Monday, November 26, 2012

December here yet? :)

Well, it feels like it's been a long time coming, but it's here and tomorrow we pack up to head all the way down to Charlottetown for the National Outstanding Young Farmers event and although I have mixed feelings right now, I know it'll be an amazing time.  I say mixed feelings right now because I've got at least three ewes in the barn looking very 'baggy' and heavy and tired, and because we've never been away from the kids (or the farm) as long as we will be this week.  I spent a long time snuggling everyone to bed tonight, knowing it would be a while before I could do that again.  But we've got them spread amongst some people who really love them while we're gone, so I doubt they'll even notice our absence much.  
The ACORN Conference this past weekend was really great as usual and it turned out be really fun to have kids with us in the hotel.  A lot more work of course, but fun to have them there enjoying it all.  There is a GREAT childcare service and they had a fun time with that which left us time to get to some interesting workshops.  Although as I said to Mark I almost feel like the networking and chatting outside of the workshops is nearly as, if not more, valuable.  It is always so nice to come away feeling invigorated and positive about what we're doing when there are times we wonder.  Thanks ACORN for putting on a great and huge event!

Big thanks to both of our parents and Mark's sister, Martha, this week as they tackle the challenge of the three wee ones.  Extra thanks to Wendell for so willingly stepping into being a shepherd and keeping a general eye on things while we're gone.  And to awesome neighbours who will milk Rosie for us for most of the week.  And to my Dad who will take over milking when he gets here (despite his less than enthusiastic love of Jerseys).  And to Mom who will relieve my lambing worries once she arrives.  And to Patty Jo who will check in on the 'girls' for me during the week before Mom gets here.  

I'm sure that by Sunday all of the above will be questioning the wisdom of our latest announcement: Bernard number 4 will be arriving June 2013.  
But it's too late now!  :) 

Here's to successful lambings, with no problems.  Or better yet, no lambings until next week!!!!

I hope this finds you looking forward to a December filled with traditions, eggnog, music, relaxation and family.  I know I am.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why False Organic Claims Matter

If the product is raised on pasture, locally, by farmers I know, fed feed from a local mill and sold at my farmer's market, what difference does it make if the organic claim is legitimate or not?

A lot.

There are a few key factors involved in this somewhat loaded question and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this particular entry is inspired by some serious (and repeated) false organic claims made by La Ferme Springbrook, based very near to where I grew up.  The Times & Transcript (Moncton, NB daily newspaper) recently featured a piece on the farm, with pictures of their chickens including a claim of certified organic status and even a statement from Paul, the owner, suggesting that he was organic before organic was even a 'thing'. 
I've never been to the farm, and when I looked them up online, I was struck by how similar many of their pictures look to ours.  They've got meat birds out on pasture in movable pens similar to ours, and layer hens running around in the grass.  They've got lambs with long tails and some very pretty landscape shots.  It looks like a great little farm, trying to do all the right things.
It has come to my attention before, that at their stand at Dieppe Farmers Market, there are visible organic claims and nothing to substantiate it.  So when I was at a meeting this summer and happened to be sitting across from Paul, I took the opportunity to ask him about his organic claims.  He gave me a quick well-heeled explanation of how they do things 'naturally' and that it really is organic, but they don't have the certificate. 
"So where do you source your grain and feed?"
"Miramichi Feeds.  It's a good mill."
"And would contain a fair bit of soybean and corn I suspect, right?"
"So those would be GMO, right Paul?"
"Well, I don't know about that."
"Ok, well, let me confirm for you, that unless it's organic feed, which I know Miramichi Feeds don't make, that it is with certainty, GMO feed."
stutter, briefly, " It is good, local feed, I have bought from them for years and years. I've never had a problem."
I am still unsure as to whether he really didn't understand the concept of GMO's or whether he was dodging a reality here, but either way, I feel the need to clear up just exactly why this deception doesn't just hurt the organic community, it hurts agriculture and in particular the buy local movement.

1)the cost of grain is without a doubt, the #1 prohibitive reason for people considering livestock, organic or not.  Organic grain continues to be considerably more expensive than conventional and those who make the effort, pay the big bucks and suffer the challenges of supply, sourcing and paperwork have earned the extra level of credibility.  They have taken the extra step in ensuring that the nutrition they are providing for their livestock is confidently, GMO-FREE!  Be it for ethical reasons, scientific reasons, marketing reasons or personal reasons, they have chosen to bear the burden of the extra cost and likely hope to recoup some of that cost by marketing their product as legitimately, truthfully, certified organic. 

2)Consumers want to do what's best for them and their families.  If they are making the effort to come to the farmer's market they are already a step ahead, a demographic concerned about the sources of their food and wanting to support a good, local product.  They WANT to believe that friendly looking face behind the counter and to take that trust for granted, by deliberately telling mis-truths hurts every other farmer out there.  I don't have a problem with local, not-organic food.  If you can trust your farmer and you are happy with the product you're buying, at the price you're paying, then please enjoy and consider those producers each time you cook whatever it is you've purchased.  I WANT people to have their own farmer, just like they lay claim to a doctor or a hairdresser.  I WANT there to be a trust between those who grow our food and those who eat it.  But I'm struggling with creating a trust over a product whose label doesn't live up to reality.

