Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I just wanted to put up a post for my regular readers who may be wondering why I haven't posted in so long. First of all, my book review of a Nation of Farmers is not coming along all that well. It was a great book, but I have some serious issues with some of the suggestions in the book and I'm having trouble getting the review just right. So I hope to get it worked out and up here soon.
Also, I have put my job search in high gear. I found a job I really want and I've been working on that process non-stop. including a very intensive interview process which just wrapped up this morning. I survived 5 interviews for this job, and I'm on the short list. They told me today I will hear something from them one way or the other by the end of this week. So I wait.
On the farm, we have little news. We have a ton of pumpkins out there in the patch, but suddenly all of the leaves turned yellow and the I don't know if the plants are dying or what. The pumpkins themselves look ok, but the plants are no longer green. The corn has tassled and we have little ears and they have about a month to get to full size. I've been told by some local farmers they need to be off the stalks by the third week of September. So we'll see on that. The tomatoes are not turning red yet, and the chickens are eating them green; they don't care. So I am not sure we will end up with any tomatoes at all once the chickens are through. Speaking of the chickens, they are still sick. They finished their course of antibiotics and now we just have to wait and see how they do. We did lose one chicken in all of this, our sickest one. The others seem to be doing ok, but recovery has been slow. The good news is that we have successfully prevented the turkeys from getting sick, and they are doing very well. It is amazing to us how fast the turkeys are growing. We have to find new accommodations for them quickly. Also since we could not eat the eggs of the chickens while they were medicated, we allowed two chicks to go broody and sit on the eggs and we have an incubator for the overflow. I have no idea if this will actually yield new chickens, but on this too we just have to wait and see.
I will update again on all of these wait and see things going on for us as they shake out.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Everything on this farm is a mixed bag. The pumpkins are doing amazingly well, the chickens are doing terribly. I suppose this is just the way it goes when you are dealing with living things. Let's start with the good news, the pumpkins. I planted 24 seedlings (sprouted from seeds that are two generations from that one Wal-Mart purchased pumpkin three years ago). They appear to really like the rain. I have now got countless pumpkins out there. Of course, not all of them will survive, but a good number of them should.
The bad news on the farm is the chickens. They are all sick. You may recall that we bought some new chickens a few weeks ago that were in very bad shape when they arrived. They were missing a lot of feathers and a number of them had their beaks clipped. Well caveat emptor was never so amply demonstrated as here. They brought some disease with them, unfortunately, now the entire flock, both chickens and ducks alike are sick. They have a respiratory infection of some kind. Their chests rattle when they breath and they all have runny noses. We are treating them with antibiotics, but it is possible that we will lose the entire flock. Thus far the Guinea Hens seem unaffected. Some chickens are worse than others, but one of our healthiest laying hens is presently one of the sickest birds. I feel sick watching her suffer. Neither of the roosters can crow with all the phlegm in their throats. The one good thing here is that the turkeys (we are now down to 11 from 15) have been kept segregated and seem unaffected. We are giving them a chick-dose of the antibiotics in an effort to protect them as the germ could easily travel to them from our hands or whatnot. We have been careful to stop handling the birds and we are washing out hands a lot. The good news, is that despite the sickness, only the very sickest birds are inactive. We have two that are laying down for most of the day, otherwise the majority of the flock is continuing their regular daily activities despite the chest and nasal congestion. It could just be a garden variety cold that they will all get over. I sure hope so. I would hate to lose all of our girls.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I know a number of the regular readers of this blog are just becoming aware of the food issues we are facing here in the good ol' US of A. I know many, many people have read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen and Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Recently, someone very dear to me told me she was only halfway through The Omnivore's Dilemma and it had changed her eating habits already. I am guessing that this response to the book is quite common, but I wonder, as people begin to become more and more informed about food issues if they might actually get overwhelmed by just thinking about all of it and throw up their hands and say forget it. I know, for my part, there are days when, as I told you in the previous post, I find myself in the McDonald's drive-thru. How is that for a locavore? Not very local is it? But I think the important thing is that we start somewhere and do something, even if you can't do it everyday. In our particular case, with 5 kids and a highly fossil fuel dependent lifestyle, we do indeed find ourselves at McDonald's more than I would like. But our trips to any restaurants are vastly less frequent than they were five years ago. One of the things that I enjoy so very much about Sharon Astyk's writing is that she is all about meeting people where they are now is space and time and mindset. She knows not all of her readers are persuaded by the peak fossil fuels arguments or other environmental considerations, and yet her message manages to touch those people as well because food is something that transcends pretty much every other consideration; we all eat.
