Friday, March 25, 2022

One Helluva Pipe(dream)

Big numbers can be tricky to get ones head around. It's why they get kindergarten kids to bring in 100 of something on the 100th day of school. Our brains sometimes struggle to grasp the enormity of big numbers. 

 340,000 is a huge number. I've been trying to get my head around just how big that number is in the context of litres.

A Boeing 747 uses 14,400 litres of jet fuel per hour. So 340000 litres would be enough for a 24 hr flight and then some. 

A round, backyard pool measuring 15 ft across and 5 ft deep holds 25000 L. You could have nearly 13 pools in your backyard and still not have 340000 L of water in them. 

A large milk truck holds roughly 20,000L. So you'd need 17 milk trucks to hold 340,000 L. 

Yet, somehow last summer, a pipe moving liquid cow manure through a culvert and across a field burst and for three hours, gushed liquid shit at a rate of 340,000 L PER HOUR. FOR THREE HOURS. That's a total of well over 1 MILLION LITRES OF TOXIC LIQUID MANURE in a matter of THREE HOURS.

I keep waiting for this number to be corrected in the CBC article, thinking it simply cannot be correct. But it still stands, a day later and is based, presumably on court documents, so must be correct. It is little surprise then that the reported number of brook trout was 600 and that's just the ones they found. The nearby public beach was closed for the season and shellfish was limited in the area. 

The take away from this article is not about this specific farm however. It's not even about the shit or the fish. It's the fact that we've designed a system to heralds the capacity and size of farms like this. We've placed efficiency and cheap food on such a high pedestal over the values of sustainability and ecological awareness that we shouldn't be shocked when disasters like this happen. 

We can discuss the multiple dangers of liquid manure another time, but consider that a small farm wouldn't likely be moving manure so far. They wouldn't be moving it by pipeline. They wouldn't have such a large pipe or pump system. Manure wouldn't be a waste product to be rid of, but a valuable input to be managed and monitored closely. A small farm would never have found itself in the position of being in court for spilling liquid manure at a rate of THREE HUNDRED FORTY THOUSAND LITRES PER HOUR.

$50,000 is a significant fine in the world of PEI agriculture and it might even lead to changes on that farm. But it doesn't do anything to move us toward a system of more, smaller farms with more farmers and happier neighbours. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Dangerous Part

 The argument over whether the trucker convoy headed to Ottawa is a bunch of hillbilly-anti-vax-white-nationalists or the most hopeful momentum of protest against government restrictions is a distraction from what I think is the real tipping point here, and it only serves to continue to divide the country even further.

This has grown into a much larger issue than just vaccine choices and while some will certainly frame the protest in such a light, given the scope of support it's seeing, I think it's important to consider that it is much more than a single issue movement (and in fact, some would argue is not about vaccine choice at all). 

When Trump was elected, I was among those who was astounded and confused. And I stayed that way for the first months of his election, confused over the support such a deplorable leader could rally. But the more I paid attention to the kind of folks who were behind him, the more clear it became that it was less about him as a person and more about him as a boisterous voice, an attention getter. He was offering a very public and loud voice for a large segment of people who felt ignored and marginalized.  Whether they actually were or not, is up for debate in a different article, but they FELT they were and they were angry about it. 

I think we're seeing a glimpse of that with this Freedom Convoy. There are a lot of people who have kept their opinions to themselves about the rules and regulations over the last couple years. The risk of saying anything against the rules was to risk being labelled a careless, selfish bigot who doesn't care if vulnerable people die so rather than question a publicly supported narrative, a lot of folks have kept to themselves. Some, more vocal folks have fanned dangerous flames on the internet, spawning lots of questionable information and garnering support from some vulnerable folks. 

But there are a lot of people who roll their eyes at the angry Facebook warriors and still have questions that they're scared to ask and are frustrated at the limited dialogue. Just as there were a lot of folks who didn't attend Trump rallies but who still quietly put their vote beside his name because they finally felt heard. Just as there are a lot of people in support of the convoy who have never posted a comment on the internet, waved a flag or complained to you about any of the rules. 

