Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Farmers Expressing Themselves?

An organic farmer, during a recent presentation, talked about the influences and systems to some of what he sees within agriculture in the United States.

He gave the story of picking up a bag of potato chips and looking at the ingredients listed on the back of the bag. The list of ingredients was as artificial as they sounded. At the end his comparison was that the list was an example of corporations "expressing themselves." His story was in regards to the lack of labeling in regards to GMO's. And he was exactly right. Just as a leader in a state can threaten to "kick your butt," and get away with, so are products not labeled with GMO's, are corporations expressing themselves.

Right now, many farmers are in the midst of preparations and planning for the upcoming season. Many are having the ability to get things started early due to the unseasonable warm weather. On April 1st we hit 95 degrees around Ceresco. Sunny, windy, balmy, red flag warnings, all in the middle of March in Nebraska. Certainly Mother Nature is expressing herself.

Consumers express themselves on a daily basis. The nature and the scope of what one eats and drinks each day is a reflection on who they are and what they are. In deed, the foods and drinks we eat certainly from a biological standpoint influence our bodies makeup. Choosing to spend your dollars local is an expression of ones values. Buying from a local farm or artisian is expressing trust and appreciation in the way that farmer grows, raises and produces their prodcuts.

So what about farmers? Farmers express themselves in various ways throughout any given day. Growing your own food is an expression of values. Growing food for your local community is an expression of trust and of social responsibility to be a part of that community, and an active and positive participant. Various farming methods express a farmers core beliefs in caring for the land and being a steward of the animals and foods produced. How do your farming practices express your beliefs and values?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Each Spring around this time of year, many farmers have the drive and the curiosity and the anticipation to get things rolling for yet another year. Is the grass high enough? Did we get enough snow this year? How well was the ground cover over the winter? These are but a few of the questions my wife and I ask ourselves

This year is different than some. We have had our cow grazing for about a week now. Mostly through the yard areas around the barn and the house. The grasses there tend to be a little taller and more established than those out in the pasture and the regular rotations. Our goal is to have the animals in full rotation
by the end of March. Which that has to be some kind of record.

In January of this year, we had 4 days with temperatures above 70 degrees. The beginning of February brought our only noticeable snow storm. This storm left about 13 inches here at Darby Springs Farm near Ceresco. Within a week there was no snow left on the ground. We did get a cold spell about the middle of February but than the gradual warming took place. By March 1st it felt like May 1st. I don't think we had a day below freezing in March. Temps by the middle of March were pushing 90 degrees. Certainly something was up. Mother Nature was fooling us and was going to drop a monster storm that would kill any budding trees or plants. So far however the extended forecast shows that well into April, temps will remain warmer than usual. Good news is that we'll also have decent chances for precipitation which is the next part of the equation.

We use a mix of multi-species pasture stacking combined with a somewhat management intensive grazing program all inspired by holistic management principles to manage our pasture and wetland. We were fortunate enough to have taken the Farm Beginnings Nebraska program put on by NSAS and had Terry Gompert as our Holistic Management Educator. This laid the foundation for what our vision was for our farm.

The NSAS List Serv is a great resource to bounce ideas off of fellow farmers using sustainable and organic practices and principles. Last year we posed some grazin
g questions to the list and below are some of the answers.
  • If dry take put them in sooner, or take out later, or if really dry, put in fewer at a time in a paddock.
  • Perhaps an issue of hay supply. If you can feed hay for a week or two more, the new pasture will grow faster than the hay they consume.
  • Use a sacrifice paddock.
  • Get grazing as soon as possible so the grass doesn't "get away."
  • Turn out when grass has three leaves
  • A concern is grass tetany, http://beef.unl.edu/stories/201003030.shtml
  • Suggest feeding a little hay to slow fresh grass traveling through and cattle not taking up enough nutrients.
  • It all depends on everything. Your grass type, stocking rate, how heavy you'll work the grass over the summer, etc.
  • Just keep dry hay or even straw available to them free choice and they should be fine. They are still grazing standing hay as well as fresh grass.
  • Start them slow and ease into grass
We began grazing with our small herd around the end of April in 2011. So getting an extra month on the pasture will certainly allow us to catch up with the pasture. This year the cows and horses will be together in one paddock and following them will be our pastured poultry flock. We have debated moving every 12 hours, and will probably increase the size of our paddocks.

You can find more resources on pasture readiness, livestock, sustainable farming and more on the NSAS website. A majority of these resources are free to use. Another great resources is the NSAS Library. This is free for members of NSAS and there is a nominal fee for non-NSAS members. But why not join! There are numerous benefits, and even an exciting way to
join right now during our 30 for 30! fundraising drive, which participation gets you a membership!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“If you’re not tasting the food!”

“If you’re not tasting the food, what are the customer experiencing!!” My wife and I recently have been watching Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares reruns on Hulu. While the language is sometimes off the charts, what Ramsey does with kitchens, cooks and foods is incredible. (We especially love his Christmas special where with his kids, they raise heritage turkeys in their backyard and then butcher them for Thanksgiving. Talk about food grown where you live, and also talk about quite the education for children!)

This particular episode dealt with a chef, who by his own admission was arrogant. He absolutely refused to taste his own food prior to sending it to the “pass,” and eventually the customer. And the food was routinely sent back. Undercooked, over seasoned, and trying to be to creative with the dish resulted in numerous foods coming back and being tossed.

“If you’re not tasting the food, what are the customers experiencing!!” When I first heard that quote I was taken aback. It was so simple, but yet quite intriguing. On our own farm, Darby Springs Farm, we grow our own beef, chicken, eggs, fruits and veggies. We utilize sustainable and organic farming principles and incorporate holistic management into the farm plan. Our farm is located in the saline wetland of the Tall-grass prairie. In order to properly steward this unique ecosystem we must utilize these principles and management techniques, not only to maintain this environment, but to improve it.

Likewise to nourish our bodies and our minds, a majority of the foods we eat come from our farm. And what foods we cannot or do not grow we purchase from neighbors also utilizing similar principles. This is important to note, as we direct market many of our products or sell via local outlets such as farmers markets and area grocery stores. If we were not tasting, experiencing, embracing the foods that nourish and replenish the mind and body, how do we know the customer would be as well. How do we ensure the safety of the food and the customer if we ourselves do not taste the food we grow?

I believe you can go to one of the over 90 farmers markets in Nebraska, talk with one of the farmers there and ask them what they do with the food they are selling to you. One of my favorite farmers recently relayed what he did with butter he made from his farm. “Will, I simply cut up a lot of our veggies. Maybe 5 to 6 different types and probably about 10 pounds worth. I melt some of this butter here in a frying pan. I put the veggies in the pan and sauté them, and add a little salt and pepper. Add some of these potatoes, and I have a meal. Works great for the kids (10+ of ‘em’!)”

“If you’re not tasting the food, what are the customers experiencing!!”