USDA: Sequester Impacts

Sequester_ImpactsWe homesteaders are among the citizens who pay a good deal of attention to the programs and operations of both state and federal agricultural departments because they can directly affect us (for good or ill). We often make use of our state ag departments’ extension services for education in things like beekeeping, land use, community ag promotional programs, etc. And we keep track – often with some trepidation – of the various ways that the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] can make or break our attempts to make our livings off the land and the work we put into it. Under this rubric come permissions and restrictions for selling our produce and other home-grown products to the public, to local and regional government programs, food banks, schools, etc., as well as all those expensive and tiring hoops we must jump through to obtain and keep certifications for organic labeling, etc.

We live on and off the land, and must keep ourselves abreast of the tricks of that trade. In this blog I have expressed some reservations about Tom Vilsack, who was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Obama some years ago, due to his corporate-friendly policies. Particularly in regards to Monsanto’s agri-chem and GMO activities, which are a considerable threat to organic producers. He has also been somewhat less than supportive of local producers being allowed to supply raw and processed foods to local schools and food banks, which we see as an important part of the ‘locavore’ – “Eat Local” movement. Buying and eating foods grown and processed close to home removes one of the most environmentally insidious government-subsidized cost-adds to our food supply – the costs of transporting foods grown in other states, regions and countries from farm to processor, and from processors to market. Almost all of it accomplished by the burning of fossil fuels.

The U.S. government has been operating for some months under what is known as “sequester,” one of those hostage threats Republicans in the U.S. Congress used to try and get their policies enacted despite being unable to win actual elections on the merits of their ideas. This seq uester has cut spending levels across the board fairly drastically, and crippled many government agencies and departments to the point where some of their most important jobs don’t get done. USDA is one of those crippled departments.

For example, the sequester has slashed government subsidies to school districts to help support their school breakfast and lunch programs. At the end of this month (October) schools will have to provide their own funding exclusively, though the government claims they will be reimbursed at some point. If the sequester is ever recinded, and now presuming those same Republican hostage-takers won’t keep the entire government shut down indefinitely while crashing the world’s economy by refusing to pay the bills for appropriations they’ve already allotted from the budget.

Concurrent drastic cuts and cut-offs to both the SNAP (Food Stamps) and WIC food programs are cutting deeply into the ability of families – many of them working full time but earning minimum wage – to put food on the table. With neither school feeding programs or food assistance from the government, a great many people will simply have to do without. We know that doing without food isn’t a particularly healthy way to live, but at least one party in our political system doesn’t think that’s a problem. I presume they and their families eat very well, thanks. We certainly pay them enough for that.

Both SNAP and WIC will run out of funds nationwide by mid-November. Just in time for the holidays! Funding for rental assistance has also been cut, and no new farm/business loans are being processed. Farmers who had previous loans through USDA and have sold this year’s crops can’t get the checks cashed because county offices for the Farm Service Agency are all closed. A freak autumn blizzard in the Dakotas killed thousands of cattle and horses, but the conservation arm of the USDA cannot help to get the dead livestock buried. This is obviously a serious issue for the immediate health and well-being of both rural dwellers and healthy livestock.

From here on, until and unless our government flunkies in Congress wake up and do their too well paid jobs, we are all on our own. Severe weather affecting farmers and ranchers will not be mitigated by the usual government emergency loans and/or mobilization of resources. Families going homeless and hungry through the winter will not be aided, nor will they or their pets or any farmer’s lost livestock get buried when they finally die. Hell, in another [not ag related] outrage of Congressional shananigans, the families of our soldiers dying in Afghanistan and elsewhere are no longer receiving the ‘death benefit’ they are entitled to, so not even our war dead are getting buried if the families don’t have cash on hand.

This situation is obviously untenable and cannot keep going for long, but I see no signs that the radical reactionaries in Congress are willing to do anything whatsoever that might save the nation from absolute ruin. If something doesn’t give very soon, by the time agricultural America gets started planning the spring crops there may be no national government at all and no help for anyone to access adequate food.

There are a few things we can do. First and foremost, call and/or write your congressional representatives and let them know this obstructionism must stop. Now. Let all your friends and family know how important it is that our representatives face harsh pressure on these issues. Get involved with your county and state electoral organizations and help draft decent candidates to challenge die-hards in next year’s elections. Think hard about running yourself if you believe you can do a good job, everyone you know will be thankful.

