Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dear Friends: The Blog Christmas Letter

My mother's family used to make a point of sending out regular news letters to one another. And every few weeks or months we would get an envelope with the latest letters from cousins and uncles forwarded to us.  It seemed like a nice idea to me at the time. My parents didn't seem so enthused.  In looking back I now realize that it obligated my mother to write back and forward the package along. My father always seemed particularly annoyed that their was no real news in these letters.  You knew that Aunt Gertrude wasn't going to write, "Jim started drinking again and wrecked the Studebaker last week."  Or, "Our new pastor, Dr. Jones, has been banging the Church secretary like a screen door." They also opened each of us for judgement by the others.  Writing a response could require considerable diplomacy.

Particularly at Christmas, the family letters took on the tone of those who are counting their blessings.  But those blessings would never include things like, "Thank God Marjorie broke up with that awful hippy she met at college before she got herself pregnant." Even though that would have to rate pretty high on the list of things someone could really be thankful for.

I do love the fact that my mother's family were decent, faithful, conservative, old Protestants. Wire rim spectacled Main Street Republicans since Lincoln.  They tried to love and understand why, in mid-life, my parents became Unitarians who supported Ceasar Chavez, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  And as the older generation faded away, family letters became less frequent. They finally stopped about the same time my parents joined a New Age Church in Santa Monica and sent me to a Catholic High School.

Which brings me to my topic. The Blog Christmas Letter.  I sent a family Christmas letter home in a Moosehead Beer box full of canned goods and crafts we produced on the farm this year.  In the letter I described what Susan and I grew and harvested for the goodies we sent home to California. And I shared the news about our kids and their efforts. You know, I'm sure my family will enjoy the gifts, the letter and the photos we sent.  But after browsing the letter again (a bad habit of mine...geez once it's written and sent...let it go!) I also realized that it reads like a Christmas package from the Waltons.  And I was reminded of those long gone relatives of mine who shared their stories and sent Christmas greetings in letters instead of shipping us a Chia Pet.  They came from a culture where sharing tame family gossip was how they knew each other. Here in PEI, that culture of being known by your story is still very real. And that really is where the old folks were coming from...and it may be the place that social media is taking us back to.

Does telling who we are really make us who we are?
Maybe. Maybe your family never communicated like that at all. Or maybe communication was all read between the lines.  I just thought it would be interesting to write a Christmas letter from the farm to everyone who wants to read one.  It's not about the "news" (that will keep for another time) it's about how and why we reach out to each other, especially at this time of year.            

The Blog Christmas Letter

Dear Ones -
Thank You.
Thank you for reading my words and sharing your comments. Thank you for your gentle company on a journey that sometimes thrills me and other times scares me into hoping I won't disappoint you, myself or my loved ones.

I'm grateful to you for giving me a reason organize my thoughts from time to be mindful of my daily life and the wonders I'm fortunate to experience. Thanks for the comfort of allowing me to be in touch with you as I move beyond previous experience into the unknown.

Thank you for allowing me to read your blogs and emails, facebook pages and projects so I know we're not alone and foolish for wandering "far from the madding crowd".

Your time and interest are a wonderful gift.

Whatever faith you profess (or lack) I wish you a happy and blessed Christmas Day and at least one Dream Come True in the New Year.



Monday, November 29, 2010

The Bounty of Organic PEI Produce

What we Grew In 2010 
This is the answer to the question I get most often. I've listed most of what we grew though I did not include things we made from our farm, (pickles, preserved and dried food, catsup, etc) and I left off several trial projects.  The rest is presented here so you can get an idea of what we grow and sell and where we find seeds. The research in seed sourcing is a pleasure, but it is time consuming.  We source as much as we can from Vesey's seeds in York, PEI. They Have US and Canadian catalogs available for gardeners and growers. I encourage you to start a garden and try these varieties yourself. If you've got an idea for a  trial growing project or a seed source to share...please let us know!    

Variety                                                                 Source
Mideast Prolific (smooth skin - salad type)             Seeds of Change
Straight 8                                                               Vesey's
Sweet Corn
Lucious                                                                  Vesey's
Red Iceburg                                                           Seeds of Change
Spicy Mesclun                                                       Richters
Arugula                                                                  Seed Savers
Red Ace                                                                Vesey's
Napoli                                                                   Vesey's
Scarlet Nantes                                                       Vesey's
Green Arrow                                                         Vesey's
Scotia                                                                    Vesey's
Roma                                                                     Seeds of Change
Orange Cherry                                                       Vesey's
Bellstar                                                                   Vesey's
Early Snowball                                                       Seed Savers
Dukat                                                                     Seeds of Change
Hecules                                                                  Richters
Fern Leaf                                                               Richters
Genovese                                                               Seed Savers
Slow Bolt                                                               Seed Savers
Summer Squash
Black Beauty Zucchini                                            Vesey's
Yellow Crookneck                                                 Seeds of Change
Winter Squash
Sweet Dumpling                                                     Seeds of Change
Waltham Butternut                                                  Vesey's
Young's Beauty Pumpkin                                        Seeds of Change
Gold Rush                                                              Vesey's
Chieftan                                                                  Vesey's
Penta                                                                      Vesey's
Goldrush Yellow String Beans                                Vesey's
Kenearly Yellow Eye Baking Beans                        Seed Savers
Cortland                                                                 Vesey's
King of the North                                                    Seed Savers
Italian Flat Leaf
Jersey Giant
Halertau and Cascade                                              Richters
Red Currants
Prescott                                                           Homestead Organics
Field Corn 
Reid's Yellow Dent                                                  Seed Savers
--                                                                     Homestead Organics
Soy Beans
Fiskeby Organic                                                      Seed Savers
Field Hay
Livestock Feed
Oat & Barley Straw
Livestock Bedding and Mulch

We grew a large variety in small quantities this year.  Most of our work is done by hand in our large market garden. The seed we buy is premium quality carefully sourced from organic and heritage heirloom growers at considerable expense - all so that we may support organic seed growers and provide you with an exceptional product.

We serve our local neighbors and we welcome you to visit our farm.  Wherever you may be, you are welcome to share your thoughtful comments and suggestions on the blog.  

JQ's Thought For Today:
Maybe we should get over the idea that little boys are the same as little girls with a behavioral disorder.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fathers and Sons and an Appreciation of Thanksgiving

A few notes on the blog in tribute to my Dad, Dr. Rollin Walker Quimby, PHD. who was born on this day in 1921. Seems especially fitting to make a note of that fact on 10/10/10. Dad left us after a long struggle with alzheimers. Near the end, when asked what he did, he said he was a carpenter. I Bless him for that thought.

October 10 is also the day before Canadian Thanksgiving which we celebrated a day early on our farm this year, with the return of our son from University and a bounty of delicious food from our farm.

