Friday, September 18, 2020

Second Week of September 2020

I tried drafting a newsletter on a fancy newsletter platform but it wouldn't turn my photos right side up, so that's off the table for this week. Maybe I'll try a different platform next week and who knows, maybe make a habit of this. But for now, here's my first newsletter attempt, in blog post format. Hmmm...not quite the same is it? Ah well. Better than nothing maybe?

Canning

Every year I've canned something. When I was pregnant with four littles running around, it might have been one batch of salsa. Or throwing some beets in a jar with a sweet vinegar brine. But as the kids have gotten older, and my garden has slowly expanded, I've canned more things, with the intention of actually feeding us year-round. And the last few years have been pretty successful. I think I had buy tomatoes last year, at the end of the season to make enough salsa, but mostly it's items from our garden, put away for the winter, like a good little ant. 
And this year is looking pretty successful. Lots of relish made (probably too much), some new bread and butter pickles I'm trying out (ripple cut thanks to my mandolin- no big deal guys), and salsa. My garden is still pumping out tomatoes so I might try some simple canned, diced tomatoes, but we'll see. Still have my beets left to go, but those are good ones to do later. 
But I was thinking the other day about why I even bother. I have a Costco membership. There's no way that if I count my time (including inevitable clean up!), the jars, the produce, etc. it makes any fiscal sense whatsoever. And then I remembered that most of my life doesn't make a lot of fiscal sense. I raise pigs each year for our freezer, I milk a scowly Jersey, I raise her calf for beef, I grow chickens for meat and eggs, but I'm pretty sure I could make a lot more money buying all that food for cheap somewhere and working off the farm for a pretty little paycheque. So why don't I?
I know where those tomatoes come from and who picked them and if those people are living a healthy, fair life. I know how that pig was raised and that it rooted in the sods and had Jersey milk for breakfast. I know what the cow ate and how satisfying it is to watch her cream turn to butter before my eyes in the KitchenAid. There is no dollar figure for those peace-of-mind parts and that's ok. If it feels good and I'm able to do it, I will. And I gotta say, it feels pretty darn good. 

(I also couldn't figure out why I was running low on jars, when I haven't needed to buy any for years. Then I went to the freezer for a roast and saw my jars and jars of ghee and remembered where all my jars went. Ooops. Not a great year to run out, but a great reason to!)

Return to School

Well, by now the kids have completed two weeks of school and so far so good. I know parts of the world are really struggling with the virus, but we're so blissfully ignorant here, it feels ominous, but far away at the same time. The kids have done well to remember their masks (it helps that they need them on the bus), and don't really have much to say about any of it when they come home. Their stories are pretty normal and it sounds like the staff are doing an incredible job of making everything feel as business-as-usual as humanly possible. 

PEI is doing a really amazing School Food Program and it's a local chef prepping ingredients from local farmers and it's pay what you can, up to $5. I treated myself and bought the kids' lunches today. It's supposed to be PEI Beef burgers (I think they were squeezing in some lentils as well, but don't tell the kids.) so we'll see how that goes over. My prediction is that 3 of 4 will be really happy. Guess who the 1 unhappy camper will be. (hint: starts with a T)

Lucy's Awful Good Pumpkins 

 

Soon enough these'll be piled up at the farm gate, ready for sale!

Recipe 

I'm too tired this week to share an original recipe, but I've got a humdinger that we've been living off of a few times over the last month and I think everyone needs to know about it. Here's a link to the Lazy Genius Change-Your-Life-Chicken. We can't get enough. (I make a spice rub of random herbs and spices, including a little brown sugar that is different every time and never measured, so use some artistic license and make that part up). It's SOOOO good! And the PERFECT use of those darned ol' chicken legs!!!


Photo From Phone

This week's PFP is the boys at the Dunk River trail. It's one of the coolest trails on PEI (I think but I'm biased because it's just down the road) and it changes so dramatically with the seasons, but this time of year when everything is lush, a little overgrown and heavily laden, it's pretty magical. Accompanied by the imaginations of young boys, it's even more so. Every low hanging branch creates a tunnel. Every obstacle is keeping us from our destiny. Every side route, is a passage to safety. Every turn in the brook holds some mystery, likely an armed foe around the corner. I am doing my best not to take for granted these moments of wonder, curiosity and downright foolishness because I know one day I'll miss them. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Early June 2020

It's been days of taking a deep dive into my own racism and sitting with it, recognizing it and examining my white privilege a little closer than usual. Lots of learning and being uncomfortable, which feels like a good place to be at the moment. And while I work on my own, my concurrent resolution to ensuring my kids don't grow up with prejudices and understand white privilege before they're in their 30s is the focus of my anti-racism legacy for now.

