Sunday, January 24, 2010

A good book and some other stuff

I finished reading The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. This book is a terrific compliment to Coleman's past writings. On the cover of the book it says,

Year-Round Vegetable Production ~ Using Deep-Organic Techniques ~ and Unheated Greenhouses

Coleman describes what he means by "Deep-Organic" in the book. With this he differentiates between "shallow organic" "deep-organic". I thought he made an excellent point in doing that. Since "organic" has been hi-jacked by the big corporate interests it's over due that people know the difference between say, Wal-Mart "organic" and 'real' food. Here is an excerpt from the book,

"Deep-organic farmers, in addition to rejecting agricultural chemicals, look for better ways to farm. Inspired by the elegance of natures systems, they try to mimic the patterns of the natural world's soil-plant economy. They use freely ( emphasis mine) available natural soil foods from deep-rooting legumes, green manures, and composts to correct the causes of an infertile soil by establishing a vigorous soil life. They acknowledge that the underlying cause of pest problems (insects and diseases) is plant stress; they know they can avoid pest problems by managing soil tilth, nutrient balance, organic-matter content, water drainage, air flow, crop rotations, varietal selection, and other factors to reduce plant stress. In so doing , deep-organic farmers free themselves from the need to purchase fertilizers and pest-control products from the industrial supply network - the mercantile businesses that normally put profits in the pockets of middlemen and put family farms on the auction block. Needless to say, the industrial establishment sees this approach as a threat to the status quo since it is not an easy system for outsiders to quantify, to control, or to profit from.

Shallow-organic farmers, on the other hand, after rejecting agricultural chemicals, look for quick-fix inputs. Trapped in a belief that the natural world is inadequate, they end up mimicking the patterns of chemical agriculture. They use bagged or bottled organic fertilizers in order to supply nutrients that temporarily treat the symptoms of an infertile soil. They treat the symptoms of plant stress - insect and disease problems - by arming themselves with the latest organic weapons. In so doing, the shallow-organic farmers continue to deliver themselves into the control of an industrial supply network that is only too happy to sell them expensive symptom treatments. The goal of shallow-organic farming is merely to follow the approved guidelines and respect the primacy of international commerce. The industrial agriculture establishment looks on shallow-organic farming as an acceptable variation of chemical agribusiness since it is an easy system for the industry to quantify, to control, and to profit from in the same way it has done with chemical farming. Shallow organic farming sustains the dependence of farmers on middlemen and fertilizer suppliers."

Deep-organic is something that can't easily be patented and marketed. True soil fertility comes from free natural processes. When you think about it, God is actually the one who came up with recycling. The natural breakdown of organic materials is something that God Himself invented.

It takes some time and effort to provide the proper nutrients to grow crops. Even if it is free from a monetary sense it is not free from work. You still have to move piles of compost/manure and then spread it and work it in. So I can see why people want to take short cuts and buy products already made. But, that is the difference between "shallow' and "deep" organics.

It's a matter of breaking out of the box as well. The establishment often keeps people confined to a rigid set of guidelines when a better or more successful approach can be just a stones throw away. But, in order to do this one must often go against the flow. That's a hard thing to do sometimes, especially for the green horn. Speaking for myself I was very unsure of myself when we started doing this. We'd hear so many different ways to do a thing and we just didn't know who to listen to.

And of course the established industry will have you pouring every single dime you have and even what you don't have into every facet of your enterprise. But, if you are just doing it all for fun and never intend to move beyond hobby status, paying for it all from your off farm job, then big deal. If you have money to burn then who cares. Most any problem can be fixed with a pile of cash. But, many of us want to become as self-sustaining as we can be. If we can do as much as we can on our own and create an even better product or living with as little outside provisions as is possible then the farther ahead we will be. Could make the difference between really farming or homesteading and just doing it as a hobby.

