Not the Man…

I am not the man I used to be. That comes with a large amount of obviousness to anyone that is observing, but sometimes it takes oneself a bit to realize things like that. Thought it would make a short little blog to make a note of some of them here.

  1. Most folks that know me well know this first, but just to make sure. I spent most of my life being sure I wanted to get away from the small farm, the hard work, the dirt – so many more that could be listed. I accomplished that. I got a degree in computer science and have worked mostly laid back desk jobs. However since almost the time of that accomplishment I have longed to return to the simpler life of the farm and hard work that it would entail. Continue reading

Farrier Freedom

An aside to begin with – the spell checker actually has the word farrier in it and rasping the hoofaccepts it as a spelled correctly word. You realize I have been using that word in various documents since at least around 2000, maybe slightly longer and none, not even the Microsoft Word dictionary, has contained that word. So my hats off to the folks doing this open source dictionary that I am using.

What I really wanted to touch base on was my weekend this past. It was hot. Saying that is such an understatement, using only three words and eight characters. It should have something like thirty characters to really emphasis just how hot it was. Anyway, I digress. I spent Saturday morning early AM doing a bit of tidying around the house, before heading over to mow my Grandmothers yard. It is a small yard and that was a nice thing done. I then headed over to my Mom’s, where I have the horses.

It was too hot to do much that afternoon, especially with the lack of shade short of the shed, where there is little breeze. So I lounged a bit in a the pool. Yes, I was lazy bum. The important thing to note during all of the day on Saturday is I spent maybe 15 minutes late in the day checking my personal email and nothing more.

Sunday I awoke fairly early (though not as early as I usually do) after spending the night there. I immediately got my tools and went to field and started with feet trimming – or farrier work.

For those not aware, horses hooves grow and are very similar to humans finger nails, except of course they are much thicker. Horses in the wild tend to keep the hoof wore down, but they move a lot more than a domestic horse, so we have to help them out and give them a trim on occasion. The basic process is nip off with a tool that is about eighteen long and looks a little like pliers with a cutting edge, file smooth on the flat and shape the outside of the hoof. Oh and I left out dig out dirt, manure, and muck from the rest of sole and take down the flat with a hoof knife.

It is probably the hardest job on the farm, and especially as jobs relating to horses go. I would ten times over rather put up hay all day then trim two or three horses feet. During the process a well-trained perfect horse will stand there, lifting each foot almost before you ask (and some actually do), holding it until you are done. Even with a well-trained horse though it is time spent bent over, knees bent against themselves, and in motion the entire time on your part.

Now the reality is younger, less trained horses tend to want to dance around a bit and see just what they can get away with. Older horses get lazy and instead of holding up the foot for you, lean 1/4 or more of their weight over on your already bent over form. And one horse I have likes to nibble at your back, hair, or shoulders whenever she can – and if she is luck she will grab something like a tool or apron strap and pull it out or loose.

It gets worse though. If you recall I have 7 miniature horses that needed to be trimmed. Good news – They have much smaller feet so much less trimming to be done. Bad news – They only stand on average 29 inches tall hence their feet can’t come up nearly as much off the ground, so you have to bend down even more to work with them. Even worse – three of these little guys are young or just have not been handled that much and they throw a fit when you getting a trim done.

So, if I am making it sound bad – well it was hard sweating honest work, that was very tiring. It left my shoulders, neck, knees, thighs, back, and arms tired and sore through even today (Tuesday). In just over four hours I trimmed eight horses feet, some of which were just rank.

So the rambling here leads to this thought. It was so incredibly nice to be out in the hot sun doing such work. Living and breathing horses for the time. No cell phone and no computer email and nothing that was otherwise interfering with the task at hand. My pure enjoyment of working with my hands, and while utilizing my brain, it was on a subject that was much lower caliber and enjoyable. It was just a breath of freedom that was much enjoyed and much-needed.

I am looking forward to the next bit of time I will get to spend time out like that with the horses with no computers around for a short time.