On top of all that heady internal work, we've all been toiling in the second best season on the farm, thriving on the anticipation and hopefulness of spring. A quick tour perhaps?

Harry, Ron and Hermoine have settled in quite nicely. We're still shutting them in at night, just to be safe and we let them out in the morning after we've separated the milk and brought them the extras. Milk is the best way to make friends with pigs and these ones are no exception. 
As you can see they're pretty enthusiastic about their dairy intake. 


Petunia's cream has taken on it's lovely yellow hue for the season and ya can't help but wonder what extra nutrients we're getting this time of year when the cream alone is about 10 shades darker.
My new culinary challenge and kitchen staple: Ghee. A step past clarified butter. Butter without the lactose. A higher smoke point so it's good for frying, unlike butter. Flavour city. Countertop stable for months. SO GOOD!

The layers are enjoying their summer pasture and since there's only 30 of them now, after renting out the rest, they're quite content in one spot for a few days, as opposed to the daily moves we used to do. Soon enough to new pullets will be here and needing more frequent moves but for now it seems we're all happy with this set up.





The meat birds made the move to pasture a couple weeks ago and have been doing great. It hasn't been without its challenges as the neighbourhood fox and her kits have been about, but after a night of me sleeping in the truck with a gun in the pasture, we tightened up the fence, heated up the fencer, added a second layer of fence around the shelter and knock on wood, have slept mostly pretty soundly since. 
 Wilson has been stewarding some giant pumpkin seeds from his grandfather. He and I built these little tents for them and tonight he covered them with the frost warning in the forecast. Fingers crossed!

We managed a lovely beach day last week and it was exactly what the soul ordered. Low tide on the south shore is the best beach on PEI, hands down. Don't come at me with your north shore beaches, I won't be swayed.

After finger weeding, there were some windrows of couch grass rhizomes gathered at the bottom of the field where the weeder had been lifted. Some of them edged out into the field so we went around and gathered them up with pitchforks. Although we're not scientifically convinced that this physical removal of roots helps reduce the weed pressure, it is so cathartic and satisfying to dump several large tractor bucket fulls into the woods. 

I've been contemplating if people are still reading blogs. It feels to me like it might be a communication method of the past, since I personally only remember to check a blog if it's linked directly from something else. A weekly newsletter might be a solution? I receive a Sunday morning newsletter each week from a local author that basically briefly tells a quick story about a few photos from his phone that week (or from the past). It's become one of my favourite parts of Sunday mornings. Maybe we could do the same? 






Monday, March 30, 2020

Grace in the time of Covid


Some of us have guarded ourselves against this uncertain time with a thick sweater of fear. It’s got a big hood that droops over our eyes and a wide, heavy neck that lets us sink our heads nearly out of sight. Sometimes the fear manifests as anger, indignant condescension or rarely, pure rage.  Rage at folks who so plainly don’t understand the simple rules of staying home and keeping physical distance, or worse, don’t seem to care. 
Classic cable knit sweater illustration by @aj_lim_ - www.ajlim.net
But if we reach down into the bottom corner of the pocket in that heavy sweater maybe we can find a small thread of grace. 


Grace for the alcoholic whose meetings are cancelled and because he’s older and on a limited income, doesn’t have a computer or internet to participate in the online check-ins with his sponsor.  And for who the stress of being home all day is exacerbating the risk of falling off the wagon without a short chat with a couple of his fellow addicts in a quiet place. 

Grace for the single mom struggling with food insecurity and has a quiet agreement with an overwhelmed farmer with kids at home during planting season who needs her house cleaned in exchange for some vegetables and seedlings. 

Grace for the co-parenting father with his young kids in the grocery store, who has no one to leave them home with. 

Grace for the cashier who forgets to sanitize the counter between customers because her mind is on the lost income of her partner who is home struggling with depression and needs support they can’t afford or access.

Grace for the wife living with an abusive partner for whom that trip to the grocery store is her only real freedom during a time of quarantine and lost income. Grace for her spending too much time perusing the flower section, seemingly in no rush to leave. Grace for her feeling, guiltily, like a hospital stay might be a welcome alternative to the life waiting for her at home. 



Grace for all those who are doing their best with what they know. Guilt-inducing social media posts about the carelessness and ignorance of folks who don’t stay home, who take too long in the stores, who take their kids with them, who don’t achieve appropriate social distancing, who simply don’t do what seems so black and white to you, in your heavy sweater of privilege and fear.

