Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Embrace Manure

"So...what do you do in the Winter?"

We get this question a lot once the snow flies.

Pretty much we farmers just sit around and think about sh*@.

No,really. We do.

Here are a few gems from Gene Logsdon's recent (irreverently titled) book on the subject of manure:

*"Generally speaking, over half of the nitrogen and potassium in manure is in the urine." (Hence the need for bedding. Good for the animals, and good for the fields, soaking up and holding all that excellent nutrient content.)

*Manure contains all kinds of goodies: starch, celllulose, lignin,fat, proteins, carbohydrates of various kinds, minerals, and vestiges of the digestive juices that began the process of decompostition in the animals; intestines."

*"In Japan, Korea, and China manure (in the early 1900s) was treated like a precious gem because it was a precious gem. Every scrap of animal waste, human waste, and plant residue was scrupulously collected and reapplied to the land. So precious was manure that Chinese farmers stored it in burglarproof containers. The polite thing to do after enjoying a meal at a friends' house was to go to the bathroom before you departed."

*"What we humans must always keep in mind as we go about making sure there is enough food to go around is that this body of material we call manure, or compost, is niether a factory machine noer a barren waste, but a lovely, intertwinng jungle flock of living things to be fed and managed lovingly, much like we manage the other livestock on our farms. Our most important livestock, in fact, are invisible to the naked eye."

We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Farming is in essence the art of managing manure.

We are a poo-diddled culture. The very mention of the stuff brings distasteful expressions and repulsion. But if we are serious about sustainable agriculture, and small local farms, we've got to get serious about manure. One of the tragedies of the concentrated animal feeding operations is that the waste from those poor animals is just that: waste. It is being put to no good use in our farmland, nor can it given the condition of the animals generating it. Our local stables are sitting on piles of literal pay-dirt. For a field in regular cultivation Logsdon writes that experts agree 10 tons of manure will fertilize an acre. (Eliot Coleman advises as much as 2-3 times more for vegetable growing.) This application will not require any other fertilizers. One horse can produce near as much in one year! Joel Salatin in Virginia and Anne and Eric Nordell of Trout Run, PA have both demonstrated on their farms the beautiful work that hogs can do, in turning soiled bedding and manure and "finishing" it, by rooting around in it, and tossing it in the air as they search for hidden pockets of corn. Animals are the unpaid, unsung laborers on the farm, and it is never-endingly fascinating how they can be partners in rewarding and sucessful agricultural enterprises.

The glory of the small farm is precisely that it is small. It can become a small closed circle of fertility, regenerating itself each season through itself...a viable model of sustainability...if we include the animals. If we embrace manure.

*Many thanks to all you generous Stillwater and White Bear Lake donors of Fall leaves for our winter bedding/composting. The laying hens, goats, and sheep are all cozy for the Winter, and hard at work creating the perfect compost for the veggie acreage and hay fields next year!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now that our suppers have consisted mostly of what we have harvested from the fields...mashed and roasted and pan-fried potatoes, green beans drizzled with butter and flecked with pepper, chickens roasted whole with bits of sage and pools of gravy, sausages and seared onions on beds of our September sauerkraut, our 3 year old has taken to leaping up to the table and exclaiming "what a feast! what a feast!" as she rubs her little hands together. Her appreciation always seems to tap hidden springs of gratefulness in me. It is what we shall be murmuring to ourselves Thursday as we sit down to heavy laden tables for the big feast of Thanksgiving.
I love how thanksgiving brings out the domestic artist in all of us, from the most modern of career women to the crankiest of old men...aprons that have hung useless on hooks in foyers, in kitchen cupboards, in closets, are donned with purpose and concentration. We tackle turkeys and gravies, the glorious fruits of the earth, the sweet potatoes, beans, frozen sweet corn, and squash...Nowadays in America this November celebration is a thanksgiving for all the gifts of our present, and for all the glories of our culinary and historical past. The pies, the homemade rolls, the roasting fowl, the cider toasts...the slow savoring of good company and good food, as the scents and full-bellied sighs rise to heaven on wings of gratitude.

Little Flower Farm Chevre Dip

*4-6 oz fresh chevre
*1.5 Cups Sour Cream
*1 clove garlic, minced

*sprinklings of your favorite herbs dried or fresh

*dash of hot sauce

Mix together. Wow your Thanksgiving guests with it spread on crackers...Be grateful for goats.

"Food is the language ritual speaks when it wants to make itself understood"

-Nigella Lawson

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Come to a CSA INFO MEETING this Sunday!

For those of you who live in the Bloomington/MPLS area,
You are cordially invited to an evening's Chat about Little Flower Farm and our upcoming 2012 Season.

Sunday, November 20th at 6:30 pm.

Come sample our chevre and our pastured pork!

We will be giving a presentation about our CSA program and answering any questions about our farming practices, meat and veggie shares, and the upcoming growing season. Bring your whole family!

Please email Maureen for directions at: maureenanngray@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Farming and Philippe Petit

The same man who bridged the gap between the two towers of the world trade center wire dancing on a cable 3/4 inch thick built a barn in the catskills using only 16th century tools to house his practice equipment and juggling hoops. I thought of him recently, as I walked the tow hitch between the manure laden trailer and our trusty '92 Dodge, my feet gripping the steel through the soles of my caked wellies in a mock tight rope walking routine.

