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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Giving

Today I sent $250 to Heifer International. My sister and I pooled our money to buy a water buffalo. Now some family in SE Asia will soon have an animal that will provide milk, work, fertilizer and more water buffaloes if it is a cow. This will mean a whole new world to this family as their job of subsistence farming will suddenly get a lot easier.

This is a Christmas tradition I have with my sister that I hope we continue for a long time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hoop House Pix

Had a couple of produce orders this week so had to go out to the hoop houses and see what we had to harvest and found we had lots of greens. Even with snow covering the ground outside it is spring time in the hoop houses

Eugene looking for arugula under a row cover. We use the row covers as extra cold protection inside the hoop houses. the plastic jugs next to him are filled with water and used as heat sinks

A bed of baby lettuce that either stands alone or goes into our spring mix

Mizuna and tat soi. The mizuna is the lighter frilly stuff and the tat soi is the dark green plant with the spoon shaped leaves

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This Morning

What the overnight fog left us this morning, sheer beauty on the trees and a hops leaf and vine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Everchanging Book Titles

Val was looking for a book in the side bar that I had reviewed but had disapeared (it's back, Val). Which made me realize I have been happily changing titles from Amazon (it's fun to search out books and see what titles you get and than copy the HTML and apply it to this site) without informing you readers.

I got to thinking about selling books and got the thought in my head that changing titles would likely get more people to click on them and eventually someone will buy a book or two and I will get a small % from those sales. From the information I can get from Amazon, changing titles has indeed increased traffic, though not sales.

Okay, so know you know what I am up to with this Amazon thing. I will be changing titles weekly (in theory, reality will likely be different, it so often is). If there is a title you want to buy via this blog and it is no longer up just leave a comment and I will change the book listings within 24 hours (more likely within the hour) and leave a comment saying the change is done.

New on the List is Mike Phillips, The Apple Grower. The best book I have found on organic orcharding there is. I got this book years ago and a few weeks after buying it I found myself in a workshop given by the author. The guy lives and breathes apples, nothing seems to be more important to him (except, perhaps, his wife and children).

I also have put up the Peterson's Guide to North American Insects because every organic grower needs a good bug book and this is one of the best. If you do not know your insects you cannot be a successful organic gardener/farmer. I probably haul out this book 2 to 3 times a week during insect season

Along with the Peterson's Guide I have posted The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals which is a great book for any organic grower on any scale from tiny apartment container garden to a several acre spread. This is one we use a lot to diagnose problems we encounter in the garden. It is clearly written and has good illustrations (and the newer edition, our copy is over 12 years old, may use photos). This is one of those books no gardening library should be without.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dogstical Course

I live in a small house with 3 large dogs who must sleep where ever we humans must walk. This creates the ever changing Dogstical course. This is how we keep in shape over winter, by negotiating this course at least 40 times a day.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Industrial Organic Fraud


*Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042*

*Nation's Largest Retailers Accused of Organic Fraud* *Class Action Suits
Seek Damages from Wal-Mart, Target, others*

*SEATTLE, WA/ DENVER, CO/MINNEAPOLIS, MN* – In a scandal now ensnaring some
of the nations leading retailers, a series of lawsuits have been filed accusing Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, Safeway, and Wild Oats of consumer fraud for marketing suspect organic milk.

The legal filings in federal courts in Seattle, Denver, and in Minneapolis, against the retailers, come on the heels of class action lawsuits against Aurora Dairy Corporation, based in Boulder, Colorado. The suits against Aurora and the grocery chains allege consumer fraud, negligence, and unjust enrichment concerning the sale of organic milk. This past April, Aurora officials received a notice from the USDA detailing multiple and "willful" violations of federal organic law that were found by federal investigators.

"This is the largest scandal in the history of the organic industry," said Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. Cornucopia's own investigation and formal legal complaint, in 2005, first alerted USDA investigators to the improprieties occurring at Aurora. "Aurora was taking advantage of the consumer's good will in the marketplace toward organics, and the USDA has allowed this scofflaw-corporation to continue to operate," Kastel added.

Law firms based in Seattle, St. Louis, and New York, in addition to other cities, have filed at least eight lawsuits against Aurora, representing plaintiffs in over 30 states. Five lawsuits against the retailers have been filed so far.

Attorneys are seeking damages to reimburse consumers harmed by the company's actions. Some of the lawsuits request that the U.S. District Courts put an injunction in place to halt the ongoing sale of Aurora's organic milk in the nation's grocery stores until it can be demonstrated that the company is complying with federal organic regulations.