So if you're someone who has been publicly critical, shared a dismissive article, maybe posted a clever meme or come up with a cynical new pun for the name of the movement, consider that there may be someone close to you who you assume has the same views as you, but has just been keeping to themselves because that is what is acceptable. Consider that by sharing your negative views of what is (thus far) a peaceful protest that is clearly supported by a lot of folks, you're making yourself yet one more unsafe place for that person to turn with their questions. 

And if your reaction to that is, "Good! I don't want to be a safe place for 'anti-vaxxers'! They're not worth my time!" then it's time to consider that you're no better than the most vocal, unmovable protester and we'll never reach common ground as a country. 

And the problem with that, is that we risk electing officials over ideologies and not policies. That's where things get dangerous. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Values Chain

 I've been putting off writing this. For all kinds of reasons, but mostly because I just don't want to acknowledge what's in it. 

We have to raise our feed prices. 

Womp womp.

Sometimes we get teased that we're the vertically integrated Irving-esque organic farmers of the region. We grow much of our own seed for our own grain, for our own feed for our livestock that we process and market ourselves. We didn't start out that way, but I will admit the comfort I take in some of our food security here, to a degree. 

And I think as a result of that vertical integration I thought we might be immune to all the wacky fluctuations happening *gestures wildly about*. I think I foolishly thought that because we knew our cost of production and our margins, we could to control the pricing and honour that crucial part of our values statement that says,

"Barnyard Organics is a diversified, family-friendly, soil-focused farm with a priority on organic integrity from seed to feed and keeping products fair and accessible to the regional community."

I knew better. I know enough about our upside down global food system to know that no one is separate from the policies and politics that affect our food. Including us. 

As East Coast Organic Grainery grew, we have had to purchase more and more grains from other farmers. And we're thrilled to do so. It says right on our bag how much supporting organic farmers matters because more consistent demand means more acres turning over to organic production. Which means fewer pesticides & chemical fertilizers and more emphasis on soil biodiversity and agroecology. But those same organic farmers have choices of where to send their product and we can't blame them for choosing the highest bidder. If a broker in Ontario will pay $1500 per tonne for raw organic beans, we can't expect them to take last year's price from us, just so we can keep our feed prices the same. 

We saw organic field pea prices rise last year and a general shortage meant we had to source from outside the Maritimes for the first time which meant a subsequent rise in the price for peas. It was our first sign of things to come.

Overall, this current price hike is due mostly to the significant increase in the price for soybeans, one of our main staple ingredients. But all the grains have gone up. Which means all of the feeds have gone up. Even the SoyFree options. 

We know that choosing our feed is already a decision made based on values. Not the lowest value, but the highest valueS. Like wanting to support a local mill, Maritime farmers, soil health, non GMO, simple ingredients, organic grains, etc. And because we share all the same values, we absorbed the higher costs for a while, hoping this blip would pass and we could get back to ensuring our feed was accessible to all those who wanted it. But now, even after trimming our margins and having a hard look at all the excel sheets and data, we can't absorb it anymore. Prices are going up. 

And it isn't easy. There are undoubtedly cheaper options out there. Some of you may be forced to switch based on dollar alone.  We understand and hope that you will be back. We will still continue to insist on the best grains, simple recipes, high quality minerals and really great feed.  

 We're all swimming upstream against this strange and sudden tide of inflation that no one can make sense of and no one seems to be able to avoid or control. 

This is an outtake from an OLD Christmas card of ours, but it feels appropriate for the moment. Things are a little fuzzy, a bit confused, not quite aligned and we sometimes put on an overdone smile, but we still hold out hope. For it all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Warts 'N All

 Well well well, three holes in the ground. Or in this case, just one big hole with a bunch of PEI potato farmers tossed in it by the Feds while politics plays itself out in the theatre of cross border posturing. And one "farmer" sitting up on the edge of the hole looking down, grinning and counting his money.