3)Not everyone who learns the truth will care.  Many won't.  But some will.  And those who will, will understandably have a difficult time trusting another farmer again.  Be they organic or not.  And not just the farmer, but logo, the standard, the label, ruining it not just for another organic farmer at that market, but for organic food across the country.  CFIA is supposed to be the body responsible for investigating false claims, but with spotty (read:none in most cases) provincial regulations and fewer and fewer resources, it's simply not something that gets done as often as we'd all like.  So it comes down to organic inspectors (who only inspect organic farms) and the individual consumer. It simply isn't a fair way to treat people who are your bread and butter.

There is growing interest over "GMO-free feeds and products", which is to say they are not organic, so don't necessarily hold the other standards of animal welfare, environmental impact, etc. etc., but THAT is a fair claim in my eyes. Once again, the farmer is making the extra effort and paying the extra money to source a product outside of the conventional, GMO system and although they may not be certified, it doesn't matter, because THEY'RE NOT CLAIMING TO BE.

If Paul's ignorance about the significance of GMO's is truly based on just that; ignorance, then I guess it is up to his customers to demand a change.  As far as I am concerned, in this day of national organic standards and a public who is generally aware of what that means, it is absolutely, undoubtedly unacceptable to be feeding a prohibited substance as part of the daily diet of livestock and unabashedly use the certified organic claim. 

In one way, I hate being the bearer of news like this, because if even one of Paul's happy customers read this and actually care, then I've just been the carrier of the confusion and mistrust.  I just laid the trail of evidence which leads to someone potentially turning their back on local agriculture at all, and returning to the anonymous grocery store shelves.  Or maybe I've just cleared up some questions and caused someone to think, "Hmmm...well, I guess next time I'll ask for an up to date organic certificate, or ask that farmer about what she feeds her animals and won't take a vague, pretty sounding explanation in response."
Probably not, but if there's even a small chance, then it was worthwhile potentially alienating someone with this entry.  This thing wouldn't be much fun for anyone if I couldn't be honest, would it?

I am getting really excited about the ACORN conference coming up.  If you're at all interested in anything organic, you should really check out the program, which is jam-packed with awesomeness.  Although it is guaranteed to be a busy time for Mark and I, I always look forward to that feeling I come away with of assuredness in what we're doing and confidence that this is the right track.  And soooo many ideas.   And for the first time we're bringing the kids to much of it and I'm kind of excited for their first hotel experience (it helps that it has a pool).

I had a bit of trouble today for the first time, with pregnancy toxemia in a ewe, who I don't think is going to make it, despite a very pricey visit from the vet on a holiday Remembrance Day.  It has given me pause and is probably the unfortunate wake up I needed to re-prioritize a few things.  Lambing is due to start in the next week or two and will likely hold off until Mark and I have been trucked down to Ch'town for our week-long National Outstanding Young Farmers event.  I have been losing sleep over this single fact for a few nights now, but at this point there is very little I can do, so I'll just cross my fingers and hope they all go overdue and wait until December.

I hope this finds you anticipating a long, snowy winter, full of cozy warm drinks and perhaps pretty seed magazines to browse.  Ah, sounds like heaven right now.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Winter Clean Up

It's the time of year when things start to wrap up and we begin to look at the upcoming season of meetings and try to make life easier for those who might be doing chores while we're gone.  Today we shipped Toot and Puddle off and a couple lambs.  It surprised me how sentimental I got about those crazy pigs and Lucy had a particularly hard time, despite having talked about it for a while now.  Just last week we were talking about how much better the bacon will be as we filled the wheelbarrow with windfall apples from the orchard.  I guess it sort of really hits home when you're going through the stress of loading them after such a stress-free summer of mud and treats.  It makes me yearn for a time when butchering your own livestock was not a lost skill or considered a time-eating, money-waster and something we all did without thinking about it. 

 We've also been trying to decide what to do with a couple other 'extras' we have around the farm these days.  There's Rhubarb, who needs to go.  Somewhere.  She's still got her horns, which is a real hassle for a lot of people but were a good lesson for us to not put it off next time.  She should grow up to be a great milker, but she's a bit away from that yet.  She's sure come a long way from this picture though! haha.
Finally, we've got Duncan to attend to.  He's our old ram who needs to go.  Again, somewhere.  Likely to Truro sale, but we've got to find someone heading to the sale on a Thursday and send him along as it's hard to justify a trip across for one old looking ram.  He just had one great last season with the ewes, but he looks to be in less-than-ideal condition and I'm certain he's blind. He also loses his cud often (likely a contributing factor to his condition), but he's been a friendly favorite, and effective ram, so I hate to just do him in (or get Mark to do him in).

The roosters have been doing their own winter clean up by fighting to a bloody mess for flock supremacy.  The two main dudes seem to have agreed upon having their own respective harems and trot around with their ladies behind them, staying away from the other group.  Bev, Roosti is holding his own after his first rough day, and I think he's one of the head coop bosses now, so you can rest easy. :)

Ah, the joys of owning livestock.
In more renewing news, the lambs are due to start coming any day and there are a few ewes looking  :)

I am feeling overwhelmed with a few things outside of the farm these days, so am REALLY looking forward to December, which is thus far, promising to be a slow, low-key time of family, fun and traditions.  I have already turned down one request for my musical assistance, so that's a nice first I'm proud of.  We'll see how long I can hold out.

I've got something to say about the current trend in agriculture to deal with the symptom and not the problem, but not today.  Perhaps in December.  haha. 

I was sent this quotation the other day and I think it is really truly beautiful.  Here's hoping you think the same:
 "May the coyotes be struck blind at you chicken pens, may your earth worms be well fed, may your cows be well bred, may your house be a home, and may your children rise up and call you blessed." Joel Salatin

That Joel Salatin is a clever dude.