The comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is open until November 15th. We should have let everyone know about this a couple weeks ago because time is running out and we need your help in protecting America’s small highly diversified farms. So PLEASE RESPOND to voice your opinion. You will find procedures in how to comment at CFSA’s website, and just so you know, CFSA was the organization who “Certified” us organic before the National Organic Program (NOP). The FSMA is mostly concerned about “Safe” food therefore not putting a lot of emphasis on “Healthy” food. Healthy food to us means so many different things with a few of those being; food grown without conventional herbicides and pesticides, food grown sustainably in protecting our soil and water supply, food grown locally thus increasing the nutritional value all the while reducing our carbon footprint.
According to those spearheading the FSMA rules and regulations, “Safe” food, is eliminating any chance of food borne illness entering the food supply. Would you believe those folks making the rules think that we shouldn’t have deer running through the fields, working dogs on rodent control for mice/voles/groundhogs, birds flying over the fields or livestock animals on the farm.
We all need to find a balance in keeping food both Safe and Healthy. Perhaps we all should have a little “risk” in our life and expect that a bird just might drop a turd on your kale (Good thing there is no kale this week!) We think that the consumer should be able to choose who to buy their food from. If you decide to buy your food from a farm with biodiversity and want to risk a bird turd or dog urine, than so be it, you should be able to make that choice. Biodiversity is key for a sustainable operation, and to us, a highly diversified farm is the most environmental friendly.
One of the biggest issues we have wtih the FSMA proposed rules is that we would be required to test our water every 7 days. That is because we irrigate from Meadow Fork Creek, which by the way, is high quality water, and I can’t every imagine that it would make us sick. We swim in this creek after all. It is not feasible for a small operation like ours to test water so frequently so we highly recommend that the FSMA exempt small farms earning under $2,000,000 from regulation.
Another big issue with our farm in regards to FSMA is the time proposed between spreading manure and growing crops. We at MHO raise pastured poultry, just so the chickens can poop on the ground where your food is grown adding good wholesome fertilizer, but the proposed standards would require nine months after we run chickens across the land before we could grow food on that land. The practice of growing food with manure is an ancient technique and one that should be preserved. We should recommend that the FSMA adopt the National Organic Program standards which require 120 days between spreading manure and growing crops.
This September, even before falls arrival, we have been enjoying fall like temperatures, and finally plenty of sunshine. We’ve spent a good bit of time setting up irrigation and cleaning up our spring and summer fields in preparation for seeding cover crops. Cover crops on an organic farm, are just as important as growing food for our shareholders and market customers, and these crops are seeded and grown to reduce erosion, add nutrients and organic matter to the soil and suppress weeds among many other benefits.
After removing a few tons of rocks from the fields, we must pull up all the landscape fabric that was used to prevent weed growth. This requires us to pull the weeds from each of the holes where our winter squash/strawberries were growing, then loosen the fabric from the earth, and finally roll it up. Even though the plastic is a bit of work to put down and take up, it beats continually having to weed the crops throughout the season, and in the end saves us time. The landscape fabric also helps to prevent the plant from getting soil born diseases during rain storms because it keeps soil from splashing up onto the foliage.
We are juggling a few long term projects here at MHO those being building a pavilion over the pizza oven, building a farm vacation cabin rental, raising another greenhouse and finally reclaiming pastures. A few years ago our neighbor Ken Pangle made a comment to us something like, “You’ve got so many irons in the fire you don’t know which is hot!”. Read this for a history of this phrase which appears to have first been recorded back in 1549. Our neighbor Alvin has recently said to us, in regards to a greenhouse we are currently constructing, “Have you foundered on that greenhouse project?”. The term Foundered is used frequently with cattle and horses which is where he began using that term. It is fun hearing about all the old time phrases that folks in our area use.
The problem with us being entrepreneurs is we are sometimes a bit idealistic, and if we weren’t idealistic, than we probably wouldn’t undertake many of these projects here on the farm because we would lack the confidence to start them and follow through to complete them. So perhaps it is this personality trait as to why we are undertaking so many projects one time. As Carl says, “Any strength taken to extreme can become a weakness”. So I guess this idealistic thing is a weakness for us here at MHO.
