Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Spring Rush.

People always say, "Bet you guys are really busy this time of year!" and I think to myself, "Yeah, Mark is really busy, but my life sort of goes along at its usual pace."  BUT then, even though I'm not the one on the tractor, I'm somehow busier too.  The garden is partially in (planting corn for the first time-low expectations) and I dug a screen door out of a 'big garbage' pile on my way home from West Branch last week, so am ready to put that on the front door.  I've been writing, organizing, rehearsing and directing our Sunday School closing that is coming up and trying to put together a wee reunion for the girls from Mount Allison at some point during the summer.  Probably the most blog-affecting project I've undertaken is training for my first 5k race coming up this Saturday.  I started running at the end of April, for the first time in my life and have been really excited about the progress I've made from wheezing home after a long walk, to only needing to stop for a quick walk a couple times during the 5k. But with Mark in the fields many nights, it's been tricky getting away in the evenings, and then by the time I do, and shower, there's not much left for blogging. 
Anyway, that's just a bunch of excuses.  Here's what you really come for; farm updates.
We had lots of spring rain, as did rest of the Maritimes, but the ol' red sandbar dries out pretty quick and Mark disced, harrowed and sowed over 150 acres in about 2.5 days last week.  All the grain (barley, wheat and oats) is in the ground now and the wheat has come up and is looking fantastic.  We drove back to check out the winter wheat and it is looking like one of the best crops we've grown to date.  We're really starting to see the benefits of taking the time to develop and maintain a well-rounded, healthy soil.  So, he's just waiting on soybean planting now, taking the opportunity to fingerweed the grain as it comes up.  As usual this time of year, optimism is running high. 

Our first batch of chicks arrived today and the sheep are finally out on their new pasture.  They were just like kids when we let them out.  Even the old girls were kicking up their heels.  There is something about spring, wearing short sleeves for the first time, that first reminder of sunburn, the tracking of sandbox sand through the house, the smell of the grass (which is growing at an astronomical rate) and the long evenings (although not long enough to get everything done! haha).

Batteries are out, in the camera right now, but will be sure to include some pictures soon.  Things are so green and lush right now. 

Yawn, bedtime comes too quickly these days.  Hope this finds you contentedly exhausted too.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

First Summer Day 2011!

The happiest trio in Freetown.  Two kids in a tractor and a happy farmer getting the first seeds in the ground.

This is me following the grain drill back to the field this evening so that Mark could 'sow a quick 10 acres' to find out how his latest gadget is going to work

Here it is.  This is the squeeze pump for applying liquid fertilizer with the drill.  In this case it's smelly fish fertlizer.  It's always been something we wanted to explore, but this year Mark learned a bit more about it and made the leap to buying the pump, tank, etc.  I have to admit, it is pretty cool.  And according to a fellow grain farmer who applied it last year, they saw a three day jump on plants out of the ground.  I'm not completley convinced that it's worth it's weight (or cost) in gold, but we'll find out with some of our own amateur field trials this year.

It was SUCH a beautiful day here today.  Ya know that first real day of summer after a long winter and spring?  Well today was that day and it was glorious.  The kids never put on shoes and the bathwater was brown, so it was a great day.  After chores tonight I looked at us all and decided that we have taken enough posed and pretty family pictures that it was time we had a real one.  So I propped the camera up on the truck and self-timered this one into existence. 
Even smelly ol' Rinnie made it into the shot. He's a great farm dog and I'm thankful for him everyday, but I'm having a hard time finding that love in my heart every night as he barks and barks at the coyotes.  And really I shouldn't blame him since I think it's the sound of the coyote howls that wake me and keep me up, but either way, it's really wearing me out.  That sound, the yips and wails of the pups and adult coyotes; it sounds like there's hundreds of them, right outside my window. I swear they are in the farm yard. So brazen. 

Hope this finds you hydrating after a warm day in the sun.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Head in the Trough