Coleman has some good points about breaking away from the industrial paradigm and later in the book he punctuates the tension he describes between the industrial establishment and "deep-organic" methods. He writes,

"The reason for this still very active attempt to villainize organic farming is that our success scares the hell out of the other side. Just like the fear of nature that the merchandisers and scientists have worked so hard to create in farmers in order to make purchased chemical products and reductionist science seem indispensable, so has our success with organic farming created in the scientists and merchandisers a terrible fear - a fear of their own redundancy; a fear that all farmers will realize other solutions are possible; a fear that agriculture will learn the truth. Organic farmers have succeeded in producing a bounty of food through the simple means of working in harmony with natural processes, without any help from the scientists and merchandisers. "

There's just a whole lot of baloney out there that we have to wade through. I know I've mentioned here in the past how we were so unsure of our selves when we first started and how we thought we had to run to a veterinarian every time something went wrong with an animal. We thought we had to pump them all full of antibiotics, vaccines and wormers and so forth, the standardized remedies most Vets prescribe. Can't imagine how life on this here earth ever managed to get this far without those things. This type of point can be switched right over to vegetable crops as well. The truth is we don't need to be chained to purchasing all those outside amendments when most of what we need can be found through good management and an understanding of how God made the natural world to function.

The truth is so much of what is for sale these days is just not necessary. So much of what is out there is just somebodies bright idea, a big ole money making scheme. That's why I like authors like Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. They help us wade through all the nonsense and report to the world that there is another way based on proven experience. And experience is what so many of us lacked going into our homestead adventures. Even up to a year or two ago I felt like I really didn't know what I was doing. Still figuring it out as we go. But, it is all finally starting to sink in. If it is all starting to feel too complicated it probably is.

I probably never would have come here if it weren't for some advice from my cousin Bob. He made me see that I was trying to over complicate it all. And even after we did move here I tended to keep falling back into that trap. Even to this day really I struggle with that. Of trying not to over think stuff. Just do it. For me, I learn best that way anyhow. I learn best by doing.

Anyway, if you haven't figured it out by now I definitely give Eliot Coleman's latest book two thumbs up. He makes tons of good points and has spent many years refining what he does. We can all benefit from his experience. One thing I forgot to mention is he gives some great history on this idea of year round gardening and how it was already practiced extensively in France 150 years ago. He has a whole chapter devoted to this called "Historical Inspiration". I would recommend the book on this chapter alone.

So on that note I guess that's about all I have for now on that subject.


And now for an update on Kelli's sister Doreen....

It would surely seem a miracle occurred with her, in that the next day after that really bad night, she was perfectly peaceful and has progressed very well ever since. For a couple days now she has been up and walking around, is in good spirits and is looking forward to when she can check out of the hospital. She did have a mishap though the other night. She was coughing hard and something about that triggered her defibrillator and she got zapped. Kelli said her arms and legs went strait out. The nurses came running because it set off an alarm or something I guess. But, she was none worse the wear and apparently she didn't experience any serious harm.

Doreen has no recollection what so ever of how bad she had gotten before, however. People have been filling her in on it and she can hardly believe it. I really believe a miracle happened.


Other news........

For those of you who are into rustic decor for your homestead or retreat here is a website that was recently recommended to me The store used to be located in Three Lakes a neighboring town to us. The site will be listed in the links section over on the right hand side bar as well.


Until Next Time

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Down In The River To Pray and the power of prayer

Down In The River To Pray
By Alison Krauss

As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way

O sisters let's go down, Let's go down, come on down, O sisters let's go down, Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the robe and crown Good Lord, show me the way

O brothers let's go down, Let's go down, come on down, Come on brothers let's go down, Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way

O fathers let's go down, Let's go down, come on down, O fathers let's go down, Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the robe and crown Good Lord, show me the way

O mothers let's go down,come on down, don't you want to go down, Come on mothers let's go down, Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way

O sinners let's go down, Let's go down, come on down, O sinners let's go down, Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the robe and crown Good Lord, show me the way


I hope you enjoyed this song sung by Alison Krauss. It is beautiful and to me celebrates the power of prayer. Very fitting to what has come about in my families life concerning Kelli's sister Doreen.

Thanks again for all the prayers. And thank you Tom and Kat for the comments it was nice to know for sure you were praying.

Good news! A miracle happened and Doreen was calm by early morning. In fact she was peaceful all day as far as I know. Everything is now going well.

I won't go into the details about how bad it got last night, but take my word, it was bad. It would seem that the forces of darkness wanted her taken out but, apparently God has something else for Doreen and has spared her life. Many prayers went up on her behalf.