Get together with your homesteading and farming neighbors and meet with your community aid organizations (like Lions, Kiwanis, 4-H, etc.) to expand community shares programs, community gardens and crop set-asides to go directly to local food distribution services and schools for feeding hungry people. Do as much fund-raising as you can – host events, give public presentations, lobby county and state governments as well as local businesses and corporations – to replace necessary funding for programs to help our communities.

If we go ahead and act as if the federal government is no longer in the business of serving the people, we can make concrete plans to serve each other. Then, when (and if) the dust in Washington settles, we may find ourselves much more committed to each other and much more capable of doing for ourselves. Which, in the end, may be the best lesson the political class in D.C. could ever be taught by ‘We The People’.

An Early July of Biblical Proportions

The first week of July here in the southern Appalachians has been positively diluvian. That means we’ve had so much rain – falling at the rate of 1-2 inches an hour spaced in waves throughout the day and night – that I’ve literally considered that I ought to build an ark. Worst day of all was the 4th of July, which brought more than 6 inches of rain, flooding streets and fields and swelling creeks to dangerous levels. Nearby towns cancelled parades, picnics and fireworks shows. Sun finally came out yesterday, but the creek’s still high.

fruitHowever, with the overdue appearance of old sol in the daytime sky, the fat, well-watered blackberry crop may finally ripen instead of simply mold itself into oblivion. Tomatoes and peppers may kick in at long last as well, you never know. But my issue right now has to do with one of my apple trees that managed to lose its footing in what has become a pure mud-bog. It’s a total loss after only 15 years of production, leaving me with just one producing apple tree. Must get a few new ones or we’ll never have home grown apples again.

One of the kids visiting for the holiday helped me salvage the unripe apples on that tree, hoping I could do something with them despite the fact that they’re three weeks to a month away from ripe. They’re filling three large baskets on the dining table right now, still waiting for me to figure out what I want to do with them.

Now, I could quarter them and cook them down in a big pot, then strain for pectin to use when making jams and compotes later when the peaches, pears, berries and grapes come in, but it seems a waste of my Final Harvest. I could use them for applesauce instead, but they’ll need a lot of sugar. Maybe I’ll make unsweetened sauce and save it in the ‘fridge until the blackberries are ripe, make some combo sauce (will need less sugar). Or I could peel and slice them for drying in my nifty solar dryer – which hasn’t seen service so far this year – then hope against hope that the sun may stay around long enough to do the job. They could be half-dried, then reconstituted in sugar water before drying again for snack bits and/or pie filling. But they’re small, would make very small dried tidbits.

So of course I went looking for crab apple and little green apple recipes, found some intriguing ones. Below are the most promising ones I’ve found. I’ve enough apples to try several methods of preservation, may save the drying for the rest of the crop that’s still growing. Will report on how they turned out, so stay tuned!


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Sweet Wine Poached Apples

1 pound little green apples
1 cup sweet red wine [like Riesling]
1/2 cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
1 orange, sliced crossways
1 bag of mulling spices
or
2 tsp. ground cinnamon or 1 broken cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. ground cloves or 5 whole cloves
1 tsp. Carolina allspice
1/2 tsp. ginger

Wash apples, quarter with skin on and cut out the seeds. Combine the wine, sugar, spices and salt, Bring to a simmer while stirring constantly. When the sugar is completely dissolved, add the orange slices and apple quarters. Cover and turn heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the apples are tender, just before the skin starts separating.

Remove apples and pack loosely in half pint jars. Strain leftover wine and add this to the jars to 1/2 inch from top. Cap, cool, then refrigerate or freeze. Should keep at least a week in the ‘fridge, several months in the freezer. Serve as appetizers on bamboo skewers or long toothpicks.
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Green Apple/Tomato Chutney

1/2 pound unripe apples
1/2 pound green tomatoes
1 3/4 cup brown sugar
2 onions
4 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. pickling spices
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. small diced ginger root

Wash apples and tomatoes. Peel and core, dice apples and tomatoes into small cubes. Bring vinegar, sugar, salt and spices into a heavy saucepan and heat on medium while stirring until it comes to a simmer. Add chopped onions, ginger and green tomatoes. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add apple cubes, continue to cook ~10 minutes. Mixture will be reduced and thick.

