Steve’s Weekly Update for 3/25/10

Dear members,

Another week, another major winter storm or two…  It snowed harder last Friday afternoon for a couple of hours than it has all winter so far.

The cows are “in” for the winter, and this winter they are “in” liquid manure up to their knees.  I try to walk through their coral and my boots get sucked off.  There is nothing I can do to clean the coral.  I moved some of them up the hill to a new area, which will look like the old area in a week or two.  At least they are knee deep in mud rather than liquid manure.

We are a month behind on setting eggs in the hatchery because we cannot control the dirtiness of the eggs.  We need eggs that are “naturally” clean, rather than washed, to set in the hatchery.  We cannot keep the chickens feet clean because we cannot provide dry ground except by locking them in their houses.  Their yard is a mixture of muck and manure soaked hay.  When we walk through the yard the liquid manure oozes up through the straw.

Staff vehicles have been stranded here, and staff have had limited opportunity to leave the farm for months.  I go because I have to, for my various other jobs and responsibilities, and to deliver food and pick up supplies.  The road is trashed, which is how many of my neighbors like it, (“Bad roads create good neighborhoods”) so I guess someone is happy.  The wear and tear on the truck is tremendous.  I will pay for it soon enough.

The idea of small-scale agriculture is that we work “in harmony with nature”.  This value is set in opposition to industrial agriculture, which seeks to dominate and subdue nature, by imposing the industrial model onto the environment.  Nature does not always cooperate, and does not care if we are big farms or small farms.

As I struggle to do the right things for the cows, and chickens, let alone for the people, it strikes me that the juxtaposition of the “good” small scale and the “bad” industrial model is an extraordinarily simplistic one.  The only thing I am doing well this winter is worry and feel bad about what I cannot improve.  I lack the resources to address the immediate issues.  I see the problems and wait for them to go away.  When I do intervene it is weak and often ineffective.  I am pretty much powerless.

Scale DOES offer some tools and resources and solutions!  How those tools are used determines the balance between positive and negative.  As I wish for the resources and capacity to make positive change, I appreciate what I could do for the cows and chickens if I COULD scale up.   Not that I aim to become a “mega farm” or a “mega dairy”, but that is more of a personal preference than a “judgment”.  I have been to some “mega operations” where practices are exemplary, quality of life for all creatures, human and domesticated is high, and the impact on the surrounding environment is neutral if not positive.

I have also been to small farms, including my own farm at times like this, that do not attain high standards of quality in key areas, and generally lack the tools and resources to effect positive change.

When it comes to agriculture, I encourage you to consider “scale neutrality”, and to direct “judgment” equally to operations of all scales.  Is there commitment to fairness, and continuous improvement, and quality of life and concern for all beings?  Scale is a tool, used well, larger scale yields many positive returns, just as used poorly, small-scale yields detrimental outcomes.  The tool is neutral; the hand of the craftsperson drives outcomes, with the cooperation of nature, and sometimes despite it.  It is not a good idea to automatically demonize or cannonize farmers and farming of any kind on the basis of scale.

This week’s update on cheese value chain and Jim Miller Ayrshire projects:

I am in dialogue with two more dairies about next steps with the Ayrshires.  Meanwhile, at Twin Mountain, the mud gets deeper and struggles similar to mine are the rule of the day, but great cheese is being made every day with at least 50% of the milk coming from our Ayrshires.

And in the midst of the problems, I have an idea for a solution:  one of the big problems for raw cheesemakers is that we have to feed our cows, harvest the milk, make the cheese, and then wait to sell it and the bills pile up as we wait.  The more we age the cheese the more feed, labor, and production money we have tied up in each pound.  Even though we realize that we will get the money back when we sell it, we have to find the cash to afford to “bank” the cheese.  Then again, if we try to scale up, we need more and more feed, labor, and production dollars to support converting grass into cheese via the alchemy of the cow and the further alchemy of cheesmaking.

Cash flow is the big enemy, and there are few or no banks or lenders interested in our projects, at least at interest rates that we can afford.

This is the same problem that vegetable farmers face all winter and spring:  cash goes out and there is no product to sell, so no cash comes in.

I realized that the CSA offers the same possibility of a solution for the cheesemaker that I does for the veggie grower.

So we are working on rolling out a “cheese share.” We figure that the average cheese value per pound will be $12, and are wondering if members can make suggestions as to the weekly share size.  We’d like to offer a pound of local cheese each week for $12.  We can mix and match types of cheese over time.  Ideally we would offer 2 packages, each one a different variety each week.

Is that too much?  What is a good weekly share size for a cheese share?  With your feedback in mind, and a little more planning we hope to offer a cheese share soon.  This will be available via our new web portal that is in final stage of preparation for members to use in the renewal process.  Meanwhile we hope to get a sample of our Ayrshire cheese into your share in the next week or two.

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

We are into the most difficult time for fresh, local food.  Our southern suppliers are between crops, and the storage crops form the north are nearly gone.

We offer the Elijah Farm apples again, and note that they are less and less pretty but still taste great.  We will offer case and volume pricing on them for a couple of weeks, and use them in the share perhaps once more, and then I think they are done.  Apple juice is an option we will turn to.

The potatoes and storage onions are winding down.  I have saved the best storage onions from Mesa Top and will offer them in a share soon.  The potatoes that store best are russets, and they will continue.  Meanwhile this week we offer our last yellow potatoes of the year.

This week is also the last round of Rio Star grapefruits through the distribution.  We will have a modest amount left for Special Orders.

We are offering the mega greens AND sunny sprouts in the same week, just to have something fresh and vital for you.

Chile powder has been requested in the past, and now we offer that, from organic chile raised in the Mesilla Valley South of Las Cruces.

There will be more interesting local items over the next few weeks as we keep our fingers crossed that the cold hand of winter at last eases its grip, allowing our vegetable growers to get to work!  By the way, we have plant starts in the greenhouse at Mesa Top, so despite the obstacle, confidence is running high.  Please remember that we need your membership dollars to fund our farmer’s early season activities, and watch for membership renewal information from Dena and on the blog.  Your help in funding the farmers through your early membership renewal and prepayment makes it possible for us to feed you well, later in the season.

Thank you for your support.

Steve Warshawer


1 Comment

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One response to “Steve’s Weekly Update for 3/25/10

  1. alice lee

    Things will get better;spring is on it’s way. Hang in there!You are doing a tremendous job,

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