An Open Letter on the Financial Agonies of an out-of-business American Farmer and a Plea for Understanding

This will be a very candid blog post.

Probably more so than usual.  I always tell the truth on my blog, but I am very much an optimist and my writing tends to reflect that.

Where others see weeds I see wildflowers.

Where others see manure I see next seasons nitrogen.

Where others see nothing but hard labor I see an opportunity.

Where others see complete financial collapse…yeah, actually that’s pretty much what I see too.  No amount of rose tinting is ever going to color these glasses again.

I am writing this down now because I have had a few people ask me “What happened last year?  Things seemed to be going so well, what went wrong?”  This is the story of what happened.  It is also written to refute some very misguided gossip which has been perpetuated about our farm and which I would like to address.  I can’t undo the damage done by gossip and vindictiveness, but I can at least stand and defend myself.  For the past year I have said nothing in response to the untrue claims that have been made, it hasn’t seemed worth my time.  But now as we are changing the nature of our farm business it seems appropriate to clear the air.

 If you have a few minutes I’ll tell you the saga.

If you are a farmer: read it well, learn from my mistakes, and watch your step.  There are worse things than cow pies to put your feet in.

If you are a local food enthusiast: read it well and understand where the farmer is coming from, why he sometimes seems grouchy, why he doesn’t let anyone on his farm anymore, and why he refuses your help when you attempt to get him to sell directly to consumers.

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The saga begins…(yeah, it’s corny, I know…I’m a farmer, I like corn):

In November of 2011 William and I were facing a major crossroad on our farm.  We were bringing in enough income to pay our labor expenses, part of our animal feed expenses, and pay ourselves just a little bit on the side.

We were going further in debt with every month we continued to operate and the slope into failure was getting steep and slippery.  We had just enough farm infrastructure in place to go for full production on the farm, which was our only hope for continued survival and we decided to take that chance.

We researched our options in the direct-to-consumer market, asked people what they were looking for in a farm, researched some more, ran figure after figure on paper, had lots of internal debates about what to do and finally reached a decision.

We started marketing the Full-Diet farm in December of 2011.

People were excited about it, they shared the idea with their friends and by the end of January, which was when we needed to know how many seeds to plant for the coming year, we had no one signed up.

So we made our best guess as to what people would want, we planted for a spring crop and we increased our marketing efforts.  We tried to locate an online service that would allow for customized farm member orders and finally settled on one that we were told would work.

We needed more labor in the garden than we had, but there was simply no money for it.  Some of the laborers we hired were friends who didn’t show up for work for weeks and we fell behind during the Spring months.  We should have let them go then, but how do you fire friends?!

We kept marketing believing that if we could get enough money down to put into raising the food for our customers we would be okay.  We wanted to keep the price low so that average families could afford it.  We didn’t want to just play to the elitist prices that local food sometimes resorts to for survival.  We followed the same model which CSA’s have used for years: pay up front for the food this season, receive your crop when the harvest comes in.

Time passed swiftly, the garden was growing slowly, it appeared that we were ready.

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And then there was a whirlwind….

July 1st hit us like a tornado on the prairie and complications we simply hadn’t anticipated knocked us flat on our rears.

Here is the brief list:

  • There were not enough seedlings in the garden.  This was actually a preventable problem, but we didn’t see it until it was too late.  We had the correct numbers of seedlings to be planted and harvested on a weekly basis, but we were not clear enough with our garden manager on the number of people we would be feeding and the amount of food they would be taking and so the correct number of seedlings were not planted.  William was overseeing multiple construction projects on the farm and didn’t have time to double check, I was trying to fix problems with the ordering system and didn’t have time to double check.  A small problem became a huge stumbling block.

  • The system that we invested in to schedule orders and deliveries did not work at all and had to be completely redone during the first two weeks of July.  It led to confusion, misunderstandings on what would and would not be available weekly, and I spent a lot of time trying to fix the problems caused by a system that was supposed to prevent problems.

  • Our “best guess” in January of what people would want to eat in July was not very accurate.  We did not have enough of some foods, and we had way too much of others.

  • An entire tank of milk was lost the day before our first delivery.  This kind of thing happens occasionally on a dairy but it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.  It put us behind on cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and sour cream orders.

  • Because of the pitiful ordering system we had multiple customers who misunderstood the orders they had originally made on their Family Food Planner.  The ordering system listed all of the products that would be available throughout the year all the time…even the ones that wouldn’t be available for another two months.  We had farm members really angry with us that they didn’t get their carrots, even though the food planner clearly stated carrots wouldn’t be available until September.

  • Our employees were threatening to quit because of the amount of food that had to be harvested; they were working past the point of reason and we will be forever grateful for their efforts.  We had no money to hire more labor to help them.  I’m sure we could have found dirt cheap, illegal immigrant labor if we had looked for it, but that just doesn’t seem to be the moral answer.  William and I jumped in to  work in all the areas of the farm, even the ones we were not directly overseeing,  typically working from 6am until well past 10pm every day but we could never get caught up on the work.

  • The delivery van needed major modifications to be safe and reliable for delivery but we had no extra money to fix it.

  • We were losing money on milk deliveries even PRIOR to the addition of the full-diet farm option.

  • And then the van broke down.  My poor, personal, family vehicle which I had donated to the cause had finally given up.

 We put our brakes on fast, we really didn’t have a choice, and we took a long painful look at the situation.

 Because we trimmed our profit margin so slim, to make our products available to families without a huge income, we had a miniscule profit to start out with.  If we tried to repair or replace the delivery van that profit margin would be absolutely destroyed and we would be operating at a loss for the remainder of the year.  It wasn’t an option anyway, we simply had no money to purchase a new delivery van with.

It looked pretty bad.  In fact it looked absolutely hopeless.

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But then we’re farmers, we deal with bleak situations on a yearly, sometimes daily, basis.  We did what we’ve always done; take stock of the situation and salvaged what we could.

They way we saw it we had only two options in front of us:

1.  We could just declare bankruptcy and fold.  We didn’t have the money to keep going with the home delivery option we wanted to do.

-or-

2.  We could just leave the delivery service behind, keep growing the crops we had started, keep milking the cows, and provide the food we had agreed to grow with an on-farm pick-up.

We knew that we DID have lots of wonderful food in the garden, ripe, ripening, and still in its infancy; we had cows, pigs, and lambs nearing butcher weight; we had 25 milk cows and an amazing milking barn and equipment; 2000 broilers in the field, 400 turkey poults, and 500 laying hens in the pasture; and the water and land to feed our farm members all of the in-season, local food we could raise: exactly what we had agreed to do.

We DIDN’T have a delivery vehicle or adequate labor to bag, label, bottle, and prepare all of the food going out each week.

We had offered delivery as a free service thinking that the monthly payments would cover the expense.  We were wrong.  Plain and simple.  We hadn’t calculated the cost correctly.  We based our cost estimates on our existing delivery costs but the actual cost of home delivery was four times what we had anticipated and that cost difference just made it impossible. We should have known because at that point we had many customers to whom we had been delivering milk to at drop sites around the Portland area for almost two years, but we thought that with greater revenue it would miraculously make delivery less expensive. What we should have realized, and I am very sorry that we didn’t, is that taking a small money losing operation and making it larger just leads to a larger money losing operation, not an increased profit.  For two years we delivered milk all over the Portland area and for two years we lost money on milk delivery every single month.  Our dairy operation provided cash flow on a monthly basis but no profit.  All of our profits were eaten up in gas, labor, and car care just to get the product to the people.  The only profits we made were in selling the small amount of garden crops that we did. Every month that we delivered to drop sites put us further into debt.  We were viewing every month we could survive as a success and a step towards profitability but it was an illusion

 

We made the only decision we felt was an option, we had to suspend deliveries altogether, both home and drop site deliveries.  Bankruptcy was just not an option for us, we wanted the people who had entrusted us with their food dollars to get the food they had requested.

 

And that’s when things got exciting…kind of like that thrill you feel when you get to face an angry grizzly bear and you have nothing to defend yourself with.

 

Our farm members are really quite an amazing bunch.  Most of them were pretty understanding at first.  They came to the farm and we showed them how to harvest, they took the bull by the horns, and we all muddled through the first two confusing weeks while we worked to get the machine shop turned into a farm market.

 

And here is where we lost some people due to a HUGE false belief that some farm members embraced, proliferated, and still spread to this day.  We were accused of being liars because we “obviously” had the money to pour concrete and fix up a machine shop so therefore we must obviously have had the money to buy a delivery van and we simply didn’t want to.

It is not true.

The answer to that accusation is simple: we did not have the money, but the landowner did.  The wonderful people that we lease the farm from were kind enough to push the completion of the machine shop to the top of their long list of projects that needed finishing and which THEY were funding.

Some farm members, just a very few, got the idea that because we till the earth on the property where a large and lovely home is being built then we must have access to boat loads of funding and deep pockets of cash to solve any problem we may have, and that the landowner is in some way responsible for our business.  This is NOT the case.  We have common farming goals, we are working together to make this a sustainable, productive farm, but the landowners are not in any way responsible for the finances of C’est Naturelle Farms.  We have an investor yes, but an investor is not the same as someone offering a grant.  He is not giving us money for free, he is offering us money for infrastructure costs and operating costs only on a limited basis. And he expects to be paid back.  We do not have deep, bottomless pockets to draw from.  We are deeply indebted for a farm that isn’t even ours.  We owe more on this farm than  most people owe on their home, children’s educations, and daughters’ weddings combined.  The only difference between us and the farmers who are in debt to a bank is that our investor really wants to see us succeed and is willing to mentor us and give us the time to make it work.  Most banks just wait for the death of the business and swoop in for the kill.  Still to this day we have people that attempt to hit up the farm landowner as if he owes them money, which is just absolutely ridiculous.  It would be like walking into a bank and requesting money from the banker who gave the home loan to your neighbor who owes you money.  I’ve explained this until I’m blue in the face, but the people who spread the lie just keep passing the lie around again and again.  I’m thinking they won’t believe me until I file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

We made it through the first two weeks of post delivery pick-up, though we sustained a lot of loss during the first week in particular.  The first day of farm pick-ups we had people that apparently forgot the “just enough for this week” goal of the full-diet farm.  Most farm members requested enough beef and pork to equal about 8-15 lbs of meat weekly, but we had reports of people filling up entire coolers full of beef and taking it home.  We had enough meat in the freezer for 80 families to have an average of 10 lbs/weekly for 4 weeks.  That meat was cleared out in under 30 minutes by less than 30% of our farm members.  I wasn’t present to stop it, I had to pick my children up from a pioneer trek they had gone on that week and William was in the garden instructing people how and where to harvest.  By the time he got to the meat freezer it was almost completely empty.

 

We just chalked it up to a rocky start and kept going.

 

We were working long hours outside on the farm, we had to let our employees go with the exception of 2, and one of those quit, which meant we had even fewer hands to do the work necessary.  We came in and tried to stay caught up on emails, text messages, and phone calls but it was a full-time job in and of itself and we simply didn’t have the time.  We had cows, pigs, and poultry to tend to, garden crops to cultivate, milk goods to make, and farm construction projects to finish.  Add to that 4 children to homeschool and my time to spend on emails and the phone was severely diminished.  Most nights I fell into bed just wishing I didn’t have to get up in the morning and do it all again the next day.  But I did, William did, and so we just trudged on.

 

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And after the whirlwind there was an earthquake…

Then in the midst of our already flailing efforts to stay afloat a new point of confusion and accusation cropped up and spread like wildfire all over the internet: our animal feed contained GMO’s and we were supposedly hiding it from everyone.

Let me be very, very clear on this point: YES our feed did contain a percentage of GMO soy and corn, probably about 20%.  However, we NEVER claimed that we were GMO free while marketing our full-diet farm, in fact we were very clear that we weren’t and we had some potential farm members opt to not participate until we could reach our goal of 100% GMO-free.

When we first moved to the Willamette Valley we purchased feed from a local source that claimed to be GMO-free and we advertised our products as such.  But upon further questioning we discovered that all of their corn and soy came from the Midwest with no way of knowing if it were GMO-free or not and so we removed that claim from our marketing.  This was clear back in the fall of 2010.

We were very open about our feed, we invited people to visit and see every aspect of our farm, and we have been completely open about our methods.