Sometimes It seems to me that we aren’t making much progress on any one project, because most of our long term projects span over a year, and we try to work on these projects in between growing food for you wonderful CSA shareholders and market customers. One such project is to reclaim pastures for cattle. We’ve had plans on eventually raising just a few beef cows, which in the past, was a big part of this family farm before we became the stewards. Since the 1980′s, an area that was once pasture has returned to a young forest, with most of the trees only a few inches in diameter.
Once we began farming this land, being tree huggers, we couldn’t bring ourselves to cut any saplings down which is why the pastures have returned to a very young forest. Our main farming goal has always been to be sustainable and environmental friendly, which is why, we choose to use organic farming practices and are highly diversified. For us to keep five acres of cropland productive, we use an organic fertilizer which is primarily made from composted chicken manure. Although we are using a by-product from the chicken industry, we are still purchasing fertilizer, that it is composted then made into pellets and shipped here. It requires a some precious non-renewable resources to make our fertilizer so our long term goal is to have livestock who will produce our fertilizer right here on the farm. We farmers’ call it a closed loop system when you have all inputs (fertilizer’s and minerals) that are produced right on the farm.
We are thankful that although we continue to have rain showers nearly each day, each storm is bringing less rain, allowing us to transplant and direct seed a few crops for fall. With our current crop rotation, it just so happens that our fall crops are growing in our sandiest (meaning driest) field. We are thankful to have built a deer fence around that field as it just might pay for itself this fall alone if we are able to harvest tasty greens.
Just a couple weeks ago we transplanted our fall crops, then covered these crops with floating row cover, all this work done to simply prevent them from being devoured by flea beetles and harlequin bugs. Over the years we have accumulated an assortment of row cover each with a different weight and weave, only because as we phase out old sheets replacing them with new, our suppliers keep changing the brand and weight they sell. It seems the best type that has worked so far, with the longest usage, was one made by DuPont that we last purchased around 6 years ago. We are using this type for our baby boc choi and have noticed a lot of flea beetle damage so we will need to phase this type completely out of production. Our fall crops must be transplanted mid July through August so they mature before it gets too cold for them to grow. While the row cover prevents bugs from destroying our crops, it also raises the temperature of the plants a few degrees, which is great for our Spring season. However, with the fall crops that are transplanted during the peak heat of summer, this protection creates the risk of loosing these crops to overheating. We estimate that we have lost half our fall broccoli crop to overheating as we try to figure out which row cover works best for our summer season. The row cover that we used for our broccoli is a tighter weave, and heavier in weight, so it seems to not allow as much airflow, meaning that we will not be using this type during the summer anymore. The lighter weight row cover worked well but it seems to tear fairly easy, which to us doesn’t seem very sustainable, since it only lasts a couple seasons. It would be nice if all row cover was created equal, with some kind of rating, just so the farmer can figure out which should be used each season as new brands and types become available while others are discontinued. Floating row covers do have a rating but the rating doesn’t seem that helpful from a sustainability aspect. Perhaps that is too difficult with so many different climates and conditions around the country.
pic – crops weeded
Journal, I am sorry that I have not written lately, but our computer crashed and I didn’t have the software that I am accustomed with to downsize images for use in this journal. We just purchased a new computer and Carl has loaded most of the software so I am back!
We have only had four rain free days during the past month, and this amount of rain, it is proving very difficult for us to maintain a high level of production on this small organic farm. In these rainy conditions, weeds sprout and grow very rapidly, which can ultimately out-compete our crops for sunlight and soil nutrients. We at MHO don’t use of any synthetic herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and pests that are harmful to the health of our customers as well as the environment. Instead, we rely on more traditional means of weed management. Normally we prefer to use our cultivating tractor to control weeds, and using this tool, we are able to weed our crops in a fraction of the time as most any other means available to us for controlling weeds. When the soil conditions are too wet for our cultivating tractor, we must use a hoe to scrape away the weeds from our plant beds; however, when our fields remain saturated, the soil tends clump around the blade of the hoe and we cannot slice through the weeds. At this point, we are forced to pull weeds out of our beds entirely by hand drastically increasing the labor require for crop maintenance.