One thing we have held the line on in our family is eggs. We never, and I really mean never, buy eggs at the grocery store anymore. We have our laying hens, and when they don't produce enough, I have nearby farmers that sell theirs. If I can't do that, we will simply go without. The last time we purchased eggs from the grocery store was a couple of months ago and I bought organic ones; they were a huge disappointment and that day we said, "never again." Why eggs? Well, in our family, we feel strongly about cruelty to animals. We are disgusted by the descriptions we have read about factory farms, and this is one change that has actually been essentially painless for us to make. Now that it is settled our next big change is going to be beef. I am equally disgusted by what happens in cattle CAFO (confined animal feeding operations). Beef is a more difficult change for us because we are a meat and potatoes kind of family, and locally raised beef is very expensive. But we did find a solution. We have plans to buy a beef cow (a Hereford heifer) that we are going to pasture raise ourselves. We can't go without beef until then, so we are still buying grocery store meat for now. We are also still buying more than half of our chicken from the grocery store, but soon we'll begin harvesting our own chickens. I just have to get the gumption to slaughter and clean one myself.
So if you've been interested in making some changes with regards to your food sources, start out with something you can do. For some people giving up all fast food permanently might be pretty painless, or maybe you can start going to your local farmer's market, or you can start making your own bread. Just do one thing at a time and don't beat yourself up if you can't radically alter your habits all at once. Send some comments to the blog and let me know if you've changed any of your eating habits lately. I'm curious what other people are doing and eating.
We lost another turkey so we now have 12 turkey chicks. Everything else is the same. The chickens that arrived last week all beat up with missing feathers and clipped beaks are starting to show some signs of improvement. Their feathers are growing in, albeit slowly, and they come in to roost every night now. I don't know what sort of life these poor chickens had, but from the looks of the things, we freed them from hell itself.
What we're eating now:
Watermelon in large quantities, green beans, corn on the cob, green peppers and we've been having salad almost every night. Other than herbs, which we are getting from the garden, this is all from the farmer's market.
Yesterday we took the kids to visit some friends and spend the afternoon swimming in a lake. The ride in the car was a little over an hour, so Mike picked out a movie for the ride. In his infinite 12 year old wisdom, he selected Super Size Me (for those of you unfamiliar with this movie, it is a documentary by Morgan Spurlock on the effect of McDonald's food on the health of the people who eat it.) I explained to him that although he might enjoy the movie the other kids would be bored to tears. Well it just goes to show you that with the increase in age, there is a proportionate decrease in wisdom. To Charlie's and my shock, the kids were riveted to the screen, even down to 4 year old Claire who certainly couldn't have understood a fraction of what was going on. I suppose this proves just exactly how well done the movie is. Every time Claire's attention started waning, they would cut to a fast-paced catchy song, and she would be interested again. Also there is a segment in the middle of the movie on the subject of school lunches which the kids found particularly interesting. We actually had intended (before Super Size Me was selected to be the movie) to actually go to McDonald's on the way, so it was with an incredibly laughable amount of irony that we pulled up to the drive through with that movie playing in the car. When I asked the kids what they wanted to order, for a moment there was silence, then Joseph broke the silence finally by replying "a bottle of water."