We all know how much I love to hate Cavendish Farms and the Irving oligarchs. But if this current situation isn't one in which to take a more critical look at them, I don't know what it will take. Of all the businesses and farms affected by the potato wart border closure, Cavendish farms is the one business that stands to BENEFIT from it all. As buyers of potatoes, they now rest as the closest and easiest market for all the potatoes from the fields with wart and now all the potatoes that won't be sold across the border. Desperate farmers who are watching their market go up in smoke will be looking for willing buyers and who will be gleefully rubbing their hands together at an abundance of local spuds at reduced prices? 

Even if the potatoes DON'T go to them, what is their incentive to keep the wart in check? They are virtually unaffected by any fresh potato border closure and are always looking for more product so besides the hassle of extra cleaning of their gear at digging time, and some extra CFIA oversight (for which they have people hired to deal with), why would they be particular about keeping it contained? What is their inventive, as a business that buys potatoes that are not sale-able, and then buys farms that are no longer viable because of lost markets? 

I know there are lots of farmers and employees on PEI who will never speak their mind on the Irvings for fear of retribution, loss of contract, loss of employment, etc. But until we look this exploitive monopoly in the face and call it what it is, we're just continuing to rail at the heavens, clutch our pearls and pretend we don't know any better. When we know better, we can do better and now we know. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

VHA (vax hesitant anonymous)

 My name is Sally and I am vaccine-hesitant. I'm here because I am scared about the reactions and expectations of people when they learn that about me and I thought if I shared it here, it won't be such a shock for my friends and family when they see me in person. 

My concern is strictly on long term effects. I don't buy into any of the computer chip, anti-science rhetoric, but the companies producing the vaccines will be the first to admit that they have no data on long term effects. I understand how the vaccines work, both the mRNA and otherwise, and I understand the work that has gone on for decades prior to these being available today. Many will think that I have been influenced by radicals or extremists, but the truth is that I just want more information and time before making a decision.

To be clear I'm not all-vaccine-hesitant. All my own and my kids' vaccines are up to date and I believe in the importance of herd immunity against diseases that we know have saved pain and strife for so many over the decades. I had hesitancy against H1N1 when it was all the stir, but ended up taking the kids in for that one as well. 

I will not be supporting my children getting the Covid-19 vaccine in the near future. 

I got my own first dose of Pfizer in early June and it was under duress and great anxiety, but I knew that my province would not allow me to freely visit my out-of-province family without it. Since long term effects is my concern, it is less of a concern for me than what I perceive for children. 

When I compare the data of children contracting Covid as well as the data around children getting ill from Covid, to the data of myocarditis showing up in adolescents (particularly boys) following the vaccine, I cannot wrap my head around justifying the vaccine for kids. Some science suggests that children can pass the disease to others, but with vaccine rates so high, especially vulnerable populations, I continue to struggle to understand the pressure on 12 year olds to receive a shot that carries more risk than the risks associated with the extremely low rates of Covid symptoms in kids. 

None of this opinion should matter, except that my home province of PEI has made it very burdensome to travel without vaccination. For example, my two children who are over 12 and have not been vaccinated will be required to isolate for 8 days upon returning from NB to visit their grandparents who they haven't seen in 7 months. This means they are not to leave the property to go to the beach, to go to sports, to see friends, etc. Given that we usually go to NB every second weekend, that would give them roughly 4 days every two weeks of 'freedom'. Their isolation includes multiple trips to the testing clinic 20 minutes away, and they cannot be tested at the check point at the border, so thats another special trip. 

But again, none of this is even the greatest concern for me. It was a recent moment at a bonfire with friends when it became clear that one friend felt that vaccines should be mandatory and children without them should be kept separate from those who have the shot. I knew these opinions existed, but I foolishly assumed that it would be those on the fringes. Just as I'm sure she thought that those who weren't getting their kids vaccinated were on the fringes. I suspect we surprised each other and it was helpful to hear the perspectives of others. 