But in spite of this transparency we were accused of being deceitful, of being selfish because we were unwilling to sacrifice our meager profit for the good of the GMO-free movement, and being fake farmers because of our need to purchase an affordable source of nutrition for our livestock.  People believed something about us that was false and then condemned us for not living up to their erroneous expectation.

That kind of slander is a gift which just keeps giving.  Between that misrepresentation of our farming methods and the outright lie that we had buckets of money to spend and we were just pretending to farm but didn’t want to do the work required; we had a large portion of farm members who fell prey to the falsehoods and dropped out of the program.  They asked for their deposit money back, claiming we had lied to them even though they had attended our farm tours, seen our feed and our methods first hand, that we had executed a bait and switch (I actually had to look that one up, I didn’t even know what it was), and who then spread the word that we were not good farmers because we 1.  Didn’t deliver and 2. Weren’t completely GMO-free.

I’m thinking that by those standards 9 out of 10 farmers around the world are bad farmers as well.

In our membership contracts we state clearly that farm deposits are non-refundable.  Almost all CSA’s do this, it is standard operating procedure for one very good reason: the majority of farming costs happen up front and there is no way to “refund” money that is now in cattle feed, seedlings, drip tape, and milk tank cooling.  The only way to recoup deposit money is to take the food that was originally agreed upon.

So in a span of about 3 weeks we lost almost half of our customers.  Some because of the long distance involved in traveling to the farm, which we absolutely understood and some to disillusionment brought on by a false belief, which we had absolutely no control over.

The worst part of these accusations was that the people making them didn’t come to us with questions, they took their grievances to people who couldn’t help them solve the problem and they spread frustration with no solution, and anger with no recourse.   I had three people come to me directly with questions and concerns based on gossip, only three.  Yet I knew of a large number of others who had heard of the gossip, or spread the gossip without bothering to speak with me at all or attempting to discuss their problems.  I was grateful for the people who were direct and honest.

 

This was an especially dark hour for me personally.  I could understand disappointment, I was disappointed; I could understand frustration and even some anger that our farm plan didn’t work out the way we had originally hoped it would; what I was not prepared for was the quantity and cruel quality of the personal attacks hurled at me personally, not as a business, but as a person, as a mom, and as a woman.

One of the things that shocked me most was the attack on our food choices as a family.  We eat probably 60% of our diet from the farm, all of our meat, eggs, and milk and then whatever is in season in the garden.  But I was viciously attacked by people who were frustrated over no longer receiving front door delivery; but they didn’t attack me on delivery issues, rather the attacks were based on the fact that my children eat Ramen noodles occasionally.  And that I am not some kind of gluten-free, GAPS diet guru and cook.  I never claimed to be, and I still can’t see what that has to do with the farm at all.  The only farmers I know who never buy ramen noodles, boxed cereals, and candy are the ones who have come to farming later in life because they were looking for great food and decided to grow it themselves.  That is not my paradigm.  I am a generational farmer; I grew up on a farm, my parents had both raised a portion of their own food when they were young.  It is what we have always done.  We can our farm goods when we have time, but some years there isn’t time.  Last year I didn’t can one single quart of tomatoes, I didn’t have any time to spend on food saving for my own family because I was too busy growing food for 40 other families.  I know there will be people who may not like this, but it is my belief: I don’t farm for the food, I farm for the lifestyle.  The food is a great by-product of the farming, but would I cease to be a farmer if I raised grass seed or alfalfa hay?  Would I cease to be a farmer if all I raised were horses?  I was condemned as a fake farmer, a “schmoozer”, and a fraud because I provide easy, ready-to-go meals for my children to prepare on their own when I know I will not have time to prepare a home cooked meal.  Local food enthusiasts sometimes believe erroneously that those who raise the food they eat must go home to meals of fresh baked bread, bone broth stews, home baked pies made with apples from their own trees and crusts made from the lard they rendered themselves, and hand churned butter.  It sounds nice, but I have to wonder…who is doing the cooking?  The only time we get a chance to eat like that is when I take a hiatus from the work.  The rest of the time it’s spaghetti or taco salad.

The cruelty got to be so severe that I finally suffered a nervous breakdown.  When the phone rang I tensed up, couldn’t breathe, and broke out in a sweat.  I couldn’t even take phone calls from friends.   I was afraid to leave my house, I had to force myself to be where I needed to be to speak with people, a previously healed ulcer came back with a vengeance and I could hardly function through the pain of it.  When I sat down to answer emails my heart rate would skyrocket out of control and I would freeze up in fear as I prepared to just click on every unopened email.  I finally had to turn the phone and email over to our only remaining employee so that I could function as a wife and mother.

And because I took the only option I had to survive I was accused further of not being a good farmer; because obviously if you are going to be a farmer you should be able to also be a customer service representative, a 24 hour complaint desk, a real food guru, and a secretary.  And here I thought it was about raising food.

 

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And after the earthquake there was a drought…

 

This was literally a drought, not a metaphor.

On an individual farm basis we ran out of irrigation water for our dairy pastures on the first week of August which meant that we needed to supplement our cows with alfalfa 5 months ahead of schedule.  This was a cost we had not planned on. To make matters worse there was a record drought throughout the Midwest which drove the price of alfalfa up nationwide.  The cost per ton went up by 50% which pushed any hope of a profit completely out of reach. Not to mention that the limited supply of feed limited our supply of milk which meant no milk to skim for cream and butter, no milk for yogurt and sour cream and none for cheese.  It wouldn’t have mattered on the finished products so much because with further study of Oregon laws we determined that the gray area for finished products with milk, even in a herd share, was simply too risky a venture to pursue.  The county wouldn’t let us build a certified kitchen, the state wouldn’t permit us to prepare any finished goods without one so we were caught and couldn’t produce the milk products we had originally said we would.

With the lack of water we also had to let some of our garden crops go while trying to conserve the others in order to guarantee a crop of greens to over-winter during the cold months.

In hindsight it probably would have been best to declare bankruptcy then and there.  But we just couldn’t do it.  We already had so much invested in the animals and garden, we couldn’t let it go to waste.  We had 40 families who loved the full diet farm, who came and helped in the fields, who offered kindness and words of support when they could see how hard we were struggling.  We simply could not let them down.

 

So we limped along.  We borrowed money to repay some of the deposit money a few farm members had paid.  We couldn’t return all of it and we had to decide between those who had requested a refund first and from there further narrowed it by those who had expressed an interest in still receiving product and those who hadn’t.

We invited all of our farm members, current and past, to come to the farm and take what they needed.  Many did and went away happy with what they received and some have continued to purchase from us on an occasional basis.

 

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And after the drought came the winter…

 

We lost a few more families over the winter.  Some couldn’t travel the long distance in the inclement weather, some grew tired of the limited variety of vegetables that are available locally in-season, and some hadn’t preserved enough food from the abundant harvest of the fall to get them through the winter season.  As farm members fell away the cash flow we needed to attempt to supplement our offerings with those of other farms diminished.

At this point we had several farm members who had asked us if they could pay later for their food when money wasn’t so scarce, who had participated all through the harvest, taken hundreds of pounds of vegetables, fruits, and meat, who then decided to quit the farm; leaving behind unpaid bills, less products for our loyal customers, and a sour taste in my mouth for having attempted to be kind.

Winter gave way to spring, we all, farmers and farm members alike, rejoiced when fresh greens were available again.  Mid-April one of our farm members said she had just barely used the last of her winter squashes which she had put away in October.  We have delighted in the members who made the commitment and have worked along side us through the last year.  We have enjoyed their children, seeing them grow, and introducing them to the new young animals on the farm.

The last year has seen friends gained and lost, beautiful crops raised, harvested, and enjoyed.  We have worked past the point where we thought it would kill us, we have learned patience with those who have hurt us and increased in understanding.  We have made plans to move forward with efforts to turn failure into success, we have salvaged what we could from the destruction of the past 12 months and lived in hope for something better to come from our hard work.

 

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And now we stand, midway through another summer.  The irrigation is two months too late for the garden so we have opted to leave it untilled in order to preserve the soil structure and the biological life within it.

We sold half of our dairy herd and yet we still feed over half of the milk supply to pigs because even though the demand for the product we produce is high those who would purchase from us have been told falsehoods and so we do not sell it.

The processed meat of over 20 milk-fed, pasture-raised pigs is in the freezer, unsold because less that 20% of their supplemental feed might possibly contain GMO grains and I have been branded a fake farmer because of it.

We have attended two different farming classes this summer.  One sponsored by Greenacre Aquaponics and Colorado Aquaponics in Denver, CO and the other by Cornell University in New York.  We visited with farmers, businessmen, bankers, Wall Street investors, U.N. workers, and college professors.  The last day of the last class we attended one of the Cornell professors said perhaps the truest thing I’d heard:

“If you want to make money, don’t be a farmer.  You’ll spend your life, spend your children’s college fund, lose your money, lose your friends money, and lose your friends.  Don’t try to make a living farming.  Get another job and take up farming as a hobby.”

It’s heartbreaking, it’s sad, it’s discouraging, and it’s true.

 

Except…he left us with a glimmer of hope which was actually why we attended these classes in the first place.

A glimmer of hope which means we can keep farming without sacrificing our children’s future, keep farming and yet actually have a family life.

We ended our attempt at a full-diet farm having lost over $30,000 dollars in the attempt, not including the farm debt for which we were already responsible for.  We have several families wanting to do it again this year and we’re growing as much food as we can for them for as long as we can and sharing all of our harvest.

But of necessity we must change.  Farmers across the country are changing, as a people we have to.  We love the land too much to quit, but because the customer base demands an unreasonable price for a nearly impossible product most farmers stop dealing with customers, grow old and grumpy, sell into a corporate system, and some of the best farm goods in the world are lost in the maze of mainstream food.  It is lost simply because the consumer, in a race to find the “perfect” food in an imperfect world, knock down, trample, and destroy the people who want to feed them.

5 months ago I sat around the table with six other farmers from my state voting district.  We spoke of our farming experiences, the ups and downs, the challenges and triumphs.  I asked them about their marketing efforts, about their relationships with consumers.  Their responses surprised me.

Every one of them had started out selling food directly to consumers but one by one they had left the market.  When I asked them “why?” their responses were all the same: consumers are too inconsistent.  Their consumers wanted a product that cost too much to produce and then refused to pay the higher cost.  They wanted Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’s products at Little Debbie’s prices and it’s an impossible request.  They have all moved into wholesale markets and are now thriving or at least surviving with a higher rate of pay.

It is the same direction we are moving in, it is the glimmer of hope we found in our classes this summer.  Controlled Environment Agriculture is a growing market, they are meeting with success and can’t keep up with their demand.  They work with chefs and grocers who thus far have proven to be realistic enough to worth with and idealistic enough to help keep them inspired to explore new best practice farming methods.

We’ll be attending another class at the University of Arizona next January on hydroponics.  We’ve found ourselves pursuing a new field on our same farm and we must retool ourselves to make it work.

How grateful we’ve been for loyal farm members who have labored with us to build something good.  we look forward to continuing to raise food together.  Our garden is your garden, come and be fed.

Maybe I’m not as jaded as I am afraid I have become, perhaps there is a little bit of rose left on the lenses.

People are worth believing in.

Kindness is worth the extra effort.

Compassion is always the best choice.

And hard work is never for naught.

If you put your heart into it, even if it fails, the muscle gets worked and stays tender.

 

Perhaps I won’t turn into a grouchy old farmer after all.

At least not today.


Today I am a farmer with a few friends left, and that’s something worth cultivating.

The Epitome of a Mobile Chicken Coop

by on May 20, 2013
in Uncategorized

The New Mobile Coop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henny-Penny has found a new roost.  William first discovered her laying eggs in his farm truck about two weeks ago.  He gathers up the eggs and brings them in every day.  He was not very excited about this arragement at first, but he accomodated her.

 

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It does make egg-gathering easier…though a little more prone to breakage.

 

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Besides, she’s such a cutie we can’t stand to evict her!  This is definitely a free-range, cage-free, open-nested, and now free-wheeling layer operation!

“Messy” Farming

by on May 18, 2013
in Farm Life

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We’ve been asked lots of questions about our method of farming, like:

 

Are you organic?