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I regularly read a few other blogs and recently The Crunchy Chicken had a link to this article from the New York Times on turkeys. The Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys won the taste test for best tasting turkeys. This is fabulous news for us here at Cipolla's Gardens because it just so happens that we recently purchased 14 Bourbon Red Turkey chicks. I'm really excited to know that somewhere in the world...oh yea, in NYC, which is only about an hour away, people have been known to pay over $100 per 10+ lb. bird. Maybe we could make a living farming. Turkeys are delicate creatures. They are well known for high morbidity. We have been told to expect only half of the chicks to survive. Maybe we should order more. If you, dear reader, would like to pay me $100, I'll produce a turkey for you. It will be free range, fed on bugs and grass and a supplement of turkey feed. I cannot, however, guarantee Thanksgiving delivery. I have no earthly idea how long it will take these tiny chicks to get to 10+ lbs. As I've said before everything here is a learning experience which is what makes this place so fun.
There is a lot going on in the garden right now. The pea pods are just starting; the green beans are getting ready to be picked. We have tiny green tomatoes, and if we were one bit conscientious we would do a better job of staking the tomatoes; they are growing despite our neglect. We planted a few more seedlings (I know, I know, why even bother planting them this late? But they were started and ready to go in the ground, so in they went, if we yield nothing so be it. If we have and Indian Summer, we'll be the luckiest farmers on the planet.) The pumpkin patch is doing great! I'm thrilled with the condition of the pumpkins. They have huge hearty leaves and every plant has multiple flowers. The corn, having suffered late planting and various levels of neglect is a beautiful case study in what happens when you fail to weed the garden properly. Notice in the photos that the tallest corn has a nice layer of newspaper and hay below it. No weeds ever got a chance to take hold there and nice strong stalk grew up. Move over a few feet were the farmers ran out of energy, and you see shorter corn that was papered and hay-mulched later. Lastly see the sad little seedling looking things, this is where we still have not papered and mulched. We figure that the upside of this situation is that now we will not have all the corn maturing at once.
13 Turkey chicks
27 Chickens in various stages of maturity
7 guinea hens
We have a Hereford heifer that is set to be delivered sometime this month, perhaps next week. We are getting her from the same person who sold us Josie. Herefords are a meat breed, so we are going to make every effort not to get attached to her. Josie, however, will probably be another story. She will probably very much enjoy having another young girl to hang out with and chew her cud with. Our plan is to breed this cow one time let her raise the calf then, eek! send her to the meat packer.
Charlie would still like some Tamworth hogs. As of now, these are not on the agenda, once we get a hog the farm will be pretty much complete. We made the decision earlier not to get goats or sheep.
What we're eating:
Lots of peaches, plums, corn and a few early tomatoes. I bought some haricot verts at the farmers market last week that we have not eaten yet, and the green beans in the garden are almost ready for harvesting. We have harvested several pounds of blackberries but we are on a small canning hiatus right now, it just makes the kitchen so hot to do all of that boiling.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
- 1 7-month old Jersey heifer
- 6 old chickens
- 5 adolescent chickens
- 6 baby chickens
- 9 Guinea Hens
- 6 ducks
- 1 Slovak Cuvac puppy
- 15 turkey chicks
Sunday, July 12, 2009
- 6 mean old hens (although they seem to have calmed down a bit)
- 9 guinea hens who have moved themselves outside permanently, they now roost in the tree at night instead of coming inside which is a big developmental leap for them.
- 4 hens approaching puberty
- 1 rooster who is quite the handsome ladies man, but he still has some growing to do if want to boss around the old ladies--they are still not taking any of his shit
- 6 rapidly growing baby chicks. We are certain that there is at least one rooster in this batch, which is perfect, because that way the we can have the Ameracauna chicks breed us new chicks. These are the ones that lay pale green eggs and I like the yolks on these eggs better as well.