So maybe instead of sharing yet one more opinion on the failures of others or calling the telephone reporting line on a stranger, choose to tug on that small thread, unravel that heavy, fearsome sweater, let it fall away and slowly knit back together a lovely, cozy comforting blanket of humanity, empathy and most importantly, grace. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hatching and Dispatching Barnyard Organics Style



Need something different in your newsfeed these days? Looking for some real food security and thinking of raising your own chickens? Let us help!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Vernalization



The idea of ‘hibernation’ is not an uncommon one to hear in the post-holiday time when everyone feels a bit spent (in more ways than one) and in need of a good wintery rest.  And it certainly is a comfortable sort of idea; imagining a roly poly mammal who has eaten a bit extra now cozying down for a couple months of a deep sleep, ready to wake in the spring and start over. For some at this time of year it feels magical and even a little aspirational that a sleep could be so deep and presumably restful. It’s not surprising to see and hear so many wistful references to hibernation at this season, in our society of chronic over-tiredness and rush-rush from one thing to the next. 

While there is value in considering the idea of a human version of hibernating, I wonder if we’re not better suited, in our relatively northern climate to consider vernalization instead. By definition vernalization is: 
"the exposure(artificial or otherwise) of plants (or seeds) to low temperatures in order to stimulate flowering or to enhance seed production."
That is to say, like many wild flowering plants or a winter wheat or rye seed that is planted in the fall, it will produce some lovely ground cover with grassy leaves and then head into the winter for what seems like a certain death.  Yet, come spring, as long as the ice hasn’t been too cruel, they will burst forth with fresh growth and be the first crop to produce a yield come late summer. They are the go-getters of field crop production and are often an organic farmer’s dream, combining the beauty of great cover crop and a low maintenance, low input early-season harvest.
If planted directly, without the vernalization in the spring, there will be some growth, some leaves, but no slender stems and most certainly no seed production. Without that winter rest, the plant produces none of its beauty, does not fulfill its purpose, does not flower or produce anything enduring. 

Hibernation is a sleep and wake. Necessary, yes, but little is different before the rest to after. With vernalization, the act of resting is the mechanism that allows and even forces the flowering to follow. Without the vernalization, we’re merely a spent seed with nothing new to offer. Rather than just a rest for rests sake, perhaps we should rest, recognizing that it not just feels good, but is physically necessary in order to flower the following spring. And not just flower, but produce a bounteous replica of all the good it started with.  

Farmers have been attempting human vernalization since the beginning of agriculture when for most, winter is a season of planning, perusing seed catalogues and pondering equipment purchases. It’s a season of financial analysis, fiscal considerations, invoice gathering and paperwork wrangling. Farmers do not spend the winter merely catching up on the hundreds of hours of Netflix they missed during the growing seasons (although they may do some of that). A good farmer is using these cold days for reflection, analysis, adjustment and preparation for a fresh start. So while they could simply rest, sleep longer and then wake up ready to repeat the following seasons, most farmers are taking the time to adjust and adapt for a more productive or sustainable growing period to come.  

In order to produce and be the selves that we were meant to be, we must slow our roll and find moments of quiet in this darker season. As the wind blows hard against the windows, rather than lamenting what feels like house arrest against the weather, what if we instead hunkered down for an earlier bedtime, but also some moments to consider what our own personal flowering looks like. What does reaching our potential mean to us this year and how will we get there? Setting resolutions, goals and intentions is lovely, but it’s not vernalization until we aim them at our larger purpose. 

The beauty of vernalization is that it repeats. But only if given the chance to rest. 

Image result for vernalization 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Land Limits Do Not Healthy Soil Make

The Lands Protection Act is the real problem, not the Irvings (although a vigilant eye is not remiss). Relying on “the spirit” of anything in 2019 is frankly, na├»ve. If the intention of the Act is to preserve soil health, small farms and healthy, vibrant economies, I would suggest that history shows it has been failing for decades and that even those original intentions are not enough. We are no longer at a stage where preservation is sufficient. We, as people of a small, rural province need to be looking beyond sustainability to enrichment and regeneration. Being outraged by exceeding arbitrary land limits is distracting us from the real, tangible issues of land and soil management



Perhaps it’s (past) time to consider an amendment to the lauded land limits portion of the Land Protections Act.  Let’s move beyond the idea of sustainable farms being a specific size and consider instead the priority of what they do and how they do it. What if instead of the focus being on number of acres, the application for land acquisition was instead treated like a job interview?  What if the questions had weight and required sincere thought and consideration? Questions that lawyers couldn’t answer. Questions whose answers could be seen born out. Questions like, but certainly not limited to;


