Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Climbing pigs and broken trucks

My first adventure of the week since I last wrote began just hours after Wednesday CSA pick-up. We had finally arranged for a load of beautiful horse manure to be brought to our vegetable field so I headed over to meet the truck and show it where to dump. It was supposed to be a quick project (this is the way many farm projects begin). However, I soon learned that the dump truck they brought the manure in was a very special sort of dump truck, specifically a dump truck that does not dump. Needless to say we spent a good hour trying various methods to unload the truck. In the end we faced the inevitable and got out the shovels. But all is well that ends well and now we have our first load of manure in our field for next year’s crops.


We have discovered that we have a rare breed of climbing pigs! Our younger pigs here on the farm are so eager for any compost we might be bringing them that they have developed the ability to climb up to a standing position using the fence panels of their corral. They love to investigate the sound of running water when we fill their water tank. They use their noses to dig all around the bottom of the tank searching for the source of that tantalizing sound. Just watch out if you get in with them-they love eating shoelaces and nibbling on clothes.


If you aren’t careful farming can be a very isolating occupation. Animals and plants require attention every day. On top of that there is always the next thing to be done so it is all too easy to work, work, work. No matter how much one loves what they do, it is tiring to do it non-stop. A wonderful way to break the routine (while still convincing ourselves that we are working) is through “continuing education.” We had a great weekend of reuniting with several old friends from school who are undertaking various farming ventures of their own. We got to swap chicken raising methods with a friend who worked for Joel Salatin and now has her own place in Virginia. We also spent time with a friend working on several organic vegetable farms in the triangle area. To cap it all off today we attended a field day at a NC state organic field research station. There we learned about the development of disease resistant tomatoes, grafting tomatoes, growing fall broccoli, and the efficacy of various weed control methods.


Talking and cooperation are not always traits that come easily to people, especially independent type-A farmer personalities. But an open dialog between farmers, consumers, wholesalers, government researchers and regulators, and of course farmers talking to other farmers, is one of the biggest changes needed in our food system today. Our food is, more often than not, produced behind closed doors (closed even to regulators as is evident from the latest egg recall). Farmers are hesitant (or even prevented by agreements with companies such as Tyson) from sharing ideas with each other or with their customers. It is a system designed to bamboozle, confuse, and hide. It hides environmental destruction, health safety problems, corporate profits, destroyed rural communities, and societal health impacts.

A great NC organization that works to promote the kind of dialog we need is the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. They provide action alerts on food legislation that could harm small farmers, work to educate consumers, and especially promote farmer to farmer networking. Their biggest event of the year is a conference held each December to bring farmers from all over the Carolinas (and sometimes further afield) together to participate in workshops, network, and squeeze in some socializing. We hope to attend this year’s conference in Winston-Salem to continue our “continuing education.” If you are interested in learning more about the organization check out their website at http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/index.shtml

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