- 6 ducks who are messy and loud, but this includes our one handicapped duck who is doing amazingly well for what he has to deal with. He has one leg that did not develop properly and he has great difficulty walking but he somehow manages. Instead of being mean to him, the other ducks rallied around the little guy, they never scared him off the food, and when it was cold they let him get in the middle of the duck pile to keep warm.
- 1 7 month old Jersey heifer
We still have our beloved Pounce and Echo. In a shocking turn of events, Echo has managed to not get into any death defying situations in quite some time. When I first walked in to this house I was sure he wouldn't last a week. I sometimes think that cat lays around thinking up ways he can hurt himself. But as I said, shockingly, he is alive and well and still keeping Pounce company, and keeping Joseph's feet warm.
Animals we still want:
- The number one item on the agenda is the dog because we found one we want. We are picking him up not this week, but next I hope.
- We would like a cow that is "in milk." That might have to wait a bit though. We had wanted a Dexter cow and we found out from the woman that sold us Josie that Dexter calves go for $3,000. We are priced out of that market for now.
- We'd love a heritage breed hog, a tamworth or a large black maybe. We want one that will still forage. This may also have to wait a bit though.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
Things are moving along at the farm. Today's big accomplishment for me was that I got 24 pumpkin seedlings in the ground that I planted in little seedling boxes a few weeks ago. Charlie's big accomplishment was mowing the lawn. I am hoping for a good crop of pumpkins because I'm going to need them for pies come fall. I have a few pumpkin pie lovers in this house that will not abide a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. The cool thing about our seeds for this is that they came from two pumpkins I grew last year in our garden. Those two pumpkins grew from seeds from the prior year's pumpkins which I purchased at Walmart. So that one purchase three years ago at Walmart has provided us with pumpkins in perpetuity. We planted some back in Phoenix as well so whoever might come to live in our house will be rewarded with fresh pumpkins come October if they care for the garden at all.
Our tomatoes are finally looking good and hearty. The few days of sun are doing them a world of good. I did finally get three lima bean seedlings, but I think we just planted them too deeply in the soil because we planted four rows and only three seedlings came up. So now I planted 6 in seedling boxes, if they come up, I'll put those out and see how they do. I have cucumber seedlings and lettuce seedlings which I'm working on now as well. I just have the tiniest sprouts but, as soon as they are a bit bigger, I'll harden them off and put them in the soil.
The peas and green beans (picture above) look good, and the corn is coming up nicely. I'm concerned that we planted it so late we may not get any actual corn until October!
Our weed control efforts continue to overwhelm us. You will notice in the picture above that we have straw mulch between the plants. Under that mulch is a layer of newspaper. I got this idea from the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. When Barbara Kingsolver went away for vacation, she laid newspaper down and covered the paper with straw to keep the weeds down. We are not on vacation, but we're doing it anyway. I don't know what kind of straw she used, but we are using used animal bedding so it is covered in chicken poo and pee, all of which will eventually break down into the soil. So the carbon is being provided by the newspaper and the nitrogen is being provided by the poo and pee on the bedding. I figure this is a complete meal for our plants.
Speaking of our flock, we are now getting 2-3 eggs a day from the big girls. As soon as the young chicks start laying those old bittys are going right on the dinner table!
Today's livestock headcount:
- 6 2-year old hens that are laying and cranky
- 4 4-month old hens that are not laying yet
- 1 6-month old rooster who is just old enough to get sweet with the ladies
- 6 baby chickens who are just big enough to now look like chickens
- 6 ducks of indeterminate gender
- 9 guinea hens of mixed gender and wow are they LOUD.
Livestock Wish list:
- A breeding pair of Mangalitsa or Tamworth hogs or another heritage breed of hog (my preference is the Tamworth)
- A bred Dexter or Jersey heifer (my preference is for the Dexter) or the same breeds but in milk
- A working farm dog that we can train to scare rabbits out of the garden and scare predators away from the bird flock.
