Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Myth of Public (Mis)trust


Inherently suspicious of things that exist primarily as a reaction and opposition to some other specific thing, my response to seeing the Farm Babe as the keynote speaker at the PEI Soil & Crop Association’s 2019 Conference was unenthused, to say the least.
And it’s not her specifically that underwhelms me but what she represents, which is to say the entire ‘public trust’ indoctrination. Remember ‘social license’? That’s what public trust used to be known as, but the powers that be decided that ‘license’ sounded too formal and confusing for consumers, so ‘public trust’ was born. And born it was!  It exploded onto the agriculture scene and was immediately hailed by most as the magic pill to fix all that ails modern ag.  It’s not the farming practices, the food system or the changing climate; it’s stupid people!  If everyone would just eat what they were told, continue to support cheaply made food and not ask any questions, finally, agriculture would be saved!

Public trust is a tool of corporate agribusiness, not for the public, but for farmers, to bolster them in the practices that make those companies so much money.  It creates a soundproof echo chamber in which the inhabitants grow increasingly convinced that they are right and anyone questioning them is a threat. We have reached an uncharted point in human history, which is to say, the first time that farm groups are telling consumers that they’re wrong.

So a farm group spending money on amplifying a voice within the echo chamber isn’t surprising, but given the public outrage over the PEI soil blowing across the countryside, and the climate change challenges ahead, if true public trust were in order we’d be spending far more time and money figuring out why we tore out all the hedgerows and how to put them back in. Investing in more self congratulations and pats on the back in times like this is like lighting a candle while the house burns down around you. 
These are the funders of Canada's public trust ag train.  All aboard?

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Soil

She’s a heaving, breathing,
Feminine being.
Full of curves and points and hard parts and softness.
Laid bare by her carers,
Suffering the cold wind,
Bitten and bitter.
Her skin tears and she bleeds,
Wind whipping, scratching, opening wounds that do not heal.
Without any winter clothes she is vulnerable,
Weakened and worn.
Her power and energy flung wayward,
Watched dispassionately by her stewards.
Yet, with spring’s warmth
She will be called on to wake
And swallow what is fed to her
And endure her trials of tillage and seeding.
She’ll be expected to nourish the babies,
Give her whole self,
Absorb the poisons designed to protect the babies but
That weaken her, kill her immunities 
And open her to disease.

She sighs, subdued, waits for spring,
Hoping only that by next winter, she’ll be left with cover,
Maybe some new trees, like braids in her hair,
That can slow the wind, hold the snow, 
And keep her whole.
So that she can not only nourish everyone else
But start to rebuild herself.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Back on the big yellow bus.

I was struggling with why I was avoiding writing this post and then I remembered the struggle I had writing the post about the decision to homeschool.  It makes sense that writing about my decision not the homeschool would be equally difficult.
It's not because I'm struggling with the actual decision. That part is over. I re-read and reviewed all the reasons I started homeschooling and I agonized and talked it out and wrote about it. It was a long, hand-wringing, crying, waffling time of reckoning, but it's over.  Mostly.  Sometimes, in quiet sad moments, I'll remember why I started the adventure to start with, but I know in my heart that mostly I'm just remembering the good parts.  And then I let myself have a little cry for that season being over and then celebrate that a new one has dawned.

Just as when I announced the decision to homeschool, I was clear to say that it wasn't a criticism of the teachers or schools, I now want to be doubly clear that the decision to put the kids into school is not a criticism of homeschooling.  In fact, I am more than ever, convinced that those who are able to put the time in to homeschool are doing their kids a great service.  I don't agree with the naysayers who insist that socialization is lacking, or that the advantages of the public system outweigh the advantages of homeschooling.  Having done it, and having spent time with several very grounded and 'normal' homeschoolers I can promise you that it truly does offer some very unique, valuable and incredibly important opportunities and lessons.  Opportunities and lessons that are not available in a public system.  I sincerely applaud and admire all the homeschool parents out there and wish that they could all know how amazing they are for doing the incredibly important work they're doing.  I wish they could all feel their value and recognize that overall, they are having far more successes than failures.