SLOW Tomatoes = NOT Salmonella

tomatoI am sure if you are alive, eat anything from the grocery store or from a food establishment that prepares it for you, unless you are currently under a rock you have heard about the suspected tomato salmonella scare. Just in case you have not a brief bit of background. There were a bunch of cases of salmonella, over the weekend I believe. The FDA (though I believe the CDC was involved too) released warnings and recommendations to not consume certain kinds of tomatoes, specifically beef steak and Roma or plum types. Since then the tomatoes have disappeared from fast food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and others, as well from the shelves at Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie, Kroger, and so on. Today at some point the recommendation has been determined that it is safe now to eat tomatoes from 19 states of origin but you should still hold off from other states.

Now a little review. Salmonella does not come from salmon the fish. It is a bacteria that is usually transmitted initially through contact with feces. Hence why it is so easy to it happening in the more common culprit – chicken. Tomatoes another story – but perhaps water in irrigation or washing was contaminated. Regardless, if you tomato was not grown in one the 19 approved states or something you grew yourself or from a reputable local farmer you better be safe and throw it out.

Why is this new here? First is that if you grew it yourself – your fine. No need to really worry. You pretty much know if you exposed your tomato crop to human feces or not. Beyond that, you could get them from a reputable local farmer. Now realistically in our climate we are still a few weeks away from the earliest tomatoes in our region – if they didn’t grow them in a greenhouse they still came from a truck out-of-state.

This how things leads me to a couple of issues I have had for a few years. Our food is so much better when acquired in its proper season. After all, those things they call tomatoes during the winter are hard and tasteless. Further, when we are touch with where our food came from, especially locally, we can feel better about it. Especially if we know the care and concern that a farmer may have put into making it happen instead of some industrial farmer that is about minimizing cost and hence maximizing profits. Of course the flip side of this is, we have to expect that there is some possible losses due to lack large-scale process and hence there will be some increase in the price of such food. A small price to pay for knowing reasonably well that your food is bursting with the best of flavor and its peak and most likely the safest of foods you have been exposed too in a long time.

Anyway, this thought then leads to a concept called Slow Food. The basic ideas are that we slow down and enjoy food for what it is. We also slow down and have food in season. And lastly – and this is the big one that I am such a strong advocate of – we move our food a lot less – after all the food less traveled has a lot less chance of exposure to things such as salmonella.

I could go on about how food traveling less would help our current crunch on fossil fuels or how I think that incidents like this (of which we have had more of with vegetables then meats) points to the need to have better identification on fruits and vegetables or how the concept of NAID for animals is really the wrong place to be looking (and for the record – I am vehemently opposed to NAID). But I will instead save those for later upcoming blogs.

Instead, just thinking eating slow-moving food that travels small distances and let that be some food for thought. If that is not enough, think about, when tomatoes come into season in a few more weeks no need to worry about salmonella from the local ones – give that some thought instead.

Vive la France!

My hats off to France! Long live the revolution! Okay, so I don’t even know what number of revolution we are on and I am most times more fond of the history of France in the 1st half of the Hundred Years War, when prior to Joan they were getting their butts kicked by the English armies under Edward, Edward of Woodstock, and Henry. Beyond that I admit a fondness for the romantic imagery and notions, and of course from military history one has to appreciate the years under Bonaparte. The modern France though, well suffice it to say I generally disagree with the leadership there at almost every turn.

However, this week France has surprised, much as Bush did this week too. You see, France was set to pass rules allowing a compromise on the importation, planting and usage of genetically modified corn. The compromise was supposed to be something along the lines of it would be allowed as long as any field having it was clearly marked and so many 100’s of meters away from any open pollinated varieties of corn. It was all but a done deal apparently, just requiring the stamp of approval a vote, if I understood things correctly.

In recent history though, France has been more than a little conservative toward the allowed usage of genetically modified seed of any sort. If I am correct, the only usage allowed is in scientific usage in very controlled environments.

Long story short, but the voted, despite the outcome being anticipated as a passage of and allowance of GM seed in the future under the strict regulations, ended in a tie. Which means it did NOT get enough support to pass. Which of course means that in this one case France can be held up as a bastion of what should be, compared to the United States where just about anything is allowed, including apparently based on testing, including plots close enough to allow cross pollination to have occurred.

