Monday, June 1, 2020

A response to George Floyd's murder

On top of living with the anxiety and uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic, these last few days have seen much righteous anger over the terrible murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This, on top of so many other incidents, even right here in Canada: Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, D’Andre Campbell in Brampton, 3 Indigenous police victims in Winnipeg: Eishia Hudson, a 16-year-old girl, Stewart Kevin Andrews, and Jason Collins.

These are just in the past few weeks. There’s a history of this. It is not new. It is always terrible. And these are not ‘unconscious’ biases…we all know it’s straight up racism. That Canadian woman in New York who called the police on a bird watcher, who happened to be a black male? She knew exactly what she was doing when threatening that man, it was not unconscious bias.

Racism is such an ugly thing, at the very root of all that is wrong in this world, a classification system, putting people into boxes. We human beings keep putting things into boxes. Dandelions are weeds, kill. Don’t consider their various traits beyond that you don’t want them in your monoculture lawn. Monoculture. I so hate these 2 sides of the same coin. Why do human beings seem to despise complexity so much? The world is not binary.

Why is a farmer posting about this? Because this farmer is a Chinese woman, born in Canada, living and working in a predominantly white part of Ontario (which is really anywhere rural) in a white dominated profession, despite the fact that every single culture/race farms. And it’s lonely, and sometimes scary, to be out here. And when so many lives are taken because of racism, when ‘Black Lives Matter’ even needs to be said, I just want to cry, and rage, and scream at the world.

I have experienced some overt racism in my life, been spit at, ‘complimented’ on how well I speak English, and belittled for eating ‘strange’ foods or ‘weird’ parts of animals. Very minor incidents, but all these things trigger the ‘flight or fight’ response…heart starts beating harder, hyperventilation, sudden flush of heat, and each incident is never forgotten. Is this familiar to you? Because I’m pretty sure every person of colour in North America, has experienced this at least once in their lives. But at least I’m alive. Unlike so many black men, indigenous women…

Let’s embrace complexity. Go back to school by reading things off those anti-racist reading lists going around. (Here's one to try:*Gu4gfUM0ypzZ3snqFZ82-g) If we all choose to think, and stop picking the easy answers, maybe our society can change. Speak up when people say things which are questionable…you don’t have to be mean about it, just ask for clarification, ‘What do you mean by that?’, and the person speaking will have to start thinking. If not, we won’t have a society worth living in.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Challenging so-called spring so far

Boy, has life every been busy since I last wrote. Not that farm life is generally known for down time, but each week has been going by in a blur. Marisol started working at the farm at the beginning of May, coming for 1-1.5 days per week. So far, we've been prepping beds in the vegetable field for direct seeding and transplanting. I'm so happy to have Marisol working at the farm this season, and looking forward to when school's done (yes, there's still online school) so she can come more each week.

Laying down the woven landscape cloth so that all vegetation dies off over a few weeks of occultation (yes, this is a word in no-till circles, which means blocking out the sun;P) has proven more challenging than I had hoped...because it's so damn windy at the vegetable field! I've always appreciated that the field has good airflow, so we don't end up with some of the plant diseases which come from lack of airflow, and there are fewer mosquitoes to deal with, but in the past few years, it seems that a nice little breeze has turned into an almost constant stiff wind. I need to have the chin strap tight on my sun hat most of the time I'm working down there. And to keep the landscape fabric from blowing off the 125 foot long by 3 foot wide beds, requires 10-12 sandbags per bed, plus rocks or bags of rocks holding down the edges for both long edges of the landscape fabric...that's 250 feet...for one bed. It's totally insane.

On a brighter note, we did bring the laying hens and their moveable coop down to the vegetable field once it got warm at the end of April, to help us prepare vegetable beds by scratching things up and eating up most of the green weeds. The chickens have done an amazing job, so that after they're done with a bed, we can wheel hoe it and it's ready for seeding/transplanting! We did have to hurriedly bring the chicken coop back off the vegetable field when we had the 10 cm snowstorm last weekend. The winds on the field just felt too frigid for us to leave the coop down there with the poor shivering hens. Skyler had to scramble around at twilight with the tractor to bring them to the shelter of the barnyard, and barely made it up our big hill as the ground was starting to get slick from snow. We've only just brought the hen coop back to the field this morning, as it has been too cold until now.