Backyard and small scale livestock is a growing area of interest and if the number of emails we get every week asking about mixed feed are any indication, providing feed for these animals is a void that is not being filled.
Wait a minute, aren't there feed mills doing that already?  Yep.  But the people contacting us don't want GMO's in the feed and that simply is not possible unless you purchase organic feed.  If they're not raising the livestock with the intention of selling their products for an organic premium (and in many cases even when they are), organic feed is simply too expensive. 
Coming from farmers who sell the grain to the feed mill to make the feed, the mark up is a bit silly.  I'm no business expert, but it seems like maybe there is some wisdom in creating a customer base with lower profit margins and establishing loyalty and dependence on a quality product.  As people can afford more feed, they can afford more livestock, which will eat more feed and make for money coming in for the mill.  Unfortunately that is now how it's being done and it is without a doubt the number one obstacle standing in the way of organic livestock expansion in this region (and likely across Canada).
SO, my recommendation for those asking for non-GMO feed who don't need organic feed is this:
-figure out what it is you need.  The internet is a great source of information for creating a complete feed.  Mark, thankfully, paid attention in his animal nutrition class at NSAC, but with the use of the Pearson Square anyone can figure out what they need.  Although you may not have the capability to mix it, it is really important to know what you need.  You can make a much more informed purchasing decision then.  My lambs do really well on a mix of 2 things; crushed soybean and whole oats.  A commercial lamb grower probably has 6 ingredients.  I don't have a clue what's in a typical dairy cow ration, but I'm fairly certain it's probably more than the soybean, rolled oats and barley mix that Rosie sees everyday.  So, if you know what you need, you won't buy what you don't.     
-talk to your local grain farmer.  Inform yourself as to your options for proteins.  You can buy oats, barley, wheat, etc. fairly easily and they not yet available in GMO form (thank the Lord). So it's really the corn and soybeans you need to look for. Consider field peas.  Don't tell our soybean customers, but peas are a fantastic source of protein in complete feed mixes.
You might be surprised to find out what a farmer will grow if he is given the market, no matter how small.  Maybe he's already growing it for a larger market and is willing to sell a few bags.  Maybe he's already mixing his own feed and would share some.  Maybe he has an old mixer or roller you can borrow.  It might depend how much you need.  In our case, we are not certified nutritionists and although our rations are based on specific calculations for our needs, we don't want to assume any risk that might come with selling mixed feed.  Mixing feed is also not the number one job on the never ending list around here although it gets done when it needs to and it's not unusual for us to mix some extra- wink, nudge. 

So, it's too bad that the current infrastructure (ahemCoOpcoughcough) is missing out on the opportunity to play a major role in expanding the small scale and organic livestock industry and in turn grow their own business.  Next time you go to buy that bag of conventional feed just ask if they have a non-GMO product.  I'm sure they don't, but if enough people ask, they might source it.  Or try.  And that's how it gets going. Really. So ask.  Everytime.  Heck, even if you don't care about GMO's, ask, for the sake of those who do care and want a choice. 

Hope this finds you rejoicing at the glimpses of sun amongst the rain clouds.  Things are soggy but Mark and Wendell were out in the tractor this warm, sunny afternoon, discing up some ground, so it's not ark time yet.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Picture time

Well, if April showers bring May flowers, I guess May flowers bring...anxious farmers.  It's been a wet week and the next one isn't looking much drier.  Turns out this is actually just what spring is all about and later in the hot summer, we'll be happy that we had this rain, but right now Mark is pacing, 'puttering' at wet weather jobs.  On the good side, it means lots of the jobs on my list are getting done. My garden is prepped, the sandbox is getting revamped, the pasture is at the top of this week's list, etc.  We may even go on a date this week if the rain keeps up! 
So, to distract all you soggy Maritimers from the grey skies, I got out with the camera today and took some spring-like shots for the blog.  Even with no sun, the azaleas never fail to be the first big sign of colour for the season.  We were lucky to have two big beautiful bushes already well established when we bought this house.  I take a picture of the kids in front of it every spring. You'll see this year's first attempt.  It's missing Thayne and it's a pretty wet looking picture, but I wanted to get Wilson's outfit on record.  We had just had ice cream and it was all over his face and for some reason he was insisting on wearing that hilarious winter balaclava which reminded us of the chain mail that knights wore under their armour.  We called him Sir Licks-A-Lot. 

Here's the kid's section of the garden where I left some parsnips from last year (boy, those carrots grew fast! You guys must have taken GREAT care of those!) and we threw some spinach seeds in, which have miraculously sprouted up out of the ground, but it's looking a bit soggy tonight.

 The garlic is looking good and I'm excited for my first crop this fall!  We go through a lot of garlic here, so we'll see how my test plot of 12 plants goes this year.  As I was taking this picture I noticed the kids lapping up some rain water from the lawn chair in the background.  Hard up for moisture I guess.

My mother's day present to myself was an ice cream maker.  Ever since we got the cow I've wanted one, so here's my sous-chefs keeping a close eye on the first batch.  It was marginally successful, but I don't think it was the machine's fault.  I have another bottle of cream saved up so we'll try again tomorrow.  Any tips from ice cream connoisseurs out there? 

Hope this finds you keeping an eye on the Manitoba and Mississippi floodings and keeping things in perspective. 


Friday, May 13, 2011

Belated Mothers Day post

We hosted two grade one classes at the farm this morning.  It went well and I think the kids really enjoyed themselves.  One class was more receptive than the other, but it was nice to see kids (and their chaperoning parents) enjoying some time on the farm and asking good (and sometimes funny) questions.  My favorite of the day was a response when I asked what they thought the difference between is between white eggs and brown eggs and one little guy said, "Aren't brown eggs just old white eggs?"