Praise the Lord!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A prayer request

For those of you who pray, I have a prayer request. I'm hesitant to even put this out there but, I know some of you have been keeping track of the progress of Kelli's sister Doreen. We are a praying family and we place a high value on the effectiveness of fervent prayer of righteous people. (Righteous: meaning saved by grace)

Last year Kelli's sister Doreen had numerous heart attacks and almost died. She had other health issues going on at the same time besides. She is diabetic as well and she had a secondary infection going on which required surgery to remove gangrenous tissue. The medical professionals did not expect her to live and where actually surprised to see her pull through. Doreen was quite young to be having these kinds of problems. She was 39 then and is now just 40 years old.

Doreen spent time in a nursing home as she recovered from her ordeal. This was hard on her mentally and emotionally to be bunking down with all the elderly people, most of them more than twice her age. But, in time she progressed and was allowed to come home.

After a long struggle with mounting medical bills, she finally got put on state aid which covered all the expenses. She also qualified for disability which is helping to pay her living expenses. It is impossible for her to work in her condition.

It has been an up hill battle all the way. Actually a roller coaster ride is more like it. She has had very good days and very bad days all along this journey. Both physically and mentally. But, as time has progressed her heart has deteriorated and a couple months ago she went to Illinois to live with relatives who have been taking her back and forth to St. Lukes medical center in Milwaukee for testing. The testing has been to see if she qualifies as a heart transplant recipient.

Apparently she did qualify and they highly recommended she be put on a heart pump until a donor heart can be found. I believe the technical description of the pump is called an LVAD. And recently they had a brand new version that they wanted to put in that has only recently been used in the United States. A miniature version of what has been used.

Doreen received this new heart pump last Wednesday. Kelli and their other sister had gone down to be with Doreen a couple days prior. Doreen was admitted into the hospital on Tuesday, and had an external heart assist pump put on her leg. If I understand correctly, shortly thereafter Doreen began having a severe panic attack.

To make a long story short they almost canceled the operation. During her panic the good part of her heart began to fail. But, they sedated her and the next day she was stabilized some what. They decided to go ahead with installing the new pump for fear that this would be their last chance. The surgery went on as scheduled. It was an open heart surgery.

But, here's the problem, as they have tried to bring her out from under sedation, she keeps going into panic mode just like before the surgery. So then they had to re-up the meds and keep her under for fear she will thrash about and injure herself. Finally today, 6 days after the surgery they woke her up and removed the intubation tube and she has gone right back to what she was doing on Tuesday. Completely freaking out. The doctors don't know what to make of it. It seems psychotic to them. Like it is a mental thing, because all her vital signs are doing very well. The surgery went well and everything should be good.

But, there are a multitude of things that could be going on. For one, from a spiritual perspective there could be something going on there. From what went on last Tuesday we all wondered if something demonic was going on. But, then there are all kinds of physical issues at stake as well. Doreen has been on a pile of meds with numerous doctors prescribing this thing and that. She has been completely out of whack since day one. It has been a total juggling act for them to get her balanced out, what with her bad heart and her diabetes and the infection that she endured.

The poor woman has had to take hand fulls of medications all this time, so in my mind I would never rule out some reaction going on with all the pills she's taking. But, at the same time I'm totally aware that there is a spiritual reality that most doctors would naively over look.

So this is what my sister in-law is going through as I write. The last word I got this evening was that she is pretty much going off her rocker. Physically everything is good except that she could hurt her self at any time.

Ordinarily I wouldn't put this kind of personal stuff out on the Internet but, right now the poor lady needs all the prayers she can get. This has nothing to do with what this blog is all about, but hey, it's my little corner on the web so I guess I can do what I want.

Thanks for the prayers!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

20 years since we bought the farm

This month marks twenty years since our family became the owners of our place here in Wisconsin. Our youngest wasn't even born then. We were joking with her just this morning how she is the only one in our family to have spent her whole life here. She wasn’t born here of course. She was born in 1991. We didn’t actually move here until 1998. But, we spent many long weekends here and she had been here lots of times even while in the womb. We joked with her that this place is in her blood. She is more a part of it than any of us. A true native so to speak.