But alas, in the past year I have found my mind wandering.  I have found myself wanting to explore other things. I have found my creativity in homeschooling waning, and been feeling a pull to activities that inhibit my ability to homeschool the way I want to (this is the real crux of it).  I probably would have returned the kids before now, but was so encouraged by the many homeschooler parents who manage to work (both in and out of the home), or who take a year off, or who are contented to truly 'unschool' and allow their children to follow their passions and trust in that.  But I am self-aware enough to know that I am just not one of those people.  I have just enough A-type in me to need standards and expectations and when I can't achieve them (however arbitrarily set they are), I feel like I've done both myself and the kids, a disservice.

So I finally stopped feeling guilty about wanting to do other things and let myself consider public school for the kids.  And I feel good.  Really good.  I know teachers at their school. I've chatted with another former homeschool mom who put her kids into that school. I can now say that I'm confident that this is the right thing for right now.

 And I know that many homeschool moms will be wanting to send me encouragement to reconsider, with the very best of intentions.  Don't worry moms, I know I did an awesome job! haha.  I have had the BEST time, MOST of the time. I will never ever regret this time. Ever.  I am proud of how we did what we did and I think I've planted the only seed I was intentional about planting: a love of learning.  (A love of farming was a secret seed that I think I also planted in most of them...haha). I look forward to continuing to nurture these seeds.  We've all agreed that the part we're going to miss the most is Morning Basket and we all said that we hope that we can plan enough ahead the night before to be able to eek out a quick moment of morning basket before the bus (I'm sure I'll laugh at that in retrospect after several mornings of utter chaos).
And I know that many friends and family will want to send notes of encouragement for making this decision and assurances that it's the right thing.  And I know that too.  It's the right thing right now.  Don't tell me my kids will be better off, because I'm not sure that's true. They may not be worse off, but they won't necessarily be better off either. However, they will certainly enjoy themselves and we will all enjoy the experience of new things, new opportunities.  And go into it knowing that there will be inevitable moments of doubt or angst, just as there was with homeschooling.  Such is the nature of the beast of parenting.

The last three years have been one helluva an adventure and one I wouldn't have traded for the world.  And no one is to say that it's forever in the past.  I have learned to never assume anything when it comes to these kids.  But for now, we're on a new path and I'm looking forward to some one-on-one time with Sol (although he's a bit of a daddy's boy and will take time in the barn over time in the house any day).  The three olders are all on board and looking forward to the adventure.  Wilson was trepidatious, even reluctant at first, but thanks to the INCREDIBLE book, Wonder, he feels ready to face the unknowns and says he's actually excited now.
So, I'm off to round up 'school clothes' and lunch boxes and backpacks and indoor shoes and all the rigamarole that comes with the territory.  Guess what's going to be under the tree this year!? haha!



I hope this finds you finding joy in the season, as the third candle says.  Knowing January was on the other side of Christmas, we are having a lot of fun making the absolute most of this advent season.  It's been my favourite Christmas already and it's only the 10th of December. :)
The candles of advent are so timely and perfectly named, they really are the frame I build Christmas upon.  For those of you struggling this time of year, I wish you peace and that you can find someone who you can let help carry and share your burdens.  

Best,
Sally

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Farm Mamas: Stop trying harder




Note: I refer to 'farm mamas' throughout because that's what I call myself, privately, but this could apply to most farming women I think.

This one is for the farm mamas.  You know who you are. You're busting it everyday on the farm, kids in tow or home after school.  You've got plants in soil, animals waiting to get on pasture or emails to answer.  You've got meal plans on your mind and plans to do a spring craft with the kids that will never happen.  You'd like to wear your 'town jeans' someday but it's been a while, you're not sure where they are. You do a quick sweep with the broom once every few days and hope that will keep the Black Plague at bay which is surely festering in the bathroom you haven't cleaned in a month. You follow a bunch of beautiful farms on Instagram with their weedless rows and lush greens, two weeks ahead of yours.  You 'like' the "Women Who Farm" page on Facebook with all those daily photos of rosy cheeked, denim-clad, happy women with their hands in soil, making a difference in the world, maybe even a baby on their back.  Maybe you follow Barnyard Organics page on Facebook and those lovely filtered light photos with the clever hashtags.  Everyone has it so together.

Except you.

Spring comes upon you gently enough, but suddenly switches into high gear so quickly that it doesn't take long before you're way behind and the balls in the air are falling to the ground all around you and turns out they're not balls, but eggs and now they've cracked and not only have you broken them, but you have to clean them up.