 

Are you biodynamic?

 

Do you use permaculture principles?

 

Are you a seed saver?

 

Have you ever heard of Jon Jeavons or Joel Salatin?

 

The truth is that we approach the farm the same way we approach education: There is something to be learned from all of these methods.

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We don’t prescribe to just one method with undeviating devotion.  Just as the seasons move forward and change we are always growing, changing, experimenting with what works, finding what doesn’t, and applying our knowledge in new ways.

 

We utilize many of the principles espoused in biodynamics, permaculture, and the bountiful gardens methods.

 

I had the pleasure of walking through part of the results of these methods this morning.Wild, native chamomile, broccoli blossoms, kale blossoms, and a host of other wildflowers were gently bending to and fro in the cool breeze.

 

 

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When we first broke ground in the garden we had a couple of neighbors who were irate with us.

 

They prophesied massive soil erosion and subsequent flooding and mud damage that would ensue in the months that followed.

 

We tried to explain our methods to them, but they were already irritated and we weren’t planning on changing our model just to capitulate to their fears so the conversation was a dead-end.

 

I’m hoping now that we are heading into our fourth year in the garden hopefully their fears have been allayed by the fact that no flooding or mudslides have attacked their properties.

 

Every Spring we till the garden until the beds look like what you see here.

 

We cultivate the gardens two or three times during the garden season and then we let everything  grow as it likes.

 

 

Which means that we sometimes look “messy” out in the garden. In the Midwest our local farm extension office called it the “Farm Ugly Program”.  They encouraged the farmers to leave as much crop residue on top of the soil as possible to prevent wind and rain erosion of the top soil. Plowed fields look great, but it doesn’t conserve soil. And in the rolling hills of Missouri, where we farmed, soil conservation was a top priority.

 

So we don’t espouse perfectly weed-free garden rows.  For several reasons.

 

1. By the time we’ve cultivated three times our vegetable plants are large enough to withstand the “competition” of the wildflowers and clover that keeps coming back.  They are no longer in danger of being shaded or overrun by the weeds.

 

2.  Every plant that grows in the garden will later be turned into the soil as a green manure crop to feed the microbes which will in turn feed our garden next year.  The more plants we have to turn into decomposing, organic matter the healthier our little microbe crop will be.  We are first, last, and always soil farmers before anything else.  For farmers the land is everything.

 

3.  If enough plants are growing, with good healthy root systems, when the heavy rains of autumn and winter come we won’t lose any of the soil we have worked so hard to improve.

 

4. The more plants we let grow to the “messy” stage of blossoming the more food is available for our bee hives.  They need the blossoms and the closer the blossoms are to their hive the more honey they will be able to produce.

 

5.  Most garden vegetables will give you multiple harvests if you let them keep growing.  The blossoms of many vegetables are wonderful to eat.  They typically taste like a milder form of the vegetable itself and can be eaten in salads, stir-fries, and even in soups.

 

Here is our “Messy” farm today:

 

MHM_1130518090847

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sometimes wonder as I walk through the overgrown rows what our friends and neighbors must think of our methods.  There are no nice, neat rows visible.  It looks like it’s all weeds, most wouldn’t realize that we still harvest greens,  blossoms, and even some roots out of this.  You can’t see the irrigation lines or the raised beds under all those blossoms.

 

In another few weeks all the green will be in the soil, the small seedlings that are growing now in the propagation house will be planted, watered, and tended, and the drip tape will go back in place and we’ll gently rake the soil to keep it weed free long enough to let the young plants get a start.

 

For now we prepare, we plan, and we wait for sunny days and warmer nights.  And while we wait the garden still grows, the soil thrives, the bees feed, and our “messy” garden does the work God meant for it to do.  Some days it is simply pure pleasure to be a farmer.  Today was one of those kinds of days.

 

MHM_1130518090603

101 Uses for Soured Raw Milk

by on November 3, 2012
in Raw Milk

Thank you Health Home Economist for this post on “101 Uses for Soured Raw Milk” !

The reason I am adding this  to the RealFoodFarming Blog is because a lot of folks are relatively new to the concept and activity of drinking milk in the raw form.   Many of us grew up with only pasteurized-buy-in-the-plastic-jug milk that smells awful when it sours is completely inedible.  Farmers get asked occasionally about soured milk or milk that has a different flavor than expected.  Many factors affect the taste of the milk including foremost : what did the cows eat.  When they are on fresh, green grass the milk will taste different than when they are on a diet primarily of dried alfalfa grass.  Both excellent nutrition for the cows, it just results in a varied flavor of milk.  (My milk has a flavor?!)

But say you have extra milk, or you forgot about that jar in the back of your fridge or you just drank less that week — and you have a surplus.  And it ‘sours’ before you can drink it.  Do you just dump it out?  Is it safe to use?    Sarah, the health home economist, shares a wonderful post about what to do about this!  Enjoy!

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/101-uses-for-soured-raw-milk/

“One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is what to do with raw milk that has soured.

Sour raw milk is quite unlike pasteurized milk that has gone past its “use by” date.  Pasteurized milk goes putrid and must be thrown out at that point, but raw milk is still a highly useful item in the kitchen.

The difference is that pasteurized milk is a dead food – there are no enzymes or probiotics present. So, when store milk goes bad, it becomes a huge food borne illness risk to consume it and it must be discarded.

Raw milk, on the other hand, is loaded with enzymes and probiotics.  When raw milk starts to sour, it simply means that beneficial bacteria called probiotics have started to use up the lactose (milk sugar) which causes the milk to no longer taste as sweet.

Raw milk that tastes sour is still very much safe to drink and is even more beneficial to health as the higher level of probiotics have initiated the fermentation or clabbering of the milk.

So if you find yourself with some soured raw milk in the refrigerator, check through this list and see what makes the most sense for using it up.

Whatever you do, though, don’t throw it out!  There is no need for even a drop of your nutrient dense, grassfed dairy to go to waste!

101 Uses for Soured Raw Milk

1. Make scrambled eggs with it.

2. Make quiche with it.

3. Add it to a breakfast smoothie.

4. Make homemade pudding with it (if slightly soured).

5. Make hot chocolate with it.

6. Use it for garden fertilizer (just pour around the base of your plants or trees).  It really gets the worms going crazy.

7. Give it to your pet.

8. Make egg custard pudding with it.

9. Make traditional British whitesauce with it.

10. Make kefir with it.

11. Make yogurt with it.

12. Use it to soak pancake batter.

13. Use it to soak cold breakfast cereal batter.

14. Use it to soak waffle batter.

15. Remove the soured cream off the top and add to homemade soups.

16. Remove the soured cream off the top and add to meatloaf.

17. Just drink it.  It tastes like buttermilk and is very good for you.

18. Use to make devil’s food cake.

19.  Make omelets with it.

20. Use it instead of water to cook up your soaked breakfast oatmeal.

21. Use it to soak crepe batter.

22. Soak banana bread batter with it.

23. Soak pumpkin bread batter with it.

24. Use it to soak buttermilk biscuit batter.

25. Soak muffin batter (any kind) with it.

26. Use it to make cream cheese and whey.

27. Remove the sour cream off the top and add to a baked potato.

28. Add buttermilk culture and make buttermilk with it.

29. Take a bath in it.  It was good enough for Cleopatra, right?

30. Separate out the whey and make ricotta cheese

31. Make mozzarella cheese with it.

32. Make flan.

33. Make sweet potato casserole with the sour cream off the top.

34. Make cottage cheese with it.

35. Make ice milk with it (if only slightly soured).

36. Use it instead of evaporated milk to make pumpkin pie.

37. Use it to clear up pinkeye.

38. Soak frozen fish in it until thawed for improved texture and flavor.

39.  Soak dull looking silverware in it for at least 30 minutes and then rinse for a beautiful shine.

40. Use it as a conditioner for your hair.

41. Repair fine cracks in your china by boiling them in the soured raw milk (the milk reacts with a chemical in the china to seal the crack).  I’ve never done this myself but it supposedly works.

42. Use ice cold to sooth the discomfort of poison ivy.

43. Dab some on mild sunburn for instant, cooling relief.

44. Rub dry skin patches with it several times a day to make skin soft again.

45. Make cheese sauce with it.

46. Make paneer (easy South Asian cheese that requires no rennet).

47. Make potato cheese soup.

48. Freeze it and use it later when you have a dire need for clabbered milk.

49.  Make tapioca pudding with it.

50. Make bread pudding (soak the bread in the milk).

51. Stew pork loin in it.

Oh dear. It seems I’ve run out of ideas!

Can you folks help me out?

I need 50 more ideas to reach the goal of 101 uses! Please add your own creative ideas in the comments section!

I’m sure there are many many more uses for soured raw milk that I’ve missed!”

2nd Annual Harvest Party at the Farm!

by on October 19, 2012
in Farm Events

Dress warmly, bring some chairs, and a hearty appetite!

Recipe Sharing!

by on August 2, 2012
in Uncategorized

I was driving home from my kiddos play performance tonight and I heard the bing-bing of my cell phone alerting me to a new text.   The car in front of me was going 35 in a 55, so I was figured I was driving slow enough to check it out.   I read the text and cheered out loud! It read something to the effect of “dinner success!…”

If you are a newish farm member trying to shift your paradigm toward eating what is fresh and in season (or for anyone in this day and age where instant-this and convenient-that is always at eye-level) a successful dinner truly made from farm-to-table ingredients is always fantastic news!  She shared with me the details of her culinary conquest, having created a meal for her large family from her full-diet farm membership food.  Also saying that it would be helpful to post recipes somewhere and get ideas from other farm members.

After looking through some options, I realized Vernie has beat us to the chase and set that up already!  yay!

C’est Naturelle Farms Message Board

You will find a recipe sharing folder under the “General Board” link.   There is an awesome recipe for kale chips and steak marinade already there.  Way to go!

Have fun, and share what you have come up with!

Tips for navigating on the Full-diet

The first official week of the Full-Diet membership plan is nearly complete!   We all survived, including you!  As we have prepared and sent out the bags of amazing, fresh food we have noticed a few things.

Remember when you filled out that long, involved document delineating your preferences for your weekly eating?  We notice that those that have a wide range of items selected have FULL, BRIMMING bags of food!  It is a thing to behold!  While others’ bags have had relatively few things.  The garden is overflowing with luscious, nourishing food.  We encourage all of you to check out the webstore each week and add more available veggies into your basket for delivery.   This will vary week to week as we move through the seasons.  Everything that grows in the garden is included in your full-diet membership, whether you originally signed up for it or not, at no extra charge.   For example, if you did not mark micro-greens and you’d like some, and you see it listed on the webstore, go ahead and add it to your order that week! If you have company coming and you need a few more zucchinis to complete your shiskabobs, and they are listed on the webstore, add them to your order!   It will show up on our harvest list, and then in your bag, and finally at your door!  Those brimming bags I mentioned earlier?  You can have one, too!

So to recap, check in with the webstore weekly and feel free to add something into your delivery.  You may be surprised how delicious fresh kale is when sauteed in garlic and butter.  Or mustard spinach added to a hearty soup or as a lovely accent to your turkey sandwich.   Do a little research on green smoothies and you may just need that bag of spinach.

We appreciate all the patience you have given as we tackle all the ins and outs of the full-diet plan.  For the farmer side of things it is quite hectic.  But worth it!  We are so excited about this new way of truly getting farm-to-table happening!
Stay tuned for more tips!

It’s been a crazy busy week…actually it’s been a crazy busy Spring…and we are so excited for Summer and the first week of our Full-Diet Farm deliveries to start next week!

We’ve been working all week to get all of the office documentation and clarification done, as well as fielding last minute excited sign-ups and a lot of interest generated by the article about the farm in the online Sustainable Business Oregon magazine. You can see it for yourself here: http://www.sustainablebusinessoregon.com/articles/2012/06/oregon-city-farm-sells-full-diet.html

Susie and I are almost finished with your first and second week delivery documents which I will begin emailing sometime around 3am, which is when I anticipate being finished…or tomorrow morning if I pass out from exhaustion before 3. :) These are just your food planners, edited to reflect your weekly requests, the season, and veggie availability.