Cool on stove, then ladle into jars, cap tightly. Keeps about 6 months on the shelf, longer in the fridge.
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Blackberry and Green Apple Jelly

1.5 pounds green apples, quartered
1 cup fresh blackberries
4 cups water
3 cups white sugar
1 tsp. pickling spices (optional)

Place apples and blackberries in a heavy saucepan (do not use aluminum), cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 10-15 minutes until pulp is soft. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, then filter through cheesecloth or coffee filter paper. You want 4 cups of juice, add water if there’s less than that. Compost the pulp and seeds.

Return juice to clean saucepan and bring to a simmer, cook for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that comes to the top using a wooden spoon. Stir in the sugar until completely dissolved. Continue to cook until the liquid reaches thread stage [220ºF or 110ºC,].

Pour jelly into sterile half pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Cap and process 10 minutes in water bath or cool and seal with wax.

Almost Summer

Garden-Greens Vichyssoise
Garden-Greens Vichyssoise

June is upon us, which usually means the spring crops are about done and the summer crops haven’t started producing in abundance yet. So… you’ve taken your morning garden stroll. The corn is a foot high, the tomatoes growing fast but still not blooming, the beans, squash and cukes are up and starting to climb. The potatoes have all shown up and at least now you can remember where the heck you planted them.

You’ve got a big handful of mature kale – the rest will have to be harvested soon before the bugs get it, dried and crumbled to flakes for winter soups. In the basket there are about a dozen pea pods, 4 asparagus spears and some almost bolted red leaf lettuces. What to do, what to do…

Aha! How about a cold end-of-spring soup?

Garden-Greens Vichyssoise

• 2 cups fresh greens – kale, spinach, collards, lettuce
• 3 peeled and cubed potatoes
• 1 cup chopped asparagus and/or shelled peas
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1/4 cup chopped celery tops w/leaves
• 1/ 2 cup chopped mint
• bay leaves
• 2 tbsp. lemon juice
• 2 tbsp. butter
• 6 cups water or broth
• 1 cup whole milk or cream
• Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a heavy soup pot. Add vegetables, mint and bay leaves, cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until soft. Add water/broth and simmer for 20 minutes until soft. Add milk and then puree until smooth, then add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate and serve cold, garnish with mint sprigs and a drizzle of olive oil.
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On the side I plan to serve up a basket of fried day lily buds, since they are now abundant and and the squash is nowhere near blooming yet…

fried lilies

Fried Day Lily Blossoms

Batter:
• 1 cup flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1/2 cup beer
• 1/2 cup ice water
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped

10-12 Fresh picked barely-open day lily blossom buds.

Thoroughly mix the batter, with sage and garlic. Dip flowers into batter and fry in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain well and serve.

This beer batter is also excellent for squash or pumpkin flowers, onion and pepper rings, mushrooms – any type of fresh vegetable coming in from the garden. You can omit the sage and garlic for a more delicate taste.

Looks like dinner to me!

USDA Sued Over Salmonella

SalmonellaThe US Department of Agriculture [USDA] is being sued by the

Center for Science in the Public Interest
[CSPI] in an attempt to force the
agricultural watchdogs to treat antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella
bacteria as adulterants that would prevent the sale of tainted meat to the
public.

The complaint
is specific to four strains of salmonella – Heidelberg,
Newport, Hadar and Typhimurium – that have been identified in dozens of
outbreaks of salmonella poisoning via ground meat and other products, but more
resistant strains are showing up almost weekly.

CSPI petitioned the USDA three years ago to address the growing problem, but
the department never got around to a response. Antibiotic resistance is an
inevitable result of the overuse of important antibiotic drugs solely for the
purpose of making livestock grow fatter and faster, as well as to sustain what
is in truth an unsustainable production model that has food animals being raised
in grotesquely overcrowded and unhealthy conditions.

This past Tuesday (May 27th), the

Center for Disease Control [CDC]
reported 50 more illnesses in an ongoing
“outbreak” of seven strains of drug-resistant salmonella tied to Foster Farms
chicken parts. That brings the total of reported cases to 574 since March of
2013. 40% of those people required hospitalization. The company involved, Foster
Farms, has refused to issue a recall on the tainted meat, and USDA does not have
the power to force a recall.