I lost it tonight. I had one of those heaving, sucking, snotty, ugly full out bawls tonight.  So hard and so deep that my sinuses filled up and I had to breathe through my mouth.  And in the midst of it all I thought, "Gawd I hope no one thinks this doesn't happen to me."  I post pretty pictures on Instagram and cutesy posts on Facebook and I hate that it probably gives the perception that all is well all the time.  That I live some enchanted life with four, dancing, perfect children and hens that peck peacefully at my passing by as I sing hymns and toss glitter feed into the air.



So this is for you.  To know that a good heaving cry is not only good, it's necessary this time of year.  That feeling like dropping all the balls is also going to happen.  That the weather will be cold and miserable and seeds will rot in the ground. That maybe too many chicks are going to die and you're going to feel responsible for decades of shitty breeding totally out of your control.   That water will overflow and flood something important.  That something crucial will not arrive in the mail in time.  That the plumber won't show up and won't tell you when they will be able to get to you.  That your eldest has turned into a teenager overnight.  That your youngest needs you the most when you most need to be alone.  That you feel like a disappointment when your partner ends up doing what are usually your jobs around the house because you've forgotten for two weeks, even though they'd never think twice about it.   That you cook hotdogs for two nights in a row after 2 years of not eating one.  That you can't even muster a peanut butter sandwich and instead open a bag of chips for lunch.   That the thing you put away perfectly last winter is now a tangled/wrecked/ruined mess.  That your email goes down for three days while receiving registrations.  That the weedy flower bed out front feels like a taunt from generations passed, a metaphor for you domestic failure. That your computer shits the bed and you have to figure out a new one while responding to questions like, "I'm going on vacation on August 4th, my son will be picking up my share, can you not put onions in?"  That you forgot to pick up feminine protection and now it's day 2 and things are not pretty and you don't have time to get to town and have to ask your in-laws when they go for a coffee run.  That maybe things are actually going well and you feel guilty because your farmer friend is having a helluva week.  That homeschooling for the week' means "go back to the pond and check those frogs eggs and don't worry about coming back anytime soon." Or more likely homeschooling means, "carry this hammer while we walk to the fence perimeter." That the library books from a month ago are still strewn around the house.  That you forgot to tell your partner about the important phone message two weeks ago and now its gone on too long to tell him you knew.  That you are going on an average of 5 hours of sleep/night.  That you feel guilty for feeling so stressed when your partner has even bigger things going on. That your face is breaking out like a teenager.  That your body is sore and your son just asked, "Mommy, why is there purple under your eyes?"

So I don't have a helpful list called "A Farm Mama's Tips on How to Survive the Spring" and I don't think there really could ever be such a thing. (Although if there was it would surely include an Instant Pot because that thing really has been a saviour).
But I have this:
Stop trying harder.  When you hear that voice say, "You're just not trying hard enough", swing around and punch it right in the mouth.
I recently realized that I'm going to have to give up roller derby this year due to scheduling conflicts.  In accepting the reality I talked to a few team members about it and the very well meaning response I received from all of them, was, "You deserve derby!  You work too hard, it's your ME time! You can make it work, I'm sure of it!" While I don't disagree, what I really needed to hear was,

"It's ok to let it go.  You don't have to do it all.  (Insert a ball you have in the air that's stressing you) will be there when you're ready to juggle it again, if you want to.  Right now, embrace not doing it.  Make the liberty of letting go be your self-care.  Just lay back, shut your eyes, breathe deep and let.it.go."    

So that's what I give you tonight.  Take care of you.  And when you're having a jealous moment over someone else's Instagram know that I've posted beautiful photos and generated clever hashtags while crying over something totally unrelated because I think social media is my 'job' and heaven forbid I let that slide just because I'm sad/frustrated/overtired.  (Did I just ruin our social media? haha).


Love to you Mamas.  This season too shall pass and there will come days when we can prepare a big healthy meal and our kids will be clean , we will not feel guilt about neglecting the kids and our partners will relax and our house will be clean feel like a welcoming place and we'll get longer, deeper sleep (amen to that part!).







Wednesday, April 12, 2017

🎡Let's do the Mash! The Chicken Mash! 🎢 πŸ“πŸ₯



The thing about farming is that we are constantly learning, ever-ready to adapt to new systems, varieties, climate, even changing soil microbiology.  It’s fascinating and keeps life interesting but means that we can’t rest on ‘how it’s always been done’.  So when it comes to questions regarding our products, we take extra time to sit back and consider as many angles as we can.  Feed is no exception and when we were considering Pellets Vs. Mash, it was a long back and forth of consideration.  Since it’s a question we’re sometimes asked by customers, here’s some of what we considered (but, as I said, we’re always learning, so nothing is ever static). 

