Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Farmers Market?

I get occasional junk mail from the County Agent. This is actually the extension service from the Ag school at the University of Florida. I’m not sure how that is different from the County Agent, but I guess it is.

Last week I got a newsletter that contained a little blurb about a meeting that was scheduled for Friday evening about possibly starting a farmers market in one of the little towns about 4 or 5 miles from our place.

I thought this might be a good place to market my eggs. My bride and I went to check it out.

I guess I expected a bunch of farmers and market gardeners discussing who grows what and how to make sure prospective customers have a wide array of things to buy.

What went on was rather different.

There were two or three other farmers. There were half a dozen quazi official types. The Mayor of the town was there. The County agent, like I said, as well as his counterpart from the next county over. One woman was some sort of expert on starting farmers markets. I couldn’t tell if she worked for some level of government or was a freelance consultant.

The discussion was all about parking, permits, license and whether it (the farmers market) should be run by the city or some corporate entity that would need to be created.

One lady did mention that she approved of farmers markets because the food there was usually better than what is on offer at the grocery store. Other than that I don’t think anyone mentioned what would be sold there or where it would come from.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that the best way to get me muttering four letter words under my breath is to expose me to any sort of bureaucracy. Mostly under my breath.

Around here farmers markets are mainly in the cities. In rural areas like where we are folks just put up roadside stands if they want to sell something. I’ve considered doing this myself but I don’t think we have enough of a product line to make it worth stopping at or enough time to run it properly.

It is also possible that a farmers market could provide some cover from the risk of official ambush.

WARNING! RANT ALERT! WARNING! (This next bit is an attempt at humor, how successful the attempt is left to the reader) :-)

What I mean by official ambush is something like this; we have a willing buyer and a willing seller agreeing to transfer ownership of some property at a mutually agreeable price.

Next thing you know, some third party shows up and identifies themselves as a duly appointed representative of the Bureau of Broccoli, Bean Sprouts, Bok Choy, and other vegetables having names beginning with the letter “B”. They demand to know where your form 544C/2 is.

Perhaps this joker can simply be referred to the market manager on the grounds that the market itself is protected by an official entity exempt from their authority.

It is also possible that the market manager, thinking of his own career, may decide to condemn in the strongest term any vendor who would dare contemplate working the market without a proper form 544C/2.

Busted! Conspiracy to commit agriculture! Bad Farmer!


So we'll see where this all goes. Obviously I’m skeptical but I do have some hope this could be useful. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Low stress chicken

I like fried chicken as it happens. But I don’t care for it until it is purposely cooked up.

The other day the temperature got up into the high nineties, along with the humidity. This is typical Florida summertime stuff, just a little early is all.

Most of the critters here just find a shady place to lie about through the hottest part of the day, no problem. These Cornish Cross broiler chickens are not as hearty as normal chickens though and I had a few that used the heat as an excuse to drop dead.

Prematurely fried chicken, not good.

In the past I just raised these birds in the fall. Temperatures would get lower as the birds grew bigger and I didn’t have any problems.

I have a fan in my shop that I used years ago when I would tune up an air-cooled Motorcycle engine. It kept it from overheating when I ran it for a long while when it was not moving.

The chickens seem to enjoy it. They are obviously much more comfortable.

No more heat stress.

They sit in front of the fan like a dog with its head out the car window.

My young laying hens coped with the heat just fine, but then tropical storm Alberto came by and blew the roof off their pen.

I was intending to remove the pen to integrate them with the older hens. This just caused that plan to speed up.

No smashed hens by the way.

There has been less fighting among the hens than I expected, the young ones have accepted a lower spot in the pecking order, and that seemed to satisfy the older (and larger) hens.

In the nearby photo they are all roosting together in the hoop house.

Monday, June 12, 2006

When the farm bill comes due

Have you heard that work has begun on the new farm bill? Our esteemed public servants have begun the process of setting out place cards at the public trough.

Meetings are taking place between the captains of corporate agribusiness and public sector types that oversee things like food stamps and school lunches.