Bayer & Monsanto Killing Bees

The numbers are in, and they add up to devastating.

bees Bee Informed Partnership this month released its preliminary report on honey bee colony losses in the US for 2013-2014. The partnership, along with the Apiary Inspectors of America [AIA] and the USDA have been surveying beekeepers for 8 years in an attempt to get a handle on how many of the nation’s bee colonies are succumbing to what has been a mysterious mass die-off called “Colony Collapse Disorder” [CCD]. Last winter 23.2% of managed honey bee colonies died. That’s lower than the previous year’s estimate of 30.5%, but it does confirm that harm is still being done to these important pollinators. Loss estimate for the 12-month period between April 1, 2012 and March 30, 2013 was 45.2%. The bees are still dying, and now we know why.

Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies have been published over the past decade linking CCD to pesticide use, and honey bees aren’t the only victims. More specifically, the culprit is a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids. Rather than being sprayed just on the surface of plants, neonics are absorbed and spread through the entire plant, including pollen and nectar. They persist in the environment and can accumulate quickly. This has led to contamination of surface water, groundwater and soil, endangering species inhabiting those ecosystems.

Neonic pesticides are manufactured and marketed primarily by Bayer Crop Science and Monsanto. The Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] sued the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] after it failed to release Bayer’s underlying studies on the safety of its neonicotinoids. EPA approval for neonics hinged on the claim that amounts in pollen and nectar were non-lethal to bees, but studies have shown that even at low doses the pesticides have effects that impair bees’ learning and memory. The EU has banned neonics, but EPA is not considering doing so in the US. 30-50% losses annually is unsustainable, and about a quarter of the food Americans eat relies on bee pollination.

In March of 2012 the Canter for Food Safety [CFS] joined with 25 prominent beekeepers to file an Emergency Petition to the EPA asking for suspension on the use of certain neonicotinoids. When that brought no action, CFS and a coalition of 4 beekeepers and 5 environmental and consumer groups filed a formal lawsuit against EPA for failure to protect pollinators as well as seeking suspension.

Check out the Sierra Club’s Pollinator Protection Campaign to see how you can help convince Congress and the administration that bees are more valuable than Bayer’s or Monsanto’s profit margins.

Proposed FDA Rule Angers Brewers and Farmers

American Craft Beer Week – May 12-18, 2014

cropsAh, good ol’ beer. There’s the cheap, light, basically glorified carbonated water with a slight kick, there’s the more expensive big name imports, and increasingly, there’s small to mid-sized ‘Craft Brewers’ who produce seasonal beers and everything from amber light to deep chocolate brown brews. Lots of people enjoy a good beer. The closest city to my homestead – Asheville, North Carolina – has gained quite a reputation as Beer City USA, with some serious competition in places like Portland, Oregon and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Many other cities are boasting successful microbreweries as well. Microbrews have become so popular, in fact, that many of the Big Beer brewers are buying in and happily marketing the stuff, or brewing big batches of seasonal beers under their own brand names.

Humans have been enjoying beer for just about as long as civilization has existed. More than 6,000 years ago brewers in Mesopotamia and Egypt were recording recipes for beer. Pharos were entombed with yeast and barley so they could enjoy their favorite brews in the afterlife! By the second millennium b.c.e. the Babylonians boasted 20 different types of beer. The Romans were fonder of wine, but beer was still brewed in Britain, Eastern Europe and Germany. By the Middle Ages home brews were a staple of the family diet, as beer was safer to drink than plain water. Plagues and famines in Europe left the task of making beer, mead and wine fell to monks. Who built fine breweries to provide pilgrims with food, drink and shelter.

There are a couple of bulky by-products of the beer brewing process – spent grain (sprouted and dried to produce “malted” mash), and with the introduction of hopped beers from Holland in the 1500s, used hops. Since these by-products are organic, the practice of recycling the waste products came naturally. The spent grain mash is used as a sweet feed treat for cows, sheep, lamas, horses, chickens and other livestock, while used hops are composted and/or used as mulch. Some microbreweries offer their spent grain back to the farmers who help supply the grain, or sell it cheap. The grain is usually still damp from the brewing process, so it goes quickly to the animals. Who appear to love it.