Since we do not have enough labor or hours here at MHO to hand-weed all of our field crops, we have been forced to make some difficult decisions about which crops to salvage and which ones will simply be mowed down because of too many weeds. To make matters even worse, the cold, wet soil slows the growth of our crops and is causing broccoli and cabbage to rot in the ground. The rain has drowned so many of our first beet and carrot seedlings. With all of the hard work and love put into each and every seedling, these conditions are very mentally challenging for even the most experienced farmer.
As insurance for our CSA Shares, we are trying to make a decision if we should plant our succession of summer squash in the greenhouse or if it should be planted in the field. If the rain continues for the next month, much like it has for this year so far we would be better off planting this crop in the greenhouse, but if the rain subsides and the sun begins to shine we are better off planting this crop in the field. Planting greenhouse crops in the middle of summer is risky due to the possibility of overheating, but what we have discovered over the years on the farm, is that every seed we plant is a gamble!
We finally had a week without rain allowing us to transplant many of those heat loving crops. We all worked hard and accomplished so MUCH this past week! It is at these times when we are extremely thankful for an efficient and dedicated Farm Crew.
Just a week prior we had rain nearly every day, and then a very light frost early Saturday on May 25th, and are thankful we covered our basil. Our crops don’t know whether it is Spring or Summer. Just a week ago it was rather difficult to imagine us keeping up a continuous and bountiful harvest with rain showers sprinkling our fields nearly every day preventing us from preparing land, transplanting crops and seeding additional crops. In the end I am fairly certain that everything will turn out alright because in between rain showers Carl was able to get our land plowed.
With the land plowed and fields prepared, this week we were able to transplant our peppers, eggplant, most of the winter squash and leeks. The leeks were begging to be transplanted a few weeks ago, we just couldn’t get the land prepared with all the rain at that time, we are grateful the leeks made it out into the fields this week. We must be thankful for Mark, who is an Appalachian Thru Hiker, and spent a few days off the trail helping us get the bulk of our summer crops and leeks transplanted. There is an optimal time-frame where we need to plant our peppers and winter squash – which is right about now – that is if we have any hope of them maturing before our first frost. These crops can’t be planted until after our last frost, yet must be planted very soon after the frost, just so they have plenty of growing time before the mildews and diseases arrive late summer.
The past few weekends have been spent planning and building “The Dairy Parlor”. We have a phased approach for the parlor, and we will continue to work towards our dream dairy parlor, that is if dairy cows suit us. We are building the parlor in a portion of the barn that the cows won’t have access to except during milking just to keep the area manure free. This required that we clear wood that has been drying in the barn for several years to make room for a dairy parlor. So Sylvest and Julie cleared the wood. Meanwhile, Carl built a stanchion, then we finally hung a gate providing easy access to the parlor. Our dream parlor will have a concrete floor underneath the stanchion that can be watered down, a separate area for grain storage, a cabinet for milking supplies, a sink for washing the milking supplies and walls to keep the cold winter winds out. Right now, the parlor is simply a stanchion on a dirt floor, with a gate to keep the cows out except during milking.
We have also been working on fencing another pasture for the cows just so they continue to have access to plenty of lush grass. Clearing the new pasture meant finally collecting firewood that had been cut last year and moving it out of the pasture stacking it in the wood shed. Also in the pasture were trees, that we felled last year, so we cut those into firewood. We removed old fence wire and locust fence posts, then finally mowing the pasture, just to be certain it is free of anything that may be dangerous to the cows and so new grass will grow. Now that the new pasture is mowed and cleared, we will hang a fence, then we can rotate the cows between pastures.
That is towards building the farm vacation cabin rental. The reason being is that we’ve decided to get into the dairy business and buy a couple dairy cows. These aren’t just any old cows, these are cows from our neighbors the Browns, and we have been drinking these cows milk for about four years. The Browns decided to sell the cows so we figured this might be the best time to begin our journey into raising dairy cows. For those who have been following our journal, you might be aware that at one time we were raising goats for fresh milk, but decided that it was much easier to buy milk from the Browns than deal with adventurous diary goats. We’ve decided that Dairy Cows are much easier to contain while goats are smart and are forever trying to escape their fencing. At one point in time the goats ate our entire greenhouse swiss chard crop because our guard dog led them into the greenhouse.
