recorded weather and field conditions. We did this work with mixed feelings. A positive test result was not going to be, from our perspective, at all positive.

Once the samples were analyzed, we learned that there were two specific spray events that resulted in measurable drift amounts of chlorpyrifos in the air at our farm. In one of those instances, the application occurred one mile away. The winds reached no more than five miles per hour, moving in our direction from the application site. In other words, this application was well within the parameters set by the product label and the field wasn’t right next door.

And we were still breathing it in.

What the EPA ruling does do

There have been some questions regarding the scope of EPA’s decision to limit the use of chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide, acaricide and miticide that has long been known to be harmful to the health and development of children. The August 18 decision will remove tolerance levels of chlorpyrifos pesticide residues in food as of February 28, 2022. This includes residues of the pesticide in animal feed or in meat, milk or other animal products that might come as a result of consuming contaminated feed. In short, once tolerances are revoked, the pesticide cannot be used on food crops — which is why many have interpreted the decision as a “ban.”

This is truly good news. There is no such thing as a safe amount of chlorpyrifos on our foods. EPA finally stepped up and recognized what the scientific research has been showing for years — we should not be ingesting any amount of this product as we sit down to eat. The decision also protects families living near and individuals working in fruit and vegetable fields where chlorpyrifos will no longer be applied.

It is now clear that the use of this insecticide on orchard and vineyard crops, which are among the top four crop types that have seen the use of chlorpyrifos in recent years, will not be tolerated. On the other hand, future use of this pesticide on corn and soybeans is not as clearly defined. 

And what it doesn’t

EPA hasn’t yet proposed the cancellation of chlorpyrifos registration, which is different from crop tolerance levels. At present, non-food uses of chlorpyrifos for crops such as ethanol corn, seed and sod crops, flowers, or ornamental plants, will continue. This means a small-scale farmer in Iowa who spends much of his time outdoors may still be able to get measurable readings of chlorpyrifos with a Drift Catcher next year and for years to come — revealing my own personal hesitation when it comes to celebrating this recent decision.

It is true that field corn and soybeans are both used for animal feed and for the creation of various food products. If growers want to sell their harvest for those uses, they will need to avoid this insecticide. On the other hand, corn is also used for ethanol production and various manufactured goods. It is estimated that 57% of Iowa’s field corn is used for ethanol production alone. And, let us not forget that the corn belt (Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska) is home to significant seed corn production.

Soybeans are a slightly different case, with most soy products going to animal feed or food products. There are some non-food uses for soybean oil, and, of course, there is always seed production. However, Dow-Corteva has identified soybeans as one of the uses it wants to retain and will continue to exert pressure for exemptions where it can. 

And, finally, let’s not forget that food tolerance levels apply to foods to be consumed in the United States. That could mean growers may decide to use the product for crops to be exported to countries that will accept chlorpyrifos residues on these products. For context, consider that the United States exports about 2 billion bushels each of field corn and soybeans every year.

We’re not done yet

While I celebrate the move to no longer allow any level of this dangerous pesticide on our foods in this country, I believe we can do better than that. I would like to be able to say that we also value the lives of the people who live near and work in fields used for all types of agricultural production.

EPA says they “will proceed with registration review for the remaining non-food uses of chlorpyrifos. . . which may consider additional measures to reduce human health and ecological risks.”  They say their review is underway, and that they’ll release a decision by next October.  

We’re not at the finish line yet, but we’re close, and we want you to help us to finish the job! This is why PAN and our partners are gearing up to press EPA to cancel all remaining uses of chlorpyrifos.

Count me in as one rural American who is hoping our health, and the health of our children, is worth protecting too.


This is a cross-posting from Pesticide Action Network's Ground Truth blog.   If you would like to support the effort to remove chlorpyrifos from all uses, whether it is on soybean fields grown for seed or sod on a golf course, please consider joining us.

Monday, October 25, 2021

I Am One of THEM

I have a few themes that I just keep coming back to in the farm blog.  That must mean that I either care about these topics OR perhaps it means that I have a very limited repertoire?  Whichever it is, I am still going to write about this today and there's nothing anyone can do about it!  HA! That'll show you.   And you too!

A Black Swallowtail floats around our farm near the farmhouse most days during the warmest months.  It flies a similar route most days and Tammy and I both take no small amount of delight in seeing it do what it does.  In fact, most people who see these flying gems tend to react favorably to them.  

They're beautiful.  They aren't threatening.  They move around and give you something to watch.  

The photo above is taken from the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden site and this article that talks about the larvae of the Black Swallowtail.  The photo was taken by Tom Hennessey.  I have a photo somewhere, but it is not nearly this good!

Black Swallowtail caterpillars like carrots and parsley - among other things.  As a vegetable grower who has raised both of these crops, what am I supposed to think about these butterflies now?  After all, that flutter-by may well have been responsible for quality reduction in some of my crops!  Does that mean I should feel differently about them?

No.  Not really.  What it means is that I should learn more and put the whole thing into perspective.  Typically, the Black Swallowtail population does not boom and bust to the point that an entire crop will be destroyed.  At least at our farm, with our approach to farming, Black Swallowtail larvae have never caused us to have any real losses from their presence.  But, we know that they have munched on some of the plants we care for.

We, as human beings, have this terrible tendency to place complex beings into simple categories... such as "good" and "bad."  And, it is never that simple.

College Prof - Good or Bad?

Let me make this a bit more personal so I can be even clearer about the point I am attempting to make.

I have a PhD in Computer Science and Adult Education.  I worked hard to acquire that degree and I learned a great deal about those topics (and about life in general) in the process.  My goal was to facilitate the learning of others to the best of my ability and I did have the opportunity to do that for a while at the University of Minnesota - Morris.

Do you see the red cap in the back?  Yep, that's me with a group of students and faculty at an end of year celebration at a local park.  

There are a lot of good people in that picture and there were a lot of good people who were involved in the Computer Science Discipline that are not in that picture.  Every one of us was unique in our own way, but our connection via our studies was the commonality that brought us together.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly aware of and alarmed by the number of people who make the claim that people in academia are indoctrinating and brain-washing young people when they go to college.  I have even had a couple of people try to advance that idea with me - probably because I don't "act and look" like one of the "enemy."

But.... I am one of THEM.

More Diverse and Complex Than the Stereotype

Academics are more than the bumbling caricatures you see portrayed in movies and far less ominous than some members of our general population make them out to be.  Some of them are excellent teachers and some are excellent researchers.  All of them are good at some things and... less good at others.  Some are very accepting of a wide range of opinions and others are not.  A few will mercilessly push an agenda they have while others work hard to avoid any undue and inappropriate influence over those in their classes.

Sound familiar?  Doesn't it sound like every group of people you have encountered in the world?

In every group, there are a few who are truly bad actors.  There are also a few who are far better than anyone has a right to be.  The rest of us fall somewhere in between.  A little bit of good, a little bit of not so good.. and a whole lot of human.  