- I would also like to get a Black Angus steer which we can fatten for slaughter.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I have fantasized about living on a farm for as long as I can remember. Obviously, what I was picturing as a child was what most of us picture: a family farm with animals and fields of vegetables. I never imagined a farm to mean a monoculture of genetically modified soybeans as far as the eye could see harvested with a combine bigger than a tractor trailer and crops put in a grain silo which is automatically emptied into a passing train that has tracks right through the property. In fact, the language has caught up with the times. We don't even call the latter a farm. We call it an agribusiness.
Back in the late '80s when I moved to Vermont, there were picturesque dairy farms all around. Family farming in those days was considered a dying industry. I knew one dairy farmer fairly well. She and her family had been dairy farmers for generations, and to hear her tell the story it was the path to perdition (or at least poverty). The dairy farmers could not make a living on the prices they were able to get for milk. It was this very situation, in part, that brought us recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) which when administered to cows makes them produce more milk and according to many pediatricians this is also the cause of early onset puberty in girls (which is apparently on the rise). The issue of labeling your milk as rBGH-free is flat out illegal in some states and is an embittered battle in others. Now, instead of the Vermont-style family dairy farm that was dying in my early adulthood, we have concentrated animal feeding operations that lock the cows in place and milk them by machine. This is not to say that the farmers in Vermont did not milk by machine, they did, but their cows were put out to pasture every single day in decent weather. The new agribusiness model does not put cows out to pasture each day. The Tess of the d'Urberville's Talbothy dairy with its milkmaids is now a relic of the distant past.
There is a resurgence now of another kind of farming that is sustainable, organic, local market farming. This is the kind of farming being done by some of my neighbors. But now that I actually DO live on a farm. I know that the term "organic" is a suspicious one. The resurgence in local eating is something I heartily support. I, for one am disgusted by the idea of all those chemicals being poured on the soil, not to mention the idea of genetically modified "frankenfoods." But you would be shocked at how extremely difficult it is even for a person who is informed and well read on these issues to avoid these foods.
One common genetic modification is to make a plant pest resistant by encoding pesticides right into the cellular structure of the plant. This modification makes the plant pest resistant by killing any pest that eats the fruit. As Jane Goodall says so well in her book Harvest for Hope, with traditional pesticides at least we had the psychological comfort of washing and peeling. But when the pesticides are added at the cellular level and pesticides exist in every cell of a plant, you can not rid the item of its pesticides. It is discomforting to know that for certain foods there is essentially no escape. You may say to yourself, "so I won't eat GM foods." Not so fast. The number one most commonly modified crop is corn. Anyone who read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma can tell you that the one food we consume is vast quantities, in most cases without even realizing it, is corn. There is corn syrup is almost every processed food, not to mention corn starch, and other corn derived additives corn syrup solids and what have you. There are also corn chips, corn tortillas, popcorn and plain old buttered and salted corn on the cob. Lastly, the diets of almost all factory farmed livestock, yes all the beef, chicken and pork you see in the grocery store, is fattened for slaughter on corn. All the eggs you buy at the grocery are from chickens with a diet of almost all corn. The milk you buy was produced by cows on a diet of corn. You can try, buy you cannot escape Frankencorn.
I am now raising my own farm animals. I would like very much to get off this all-Frankencorn-all-the-time diet. My first efforts have to start with getting the animals off the stuff. It is very difficult to get any animal feeds that are not corn based or are made with heritage varieties (not genetically modified). If I could find it, it would probably be cost prohibitive. The next possible option is to grow my own. Try as you will, even this is no guarantee. If you neighbors are growing modified corn and your corn is pollinated by it, there you go, now your corn is genetically modified too, even if you planted a heritage breed. Unbelievably, you can be sued if the Monsantos of the world find one of their patented varieties growing in your field, even if you didn't plant it and don't want it.