And really, did anyone enjoy that blast of February that we just had to endure? I had an electric heater running full blast in the greenhouse for the whole duration of freezing cold...which was a whole 7 days! This is the first time in 12 seasons of farming that I've had to have the heater on in the greenhouse for more than a night or 2 in May...and this year, it wasn't only on at night, but had to be on during the day too!

Of course, with this frigid spring, the pastures have been growing at a snail's pace, so the sheep are still in the barn and we've had to buy in extra hay to feed them, twice already. They've been let out to certain warmer patches of the farm where we can sacrifice the grass, for half days here and there, to get the lambs used to going outside and starting to nibble on grass. So the flock knows the grass is out there, and really don't want to be in the barn any more. If anyone ever needs a soundbite for zombie hordes, a flock of sheep baaing for fresh pasture sounds just like the movies ;P

Finally, we've only been able to get the tractor down to the field twice this year, as the road to the field is still partially submerged in water. Thank goodness I've gone no-till or there's no way any beds could be prepared for planting at all by tractor! We're currently debating what to do with the road, like bringing in loads of stone and gravel, maybe installing a culvert or drainage if I know what I'm talking about :P Luckily, we had already delivered a load of compost to the field last fall, so Marisol and I have been plugging away at getting it spread on various beds via wheel barrow and manure fork. If that sounds labour intensive to you, it definitely is. Trying to figure out a form of mechanized compost spreading for the future is definitely a priority, as my back is not happy with me these days. Hence the need to figure out this road business, as mechanized generally means tractor pulled.

The good news is, sugar snap peas have been direct seeded, with salad greens hopefully seeded tomorrow if it doesn't rain too hard. And there are thousands of seedlings started in the greenhouse, scheduled to be transplanted to the field late May/early June. I definitely enjoy soil blocking and seeding...tons more fun than spreading compost ;P Great arm workout without any back strain :)

I'm sure there's other stuff I should be writing about too, like this pandemic and the anxiety it brings, but if there's any cure for that, it's physical farm labour and the sweet sleep that brings at night. Hang in there everyone, as it seems like there is a light at the end of this long tunnel. I'm just happy we still get to eat :D

Friday, April 10, 2020

Wishlist for a New World Order

I have been very anxious these last few weeks, and I don't think I'm usually a particularly anxious kind of person. I haven't left the farm since March 22, my last day going in to the tax office to work. I've still been swamped with work at home, between various contracts, farm planning, CSA marketing, lambing season, and returning to field work. And of course, taking turns with Skyler, caring for Emma. So there hasn't been too much free time yet for introspection, which has probably led to this build up of anxiety.

So this is how I'm going to blow off steam. I'm writing my wishlist for a new world order. Off the top of my head, un-researched, naive, optimistic, cynical, cheesy...just ideas that have been spinning away in my thoughts and dreams for decades. I'm releasing them into the ether, in hopes that after the global pain of this pandemic has passed, something better for humanity will be chosen, not this broken, hungry, despotic, economic system which, even without this pandemic, is already bringing us to the brink of extinction due to climate change.

Universal health care...medical, dental, visual, pharmacological, psychological. If any person needs treatment, they can get it.

Universal housing, clean water, basic income for all.

No more interest. No more debt. No more misers (aka billionaires). Wealth from interest only increases through unlimited growth, which is physically impossible. It is also why the gap between haves and have nots keeps getting wider and wider. Resources should circulate and benefit humanity as a whole, not just the ones at the top...there should be no top. Imagine if every organization had a cap on CEO pay of 7 times their most entry level position? This isn't even new, but an idea that has been around for decades, and is actually practised by some companies which have succeeded for decades too.

Research for the public good, led and funded by public institutions, not by private corporations, so the research is directed by need, not just profit.

Circular manufacturing, where industries which make something, have to take back what they make and re-use/recycle components and be responsible for any resulting disposal. Full life cycle manufacturing.

Fixing things! Patching clothes, soldering electronics, re-upholstering chairs, not everything needs to be replaced with something new. Our economy needs to find a different way to work than by pushing consumerism.

Education for all...not to train an obedient workforce, but to teach empathy, problem solving, reading, writing, arithmetic...the basics to give everyone an equal footing. School shouldn't be for teaching people how to do jobs...employers should be responsible for should teach people how to learn.

Decriminalization of all drugs. The so-called war on drugs has failed. Instead, prisons are full of victims; countries where drugs are produced are full of victims. The money and lives wasted on 'enforcement' could go instead into community initiatives to address the roots of addiction, which are societal failings, not people failings.

