Sunday, March 15, 2009

Psst..I write letters...

Something you should know.  I come from a family line of letter writers. (Not the friendly, correspondence between pen pals.)  I mean the ones to politicians and "responsible" folks who are supposed to get things done.

I never planned on taking up the pen.  In fact, I kind of poo-poo'ed the idea.  Until I became a farmer.  That's when I realized I needed to speak up.

But I go to bed wondering - who is listening?

Apparently, not the President.  Yeah, I've been writing to Barack.  Every day.  And I really shouldn't be on a first name basis, because, actually, he has never written back.

Not that I actually expected a response.  I'm not THAT loopy.  But some sort of response just to show me someone is actually opening the mail in Washington and not using it to fuel the White House furnace - would be nice.

I've sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 5o letters.  You'd think that many letters would at least earn me a computer-generated response.  A polite, milk toast form letter telling me about all the wonderful things Barack is doing for our country.

But he's not even listening.

Am I stopping?  Nope.  

It's not called "harderthanitlooks" for nothing.  But if you wanted to join in...why, who am I to stop you?  I'm thinking of doubling my efforts...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

We need a measurement!!

Well, if you thought NAIS was a bad idea...wait till you hear this one...

As usual, the government has the right idea, but the WRONG implementation.  No one would argue the importance of food safety.  But in this legislation is written the language to put all Farmer's Markets under monthly inspection and mountains of  paperwork, and put ALL small farms that sell anything food or animal under the random and constant scrutiny of the Federal Government.  Talk about record keeping....!

We have to fight ignorance with facts.  The fact that small, organic farmers are helping preserve and secure the food system.  The fact that small, organic farms support both the community and the farmers themselves.   The fact that hobby farms support diversity of species, heirloom and heritage varieties, and traditional methods.  The fact that family farms would never poison the food system - the same food system they eat from.  The fact that small farms are healthy and sustainable agriculture.

But we also need another "fact" - we need a measurement.  A definition.  You can't seek relief from the government and its regulation unless you can tell them exactly what you need.  How do we define "small/ (organic) family/ hobby/homestead  farm"?
What definition do we use?  Is it acres planted?  Is it the amount of food produced?  Is it the number of animals raised?  Slaughtered?  Sold?
I've talked to folks who stay below the organic certification radar by producing less than $10,000 of sales.  I've talked to legislators that want to consider anyone raising 10 or fewer pigs and cows as "exempt" from slaughter regulations designed to monitor the big guys.  I've heard of insurance companies dropping policies if the owners sell so much as one dozen eggs.  I know farmers that strive to stay completely "off the grid" personally, but support themselves through barter and cash sales.  70% of all small farms can't support themselves completely and rely on a second income source.

So, how do we define ourselves?  How do we identify the threshold at which government record keeping and inspection keeps the food supply safe yet does not drown the small farmer?  I'd love to know what you think.  But more importantly, let your Representatives know.

HR 875 needs more work.  And I'm not the only one who thinks so...

Monday, March 09, 2009


Just a few snippets of stuff to show you...

For those of you following the bee saga, (and there are a bunch so I will report back as often as I can) the hive is all put together.  It took two days, mostly because there were LOTS of parts, but I have two hive bodies, two supers, a hive-top feeder, and a ten frame set up. (That means constructing 40 frames, with brittle tissue-paper waxed foundation that tears if you breath wrong...)
But as I worked, I began to really enjoy it, and part of the experience was the smell.  The fresh cut pine boards and beeswax foundation gave off a really nice aroma.  I am very happy I chose the wood bodies vs. polystyrene, and wood frames vs. plastic.  I think the bees will be happy, too.

Madison's California cousins were here last week, and I forgot to share some photos.  Here is one taken by my brother-in-law (an awesome photographer) and pretty much sums up what the week was about:

And I found a really neat picture of Madison's Japanese cousins that my brother had posted on Flickr:

I wish I could tell you the circumstances of the photo - usually they are two very happy country boys decked out in tye-dye everything, but I am still waiting for the explanation myself...

And maple season is officially underway here in the Northeast.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon helping a friend chop wood, load sap, and boil, boil, boil...My early small runs were turned into thick syrup for breadmaking, and I did them here at the house.  This year the bulk of our sap will be cooked over there...wish I could do an aroma blog - you would LOVE the smell of boiling sap!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Apparently, the bees are the smart ones...

Saturday was my beekeeping class at BetterBee in Greenwich, NY.  We are going to try one hive this year, and see how it goes.  

My experience with the staff was my first clue...

Me: I am here to pick up my equipment order that I placed a month ago when I signed up for the class. 
(Note:  Actual Bees come in May, but you have to assemble equipment, paint it, put it in place and read A LOT before they get here...)
Staff: I'm sorry, the order is all in stock except one item, so we can't give you the kit.
Me: What is the backordered item?  Can I take the frames, etc. today and get started on assembly, since I am here with the truck?
Staff: The backordered item is the hive tool.
(Note: You need the hive tool for actually working the hive once the bees have arrived and are setting up shop. )
Me: Well, that's OK, I'll get that item when I come and pick up the bees.  Can I pay and take the rest of the order now?
Staff:  No, because I can't figure out how to make a notation on the computer that you have taken your items without the hive tool.
Me:  Can you print out my receipt and write a notation on there with your signature, verifying that all I need to receive is my hive tool?
Staff:  No.  But let me see what I can figure out; I think I can figure out a way to give you all the hive parts now, and then ship the protective clothing, smoker and hive tool when it arrives if you will pay the extra shipping.
I ponder the idiocy of this woman while she happily pounds away on her calculator, computer keyboard, and paperwork, and find myself standing next to a display of items in the company store, including a bunch of hive tools for sale as individual pieces.
Staff: Your total today will be $311. 08, and with an additional $18.00 shipping I can mail the protective clothing, smoker and hive tool when we have everything in stock.
Me: Why can you only give me half the order now, when only one small piece is missing?  And how did my total become $311.08 when the entire package is listed in your catalog for $259.00?
Staff:  Well, we actually do sell the hive parts and the other items as two separate packages in the catalog, so I can order it that way and "trick" the computer into printing out a receipt that shows you received your hive parts and still need to receive the other stuff.
Me: And the $311.08 total?
Staff:  Blank look, lots more pounding away on the calculator and keyboard.
Me: According to my math, the total with taxes should be $284.94.  I am not paying additional shipping, I will pick up the protective clothing, smoker and hive tool when I come in May to pick up the bees.
Staff:  (amazed) You're right!  
This whole mess has taken almost a half an hour already, I give up and leave the shop with my receipt, walking by the pile of hive pick up my ready-to-assemble hive.
I realize the pile of parts has no real resemblance to the kit picture in the catalog, but I am convinced I can follow the directions and assemble the hive...

Cat: You're kidding, right?  There are no instructions here!
Me: Shut up.  We can figure it out from the catalog and pictures.  First step, nail the big pieces together, then we worry about the small stuff.  What does the catalog say about nails?
If I follow the catalog text, I use 7d nails.  If I read the note, I DO NOT use 7d nails, I use 1-1/4" nails.  (But I can order both from the catalog!)  And, drat!  no hint about how many hive bodies the 1-1/4" nails will assemble...Do I dare turn to page 28 for information on frame nails, whatever those are?
Me: Is it me?  I am beginning to think bee stings may be the least of my worries...