Now, I was raised with American Thanksgiving. In the States this is the big retail and advertising kickoff for the ever redundant and demanding, "Holiday Season". People line up at 5:00 AM to go shopping. On the other hand, in North America, Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving. You know, Starving pioneers thanking God for not being dead and a remembrance of the moment when we had an opportunity to make peace and share with Native people. It is a feast of Thanks which has been transformed into an opportunity to save NOW and consume store bought bounty. Thanks Cool Whip! Thanks Butterball!  Thanks Macy's!

Anyway, today was a lot like January in California.  Cool, cloudy, rainy and windy.  Like a Pacific cold front coming down from Alaska. It felt like Thanksgiving is supposed to. My New England genetics must be speaking to me.  

Susan worked on making a Thanksgiving feast from scratch with our farm produce in the kitchen which my So. Cal. son decided to overheat with the wood stove because he was cold. OK, it was 45 degrees, but it wasn't that bad! I wanted to say something...but I didn't.  I just repeatedly turned down the damper and opened a couple of upstairs windows so the heat could draft upstairs.  But I kept my "critical parent" mouth shut.

I went out to the barn where, for the past few days, I've been cutting 2x4's from the mill in Murray River and framing a horse shed.  And that's when my dad came to visit.

My Dad was a PHD who taught, analyzed and wrote about classical and modern rhetoric. He also loved to build things with wood.  He gave me a nail apron and taught me to hammer nails when I was 2. But having a serious rhetorical discussion on the theme, "What was I thinking when I left a mess in his workshop and mislaid his ball peen hammer" was dead scary by the time I was 8 years old.        

My dad built himself a workshop onto our suburban Santa Barbara home and it was stocked with tools.  We had a scrap pile of what I now realize was old growth California Redwood (you can't find it anymore). We had permission to make anything we wanted to in the shop.  I spent hours making toy boats, pistols, cars, rifles - anything I could imagine in his shop while I listened to Vin Scully call the LA Dodger games on a transistor radio. All materials were paid for no matter how many nails I used to make guns in the turrets of the dreadnoughts I built. But the mess I left and the tools I misplaced ruined those "mission accomplished" moments we could have shared.  His anger so often destroyed my joy.

Not anymore. 

I was in the barn today cutting 2x4's.  Taking pride in making them come out right.  Sketching plans and debating with myself - just as he used to do.  I'm doing the best I can, without a set of plans, just a set of imperfect mechanical drawings I've made. He often worked the same way.  And when he got stuck, he'd light his pipe full of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco and "smoke at it" like a professor in the presence of a defiant student..

He would have loved this project - building a horse shed in our corral.  So I felt him with me today as I struggled to figure out the cuts, the build order, my frustration over not having any 2x6's on hand, my thrill at finding scrap lumber to solve a problem and my long moments pondering correct roof pitch, snow load and wind shear.  (What the hell do I know about snow load and wind shear?)

I relate all this so I can say, on his birthday, and on this, our first, Canadian Thanksgiving: Thanks for being there dad.  Thanks for giving me the tools to take on this life.  Thanks  for helping me today.  Part of what you taught me was to let my children make a mess. To admire their work and to keep frustration to myself when the 9/16th socket wrench goes missing. You taught me to give them the tools to make the life they want to build for themselves.

And finally:

My dad went to war in the Pacific in 1943 as a very young man.  If you were - or are - being raised by a veteran father, or a man who lost his work hug him when he gets angry with you.  He's angry because he's afraid for you. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Flood Damages Quail Springs Permaculture Farm. You Can Help.

This post came to me from Quail Springs in Cuyama, California today. Please read and help in whatever way you can. 

Hello Friends of Quail Springs,
We wanted to share with all of you that we've just come through two days of major flooding that have altered the face of Quail Springs.  First of all, we are SO GRATEFUL THAT NO ONE WAS HURT OR LOST.  This is a huge blessing for which we are all thankful.  
Beginning on Friday, October 1st, we had a storm that dropped a little over 2" of rain in about an hour that caused extreme channel flooding that ripped out our lower gabion, silted up our larger swales and caused damage to about 10% of the garden. We wish that this was the extent of the damage yet mother nature had another story to share with us.
On Saturday, October 2nd, at about 12:30pm, a second and much more ominous thunder storm descended on our valley down from Iwihinmu (Mt. Pinos) beginning with a huge hail storm followed by torrential rains and heavy winds.  The lighting and thunder stood right over us for what seemed like a lifetime yet was just a few minutes.  In just a half an hour, over 3 inches of rain fell directly on Quail Springs and much more in the canyons that feed the main canyon. Little rivers began to flow down the secondary and tertiary canyons, and then it happened.  
A wall of water we could have never imagined in our wildest dreams and ruminations made its own thunder as it careened down the canyon.  This wall of water tore at trees, ripped out our largest gabions and breached the walls of our incised stream and created a rushing river that spanned at some points over 1,000 feet across the canyon.  It was a sight to behold and an event that made your heart nearly stand still.
There was nothing could stand up to this deluge. Even large cottonwood trees were ripped out and hurled down canyon.  Everything in its wake was destroyed.  This included our entire garden, half of our new food forest, our pond is gone, all of our water harvesting structures that fed the sweet Quail Springs waters to our entire operation, our well was badly damaged, all of our irrigation systems have been buried, much of our fencing buried or washed away, chicken tractors gone, a trailer now lives down canyon several hundred yards, our settling tanks torn apart, and many tools and countless other parts of our infrastructure are missing or buried.  Amazingly, our buildings fared rather well other than some flooding in the main barn that was quickly cleaned up.  For this we are also grateful.  
All in all we estimate over $40,000 in damage was done and countless hours that were accumulated into years of work.  
As the water receded, we were stunned and humbled to see the damage and feel in our hearts the loss that had just occurred.  Nearly six years of our work building soil and laying infrastructure was washed away in minutes. Once we realized everyone was safe, we shared tears and a bit of laughter.  We are having to remember that we are working on a 200 year plan and that these events will help us redesign and rebuild in a way that is more appropriate for the vagaries of this ancient spring canyon and the place we call home.  
Over the next weeks, we will be working to rebuild the water systems and preparing for the upcoming Permaculture Design Course (which is nearly full).

We will undoubtedly ask for help once we settle on a game plan and will put a call out for volunteers.  
We will especially need assistance financially and would appreciate any donation you might be able to make to help us with the huge task of rebuilding and remaking the systems that are the very essence of our work out here.  

Tax-deductible donations may be made by check or online. 

Checks can made out to “Quail Springs” and mailed to: Quail Springs, 35070 Highway 33, Maricopa, CA 93252. 

Online donations can be made securely via Donate Now. 
Thank you for any assistance you’re able to give, and for your thoughts and wishes.

These are pictures I took at Quail Springs last Spring.  You can read about my visit to this permaculture farm.
The blog post includes a podcast.

Here is my letter to the Quail Springs Community:  

Susan and I came in from the fields of our fall harvesting and read the message that Quail Springs had sustained this major setback - or should I say - adjustment to it's 200 year plan.  