Aurora, with $100 million in annual sales, provides milk that is sold as organic and packaged as private label, store-brand products for many of the nation's biggest chains. In addition to Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Safeway, and Wild Oats, Aurora serves as supplier to 15 other national and regional chains.

Independent investigators at the USDA concluded earlier this year that Aurora—with five dairy facilities in Colorado and Texas, each milking thousands of cows—had 14 "willful" violations of federal organic regulations. One of the most egregious of the findings was that from December 5, 2003, to April 16, 2007, the Aurora Dairy "labeled and represented milk as organically produced, when such milk was not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program regulations."

Cornucopia's own research, since confirmed by the two-year investigation by federal law enforcement agents, found that Aurora was confining their cows to pens and sheds in feedlots rather than grazing the animals as the federal law requires. Furthermore, Aurora brought conventional animals into their organic milking operation in a manner prohibited by the Organic Food Production Act, a law passed by Congress in 1990 and implemented in 2002 by
the USDA.

The stores sell Aurora's milk under their own in-house brand names, such as Costco's Kirkland and Target's Archer Farms, in cartons marked "USDA organic," typically with pictures of pastures or other bucolic scenes.

"That's not even close to the reality of where this milk was coming from," said Steve Berman, a Seattle lawyer whose firm is among those suing. "These cows are all penned in factory-confinement conditions."

"This is the perfect example of modern-day Agri-business bullies literally stealing the milk money from an unsuspecting public," said Washington state consumer Rachael Doyle. "We have been willfully deceived by corporations motivated solely by greed."

Cornucopia points out that Aurora is a "horrible aberration," and that the vast majority of all organic dairy products are produced with high integrity. In a scorecard published last year, and available on their web site, Cornucopia rates over 90% of organic name-brand dairy products as truly subscribing to the letter and spirit of the law (available at

"Aurora's actions have injured the reputation of the more than 1500 legitimate organic dairy farmers who are faithfully following federal organic rules and regulations," noted Kastel. "We cannot allow these families to be placed at a competitive disadvantage."

Mark Pepperzak, Aurora CEO, said, "The allegations in this smear campaign against AOD are based on false information and, therefore, completely unfounded." The company has said that their business has yet to be affected by the high-profile controversy. However, some of Aurora's largest customers have now switched to alternative suppliers.

"We have learned that Wild Oats and the Publix supermarket chain in Florida are no longer buying milk from Aurora," stated Kastel. "In addition, the nation's largest distributor of natural and organic products, United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) has also secured an alternative source for their Woodstock Farms brand." Kastel also said that although he was unable to publicly disclose the names of retailers at this point in time, a number of others have contacted Cornucopia for their listing of six other private-label organic milk processors.

Many industry observers feel that the USDA's enforcement mechanism broke down in the Aurora case. After career USDA staff drafted a Letter of Proposed Revocation, seeking to prevent Aurora from engaging in organic commerce, political appointees at the agency intervened, crafting an agreement allowing the politically connected company to remain in business.

"It is unconscionable that the USDA allowed Aurora to continue, after making millions of dollars, in this 'ethics-based' industry, when they had concluded that Aurora willfully violated the law," Kastel added. "However, there is a higher authority in terms of organic integrity than the USDA—that's the organic consumer. And they are about to make their voices
heard through the courts."

*MORE: *

"I feel cheated by Aurora's organic misrepresentations," said Sandie Regan, an organic consumer from Crown Point, Indiana, and one of the parties to the lawsuits. "I am willing to pay more at the grocery store for organic milk because I believe the milk is healthier for me. But it doesn't look like I was getting what I paid for," Regan added.

"Although the USDA did not strip Aurora of their right to engage in organic commerce, between the consumer fraud lawsuits, and the exodus of a growing number of their customers, it looks like consumers and retailers might strip them of their ability to continue in the marketplace," Kastel observed. "

Copies of the lawsuits are available upon request. A photo gallery of the Aurora factory-farm operation can be viewed at the Cornucopia web page at

*The Cornucopia Institute, **a nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of

Snowy Market

That's me at market in front of our stand
(Photo Courtesy of Deb's Key West Wine & Garden)

What a winter market we had on Saturday. It was snowing hard through the entire market making displaying our wares a bit tricky. We opted for keeping as much as possible in coolers out of the snow. we had a list of what we had for people to read and choose from. I was rather amazed at how many people showed up to buy. The Oxford Uptown market has quite a few intrepid customers who will come out in any weather.