Which brings me to the organic label. If it is this incredibly difficult to avoid the genetically modified food, how on earth can anything actually be "organic?" I know for a fact that somewhere in the life of that $15/lb organic white sharp cheddar cheese made from unpasteurized organic cow's milk, there was Roundup, genetically modified corn and God only knows what else. My assessment is that the label guarantees nothing. Even if you grow you own corn, and milk your own cow, you cannot completely rid yourself of all things synthetic, and this is very sad for us all.
Today's livestock count:
- 11 chickens (our new 6 month old Amercauna rooster appears in the picture above)
- 9 guinea hens
- 6 ducks
Creamed chipped beef on toast. The toast was a homemade buttermilk whole wheat bread that was delicious but too soft to hold up to the slicer. Served with the last of my blueberries.
I attempted to pick some wild strawberries for breakfast tomorrow. I got about 12 berries--something beat me to it! At least we had some of them.
Monday, June 22, 2009
After the septic people left, it was still heavily overcast and we walked out to the garden with our coffees to see if there was anything sprouting where we had planted seeds. Nada. No corn, no lima beans, and the tomatoes were looking as sad as can be. I walked away from that garden disgusted. (Even though the green beans, peas, peppers, celery and basil appear to be doing ok.)
Later in the day Charlie went out to pick up a few more chickens we had ordered from a local lady who sells chickens (live ones), and miracle of all miracles, the sun came out. It shined hot and bright for a few hours. Right as my roast was finishing for dinner, Charlie came in and said, "come with me, I want to show you something." Unbelivably, the corn was poking through the soil and we found one, yes one, sprouted lima bean with a nice strong stalk poking up through the soil as well. We are certain that lima bean sprout was not there this morning. It is amazing what a few hours of sun will do.
As I type, by candelight, (it attracts less bugs) the kids are all outside chasing and catching lightening bugs, something that speaks of summer to all children in the Eastern half of the United States. When they come inside, maybe I'll serve everyone a water ice and it will be a complete summer day, New Jersey style.
Today's Livestock Headcount:
10 chickens (7 Americaunas and 3 buff Orpingtons)
9 Guinea hens
Today's Dinner Menu:
Cheddar/Pepper buttermilk buscuits
Tossed salad with local salad greens from the farmer's market
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
We had a dry day late last week so we planted the corn in the garden--finally. It hasn't come up yet and with all of the rain (it has rained almost every day since we've arrived) it may rot right there in the soil. The good news, however, is that the peas and the green beans are coming up nicely. I was never so happy to see sprouts in all my live long days. Surprisingly though, we have seen neither hide nor hair of the lima beans, not a single sprout is up. We had no trouble growing these in Arizona, but with the climate being so different here, it is like learning to garden all over again. I have no idea actually, what sort of conditions they need. They grew like weeds in the garden back in Phoenix. I'll be sure to keep you posted. We also have a variety of bell peppers planted, celery, and basil. We have a lot left to plant, especially the pumpkins which need to go in very soon. I'll be praying for an Indian Summer this year, that is if we ever get the first summer.
We have livestock now: four laying hens (who are still too young to lay), 6 ducks (one with a malformed foot, but as cute as can be) and 9 guinea hens. It has been fascinating to watch the ducklings grow. Almost every morning I drink my coffee with the birds as I let them out for the day. This afternoon, however, we had a poultry crisis. A predator got one of our guinea hens. We have no idea what got it, but it left feathers and entrails all over the bird paddock and it sent the remaining 9 guinea hens into a panic and then into hiding for the remainder of the day. We searched the entire field for those hens and this is no small task as it is about 15 acres. While we out looking for the hens an interesting thing happened. I discovered that there are scores of fully ripe wild strawberries in our field. As I looked for the hens, I would bend down and scoop up the strawberries. My hands looked as though I got the guinea hen. It wasn't long before Claire came out and joined me and the two of us stuffed ourselves full of wild strawberries. They we tiny (about the size of a blueberry) but full of delicous sweet flavor. Tomorrow morning I am planning to wake up and go out in the field and collect a bunch for making wild strawberry pancakes. I'll let you know how it turns out.