In most cases, these are humans who are doing their best to help facilitate the learning and growth of those who come to their schools by guiding newcomers into the terminology, processes and theories that come with their subject areas.   It's a difficult job - and if you think these gifted, but wholly human, members of academia are trying to influence your children, you would be correct.  But, it is not really what you fear.

The job of post-secondary educators is to help students to build on the foundation that students have put together with the help of their parents, families, schools, mentors, friends and other influences.  A college professor (even those who think they can do this) is unlikely to be able to destroy a strong foundation, but by teaching they might encourage a student to knock over a poorly built shed of misunderstandings or misconceptions.

The Learner's Journey 

In the end, the learning is on the shoulders of the learner.  A teacher hopes to facilitate learning by exposing a student to new experiences, ideas and concepts.  The learner decides how they will incorporate it into their own structure of life.  The student builds up, tears down, and rebuilds as they see fit.

And when a young person comes back from college during break or for the summer, be amazed, rather than horrified by how they are learning - because it is THEIR process.  A journey which you, the parents, families, communities have built the foundation for.  If you helped build a good foundation, then they will have a successful journey - but it is silly for you to expect their journey to follow the script you held in your mind for them.  After all, it is theirs to take - not yours.

And what if they should come home and make it clear that they have knocked down a tower that is cherished by you and yours?  What should that tell you?  Was it the evil, conniving, college professors, intent on destroying your offspring with unclean thoughts and immoral ideas?  Or is it possible that your loved one just sees a different structure that has potential on the foundations you helped them build in their life?

And then, you should also remember that we are all building, tearing down, and rebuilding for our entire lives.  Today's structures are not our final structures.  Some will fall under their own weight.  Others will be better than earlier versions of the same thing.  It's all part of the learner's journey.

Back to the Evil Professor

So... to those who fear the academic, let this be a re-assurance.  We are real people.  We are more complex than a faceless nemesis or an self-important know-it-all or an absent-minded professor.  We have placed ourselves in the position of offering the expertise we have worked hard to acquire at the doorstep of those who have interest in our areas of study.

Some of us are pretty arrogant and some of us do a pretty poor job of relating to those who have trouble learning our subjects.  Some of us are acutely aware of the fact that despite all of the knowledge we have accumulated over the years there is so much more that we do not know.

Here are some snapshots of what I, a flawed human being, was as a professor - and I make no claims to be any better or horribly worse than any other:

  • I would gripe to anyone who would listen when my students didn't read instructions or ignored the syllabus and resources I worked hard to put together for them.  
  • I walked a student who was ill to see a medical professional and I listened while another mourned the death of a parent.
  • I closed the door, locked it and turned off the light in my office because I could not handle another person asking me for more of my time at that moment.
  • I extended my office hours so I could talk to each and every person who was standing in line - even though that line probably had twenty or more people in it. 
  • I expected people to put real effort into learning and I was known to be a "tough grader."
  • I made judgement calls that helped various students to do what they needed to do and I made other judgement calls that did nothing to help.

That's an example of an evil professor, nemesis of all you hold dear and destroyer of the American "Way."  You may see some of yourself in me, just as I see some of myself in you.  Does that make it easier or harder for us to be adversaries?  Let me know.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Too Late Again? - Postal History Sunday

Welcome once again to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and cross-posted on the GFF Postal History blog.  

We'll start a little bit differently this week so I can take a moment and give a shout out to Michael Cortese and Charles Epting for their Conversations with Philatelists.   Their enjoyable podcasts are, much like Postal History Sunday, another pandemic inspired project and I admire their continuing efforts.  For those who are curious, my favorite "conversation" that I listened to/watched this past year features Dr. Christy Pottroff: Postal History as a Teaching Tool and Literary Influence.  Those who know me and have been reading PHS for a while probably won't be surprised that I would appreciate that particular episode.

It's always good to meet others who are also interested in learning something new and are willing to share things they enjoy.

This week's Postal History Sunday is actually a continuation, of a sort, from last week's PHS post.  If you will recall, we were looking at the different ways postal services protected themselves from the perception that their efforts deliver the mail were slow. 


Today piece of postal history has been a favorite of mine for some time - in part because it features, not one, but four copies of the 24 cent 1861 stamp I enjoy so much.  It was sent from San Francisco, California in November (or December) of 1867, arriving in England, January of 1868.  

How Much Did It Cost to Mail?

This cover must have weighed more than 1.5 ounces and no more than 2 ounces. Since the rate of postage for mail from the US to the UK was 24 cents per 1/2 ounce, 96 cents of postage was required.

The processes and postage rates for mail between nations in the 1860s were set by postal treaties (also known as postal conventions) that were negotiated between countries.  This envelope was sent under the postal convention between the United States and United Kingdom that was in effect from 1848 to the end of 1867.  A new treaty became effective on January 1, 1868 that set the postage rate at 12 cents per 1/2 ounce (exactly half the previous postal rate).

And that is where the story starts to get a bit more interesting for this particular cover!

This letter entered the US postal system in 1867, so it was correctly rated for postage to be collected under the first treaty (1848-67).  

Now we have a chance to learn something that might be new to some of you.  The postage paid was 96 cents in US stamps, which means the US postal service had all of the money to pay for this letter's travels.  But, the US would not provide all of the services required to get the letter to its destination in Liverpool.  So, the money was split between the US and UK to cover the expenses incurred by each country.

The accounting between the British and American postal systems would have been as follows:

The United States would keep 20 cents

  • Surface mail (steamship from San Francisco to New York City) postage = 5 cents x 4 = 20 cents

The United States would send 76 cents to the British postal system

  • Trans-Atlantic mail packet (steamship) postage = 16 cents x 4 = 64 cents
  • Surface mail (train) in the UK = 3 cents x 4 = 12 cents

But, as luck would have it, this item did not leave the United States until the new year (1868) had begun.  That means the ACTUAL accounting between nations was done using the new postal convention even though the letter was paid under the old treaty:

The United States would keep 84 cents

  • Surface mail (steamship from San Francisco to New York City) postage = 3 cents x 4 = 12 cents
  • Trans-Atlantic mail packet (steamship) postage = 6 cents x 4 = 24 cents
  • Extra postage = 48 cents

The United States would send 12 cents to the British postal system

  • Surface mail in the UK = 3 cents x 4 = 12 cents

What Changed Accounting for this Letter?

There were two major changes that resulted in different accounting, that clearly benefited the United States.  After all, they got to keep 64 MORE cents than they would have under the old agreement.

1. The postal rate was reduced form 24 cents to 12 cents

All of a sudden, HALF of the postage collected did not even need to be disclosed to the United Kingdom!  Before you get confused, remember, the postage rate that needed to be paid was the amount due at the time the letter was mailed.  The sender HAD to pay 96 cents (or wait until January...)  But, since it did not leave the US until January 1868, the US did not need to report it as a letter that had been posted under the old agreement.