Sylvest requested that he would like to undertake a “project” for just another learning experience during his apprenticeship here at MHO so we suggested either bees or dairy cows. His first choice was beekeeping; however, we were unable to secure a bee nucleus because the beekeeper we were hoping to purchase it from was sold out rather quickly this season.. So Slyvest said he would love fresh milk and would be more than happy to work on the cow fencing and milking during his spare time. So we thought, OK, a diary cow might be a good mix for this highly diversified farm.
Just a couple days after the discussion of dairy cows with Sylvest, while Alvin was visiting, Alvin mentioned to Carl that the Browns were selling their cows. Carl made a call to the Browns. We worked out a deal. We devised a fencing strategy that might work for a month or two. We then moved the cows to their new home here at MHO. Just a few days after their arrival Daisy May calved and out came an EXTREMELY CUTE little baby girl. We worried like any new parents as to whether the baby was getting enough milk so we called a couple of our neighbors who suggested that perhaps we need to restrain Daisy May allowing her baby to nurse. They say sometimes first time mothers, which is what Daisy May is, won’t let their youngun nurse. So that we did, which wasn’t a very comfortable for us, the bit about restraining Daisy May so that her baby could nurse. Little Daisy May happens to be very healthy and playful. All of this happened in a little over three weeks. It is still hard to believe we are on this new journey all because of little dreams in our head of warm milk directly from the cow, soft mozzarella that melts in your mouth, freshly churned butter, frozen custard, feta cheese, cream cheese, aged moldy cheeses. It is not just because of these dreams, but also because Sylvest is taking his job seriously in helping with the cows, making sure they are healthy and happy. SO THANK SYLVEST if you happen to taste our wonderful milk!
So here we are in the bovine diary milk business. This new journey is taking time away from progress towards the Farm Vacation Cabin Rental, but we feel it is the right direction for the farm, especially since we will be offering Agri-Tourism (or Eco-Tourism). How can you go to a farm and not expect to find cows in the pasture? Our next step is to build a small little Milking Parlor and Stanchion so that this milking thing can become a one person job. At the moment it is taking a couple of us to milk.
Production Note to Self:Sassy was born May 8th to Daisy May.
Several years ago, Angela Witmore apprenticed with us, she is a GREAT ARTIST, who painted an AMAZING PORTRAIT of Luther Baily from the North Asheville Tailgate Market.. We hope that today she continues to use her gift, in painting portraits of people and farms, as it is such a great way for preserving history and for educating others of our varied cultures.
Just last week we received an email from Angela’s brother, who visited the farm while she was apprenticing, and is currently working on a farm who wrote us inquiring if farming, “continues to be a source of discovery and joy”. That to us, is that he gets it, and that is something each and everyone of us should be asking ourselves daily about our jobs, goals and objectives. Throughout our life, society has defined one as being “successful”, based on how much money one earns, how big ones home is, the type of car one drives, etc.
We on the farm don’t live in a big house – we live in a trailer – but we do have a LARGE greenhouse with food growing in it. Is this considered successful? Our t-shirts and clothes are worn out because we only purchase one outfit each year. One of our vehicles is relatively new and runs well, while the others it seems, needs daily maintenance to keep them going. As we near retirement, without much savings or a retirement investment portfolio, there are times when we feel we are not successful and have made poor choices in our lives.
For certain, we find discovery and joy almost daily, so perhaps that sums up why we have chosen to farm. When working with Mother Nature, there are no constants, which is why discovery occurs daily in our lives. Also, we have so much joy, too much to write about. But a few of our joyous moments are…
- Waking up each morning, knowing that Carl and I are going to spend another day together
- Every day, when there is no cloud cover or fog, looking up at Bluff Mountain.
- Entering the propagation greenhouse, during our growing season, just to see so many seedlings near the beginning of their life.
- When Kaiser catches a ground hog or opossum.