Anyway, one of the moms that was along for the trip was asking about our kids and Thayne's age, etc. and along with the other moms agreed that they "wouldn't be out and about hosting a pile of grade 1 kids with a three kids under three."  That, along with a lovely email from a friend a few days ago, got me thinking tonight about the expectations that mom's live with these days, and how we always think we're never doing as much or as good a job as the next one. 

Like my friend Jen, for example, who somehow works all winter at a ski hill and then grows a GIANT, beautiful market garden all summer and has a super successful CSA, with two of the cutest little nearly-2yr-old twin boys trundling along behind her.

Or Melanie, the email writer who thinks that I'm doing so much more than her, yet there she is raising a variety of animals to provide her family with food she trusts, baking and cooking her way through some of the healthiest foods known to Canadians.  There she is pregnant with her third baby and managing to make it to various playgroups and church every week.  And she makes meal plans for a MONTH ahead of time!

Or how about my sister April who spends every spare moment of her busy, full-time teaching life dedicated to creating an incredibly well rounded life for her three kids.  How about the close relationship she manages to have with each of them and how her infinite patience and compassion draws out the best in everyone.  And how she goes WAY over and above the requirements of her job to share her love of math (ugh!) with kids around the region.  She makes my tired days look like a vacation.

Then there's the mom I look up to, Lisa, who has raised four of the smartest, brightest and most of all, nicest kids I know.  Her eldest is graduating from UNB this week and will be receiving the Governor General's award, with no debt to her name and best of all, the most grounded head on her shoulders that she has the wisdom to not just jump into what seems like the obvious next step.  That sort of confidence is exactly what every mother wants to instill in their children.

My own mother is a legend to legions of people who have ever imagined having four kids under the age of four (due to twins), let alone 8 kids and 10 years.  That gives me a headache just typing it and yet every one of us turned out to be strong willed, successful in our own right, confident and most telling, good parents, raising good kids.  Let's not even talk about the fact that she did it all with cloth diapers only.

So, if you're a mom, revel in the thought that even on your worst day, you are an inspiration for someone who you probably look up to yourself.

Now, I'm off to wash some old brown eggs for the morning.   :)


Monday, May 9, 2011


Ah, finally, warmer weather!  Short sleeves, no pants and swings=bliss. Life is good these days in the Bernard household.  The next shot is a great example of what we do when it's not warm enough to be outside.
I'm usually cooking, Lucy is puzzling, with Jimmy in arms and Wilson is getting bored and fussy, while Thayne watches.

In un=family related news, I was directed to this article  by a blog that I regularly read by a retired journalist here on the Island on his blog Food Matters.  It is about the farm subsidies in the US that have created artificially low food prices, environmental degradation and monocropping.  Since the farm bill was signed, farmers have been receiving $5 BILLION annually to grow corn and soybeans and that's just a portion of the larger amount ($16 billion annually) for other various programs.  BILLION.  US farmers have admitted that this is not an ideal situation and various politicians have suggested removing or limiting the subsidies, but it's political suicide to remove reliable and long-term funding like that for a whole industry.  Well, as this article suggests, FINALLY there is real talk to cutting the subsidies.  Almost completely.  Why would a farmer want to see farm subsidies removed?  There are so many reasons, but you just have to consider how those American subsidies affect Canadian commodity prices and it is a real step forward for a more sustainable food system.  Back to my latest favorite book, "The Organic Manifesto" by Maria Rodale, she talks a lot about the farm bill and how it inherently promotes growing GMO's and inhibits development of organic farms and operations.  Corn requires a LOT of fertilizer, which in itself can be a real problem,
but the main markets for corn are other serious problems (high fructose corn syrup and cattle feed).  I could go on for a while, but check out the article and keep and eye on these developments.  I really believe this could be a big step forward for agriculture both in the US and here.  Hooray!!

Back to family bits, here's a few recent shots for anyone interested.
 The bathing beauty.  LOVES his bathtime.
 Here's a picture from being home in NB this weekend.  The kids were trying out some football gear with some help from their older cousin Ewan.  This must be Mark's dream come true. :) 

 And here's my little swing-lovers.  Wilson like playing it pantless mostly these days (potty training).  You can see that Thayne is not all that excited by it all, but in true form he tolerates it for the benefit of everyone else. My easy-going guy.

Hope this finds you enjoying the greenness of the grass these days.  Reminds me of a song by Sarah Harmer
"Look at that green, out through the screen
After a quick rain came.
So fast, that there wasn't time to roll up the windows
And pull the clothes down off the line.
I don't care it was so dry
The grass is happy and I think so am I."