Here’s the important info for you:

1. If you are signed up as a custom member your order will be delivered to your drop site. If you are a Full-Diet member we will be delivering to your home, please ensure that you have a location for us to drop at that is out of direct sunlight as much as possible and preferably out of the rain.

2. Here is the delivery day breakdown (Please note THERE ARE CHANGES TO CURRENT DELIVERY ROUTES!):
a. Tuesday delivery will include: NE Portland WEST of 205, Downtown and Inner Porltand areas, Capitol Hill area, NW Portland EAST of 217, Lake Oswego, and Milwaukie.
b. Wednesday delivery will include: Happy Valley, Gladstone, Lents, Parkrose Heights, Gresham, and Oregon City areas
c. Thursday delivery will include Salem, Aumsville, Canby, Silverton and Molalla areas.
d. Friday delivery will include Tigard, Beaverton, Cedar Mills, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Newburg, and Sherwood areas
If you don’t see your neighborhood listed it’s just because I don’t know what it’s called. I’m still a little new here. :)

3. Our standard delivery times will be different than you are accustomed to. Until we have a better handle on exactly how long each delivery day takes please plan on following us on Twitter @youronlinefarm or waiting until later in the evening to retrieve your deliveries from the drop site. In this vein PLEASE pick up your deliveries in a timely fashion. Our drop site hosts provide a great service for us and for our farm members. Please respect their time and space and pick your deliveries up as soon as you possibly can on delivery day.

4. Remember to login and check your farm balance on your account (log in here: http://csa.farmigo.com/account/cestnaturellefarms/csa) Susie has been adding your full-diet or custom payment amount so you will be able to see what is due. You can send payments via check or by credit card with our online checkout here:http://csa.farmigo.com/pay/cestnaturellefarms/csa.

5. On Meats: we will be divvying up your requested meat cuts throughout the year, if you need a specific cut on a specific date please feel free to let us know and we can swap at any time. The meat will come FROZEN and with ice packed around it (hallelujah we found an ice machine!) but please get it into your fridge or freezer as soon as you can.

6. Weekly ordering: Full-Diet Members you will notice that you have “Farmigo Credits” in the subscription area of your account. These credits are what will allow you to order from the webstore weekly without accruing any extra charges to your account. Please feel free to look at what is available and add according to your needs. We have several value added products that we will be listing on the webstore that are actually produced by local, sustainable businesses that we love and want to support, those items will NOT be available for Farmigo credit purchases. They are not farm specific items and so we can’t offer them as part of the Full-Diet membership.

I think that’s it for this evening. Watch your inbox for your scheduled delivery document. If you don’t have it by tomorrow night PLEASE let me know right away.

Thank you so much. You are the reason local food is growing, we are incredibly grateful for your support, your excitement, and your commitment to healthy food and farming practices. You are the reason we are here!

The Price of Local Food

by on March 6, 2012
in Food, Uncategorized

How much "green" are you spending on your greens?

There’s a common misconception among people today that eating local, sustainably grown foods is more expensive than purchasing from a large, nationally recognized grocery store chain…

…But have you priced it recently?

We have.

William and I went on a date last week  to a couple of local grocery outlets.  This is a rare occurrence (both the date and William going to a grocery store) and is definitely worthy of mentioning here on the blog…take a look at my earliest posts for a sample of the kind of dates we go on.

We went to New Season’s on Thursday and Safeway on Friday evening.  (Two dates in one week…hot dog!)

We took a copy of our 2012-2013 Personal Family Food Planner with us.

We compared our prices with the prices at both places, just to see how we stacked up.

We were blown away…with excitement!

Take a look at the prices below and then go do your own comparison shopping.  We are half the price of many of the other locally grown, organic items and the same price and sometimes less than the conventionally grown products.

When we assigned prices to our products last fall we based them on three things:

  1. Our production cost
  2. The value of our labor
  3. The needs of our farm members.

Onion Chives...just waiting for fresh, raw butter and a hot potato!

We knew that every item had to “pay for itself” on the farm, we knew we needed to make enough on our profits to be able to afford to farm (this is our livelihood, not our hobby), and we knew we needed to keep it affordable for the families that participate in our farm membership.

We don’t want local food to be available only as an elitist or “once in awhile” treat and we were determined to price our food at the lowest amount we could to serve our farm members and still make enough of a profit to keep farming.

And we’ve done it!  Compare for yourself and see the…

price,

quality,

and

service

advantage of buying direct from the farm.

Fresh food has the best quality and you can’t get food any fresher than this unless you grow it in your own garden.

And who can beat free front door delivery service with C’est Naturelle Farms Full-Diet Membership plan?

Plus, as low as these prices are, if you choose the Full-Diet Membership they are actually even lower than that.

How can we afford to do it?  By knowing in advance what our farm members want and need we are able to save time, resources, and effort so that we grow more food more efficiently and we can then pass the savings on to you.

C’est Naturelle Farms Price Comparison Chart

Prices on March 1, 2012 C’est Naturelle Farms

Oregon City, OR

Safeway

Oregon City, OR

New Seasons Market

Happy Valley, OR

Growing Methods: All-Natural, pesticide free Conventional Mostly Organic
Arugula $1.50/8 oz $2.49/0.66 oz 2.49/bunch
Beets $1.50/2 lbs $1.49/lb (sale) 2.49/bunch (2 lb)
Beet greens $2.50/8 oz n/a n/a
Broccoli head $2.50/head $1.89/lb 2.99/lb (2 lb)
Broccoli leaves $2.50/ lbs n/a n/a
Cabbage $2.50/ head $0.99/lb 1.69/lb (2.5 lb)
Carrots $1.50/bunch $0.99/lb 2.50/bunch
Cilantro $1.00/4 oz $0.69/bunch 1.50/bunch
Collards $2.50/2 lbs bunch $1.79/bunch 2.50/bunch (2 lb)
cucumber slicer $1.75/2 cukes $0.99/each 1.50/each
Cucumber  pickling $2.50/ 20 cukes n/a n/a
Fennel $1.50/bulb $3.99/lb $4.99/lb (1.5 lbs)
Garlic $1.50/2 bulbs $1.00/3 bulbs 5.99/lb (4 bulbs/lb)
Green beans You pick $1.00/lbs n/a n/a
Green beans we pick $4.00/lbs $6.99/2 lb bag $1.99/lb
Kale $2.50/bunch $2.49/bunch 2.49/bunch (8 oz)
Kohlrabi bulb $1.50/2 bulbs n/a 3.00/each
Kohlrabi leaves $2.50/bunch n/a n/a
Mustard leaves $2.50/8 oz $2.49/bunch 2.49/bunch (1 lb)
Onion green $0.95/bunch $0.79/bunch 1.00/bunch
Onions bulb $1.50/2 bulbs 0.49/lb sale 1.29/lb (1 bulb/lb)
Parsley $2.50/bunch $0.99/bunch 1.50/bunch
Peppers hot $1.50/6 peppers $1.49/lb 4.99/lb
Peppers sweet $1.50/ 2 peppers 1.50/each 3.99/lb
Potatoes $3.50/5 lbs 0.46/lb/sale 1.29/lb
Pumpkins  large $6.00/each n/a n/a
Pumpkins small $3.00/each n/a n/a
Radishes $1.50/bunch $0.79/bunch 1.49/bunch
Radish Greens $1.50/8 oz n/a n/a
Rutabagas $1.50/3 roots n/a 2.49/lb
Sorrel, french $1.75/8 oz n/a n/a
Sorrel, sheep $2.00/8 oz n/a n/a
Spinach $1.75/8 oz 1.99/ 6 oz bag 4.99/lbs
Squash Summer $2.00/ 5 squash $1.99/lb 2.99/lbs (2-3/lb)
Squash Winter  medium(butternut) $2.50/each $0.99/lb 1.79/lbs (2-3 lb/fruit)
Squash Winter small (acorn) $1.50/each n/a 1.79/lbs (1-2lb/fruit)
Swiss chard $2.50/bunch $2.49/bunch 2.49/bunch
Tomatoes  slicers $2.50/3 lbs $4.99/lb 2.99/lbs
Tomatoes for canning (You Pick) $0.80/ lbs n/a n/a
Tomatoes  cherry $1.50/lbs $3.99/ 10 oz 2.99/lbs
Turnips $1.50/3 roots n/a 1.99/lbs
n/a n/a
Eggs   (100% pastured) $5.00/dozen N/A $6.99/dozen
Milk   (raw, pastured, grain-free) $5.00/ half gallon n/a n/a
Butter $12.00/lbs n/a n/a
cheese  Mozzarella $6.00/lbs n/a n/a
Cream $8.00/quart n/a n/a
cream cheese $6.00/lbs n/a n/a
sour cream $8.00/quart n/a n/a
yogurt $8.00/quart n/a n/a
Italian bread $5.00/loaf $1.99 $2.99
Dinner rolls $5.00/6 rolls
Granola Caribbean $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted
Granola peanut butter $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted
Granola blue berry banana nut $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted
Granola vanilla cranberry pecan $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted variety
Granola cinnamon apple walnut $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted variety
Granola very berry cherry $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted variety
Granola apricot almond $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted
Granola plain $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted
Granola red white blue $6.50/lbs n/a $5.49/ assorted
Cookies Chocolate chip $6.00/dozen n/a $2.49/per cookie
White chocolate chip cookies $6.00/dozen n/a $2.49/per cookie
Michaela’s Ultimate Oatmeal Cookies $6.00/dozen n/a $2.49/per cookie
Cranberry, Walnut and white chip oatmeal cookies $6.00/dozen n/a $2.49/per cookie
Herbs
Thyme $1.50/4 oz $2.49/ 0.66 oz 1.19/oz
Sage $1.50/4 oz $2.49/0.66 oz 1.19/oz
Onion chives $1.50/4 oz $2.49/0.66 oz 1.19/oz
Oregano $1.50/4 oz $2.49/0.66 oz 1.19/oz
Mint $1.50/4 oz $2.49/0.66 oz 1.19/oz
Dill $1.50/4 oz $2.49/0.66 oz 1.19/oz
Basil $1.50/4 oz $3.99/ 4 oz 2.99/bag
Stevia $1.50/4 oz n/a n/a
Sprouts/micro greens
Pea shoots $2.50/8 oz n/a 4.99/pot
alfalfa sprouts $2.50/8 oz $1.59/ 4 oz $2.99/bag
wheat grass $2.50/pot $1.99/ pot 2.50/pot
Buckwheat sprouts $2.50/8 oz $1.59/ 4 oz (clover) 4.99/pot (mixed sprouts)
Meat…  price per lbs includes processing and wrapping fees  (price may vary slightly according to processing fees at time of butchering)
Pork whole hog (150 lbs) $6.00/lbs $1.69-$10.99/lb $5.99-$14.99/lb
Pork half (75 lbs) $6.00/lbs
Pork quarter (37.5) $6.00/lbs
Lamb Whole  (75 lbs) $6.00/lbs na $7.99/lb
Lamb Half (37.5 lbs) $6.00/lbs $7.99/lb
Beef whole (400 lbs) $6.00/lbs $4.99-$7.99/lb $6.99-$10.99/lb
Beef half  (200 lbs) $6.00/lbs
Beef quarter (100 lbs) $6.00/lbs
Chicken broiler -3 lbs $3.95/lbs $1.49/lb $2.99/lb
Chicken broiler- 4 lbs $3.50/lbs
Chicken broiler- 5 lbs $3.35/lbs
Chicken Feet (For Soup Stock) $2 n/a n/a

How to Occupy Our Food Supply…or in Other Words…How to be a Farmer

I am a farmer.

I am a farmer’s daughter.

I am a farmer’s wife.

I am a farm family’s mother.

I am a friend to many farmers.

I eat, sleep, breathe, and dream farming.

All day long, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

It is what I do.

It is what I love.

It is what I will be doing until the day I die.  And I hope, like William’s Great-Grandpa and my own Great-Grandma that I will be able to work hard until my body just wears out and they lay me in the ground that I have labored on.

I farm because I love the lifestyle, I love the animals, I love the land, I love the sounds, smells, sight, and feel of the farm.

And I love the food.

There is no way to describe the absolute sweetness of freshly picked fruits and vegetables.  The flavor is beyond good.  You consume the living food and suddenly you feel more alive, it’s as if you were eating health and well-being.   Anything canned, boxed, bagged, or processed tastes like perfume to me these days.  It smells good, but tastes like a chemical when it touches my tongue.