We were shocked and saddened to learn that so much work could be erased in such a short time.  And we were glad to read that no one was lost or hurt in the storms. Yes we are sad as I'm sure you are too. And we are reminded ourselves of the nature of working in nature. And perhaps more seriously, the changing nature of our world.

In my visit to your farm I was taken by your vision of sustainable living and your commitment to learning from traditional ways of being in harmony with the earth.  I have often thought of you as Susan and I worked our way into farming the land we share here in Prince Edward Island, Canada this summer.  Just this week,  I thought of you as we harvested our fall crops and joined our farming neighbors for a harvest meal. I thought that we and many people like us are new pioneers.  And like the pioneers of the past we are faced with many challenges and events in nature that our "settled" friends do not realize.

Climate events all over the world this year are telling us that this is not the earth our elders knew. Things are happening that are beyond our shared experience. I believe that our role as pioneers on this new earth will require us to learn how to cope with things that no living human has ever seen.  Even as we embrace the wisdom of our elders, we must blaze the trail ahead for those who follow us into a changing and unknown world.

My hope is that even as you experience loss and disappointment, that new understanding and insight will be yours in the days and months ahead. I hope that these events will write new knowledge into the journal of Quail Springs so that your losses become a harvest of new learning and development for all the pioneers who share your journey.    

Sincerely and with hope,

John Quimby
Susan Frazier
Dunn Creek Farm                    

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Food Fight in the US Senate - S-510 Stalls - to Conservative Oppostion ?

Lots of notes on this follow up to my last posting.


US politics has fragmented in to left/right black/white mudslinging on far too many issues.  And my considered opinion is that Canadian Conservatives are trying their wings with US style Conservative flapdoodle on the "Long Gun Registry".  When something this minor consumes all the air in the room...hold on to your wallet.
It's a diversion used to provide cover for bigger issues. And there's nothing bigger than food on the daily menu of families across the globe.

Meanwhile, so many of the conversations I have with farmers here on PEI focus on distribution.  How do we get our small farm  products into the market? Now we have to wonder, will we all have to do whatever global markets require for traceability of  local products?  

US Senate Bill S- 510

This legislative issue was first brought to my attention by the farmer pirates at "The Small Farmer's Journal".
Independent small farmers have been struggling along only to become more suspicious of the motives of big government and big business.  And the warning was dire - a direct threat to small farming.

I read the bill summary and comment and concluded that indeed there are questions unanswered in a political process too often steered toward big business and away from family farm interests. In the US, Ag. policy has been consistently bad for small farms. So let's say I am suspicious.  Who stands to gain?

Comments On the Blog:

Stephen  Jannise of  Software Advice writes for "The Distribution Blog".Stephen contacted me after reading this blog to invite me to read his post on tracking food recalls.  I did and added my comment.  I encourage you to visit this link for a fascinating look at software and supply chain management of a food recall in the big picture of industrial management.  

Friday - S 510 Comes Up For Discussion.  Google Gives a Tell?

As I mentioned to Stephen, our political world has been polarized into paralysis.  To get a clue I often look into who supports or sponsors a bill.  Who sponsors or participates in the debate?  In this case,  I found the  the water getting murky pretty fast.  This important legislation isn't as easy as guns, gays and God.

The bill was was proposed by senior Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat) of Illinois. Co-Sponsors include respected senior Democrats and Republicans Including "Liberal Lion" Ted Kennedy and Liberal leader Tom Harkin plus Conservative leaders Orrin Hatch and Michael Enzi. Weirdly enough in our political climate, this is a bi-partisan bill.  But when the bill came up for discussion Friday - it was faced with Conservative opposition including Tom Coburn of Oklahoma as reported by "PCT Media ".  PCT stands for "Pest Control Technology" and is a website sponsored by,  "Dow Agro Services, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, DuPont and Univar".  All are big pesticide makers. Univar is the largest chemical distributor in the US. I found this report through Google.  

Supporters and Opponents

Follow the "money trail" and you find that supporters of the bill include:
  • Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • National Fisheries Institute
  • General Mills
  • National Restaurant Association
  • Produce Marketing Association
  • Kraft Foods North America
  • Consumers Union
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • Food Marketing Institute
  • American Public Health Association
  • Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention
  • Consumer Federation of America
  • International Bottled Water Association
  • United Fresh Produce Association
  • National Association of Manufacturers
  • National Confectioners Association
  • National Consumers League
  • Pew Charitable Trust
  • Trust for America's Health
  • Snack Food Association
  • Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP)
  • American Bakers Association
  • American Beverage Association
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • International Foodservice Distributors Association
  • National Coffee Association
  • American Farm Bureau

Specific Organizations Opposing S.510

  • Weston A. Price Foundation
  • Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
  • National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association
  • Raw Milk Association of Colorado
  • Farm Family Defenders
  • American Grassfed Association
  • Small Farms Conservancy
  • National Family Farm Coalition
  • Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
 (Information provided by Open Congress)

 So...why would conservatives line up in opposition, with such groups as, The Raw Milk Association of Colorado?  And why would liberals join in support of General Mills and Kraft Foods?

Senator Coburn Presents His Objections

In his detailed objection the Senator outlines the overlap over Federal agencies tasked with food safety and his belief that this bill is not "deficit neutral" -  It will cost tax payers more to implement than it takes in. All play to his Conservative principles. But there is little or nothing in his objection that addresses regulation to protect public health and safety.  Presumably these would fall under his objection to "burdensome regulations".
This comes even in the face of broad support from liberals, conservatives and business.  Opposition comes from independent farmers, small special interests and...chemical manufacturers?

Frankly, I am at a loss to explain the position of either side.


Objectivity suggests this excerpt from Sen .Coburn should be included here:  

Burdensome New Regulations
There are 225 pages of new regulations, many of which are problematic. While some regulations are potentially onerous, but perhaps reasonable – such as requiring every facility to have a scientifically-based, but very flexible, food safety plan—others give FDA sweeping authority with potentially significant consequences.
While it is hard to pull out just 1 or 2 regulations in the bill that make the entire thing unpalatable, on the whole this bill represents a weighty new regulatory structure on the food industry that will be particularly difficult for small producers and farms to comply with (with little evidence it will make food safer).

I hope we're seeing here from Dr. Coburn a realization that regulation of flawed production models such as factory farming chicken, won't make the product safer or better.   

And Finally, Why This Debate Is Not The Real Issue

CBC Radio's, "Quirks and Quarks", the national science radio program in Canada, aired a segment today entitled,  "Empires of Food".

"... what caused the downfall of great empires throughout history, from the Mayans to Mesopotamia to Rome. Warfare? Invasions? Political infighting? Well, according to a new book by a Canadian researcher, it was famine. Dr. Evan Fraser makes the case that we are what we eat; and when the crops fail, the fields erode, or the temperature changes, that's when great civilizations fall.  He also thinks we just might be headed for such a fall ourselves."

Listen to the segment at 30:35 into the show...

What if the issues and the stakes are much bigger than big politics or big business? What if the question evolves into, "Where does food come from in an era of collapse"?