According to the website Craft Beer, the cycling of grain from farmers to brewers and from brewers back to farmers is the “farm-to-foam, foam-to-farm” cycle. At the Piney River Brewing Company’s 80-acre farm in the Ozarks, the cows eagerly abandon their pasture when they smell sweet mash on brewing day, get as close to the brewhouse as they can, and moo loudly for their bucket of spent grain. A couple of Colorado brewers donate spent grain to a local dog biscuit bakery, and the dogs apparently love it too. The Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Spent Grain Chef offers recipes for such delicacies as spent grain grapefruit bars, spent grain corn dogs, spent grain mini carrot cupcakes and more. The Alaska Brewing Company uses their spent grain in a biomass steam boiler to generate steam used in the brewing process. Brewers usually give the spent grain away to farmers if they’ll come get it, or sell it quite cheaply. Widmer, a larger brewery, sells theirs for $30 a ton. One dairy farmer near Portland, Oregon says “It’s a premium product. I pay virtually nothing. But it’s like putting honey on your cereal. It makes the cows want to eat more and we notice it in their [milk] production. That farmer goes through 20 tons of spent grain a week for his 300 cows. That’s feed he would otherwise have to purchase, adding to the cost of the milk his cows produce.

With all this sound cycling and recycling between the food supply and the beer supply, the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] just had to weigh in. Whether on behalf of the Biggest of the Big Boyz in grain agriculture (Cargill, ADM, etc.) or just because government regulators figure they have to think up some regulations nobody’s thought of before, they came up with a new rule on animal feed that would bring the spent grain from beer brewing under its regulation and possibly raise the price of beer generally.

Pruning Grapes and Fruit Trees

It’s into February now – the longest month of the year psychologically, so the shortest month numerically – and pruning the fruit trees and grape vines is the name of the game in my region. Even as we’re facing yet another nasty winter weather ‘event’, this one scheduled to dump a foot or two of snow on top of ice that will no doubt interrupt electrical service and make the animals miserable. Though it should be melted off by the weekend, when we’ll be back to more normal 50+º days. At least it won’t be bone-chilling cold as it was twice last month. Which is good, since we just finished replacing the incoming water pipes due to freezing…

Last spring and summer my region got so much rain that the apples and peaches went crazy. About 20 inches above what is considered ‘normal’ in this microclime, and this microclime ‘normally’ gets a good inch of rain a day (average) from mid-March through June. Anyway, two of my apple trees were so overloaded with heavy fruit that big limbs sank onto the grape arbor, and finally broke off altogether. The peaches – first year the volunteer from a seed in the old compost bin had produced full fruit – ended up with its limbs sunk onto the pumpkin patch, not broken off, but split along the bends. And the grape vines, which daughter had over-pruned the year before so I hadn’t pruned before season, were so thick I had grapes growing on the ground, even as sturdy fence poles supporting the arbor sank low over the upper end of the mints below.

So I’ve got the clippers, loppers, hand saw and chain saw set out on the shed workbench and ready to go to work once the snow’s melted. While grandson and/or hub are armed with the chainsaw, I’m going to finally get rid of the ugly back yard he-holly I’ve been hating for years now, and about half the boxwood out front that blocks way too much sun from the solarium.

Figure I’ll just cut the apple trees in half. They were originally those nifty Stark “columnar” apples I ordered on line nearly 20 years ago and planted too deep. Instead of being a 10-foot tall central, vertical limb with apples all around, they reverted and got 25 feet tall with branches everywhere straight up. Too tall for me to reach, I engineered a hand-claw onto a big plastic drink cup and duct taped it to a long sapling pole so I could pick ripe apples in the upper reaches, but I’m thinking just cutting them short should encourage more low level fruiting. If not, I’ll just take ‘em down and plant new apple trees on the upper terrace above the driveway next year.

The peach is trickier, because ‘m just not sure how to prune it properly. It’s nearly 30 feet tall after 4 years, so I figure it’s probably not a true mini. I’d like to encourage it to be short and thick, though, more spread out but less likely to droop to the ground when full.

I already know that any removed large limbs or portions of upper trunk need to be slant-cut so water won’t stand on the ends to encourage rot, and that I need to paint those cuts to seal them. But planning what cuts to make is a thoughtful job, for which it’s best to follow the advice of agricultural ‘experts’. For that purpose I’ve gathered some good sources – complete with detailed illustrations and instructions – and offer them below. Will take pictures of the before and afters, with more to follow at mid-season and harvest to show how well the project works for what I’m aiming for. Stay tuned, and if you will be pruning your fruit this month or next, please do check out the sources at the links below. They could help salvage older trees/vines, and increase your harvest!