Yesterday a blog post from “Almost All the Truth”, which is written by one of our farm members, caught my eye and sent me scouring the internet for more information.    She mentioned the “Occupy Our Food Supply” events that are going to be taking place on February 27th.

It was the first I’d heard of it.  Here’s a link to the group that started it http://ran.org/occupy-our-food-supply

I’ll let you do your own research on it and make your own decisions.  As for myself, I think that they are working for something good.  I have no great affection for, and more than a little disgust for the new worldwide “superpowers” like Monsanto, Cargill, and ADM that claim to “feed the world” but leave a wake of human and environmental destruction behind them.  But in my reading I’ve come across some thoughts from the “Occupy” side that make me worried, make me leery of stepping into this movement full force politically, and has me checking my gear to make sure we’re not just tilting at windmills like Don Quixote.

One of the things I read, from another group that is supporting “Occupy Our Food Supply” was that they believe that “food is an inalienable right”.

As a farmer, one that is well acquainted with growing what I eat and eating what I grow, I cannot in good conscience concur with the statement that food is an inalienable right.  As a farmer I know that statement to be false because as far as the land and the resources are concerned…you have no rights, you have no promises, you have no guarantees.   To paraphrase a popular sentiment of my youth “Nature’s ornery and she only tolerates us.”

If that’s the truth that I’ve come to realize over the last 20 years of being intimately involved in working with the land, why oh why do so many people believe otherwise?  Why do we think food is a right rather than a privilege?

Well…here’s my 2 cents.

The reason we think that food is an “inalienable” right is because Cargill, Monsanto, and Archer Daniels Midland have made our food so easy to get.  It’s easy to get corn/wheat/rice/sugar/etc., because they’ve made genetically altered seeds that aren’t anything like nature made.  They don’t die when you spray them with chemicals, when bugs bite them the bugs die, they don’t rot, mold, or go bad.  That makes it easy to get a harvest.

Does anyone really understand anymore how difficult it is to raise ALL of your food supply?  We don’t use those “miracle” seeds that can’t be destroyed here on our farm.  We use the old-fashioned varieties that need to be tended and cared for by hand and it takes an amazing amount of time.  We spend a lot of time looking for and fighting bugs, weeds, molds, slugs, mice, gophers, and blight.  We work hard at it because it’s not just the way we make our living…it’s our food supply.

I watched, listened to, and read the news when all of the Occupy Portland events were going on and I heard the comments one of the “occupier’s” made.  I’ll have to paraphrase here because I’ve forgotten now which radio program I heard it on, but the gist of his statement was “We should have more comforts of life, we should have more food.  The earth is our mother, she provides us with food, we should be able to eat for free.”

And… that’s where the Occupy Wall Street movement totally lost me.

The earth provides our food?  For free?  Really?  And I thought, rather sarcastically (which I abhor so I apologize) “Yeah?  And when was the last time you grazed for your breakfast?”  If you’re religious then you’ll remember the last time food sprang forth freely without sweat and blood occurred some time ago.  Like before Adam and Eve went out for Friday date night.

There is nothing remotely “free” about raising food.  The Big-Ag, GMO, super-ultra-mega-subsidized crops come nearer to “free” than anything that we’ve ever raised in our garden.  They are bug-free, disease-free, and weed-free, which makes it easy to raise it with very little labor cost and a great deal of government paychecks which equals a nice profit margin.

But if you are committed to truly responsible farm husbandry practices you come to realize, after years of labor, that nothing is free.

And why isn’t it?  Because you have added human life value to it.  You have worked for it, with it, and on it.  You have spent your time, tears, and blood to make it beautiful and productive…how could that have no value associated with it?  We love and value what we labor for.

The things that we get for nothing are worth nothing.

Why?  Simply because they haven’t changed us or shaped us.  We haven’t sacrificed for them, cared enough for them to work with them, or to express gratitude through our labors.

We value all life here on the farm.  We treasure it and work for it.  The farm is absolutely pure joy for us.  All the labor, loveliness, work, stress, discouragement and bounty of it are joy, but let me tell you: joy has a price that it demands for its services and it’s called work.

Hard work.

It is a testament to the success of “Modern” agribusiness that we have the luxury of debating whether or not food in an inalienable right.  Why?  Because there aren’t many people in this country who have experienced true starvation.  And thank God for it.  If we were experiencing true hunger we wouldn’t be arguing over “how” the food was raised, or the kind of seeds it was raised from, we’d just be glad to have something to put in our belly.  It is also a testament against large agribusiness that we have to resort to crusade tactics to effect change because they have been so irresponsible in their pursuit of global trade domination that they have shown no consideration for the health, well-being, or happiness of the people and land they work with.

Please do not misunderstand me or my intentions here, I know that there are thousands upon thousands of families and individuals in America today that are homeless, hungry, poverty stricken, and hurting.  I know that there are children that go to bed hungry at night; it makes me sad, it spurs me on to work harder, and I do everything I can in my small part of the world to help alleviate that suffering.  I myself have been in the difficult position of having to choose a healthy salad for two meals, or hot dogs for the whole week.  I’ve been stuck in Green River, Wyoming with $2.00 to my name and uncertain of what I would eat the next day.  But even with those experiences I, just like most American’s, have never experienced true hunger.  Hunger that persists day after day, year after year, so that it stunts the body, robs the mind, and weakens the soul.

My brother, a family doctor back in Minnesota, goes on medical missions to South America about twice a year.  After the last one to Guatemala he came to visit my husband and me here in Oregon and when he saw what we are doing with C’est Naturelle Farms he said “Man, I hope you can take this to those people someday.  It would really help them.  They are so busy just surviving from day to day that they are too tired at the end of that day to contemplate how to make it any better.  Some people in our rescue group went down about 20 years ago and helped them build a fence and a roof over their community water supply.  Something really simple, right?  Well, the fence kept the animals out of it, so the animal waste wasn’t going into the water that they used for drinking, they built a small wash area where families could wash their laundry so poopy diapers and filth from their clothes weren’t going in the water, and now, 2 decades later, the life expectancy in that village alone has increased by 10 years.  Just from one roof, over one water supply.  Think what you could do if you took your method of small-scale but full-production farming to them.  Just the simple act of creating separate pastures to rotate the animals into would break the parasite cycle that makes so many people sick.”

What he described to us was “survival” which is not a picture of success, prosperity, or liberty.  Survival says “how will I feed my children today?” and can’t see anything past that.  Prosperity says “How will I make the world a better place today?” and has the time to contemplate and act.

It is an amazing position of power to be in.  As participants in the greatest experiment in liberty, prosperity, and happiness ever embarked on (I like to call it “America”) we have had that position of power handed to us by previous generations and I think that the invitation to do something good with it is a noble one.

So what will we do with it?

I believe, as I ponder this “Occupy Our Food Supply” idea, that if we are careful of our direction, resolved in our commitment, and dedicated to our decisions then we really can make a difference.

What I hope is that it becomes so much more than just another gripe-fest.  I don’t want to see it turn into another “My life is pitiful!  It’s has to be somebody’s fault, somebody save me!” romance novel dialogue on one of the most serious problems facing the world today: politically driven famine.

There is enough food produced in the world today to feed everyone on this earth, and feed them well.  It isn’t drought, crop failure, or flooding that is causing the suffering of millions of people; most of them children.  It is the politics of greed, power, and control.

What I really hope is that we choose to “Be” somebody who takes a stand and makes a difference instead of “Blaming” somebody for what we don’t like.   Because I don’t personally believe that big government can save us anymore than big-agriculture can.  The problem with anything that “BIG” is that it has no mind of its own and no heart to feel.  How can anything good come from something that is brainless and heartless?

I’m grateful that Brenna wrote her Almost All the Truth blog yesterday and again this morning to bring attention to one of the largest problems we face.  I love that she is so committed to sharing the information she has discovered about keeping our world healthy, beautiful, and vibrant for the sake of our children.  I love knowing that Brenna isn’t a finger-pointer, a complainer, or a whiner.  She’s one of the “doer’s” who not only sees a problem and points it out, but commits herself on a personal level to live her life based on principles, not just persuasion.  I really admire that.  She has offered some great suggestions for what you can do today to make a difference.   Check out her website here: www.almostallthetruth.com

Here is my hope for the “Occupy Our Food Supply” movement.

  • That people will commit to buy from a farmer for more than one day.  I hope that they will commit to it every day.  If you plan to eat it, plan to know who grew it.
  • That our society will see work as a privilege, not drudgery or a punishment. The ability to labor is a gift…we need to start unwrapping and using it.
  • That everyone who believes that good food is important will “occupy” their own space and plant a garden.  Whether it’s in one little terra cotta pot in the kitchen window, a plot in a local empty lot, or in your own or a friends backyard, plant some seeds, get your hands dirty, and add some human life value to your land.  You’ll reap a harvest greater than good food.  The ancient Greeks believed that the real harvest of the soil is the human soul.
  • That everyone who is opposed to the strong-arm, bullying tactics practiced by some of the Big-Ag corporations will stop buying their products.  Just stop.  If we refuse to buy it, maybe they’ll stop trying to shove it down our throats.

One day of Occupying Our Food Supply is a great start, but it won’t change our current system.  If we don’t want our efforts to be wasted we have to commit to a principle, and to a way of purchasing and eating that is less convenient but better for our environment and our society.

Find a farmer, buy his food.

Plant a garden, tend it, and eat your food.

Join a community garden, work together with your friends, and eat your food together.

Have fun, eat well, and increase your life value.

Occupy your own life, take control of your choices, and reach out to help others.

That’s the farm fresh recipe for occupying your space here on Mother Earth.

And if you’d like, come to the farm today, February 27, 2012, and Occupy Your Food Supply at C’est Naturelle Farms.  Monday is our busiest day of the week; it’s when we get everything organized for the work we plan to accomplish in the next 6 days.  But we’ll take the time to walk you around the farm, you can see where we grow your food, where your animals are raised, how they are cared for and how you can support local, environmentally responsible farming.  We’ll show you how we intend to labor to support you and your family in your goal of having the freshest food you can eat brought right to your door.  We’ll make the time to show you because we believe in your worth, we believe it’s our job to support you in accomplishing whatever great thing it’s your goal to do.

You” are why we farm to feed 100 families.

Farm Subsidies, Obesity, and a Zephyr Wind

by on December 27, 2011
in Uncategorized

In Mid-October we were interviewed by the CBS Early Show to give our perspective on US agricultural farm subsidies and the impact on not only American eaters, but on American farmers.

William and I have had first hand experience with farm subsidies and the culture of dependence that they breed.  We were young farmers in 1996 when we went for the first (and last) time to our local USDA office and asked for a small grant to get us started on our family farm.  We needed less than $10,000 to start a business that had the potential to grow into a profitable living for our family.  But they wouldn’t even consider funding someone who wanted to raise tomatoes and get out of debt in 5 years.  They tried to steer us instead to $250,000 dollars in farm debt to produce soybeans and corn, heavy pesticide and herbicide use, and the promise of finally paying it all off when we eventually “bought the farm” with our deaths sometime in our 80’s.  Is that what they marketed in words?  No, but it’s what we saw time and time again in the lives of the Mid-Western farmers that followed that system. We just couldn’t see ourselves jumping on the sinking ship of government supported farming when our hearts told us that success was in private ownership and small business.

We’ve been following that path now for over 15 years and I’m grateful for every mile of it.

Do farm subsidies really promote obesity? Yes…and no. At the end of the day I believe that every person is responsible for what they eat. No one, not farmers, politicians, large corporations, or anyone else is force feeding the American eater a diet of Twinkies, HoHo’s, and Oreo’s. We choose what goes in our grocery carts, our mouths, and in our children’s mouths and are ultimately responsible for that choice. BUT, the American farm subsidy program encourages the continued production of unnaturally low priced foods that are filled with highly processed, “food like substances” (go read Michael Pollan’s books…great!!!) derived from corn and soy crops.