If this becomes the question,  then the answer is to make friends with your farmer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

US Senate Bill S 510 - Food. Safety For Whom?

We have an old family recipe that directs the cook to use a "slow fire" when preparing the ingredients.

I can only picture my great grandmother starting her work by taking a stick of kindling and warming the back-end of the reluctant child who didn't fetch enough fire wood for her to make her recipe on the wood stove.

I can now take the same recipe to my electric stove and have perfect control over heat, time, sanitation and preparation while my reluctant child watches TV and asks for Kraft Dinner. And I can do both at the same time.

It was just a few generations ago that most of my family farmed in New England and the Mid Western States. Food was the center of farm life.  Knowing how to grow, prepare and preserve the bounty of the farm was the business of each family - not the government or private enterprise.

Now we live in a world where huge farms in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Alberta, Uruguay and Brazil can contribute their produce to the same pound of ground beef processed and packaged for sale by a nameless group of sub-contracting slaughter houses, processors, packagers and shippers. Our food passes from hand to hand in country after country under conditions we hope are safe at each step.

But we don't really know.

And that's what makes it so disturbing when one company can sell and distribute a problem to 20 million people and then say, "Sorry".  Meanwhile, hundreds of small local producers and packers are forced out.      

When so much of our food comes from people and places we can't see and don't know on a scale we can't comprehend we need increased regulations, inspection and safety standards to keep our global food supply safe. Or we need more local alternatives, supported by our communities that must answer directly to neighborhood  consumers, their farmers and their concerns. But clearly there are forces opposed to this. 

So the question is, where does your concern about food safety really center? Is it your concern to regulate the nameless and invisible stops on the international food chain? Or should new regulations be made to equate your neighbors and individual local producers, with an international giant?

That is what is up for debate in US Senate Bill S 510.  And you can read all about it here:

I am not one to rail against conventional farms.  We need all of our farmers in North America to have healthy, successful businesses. I simply believe we have to be able to decide for ourselves what food choices we want.  All of us have a human right, based on 10,000 years of human agriculture, to grow and consume natural food.  But a recent FDA decision in the US declared that manufacturers using Genetically Modified Organisms would not be required to identify their contents. And now a company here in Canada is trying to market a genetically modified fish clone as food.  That might be fine, but I want my community to have an open, organic choice. Policy that would make it legal to sell unlabeled clones as food, but illegal to sell heirloom tomatoes threatens more than the integrity of a single species.       

It seems to me that the food safety issue and the proposed regulation as presented here is designed to provide safety for the industrial food marketer/manufacturers at the expense of independent farmers across North America.  And before you suspect my motivations, please consider that I already pay more and produce more documentation for the organic certification of my farm than would be required of small producers under the proposed US law.  
The time may come when the producers of synthetic food products will demand restrictions on the producers of natural food.  Conventional growers need to see this for the threat it is and join in support of independent and organic farmers in opposition to this legislation.  The time is now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is Home Grown Food Subversive?

We spent the weekend selling fresh vegetables and herbs at the 70th annual Dundas Plowing Match in Eastern Kings County PEI. It's a lovely old time affair celebrating local Agri - Culture and the local traditions and skills of farming. We go there each year to sell a bit of our organic produce, meet the neighbors, watch the horse teams and plowing competitions and generally enjoy a traditional country fair.

Today, at our market table, I was slicing off samples of our just-picked cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh herbs.
I offered a taste of our finest produce followed by a dab of fresh herbs...just to give fair goers a chance to put the taste of fresh, real, whole food on their palates.

A darling young girl of about 8 years came up to the table and looked over our selection. Then she shyly asked if she could have a slice of cucumber.  I said, "of course".  She picked one up, popped it into her mouth and scampered away.

A Francophone couple from New Brunswick came to the table and I offered them tastes of our lightly flavored Mediteranian cucumbers, our orange cherry tomato, and a bit of fresh basil.  The gentleman came back a few minutes later and asked me if he could have another basil top, "Because it smell so good!"

A bit later, a couple with several young children came up.  I offered them a taste of a just-picked ripe tomato,
a bit of fresh cilantro and a taste of basil. I joked with the parents that I was "subverting their children".  I said,
"Once they learn what fresh food tastes like, they won't want anything else."

I was kidding.  Until I thought about it.

Maybe it really is subversive, an act designed to overthrow the establishment, to offer fresh, clean, naturally grown food to people.                 

Powerful forces in our economy and our governments are continuing to move against small producers. And new legislation is pending in the states that could make it impossible for homestead and market garden producers to supply their neighbors with healthy local food.

The premise of the new regulation is food safety,  as though selling a few hand raised tomatoes to a neighbor is as risky as shipping e-coli tainted hamburger to 12 states. It seems to me that the real risk is that we will continue to reduce the number of producers until no small farms are left and government has only a handful  of "too big to fail" producers to support as rural communities die. I've met senior farmers who nearly go to tears when they tell me that after 5 generations, they are retiring off the land because the kids don't want the farm. In many places today, its just too hard for our young people to make a go of it.  

But that all seems too grim on a day when local people stepped up to buy a few beans, some herbs, a bit of squash and to take a moment to share the news in the Farmers Market at The Dundas Plowing Match.   

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Haying and Shearing - Posts From Our Busiest Farm Day Ever!

This has been a crazy year. We moved from Southern California with big plans and schemes for success already in motion. I can't tell you how many times Susan and I have looked at each other with no idea how we were going to do it all.  We go ahead anyway, wondering how things will work out.  I've been told by one of the world's great explorers that this is the basis for any great adventure.  If you already knew how everything would turn out - why would you ever leave home?  The video posts and photos below will lead you through one of our busiest days in our busiest year...and hopefully show you why we love it all.  

Video Post Monday Morning:


We've mowed down this field every keep it cleaned up and to take a bit of loose hay for the horses. In the past few years I began to work a bit harder to understand how to make hay knowing that one day we'd be staying on and we'd need to feed our animals for the winter.  Well, "one day" turned out to be  Monday.  And luckily, I got a lot of haying help from a young Island farmer, Adam King.

I met Adam because I heard he had an old square baler for sale. Square hay bales are relatively easy to store and use on a small farm like ours.  Most farms have gone to the big round bales. But smaller works better for us.  So I bought Adams' old Massey Ferguson baler and with it - I bought some help.  Turns out Adam's uncle Doug knows these old machines about as well as anyone. So I asked for his help to get us ready to work. He came over on Thursday and had the old thing purring in a couple of hours.  And I learned that a hay baler, like any boat, machine, or practically any singular noun in the Maritimes is a "she".  After Doug finished his work, a fellow might  rightly say, "Now that she's got the rust out of her, she'll run just as slick as anythin'!" If you aren't living in the Maritimes - please don't try this phrase at home.     