The day started for us in the store packing everything into coolers and boxes lined with toweling. We did not want to risk bringing home frozen produce that would than have to be tossed on the compost pile. This happened to us last year-we went to a sub freezing market laid our wares out on our tables like it was warm out and lost all our remaining potatoes and winter squash to the cold. And the thing of it was we did not know the stuff had frozen for 36 hours as that is how long it took for the damage to show. So we thought we were alright when we unloaded the van. After figuring out we had lost about 3/4 of our winter's stock of food we vowed never again will we go to a winter market and allow our food to freeze. So now we take measures to keep things warmish.

Got things packed they way we wanted and loaded the van and got on the dry roads at 7:30 am so we could get down to the Streits for our milk before the market and the snow. Got to the Streits and got our milk and as we were loading that into the van I noticed a snow flake lazily drifting through the air. A second later i noticed a million of its' brethren and the snow storm was on. By the time we got out to St Rt 73 (3 minutes) the roads were beginning to become covered and all the black Angus cows we passed were white on top. We drove towards Oxford wondering if we should just continue north on 127 and go home as the snow was coming down hard and fast. But when we came to the fork in the road where 127 peels off of St Rt 73 we went left and on to Oxford and the Winter Market.

Drove up and down the hills and curves of St RT 73 (one of the most dangerous roads in Ohio) talking of other snow storms and all the times I had to deal with 73 in bad conditions (my family used to live in a subdivision that was on the highway). We were able to traverse the road with no problems though I believe if we had tried to drive it a half hour later we would have had problems what with our vehicle being a Dodge Cargo van with rear wheel drive and not the newest tires in the world. Granted, we did have a lot of weight in the back due to the produce.

So got to the top of 73 where it meets Patterson Ave in Oxford and turned right so we could get to High street and got up the high Street hill swimmingly and pulled into the snow covered parking lot where we hold the market. Eugene cursed himself for not bringing a snow shovel. But soon enough, several snow shovels showed up and people were clearing the snow away (or trying to, it was snowing hard so all progress was soon covered). The shovel crew was a mix of farmers, kids, customers and market volunteers and between them all they kept the footing in good shape for everyone.

Getting the way cleared for shoppers
(Photo Courtesy of Deb's Key West Wine & Garden)

Snow on the shelters over each stall was an issue unless you had an older and more expensive model EZUp. I noticed our EZUp and one other that is the same year and kind had no problems shedding snow but all the cheapo EZUps people buy at Sam's Club and Wal-Mart were having some snow issues and had to be continually cleared. The EZ Up knock offs were even worse. The good news is as far as I know no one lost their shelters due to the snow loads. And we needed the shelters, otherwise all our food would have been covered under 3 to 4 inches of snow (maybe more). As it was, there was a good wind so quite a bit of snow did drift onto everyone's items unless they were tarped. Scott Downing's apples were covered in a nice blanket of snow (which could not have been good for the apples. I suppose they will make then into cider if they did get frost damage) and his honey jars were getting drifted in. At our stand the cash drawer started to fill up with snow and I had to abandon our tally sheet when it got too wet to be written upon (the pen would go right through the paper). But other than the tally sheet and some wet bills we had things well covered so nothing was harmed.

I thought I was going to be cold at market. I had good boots and a hat but had forgotten gloves. Not an issue as it turned out. For some reason, my hands were toasty warm through out the market. Maybe this was because the day before I spent several hours washing the leafy greens in freezing salt water to get the dirt and slugs off of the food before packing and selling it (nothing like a 3" slug crawling out of one salad...) so my hands were used to the cold. I dunno. I do know I had no need for gloves which is good as they tend to get in the way for me and make it hard to pick things up.

Chicken was a hot seller. Sold out of all that we brought (2 roasters and 5 Cornish hens). Leeks also sold well but we still have a lot of them (I believe we brought around 100 of them and sold 3/4). Butternut squash is always a good seller for us. we also sold a lot of arugula, all the red mustard, about half the spring mix (I don't know why this doesn't sell better, its' great salad. So much better than organic mixes at the grocery), almost all the spinach (which I thought would sell out), most of the salad radishes but none of the cooking radishes (probably because they were displayed badly so no one knew we had them), a lot of potatoes sold but few sweet potatoes (again because they were displayed badly).