Take a Twinkie for example. Have you ever made a Twinkie? I HAVE made the homemade equivalent of a golden creme cake and it’s a lot of work. It requires a lot of ingredients, a lot of time, and a lot of baker involvement to produce the final treat. The only way that a snack cake with that many ingredients and steps in it’s production can be sold for such an inexpensive price is if the ingredients it is made from are sold incredibly cheap. It leaves me wondering how a Twinkie can be cheaper than an apple when it takes so much more work to get the Twinkie. I’m inclined to agree with Joel Salatin’s statement in the title of his new book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” (go read Joel Salatin’s books…they are also seriously great!!!)

On a lighter note our son Ezekiel came in this morning declaring “There’s a Zephyr wind blowing this morning! Come feel how warm it is.” He was right. There was a delicious, nearly tropical breeze blowing across the farm this morning and it felt like a touch of Spring even in the deep of December. It makes me want to go dig in the dirt and get muddy. That’s really saying something because I usually feel that I’m fighting dirt like the Romans fought the invading Huns. I think I’ll put down my weapons of war, the broom, mop, and vacuum and instead seek an audience with my beloved enemy. Maybe we’ll have a picnic lunch by the lake, or just a stroll down the farm road, anything that takes me outside, under the sky, and near the soil. It’s a good day to be a farmer.

Tilling Fields of Stone

One of my earliest memories as a child is of working in the field behind our house at Hillcrest Orchards.

We were moving stones.

Each year when my father would work the ground for the garden more stones would appear, almost as if they floated upwards through the earth just to get to the sunshine at the top.  My tiny hands could only carry the smallest rocks, but I carried what I could.  We made a tower of them at the side of the field and I recall thinking that they looked like potatoes.

Years later I once again moved stones with my husband William.  He hitched our draft horses, Jim and John the huge Belgian geldings, to our “rock boat” which was a piece of steel bent up on all sides, supported by rebar, and used to “float” the heavy rocks out of the field.  He had used it a lot growing up in the red rock country of Hurricane, UT.  His family’s farm fields were filled with stones, but they were determined to grow in them every year.  We used the rock boat on our family farm in Missouri to remove stones from the area where we planted 1,000 fruit trees.

My children have had the pleasure of moving stones from the fields we’ve worked, building their own potato looking stacks, spiriting them away to serve as foundations for play forts or Anasazi cliff dwelling replicas.

Moving stones is as much a part of farming as planting seeds or hoeing weeds.   We are accustomed to hard work, well acquainted with the weight and weariness of it, and have felt the absolute pleasure of falling into bed at night exhausted but satisfied with a good day’s effort.

But recently I’ve run up against hard places where I’ve never been before and I’ve labored in fields that baffle, confuse, and sometimes pain me.  I try to make sense of the rocks in my chosen professional “field” and I confess that I cannot make sense of them at all.

Two of our fellow farmers and friends were recently raided on their farm in Overton, Nevada.  Their “crime”?  They were planning to serve fresh food from their garden, free range beef and lamb, prepared by a certified chef in a certified kitchen to their friends and farm members.

Does it confuse you too?  I’m baffled.

In fact I’m beyond baffled, I’m appalled.   I confess that in the past when I’ve seen some of the “food raid” videos I have thought to myself “they must have done something they shouldn’t have, they must have crossed a line somewhere.  A government agency wouldn’t do that…would they?”  But I happen to personally know Monte and Laura Bledsoe, the Nevada farmers who were raided, and what I know of them speaks so loudly of integrity, commitment, and dedication to principles of kindness and service that I can’t believe that they didn’t do everything in their power to comply with any regulations given to them by the health department.  I’ve been to Quail Hollow Farm multiple times, and the Bledsoe’s were just here at our farm in Oregon City two weeks ago.   I’ve seen the amount of effort they put into serving the people in their community, the efforts that they go to bring not only food, but comfort and compassion to their farm members.  I’ve watched Laura travel to Africa to bring the hope of education and freedom to countries that are looking for both.  I’ve heard her, a quietly diligent woman, stand and teach youth and adults alike to work hard, study harder, and to stand up for what they believe in.

Here’s Monte…he really looks like a nefarious character doesn’t he?

And here’s Laura with the Las Vegas chapter president of Slow Foods.  Yup…really suspicious.

Then I watched the videos of the raid, the responses of the Quail Hollow farm members and I ask myself:  if this is what food safety means where have our American freedoms gone?  You can watch the video yourself and read Laura’s words in this article: http://shanonbrooks.com/2011/10/people-live-dirt-roads-monte-laura-bledsoe-quail-hollow-farm-csa/

When friends are not allowed to eat a meal together to celebrate the bounty of the year, when a government official tells a state certified farmer that her food is only fit for a landfill, not even good enough for pigs, when people who have hired a farmer to raise their produce for them are not permitted to eat that food, when that same official tells a concerned citizen “that’s all the information you need to know” …I would say that it is well past time to speak up and say something.

This past year I testified in Salem before a committee that was considering the Oregon Agricultural Reclamation Act sponsored by Friends of Family Farmers.  I asked them to defend my right to produce the food that consumers want.  I was one among a good crowd of farmers asking for the same right, and lobbyists for big ag who were opposed to it.  Several of our farm members made it down to that meeting to show their support, not as farmers but as EATERS, for the freedom to obtain more easily the food they wish to consume.

But it’s not enough.  We MUST keep talking.  We must be diligent in defending our right to consume healthy food…because as this video demonstrates there are people in positions of power who do not believe you have that right.  And we need more voices.

What can you do to make a difference?  Let me give you a couple of suggestions:

  1. Join and support Friends of Family Farmers.  I have been working with them for a while now and I am nothing but impressed with their commitment to preserving your food freedom and the right to farm.  They need more committed members to keep their vision going.  Visit their website at http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org
  2. Join and support The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.  I am currently a member and have found their advice to be a great help.  By helping them defend farmers on a national level you are defending the right to eat the food of your choice. You can see the mission and work of the fund at http://www.ftcldf.org
  3. Last but not least…whenever possible buy your food directly from a farmer.  We are so blessed in this area to be surrounded by farms that are willing to sell direct to consumers.  Find them, buy your food from them, and let your purchasing habits send a loud and clear message that you want to be free to eat good food.  You have no idea how powerful your choice to buy farm fresh and local is to food freedom.  It’s what keeps the farmers growing, it’s what keeps the food available for next year, it’s what help drives the desire to farm sustainably, using natural methods that protect the soil, the water, and the animals and plants that take their living from them.

If we work together we can maintain our right to eat healthy food, raised in a way that builds healthy families and healthy communities.  Is it something you believe in?  Is it something you can defend?  One of my favorite quotes is from the pilot and author of “The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart.”

I learned while I was a young girl picking rocks out of a field on my parents farm what sacrifice for the farm meant.  I learned at their side as we traveled the country on back roads and scenic byways, visiting memorials and historic markers along the way about the lives of men and women who sacrificed to give me this land that I farm.  I have felt an obligation to them and to myself to preserve and defend what they lived and died for.  William and I have spent our married life defending it together.  We have labored with the land even when it hasn’t been popular, when our neighbors have accused us of being crazy, evil, or stupid for trying to raise our crops in a regenerative way.  We recently had a neighbor tell us in a very confrontational tone that we were doomed to fail, he didn’t want cows and chickens near his property and that we were fooling ourselves if we thought we’d grow anything but rocks in our fields because this land won’t produce anything else.

It may very well be that we harvest a few rocks from our farm…but then we’ve done it before and we are willing to do it again.  Because those who come after us will have fewer rocks to contend with if we care for our fields well today.  And in the meantime our fields of stone are yielding some pretty delicious “weeds” like these…

And these…

And these…

Thank you so much for supporting C’est Naturelle Farms.  Thank you for speaking up for food freedom with your grocery money.  We know that with the difficult economic times we are in every dollar counts and we don’t take them for granted.  Your commitment gives us the ability to keep going and we don’t take the sacrifice you make lightly.

Together we can till fields of stone and build the foundation of a healthy, free society.  It’s a battle, but if Napoleon was right and “an army travels on its stomach” then at least we’ll go to war well fed.

New Inhabitants in the C’est Naturelle Farms “Forest of Night”

by on October 14, 2011
in Farm Life

One of our farm animals made a recent addition to the farm in my children’s favorite place on the farm, “The Forest of Night”. It has been a great forest for the kids to play in. The have fought battles, raised dragons, circumnavigated the globe, scaled mountains, and been on deadly polar expeditions all without ever leaving those trees. And now it has been transformed into a natural nursery. Enjoy!

In Memory…9/11/2001

by on September 11, 2011
in Farm Life

I know that I am just one of many who will be posting their thoughts and feelings on this day of remembrance of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001.  I have read blogs and articles, seen photos and read captions, and each one has brought some new understanding and perspective to my life.  I hope that my words of remembrance can do the same.  This is one of the stories from my book “Walking My Father’s Fields: Love Letters from a Daughter of the Land” which will be available later this year.  I realized as I read this again today that so much in my personal world has changed and yet so much of what is most important is still the same and will never change.  For that I am profoundly grateful.

The Love of Family

It would seem that the title of this love letter is self-explanatory and universal.  It’s generally expected that most people love their families, either the one they come from or the one they create or are welcomed or adopted into.  It’s a fundamental, foundational belief across generations, cultures, languages, religions, political parties, and creeds…love your family.  I think I’ve been very obvious throughout this work so far about how I feel towards my own family and the intensity of the love I have for them.

The idea of familial affection speaks to the best that is within us because (let’s be perfectly honest) sometimes it is a struggle to love your closest relatives.  It’s nearly impossible to live near and have a relationship with your parents and siblings, in-laws and cousins, grandmas and grandpas without friction developing from time to time.  Tempers can flare over something as inconsequential as dirty socks or as seemingly insurmountable as adultery.  Those who love one another deeply can jump to choose sides, misconstrue motivations, misinterpret words, judge harshly, or withhold affection, support, and any outward sign of kindness in an attempt to remain uninvolved in personal differences of opinion and perceived slights.

It can be a rough road to travel at times, especially since we all drag along our collective baggage with us.  And sometimes when one member of the family finally lets go of his own baggage, there are others who, not as ready to let it go, feel compelled to go through that dirty laundry and stuff it in with their own bags and bring it along on family vacations, to reunions, and on cross-country road trips.

As family members we can support one another better, defend longer, wound deeper, and disappoint more than anyone else on Earth.  No one else’s studied disregard or casual indifference can hurt so deeply, and no other gentle hug and whispered, “Good job!” means so much.  We are often privy to the best and worst in each other and are by turns both less and more forgiving than the rest of the world as well.

We may love or loathe one another; we may distrust or admire or envy or pity one another because so many emotions are tied up with family relationships, but at the core of it is one basic idea; we belong to one another.  “Warts and all,” as my mother says.

This belonging requires a conscious effort on the part of all family members to look well beyond their own comfort, their own well-being, and their own satisfaction to seek out the needs of each other and help to fill them.  I don’t know how old I was when this notion really took a hold of me, but I’m guessing it was sometime around the summer I turned eight.  Up until then I had derived great pleasure in being the evil tormentor of two of my older brothers, Aaron and Jared.

We would sit in the back seat of our old green Cadillac as it cruised down the narrow two lane highways, Aaron and Jared by the windows, me in the middle, and I would worm my hand down by their legs and pinch them.  There was a reason for pinching their legs and not their arms; Mom and Dad couldn’t see me do it.  My brothers, not being as sly and devious as I was, would respond with a good honest punch on my arm, which mom and dad could see.  I would proceed to bawl and carry on with a wonderful dramatic flair after which mom and dad would launch into the “Don’t hit your sister” talk.  I’d smirk or stick out my tongue at my brothers, and they’d frown and silently threaten to pulverize me later.  I never felt sorry about this until my eighth summer when I did it for the last time to Jared.  I pinched, he punched, mom and dad lectured, and Jared gave me such a look of utter distaste for my behavior that I actually felt bad.  I was shocked.  The punch was nothing, that was just a couple of kids playing around, but that look?  It really knocked me for a loop and my mind started working.

It made him feel bad when I teased him?  He felt bad when we played nice one minute and I was mean the next?  It was hard to shed my little narcissistic cocoon; it was painful to find myself experiencing emotions outside of myself.  It would be nice to say that I never went back to teasing my brothers, but remember I was eight and it was a relatively habitual behavior.  But I gradually learned not to as I began to understand remorse and empathy the older I got.  Although I should clarify that I only felt guilty for pinching Jared, Aaron liked to flip my ears and I figured he deserved it.  Actually he still flips my ears by way of greeting, but since we live about 2,500 miles apart it has now become more nostalgic than annoying.