Useful Links:

NC CES: Training & Pruning Fruit Trees
NCSU: How to Prune Peach Trees
Stark Bros.: Successful Fruit Tree Pruning
How to Prune a Grape Vine – Illustrated
Pruning Grapes in Home Gardens: Some Basic Guidelines

Senate Passes Outrageous New Farm Bill

New_Farm_BillYep. As of this writing, February 4, 2014, the U.S. Senate has passed a new Farm Bill that has gone way out of its way to exclude any real farmers as well as more than two million people who rely on food stamps to eat, and channels all the supposedly ‘saved’ money back to Big Agribiz as crop insurance rather than crop subsidies. As you can see clearly on the chart over there on the left, no money is actually “saved.” All these new non-subsidy subsidies and millions of hungrier Americans will cost us all 58% MORE over the next 10 years.

The cuts to SNAP benefits (food stamps) in the bill are $8.7 billion over ten years (about 1% of the entire program). It also repeals $4.5 billion in annual direct cash payments based on acreage – planted or not – and put that money into subsidized crop insurance that benefits the big players. The Environmental Working Group estimates that just 10,000 policyholders receive over $100,000 per year in subsidies for the insurance (some over a million dollars), while 80% of the rest of the nation’s farmers will receive a mere $5,000.

Another program that will suffer under this new bill is Price Loss Coverage, where farmers are guaranteed a baseline price for 14 crops if the prices dip below a certain level when it comes time to sell. The raises the floor price, guaranteeing that the bigger players will receive more no matter how much of a glut there may be in the market. Another part of the bill will cover ‘shallow’ losses not covered under crop insurance deductibles, thereby ensuring full coverage for any crop losses suffered.

Moving away from direct payments and toward indirect insurance subsidies is an example of what author Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state.” So many federal social programs lurk underneath the surface that the public cannot get a good handle on who benefits from government largesse. “Appearing to emanate from the private [insurance] sector, such policies obscure the role of government and exaggerage that of the market,” Mettler says. And the vast majority of these programs benefit the wealthy, refuting the conceit that the rich boldly succeed without a government safety net protecting them

The bill is also cleverly crafted to ‘lock-in’ an overall rise in commodity prices that will be paid for by the taxpayers on April 15th and at the grocery checkout line. The disconnected political class probably thinks they’ve brilliantly crafted yet another shift of costs onto the middle and working classes in this country, while at the same time reducing government aid to the working poor, disabled, retired, and very poor so that they can pay more for food too. Just never forget, There Is No Inflation (our government tells us regularly). And since they refuse to count the costs of food, clothing, shelter or transportation, it works out great on their balance sheets.

But not to worry, some say, because all those “food insecure” children who can’t get enough to eat at home get all those free lunches at school, right? And sometimes breakfast, though many state legislatures are trying to impose severe budgetary limitations on that sort of thing as well. And then there’s the kids of working people who don’t qualify for free school meals, but who have trouble paying for them anyway. Why, just last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, 40 students at Uintah Elementary School had their lunches taken away from them after they’d sat down to eat, and promptly thrown in the trash. That’ll teach ‘em!

Honestly, it looks like the more the ‘haves’ in this country have, the less they want the ‘have nots’ to have. It’s a mean, mean climate out there, about which most of us can only shake our heads in despair. Still, things like this just make it more imperative that we homesteaders and small farmers and other independence-oriented folks make efforts to reach out to each other and our broader communities, work together to ensure the well-being of all even in our limited environs. Please check out some of the posts linked below about the political maneuvering, and about ways to help deal with hunger in your community…

Informative Links:

“Peak Food”?
Politicians Harming Americans. Again.
Hunger in the Heartland
Feeding The Hungry [3-parts, linked]

Cold Duck(s) …and other critters

Cold_Duck More below freezing days and absolutely frigid nights on my homestead this week. I keep reminding myself that despite the title of “North” in my chosen home of North Carolina, we’re still ‘officially’ considered the south. But if February turns out to be colder than Alaska (which January has been this year), I’m going to be putting a lot more thought into Costa Rica in my old age…

When we first got the kids – a.k.a. the girls, our two pekins purchased at Tractor Supply as little yellow peeps for the youngest grandchildren a couple of years ago – we became studious consumers of duck facts and duck lore and ‘How To’ information on how to help them live for awhile longer than just Easter week. By last winter they were all feathered-out, white as snow for a winter in which we got no snow, and delivering 2-4 delicious free-range duck eggs per day. And it wasn’t anywhere near as cold as this winter has turned out to be.