- When Harmon, who has been sleeping in the house all morning while we’ve been working out in the fields, wags his tail with delight because he is so excited to see us.
- When it rains and Meadow Fork Creek is flowing fast and furious.
- Spring hikes in the woods when we see an astounding variety of wild flowers blooming.
- When we are so tired after a days work that we collapse into our bed with our dirty farm clothes on.
- Walking through the fields seeing potato sprouts appear above the soil.
- Cutting down a hemlock, then sawing it into lumber and admiring the beautiful grains, knowing that it was grown and raised right here on the farm and will be used for our building projects.
- Hoeing a bed of kale, after which looking back and admiring it without any weeds, knowing that the weeds will return before the next day.
- Having a crop of arugula or baby boc choi, that is free of holes from flea beetles, knowing this is a rare occurrence in our lives.
- Both our first and last harvest for the season.
- Placing tiny seeds directly into the soil out in the field, only to have them germinate a week or so later, knowing that we just got lucky.
- Knowing that 80% of the food we consume comes from us or our friends.
- And so much more
THANKS to all those who are dedicating so much of their life, time and effort seeking “discovery and joy”, rather than strictly “financial independence”, because it is these choices that will keep our planet healthy and happy. NOT CONSUMERISM. We know that many of our tailgate market customers, spend more of their budget on food than the average American, rather than use their hard earned cash for CONSUMERISM. We live in a GREAT place!
We’ve been enjoying hikes in the mountains this spring. Below are a few of the most incredible wildflowers making an appearance in the forest. My battery on the camera went dead or I would have photographed more.
If I was to look back through our journal entries from previous years the subject for this entry might just be the most commonly used. After all, we are transplanting seedlings throughout the season, hoping each time that the soil has just the right amount of moisture.
This past week we only had a couple days without either snow or rain, and our soil was by no means the perfect consistency for making smooth beds for our transplants, yet we made a decision to work up some land and went with it. We are thankful to have transplanted a few beds of crops, and our best guess is that we set out around 2100 little seedlings, that were finally freed from their cells of plug trays in the warmth of the greenhouse left to survive the cold wet fields.
We were hoping to direct seed the following morning after transplanting, but at dawn we awoke to rainfall, that arrived a few hours earlier than forecasted. This is the latest we can remember being able to direct seed, which is putting seeds directly into the soil rather than into plug trays in the greenhouse, so we may be delaying our first CSA delivery by a week. Each year is different in farming, which is one of the things we LOVE about our job, but it is also something we find frustrating about our job. Last year the weather was so warm that we were harvesting extra early, this year nighttime temperatures have been down in the lower 30’s and 20’s, so we will be harvesting later than normal.
We must give credit to Sylvestre and George for getting our greenhouse tomato crop planted this week, because Carl and I wanted to quit working early afternoon on Thursday while it was only 35 degrees and raining, but they insisted we keep at it. My motto is, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” Sad to say, George topped my motto, his being, “Nothing is something that I do.”
Recent articles that I’ve found interesting:
How cool is this class for high school students. If this class isn’t yet available in the Asheville area, I bet it will be one day soon!.
I love how this Texas Farmer is using native grasses for raising his cattle. It is all about rotational grazing and something we hope to get into one day.
I always wondered how much renewable energy our country produces. We have a long way to go and I do wish the money invested in the Keystone XL pipeline could be re-directed to renewable energy sources.
It does seem silly that I would like a few prayers for our fields to dry out, especially when a good portion of our continent is in drought and badly needs moisture, and sure enough just as we pray for drier weather we will be in a drought. But I am just going to say it, I would like a few days of dry weather so our fields can dry out, allowing us to place a few seeds in the soil and transplant seedlings to the fields!
We are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We need her sun to shine for a few days and her wind to blow so that our fields will dry up enough so the soil can be worked. Ideally, the farmer would like for the soil to have a little moisture but not too much, yet it is nearly impossible in the spring to have the perfect soil consistency. So we just make a decision as to the best time, given the circumstances, to work up the soil and go with it hoping the crops grow and prosper. This may be a year when we work up the soil when it is a little too wet. Time will tell.