No doubt he would certainly approve of the day's doings...he is a self proclaimed "conquistador of the useless" which is a scandalous way of talking about doing things for their own sake rather than capital or personal gain...facilitating balance, my fingertips traced semicircles in the October sky...my thoughts gift wrapped in irony. We were hell bent on the earthbound task of covering an acre of land with composted horse manure while heaven hung with thoughts of Philippe Petit, Man of the Air, High-wire artist, egoist, atheist, and artist. A man who sees bell towers, skyscrapers, mountain tops and marvels at and masters the space between them, while clinging to a cable, a wire, a rope with toes and sole.

Farming needs more Philippe Petit.

As Winter approaches, and Mother Nature flirts with first snows...the farmer is either ready or not. He has either put up and put away enough to last him till Spring...or he has not...and in either case his soil still needs him. Back and Forth across the tow hitch from trailer to truck bed forking out manure onto next year's veggie acreage I am conscious of the seeming insanity of it...and at the same time dead certain of its necessity. There was a time when we would have spent days at the kitchen table (you know, the proverbial one that the politicians are always talking about, where you do your worrying...) trying to figure out a way to get our hands on a bonafide labor saving manure spreader...but now we've come so far into this affair with the needs of our soil...we tend to just grab whatever's to hand and heave ho. It is a tightrope walk; fulfilling Fall farm needs of fencing and soil amendments while cash poor and winter squash rich. The lull in the frantic pace of the CSA season gives the mind time to wander and dip its proverbial toes in the tempting "solution" of off-farm careers with their salaried cushions of comfort.

" I keep attacking pyramids. Each time finding the way blocked by a portal called Mediocrity. Jealousy. Intrigue. compromise being the key. I preffered to lockpick them, climp around them. Dynamite them. Not necessarily in that order."

Philippe Petit, On the High Wire

But the needs of the farm now for the fruit of the farm later require one last push of solid devoted effort.

What commerce do a wire walker and a farmer, firmly planted on the sod have with one another you ask? The organic farming movement might do well to adopt his credo (for the same can be said of a truly sustainable agricultural endeavor:)

“The essential thing is to etch movements in the sky, movements so still they leave no trace. The essential thing is simplicity. / That is why the long path to perfection is horizontal.”

Subsitute "land" for "sky" and you have it. I thought of that quote one day when a visiting friend stood aghast at the thousands of little bak choi and broccoli transplants we were setting out last Spring. "How ever do you get all this done?" Thinking to myself that her very arrival was going to make it morepleasant and more possible that day, I thought of the long path to perfection being horizontal...accomplished eventually by a simple series of one foot in front of the other...plodding away towards something finished, and whole, and occaisonally, the stuff of good legendary lore.

"What counts is this: to stay straight and stubborn in your madness."

10 years ago my only ambition in life was to join the circus. I was enthralled by the idea of making a career out of something which was exists for no other purpose than to delight, to instill wonder, and to show forth for all to see the marvelous beautiful things the human being can do. It seemed only natural then, that eventually I would become a land locked farmer. Feet firmly planted in the pig pasture, the chicken coop, and the manure pile. Scratching out our mad wonderings in rows of veggies and fields of grass. I recognize a brother in the juggler, the mime, the wire walker. He practices the art of ordered chaos. He is disciplined in his reception of the indifference or arrogance of his neighbors, delights in the wonder of his customers, he marries responsibility to wild dreaming and walks a thin cable stretched taught between poverty and compromise.

"You must not fall. When you lose your balance, resist for a long time before turning yourself toward the earth. Then jump. you must not force yourself to stay steady. You must move forward. You must win. The wire trembles. The tendency is to want to calm it by force. In fact, you must move with grace and suppleness to avoid disturbing the song of the cable."

There are lots of (great) discussions going on here:
http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/the-myth-of-the-self-made-yeoman/about our current economic and agricultural situation here in the U.S. and in the world at large...
and here:
about an alternative solution to the capitalism, socialism, and communism...

But one of the most satisfying things I've read lately attempting to get at some solution for our current agricultural crisis is here:

Towards the end of the interview, Lynn Miller takes off on a seeming tangent, drawing out a story of a memory he had as a child standing watch over a buried pig, roasting beneath the soil, a right of passage as he braves the "terrors of the night" and heckling miscreants....in the end, he concludes, Supporting boutique agriculture is not the long-term solution. Reading a whole, real, book front to back is. In other words: there is no agriculture without true culture and vise versa

I would add to this, that delight in things for their own sake spurs responsible stewardship of the land. A fire to warm yourself by, and fed with wood from a managed woodlot, a landscape rimmed with windbreaks, patchworked with rotated crops, soil struggled over, with a relentless appreciation for the micro world that is dirt...these things spring from the playful heart that delights in things as they are, dreams of them as they can be, and fights for them as they should be...

Which is why I walk my tow hitch tightrope with a pitchfork in my hands and Philippe Petit in my head...

"Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge - and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope. "