Monday, July 27, 2009

King Corn

Today on the local radio station I heard a great piece from the program A World of Possibilities. The program was focused on the central part corn has played in agriculture since its domestication. The program highlighted the place of corn in the industrialization of modern agriculture and the corresponding environmental, social, and economic impacts. Check it out at:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Waiting to see the chickens

On Saturday Larry picked up our first 25 layer hens! They are a batch of 16 weeks old Golden Comet pullets. Vivian reported that they were in the pen "squawking and everything." The latest update is that she already has found an egg! It makes me want to drive over to see our birds! These ladies will be providing our winter eggs and hopefully some extra for sale.The

The Golden Comet is a hybrid red, sex-linked, brown egg layer. The red refers to the color of the adult female. Sex-linked means that the cross between two pure breeds produces an offspring whose color is genetically linked to color. This eliminates much trouble in separating day old hens from cockerels.

In the future we hope to breed our own sex linked layers. In preparation we have ordered to two parent stock breeds-female Barred Rocks and male Rhode Island Reds. These will produce a black sex link, brown egg layer. Interestingly, it matters which parent breed is male and female. The reason to breed a hybrid rather than two pure breeds is that they display a trait known as hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is a phenomenon whereby the offspring of a cross between two pure breeds exhibits greater health, size, and overall vigor than either parent. In our case that means more eggs. The disadvantage of hybrids is that they will not breed true. There is no second generation of Golden Comets. One has to continue to breed the two parent breeds.

It is fun to know that we officially have animals! I only have to wait out about 6 more weeks until I get to start working with them.

(the photograph is not ours, although it is a Golden Comet)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Farm Planning

We have planned and planned. We have ordered some animals and some infrastructure. We still have so much to do though. I checked out Elliot Coleman's New Organic Grower and have been reading about winter harvesting. It is exciting to see so many possibilities for winter harvest! Besides all the greens there is cilantro, onions, and many roots I wasn't sure would work. But he harvest through the winter in Maine, so I'm sure we can manage something in North Carolina.

We are thinking of getting some milk goats. Marie headed up a two goat dairy last summer--making cheese and yogurt for sale. Everyone in the CSA enjoyed it so much. We would like to find some good goats for a reasonable price to at least supply our dairy through the winter. We do have to decide if the cost in money and time is worth it.

Goats would be a huge asset in that they would be a ruminant animal capable of greatly helping restore the health of the pasture. Chicken and pigs don't have the same health giving ability as ruminants. Both poultry and hogs are omnivores who dig, root, and scratch. Under very careful management and with good rotations they can be beneficial, or at least neutral, to pasture health. But some goats could work wonders for the pasture.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Working man's food

Today at the end of the work day I was talking to the carpenters at the job site. I asked if they were working tomorrow as working four tens is fairly common. One said they were and was I. "No, we've been trying to do four tens" I replied. "We come up a little short, but its fine. But on Friday I will be working at a farm in exchange for food." He asked what I did there so I briefly explained about raising the chickens on pasture and the garden. He commented that the chickens must be better. Of course I had to agree that chickens raised on pasture were far superior to confined birds.

Later he surprised me by returning to the conversation. "Where can you get one of those chickens? Like, at the store what is their brand?" I explained that they just sell at the Telluride Farmers market. Unfortunately, this probably guarantees that he will never buy one. The market happens during work hours so it is almost impossible for him to go, even if did think it was worth his time to make a special shopping trip. But, he still wanted to know what they cost. I rounded down "$4 a pound" (they are really $4.50/lb). I knew that this didn't probably mean much to him (most people are very bad at translating costs in and out of a per unit basis, this explains how small packages of ready to eat meals ever sell. If people realized they were paying $20/lb they wouldn't buy them) so I translated to a whole bird "around $16 a bird." He responded as I expected "$16 for a chicken!"

I admitted that this was alot. But I threw in that it is a large bird and Marie and I get 3 meals out of one. What I didn't go into detail about was that in reality it is not that much to pay for quality food. One of the most interesting facts I have heard recently regarding the supposed expense of healthy food is that while Americans spend less on food as a percentage of our income than anyone ever has in the history of the world (about 10%) we now spend more on health care than anyone in the history of the world. In fact, the sum of what we spend on healthcare and food has remained steady. But instead of spending most of our money on good food and very little on doctors visits we now spend very little on empty calories and most of our income on dealing with the affects of those poor food choices.

Add to this the fact that much of the carcass weight you are paying for of a factory raised bird is contaminated water from the cooling process and paying a little extra up front for a healthy meal doesn't seem so expensive. Of course, right now we are paying for both. We contribute to cheap empty calories with our tax dollars and everyone feels the effects of an unhealthy society in their insurance bills. So we are faced with a problem. We can pay extra up front on an individual level for healthier food, but in the meantime continue to pay the societal costs of an unhealthy lifestyle.

I don't know what the solution is right now. But I cannot think that making poor choices on the individual level will ever add up to create a healthier whole. However, I believe that if we all slowly make changes in our own lives they can add up to eventually change the larger picture. So think twice about where your money is going. Is it going to improve the health of your body, your family, and your community? Or will saving a dime now lead to the degradation of all of the above and ultimately higher costs down the road?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Farm in the mail

We have a farm in the mail! We have ordered meat chickens, egg layers, and some heritage breed makes to begin experimenting with for meat. We have also ordered some fencing and energizers. We are keeping Larry busy running around in Morganton. He will have chickens to care for and things to buy that we find on Craig's list. It is amazing to have someone on the ground in Morganton-what a help!

I have been so excited everyday just thinking about our farm. We will have so much to do on arrival. I want to squeeze in a fall crop of greens, we have a mobile processing unit reserved for two dates, and we will be able to make the last two weeks of the Morganton farmers market. The mobile processing unit is a chicken butchering plant on a flat bed that farmers can rent for cheap. NC allows farmers to butcher up to 1000 poultry (and rabbit) units on farm each year. We will be getting what we can for this year.

We still don't have a farm name though. We need to figure one out, it would be helpful on the business side of things. Now that we have begun to buy equipment and animals a name would be good. Gisella and Larry are also both talking us up among friends and coworkers. A name would help there as well. We will see.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Still Excited

Larry and Vivian visited us for three weeks. We all crammed into our small apartment. They shared the living room. This meant that they had a street light in their eyes all night and had to put up with our early morning work noises. But at the end of three weeks we are all still excited about farming in Morganton!

We will be there in only about two months! Time to actually sit down and make some concrete plans. We have to decide on how many birds and when to get them. I would like to squeeze in a season of greens in the fall. We will see if we can make that work.