Of course this has almost nothing to do with farming and everything to do with politics, but before its over those of us who do raise crops and/or livestock will likely have a whole new set of things to worry about and defend ourselves against.

This unholy alliance between the corporate hustlers and the poverty pimps will probably not be content to simply plunder the public treasury and let it go at that, at least they have not done so in the past.

I can’t guess what new problems these folks will send our way.

When I was a kid people commonly made jokes about how the government paid farmers not to grow crops. They paid by the acre you see, so if you didn’t grow 1000 acres of corn you got more money than if you didn’t grow only 100 acres of corn.

The latest batch of foolishness makes that look reasonable. Now I’m supposed to install radio id chips in my livestock and notify the Feds when my horse goes out for a trail ride. All at my own expense of course. We call this NAIS.

And then there’s the bird flu. The chickens on my farm are not locked up in some warehouse like the ones that belong to Tyson’s. At the first sign of trouble you can bet the Ag department folks will drive right past any number of giant poultry gulags on their way to destroy my birds and any other backyard flocks in the area.

I guess they think my chickens may pop off to visit relatives in China and come home with a social disease.

I was reading the other day that most customers for direct-marketed alternative agricultural products are women who are involved with home schooling. I hadn’t noticed that before, but it agrees with my experience. From all points of the political compass mind you, but all home school folks.

It used to be that keeping your kids out of public school was a major legal problem. People did jail time for it. It was considered a form of child abuse and still is in several states. Just like selling raw milk and on farm butchering of livestock.

I would rather have a seat on the old picket fence than deal with what seems like the endless stream of petty tyrannies being launched at the small farmer.

Some advocate the formation of some sort of political special interest group to defend our selves, a sort of anti-establishment establishment I guess. Still, this lifestyle is as much about individualism as anything. I’ve never been much of a joiner.

So we must out smart them, fortunately that’s not too hard.

I would never sell poultry that was not processed in a licensed and approved facility, you know, with 4000 sq ft of heated and air conditioned floor space and ADA compliant bath rooms, men and ladies. But if you would like to contract with me to raise a live bird for you, I can clean it for you for free when the time comes.

I would never sell un-pasteurized milk, but if you want to buy a part interest in this cow, what you do with your milk is your business.

At no point in my life have I learned so much so fast as I have here on the farm. Talk about home schooling.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Updates on the poultry and the garden

It's Sunday afternoon and normally I'd be out working.

But the temperature outside at the moment is almost exactly at the boiling point of human flesh, so I thought I’d goof off and update the blog here in my cozy air conditioned office.

I did postings for each batch of chickens when they arrived as day old peeps but have not mentioned their progress.

I also mentioned when I planted the garden but have not done an update on that project either.

First an update on the garden.

This is not a regular vegetable garden; it’s a small-scale field crop experiment. It is a very basic planting.

I know zip about field crops, my experience with plant agriculture consists of watching the occasional houseplant die of neglect.

My goal is to replace some or all of the feed we buy for the livestock. This should be possible for the sheep at least, because they don’t need much feed beyond the forage that we have plenty of. The chickens are a different story.

I planted corn and cowpeas.

Peas alone, corn alone, and corn and peas mixed. Corn was planted in rows about 30 inches apart, cowpeas down the middle of the rows.

The peas did fine on thier own, the corn and peas mixed did well. The corn alone did poorly. The soil here is not very good, beach sand with very little else in it.

The laying hens.

Today I started the process of mixing the young laying hens and the older ones. They have been next to each other since the young ones came out of the brooder separated by some poultry netting. I joined the netting so they are now in one big enclosure but I left both pens inside for now.

This was done after the nearby picture was taken.

I added roosting space to the hoop house and will remove the small pen sometime soon.

Chickens can be rather vicious to strange birds, best to do the integration gradually.


These birds are the radishes of the animal kingdom. They start out tiny, grow huge and are harvested in almost no time.

I just raise these in a scaled down Salatin style pen that I move to a new patch of grass each day. These are about halfway between the egg and the dinner plate.