After dinner tonight, Charlie finally corralled the guinea hens out of the bushes and back into the box stall. I was afraid when they finally did resurface we'd have less than 9, but the 9 were still in one piece.
I see a dog in our future.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
It has rained almost continuously since we arrived except for a very welcomed reprieve last weekend nonetheless there is progress underway on the farm. The field tilling has been stalled because the field is so drenched but, we paid a local farmer to till a small portion of the field for corn and vegetables and it is coming along well. It will be the largest garden we’ve ever had. Also two of the paddocks are ready for animals. The third paddock had a tractor accident and the broken tractor is still in the field, without its front wheel, which somehow got ripped from the machine when the guy was mowing the paddock. Who knows when the broken tractor will be removed, but there is no rush since we haven’t fully figured out where exactly to purchase farm animals yet. Lots of people sell chickens and guinea hens (which we want for sure) but since we actually have experience with poultry we know what we want and what is a fair price, and we have yet to find what we are looking for. We have been informed that there is a farm auction up in Hackettstown every Tuesday. We are planning to go up there this Tuesday and pick up at least some chickens, so our plans this weekend include getting some dowels for the chickens to roost on at night, and getting some laying boxes for the hens to put their eggs in.
The farmer who tilled the field for us has been very forthcoming with advice and information. His message though, which he never fails to convey to us every time we speak to him is, don’t bother trying to do this stuff commercially; “you’ll lose your shirt trying to farm anything these days.” He claims there is no money of any kind that can possibly be made in farming anymore, and after assessing things in NJ, we are hard pressed to argue with him. The average small scale family farmer has inherited both the land on which he farms and the equipment he uses to do the farming. Otherwise he would be completely priced out of the market here in NJ. Property values are in the obnoxious range, and taxes are off the charts. The cost of new farm equipment is so high, no one could buy these machines without sizable loans. These guys are not big enough to break into the soybean/corn military industrial complex scale agribusiness. They are also are too small to actually sell their vegetables to the grocery chains. The best they can hope for is drive by traffic at farm stands and self-sufficiency. And admittedly, these guys could grow and raise enough food to food to feed a large family on most of the parcels out here, but by and large, they can’t make a commercial enterprise out of it. Not the old way anyway.
How is it that in central NJ, a place that is equidistant between New York City and Philadelphia, two cities both noted for their prized place on the culinary map, farmers are having a tough time? This area is chock-full of high end restaurants and a sizable number of people who helped put The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. If Joel Salatin can be pulling in good money in Swoope Virginia, there is no reason these guys, who are better located in New Jersey, can’t also make a good living in farming. I also can’t help but wonder how the Amish survive on their labors. The Amish still manage to keep a community alive on subsistence farming and crafting. There is a Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer’s market here in town, but it is very weak on local vegetables. I wish some of the local farmers would rent a stall there and start selling their vegetables. There is one lady, not even Amish, who sells vegetables at that market, and of a whole produce section she had one item that was grown in New Jersey, asparagus. I bought some from her on principal.
I suspect that during the course of the coming year here, we will often ponder the plight of the family farmer, because those family farmers are our neighbors now. And I wonder, what of the young person today who actually aspires to be a farmer? Surely such a young person exists. Where are all of our ag majors going? Are they all really just cogs in the agribusiness wheel? There must be some of those ag majors who actually want to be small scale producers. Where can they get land and equipment to get started? More importantly where will they get customers for what they grow?
We didn’t come here to be commercial farmers, and apparently we should be thankful for that fact, from what the locals tell us. We were looking for a place to have some animals who will live in humane conditions and a sizeable kitchen garden so we could know with some more certainty where our own food came from. We will certainly reach our modest goals, but I’ll leave off this post wondering who is making goals for the larger food supply? Is it market driven really? If so, why can’t I find the locally grown foods I’m willing to pay extra for? And lastly where have all of the agriculture majors gone?