Community, housing, water, goods...all produced in local communities for local consumption first. Global trade should be reserved for those items which can only be produced in specific geographic areas, and production of those items should not supercede those communities basic needs. Feed everyone in their own countries first before exporting anything.

Airfares and travel should reflect their full environmental cost. No more cruise ships please. The tourism industry should not destroy the places they service.

No more fossil fuels removed from the ground. A global 'war effort' made to research and develop green renewables (solar, wind, vibration from roads, magic crystals...we don't even know all the possibilities yet!), which also don't exploit and pollute poorer nations.

No rights to corporations...people and the planet always come first.

An end to xenophobia and religious persecution. No nationalism. No racism. Just all citizens of planet Earth.

NO MORE PATRIARCHY. No more women abused, enslaved, kept down, paid less, forced to bear children. A world where gender is meaningless; we're all just persons.

No more 'second class citizens'...indigenous people, people of colour, people with disabilities, peasants, women, the list is just too long.

No more chemical agriculture. No more factory farms. Farming should be a good and healthy occupation, not requiring a full-time off farm job and not indebted to all the input corporations bleeding farmers dry.

A world where at least 50% of people work in food production, whether this be farming, butchering, baking, cooking, serving, transporting food, making cheese, starting seedlings, hunting, making compost, safeguarding water that our societies can no longer be so separated from where food comes from, how it is made, how it gets to everyone. This shouldn't be a black box, but at the very centre of our understanding as a we are all fed every single day.

On this Good Friday, when those who believe in Jesus Christ mourn His death on the cross, we should mourn all our dead, the old, the sick, the young, the healthy, who are being taken by this coronavirus pandemic, directly or indirectly. And as we hope for redemption, for resurrection, which is the very heart of the Christian faith, which gives us a chance to be right with God, I hope for our redemption from this pandemic, our chance to be right with humanity, with the planet on which we live.

We need to take these lies that we tell ourselves, that our country helps all its citizens equally, and make them true somehow. Hold our leaders to account. Push for change. Don't let them take more power than they need. And when vaccines or cures are found, and our collective efforts to keep down the death toll are no longer necessary, then let this world that we emerge into be a better place for everyone.

And yes, I did watch Pitch Perfect 3 recently with Emma (she likes the singing), so there's the cheese for you ;P Thanks George Michael.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Prepping takes a coronavirus pandemic for me to take the time to write a blog post. As any of you who have children know, having young children (Emma's turning three in May) means you have no free time. Or actually, no time in general. Especially now as day cares are all closed. I'm not going to lie, I'm only able to write this post now because Emma is watching 'If I Were an Animal' on Netflix right beside me.

We knew life would change when we had a child, but I don't think Skyler and I were prepared for how frustrated we could be by the loss of 'productivity' in our lives. Essentially, I can't get anything done efficiently while Emma's in my care. And when you're a one-person market gardener, being efficient is the only way that the garden can be managed. So I am hiring part-time help this summer, mostly for harvest day, and Skyler's going to have to watch Emma during crucial garden task times. The trade off is that if one of us is watching Emma, the other person is running flat out to get as much done in their work time as possible. Sigh...I'm definitely feeling my age these days ;P

Last year I also caught some sort of flu for 3 weeks at the end of June, right when it was most crucial to get vegetables transplanted and beds direct seeded. Again, a reminder that I'm not 25 any more ;P So the transition to no-till vegetable growing continues to have a sense of urgency, and I'm very happy that I already have all my landscape fabric/mulch delivered to the farm, ready to be laid out on beds to prepare them for planting, as soon as the vegetable field is snow free, which is pretty much any day now.

And let's not forget the farm animals! We have had a great lambing season, with 27 lambs born to 18 ewes within about 4 weeks...a tight lambing period, which means our new Gotland ram knows what he's doing ;) This means our barn currently has 72 sheep in it, between the breeding ewes and ram, their new lambs, the non-breeding ewes (we don't breed them until they're over a year old) and ram lambs born later last year. At this time of year, Skyler and I get worried for our hay supply and watch the pasture fields obsessively for growth. Every fall, we stock more hay than we think we'll need, but we also ended up keeping more sheep in the barn than originally planned, so we're really hoping the pastures will be ready for grazing early this year, unlike last year! Is it too much to hope that as our world deals with the societal changes required by the coronavirus pandemic, we can have an ideal growing season to produce as much food locally as we can??? My fingers are crossed anyway...I could definitely use a really good vegetable and pasture year.