It was firstly a matter of reducing the amount of processing that the grain goes through from seed to feed.  It makes sense to us that the animals get a product that is as close to what it really is as possible.  Michael Pollan, the well-known food author, is oft-quoted as saying, “Eat real food” and we don’t think that has to apply only to people.  Our feed has no fillers or weird stuff and every ingredient is in there for nutritive value, so we wanted to keep it as little processed as possible while still making it accessible to the animals consuming it.  We wanted to avoid any unnecessary heating of the grains and pelletizing would almost certainly contribute to that as well.

Another factor we considered was the growth of the birds, particularly the meat birds.  We’ve read that the pellets result in faster growth and bird ready to market a few days earlier but along with that comes health problems like ascites.  The increased demand on the body of the bird to grow quickly becomes too much and they suffer from, and eventually succumb to symptoms related to respiratory problems.  While the conventional broiler breeds (meat kings) are already a bit pre-disposed to these health challenges, we wanted to make sure that we did not contribute to them, and in fact reduced them if possible.  Using a mash with a more consistent particle size meant a slightly slower growing but healthier bird.  Organic production is certainly directly in line with this thinking, but so too are the desires of any smaller scale chicken farmer.  A healthier bird is the priority when it’s going to be your food!


The last factor we considered played directly into our values statement as a farm:
“Barnyard Organics is a diversified, family-friendly farm with a priority on organic integrity from seed to feed and keeping products fair and accessible to the regional community.“

We have worked really hard at prioritizing the ‘fair and accessible’ part of the statement because we want more organic livestock in the Maritimes and want to play a role in making feed a fair price.  Pelletizing would add an extra step and thus, more cost to our final product and we didn’t see the benefit outweighing the added cost. 

We have several customers who choose to ferment the feed, prior to feeding it.  Our own experience has taught us that the height of the feeders plays an important role and that our hens make optimal use of the feed when it is kept up at least as high as their backs, closer to eye level. 


I love farming for lots of reasons and constant learning and adapting is just one of them.   Who knows what we’ll learn tomorrow!   

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SpBeak the Truth about #henlife

This is the age of 'post-truth', or so we're told.  Whatever that means, it seems clear that we all need to work a little harder to be informed citizens of the world.  Here's my contribution for your real information quota today:
Beak trimming in laying hens is industry standard.  That basically means that when the chicks are hatched they are bustled off to a laser that nips the tip off their beak.  Sounds somewhat innocuous, right?  "Probably doesn't hurt that much" you tell yourself.  Maybe.  Science is a bit inconclusive on that point, so let's give industry the benefit of the doubt here and pretend it doesn't hurt the day olds to have their beaks trimmed by laser.

"Why do they do it?" might be your next question.  "Must be for good reason".  Yes, it's so that the birds don't hurt each other.  Because birds that are bored and miserable will hurt each other.  And birds that are given 500 - 700 cm2 each (approx the size of a piece of paper) in a cage with 5-8 other birds are bored and miserable.

If you've ever had the joy of watching a chicken dust bath or chase a bug through the grass, you will appreciate the incredible natural instincts they have and the beauty of an animal able to express that.  500 cm2 doesn't even allow the bird to stretch her wings.  

I hope that any conventional egg farmer reading this will recognize my appreciation for what they do because the demand for their product is much greater than the demand for mine.  They are able to produce eggs at a much much lower cost than me.  They can do it much more efficiently and keep the shelves at the grocery store groaning with stacks of cheap eggs.

My appreciation stops at the customers who are able to justify celebrating a great sale on conventional eggs while simultaneously crying fowl at that sad video that came out about the dog being forced into churning water on the set of an upcoming blockbuster film.  Or while spending thousands of dollars on their pet.

I don't care if you buy my eggs, but for the love of all that is sane, stop and think about why your cheap food is so cheap and if an animal is an animal is an animal or if you care how the creature who supplies your daily sustenance must suffer to do so.  (If at this point you're having a dialogue in your head about how the hens don't know any different, and are 'only chickens' and you 'can't afford those organic eggs', I hope you don't mind coming back as a conventional laying hen in your next life.  Take heart, it will be short lived.) (This is also the part where I become acutely aware that I'm treading in 'white, middle-class privilege' territory, but is a risk I'm willing to take for the benefit of the point at hand.)