Don't feel too bad for the British mails.  They probably had their fair share of mail that was mailed in 1867 and did not leave until 1868.  I am sure they also kept this excess postage for themselves.

2. The sending country was always responsible for paying the trans-Atlantic shipping company.  

Under the old agreement, certain shipping companies were under contract with one country or the other.  The contracting nation was responsible for paying the shipping company - sometimes that was the country that sent the mail, sometimes it was the one who received the mail.  It was a bit more confusing than this new system. 

So, Why Was This Item Delayed?

If this piece of letter mail had gone on its way immediately, we would never have had the opportunity to talk about the change in postal convention and the new postage rates.  As it was, this item sat at the San Francisco post office for ten days before continuing on its journey.  That makes this cover even more fun for me!

A company marking for Eric W Pierce shows a date of November 30, 1867 on the back - yet there is a docket on the front left that reads November 29, 1867.  So, why in the world would there be a December 10, 1867 postmark from San Francisco?  Ooooo!  A mystery!  Let's see if we can solve it!

A typical reason for this sort of delay on a cover usually lies with the sender of the item.  Eric W Pierce put some docketing on the cover indicating they expected a November 29 departure from San Francisco.  But, they clearly did NOT get to the post office in time.

In fact, their own company handstamp makes it clear that they probably still had the letter in their possession on November 30, which is probably the day they actually got to the post office to mail this fairly heavy letter.

First, it is important to know that exchange offices and post offices that put mailbags aboard steamships were instructed to postmark the item with the date of departure for the ship it was to board.  The docket at the top left reads "Steamer,"  which tells the postmaster to send it on a steamship via Panama rather than sending it overland.  That seems an odd decision, as we'll see later, but the post office was bound to honor the request. 

The steamship departure schedule for mail carriage around the time this item was mailed was:

  • November 29 - steamer Golden City departs SF
  • December 10 - steamer Sacramento departs SF

It is clear that Eric W Pierce wanted this item to go via the November 29th steamer, but his own handstamp betrays the fact that he was not able to get to the post office on time.  He has clearly directed that it was to go by steamer

Journeys via Steamship

Upon receiving the item, the San Francisco post office realized there would be some wait until the next steamer departure for Panama.  As a result, they struck the envelope with a bold and clear "Too Late" marking, postmarked it for the next departure (Dec 10) and probably opened up the new mailbag for the next steamer and put this letter into it.  There it sat until the whole bag was placed aboard the Sacramento for its departure ten days later.

The rest of the journey was fairly typical for an item via Panama. 

San Francisco, Cal Dec 10
     Pacific Mail Steamship Company Sacramento
Aspinwall (Panama) Dec 23
     Pacific Mail Steamship Company Henry Chauncey
New York Dec 31

Boston  Jan 1
     Cunard Line Africa
Queenstown Jan 12
Liverpool Jan 13

Here's where we notice one more thing.  The Cunard Line was still alternating departures between Boston and New York.  One departure every week, alternating ports.  Once again, New York was the exchange office that held the letter.  They marked it for the January 1 departure in Boston and put it in the mailbag.  Once mails closed, that mailbag was sent on to Boston for departure from the port the next day.  

If there had been a trans-Atlantic ship departure on December 31, it is possible that this item would have left on that ship - which means it would have gone under the old convention's accounting.  How's that for cutting it close on the difference between a nice, long, complicated story and a simple one?

Why Did Eric W Pierce Choose via Panama?

Letters leaving San Francisco could be sent on steamships via Panama, or they could go overland, taking the train for much of the trip by the time we get to late 1867.  Overland mail took about 16-18 days to go from San Francisco to New York.  Via Panama would typically take 21 days.  

In fact, most letter mail, by the time we reached 1867, was carried overland by default.  If you wanted a letter to go via steamship, you had to state that fact on the envelope (which Pierce did do with the word "steamship" at top left).

It would still be a year and a half before the 'Golden Spike' was driven at the trans-continental rail line completion, but much of the route did have rail service. Also, overland mail left more frequently than steamship mail.  Typically overland mail was the better choice.

So, why would Eric W Pierce choose the via Panama route on a steamer?  It would almost certainly be slower!

After a very short dig into the archives of the Sacramento Daily Union, I found this little snippet indicating mail up to November 12 from New York via overland routes had been received (reported in the December 2 paper).  This seems to indicate that the overland mail had not been delayed up to that point.

However, there is mention of some big storms in the Chicago area around November 30.  Perhaps there was some knowledge of potential overland mail delays that I fail to find with a quick look.  Maybe Eric Pierce new about those delays (if there were any) and decided the steamship mail would be more reliable (especially if he got it to the November 29 departure)?

The possible reasons Pierce might have opted for steamship mail via Panama might be:

  • There were reports of delays due to weather via the overland route, there is some evidence in contemporary reports that there were some difficult storms around that time.
  • Perhaps Mr. Pierce was sending something he felt was valuable and he had rumor that overland mail was less secure?
  • Since it was a heavier letter, is it possible that it was required to go via Panama?  Printed matter, newspapers and parcels typically took the slower steamships.  I don't see anything that should have resulted in this letter mail being required to take this route in the regulations of the time - but I could be missing something.
  • Perhaps Eric Pierce had something to gain from a delay?  Since there are no contents with this envelope, I will never know the answer to this question.

More About the Adelphi Hotel

The docketing for "Steamer" is in the same hand as the directive that this item was to go "Care of Adelphi Hotel" in Liverpool (see bottom left of the envelope).   

The current Adelphi Hotel is actually the third hotel to be built in that location.  At the time this letter was sent, the first building was still active.  Originally constructed in 1826 and replaced in 1876, the building currently holding the name and location was opened in 1914 and designed by Frank Atkinson.    Apparently, this hotel was a favorite of Charles Dickens - according to this article.  

The first photo comes from the hotel's own history page linked in the prior paragraph.  The second photo, shown below, comes from the Liverpool Record Office found in the Dickens' article linked above.  Take a moment and appreciate the differences between these two renderings.

The center portion of this building is sufficiently different to call into question accuracy.  However, there are enough similarities, including the configuration of the windows, number of floors and the odd curve in the structure at the left.  It seems to me that perhaps the first photo shows less detail at the roof line and may be the least accurate of the two.  However, it is also possible that some rebuilding of the front facade and roof-line occurred at some point in time.  

It's a nice little puzzle for people who are into architectural history.

More About Cunard Line's Africa

This cover gets even better when you consider that this is the final mail sailing of the Cunard Line's wooden-hull, paddle-wheel steamship Africa.   This ship was sold and fitted as a sailing ship in 1868.  Details about this ship can be found at the Norway Heritage site.  

The Africa was part of a series of ships commonly referenced as the "America-class" steamship, though I have seen other designations as well.  She was replaced by speedier screw-propelled steamers that also had iron-clad hulls.  Still, 17 years and 120 round trip voyages was a significant accomplishment for this ship using the paddle-wheel and wooden hull technologies!