Anyway, I'm super thankful that despite what's happening outside the farm these days, we're ready to go for food production this year, with all of our seeds, soil block making supplies, row cover, etc already at the farm. Increasing local food production capacity may actually become a priority issue for society in the next little while, and we're ready!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day should be every day

Happy Earth Day everyone!

It was certainly a lovely, warm day here at the farm, one of the few we've had so far this spring. Seemed like winter wanted to hang on forever, and then of course, spring flooding from lots of rain, still frozen ground, and rapid snow/ice melt...sigh...this is why I'll be building raised beds in the vegetable garden. I always optimistically schedule my first direct seeding of sugar snap peas in the field for end of April, but that hasn't been possible for years! My fingers are crossed that with raised beds, I can actually hit that end of April seeding date next year...

I read a CBC opinion piece today saying that Earth Day is no longer relevant:
       " The planet now finds itself in grave danger. We're way beyond holding a day once a year to raise awareness on the issue. If your house is on fire, you're not going to ask the family, "Any ideas on how we should celebrate Fire Safety Day this year?""

I remember when I was a young teenager in Edmonton (where I was born), celebrating Earth Day with sincere hope for the future. I still even have an Earth Day t-shirt from then. But now I read about all that is happening in our environment, and see little to no political or social will to change things. Bumblebee species are in decline (in fact, pretty much the whole insect world). Flooding, raging fires, severe storms. Climate change used to be something that I thought we needed to be acting to prevent now, but I didn't think we'd actually be experiencing its effects within my lifetime, and I'm not expecting to die for hopefully a few more decades.

Currently, my only regular contact with the outside world (yes, farming is that isolating) is working part-time during tax season in a local tax office which has many people come in and out all day. I overhear lots of complaints about the price of gas going up from the federal carbon tax...but everyone makes sure that we've applied for their climate action incentive credit (yes, the federal government is flogging that horse, a lot). And with the shift in governments both locally and around the world to politicians who don’t want to make the drastic changes necessary to actually slow (not even halt or turn around) the climate change train wreck happening right in front of us…I’m not feeling like anyone wants to change anything at all.

Meanwhile, here at the farm, and in my growing circle of agroecological farmer friends, all we do is talk about climate change, and farming practices that will actually sequester carbon. We prioritize increasing biodiversity on our farms, and definitely don't use chemical products for killing insects or plants we don't like. We're totally into compost and all its magical effects and dream about having more livestock, so we can get more manure, so we can make more compost. This must sound so strange to most of you. Lately, I feel like an alien when socializing outside organic farming circles.

This year, I’m again the president of the National Farmers’ Union – Ontario, Local 344 for Grey County (yeah, that’s a mouthful). As a board, we decided on three priority issues for the year: climate change, indigenous solidarity, and new farmer support. With a federal election this year, we’ll be doing our best to challenge local candidates to state their positions on these topics. And we’ll be researching what parts of the Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto, the two most radical political movements in North America for divesting from oil and prioritizing climate change action, relate to farming, and what we can do now on our farms.

With my farmer friends, we dream of a world where all farming is done agroecologically, without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Where RoundUp (glyphosate) and genetically modified crops (most of them modified to resist RoundUp, so you can spray that crop with RoundUp to kill all the weeds, but your crop stays alive) are banned. Glyphosate causes cancer, as two U.S. courts have already ruled…but Health Canada and other government agencies won’t/can’t admit this. Why can’t this be admitted? Because if glyphosate were banned world-wide, global agriculture as we know it would collapse, pulling down hedge funds, chemical companies, seed companies (which are mostly the chemical companies anyway), farm equipment manufacturers and retailers, banks with agricultural lending (which is all of them)…the list goes on. And of course, people would starve in the short term, because not enough people know how to farm without the chemical inputs and genetically modified seeds. So the non-organic farms all around me continue to spend as much on fertilizer, pesticides and seed, as they make from their crops, if not more. Because that’s the way agriculture is done. Farmers are producing commodities. Not food, not ecological stewardship, not vibrant rural communities. The fewer farmers it takes to farm more and more land, the better, right? Efficiency is king in this capitalist world. Resiliency is at the opposite end of that spectrum.