At 11:30 we quickly packed up, drove over to UDF to get some gasoline than we slowly drove home via the back roads we always take. We had a bad problem with the wipers icing over and becoming useless. We stopped 3 times to clear them between Oxford and Eaton. And cleared them twice while in Eaton buying beer and dog food and picking up the mail. Finally got home and unloaded the van and than watched the people sliding up the 40' Pitch. That was great as it became a communal event. As a vehicle got stuck on the pitch people behind them would get out of their cars and help push the vehicles up the hill. It was good to get home before the roads got really bad.

The rest of the day I napped-Once I got home and unloaded I found that I was pretty exhausted

Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow Tomorrow

Tomorrow it is predicted that we will have our first major snow storm of the winter season. As much I love a good heavy snow, this one comes at a bad time. We have our monthly winter market tomorrow morning and the storm should start about the time we get our tables and wot knot set up. the bulk of the snow is supposed to come in after 2pm which is good. We should be able to do the farmers market than run over to the Streit's farm and pick up our 2 gallons of raw milk and than get back to Eaton by the time the roads start to get rilly bad.

At least the snow is not coming in today. That would mean no harvesting anything that is in a hoop house or under row covers (which is pretty much everything we have planted). But since it is going to be rather pleasant today (no rain, temps in the high 30'sF/single digits c) we should be able to get the spring mix, leeks, arugula and what ever else in with no problems.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Lights

It's Early Saturday morning. It is cold and raining. I am so glad we do not have to do a farmers market this morning. It would have been miserable setting up and selling in such cold and wet conditions. Next Saturday morning we do have a farmers market, hopefully the weather will be dry and calm (I am not hoping for warm, it is December after all.).

So what do we farmers do on a dreary day in late fall? Since it is Saturday we will drive down to pick up our raw milk sometime today. Eugene put up 2 fake Christmas trees last night and went through a box of what he thought were Christmas ornaments from his Mom. There were a few ornaments in the large box but mostly it was paper trash years gone by. He also found short strings (35ct) of cheap lead filled lights. He could not find many of the light strings we have had for years. Maybe this is the sign to go out and buy several strings of LED lights and get started on that direction. So it looks like we will buy some LED's and decorate trees and the house and store for Christmas.

While I am not a practicing Christian I do like many aspects of the Christmas holy day season. Lights are one of those aspects. I fantasize about designing and implementing a million+ light display here on the farm. I doubt I will ever do this, though with LED's and computer chips one could do a spectacular display and it would not use all that much energy. Probably could run a large and complex LED display off of batteries charged by alternative energy such as a wind turbine or solar panels.

Any hoo, we will not be doing a gigantic killer light show again this year, but we will likely have a simple display up and twinkling by this evening.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

1st Snow

We got our first snow of the 2007/08 season last night/this morning. Got around 4" of the white stuff. Almost enough for sledding.

Last Wednesday's Sunset

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Saturday Sales in Winter

Yesterday we had a great market day. I had sent out an email announcing we have a lot of food to sell and three people took advantage of the opportunity. Sold almost $200 worth of produce and chicken. Cleared out a lot of space in the fridge in the store.

One of the people getting food is an old friend I had not seen for several years named Frank. I know him from working at Di Paolo's. Not that we ever worked there at the same time, he came after I left. Now he's the chef for the president of Miami University. Look's like many of us Di Paolo alums are doing well for ourselves. Frank tells me that Pres. Hodge is taking Miami in a green direction. Especially where food is concerned. this explains why suddenly Miami's food service is sourcing as much local food as they can find. Unfortunately their protocol does not allow the various chefs and cooks to buy directly from us farmers at the farmers market or directly in other ways without special exemptions. Oh well, they are just getting into this and I am sure protocols will change to fit the situation.

Another person (people, actually) came over from Fairborn to get food. They loaded up on a scad of produce and a few chickens. the other sale was to the Streits, the folks who supply us with raw milk.

It was nice to sell some stuff and make a bit of money during the off season. Hopefully we can get more business in the future during the winter but it will take some education on our part and flexibility on the part of the locavores.

You see, winter growing is tricky. Most crops do not want to grow in the cold dark season but we have our ways of getting them to respond, usually. But if there is too much cloud cover or it is frigid for too many days things will not grow at all and that means nothing to harvest. Granted we do have things store in the root cellar (i.e. the barn and store). The tricky items are the leafy greens like arugula, kale, lettuce, etc.. But if they decide to do nothing between mid December and early February we still have squash, taters, onions, garlic, dried herbs, parsnips, leeks, etc.. ready to sell and eat.