Adam came over Saturday morning with his new John Deere tractor and a New Holland hay mower/conditioner.  In about an hour, he'd  mowed a bit more than 5 acres.   The conditioner cracks the grass stems so the hay will dry faster. Then it's important to get the hay dry, baled and in the barn before it rains.  Speed is a valuable asset and we were happy to hire some help. 
Saturday afternoon I put our old wheel rake on the tractor and made nice fluffy windrows of hay. These would sit in the sun and wind and be turned again the following mid-day.  Around here, keeping the Sabbath  still keeps many folks from working on Sunday.  I'm not of that tradition but I do make a point of not running machines on Sunday morning out of respect for my neighbors and to help keep the peace and quiet of a Sunday in the country.  But by the time church was out on Sunday, I was hitched up and turning the hay to finish drying.   And by Sunday afternoon, with clouds gathering and the forecast calling for showers, I knew I had to start baling and loading as fast as possible.  We got a head start Sunday evening, but Monday would be the big day.

Baling on Monday Morning - Dark Skies and a Threat of Showers Push us On.


That's our new-old Massey Ferguson Model #10 in the field. After I had learned a few of the tricks of this old machine, I gave Susan a quick lesson and set her off on the windrows to finish the job. The baler missed a few now and then, but Susan did a great job and picked up all the hay.  As the bales hit the ground, the rest of the crew loaded an old horse trailer and the Big Yellow Truck to pick  them up from the field and deliver them to the barn.  We unloaded the hay and bucked the bales up for stacking in the loft. 

About now I should mention that we are grateful for a lot of help.  Young strong backs are essential so we hired a couple of neighbor kids, Rachel and Logan, and we relied on the help and experience of our  mature farming partners, Brian and Lorna, to load and stack in the barn. Their visiting friends, who had come  up from the States on vacation pitched in too - working as hard as the rest of us to support  the effort. Spencer proved to be the "strapping  young son" every farm needs and our ten year old and his buddy came to the field to pick up bales too. Everyone shared the hard work and by 5:30 PM we had 500 bales in the barn.  That should be enough for the horses and sheep to make it through the winter.   

But we weren't done yet.

Lorna Shears Sheep in a Heap

 Sheep Before...

Sheep After.

So the hay was baled, the sheep were shorn, Spencer delivered produce to Angela at the Sand Bar and Grill on Panmure Island and Susan even managed to dig some potatoes and sell some fresh salad greens to customers who came up the lane.  

When the work was finally done for the day we had a lovely farm dinner with our friends, drank margaritas and danced to some good old rock and roll in the kitchen.  We celebrated our harvest, hard work and good friends and then...we went to bed. 

Good Night from Dunn Creek Farm.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Growing Healthy Soil AND Organic PEI Produce


This week the blog shares a few snapshots from the fields, gets you ready for what's soon to be coming from the farm and a NEW PODCAST takes you on one of our regular walks in the field.

Susan shows off her multi-colored yarrow in the perennial herb garden, a mixture of culinary and beneficial herbs that she tends in our "kitchen garden".  Also includes tarragon, mint, oregano, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary and others that we harvest for friends and fine meals.
One of our experiments this year includes growing small plots of grain.  We planted heritage organic/non GMO oats, barley and field corn.  The harvest of these crops is going to be done "old style" by hand.  We're still not sure how this all works, but you see, sometimes you just have to toss your hat over the fence. 
Our rows of feed corn are planted much less densely than most for a reason. We used the simple tools we have and took care to keep our plants spread apart to reduce the demand for fertility in the soil.  We're doing what we can to learn from the ground up and take it slowly.  What we learn this year, will prepare us to take the next step. This is yellow dent corn, a heritage variety from the 1840's. Growing these big corn plants with a long season means we're taking some chances on this old time variety.  The payoff is in producing a harvest of open pollinated seed to plant next year. 
As I mentioned in the podacst, this is a row of cucumbers planted in a bed row which was planted in green manure last summer.  The oats and vetch were mowed down and disc-ed into the soil.  The plant material is still breaking down to feed these young plants. If you click and enlarge the picture you'll see mushrooms popping up to help breakdown organic matter and transfer nutrients to the plants and to beneficial organisms in the soil. Behind them is a row of white clover that is also acting as bee pasture - attracting pollinators into our crop rows to ensure each flower produces on these plants. This biological activity is exactly what we're after.

Coming in the next week - we'll be moving from planting, weeding and cultivating to picking and harvesting sweet peas, yellow beans and that delicious, tender summer squash. 

Follow the blog for more on what we have for you! If you happen by our farm on Rte. 17 in Murray Harbour North, PEI, look for our roadside sign to tell you you what's fresh and healthy from the farm! 


You are welcome to add our podcast to your online or broadcast programming. All I ask is that you contact me to let me know your broadcast plans/needs and I will do my best to cross-promote your program on this blog. You support healthy soil and organic farming when you support organic farmers!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The California Dream: Kelly and Regis Come to PEI

I heard today that some islanders are selling their free tickets to see Regis and Kelly when they broadcast live in PEI.  I have to smile.  And I want to share something with my island neighbors about what all this California dreamin' means - and remind them of what they already have.  

After I left radio, I worked in my own commercial recording studio in Santa Barbara.  I wrote and produced radio commercials, voiced audio for film and television and worked in sessions where I  recorded projects for blockbuster films,  famous actors and models, voice talents, authors, adventurers, Hollywood studios and wanna be's.

About 8 years ago, I had spent the Christmas break on our farm in PEI.  It was a magical time with our young sons. We cut our own Christmas tree from our woods (instead of buying it at Big Wave Dave's Tree Lot), and we spent time in the snow exploring our new home.  A couple of days after we got back to California, I was scheduled to record a commercial voice session with Dennis Miller.  At the time, Mr. Miller had left Saturday Night Live and was working as an announcer on ABC's Monday Night Football. Mr. Miller has a home and family in SB.

Mr. Miller had a bit of a reputation for being gruff and difficult to work with. I never saw that in all the times I worked with him. On this session I came in a bit hung over but ready to make sure the studio was in order. Reputation or not, I knew there would be no excuses for not getting things right; we were connecting to a commercial studio in New York.  I was introduced to Mr. Miller as I was setting up the mic booth and he said, " how are you today Johnny?  "Delirious" I said.  He laughed.  And we began the session.

The laugh broke the tension for me and things went well.  During a break in recording, while the clients in New York were reviewing the takes, I turned off the mic.  "So how was Christmas?" I asked, trying to strike up some mild conversation to pass the time while we waited for New York. There was an unhappy pause. 

"I was in Pittsburg"

At that moment, a light went on in my head.  I had just spent a glorious and memorable Christmas with my wife and children at home on our farm.  He had been in Pittsburg, watching an NFL game and making ludicrous money from ABC.  But he missed Christmas. Funny, huh? It was the moment I realized that all these people I saw on TV and sometimes even worked with at the studio were missing out on something my wife and I held more dear than money. Over the years, I found many of these charming, highly paid and talented men and women were working hard to make enough GET OUT.  We gave up a good deal of money when we chose to leave all that behind and come here. Now we have what islanders have and what so many well paid celebrities don't...we have our own lives in a beautiful place.