I dreamed of a place like this for many years before we came here. I’ve been reliving a lot of our past while working with our neighbor Mike. He’s lived in this community since he was about 9. He’s been curious as to what brought us here and all that. His family owns the land directly across the highway from us. Mike’s been telling me a lot about the area when he was young, back in the early 70’s. For instance the woods that he and his family owns weren’t woods then. It was a potato field. That’s hard to believe. It is all woods now. Lots of aspen, maple and oak. Things can sure change in a few decades. But, from talking with Mike through out the days and with him asking questions and piecing together our history a lot is fresh in my mind from 20 years ago.

After we got this place we always said it must have been meant to be. We kept hearing about other people in the area who had wanted to buy it. And over the years I have bumped into many people who said they almost bought the place or wanted to. I’ve lost count of how many have told me and as time goes by I keep running into them. In fact our neighbor Mike can be included. He wanted it too.

If I would have known land prices were going to go so high I would have tried to buy more property. But, we got in it at just the right time. There is no way we could even touch this much land at today's prices. I remember well when we first started coming up here, seeing 40 acre “hunting” parcels being advertised at $5000. That was for a whole 40 acres. Probably swamp land with no building sites. But, it’s not too far under that per acre now, even for “worthless” swamp land. Of course even if we had gotten more land back then property taxes are so high now that I doubt we could even afford it at present time. There is a program that you can put your land in that many people around here join. They put it in what they call ‘forest crop’ and don’t have to pay property taxes. However there are a host of restrictions that you have to adhere to and if you ever want to do anything on your land like build a structure you have to pay the back taxes anyhow. To me it seems like a big land grab where the land owners forfeit their rights over there own property. The state tells you what you can and can’t do. And in some cases the public even gets to hunt on your land. Something I for one would not want anything to do with even if it exempts you from property taxes. Comes at too great a price. The state becomes sovereign over your land instead of you.

So if you are looking for land to farm or homestead considering what the taxes might be later on is something to look into. If it is vacant land now and later you build a house and out buildings what will the taxes be then? For vacant land it’s not usually that much but, putting up buildings can be a whole different story. We are even taxed on our trucks and trailers for our garbage business. Something we never even knew about until we put up a sign out front. A sign advertising what we do. The tax assessor saw the sign and sent us a nice tax bill for ‘personal property’ because of the business. I couldn’t believe it. As if we don’t already pay enough in the form of license plates and DNR fees and insurance we have to cough up even more for “personal property” tax. Not to mention all the taxes we already paid for the stuff at the time of purchase. When I look at the personal property tax form my blood boils. You’re suppose to list everything you own for your business. I mean everything. Everything from tools to machinery, to office equipment like computers, programs, printers fax machines hard drives, you name it. I’m opposed to the NAIS for reasons such as this, of being bogged down in a bureaucratic nightmare. Why do they need all that information? We operate as a sole proprietorship. Basically everything we use for doing business are our sole possessions. Most of the tools I use I already owned. In my opinion it’s no ones business what possessions we own, even if it is used to earn a living.

We moved a mobile home onto our place a number of years ago. It’s kind of a long story how we came by it but, it has never been set up, it just sits like it did the day we parked it here and we even get taxed on that. And it’s still on wheels. If I could pick up our place and move to a location where we didn’t have to be such tax slaves I would do it. Look into the tax laws very carefully before you move anywhere. I don’t really know if the tax burden we endure is more a local thing or a state wide thing. Wisconsin is a socialist leaning state so I suppose it is state wide in order to pay for all their programs.

There are good points and bad points to any place. Can’t imagine there is any perfect place to live. One thing about this place I like is we don’t have poisonous snakes. I like to tromp all over the place and having to think about snakes would be an big inconvenience to me. One time when I was in TN me and a cousin of mine were collecting some slate at the bottom of a dry creek bed. We were about to pick up a big piece together and he said, “careful, there might be a copper head under there”. Sure enough, we tipped it up carefully and right under it was a big ole rattle snake all curled up. I swear we reached the top of the bank before that big piece of slate even fell back over.

Before we found this place we spent years and drove thousands of miles looking for property. When we first laid eyes on this place we knew this was the place for us. And we looked at a ton of properties. Nothing ever jumped out at us like this place did. Plus it had to be within our budget. That was always something to factor in no matter what we considered. This place was the most bang for our buck by far.