But as I slipped away from the fire to take some deep breaths and consider what I was feeling, I realized that a lot of my anxiety about going home, finally, after all these months, lie in worry over the opinions I'll meet there.  Will my assumption that family ties are stronger than emotions about vaccine choice prove true? Can I hug everyone without worrying that someone will turn away? Will I be invited to all family events, knowing that some in my small family have chosen not to vaccinate? Will anyone confront me and share anger over my choices? Will my 'home' be a safe place? 

It's this anxiety over what this pandemic has done to relationships that breaks my heart and keeps me up at night. I 100% support the choice of everyone to do what feels right for them. I am so glad that there is a vaccination that helps people feel safer and able to move around again. If it doesn't make me feel safer, and in fact feels scary, where do I stand with the people I love? Can we agree to disagree or is my family a perceived threat to those who feel vaccination is necessary? I'm at a loss to reconcile these parts of who I am and I am so tired of the all-consuming space its taken up in my head and heart. 

So there it is. Are we ok?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Barnyardigans Grow Up and Get a Schedule


The closest we've ever come to a strict schedule around here is "No one works on Sunday (besides the mandatory livestock chores)".

But with planting season approaching and the feed mill busier than ever, we're testing the waters of a new scheduling system which is going to require a little more planning on the part of our customers. Any orders of feed being shipped directly to them, including retailers, should expect two delivery days per week. We have been, to now, shipping on demand, but to streamline things a bit for space and human resources, we're hoping that a regular schedule will help (and maybe even get us some better shipping quotes?).

As for folks who pick up at the farm, please note the daily shut down from noon-1. This is going to be a tough one, since it seems that many customers like to come at meal times, but if someone comes between those times, they may have to wait until 1. 

Behind the scenes of all this is a more scheduled feed mixing schedule as well. We're hopeful that Monday and Wednesday will be enough to complete the orders for the week. So for example, if you place an order on Wednesday night, it means that it won't be made until Monday morning and then shipped the next day, Tuesday. We recognize that this could pose some real challenges for folks who have gotten used to our on-demand service.  We will be flexible for the first few weeks, but are hopeful that we can all transition to this schedule in order to ease the pressures on everyone at this busy farm.

I hope that this does not create a difficult challenge for you, outside of a little added planning. Happier feed millers must make for better feed?!?

Thank you so much in advance for your understanding and willingness to give this a go. 

Mark & Sally

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Our Hideaway Homestead - Balcom Family Farm

Farmer Feature

I'm hoping to start a new series where we highlight a customer of ours and feature their farm and products on social media, but I wanted it to also exist in a larger, more permanent format, so to the blog we go!

If you're a superfan, you might have noticed that the photos of goats on our website recently got a major facelift from the stock photos we were using (not having any goats ourselves), to having the sweetest faces of some beautiful Nubian goats that look like they're part of the most bad-ass band cover shoot ever!

Those beauties spend their days in the beautiful area of Sundridge, NS, just outside Pictou.  Our Hideaway Homestead is the dream of the Balcom family who nourish themselves and their community with the harvest of their thoughtfully raised products. 

You can find their Facebook page under Our Hideaway Homestead Balcom Family Farm and their photos will make you dream of your own little piece of paradise in the country. With their kids, Cory and Michelle raise pastured pork, beef and chickens. Michelle is passionate about her beautiful goats and is a Registered Nubian Breeder (CAE and Johne's tested herd). You might be one of the lucky ones to be on their list for their consciously raised meats and eggs. Or maybe you're looking to get into goats and want to make sure you start with the best breeding stock, in which case, there is no better first stop than the Balcoms who have kids available each spring. 
If you're new to this sweet little farm and in the area, don't put off contacting them. Their products sell quickly and you'll miss it if you're not on the list!

If you needed another reason to love these hard working farmers, they recently won the $100 Barnyard Bucks contest that we held and opted to donate it back for us to provide a deserving family with... a surprise that will the topic of another blog. 

We're so pleased to count these folks as customers and we look forward to their updates and growth in the seasons to come!