I understood sympathy as it related to my own pain.  I didn’t want to make Jared feel bad because then I’d feel bad.  It was still a kind of self-serving niceness, an avoidance of pain rather than a conscious seeking to do good in spite of it.  I spent the better part of my teenage years trying to understand that principle better, the wanting to perform good works out of a sincere desire.  Sometimes I got it right, more often than not I didn’t.  The blessing of a family is that you get the opportunity to keep trying.  Each new day you have the opportunity to try again to serve with love, to develop compassion, and to better understand mercy.

Becoming a mother in 1998 intensified my feeling of selfless love.  The first time I held my eldest son in my arms I began to realign my thinking, the way all mothers must, into recognizing that he wasn’t “me” anymore.  Not my body, as he had been, not just an extension of myself as I thought of him at first.  He was Ezekiel; he was unique, himself, totally new and undiscovered.  I couldn’t wait to hear his thoughts and know his feelings; and I was certain as I held onto him that I would do anything I could to protect him.  It was a strange and terrifying emotion to love that deeply and recognize in the same instant that it was my job to raise him in such a way as to ensure that he could survive without me.

When I found myself pregnant with my second child I was worried.  I honestly couldn’t comprehend loving another child as much as I loved Ezekiel; he was just such a wonderful little boy.  How could anyone else come close to touching that depth of love I felt for him?  I didn’t think my heart had room for any more love and I worried about whether I could be a good mother to both of them.

But then Ephraim was born and it was as if my heart had grown inside me just as surely as he had.  When I held his tiny little body to my breast, stroked his cheek as soft as a butterfly’s wing, and felt his little fingers hold tightly to mine, I could feel it swelling into new life, beating stronger than it had before.  I hadn’t realized until then that there was more love to be had, that it is not a finite commodity.  With the birth of Ephraim I found more love for Ezekiel and William as well, more love and gratitude for my parents and grandparents, more appreciation for my brothers and sisters, and a greater tenderness towards other children that were not mine.

Zeke was three and Eph was one in the late summer of 2001, and life was exciting.  William had worked for Doc Windom for over five years as a veterinary assistant.  He loved the work, loved working alongside Doc, who was a wealth of knowledge when it came to animals and the progress of agriculture in the Midwest over the past 40 years.  William learned so much more than husbandry on those trips with Doc.  He learned the impact of subsidies on farm families, the real cost of CRP and he saw firsthand the gradual dismantling of the greatness that was mid-America.  A desire was born in William as he and Doc drove those once thriving back roads, a desire to teach people what farming used to be about, that it was more than profit and loss statements, more than insurance claims and government handouts.  He wanted to show people that it has the capacity to be the foundation, the role it has always played, in a civilization.  He read, studied, and listened, and the more he learned, the more determined he was to be a voice for what farming could be, what we’ve always felt it should be.

He decided that summer to attend Northwest Missouri State University.  It was only 50 miles away; he would learn everything he could in their agricultural education department and then he would teach.  Little did we know then that it was not the answer he was looking for, that the education system was not geared to support and sustain independent land-owners or teach them relevant information.  We hadn’t heard of Joel Salatin then.  We didn’t know anything about groups like Local Harvest.  We didn’t know any of this yet and so we made plans to attend.  We looked for housing in Maryville, and William still worked with Doc, treasuring the last few months he had to learn from him.

It was a beautiful Indian summer day in northwest Missouri that September when I drove William into town to Doc and his wife Joan’s office.  Doc did the vet work, and Joan took care of the books and customers.  I drove over to my Mom’s house with Ezekiel and Ephraim to visit.  We sat at her kitchen table while the early morning sun filtered in through white Battenberg lace curtains and cobalt blue glass figurines and talked about my sister-in-law Joy’s harvest party coming up in October.  The boys were playing with building blocks in Grandma’s play room; it was a simple, pleasant morning.

Then Aaron called.  He knew Mom and Dad didn’t have cable or satellite TV, so he said, “Mom, you need to turn on your radio.  A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”  She handed me the phone and raced over to her kitchen counter to flip on the old radio.  Every network was talking about it.

I asked Aaron to repeat again what was happening and he said, “They don’t know who it was but someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center in New York.”  My mind couldn’t wrap around it.  I think I asked, “On purpose?  It wasn’t just some horrible, freak accident?”

“No,” he scoffed grimly, “It wasn’t an accident.”

“How did they get an empty plane into New York airspace, right into the city like that?” I asked.

“It wasn’t empty.  They hijacked it.”

I think I handed the phone back to mom then.  Not empty?  I shuddered.  How many people? I wondered.  How many survivors?  We didn’t know about the second plane yet, we didn’t know about the collapse of the towers.  All I could think of was the plane.

William finished work early that day; I told him what I knew while I drove him up to his parents’ farm, eight miles from our little house in Denver, Missouri.  We watched videos on the TV of New York City.  We saw the planes hit the towers again and again and again and again.  Each time it was like a new wound.  We saw the towers collapse and the gray dust and rubble cloud cover the city streets.  As videos from amateur photographers emerged, we watched the same horror with new eyes.

William drove himself to work the next day while I sat, safe and warm on my couch, watching the war zone that New York had become.  I watched as images of the Pentagon emerged, as a field in Pennsylvania appeared with a giant black scar on the farm fields marking where flight 93 had crashed.

And again all I could think of were the planes.

I imagined myself on those planes.  The networks showed pictures of the passengers and I wondered what would I have done if I had been one of them?  If my child was sitting beside me and I knew we were flying to our death, what would I say?  How would I comfort my child?

And suddenly, as I sat there contemplating the unimaginable and the terribly real, I was seized by an emotion I had never really felt before…hate.  I had never known before that moment what it was to really hate another human being.

I hated, with an almost perfect passion, the men who had calmly looked into the eyes of their fellow passengers and then willingly murdered them.  The hate was so huge it burgeoned up inside me like a bomb.  It made my skin sensitive to touch, my ears attuned to more sound, and my heart cold.  It wasn’t enough that their bodies were disintegrated in the fire and buried beneath thousands of pounds of concrete and rebar.  I wanted them to suffer more than death; I wanted them to know a greater torment.  Hell was not even enough for me.  I wanted them to be cast down past even the burn of the fires of brimstone to where they could rot in the cold and empty silence of nothingness, where they could exist in nothing but the horror of their own barbarism, cruelty, and damnation.

For hours and hours I could feel nothing but that all consuming hatred.  I fed my children, I changed diapers, I started dinner, but I couldn’t move my heart past the cold of my emotions.  Finally I sat, with my children spread at my feet, watching it again and again and again.  I don’t think I realized I was weeping until Ezekiel put his little hands on my face and said, “Mommy, why are you crying?”  I told him, as simply as I could that some very bad men had flown some planes into the buildings and that I was crying because so many people had died.

“Why did they do it Mommy?” he asked.

I had no answer for him and none for myself so I just pulled him to me and hugged him until he squirmed away to go play with his blocks again.  His tender, baby boy hug calmed the hate inside, but I could still feel it threatening to overcome me.  It drove me to my knees, and I pleaded with God to take it away, to remove the hate from my heart.

I believe in God.  I believe in His active participation in my life.  There have been too many miracles and moments of transcendent beauty and strength in my life to deny Him.  This was one of them.

As I knelt there on the floor of my living room, my two sons playing beside me, pleading with the God of the universe to take the hate from my heart, I felt something shift inside my soul.  I have discovered over a lifetime of praying, seeking, listening, and receiving answers that God doesn’t just take things away.  He replaces with something else.  He doesn’t exist in or create vacuums and voids in our lives.  He replaces, fills, compensates, and redeems.

I didn’t know it but that is what I was pleading for: redemption.  And it came, as surely as sunrise and seasons, and was as painful as birth.  Because in removing the hate from my heart, He replaced it with something else.  Something I had felt twice before, only now it was deeper, richer, and more encompassing than I thought possible.  It was painful to grow and to accept what He wanted to give me—to accept a parent’s love.

At once, unbidden and clear the images of those planes filled my mind only now they were sharper and a terrible love filled me with joy and an aching sorrow.  In the clarity of that moment a thought, both beautiful and agonizing entered my heart.  It spoke to my mind words that changed me forever.  “All of the people on that plane were my children.  All are my sons and daughters.  All have need of my love and mercy.  Forgive, for your sake.  How much more need of forgiveness have my children who wound their brothers and sisters willingly?  Whom would you have me deny?”

All I could think in response was “None.” Somewhere in the Middle East there was another mother kneeling in prayer, seeking comfort in her loss; in England, New York, Japan, Australia, California, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, China, and all over the world mothers were seeking comfort and peace in a world overrun with enough hate to fill an ocean.  I couldn’t bear to add one more drop.  There were already enough hearts given over to the cold nothingness of hate, revenge, and terror.  I didn’t need to be another one.

Love, compassion, sorrow, and forgiveness swamped me.  I trembled with the intensity and pulled myself up to the couch where I wept out my broken and newly bandaged heart.  Ephraim crawled over and I picked him up to rock and feed him.  Ezekiel climbed next to me and patted me on the shoulder.

I wept and wondered at the easy love between my sons, two brothers who had been friends all their short lives.  From his first view of him in the hospital bassinet Ezekiel had cried out “It’s Ephy!” as if he had just been waiting for his best friend to arrive.  I thought of the troubled relationships of adult siblings, marred by anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and envy.  I thought of parents who, no matter how old or young, worried over their children and choices they knew would lead to unhappiness and heartbreak, knowing every child must make their own decisions regardless.

My definition of family changed that day, and I was no longer just the youngest of twelve, or the last of the big parade.  I was a daughter of the divine, a sister to the noble, a mother of heroes.  I was also the daughter of transgression, the sister of fear, the mother of want and need.  I was no more and no less than one part of a tremendous whole, and I had a role to play on this stage of my existence.

I had to choose.

In the end that was the answer to my prayer.  God forced nothing upon me, because he never does.  He simply allowed me to see the two paths before me and let me choose.  Anger, hate, and a frozen heart or love, forgiveness, and a broken heart.  There was no easy choice, there never is, but there was for me a correct one.  I chose to love my family.

All of them.

Not just the ones that think like me, or look like me, or believe all the same things.  I had been well taught after all, by my own parents that we are a family because we choose to be.

Everyday we live we are given the opportunity again to love our brothers and our sisters, to look past perceived differences to what makes us the same in our hearts.  We all hope for a better world for our children, we all search for love and comfort, we all strive to find meaning in our day to day labors.  Each new day we are again shown our two paths—love and life or hate and death.  We walk in the paths our parents have shown us.  We forge new ones that lead us to greater understanding and peace.  We seek to know our legacy and either live up to or overcome it.  We do the work required to ensure that our name is synonymous with generosity of spirit.  We choose our place; and when we have chosen, we reach out to our neighbors, to those we come in contact with to build our family, our community, our world.

There is a need in the world for family.  There is enough and to spare of violence, bitterness, and condemnation.  It can be hard to stand in an angry mob and be a voice of courtesy, charity, and conviction.  Hard because it is difficult for some to understand that peace is not passivity and that humility is not weakness.   It is hard for some to understand that standing up for your personal truth does not equal a lack of consideration for theirs.  It takes many voices to make a choir, each member singing their own part.  An orchestra is richer for its diversity of sound—the melody, harmony, major, and minor notes all blending into a magnificent work of art.

The God that filled my heart with mercy on a beautiful late summer day in the middle of America made a world full of differences—mountains  and valleys, deserts and seas, farmlands and forests.  Opposites and opposition exist in the world, and all we can do is choose for ourselves.

I look at my brothers and my sisters, some that share no common blood with me, and I see only hearts that love as I love and hands that labor to do good.  The differences are lost in the depth of feeling we share with one another.  We draw no lines in the sand that separate us.  We have our differences and disputes but we draw a circle of love that welcomes everyone in to the warmth of family.

I look around me at the people I do not know, at the family I haven’t met yet, and I feel the yearning to draw them in, to know them better, to welcome them home to my heart so they will know they are loved, they will know that they belong.  Because in the end we all belong to one another.  Warts and all.