 The image above can be found at this location.


Thank you for joining me for this week's Postal History Sunday.  I hope you enjoyed the visit and maybe you learned something new.

And, a quick welcome to those who have recently joined us!

When I embarked on writing Postal History Sunday, I was not necessarily looking for attention.  I was, as I often say in these blogs, simply looking to share things I enjoy in a way that a broad range of people might find it interesting.

Well, PHS has been getting a little attention of late.  You will find that Episode 75 of Conversations with Philatelists actually features yours truly and ... Postal History Sunday.  Also, the US Philatelic Classics Society asked if I would provide a quick interview for the Chairman's Chatter (society newsletter).

As a result, there are a few people who might be relatively new to all that goes on here!  You're all welcome.  This is a 'no pressure environment.'  There are no exams and you don't have to understand everything you see here - we're all at different stages of learning and that's ok.  If you have questions, thoughts, corrections or suggestions, feel free to use the contact form on the blog.  If you want to leave a comment, you may do that as well.

Have a great remainder of your day and wonderful week to come!

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Why Me?

It's an old farm house and old farm houses require repairs.  We actually farm on this farm, so repairs on the farm house sometimes occur in an ad hoc fashion.  We both have jobs off the farm, which means repairs on the farm weigh on us until all of sudden, there is either no choice or... well, there is no choice.

Ok.  It's not that bad.  But, if you ask Bree, one of our two Indoor Farm Supervisors, she'll tell you it's worse than that!

I was looking through some of the digital pictures we had and I was struck by the story this particular photo tells.  Can you piece it together?

The Genuine Faux Farm grows vegetables and raises poultry.  We have a couple dozen red and blue coolers of the type you see in the picture.  You could say they are ubiquitous around here.  Well, you COULD!  Hey, just because you think ubiquitous is a silly word that doesn't mean we can't try to use it once in a while.  How do you think it feels?  Let's just take it seriously just this once.

So - back to the picture.

There is a cooler, probably one that has just been used or will soon be used for an egg delivery.  There is a tool box, a drill, and an electrical box.  In the background, there is a shoe tray with some outdoor shoes.

And, on the cooler, there is a cat.  A cat that wants everyone to know that SHE DOES NOT APPROVE.  It doesn't really matter what she does not approve of.  She simply DOES NOT APPROVE!  And that should be good enough for all of us.

Why?  Why must she be subjected to the whims of these humans and the trials they subject her to?  Why must they cause so much upheaval?  Why are there so many coolers in this house?  Why does the farmer think "ubiquitous" is a fun word?  Why won't these people just sit down so she can sit on them and proceed to turn on her "cat gravity" so they can move no more?

But, above all, she asks.  Why me?  

And then she answers.  Because I am cat and I am what matters.  Why can't you see that?

Friday, October 22, 2021

Report Card

Last year, I took a moment at the mid-year point and once the year was completed to provide a public "report card" for how the Genuine Faux Farm and its farmers fared in their coursework for the year.  I saw it as a way to stay in touch with those who were interested and keep them informed as to what Tammy and I are trying to do as we meander through the past couple seasons and transition how the farm works.

Several people responded positively to our efforts to "grade" ourselves, so I thought I would do it again for 2021.  Yes, I realize the term is not over.  But, when it comes to this sort of report card, you just do it when you feel like it.  And if you don't feel like it?  You don't do it, I guess!

Advanced Pollinator Support

This just might be our favorite "course" on the farm.  And, to be perfectly honest, the fact that we are reducing the time spent on direct to consumer sales and simplifying our grow list has provided us with more breathing room to do work in this area.  I will also admit that we double-dipped and took two related classes where some of the work overlapped (see below). 

Bird traffic on the farm was good.  We had a small bump in our farm's bumblebee population (yay!).  But, butterflies were much less common (sigh).  We got lots of sunflowers, zinnias, borage, marigolds, basil, cosmos, calendula and other flowers into the ground this year.  We did what we could to keep the clover blooming.  There were plenty of asters in the fall and we had food for the pollinators for much of the season.

The pumpkins showed us that there was plenty of pollinators present by the heavier production levels.

But - we can always do better!  A-

Domestic Bees on the Farm

This is the class that has some overlap with the prior one.  Providing a nice habitat and plenty of food for native pollinators is part of what needs to happen with our domestic friends as well.

Like so many things we have done on this farm, we learn and we gain confidence.  That is true with our bees.   I suspect Tammy might agree that we are no longer beginners and we might be approaching a intermediate level of competency.  All I know is we have some mighty tasty honey at our house and the bees like our vine crops (and vine crops like our bees).

Simply because I can't help myself, I am giving us a B for the course.

Reduction in Labor Hours II

We took the first course in the series last season and we found ourselves taking the second in a series this year.  Once again, it was pretty much just the two of us, with periodic volunteer work from some kind and wonderful people.

Apparently, the second class in this series adds certain complicating factors - like the removal of a kidney - to make homework that much more difficult.  The other half of the course focused on what happens when you "don't wanna" or you get the "motivation blues."  

Overall, we did ok, but while I think Tammy did a fine job this year, I'm afraid I brought the grade for the two of us down.  Yep, this is one of those classes that had work in teams and the better students get pulled down by the goof offs like Rob!  

B- for the year - the same grade we got in the first iteration of the course.

Remedial Vegetable Crops for Recovering CSA Farmers

Here you go!  This is a special topics course that was built almost entirely for our farm.  When you have grown vegetable crops for a CSA farmshare program for years, you need to really think hard about doing things differently once you move away from that model.

We set some very specific goals for the project required in this class.  We wanted to be sure that we put some of our own desires for vegetables at the top of our priority list so we wouldn't find ourselves with a very limited set of options in our own pantry this coming winter.  And, of course, we had to try to figure out the proper number of crops to grow and the scale for each.

There were outright successes, such as the sweet corn, and failures (but what else is new?).  These sorts of things rarely resolve in one season, so we're going to call this a two-year course and give a mid-term grade of a B- for this one.

Giving Through Writing 

In the current reality for Rob, the farmer, it has become apparent that he is also very much, Rob, the writer.  So, it turns out that this class must be a perpetual one?

This year's writing has been odd.  Some of the best writing I think I've ever produced occurred in the first four months of the year.  And, of course, that darned kidney thing came up and upped the difficulty level.  The reality is that the world continues to change.  Perhaps the benefit of blog writing consistently is not the same as it was either (both for the writer and the reader).

I think the facilitator of this course needed to do a better job of outlining the goals for the class. I give a C if only because I didn't have the same focus as I did last year.

Living with Medical Challenges 101

Here it is, the course no one really wants to take, yet we all get to do it at one level or another.  To be perfectly honest, both of us did our best to try to skip classes, but for some reason, the coursework still followed us around.  Because neither of us wanted to take the course in the first place, we reject the whole concept of a grade!  Hahaaa!