So now, I’m really depressed. Why do I start writing blog posts late in the evening instead of going to sleep? Because I’m sick and tired of holding my tongue, or not wanting to get political with people, or having to explain myself while the other person's eyes glaze over. I don’t want to preach to people, or point the finger and accuse people of using too many plastic straws, because that’s not the point. Frankly, individual actions are nothing in the face of the massive societal changes that need to happen. We literally have to decide, as a society, that no more fossil fuels are to be removed from the ground. No oil washed off sand. No more refining. No more pipelines, or train cars moving bitumen around. We need to get off fossils fuels, full stop. We need to stop producing food covered in chemicals, which destroy the environments in which they’re grown. We need to stop shipping food all around the world to be processed and eaten. We need economies to be localized, where we all adapt to producing what we need closer to home, and doing without that which we cannot produce locally. In a globalized world where shipping and logistics companies like Amazon are king, a localized economy sounds like some sort of hippy dream, right? Well it’s not. Much as I love eating mangos and oranges, I can survive without them. I can survive eating food that could be grown right here in Ontario, or even in the rest of Canada. I don’t have to eat food that is shipped from South America, or Asia (though I would miss rice, I am Chinese after all). I could survive wearing wool and linen (flax) clothing. Though frankly, if we all just started swapping our clothes instead of throwing it out, we already have a massive supply of clothing right here. We could have solar panels on every building surface, and size/community appropriate wind turbines for electricity. I so desperately want an electric vehicle instead of my Dodge Caravan, but unfortunately, do not have the funds to get one.

Which brings me to my latest source of depression. CSA membership sign ups are down this year, and not just for me. Many other organic CSA farmers are experiencing the same thing, and if I believe the various CSA marketing gurus who’ve found my email address, this decline is widespread. Their solutions essentially ask CSAs to be more accommodating to their members, allowing full customization of weekly packages, via their super duper on-line ordering platforms. Because that’s what non-CSA grocery box delivery services can do…because they don’t grow the food!!! I’ve realized over the years that the only people who enjoy being CSA members, are those who enjoy the challenge of cooking in season, with whatever vegetables, meat, eggs, legumes, etc. are presented to them. Those who need specific ingredients for every meal, find CSA packages hugely challenging and often end up discarding unused items. I certainly understand the challenge of coming up with a healthy meal that your whole family (of picky children) will eat, and so I definitely sympathize, but that doesn’t mean I can, or should, make vegetable packages customizable. The logistics of vegetable growth means you harvest what’s ready, when it’s ready…which is actually great, because you get the freshest and most tasty and nutritious veggies! And customizing harvesting and packaging would require more labour, which my farm just can’t afford. In fact, few organic farms can afford more labour, which is why there are so many seasonal organic farm internships (board and lodgings, maybe a stipend) and places for WWOOFing volunteers. But wait, we could afford more labour, if we could actually charge the real cost of production of food, but that’s impossible in Canada where people expect the cheapest food prices. And none of us actually want to be the private farmers for only super rich people anyway. I am not a serf.

So, ranting aside, please consider joining an agroecological farm CSA, any farm CSA, not just mine. Yes, it will be more challenging to produce meals with what you’re provided, but the ingredients will be so fresh and tasty, you’ll have to do less to make them taste good to your family. In the summer time, I eat more than half my vegetables raw anyway! And you’ll be supporting a farm which isn’t causing climate change, but doing all they can to mitigate climate change. Take your climate action incentive credit and put it towards signing up for a CSA membership. It’s a step towards a more localized economy, which is better than no step at all.

Happy Earth Day everyone. I know the Earth will still be here long after I’m gone. I would prefer if human beings were still part of its ecosystem.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Exciting farm changes for 2019!

To think, I thought I'd have a bit more time to be able to update this blog last year, with Emma being a bit older and being back at work 3+ days a week, but that definitely didn't work out! We all made it through last season, but it was quite difficult, for many different reasons, not the least being the weather. The growing season started with drought and ended with extreme humidity, which means early season greens and peas did poorly, and some crops didn't get a start at all, and it was super hard to cure late season squashes because there was so much mold everywhere thriving in the moisture. Days were spent examining squashes and wiping them down with vinegar to prevent mold growth, though they were all in single layers with plenty of air flow. One bright spot in the season was the success of the tomatoes and eggplant, which definitely thrived from all the heat units in the earlier part of the summer! Then winter hit hard and early in mid-October and just stayed, preventing some of the end of season field clean up. The second week of October was hot and humid, and the 3rd week had the first snow on the ground. I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when the last vegetable harvest of the season was delivered to everyone so I didn't have to worry about regular vegetable harvests anymore.