Just Keep Growing

by on April 28, 2011
in Farm Life

As many of our farm members know, William and I were away from the farm last week.  We finally sold our house down in the four corners region of Utah and went down to empty out our storage shed at the house.  It coincided nicely with a sisters wedding which we were able to attend and allowed us the opportunity to visit family and friends.  William and I also celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary and after having just attended a beautiful wedding the week before I was struck by just how much I love my farmer.  I would have told you 16 years ago that there was no possible way that I could love my husband any more than I did then…who knew that my heart could grow so much?

I didn’t know 16 years ago that we would have so many ups and downs, so many heartaches and so many blessings.  It’s nice to have a day or two of clarity, to see just how far we’ve come, to see just how much we mean to each other, and to be reminded that all of our blessings have been richer because we’ve been able to hold on to each other and our belief in better days as we’ve waded through the rough times.

Our anniversary was on April 22nd, and on Saturday morning as I was heading to the market to get some spinach for my green smoothie my phone beeped to let me know I had a message.  We were staying with my brother-in-law and his family who live in a beautiful rural town that is unfortunately a black hole for cell phones so I pulled over to the shoulder of their little country road to listen to my messages while I had service.  There were a few messages from family for my anniversary, and one from my mom asking me to call her back right away.  I could tell by the tone of her voice that something was wrong so I tried to call her back right then but her phone was busy.  I listened to my messages again and heard the message I had missed the first time and it nearly stopped my heart.

One of my cousins had committed suicide two days earlier.

Mom had been trying to reach me but hadn’t been able to with our spotty cell service.  I couldn’t believe it.  “Why?”  Was the foremost question in my mind.  Why quit now?  Why when things were going so well for him?  We still don’t know.  He left notes but the police won’t let the family see them yet, they wouldn’t even let his wife view his body without paying $400 first.  They told his wife and parents that it will be at least 3 weeks before they will release anything to them.

I sat in the front seat of my car, crying as William held me, and couldn’t imagine the despair that must have driven him to that extremity.  And I couldn’t bear thinking of the pain my aunt and uncle were going through.  They were unable to physically have children of their own and had adopted a son and daughter and had loved them as much as any parent could love a child.

He’d been one of my heroes when I was a little girl.  I remember visiting them once when I was about 9 years old.  I had hit that unfortunate, gangly and goofy stage of youth where your teeth are too big, your arms too long, and no matter how hard you try you’re tripping over everything in sight with feet that suddenly can’t seem to figure out where they’re going.

I was avoiding injury and potential damage to the house by sitting alone out on the back patio and breathing in the smell of flower blooms and freshly mowed grass.  All of a sudden my handsome, teenage cousin came out with two glasses of lemonade one for me and one for himself.  Randy sat visiting with me, asking me about what I was currently interested in, about my friends, just about me.  It was a sweet moment for a young girl and I loved him for it.  I loved him for caring enough about me to take the time to visit with me and make me feel interesting when I was convinced that I was a hopeless geek.  I never forgot it, and even though life kept us busy and out of touch except for an occasional remark on facebook, I still loved my cousin.

As we drove home from our trip and I crossed mountains, deserts, rivers, and valleys all in the space of hours the trials, joys, sorrows, and regrets of years ran through my mind.  As I easily passed over rivers that had claimed the lives of early Oregon pioneers I measured my ease against their toil, my commitment to principles against their absolute determination to keep going to the end of the trail.  I thought of our garden waiting for us at home on Kirk Rd. and of the high desert garden I had just seen at my father-in-law’s house.  Those beautiful tender blooms hang on year after year in some of the most adverse conditions.   I drove past an apple orchard in full-bloom clinging to a tiny, steep-sloped hillside in the Columbia River Gorge and marveled at its persistence.

When we arrived home William opened up his sprouting chest and found to his amazement that his tomato seedlings, which he had given up for dead, were still alive and groping for the light.  In his absence, with no water, no light, and no hope of surviving without either of those things they still kept growing.  Their stems were a little leggy and they were drooping but a little bit of water and an afternoon in the sunshine refreshed them and they are now growing happily in the greenhouse, stronger than some of their other siblings who had no stress to overcome.

And then it struck me, as I watched William tending to those little seedlings, that humans are the only creatures on the earth who willingly give up the chance to live.  After years of tending crops, raising animals, and watching the cycle of life and death inherent to farming I have never seen a tomato plant die because it just stopped wanting to live.  Even with disease, mildew, pest damage, and broken stems and branches they still keep fighting onward and upward.  We’ve had animals that have suffered from injury and disease that have fought against their own damaged bodies to try to stand, to move, to just keep going for one more day.  We’ve done all in our power to help them and sometimes are rewarded with a miracle of healing and sometimes with the eventual death of a well-loved farm friend.  But no matter the outcome we are able to walk away knowing that we did everything that could have been done to save their life…because every life is precious.

It broke my heart, to think that maybe there was something I could have done or said to help my cousin, but now I have no way of knowing, and no way to fix it.  I can’t tell him now how precious his life was to me and I wish he had known.  How often do we consider our lives unimportant to others?  How often do we believe the lie that our life doesn’t make a difference to anyone else?  Far too often I’m afraid, but unlike the animals we work with and the plants we tend, the people we come in contact with have the power to choose  despair or hope.

Many of our farm members have shared their personal stories with us, their journeys that have led them in search of the healthiest food they can find in order to save their health, the discouragement they have felt from time to time when they felt they had no control over something as seemingly insignificant as what they could eat.  Many of them have been at that decision point that asks “Can I keep going?”

You can.  You can keep going and more importantly you can keep growing.  This is my message from the farm today…please, please, please just keep growing.  Don’t give up when you think you can’t keep going one more step.  There are people you can’t remember, people you may not even know, who need you.  Your life matters.  Not one plant on our farm goes to waste, not one.  All of the systems of our farm are interrelated and intertwined and a loss in one represents a loss in all of the others.  So it is with our community of friends, and in the larger family of man.

Your life is precious and you are the only one who can live it.

So take heart, and take the next step.

Just Keep Growing.

Books, Bradbury, and Knowing Beans

by on January 14, 2011
in Uncategorized

My mom called me this morning at around 6 am.  She lives in rural Missouri and tries to wait until a “decent” hour before she calls in the morning.  I am usually awake, but not always out of bed when she rings.  We’ve kept in touch this way for years.  She calls to tell me about all kinds of things: the worshipers at church, births and deaths of anyone I might know, marriages, the latest recipe she found, the last book she’s been reading.

This morning she called me about an article she read in her little hometown paper, Bethany’s Republican Clipper.  The author was lamenting what he had discovered at a university bookstore during a recent trip to the Mizzou campus in Columbia.  “Where are the books?” he asked.  In their place he had found cosmetics, movies, toys, candy, and gift cards.  He pondered what was becoming of our society when we have become so dependent on digital knowledge.  He argued for the continuing necessity of physical books, those glorious works of art upon whose pages is recorded the best and worst of human thought.

It’s a good question…where are the books?

I see many of them on thrift store shelves.  I come home with a stack of them almost every week from Goodwill.  Their prices range from $0.10 to $2.00 each.  I don’t often check books out from the Library.  I’m incredibly grateful for the library, my children adore it, but I never remember to bring the books back on time.  I’m forever paying late fees and I’ve found it’s just cheaper to buy my own copy.  Besides that I’m a compulsive re-reader.  I seldom read a book just once…unless it was drivel the first time around, in which case I don’t waste my time.  I love words, the sound of them as they move through my mind, the texture of them on my tongue when I say them aloud.  I love the combination of words that lead to meaning, to thought, and to action.  There are passages in the books I’ve read that have the flow and cadence of poetry.  I like to reread it just for the depth of feeling and soul resonating power they engender.

I have often set down a book that has just filled my heart and mind up and been appalled to see the $0.25 price tag.  How could those thoughts be worth only twenty-five cents?  Grateful as I am that I could afford to purchase it, I am still appalled.  It comes too close for comfort to Guy Montag’s initial belief that books had no value in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  And just how close to the hedonistic society described by Bradbury have we become when a box of Trojans has replaced a copy of Tolstoy on the shelf?

The act of bookmaking used to be an art form.  The illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages, the beloved and well-tended scrolls of the ancients, even the carved clay tablets of the early Mesopotamians were all created, cared for, and preserved because they were beautiful both in being and in content.  They were valued not only for the words on their pages, but for the time it took to create them, the joy that went into every stroke of the pen or brush.

It reminds me of farming.  “Vernie,” you say “Everything reminds you of farming.”  It’s true.  I’m a farmer…what else can I say?

We’ve had the most fascinating experiences over the last 10 months as we have been busily building a successful farm here in the Willamette Valley.  We have done our best to marry the joy of our ancestors farming methods with the modern technology of marketing.  We’ve tried to make it easier for our customers to order our farm goods while maintaining our commitment to raise our produce naturally.

What does that have to do with books or more specifically the value of books?  Just about everything.

We have become accustomed to the digital information age.  With our Kindle’s, Nook’s, and iPad’s we have access to 1000’s of books right at our fingertips.  Not only that, but we can search our books by keyword and idea, thereby chunking our texts into little tidbits, tiny bite size pieces that don’t take too long to consume.  We see this paradigm shift in our farming business as well.  We’ve made it so easy to order products on line that sometimes potential customers are unaware that we actually do raise the food they are purchasing; an effort which takes time.  I recently had several customers experience some difficulty with ordering a product in our web store.  I received multiple emails informing me that the system was not working because they couldn’t order what they wanted.  I had to explain, in a couple of instances several times, that it wasn’t the system…there simply weren’t any more (eggs, milk, kale, etc.).  “What?” is the response I heard “But I want to order some.”  It’s a producer’s nightmare, people want your product but you don’t have enough.  All I could do was explain that the chickens, cows, and garden can only produce so much.  We don’t force feed them, or put them in cages to make them lay, or sprinkle the ground with chemical fertilizers that would make them bigger.  We grow in harmony with the seasons and with the needs of the animals.

And it takes time.

Time.  That is the crux of the common dilemma between books, farming, raising children, cooking a healthy meal, or creating a work of art.

We can gain enough information in 15 minutes of skimming a book on the hand-held gadgetry of our choice to hold our own in a college class or coffee shop discussion.  We can walk or drive to the closest restaurant and have a fully cooked, ready-to-go meal in the same amount of time.  We can get on YouTube and pick up child rearing helps in little 3 minute bites.  We can bring home a well-balanced, supposedly nutritious pre-made meal that can be served up piping hot in less than 20 minutes.  We can take a mediocre digital snap-shot, run it through Photoshop to make it brighter, clearer, more colorful and voila! we have an instant work of art.

We can do all these things that save us time… but has it really saved us?  What have we done with all this extra time we are saving?  Is this kind of internet style book, food, and art surfing enough to change our heart, nourish our bodies or to move us to action?  When I have to explain that it takes time for the chickens to lay eggs, much the same as Aesop’s fable “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs”, I’m inclined to think that something is grievously wrong.  I often get off the phone or finish answering an email and I think “Don’t they know that it takes time to raise and grow good food?”  Many of our farm members do, I hear quite often from our amazing customers how glad they are that we persist in a farming method that costs more, pays less, but provides a superior crop.  They value the work that we do because they recognize the time it takes to do it.

Value is in direct relationship to effort.  We value what we work for, what we expend our resources for, what we sacrifice for.  We value what we take time to pursue.  That which comes too easily I’m afraid we discard just as quickly.

Farms, families, literature and art are not created overnight.  They take effort, commitment, and an intense dedication to whichever principles drive the creators.  Like Thoreau we must be “determined to know beans.”  To know the value of a book we must read it, hold it, ponder it, and discuss it.  To know the value of a work of art (be it painted, sung, played, or acted) we must spend time in observance, contemplation, and discovery of it.  To “know beans” we must plow the field, plant the seed, pull the weeds, and labor against mice (woodchucks for Thoreau), grasshoppers, and mold.

We must put the time in to reading, listening, seeing, and doing.  So that the next time someone asks the question “Where are the books?” we will be able to say with a surety, not unlike Bradbury’s Granger, that the books are in us.

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