Farm Goals for Experienced Farmers

Here is something that, frankly, might be a good course to actually have in the world.  It would certainly need to be a peer-mentoring type of course if it were going to work because that's where you can get the best support for this sort of thing.  

Since 2019, Tammy and I have been undertaking the process of re-envisioning or re-imagining the Genuine Faux Farm - looking for its new place in the world and in our lives.  I realize that makes it sound like we haven't been involved in this process pretty much every year since it started.  In fact, we have always had conversations about where the farm is going next.

The difference has to do with the bolder decisions and bigger changes.  Up until 2019, we pretty much trotted out modified versions of the same thing each season.  The overall goals remaining largely intact each time.  Now, we are processing much bigger changes - and sometimes the things that are slowest to adapt are the hearts of the people who are closest to it. 

Because this class will exist for as long as we farm in any capacity, we can only give it one grade: Incomplete

That last grade is actually the most accurate of all of them.  We are still enrolled in the school of pollinator support and we do our writing homework nearly every day.  The Genuine Faux Farm is still an integral part of our lives and our identities - and it is likely that it will never completely go away, even if we leave the farm some day in the future.  

I think I can be content to accept an incomplete grade for all of this - and I look forward to improving in the future.  Just so I can receive another incomplete.

It's a plan.  See you next term!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Everything is Priority One

Here's a throwback post from November of 2013.  I took the time to do a little editing/adding, but I found this a healthy thing to do.  Since we no longer do the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmshares things ARE different on the farm.  We still have to prioritize, but I have to admit that things are far less... well, just take a look.


 You know everyone, I've been thinking.

***together now***
A dangerous pastime...
I know.

A constant task on our farm is the act of prioritization.  In fact, I suspect everyone will agree that many choices we all make every day is simply the act of prioritizing.

You have five minutes before you must get to a meeting.  Do you 

  1. take out the trash, 
  2. fix your lunch for after the meeting  
  3. don't do anything else and leave now 
  4. read the next chapter in your book because there is a cat in your lap.

Would you dare offend this cat?

Once the choice is made, you've effectively set some priorities for the moment (and some of the moments thereafter) in your life.  

Note: If you choose option #4, you likely have decided that the consequences of removing a cat are greater than those of the other choices.  So, your priority is to maintain peace with the feline and you'll accept the consequences that might follow with respect to not having lunch, leaving the trash in the house a bit longer, and dealing with potentially unhappy persons you were supposed to meet.

Setting Priorities on the Farm

Decision making and priority setting is a continuous process for us at the farm.  We have long term priority setting, mid-term priority setting, short-term priority setting and "oh crap - we have to do all of these right now or else" priority setting.

An example of the last type of priority setting follows.  We have, of course, simplified it somewhat, but we think it makes the point.

Real Life Scenario:   

There are four workers on the farm, including Rob and Tammy.  It is a Thursday in late July.  We must leave to deliver produce in Cedar Falls by 3pm.  It is currently 9am.  Animal chores are done.  Greens are picked and hydrocooling, green beans are picked, but not bagged and little else has been picked.  Forecast is for possible storms and we can see the dark clouds on the horizon. 

The easy part

We have a lot to pick for 65 Farm Share CSA members.  It usually takes everything four people can do to pick, clean, pack and prep for the trip on a normal day without storms coming.  So, anything else on the farm is already lower priority.  This can be harsh on days like this if there are things that really NEED to get done before the rain.  Planting the next batch of green beans, cultivating the onions before the soil gets gummed up, etc.  And, because these priority one items cannot exceed the priority one picking items, we may find ourselves a week or so behind on them if it rains enough.  But, that's just the way it goes.

It looks like we might have 90 minutes before some stormy weather.  The underlying priority-one issue is the safety of all workers.  There is lightning in this storm, so we will be pulling everyone in until it passes.  Once it passes, we might have another 90 minute block before we have to pack and leave.  Remember, it is likely that things will be muddy at that time, so that will play into our choices.

What do you do?

  • Pick the cucumbers?
  • Pick the summer squash and zucchini?
  • Pick the tomatoes?
  • Pick the broccoli?
  • Pick carrots?
  • Clean and pack the greens that are hydrocooling?
  • Bag the green beans? 
  • Throw up your hands and go watch a re-run of Gilligan's Island?

Does the summer squash make the cut?
Or do we cut some broccoli?

All of you who decided to bag the green beans lose.  Go to the end of the line.  We can do that when it is raining.

If you chose to pack the greens, you might actually be right.  But, why?  Isn't that the same argument as the green beans?  First, you do not want the greens to soak too long in the water and they are in the water right now.  Second, our packing area is outside.  Third, one of the workers isn't comfortable with harvesting, but likes cleaning and packing the veg.  Ok, we have one winner.  After all, we've harvested this already.  Failure to finish the preparation results in wasting a crop already in hand for the delivery.  Not a good idea.

What do we do with the other three people?

Cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini need to be picked 2 to 3 times a week.  If we keep them picked, they keep producing.  If we fail to keep them picked, we end up with giant fruit that no one wants.  And, the production levels go down for future harvest.  It's still early in the season, so we can't afford to let these go at this time.  If we pick these after the rain, they're going to be muddy, so we have to spend some time cleaning OR give people produce with some mud on it.

Broccoli sets heads that hold for a limited period of time.  The next scheduled pick will be for Tuesday's shares.  A quick look tells us that we'll have about 70 heads of broccoli that will bolt if we don't pick them in the next three days.  We haven't had much for tomatoes so far and members of the CSA desperately want some.  Harvesting from wet tomato plants can spread disease.  If it were later in the season, we might figure it is not a big problem.  But, the tomatoes are just thinking about getting going here. And, the carrots require the most time to clean.  If we pick them before the rain, they will be easier to clean because they won't have mud clinging to them.  And, we could clean them while it is raining. 

Time is running out.

So What Did We Do?

We eliminated the broccoli from consideration before the rain.  It will pick the same before or after the storm (assuming the storm doesn't have lots of wind and it blows all the plants over).  We will zip out with our lettuce knives and pick the broccoli right after the storm passes through.  Yes, we'll be walking in some mud while we pick, but that's true for all our options.  It's a priority one that isn't priority one in the morning.

We eliminate the tomatoes entirely for the day.  It is sad, but there really aren't that many ready to go.  It would take too long to run the whole field in order to locate enough for everyone to get a couple of tomatoes.  If we must, we'll pick over the weekend and make tomato sauce.  There will be more tomatoes ripening the following week and beyond.  And, the only one of the three workers who picks tomatoes is Rob.   In other words, it is an inefficient use of time.  We are hoping to provide farm share members the best return for the picking time available.

Carrots....hm.  Well, carrots will hold until next week.  Frankly, they should have been priority one yesterday (they were, but that's another story with another set of choices).  But, we could use the rain to do some of the cleaning.  And, if it rains a lot for several days, it may be awhile before we want to work with them.  With the rain coming, we would have 3 people who could concentrate on cleaning and prepping them.  It sounds pretty appealing.  We have two broadforks, so we could have two people working on it to get about 75 pounds dug before the rain.

