Monday, December 28, 2009

Week of Dec 21 2009 : Ethics

(Here is the most recent creature to visit the valley, an Eastern Timberwolf. Also roaming out there is a black cat, named Corn Kitty because last summer it patrolled our sweet corn fields. C.K. does not run too fast on 3 and 1/2 legs but so far has managed to evade E.T.).

A recent timber wolf sighting made me ponder the ethics associated with agriculture and responsible land stewardship. For example, we are all familiar with the genetically modified organisms debate. Should humans introduce artificial traits into the food supply? But the ethics associated with a wolf fall into a grayer area.

The valley has everything an animal could need or want. The river provides water. The hills provide a shady respite on summer days. The tall trees provide a forest. The open fields provide green forage. And the varying combinations of these features make the valley an inviting place to animals including us humans.

And agriculture and responsible land stewardship only increase the appeal. Two summers ago my sorghum sudan grass cover crop attracted a female ring necked pheasant. Last summer my buckwheat was home to 3 wood chucks. But what happens when a predator accepts the invitation?

A wolf may not sound so bad. He probably would not be interested in vegetable crops but would prey on my enemies. Wood chucks. Raccoons. Canadian Geese. The wolf would help me solve many problems and not introduce any more. Except maybe personal safety.

A single male wolf will not be single for long. First a den, then a mate, then the pups. Suddenly there is a pack with aggressive hunting techniques. Humans are an unlikely but possible target.

Now I am forced to think very critically about responsible land stewardship. Stewardship is good, but it too must be balanced. So what are our obligations to a predator?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Week of December 14, 2009 : Tracking Deere!

(Here Nathaniel leads the Deere tracking expedition. The group has spotted the elusive 2440 with its winter coat. 60hp makes for great sleigh rides. Dad, can I bring it home?)

It is so nice to have Deere in the orchard. My favorite season is fall when the Deere pull trailers full of overflowing apple crates. Hopefully Nathaniel will cherish his toddlerhood memories.

When I was his age, I had a pedal tractor. My dad gave me a trailer for it. Soon after, I was in the hauling business.

I hauled everything everywhere. The older and stronger I got, the harder I could pedal and the heavier I could haul.

I hauled buckets of water to fill my frog pond. I hauled dirt to build mypitcher's mound. Finally, one day, when I was hauling building supplies to my fort, the tractor broke. The rear axle snapped in half.

Well I had a problem. A loaded up trailer and a busted down tractor.

I thought the tractor was forever broken, wood rotting in a rusting trailer. No fort.

I cried until my dad came home. He quickly assessed the situation. He picked me up with one hand, picked up the tractor parts with the other, and walked us to the garage. He calmly explained the situation to me.

Its OK, little buddy, we can fix this.

With that, he strapped welding goggles on me, handed me the striker, and asked me to light up the welding torch.

He fixed the tractor, the trailer was rescued, the wood delivered and the fort built.

It seems each day I find another life lesson hidden in that memory.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Week of December 7 2009 : YES

(Here is the "63 day" Fiesta broccoli. Seeded May 30. Harvested Oct 24. Abducted by aliens?).

People who plan enjoy safety. People who improvise enjoy adventure. This is the first lesson I learned while reading a book named "Improv Wisdom".

Another important lesson I learned is always answer YES. Answering yes eliminates roadblocks to adventure.

While planning Pheasant Valley 2.0, we considered if we should skip the season. The reason for this hesitation? As the prime market season arrives, so will Baby 2.0

But honoring our yay-sayer attitude, YES, we are participating in the upcoming market season. Of course farming rewards those who plan well. But this year will also demand that we improvise well.

Planning alone will not resolve competing time lines. Just as babies have very definite needs at very definite points in time, so do the fields. Bottles. Weeds. Diapers. Insects. Now.

So planning skills will determine the over all schedule but improvisation skills will get the moment to moment tasks done.

One necessary concession, though, was to minimize (hmm, let's say focus) the produce selection.

Of course we are growing sweet corn. Our fields are part of a legendary sweet corn field and I want to chance to resume that legendary, large scale production. Until I get that chance, though, I am honing my skills on a smaller scale.

The rest of the line up, perhaps typical, will be so fresh and healthy!

Beans and peas, peppers and tomatoes.


Summer squash green and yellow zuchinni; winter squash blue hubbard and acorn.

Cantaloupes and watermelons.

Broccoli, cabbage and kale.

Now its time to listen to the cold winds howl, page through the supply catalogs and envision the seeds, the vegetables and the satisfied customers!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Week of November 30 2009 : 2.0 Upgrade

Here, Nathaniel (wearing the red hat, on the red sled, in the red trailer) inspects the cover crop: 65% winter rye, 30% hairy vetch and 5% tillage radish.

Pheasant Valley 1.0 was a success. At the beginning of the 2009 market season we had seed packets and empty seed trays. By the end of the season we had authentic market space and repeat customers.

A lot of work took us from seeds packets to repeat customers. Some experiences reinforced our expectations (like weed control) but other experiences were somewhat unexpected and certainly more gratifying.

I expect people to buy food to eat it. But sometimes eating takes on additional significance.

One of our customers liked our Roma tomatoes enough to purchase 10 quarts spread among three purchases. During the summer, she was already thinking ahead, thinking about the holiday season and sharing special meals with family.

She used those tomatoes as ingredients for a sauce recipe that would be served during Thanksgiving meal. Knowing my tomatoes were chosen to be on their table is very gratifying.

The operational aspects of farming motivated me to get involved in market farming. But the direct customer contact motivates me to make Pheasant Valley 2.0 a bigger success.