I remembered that today as I was weeding corn and soy beans in the heat. And then I heard on CBC radio that John Corbett would be guesting on Regis and Kelly, here on the island. I laughed out loud.  John Corbett and I have worked together over three years in the studio.  The last time I saw him, I told him I was leaving Santa Barbara and moving to our farm in PEI. I described it to him and told him how much we love it here.

And now, Mr. Corbett has found his way to the island.  Maybe it's just co-incidence.  He is promoting a new film he shot in Canada. So probably just a fluke right?  He and Bo Derek live on her beautiful horse ranch in Santa Ynez.  She is a kind and graceful woman who would sometimes accompany John to the studio (and sometimes did her own work with us.)  She is a master horse woman and I think she loves the country and the outdoors. He is a son of Wheeling, West Virginia who has a touring band. He loves to sing and play country music. Could they have chosen to come here? Will they find their way back home to PEI?

Why not?

Take it from me, for some of us, the California dream doesn't end in California.

And if you live here, you don't need tickets to a TV show to find out why Hollywood is coming here.

Will  I try to track down John?  Well, maybe.  He's a great guy and I'd love to show him our little bit of the him what we love. But I think I might just let time and the island work that out.
I've got corn to weed.

UPDATE: 7.13.10

I watched the 15 minutes "Live" posted on line of Monday's show.  Really enjoyed it.  Regis and Kelly and the Live crew really did a nice job. And compliments to Tourism PEI as well.  They are doing a great job of  showcasing PEI. 

And I did contact John Corbett. He's only making a brief stop for the Thursday show but I offered him our hospitality and a welcome to PEI.  After's the island way.            

Monday, June 28, 2010

We're Off and Growing!

Summer has arrived on Prince Edward Island and we are pleased to have just about everything in the ground for the season.  For those of you who are not on the island this summer I have a few snapshots to share.

For those at home and those who plan to visit, we have a lot to look forward to as the summer goes on and turns into Fall.

It's still a bit early for most things (and perhaps we were a bit late this year) so the bulk of what we've planted won't be ready for a few weeks yet.  Our friends know we have good variety but not huge volume because we do most work by hand.  So if you see something you like, it's best to send us a comment or an email. We'd like to be sure you get the best of what we have to offer. I'll keep the blog updated with harvest information and buying opportunities.

We are pleased to announce we will be supplying fresh organic produce to Sand Bar & Grill at Panmure Island, PEI this summer.  Stop in for fresh, summer fare from our farm!   

Here's Some of What's On The Go:
Asparagus - (Almost Gone!)
Rhubarb - (now available)
Salad Greens - (Coming soon - in limited supply)
Sweet Peas- a favorite with the kids - coming soon
Summer Squash - Yellow Crookneck and Zucchini
Yellow Beans
Sweet Corn
Bell Pepper
Winter Squash
Dry Beans
...and more!
 (We'd love to have it all ready for you now but we gather each harvest in it's own natural time.) 

We're interested in making it easy for you to choose our locally grown and certified organic produce.  Please contact us here on the blog and let us know what you'd like. If you happen to be touring on the Points East Coastal Drive, you're welcome to stop in and visit the farm.

We've been known to let youngsters help pick something special for supper or discover fresh sweet peas right out of the pod!
We also like to answer your questions about organics, about sustainable agriculture and our work to return one small farm to production in PEI.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quail Springs - Building An Oasis


According to Merriam Webster:
1 : a fertile or green area in an arid region (as a desert)
2 : something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast

You can easily imagine why ancient people in arid lands would know how to find water. What it might be hard to understand if you live in a place where abundant water falls from the sky or clean water flows from a pipe is the effect and wonder of abundant water on a dry land.  It changes the desert from ashen sea to a fertile island of life. And that's why ancient people cultivated these life sustaining places. An increasing number of people are becoming aware that the world needs places of refuge, relief and a pleasant contrast from the relentless momentum of our Titanic civilization. 

The podcast this week will tell you some of their story and the photos and text will give you some idea of what the Quail Springs project looks like.  But it wasn't until I looked up the definition of oasis that I remembered co-founder Warren Brush telling how the first few years of the project on the ground has been "farming water". That's when I understood the links between past and present and that one person's wasteland can become another person's cultivated place of refuge.

When my friend Lorna came to visit Santa Barbara (and help us pack) she said, "No wonder you get so excited by all the water in PEI."  Indeed.  In much of the world, abundant clean water is an unimaginable luxury.  But a project like Quail Springs demonstrates how a community of people can work together to manage scarce resources and create abundance.

Meals are prepared in an open kitchen in a common area.  The meal we were served (in early April) primarily included whole food from the farm.  It was simple and delicious.

The common room features a bright corner for children and their friends to play and talk.  The building is a converted metal hay barn. Walls are now straw bale and earth - semi finished at this point.  A finished interior is shown in another picture below.  Using natural materials controls cost and eliminates harmful chemicals from the living space.                 

More than just a pond...this pool is a valuable asset.  It collects and holds water from the springs, feeds a newly re-establishing wetland habitat, waters the farm gardens and livestock and holds water in the ground.

Further upstream you see what limited rainfall and years of over-grazing / poor land use looks like. Lot's of erosion, a collapse of the native riparian environment and a stream that floods and then goes dry.  The farm is working on ways to slow runoff and to allow water to move laterally into the soil to create a water "bank" that supports re-growth of the stream habitat.  In the long term, this kind of planning could actually change the micro-climate of this small canyon.      

Using natural earth, stone and local materials, residents have created homes that are simple to live in.  By design this home is easy to heat in the winter and relatively cool in the summer and features "built in's" for shelves and seating in this finished interior.  

The exterior of this home now being built shows straw bale and cobb construction, the mix of traditional earth and modern structural materials, the mountings for solar panels on the roof and the simple means for collecting rain water from the eave-troughs to water a small garden behind the house.

Pastured poultry starts with pasture.  Planting grasses begins the process of creating fertile topsoil in dry sand.  Grass nurtures chickens which manure the grass which grows more chickens and deeper soil. 

Brenton uses mud and straw to build the wall of a new chicken coop.  Inexpensive, easy to add on to and sufficient for securing his charges, this coop will also help moderate extremes of heat and cold.

For more be sure to listen to the podcast.  Special thanks to Kolmi and Warren for allowing me to visit and share this story.  And thanks to my favorite shepherd, Lorna McMaster, for playing her banjo in the "audio shop" at Dunn Creek Farm.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Work 'Till You Can't

I'm too tired to work anymore today.  There's plenty more to do...and it's all mine.

I'm planting and cultivating and weeding as fast as I can.  And it's hard work.  This city boy is finding his limits and the clock is ticking.  We do most of our tilling and some cultivating by small tractor.  But now I'm down to hand work in the rows.  Transplanting, cultivating, weeding.  I just don't have short cuts for that.  Partly because we don't have the tools/technique down and partly because we can't spray away our problems.