Then, there is summer squash, zucchini and cucumber.  We need increments of about 70 of each (to simplify matters).  Increments less than that leave us with ugly numbers that are hard to split with our farm share holders.

One worker cleaning and packing greens.  Tammy and another worker digging carrots.  Rob runs out and grabs as many groups of 65 of the zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers as he can, watching the progress of the storm and shifting so that each crop is visited and number needs for the CSA are met.

Uh oh.  We forgot the kohlrabi.

Ok, we got to them too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Why Stay?

I remember the times I worked for my Grandfather during the summer months.  It was usually for a week at a time - probably because that was about as long as he wanted to deal with any of his grandchildren, even if some of us weren't much of a problem.  And, every morning we would get up early and hop into the truck to head to one of the two or three places he would go for breakfast.

Grandpa was a cement contractor and he went places where other contractors and builders would go for their breakfasts.  There would be work conversation, reports on family, a fair amount of teasing and coarseness, and - of course - they would have a little fun at the kid's expense when they could.

I handled it well enough, but usually kept a pretty low profile and didn't attract too much of the conversation.  Mostly, I observed.. and ate.

After one morning where a few of the regulars were particularly... shall we say... difficult (and not with me), Grandpa grumbled something about "not being sure why he kept coming back to that place because of those [guys]."

And, did we go back to that place for the remainder of the week?  No.  Did we go the next time I was working for him.  Yes.

Back when the internet was "new" and people were just figuring out that you could have asynchronous conversations with people from all over the world in places called "bulletin boards" and "chat rooms," conversation groups about all sorts of topics formed.  I remember joining something called "rec.collecting.stamps" and another group that had to do with my research in computer science at the time.  These were places where people with similar interests could go and connect.  It didn't matter if one person was in Maryland and another in Minnesota.

But, just like the restaurant with a few people who often crossed the line, these virtual places also attracted folks who made life difficult for the rest.

The thing was...  it was easier to be (or at least feel like you were) anonymous.  Which meant some people who were normally pretty good to get along with in person became quite difficult online.

Sometimes a someone - or a couple of someones - would cross the line and I would grumble.  And then leave for a while.  And then come back.

So - Why stay?

I can think of two reasons.

1. It was the place where I could find people who had some of these interests that I shared.  Many of those individuals made my life richer and my enjoyment of the topic fuller.   If they left the group and never came back, there would be no benefit for me to return because I really did not need to stay and watch the train wreck of continuous abuse and bad behavior.  And, similarly, if I left, I would not be there to support them either. 


2. If I left, I would be left without a peer group surrounding that interest, whether it was work or hobby related.  I would have to search, once again, for a new group that made me feel comfortable with a shared interest OR I would simply remain isolated and my appreciation for the subject might suffer for it.  And, if I did find a new group, I knew it would be only a matter of time until someone popped up that would make that environment difficult too.

Sound familiar?  If you use the internet to participate in a virtual group, I am certain it does.

If you find yourself coming back or staying is it because you feel you bear some responsibility to provide value to the group?  Or, is it because you need the group and don't feel you can find a better substitute?

Just something to contemplate this Wednesday.  Have a good week everyone!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

I Got Up This Morning

I got up this morning and the sun was coming up.  I knew it was time to get outside and get food and water to the creatures who depended on us for that sort of thing.  It looked like it was going to be pretty nice outside, but I did not want to do the chores alone, so I asked Hob Nob if she wanted to come help me.

But Hob Nob just kept her eyes closed and ignored me.

Happily, Tammy agreed to help with the chores today.  And, to be perfectly candid, Tammy is MUCH better at helping with chores than Hob Nob ever would have been.

It turned out I was right.  The skies were mostly clear and the sun was nice and bright.  Because we are now in mid-October, it was coming up in the southeastern sky.  The shadows were still pretty long, but it highlighted the textures of the world.

We commenced to filling buckets of water for the hens, henlets and turkeys.  The birds were clearly anxious to be out of their protective shelters and into their pastures. 

I got Rosie out of the granary and Tammy filled the food buckets.  Pretty soon, Rosie was loaded down with food and water so we could take all of these goodies to their destinations.

"Hey! Don't forget about me!" The Inspector made his presence known.  It would be a bad thing if the farmers forgot to provide sustenance for the farm supervisors.  Since we try to avoid "bad things" at the farm, we responded in a favorable fashion to this request.

Crazy Maurice has been hosting the turkeys in his field over the last several weeks.  Maurice tells me that he likes this time of year and appreciates the extra company (most of the time).  I walk away wondering if he is referencing Tammy and I or the turkeys....  I may never know.

The turkeys come out to make sure there is food and water already delivered - just as it has been each morning since they were first let out on to pasture.  Once the delivery has been confirmed, the jakes and tom commence to puffing and fanning.  It's a good thing to show off for the farmers - they appear to be an appreciative audience this morning.

I looked across at one of our neighbor's fields.  The corn was harvested, but there has been a new flush of green in their field - looking a bit yellowed after the frosts.  This is what happens when strong winds knock ears of corn off of the stalks.  Our weather has been nice enough that the corn that fell to the ground germinated.

There are still flowers on the farm - even though we've had a couple nights with frost.  The pumpkin leaves are done, but there are still marigolds.

 And, while the tops of the Amish Cockscomb were singed, they still provided some bright color and interesting texture with their blooms.

And the Cosmos played host to some bumblebees, who reveled in the morning sun.

I got up this morning, and I was glad that I did.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Balance Sheet

Every so often, I am able to participate in discussions with other growers about things that matter to us.  Recently, in a social media group, someone posted a link to this study presented by Pasa Sustainable Agriculture.  This one looked at direct-market vegetable farmers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.  Results were for a variety of farms that ranged in size from less than 15 acres (the size of our farm) to a maximum of 100 acres.  Farm experience ran from beginner to fifty (!) years.

The question being asked by the study - Can direct market vegetable farmers make a middle-class income?

Before I get very far, let me summarize that their conclusion was essentially, "probably not."  The average net income for participants was $18,500.  However, if you look more closely, you find that things like experience, access to larger acreages and a strong market can make a difference.

In the end, the study, like so many of this type, is flawed enough that we need to be careful making strong statements based on the results.  In the first place, there are simply too many variables to make conclusions.  And secondly, the natural selection of farm businesses quitting over time and not being part of the study makes it difficult to say much.  If you look at the data, you will find that most of the farms in the study started after our farm did in 2004 (most starting 2010 to 2017, when the study started).  From what I have seen, new small-scale farm businesses are going to fail in the first five to eight years.  Take from that what you will.

But, I do think one thing is very clear.  Farms that succeed over a long tenure and follow direct-marketing on a smaller scale are uncommon.