And then we started lambing again November 7! In theory, I knew my ewes, having some Dorper genetics, could lamb 3 times in 2 years, but as it hadn't happened over the past few years, I wasn't expecting it. But somehow, when the ewes went out on pasture in June/July, even with the drought, they were in good enough body condition to be bred. In future, we're going to have to be much more intentional about our timing of leaving the ram in with the ewes. We're just too soft hearted and don't want to separate the ram from the rest of the flock to hang out on his own.

This past year was definitely the year of the lambs for Black Sheep Farm! Our first (and expected) round of lambing started in late February and resulted in the birth of 26 lambs by early April. That means we averaged 2 lambs per ewe, with 2 of them having triplets, 2 having singles, and the rest with twins. The majority were rams, so 2018 was the first year that we had enough lamb to actually sell in bundles. And even with the drought, we managed to keep all the sheep well fed on pasture, moving them in and out of the barn as needed, to let the pastures regrow, feeding them hay while in the barn. Managed intensive grazing definitely gets more intensive in drought conditions as the sheep actually had to be moved twice a day to keep them happy enough with their pasture to prevent breakouts. So much moving of moveable electric netting fence pieces...but it must have worked as the ewes all regained body condition after lambing and all those lambs definitely fattened up well. And our pasture fields are one more season into overall soil regeneration. We'll see this year if the various pastures have gotten denser and lusher with plant matter. Some of the pastures have been under managed grazing for a season or two longer than the others, so it's pretty easy to see the progression of pasture improvement each year. One of our changes this year will be to bring the 6 acre hay field out of hay production, and use it exclusively for grazing, and see what changes that brings over the next few years.

One crazy sheep incident that we hope never to have to deal with again, was our first brush with flystrike. In late September, in those weirdly humid weather conditions, Brush got flystrike. First, we tried to catch her on pasture to get a better look, but when that didn't work, we had to bring the whole flock into the barn, but in the process of herding them, she took off! We eventually found her in the woods and had to catch her to bring back to the barn. I won't go into detail about how things looked, but essentially, it's the sort of situation that brings me nightmares. Just look up flystrike and you can watch all sorts of videos that you'll probably wish you hadn't clicked on. Anyway, we tried to rinse the maggots and eggs away and cut away the affected fleece, but were extremely unsuccessful, especially since we didn't want to nick Brush's skin and cause a wound that would make things worse. In the end, we doused her backside with iodine (which started a maggot exodus that I still gag to remember) and called our sheep shearers, who could luckily come to see us the next afternoon. When our shearers, Jake and Sam Sloan came the next day, they sheared away the fleece on Brush's backside and confirmed that we had both caught the infestation just in time, and the iodine treatment had actually worked 100%, killing all the eggs and maggots. She had a small wound from maggot eating, which healed up very nicely without any further treatment. Phewf! Apparently when our shearers are usually called in to deal with a sheep with flystrike, it's usually too late and the sheep has had its flesh eaten away enough that it just has to be put down. In Ontario, this isn't usually something to be worried about in fall, but rather spring/early summer, which is partly why we shear our sheep before they go out on pasture (and with enough time to grow back enough fleece to protect them from the sun). But this is the first fall in the 10 seasons I've been at the farm, when I've experienced such constantly humid conditions.

My major takeaway from 2018...climate change is going to require constant adjustment, innovation, and attention for us to be able to keep farming. We need to scout regularly for signs of stress in the plants and animals, and ensure that we adjust for weather conditions to make sure everything manages to stay healthy. Vigilance and action. I knew farming would never be boring, but I was hoping it wouldn't be quite this exciting :( I know there are a lot of farmers who are on the verge of burnout from all the added stress and management from having to respond to uncontrollable weather conditions, or just stand by and see entire crops wiped out as there's nothing they can do. There are no more expected weather conditions...we're just going to get whatever comes year by year and hope that our planning is resilient enough to make sure enough food can still be produced to feed ourselves and our members. And while many farmers' solution to unpredictable weather is to build more greenhouses, I just can't bring myself to go that route. I've never felt right working in a greenhouse and have always preferred the open field. And greenhouses come with their own set of challenges which I'm not willing to deal with in addition to managing field growing and animals.