Farm Bill

For those that do not know there is currently a farm bill very slowly making its way through congress and eventually likely heading to the Presidents desk to be signed into law. The farm bill does create some new laws and regulations to farming, but mostly it is concerned with appropriations, who gets how much money for what. The current one has expired, but to give more time to congress the current levels of funding were extended back a few months ago. And the one that is under consideration will set funding levels for the next five years.

Biggest things being funded in the farm are of course the subsidy programs for grains. And of course one thing that has happened with this cycle is various congressional members have looked at the huge amount of money being paid out to grain farmers and said we need that for our ______ farmers back home too. You can fill that blank in with anything from apple, race horse breeders, vegetable, heck it can probably even include rock and cedar tree ranches that are famous where my grandparents once farmed.

To be honest I can see why everyone wants to get in on these, but fundamentally I am opposed to such things. It just is not good business for farmers to be dependent on those kinds of pay outs. I can sort of understand a payment kicking in during a crop or whether related disaster event – though really I am not even so sure of that. But I don’t think grains, apples, vegetables nor especially race horse breeders need subsidy payments just as a general rule. If you can’t operate the farm efficiently then maybe you need to scale back, get your expenses under control and then proceed.

All my life everything I have read about agriculture from the government and progressive farming techniques is to “get big, or get out.” As hard as it is to swallow the thing I am seeing here is getting big wouldn’t work. The efficiencies supposedly gained wouldn’t require millions of dollars of subsidies if they were tangible. The bottom line is the big corporate farms will cry you a river if you cut off this flow of money as they would all be going south really quick. My sentiment to all of them is “you have gotten big, now time to get off the teat.”

It gets worse though. A huge amount of the payments that included are so-called ‘direct’ payments to producers of grain. Those payments are not tied to the performance of grain prices, crop performance or hardly anything else at all. In these recent months and going on years, of near record high grain crop prices it is absurd. Granted, there is an increase in input largely in fuel for the operation – but the only limit on these kind of payments is 750,000 of income on the farm, of 1.5 million on a couple, filing jointly on the farm. Now what kind of operation that is pulling up to 750,000 in then can justifiably need an additional huge check from the tax-payers?

Quickly, an aside note – I mentioned maybe about weather related crop failures or just markets going in the crapper would be justifiable. I don’t even really believe this either. Everyone who is a farmer knows these kind of things are going to happen and you just have to be prudent in your growth and not be such a huge debt to begin with that you can survive a lean year or two. Further, I will point out that I had pigs, goats, and horses last summer – that I had to sell a huge portion of due to the worse haying (drought) and additional high feed cost during the winter to keep the few that I have. Not one of the government offered programs qualified me for any assistance at a time when hay was over 3x the amount it had traditionally been, it was having to be hauled in from out-of-state largely, with the huge fuel expenses, and we all know where the price of corn and soy beans has been – through the roof.

Bottom line is this – farmers as a group are generally independent minded. They are going to have to get over this need to have the cash influx from the government. Generally I have not agreed with a lot of what President Bush has done during his eight years running this country. However, this farm bill as it looks right now he is promising to veto, precisely because he doesn’t feel the subsidies are needed or justifiable at this point either. So my hats off to him for hopefully sticking this one out.

PS – I will be writing about the other side of these subsidies mean here shortly in this blog…

Hero: Willie Nelson

As I am waiting for a few thousand files to upload across the network so that I can move on the next step of something I doing for me on the computer end of things (which of course in turn allows me to put off for a bit longer what I need to do for the office between now and the morning) – I thought I would blog. Despite having a long list of blog ideas here on paper, as well as another list recorded in MP3 format – I was feeling particularly lazy. So, I thought for a bit and decided to write a bit about Willie and why he could be a hero.

First let me say there are a 100 reasons or more why Willie shouldn’t be anyone’s hero, but there are a good four or five reasons why he should. I don’t advocate some of the things that Willie has been involved in but I am going to focus on those reason above and beyond his musical talent of why he could be a hero.