Let me be candid with you.  The Genuine Faux Farm landed in the vicinity of the average net income for farms in this study most years.  To be perfectly clear, our income was not salaried with the farm either.  Our income was based entirely off of the net profit our farm could manage from year to year.  So, if you predicate success of our farm solely on whether or not our net income puts us in the "middle income bracket" then we clearly fail.

So, why does the Genuine Faux Farm, established in 2004, still exist?

Farm Life Balance Sheet

The standard net profit model forgets a number of things that are true for a farm like ours.  The farmers are able to benefit in ways that are not necessarily reflected in our net profit.  We have had access to a four-wheel drive pickup that is, essentially, an expense for the farm.  Some of the property improvements are farm improvements.  We have access to some really good food too.

In short, our balance sheet that we might use for our taxes or for our bank does not have a series of columns to measure farm life costs and benefits. 

Our business model early on was to get to "break-even" as soon as we were able - with the knowledge that we were receiving other benefits from the farm that did not show in the numbers as profit. As we progressed, our business model actually moved to more of a "personal well-being" balance sheet. Was the actual net-profit enough to offset any hits we were taking to keep the farm going? For some people, a net of $5K per year may be enough to make it a life's work. For others, a net of $100K won't be nearly enough. 

The question being asked by the study is not adequate to answer this sort of question. But, it still gives a little raw data to work with. It's a decent enough study if it encourages questions - even if it doesn't give answers.

The Hidden Column

There is a hidden column in the balance sheet that is difficult to measure accurately for every small-scale, direct-market farm.  This column takes into account the convenience that comes with living on fifteen acres and having access to a 45 horsepower tractor with a bucket.  It also considers the stress of trying to successfully grow not one, not two, but fifty, or more, different crops successfully in a season. 

The hidden column probably should have its own blog - and maybe I'll give it a run some day.  It would include the benefit I have had where I can be my own "boss."  But, even that has its pros and cons.  And the benefit that someone who farms like we do gets to spend more time closer to nature is balanced by the fact that we are often isolated from other people.  For some individuals, the inability to "get off the farm" is not offset by the $18K net income, and they decide to move in a new direction.

At the Genuine Faux Farm, we have been very aware of the hidden column and we have been working hard to balance it out.  Are we succeeding?  Well, we're still farming, even if we are farming very differently than we once were.  And we ask this question of ourselves every year - because success looks different every year.

Have a great week everyone - and I hope you are able to balance your own hidden column in your personal balance sheet.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Too Late - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog, which is also cross-posted on the GFF Postal History blog each and every Sunday.  This is where the farmer (Rob) gets to share a hobby he enjoys with you.  It doesn't matter if you collect stamps or postal history or if you just like to learn a new thing or two, all are welcome here.

Now, let's take our troubles and worries and crumple them up into as tight a ball as you can manage.  Give that ball to your cat, or your dog... or your goldfish.  The cat will probably end up batting them under the refrigerator, the dog will chew them up so you won't recognize them anymore, and the goldfish...  well, it probably won't do much, but once you soak your troubles in fishtank water for a few hours, they don't look as impressive as they once did.  Don't have a pet?  Well, we are crumpling up virtual pieces of paper, so give them to your virtual pet - maybe an elephant, if you'd like.

Let's see what new things we can learn this week!


One thing that I think most of us can relate to is the way time can get away from us all.  And the other thing is how valuable time can be to us.  Postal services around the world, for as long as they have been in operation have been intensely aware of both of these things.  They know that we will wait until the last minute to get that envelope full of important, time-sensitive materials (like maybe - a tax return?) to the post office to be mailed.  They also know that their customers pay attention to how long things take to get from here to there!

How have postal services defended themselves when their customers push that time envelope and still expect the miracle of quick delivery to the destination?  I thought it might be fun to look at mail in the 1800s and see how it was handled then.

I'm sorry, but we didn't get this letter in time

During the mid-1850s, speedy and affordable mail services were desired, and even demanded, by the business communities who relied on the post to execute their business.  They were swift to point out failures to deliver in a timely fashion, which encouraged post offices to mark letters and mail that were received after the mails closed.  It was a simple line of defense.

"Hey!  The people who sent this to you messed up, so talk to them if you got it later than you wanted!"

The French were proud of their rail system and the 'star' configuration that set Paris at its center.  They utilized mail processing cars on these trains and there were complex schedules for mail transit using these rail lines.  

Often, rather than going overland via a shorter distance, mail would travel to Paris on one line of the 'star' and then go outward towards its destination from Paris.  This resulted in a faster delivery than a direct coach service would have provided.

The reliance on speedy railway services raised expectations for timely delivery of the mail, which means a May 18 postmark at Cambrai in France was typically expected to arrive on May 19 for delivery at Tournay, Belgium.  After all, Belgium's rail system actually advanced more quickly than France's.

So, here I am looking at a folded letter that was postmarked on May 18, 1860.  It is properly prepaid with a 40 centime French postage stamp.  The red box with the "PD" marking shows that the postage was recognized as paid.  And then there's that additional marking in black ink:

The words "après le départ" translate to "after the departure."  Post offices had to set a cut-off time after which items could no longer be accepted for that day's scheduled conveyance.  Trains, in particular, had a schedule to keep and the mailbag had to be ready to go and be on time.

The individual who trotted in with this piece of mail was probably breathing heavily and might have even tried to convince the postal clerk that there must be some way to get it on that train.  But, alas!  They were too late, and the postal clerk made absolutely certain to document that fact by putting this marking boldly in the center of the address panel, for all to see.

Arrival at Tournay two days after mailing.

 The French postal service was sensitive about their reputation for timely mail service, so they applied an "Apres Le Depart" marking to any item that was received after the scheduled close of the mail.  It is important to recognize that the closing of the mail for a particular departure does not imply that the post office itself was closed for business.  In fact, some post offices had multiple mail closing times to reflect mail bound for different directions or conveyance methods.... or a different train on the schedule.

a sample train schedule from Basel (Switzerland) to Strasbourg (France)

I suppose two days for the delivery of a letter may not seem all that terrible in the grand scheme of things.  But, we need to remember that the post was the primary method of communication between businesses and time... as they say in business... is money.

The Dutch wanted timely mail too...

"Na posttijd" is translated literally as "after post time," which clearly fits the same purpose as the French marking shown above. This folded letter was mailed in Wageningen on September 6, 1858.

Wageningen and Arnhem were both located on an operating rail line at the time of the posting of this letter in 1858.  So, it seems that it is likely the na posttijd marking was an indicator that the mail train was missed.  Perhaps no such marking was used for coach or other service?

However, 20 km is equivalent to 4 Hollands Mijls, and each mijl was equivalent to roughly an hour long walk.  Technically, any service could have arrived at the destination in one day as long as the letter was received at the post office prior to the carrier's departure!  Sadly, I suspect no one was willing to walk this item to Arnhem, so it waited for the mail train that came through the next day and the letter arrived in Arnhem on September 7.