Our land is very dry and we could really use all the rain they've been calling for that has been going around us.  No seeds in the soil here yet, but we're ready and Mark, is eager to try out his new fish fertlizer applicator that goes on the seeder.  Will try to include some pictures for those interested sometime soon.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blue Skies

Well, the government might be in the crapper, but on the upside, Thayne slept from 8pm to 6 am this morning.  Who can blame him for not wanting to wake up to this cruel, blue world?

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Greener World

Well, cast my vote and felt like it mattered this time more than ever.  I can't pin point exactly what it was about this election, but it was fun to watch/listen to, if nothing else. 
Didn't go with what I said I would in the end.  Decided that my $1.95 vote subsidy mattered more than a strategic vote against the blue dictator. 

Hope you're enjoying partipating in the process!  Although, I'm trying to watch the CBC results and the font is REALLY tiny!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Alarmist or Realist?

disclaimer: this is another GMO post.

2 things spawing this post:
-recently sharing a car with a gov't extension specialist talking about how difficult it is to convince conventional grain farmers to consider non-GMO soybeans, let alone organic.
-a new grain operation setting up and recieving some pressure from various sides to plant GMO's. 

I've written about GMO's before and you all know where I stand, but I've never felt so strongly about them as I do after having read "The Organic Manifesto" by Maria Rodale.  It is a straight forward book that I believe presents some very effective and truthful arguments as to the necessity of organics in todays world.  Now, I really hate conspiracy theorists and hyperbole, so I hope that you can read this and not roll your eyes or shake your head and wonder as to my sanity.  When Mark talks about GMO's he presents a very practical argument and looks and sounds the part of a typical farmer, organic or otherwise.  He is the face that convinces conventional farmers to at least consider planting non-GMOs.  Therefore, I get to vent the less quantifiable reasons on here instead of to those making the decisions on the ground, because if there's anything farmers hate, it's pie in the sky ideas with little evidence. 
With that, here's a few reasons to re-consider the value of genetically modified organisms in our food system.

GMO proponents continually come back to the 'higher yields' argument, which we've seen here on the Island is simply not true.  It all comes back to the soil, and if the soil isn't healthy it doesn't matter whether it's GMO or not, the yields will be down.
Another argument commonly issued is that GMO's require fewer pesticides, but studies have proven that pesticide use has actually increased since GMO's were introduced.  It turns out that since farmers know that the plant cannot be harmed by the Round Up, they apply even more, in an attempt to truly eradicate all weeds.   On another note, many weeds have begun to develop resistance to Round Up, so producers are having to use even stronger pesticides, more often.
Farmers really need more expenses, so it's convenient that GMO seeds are proprietary so that seeds cannot be saved from year to year.  It also helps that the same companies who own the right to the seeds also own the chemicals needed to spray them.  Dependency anyone? 
Don't even start on exporting markets, because outside of China, there are few.  The EU wants nothing to do with GMOs, so there's one good, pratical reason right there, not to grow it.  Should we not also perhaps consider the reasons those countries don't want them?

Monsanto is an easy company to pick on, so I will, but keep in mind, it's only one of many.  We all know they have profits that give them the ability to buy lobbying power like no one else (in 2008 they spent well over $8million on lobbying alone).  They can afford to put a lot of resources into research funding for universities who study the benefits of GMO's.  They can afford to fund lawyers who draft bills and laws that open the door to more questionale biotechnology in agriculture.  Former high-level employees 'somehow' have found themselves in the corner offices of the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, the agency responsible for researching the impact of things like GMO's on our food system.  The reach of Monsanto is infinite and strong.  Money talks and they have no shortage.

Because the science world is flush with pro-GMO studies (funded by the GMO companies) and short on funding for legitimate research into GMO's, studies are hard come by, but they do exist.  It comes up again and again that GMO's are being linked to fertility problems, increased abortions and miscarriages.  One study referencing dairy cows is one practical example, but studies of lab mice fed a diet heavy in GMO's found that by the third generation of mice, they were unable to conceive.  Ok, ok this feels alarmist, but if we consider the fact that GMO's have been in our own food system for only 30 years and a generation is equivalent to 20-25 years, we are only entering the second generation in a GMO friendly world.  

This is where most people will turn this blog off because it's getting too out there and conspiracy oriented. And this is why Mark is the face of reason to those for whom it will really matter, but if I don't share my concerns I would failing myself.   
Finally, it doesn't matter whether you side with Monsanto or me on this one, but there is no denying that once GMOs have been introduced, they are not going away.  You can farm without GMO's for eternity, but once you plant them, that pristine soil you've spent your life building up will always have them.  You can't go back.  The genes can spread by a variety of means and the effects of that are as of yet, unknown.  Benign or not, the farmer is left to deal with the consequences. 

Enough doom and gloom.  It's another beautiful Sunday and I am excited by all the new beginnings that come with spring.