I walk the ground.  I hand weed and cultivate the rows and I learn what's going on in the field.  The potato bugs have made an arrival.  They are eating leaves and laying their bright orange eggs on the new plants. We beat the bugs last year by moving rows and scattering plantings, then staying on top of their cycle by hand picking them off and squishing the eggs. But they're onto our plants now and I've got to stay on them.

The weeds are coming in too.  Cultivating the rows loosens and aerates the soil around plants and tears up the small weeds.  It's important to get them before they overtake the corn, beans and greens.  I'm on that too.

I walk the farm every day and check the trees and the plants and the ground.  I learned to do that from one of our mentors. You see what's really happening that way - with weeds, with plants, with fertility, with soil moisture and texture.  And it reminded me of something...about me, about human nature and about machines.

When I was a lot younger I worked on a cattle ranch.  I mention that once in a while because I learned a lot from the men who ran cattle on 2400 acres of grass covered hills - the old way.  Some days I worked with the experienced men, moving the herd out of the foothills on horse back...just like in the cowboy movies.  And I learned that cowboys don't do ground work if they can help it.  They trained their horses so they could do almost any task in the saddle. The only ground work we liked was on the dirt in the corral during spring roundup.  Branding was done with an iron on a wood fire, with the sorting, and vaccinations. Even then the head man stayed on his cutting horse and sorted the cows and calves at the gate. That's the way it was done for 150 years and it was something to be part of. 

I watch the men here drive the big rigs that plant grain and potatoes and spray for bugs and till fields.  Big fields.  And they know their business.  I'm as impressed watching some of these tractor jockeys move through a field as I was watching an old cowman sidle his bridle horse up to a gate to open the fence for the herd, without touching the ground. 

So there it is.  Cowboys and tractor jockeys don't like to do ground work.  And I guess I know why.
But I don't have the luxury of being mounted for my work because I cant afford to skip the lessons I'm learning on the dirt.

There's a retired fellow down the road who puts in a beautiful garden every spring.  I watch his work because I like what he does - a clever mixture of traditional farming with a lot of good common sense use of  found materials.  He's shy about it, but he has a master's touch. And I'm pretty sure that skills like his come from the ground up. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Oh Lord, Stuck In Halifax Again

This post comes to you from the Halifax, Nova Scotia airport. An airport which has the good sense to offer free wi-fi to passengers who are stuck in airline detention for extended periods of time.

Toby and I left Santa Barbara yesterday after a week of packing, selling cars and cleaning our house. In the past 3 days we scheduled painters, made multiple trips to the dump and learned that our dog has lyme disease. In other words, I was really looking forward to leaving town.
At this point I really need to thank to my brother, Peter and our friends Carole, Kathleen, Lorna, Morgan and Rachel.  And a special shout out to the makers of Paxil, which probably prevented my wife Susan from being taken into custody.   

So yesterday we literally made a mad dash through 6 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic to leave town. The 101 freeway had been a parking lot most of the day so we took back streets through town and stopped to say goodbye to my mom and the house I grew up in.  I was doing pretty well up to that point.     

We met the Santa Barbara Airbus and arrived at the Air Canada check-in at LAX with 5 minutes to spare.  Toby and I went through security and caught our flight to Toronto.  We sailed through customs this morning and made our connection to Halifax.  Minutes after arriving here we learned that our flight to PEI was canceled.  We were told the plane was broken. A bad rubber band for the propeller perhaps?  In any event we were re-booked and here we sit until it's time to depart.  So close and yet so far. We were offered ground transportation into Halifax for the day, but we are both too wiped out to enjoy it and I really don't want to miss the next chance to get home.  Did I mention my cell phone is dead and the charger is still plugged into a wall in California?

But I am calm.  Practically comatose.  And any time I think I might miss the days when we jet-setted back and forth, I'll have this to remind me why it's better to stay home and mind your own business.

Toby hasn't uttered even one word of complaint.  He's just taking it in stride.  And me?  I thought I'd post a few words to you with this gift of spare time. Hmmm. And now I see that there is local beer on tap...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Production Room - New Location & New Contacts

(Note: The following was originally posted on The Production Room blog,  

Greetings from Prince Edward Island, Canada!  The new home of John Quimby and The Production Room.

In 1998, my wife, Susan visited the island.  We returned together (she'd already told me we were moving) in 1999. We bought a farm in the spring of 2000 and we've been spending part of the year (you know, the WARM part) ever since.

In that time I learned to make the studio portable and continued to work for clients (Toshiba, Chevron, Channel Islands National Park, etc.) even as we were spending our summers in the country.

This year we're moving up to stay year 'round and that has meant a few changes at The Production Room. For example, we no longer offer ISDN or studio services in Santa Barbara. But those whom I've worked for in the past will find it just as easy as it ever was to have scripts voiced and audio delivered for production. And I hope to make new friends and clients in media production here in Atlantic Canada.  

So here's the rundown of services and contacts:

I'm now available to you for recording and delivering voiceovers - narrations, web media etc. 
You can send me scripts for fast turnaround and you can even direct the session by phone if you wish.
All studio gear is professional industry standard and audio quality is excellent. 

Voiceover rates are competitive. I have experience on network TV, Radio, Film, Video and Internet.
I'm an award winning copy writer and producer with thousands of commercial productions to my credit.
I have been and will be continuing to write and produce a podcast series and I am familiar with using podcast media in marketing.

Please contact me for schedules, rates and production information:
(902) 962-3755

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fear is a Learned Behaviour and other Lessons From Earth

It is Spring at the farm.

This is my second Spring of 2010. The first was in California, where rain stops falling in March or April and the sky is clear almost every day. That means outdoor living is well under way and the under dressed (or undressed) can streak out of the house, cross the breezeway and dash into the garage for that pair of pants (or underpants) that never quite made it from the laundry into the house.        

Here, in PEI, in Mid May, spring meant settling into bed last night, and then realizing that I hadn't put on the space heater in the greenhouse and the forecast was calling for a low of 2 (about  34F).  I seriously considered nodding off to sleep anyway...then realized this was not an option. I have invested in planting the hundreds of seeds in flats that are just now sprouting with this year's harvest.  They are particularly sensitive to cold now - and I was afraid that letting nature take it's course would be crippling to our plans and our investment in time, money and labor. What to do?

I got up, went downstairs and put on a sweatshirt, a hat and a pair of rubber boots and sprinted out the door.
If you had been driving by Dunn Creek Farm at about midnight last night, you would have seen this farmer sprinting up the yard in his tighty whities to flip the switch on the heater and then dash back to the house.
Mission accomplished and this years crops saved!

Yesterday I hitched up my ugly old 3 sod trailing plow and tilled new ground between the peach trees in our little orchard.  I have a history with that plow that includes a spooky horse trying to flip it over onto me and some pretty ugly plowing when I didn't know what I was doing.  Call it a general lack of operator ability. I was pretty frustrated and afraid I'd never measure up. That awkward experience comes up each time I hitch up the plow.    