Reason 1: Willie certainly gets my vote with all he has done over the years with the Farm Aid nonprofit organization. He was involved in the beginning back in 1985 with the first farm aid benefit concert along with John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and seems to me Bob Dylan was involved behind the scenes as well. I still think that some of what got farms in the situation they were in the 80’s was the move toward big industrial agriculture instead of smaller family farms – but that is beside the point as there were as many folks inside the beltway and out associated with government agencies that were just as, if not more, responsible for the move. Anyway, twenty plus years later they are still going strong with a motto of, “family farmers, good food, a better America.” That certainly hits right in line with my thoughts on the matter.

Reason 2: Aside from the farmers, Willie just has a connection with the common man. Despite being a wealthy man (or least he was at one time) he just sings about and makes such a connection with the general common everyday person. Mostly through his music, but I have seen clips of things here and there that show the point as well. And despite that, he can also rub shoulders with anyone if the need be and not be out-of-place. A large part of this in the payback when Willie got in some tax trouble and the number of folks that helped bail him out by buying back his stuff and giving it back to him.

Reason 3: Willie is his own man – there is no question about that. From drinking whiskey and other questionable substances to the now trademark hair in brands. He isn’t going to change for anyone or anything from who he is. More valid proof can be found in his early career – when Nashville had a certain clean-cut tow the line image it wanted its singers to have. Willie wrote songs, and tried some, but unwilling to play the game settled on pig farming for a time being instead of compromising.

Reason 4: Willie is all about family. I know I personally get a bit aggravated about my family coming down to me, but if I ever have children I hope that I can have the kind of unconditional love and desire to do right for my kids that Willie has. An example, once asked about a few songs that he wrote and sold complete rights to for a fee of $25 and $50 bucks in an interview – songs that were then made top ten and even number ones by artist the like of Patsy Cline and Ray Charles – was he bitter about that. His simple common mans answer was something to the effect, $50 dollars bought a lot of food for my babies at the time and that was what was important that day or week.

Reason 5: Willie really is just a cowboy when it comes down to it and in my opinion – in case you haven’t guessed it already just being a cowboy – especially that wears a white hat as is evidenced by some of the above puts you in the realm of being a hero. He loves to head out to his western town on his ranch in Texas, which is best accessed by horse back and kick back. How much better could life get then that.

So Willie, if you ever stumble across this and you want someone to head back to the frontier with you, let me know and I will be there in a day or two – horses in tow. Be careful though about inviting me, as I may not ever want to leave.

Donkey today – your dog tomorrow?

As I was looking at my blog two things come to my mind. One, is though I have been writing things off and on since late November, especially starting at the first of the year, I have yet to write more than 30 posts. That seems to be just pathetic. Some of it is just getting busy with other things and yet some other part of are you write one entry and then want to hold off before putting another up so soon (at least my thought is to let the few people reading have a chance to read).

Second, I intended to post more about farming and issues related to that then what I have so far. Not for a lack of topics that come up in regards to farming and issues and such. I suppose it is more that I tend to think deeper thoughts in regards to farming and still often have mixed thoughts in regards to my approach to, outcome of, and general take on farming. Some small part of it is also the very seeming to be going against nature to use a computer to write about farming for other people to read instead of being out there enjoying the process myself.

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Poor dirt farmer…

So I am currently re-reading parts of the book entitled The Complete Agrarian Reader, a collection of essays by agrarians and their opinions on things. Probably the book that first introduced me to the idea. Actually, I should say, that made me realize it was not necessarily a some romantic notion that I alone had, that there were other people with similar thoughts on things.

Anyway, there is an introduction to the book by Barbara Kingsolver. In it she talks about her days in college and in the world at large where she in as many words hesitant or even almost ashamed of her background of having grown up on a Kentucky tobacco farm. Both the tobacco and the farm were considered less than desirable things to bring up in her circles of associations in a positive light so instead she stayed quiet. I have been there with her. I knew exactly what she was talking about. I would never deny, but there were times when I tried to distance myself from my own personal history.

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