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.