My little bit OCD husband fretted and worried all that winter long that his poor ducks were going to freeze to death if it got down into the 20s at night. I pooh-poohed that by reminding him that they’re wearing duck down coats, which are rated to be toasty to well below zero, work even better than fur coats like our dogs and cats wear. Even better, they repel water. All that might get really cold are their feet, and they can always just sit on those for awhile, right?

Well, this winter it’s a whole lot colder, and we were advised by the “Duck Lady” at Tractor Supply when we bought our last 50-pound bag of duck food that sure enough, if it gets below 10º at night, they do need that heat lamp we got when they were just peeps, in their comfy big coop with the door closed overnight. They’ve adjusted okay to the light, and now the biggest challenge is keeping liquid water in their pen’s bowl for long enough to drink before it freezes solid.

Today I found a nice article from Countryside Magazine entitled Managing Livestock in Winter Conditions. Author Robyn Scherer, M. Agr., is a regular fond of good information talking about everything from prepping for winter before it happens, to details on shelter, wind protection, bedding, water, food, supplements, hoof care, exercise and particularly bad weather. Keeping animals old and young and of many species healthy during the high stresses of the winter season.

If your homestead boasts livestock of any variety – or you are planning to add livestock in the future – check out Countryside’s informative article so you’ll have the lowdown on how best to get your animals through the winter happy and healthy.

Mid-Winter Thoughts: A Continuum of Consciousness

Is Consciousness a Universal Aspect of Life?

harvestingMany years ago, when I was harvesting peppers and tomatoes in my very first yard-garden soon after my husband got out of the navy, a friend and I got into a discussion about the then-current ‘fad’ of talking to plants (and playing them good music) on the assumption that plants must be included on a supposed continuum of consciousness that extends through life itself from the smallest to the greatest. We had just recently given up eating meat in favor of an ovo-lacto vegetarian-like diet, no longer wishing to participate in the industries of mass death represented by the consumption of meat.

My friend asked if I wasn’t also guilty of visiting death upon those poor tomatoes and peppers, if I was willing to accept that a continuum of consciousness did exist. I laughed a little bit, and explained that those tomato and pepper plants I’d raised from carefully tended seed and interacted with regularly as they grew to maturity and fruited had an existence entirely limited by the length of the growing season. They would die regardless of whether or not we ate their fruit, as producing the fruit – and the seeds inside the fruit – was their ‘purpose’ in living at all. And because I cared enough about them to bring them to life from seed and tend them so lovingly, my time-limited tomato and pepper plants would be thoroughly insulted if we didn’t thankfully enjoy their fruit to the nourishment of our longer-lived and far more conscious bodies, perhaps save some seeds toward the perpetuation of their species during the next growing season.

Now, I admit it was a pretty silly conversation. But it was the ’70s, we were just beginning to set out on the path of homesteading and desired self-sufficiency, and plant consciousness was a regular big deal in some corners of the “expanded consciousness” new-agey movement. And truth is, if my family were in dire need of nourishment and it were not readily available for some reason, I’d have no problem killing, cleaning, cooking and eating whatever critter would best serve the need. Even rattlesnakes or lizards (taste like chicken), squirrel, deer, bird of any usable size, etc. Heck, during the Depression my Mom lived on her grandparents’ farm in Georgia because there was no work in Miami for her father. She managed to cut off the end of her finger trying to get the head off a rooster with a hatchet for Sunday dinner, so learned how to ‘flip’ the heads off chickens instead. People will do what they need to do to stay alive. My issue was primarily that I wasn’t willing to raise animals to kill – or kill them – and don’t believe that having some gigantic death industry do it for me so I don’t have to think about it is all that justifiable.

That’s just me, of course. Many homesteaders raise and slaughter their own animal livestock, which I believe to be an honest approach to eating a meat-based diet. Good on them to be willing to so honestly deal with the higher-grade consciousness of animals in that way.