You might notice that this letter bears no postage stamps, something that is uncommon for items in my collection.  However, it was not at all uncommon in the 1850's for items to be mailed unpaid with the intent that the recipient pay the postage in order to take possession of the letter.  The large, penned "5" on the front of this letter indicated that the 5 Dutch cents of postage were due on delivery from the recipient.

Maybe it wasn't the sender's fault...

In 1855, Milan was part of Lombardy, which was considered a part of Austria.  Parma was a duchy ruled by a member of the Bourbon line, but had as recently as 1847 been ruled by a Habsburg.

Wait!  What's this Habsburg/Bourbon stuff?

If you are like me, I have only so much brainspace.  And references to the Bourbons and the Habsburgs don't mean much to me without a quick reminder - so maybe the same holds true for you?  The Bourbons have a French origin and the Bourbons in Parma were Spanish.  The Habsburgs, on the other hand, were Austrian (remember the Holy Roman Empire?). 

It is this Austrian connection that explains Parma's participation in a postal agreement (Austro-Italian League) that maintained favorable rates for mail between its members.  Members included Austria, the Kindgom of Lombardy & Venetia, Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and the Papal States.  

The letter below was sent from Milan (Lombardy) to Parma, which was both the name of the primary city and the duchy.  Mail between them could be prepaid at rates that were roughly equivalent to Austria's internal postage because they were part of this postal league.

Rail service was still extremely limited in the Italian states because Austria wanted to suppress development of anything that might support a growing sentiment for the unification of Italy.  It would not be until 1859 that the Milan-Bologna rail line, which ran through Parma and Modena, would be fully placed into service.  

This letter was mailed in 1855.  Perhaps there was a short railway spur in Milan that carried this item towards its destination.  But, it probably was carried in a mail coach most of the way to Parma.

Whether this folded letter was put on a train or not, there is a marking in Italian that reads "dopo la partenza" or "after departure."

There is a September 2 postmark in Milan followed by an arrival in Parma on September 4 for a 120 km trip - mostly by coach.  With an average speed of 8 km per hour, it would take 15 hours of continuous travel, but the dedicated mail coaches probably traveled faster than this. So, it is possible a person in Parma might expect to receive a letter from Milan in a single day.

So - perhaps there was another reason this letter was delayed?


There are two slits in this folded letter that are indicators that the item was disinfected at some point on its journey.

The third cholera pandemic had been particularly deadly in 1854 and reached places in Italy where it had not previously been found in the following year (see p 30 of the monograph linked here).  It was at this time that various individuals were discovering that contaminated water was the source for most outbreaks.  But, even so, disinfection of the mail continued, if only to show the public that something was being done to control the disease.

In fact, you can see that I featured this same cover in this Postal History Sunday that talked about treatments of the mail in attempts to halt disease.

So...it is possible the reason for the dopo la partenza marking had nothing to do with the late arrival of the sender at the post office and everything to do with the disinfection process itself.

Or maybe, we just missed the boat...

The letter below was mail in February of 1858 from Triest to Pola.  There was no active rail line between these two cities on the Istrian peninsula at that time and the entire area used Austria's postal services.

Nach Abgang Der Post

Triest was a major port city on the Adriatic Sea and there were significant business concerns that utilized mail services regularly in that community.  Pola, at the time this letter was written, was also a port city on the Adriatic*.    Sadly, the backstamp is not clear enough to determine the arrival date with certainty, though it looks like February 9 (after a Feb 6 sending date).   

Another postal service and another language.  This time, our marking on the letter is in German and it reads "nach abgang der post" which means "after the post has left."

It does not seem possible that this marking had anything to do with a train since I cannot find any record of railways there until decades later.  Of course, it is always possible that a mailcoach was missed, but I think that this letter may have missed the boat!

Both cities were reasonably significant ports on the Adriatic Sea and it seems reasonable to expect coastal steamers to carry mail between them.  It is also reasonable to expect that there were also mail coach routes.  So, I can't say for sure whether this missed the next scheduled boat or the next scheduled mail coach.  But, one thing is for sure - it missed something! 

*Pola is now a part of Croatia and is known as Pula.  The distance, via ground routes, is approximately 140 km between Trieste and Pola.

It's nice that you wanted to catch the Asia, but....

Persons who availed themselves of trans-Atlantic mail services in the 1860s were often well-versed in the comings and goings of the mail packets (ships) and would often write a directive on the envelope or wrapper for a particular ship sailing.  On the bottom left of the envelope shown below we see the words "p(er) Cunard Steamer Asia from Boston April 25."  The docketing at the left indicates that the contents were datelined April 24, 1866 but, sadly, the contents are no longer with the envelope.

Generally speaking, the postal clerks at exchange offices (those post offices that handled mail to and from countries outside the United States) were charged with getting the mail to the destination via the fastest available route.  So, the docket indicating which ship this item should sail on was not as necessary as it might have been in prior decades. Still the sender of this piece of mail found it necessary to try to show that an April 25 sailing departure was expected.  

Is it possible they put it there in an attempt to impress upon the recipient that if it did not go that way, the postal service might be to blame for any delay?

It was well known that Cunard Line sailings left on Wednesdays, alternating between Boston and New York.  The next available sailings (by other lines) were on Saturdays.  This Wednesday sailing was in Boston, but the letter was mailed in New York, which means the letter probably had to be in the New York exchange office on Tuesday (Apr 24) to reach the Wednesday ship departure in Boston*.  But, what happens when you get to the post office too late and the mailbags intended for the Cunard Line's Asia have been closed and are no longer available to stuff one more letter into them?  

Well, the postal clerk takes note of your intent for a April 25 departure by putting a marking that reads "Too Late" on the front of your piece of mail.  Then, he strikes the cover with a red New York marking with the date of the NEXT available sailing (April 28), providing an explanation to the recipient that it was NOT their fault that this item arrived a few days later. 

I wonder if the clerk would have bothered with the "Too Late" marking if the sender had not tried to place an intended departure date on the cover?  My guess is that they would not have done so.

*The Appletons' United States Postal Guide gives some of the postal schedules for some of the larger cities including New York and Boston.  However, it only provides a look at the Boston foreign mails and no mention is made of the New York foreign mails.  In Boston, letters destined for a New York sailing were to be posted no later than 7 pm the previous day.


Well, once again, you have frittered away a chunk of time and politely listened (or read) while I shared something I enjoy.  I hope you found parts and pieces of it interesting and perhaps you learned something new.  I hope you join me next week for a new Postal History Sunday.

Hey!  Where did that wadded up ball of troubles go?  Oh, the elephant took it?  Ok, that's fine with me.

A Couple of Resources

There are numerous philatelic and postal history resources out in the world that have helped me get a foothold on some of the things I share here.  Here are two that had some influence on this week's Postal History Sunday.

"Appletons' United States Postal Guide - 1863," D. Appleton & Co, reprint by J. Lee

Lesgor, R, Minnigerode, M & Stone, R.G., "The Cancellations on French Stamps of the Classic Issues: 1849-1876," Nassau Stamp Company, 1948.