Recently Kelli was asking me why I don’t like to go places anymore. I think it is because in the past I was always looking for somewhere else. Somewhere else other than where I grew up in Illinois with all it’s congestion and crime. I loved all the driving I did in my youth when I raced motorcycles. Most of the time the race tracks were located next to farms. You’d be flying over a jump and just on the other side of the fence there’d be cattle grazing in a field. But, going to and from the races, I’d be looking. Looking and dreaming for another place to live. A place where I could do all the things I liked and to be close to the land. I’ve always loved being in the country.

But really, I don’t mind going places, as long as it not to a city. I have to admit, I just can’t stand cities. Especially big cities. The closest big cities to us here in WI is the Minneapolis, St. Paul areas. We’ve been there on a couple occasions and all I can think of when we are there is, “when am I going to leave?” That’s what I think in any metropolitan place, especially in the Chicago land area where I grew up. There are some places I do want to go to, however. For one I want to go out to ND to attend Prairie Days. But, my sister in-law is still having health issues and a trip might not happen again this year. You might recall that from last year, I blogged about it. My sister in-laws name is Doreen and she has gone down hill since then. She is now being considered for a heart transplant. Actually right now she is in too bad of health for that. Next week she will be getting a heart pump installed. As of this writing her heart is barely functioning. They say it is pumping at 6 %. Which is down from 15 % when they first started testing her about 6 weeks ago.

But to continue. Other places I would like to go would be to visit some of my relatives in the south. I have relatives in Kentucky,Tennessee and other southern states. When we first moved here I had an aunt and uncle in Alabama but in the past few years they both passed away. The only thing that has kept me from traveling to the south has been finances and all the responsibilities we now have here. So, there are some places I’d like to go, but for the most part I’d rather just stay right here. Actually, for the first few years, it felt like a perpetual vacation. It seemed like we went on vacation and never went back.

Before we found this place we looked at all kinds of properties. In 1989 we decided we’d look in the Eagle River area where Kelli thought she remembered vacationing as a kid. We spent a couple weeks going out driving around looking for land. We looked at many places but, nothing seemed to jump out at us. One thing or another would dissuade us. The layout of the land or it’s location or something. One place we saw which seemed like a good prospect both in location and price we rejected because when we drove down the dirt road to get there we passed up signs full of bullet holes and an old burned out car. And the area around the car seemed like a hang out for young people with lots of litter and beer cans laying around. Not a place a person would want to bring their wife and young children. The land seemed nice but, the “neighbors” didn’t seem so great. There are many considerations to make when looking for a new place. Especially when you plan on staying there awhile.

Much has changed for us in the past 20 years. Time has a way of doing that for everybody. Even a decade is a big chunk of a persons life. I mentioned this fact to a local lady recently and she said “yeah, you only get 7 or 8 of them, maybe”. The old folks in our lives are all gone now and now our parents generation are the “old folks”. A changing of the guard took place over the past 20 years. And even their generation are starting to pass away. In the past few years we lost both an aunt and an uncle, my dads sister and her husband. It always reminds me how temporary this life here is anyway. We are like a vapor, here one moment and gone the next. We are just passing through this place we call home. Our real home is someplace else. It’s funny how a person can know this in their mind yet at the same time live in denial of this fact. Sometime it seems like this life we live now will last forever. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We are in constant motion. Imagine being on a sail boat in the middle of the ocean which is being manned by an experienced sailor and crew. To the passengers it might seem like they are going no where with nothing but water to look at. But, they are moving along constantly, always moving toward their destination. The sailor is well aware of it. He can read the instruments, he can read the stars. To me life often feels something like that. It sometimes feels like we are going no where. Like this is going to last forever. But, then I look at my kids all grown up. I look in the mirror and see more gray hair. I see less hair where I used to have it and more where I never had it. Those lines on my face a little deeper a little wider. I’m jolted back awake. Life is not static. It’s moving right along. Faster than I can fathom actually. Soon, very soon we all will stand face to face with our destiny. And then it will all take on new meaning. What we were created for will come to light. But, sometimes it takes 20 years to really get a hold of how quickly things really change.

Until Next Time

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Joel Salatin, on food safety