Yesterday I lined up my plow, set the points and laid out some lovely rows of nice turned earth which will
be planted with dried baking beans and potatoes for this fall and winter.  The plow was flawless and this plowman knew how to hitch the plow at the proper angles and set the points for turning the sods together
into the center of the row.  Thanks to my neighbor, Glen, who patiently gave me my first instructions a few years ago and by paying attention at the Dundas Plowing Match for the last few Summers, I knew what I was after. And I congratulated myself for this basic graduation.

I'll never forget my first try at plowing with Glen. After looking at my field and then at my plow he said, "That's a tough contract".  A few days later he said, "I talked to a few of the lads in the neighborhood and they said you did not too bad a job for your first time plowing".  Glen is now about 80 years old now and a lifelong bachelor farmer.  I'm so lucky to have had elders like Glen in this community offer their help and a lifetime of experience.

Warren Brush at Quail Springs said, "A community is a place where each person is needed." I like that.
But I'm still trying to figure out how I can be needed in our community.  I know I need my neighbors, like Glen. And Nancy, who took my seed orders and planted early starts for me in her greenhouse and my neighbors who continue to offer me their welcome home and suppers at their houses.  Like my friends who come to weed asparagus and visit while we work.   

A Change is going to come even as the world outside argues and frets.

Many people say,
"We can't change what's wrong". 
"We can't choose what is best for us".
"Government is cporrupted"
"Business can't be trusted"

Fear is a learned behaviour and it has become a crippling force. We are afraid to be wrong, afraid to make change, afraid of failure, afraid to be cold, afraid to be ridiculed, afraid to be alone and afraid of being hungry.

But I've learned that our friends will come forward and teach me.  They will cheer our success.  I will choose to be cold to save our seedlings and our neighbors will put a hot, home cooked meal in front of me. Being wrong teaches me more than being right. When you're right you don't need anybody.  When you're wrong you need your friends.

In the past 10 years I've learned to fear less and do more. And I realize now that I have less to fear  from the people around me than I do from the big anonymous world that wants everything I have - in exchange for my life.             
And I'm so much more impatient now with those who say, "No we can't".

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Few Reasons Why Compost Could Save Us.

Yes, the news on the environment is really bad this week.  We have an estimated  200,000 thousand gallons of crude floating to the surface in the Gulf of Mexico every day for over a week adding to an environmental wipe out that could reach unprecedented proportions and stretch from Louisiana all the way up the east coast..

But even if you are convinced that burning fossil fuel will destroy the planet, you're probably no more prepared to live without it than I am.  Lets face it we all need to find some answers and we may not like the answers we find. But obviously the time has come to get serious about alternatives. So how DO we get control of the mess we're in and keep everything from spiraling out of control?

Let's start with compost.

Now, I'll disclaim this post here and now with an admission that I am not loaded with research grants or University degrees but there is such a thing as experiential learning.  And I've been working on this for a while, so I hope you'll follow along and add your comments.  Even if I put a foot out of step here, I hope you'll see that what I'm saying makes sense on some fundamental levels. So let's check out the basics.

Plants take in Co2 and breathe out oxygen.  The carbon taken up by plants create the structure of the plant itself. Stems of grasses, wood, leaves, etc are all rich in carbon.

A lot of this carbon comes from the air - the Co2 in the atmosphere.  And we humans put a lot of carbon out there when we burn fuel. There's more there now than there was before we stopped taking a yak to work and drove an Audi instead.

If we park the Audi and take the carbon that plants have soaked up and put it back into the earth, we are sequestering this carbon by taking it out of the air and putting it back where it came from and we're doing something else too.  We're creating plant based fertilizer for new pants to use and eliminating the fossil fuel we were using to create synthetic fertilizer like ammonia nitrates.  Nitrates make plants grow, but they are produced by burning large amounts of natural gas which enters the atmosphere (more Co2) and the leftover nitrates tend to drift into our drinking water which isn't good for people.

With me so far?

OK, so in our organic system at Dunn Creek Farm we really can't rely on chemical based fertilizers.  But without them, we quickly exhaust the fertility of the soil which means that crop yields drop.  And they drop fast.  Enter compost.

First, we harvest all that collected carbon. Dead plants, horse manure, old hay, cleared brush, wood chips, and we mix it in with other stuff like green waste from the kitchen, green plants that have finished producing, vegetables that aren't good for market, grass clippings and seaweed.  Yes, I've been seen on the beach after a big storm scooping up tons of seaweed for compost.       

This material gets layered up in big windrows in a field. Each windrow is about 4 feet wide and 20 feet long.  In short order it gets all hot and steamy, as an army of bacteria feed on the air, moisture and nutrient dense materials in the pile.  The plumes of steam from a working pile look really magnificent on a fall morning.

I cover it up with a tarp to keep weeds from growing on the top and let it work.  By the next fall it looks like dark brown earth.  It's full of worms and bugs and fungus and bacteria...just the stuff to inoculate the field and feed the plants we'll grow next year.  Now some people are saying that hot compost destroys biological benefits like microorganisms and fungus and that a low temp or cold process is actually more beneficial. Hot compost is a means to kill pathogens and weed seeds, so material that is hot composted is thought to be cleaner. The rules for application require a hot composting process in order for the material to be called compost.  Otherwise it is regulated as "manure".  This kind of thinking can give you a headache.  But in order to get the most benefit from the input we make and to comply with regulations that are intended for food safety, we apply our compost/manure in the fall and that way it is never in direct contact with edible food crops.

Now, the fact is that we cannot produce enough compost to meet our fertility needs.  So we also rotate our plantings and we plant about a quarter of our production area in "green manure" to increase fertility in place. We are always farming soil by producing biomass to put back in the ground each year. The plants do their job of taking in carbon from the air and fixing nitrogen in the soil and we chop that material up and put it back in the earth. 

What we spend on seed and time and labor is spent instead of buying more fertilizer.  Our fields test low in organic matter which promotes the biological benefits I mentioned and helps to regulate moisture in the soil. So putting more organic matter and trace minerals from things like seaweed back into the soil improves the health of our plants, the yields we get to market and, we might expect, the nutritional value of the food we grow.

We're doing all this to create a solid system that will continue to produce good yields of healthy food for years to come.  But there are other benefits to consider.

You may be someone who doubts the value of organics.  But it's hard not to like a system of agriculture that isn't entirely dependent on fossil fuels, doesn't use airborne toxic sprays and eliminates the environmental hazards caused by the runoff of chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the ground water we eat and drink.

You may be someone who believes that climate change is a hoax.  But it's hard not to agree that our current  choices have made us dependent on buying fossil fuels from people who may not have our interests in mind.  And the supplies are limited - which limits our potential to grow our own food, the economy...anything.

If you do think that humans have tilted the balance of our environment into a wobbly and unpredictable scenario, then you might agree that supporting a system that can actually help reduce the carbon footprint of all the humans on the planet is a good thing.