This message is brought to you by a frustrated young farmer who realized that her latest batch of hens has had their beaks trimmed because it is standard operating procedure and NOT debeaking is the EXCEPTION.  Evidently, foraging on pasture, preening and eating a diverse diet are not factors that need considering in a cage.  This farmer's renewed desire to get (fully beaked) hens into the hands of everyone who can have them is fuelled by good intentions, a love of farming and eggnog made from organic eggs and raw milk.







Monday, September 26, 2016

The speech Minister MacIsaac MEANT to give


I was fortunate enough to attend the COPC 13th Annual Harvest Meal last night at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown.  In attendance was our Lieutenant Governor, a representative of the opposition, a couple city councilors, and our Minister of Ag along with his deputy.  Of course, he was given some time to speak and it would seem that the current trend in politics is to appear relaxed and nonplussed, by not having prepared notes.  Minister MacIsaac certainly achieved the unprepared look with a speech that rambled on about farming and fishing and spent more time on the optics of agriculture and the beauty of the province than on anything of any merit.  During the last three sentences he suddenly remembered where he was and mentioned the word organic but without any real conviction or sincerity behind it.
So, I've taken the liberty of preparing the speech I'm sure he meant to have on hand last night. It must have gotten lost when he was spending the night previous reading it over while at the Fall Flavours event at Crowbush that he was so happy to tell us all about because we care.


Thank you for the warm welcome to this 13th Annual COPC Harvest Meal and celebration.  13th annual!?  I think we often underestimate just how long organics has been growing and organizing together under an association like the Certified Organic Producers Cooperative, but this event really serves as a reminder of just how far you've come and hints at the potential for the future.
It's really exciting to see so many young faces at an event like this.  Often, at agricultural gatherings it looks a lot like a political caucus- so many old white haired men ! (har har).  But this crowd is so diverse in age and background and that speaks volumes for the future of your sector! 
Can I get a sense of who are the organic farmers in the room?  Could you all please stand up? Certified organic farmers.  Wow!  That's really fantastic, I hope to get to chat with you all about your operations sometime in the future!  I would love to hear about your challenges and successes and what we can do for you as the government right now on PEI.
For the rest of you, I hope you took note of who the farmers in the room were when they stood.  And I hope you take a moment to appreciate what it took for them to provide this meal for you tonight.  I have little doubt that under the competent guidance of our chef, Ilona Daniel, these ingredients, grown with the care and particular intentions of these farmers will far exceed your expectations.  That's the thing about organic farmers.  They really care.  They care enough to maintain the necessary records, host a third party inspection annually, abide by national standards that ensure your food is free from GMO's, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and that livestock live lives on pastures, eating only organic food themselves.  
While I'm the Minister of all agriculture, not just organics, and I respect and admire all farmers and the work they do, organics is a particular shining jewel in the considerable crown of PEI agriculture.  It is a constantly growing sector, with consistent margins, strong yields and a vibrant community.  Did you know that 73% of new farmers are choosing to farm organically or ecologically?  And 56% of those are women?  Isn't that inspiring? I can talk openly and with conviction about organics like this because I'm not disparaging conventional ag, which we all know has a strong place in our landscape, but I am confident enough to recognize the value of a community like this one and the significance it carries for the health of our province, ecologically and economically! 
In response to what I'm sure will be a rousing rallying cry from Sally Bernard coming up, she'll likely mention soil health and will be correct in saying that soil is the resource we're depleting the fastest here on PEI and it's past time that we do something serious about it.  So I'm thrilled to announce that we're working on a program based on soil organic matter levels, providing funding for new soil tests that show actual soil health and activity and better enforcement of rotation rules.   

So I won't keep us from the food any longer. I hear the chicken livers are particularly tasty tonight. :)  I promise not to continue the legacy of being a Ag Minister dinosaur, living in the past, guided by antiquated ideas pushed by the old boys club who tell me that only conventional food can feed the world and that organics is a blip on the long term radar.  Nope, I will be an effective, open-eyed minister who will stand up and openly admit that organics is doing great things for this province and we will work with you to help it continue to grow.  
Thank you!

Yep, pretty sure that was the speech he meant to make instead of the mess we heard about inconsequential fish kills (YES! He actually brushed off fish kills at an organic supper), the importance of Fall Flavours and pretty landscapes.  Good thing the food was so good I was able to get past the anger lump in my throat.