The major change for vegetable production is that we will be moving away from rotating the 1 acre vegetable field, and switching to fixed place, raised vegetable beds. This is both to cut down on soil tillage and to gain 3+ more acres of pasture for animal pasturing. So when the vegetable field has dried enough for working this spring, we will start to build raised beds for planting, which will eventually (over years) become no till, as they get built up with the addition of organic matter in the form of mulch and compost. Part of the reason we can make this change is because of the compost available from the increase in the number of sheep at the farm, as well as the addition of chicken manure, as we will be raising both meat birds and laying hens this season.

The priority of all these changes...we want to keep improving our soils. This is at the very root of how we will both respond to, and mitigate, climate change. Healthy soils, full of microbial and animal life, and organic matter, are what will keep things growing through all extremes (except for a 40 day flood...but we were promised to never have that again, right?). Managed intensive grazing both improves soil life and sequesters carbon, because you're encouraging all those plants to remain in a growing state, improving their root systems, and constantly harvesting the energy of the sun through their leaves. Seems like such a simple solution, right? But it's certainly not what modern science promotes, because it takes time, and encourages the inherent biodiversity of nature to heal and improve itself, instead of human interventions that can be patented and controlled, to make money in the corporate economy to which we human beings seem unwilling to find an alternative. But that's me being cynical. Cynicism isn't going to change the world, but healthy soils, full of life that we can't even imagine, can do it. So that's what we're going to continue to do at Black Sheep Farm, do our best to promote the health of the soil, even more than before, cutting back on tilling as much as possible, and increasing animal pasturing so more land can have its soils regenerated. And we're still planting trees and perennials, so there can be an increase in long-term life. Who knows how much the world can change in the next twelve years if even just this farm, and all the farmers who I know and respect, continue to promote the growth of healthy soils over all else. So please look us up, find us, and support us in any way that you can.

Friday, January 26, 2018

I'm back!

To the blog that is...I never left the farm! In fact, I was probably on farm more hours last year than any previous year, since I was home with baby Emma and had the farm's employee, Michelle, making the vegetable deliveries to the GTA all season.

So, having a baby and managing the farm during the wettest and coldest season ever, was a challenge. I was super lucky to have found an amazing farm employee in Michelle. She's the reason why vegetable CSA members still got vegetables for the whole season, despite our many challenges in the field. A short list of challenges...the soil was almost always too wet to till, so we ran out of bed space to plant vegetables. Michelle had to give up maneuvering space and plant right into paths and between row cover trenches. The vegetables took forever to grow because they were so stressed from cold and wet. It probably rained on average 5 days out of every week, so poor Michelle was almost always wet. Production was down for almost every crop except lettuce heads, fennel and kohlrabi. Eggplants and sweet peppers were a complete bust, as were many of the winter squashes. I was very happy to come to the end of October and wish good riddance to the growing season of 2017. Thank you to 2017's vegetable CSA members for eating so many leafy greens :D

I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into the field this year, though with Emma still being so young, I'm planning to hire part-time help to make sure everything is planted, weeded and harvested as needed. I haven't made any big changes to the vegetable field for this year and will be mostly trialing the same varieties I picked to trial last year as 2017 wasn't the best year for any plant to shine. As usual, I'm super glad that I do grow so many different things or 2017 might have been a complete bust.

The big changes that happened in 2017 (other than there being a new human member added to Black Sheep Farm!) were in capital infrastructure, with the fencing of the south end of the farm (January 2017), and the building of a structure on top of the cement pad so that portion of the barn foundation is finally roofed again (November 2017). Filing my taxes for 2017 will be fun, with my lowest income and highest costs since moving to the farm ;P But it was time. The fence gave peace of mind for keeping the sheep contained (there's no way I could run after sheep while carrying a new baby) and the new building means the barn foundation will stop rotting (and now really bad bits can be replaced). And it also means I'll be putting in a proper cold room for vegetable storage this year. Construction should be completed before spring (thanks Skyler ;P).

New south fence

Emma and I looking at the framing of the new barn building.

Will I also be better at writing blog posts in 2018? I certainly having a long list of topics I'd like to write about, but we'll have to see. The farm animals and vegetable production take priority over writing about the farm, and Emma takes priority in terms of life, so here's hoping there will be time enough for all that is truly important :D