  • How often will you, the owner of the land, physically be on the property to feel the soil, smell the air and monitor the biodiversity?
  • ·      What will you do to care for the soil? 
  • ·      How often will you test the soil?
  • ·      What sort of management practices will you put in place to mitigate contributions to climate change? 
  • ·      What sorts of innovative plans do you have to help build soil and prevent it from eroding by wind or by water?
  • ·      Will you plant crop varieties that can be harvested early enough to put some winter soil cover in place? 
  • ·      Will there be livestock on the land? If so, how will they be housed and what is the plan for their manure?
  • ·      Are you aware of wetlands and waterways within and adjacent to your property? What will you do to improve and maintain those? 
  • ·      Does your pesticide management plan include a reduction in inputs? Explain.
  • ·      Will you source any manure in place of chemical fertilizers?
  • ·      How will you help build biodiversity? 
  • ·      Will you be planting any trees? 
  • ·      Do you have plans to clear land or remove hedgerows? 
  • ·      What will your rotation look like? Anything new and interesting on your radar that is particularly good for building soil? 
  • ·      How will you contribute to the local community? (Coach soccer, volunteer at 4-H, church, watershed group?)  Will you know your neighbouring land owners?

Of course an answer is only as good as its owner and it would be all too easy to pay lip service without any intention of follow through.  Which is why tax payers will surely support the creation of a Soil Conservation Officer who will meet with new landowners at their property and review their answers every 3-5 years, raising property taxes accordingly and increasingly year by year for each empty promise.


Soil health is too precious to spend any more time wailing about the evils of owning too much land. If a province has the power to limit land ownership, then it surely has the power to require answers to questions that address the issues those limits were once meant to. And the subsequent power to deny requests that don’t meet the needs of Islanders and their precious soil, air and water. What got us here, will not get us there, and it’s time to move forward with intention and focus on the thing that matters; protecting the land. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Little PGR With Your Toast?

Just doing my nightly review of Facebook before hitting the sack and usually it puts me in a mental lull that makes sleep come easy.  But tonight, it's got me fired up and frustrated and unable to sleep, so perhaps a venting blog will help. Thanks for being my shoulder to rant on.

A field of our organic wheat, free from chemical fertilizers or  PGRs.

So what caught my eye exactly? This article regarding the use of plant growth regulators in wheat production in Western Canada.  Without thinking too much, it's a pretty innocuous article, sharing the latest research in PGR's in various wheat varieties in the Prairies. Wonderful new technology needed because many of the currently popular varieties tend to grow very fast and they lodge, or fall over, making harvest very difficult. So these PGR's act as a grown inhibitor, slowing the growth so the plants don't fall over. 

How the hell did we get here?  We (conventional ag) have selected and bred varieties of wheat that produce huge white grains on long thin stems, encouraged by fertilizers that increase rate of growth. When there started to be some challenges with those varieties, instead of backing up and considering a mildly lower yielding variety on shorter, stronger stems, instead we turned to chemical regulators that alter the hormones of the plants so that their growth is stunted. 

Am I the only one gobsmacked at this cycle of pure insanity!?  Has Canadian agriculture completely lost the ability of independent thought and evaluation and handed 100% of our decision making abilities over to corporations who sell us things?  And then sell us more things to fix the other things they sold us that didn't work out the way they said?  Then a new thing when that fix stops working or is found to be really messing up our own health because we're changing the hormonal make up of our FOOD!?!!?!?!

There are moments in modern ag when I want to go shake people and have serious conversations about how we got here.  There are moments when I want to cheer from the rooftops for a job well done. And there are moments when I want to cry and move to a deserted island where I can have some hens and a garden (and nice toilet paper somehow).  This is one of those moments.  How did we get here? And why are we not asking harder questions and maybe sometimes looking back instead of always, always looking up, to someone to sell us a solution? (The most ridiculous thing about the article is that the PGR's can negatively affect yield- ya think?!- so it's not a cure-all by any means, just a panacea for farmers panicking over a lodging crop.) 

For contrast sake, we've grown Acadia wheat here for a decade now and it's a bit lower yielding and definitely shorter stemmed but we don't feed it any chemical fertilizer and it's slowly adapted to our soil and climate to produce quite a beautiful crop.  

 Sigh.  
I guess I'll take slightly less, clean wheat, rather than boatloads of PGR and glyphosate-treated wheat. 

One more reason for me to buy organic wheat, bread, etc.  I wish there weren't always more reasons.