Steve’s Weekly Update for 11-17-10

Climatology 2010: Local, sustainable fuel (wood): With a colder week behind us, I am wondering if any members have a need for FIREWOOD!  Here at Mesa Top we are proceeding with thinning of overgrown pinon forest that is recovering from the drought, and also with juniper/cedar thinning.  These forestry practices are being carried out under a conservation program called EQIP  (Environmental Quality Improvement Program) administered by USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service).  PLEASE CONTACT stevew@plateautel.net 505-422-2238, if you are interested in firewood, split and delivered to you, from the forests at MT farm.

Steve’s Soapbox:  Finance Revolution!!! I hope you don’t forget last week’s soapbox on finance.  Quick review:  I feel that president Obama lost the support of the electorate and the election in large part because he rescued the banks and set them back on course to record profits at the expense of the populace, that is, you and me.   While the people struggle to access capital, the banks he saved with our tax dollars just get richer!  That was his BIG mistake, and I believe that it is time to find ways to take matters into our own hands. Now I am going to talk about how….

Last week I hosted a visit to Mesa Top from Jim Oldham, executive director of Equity Trust, a small, national non-profit that works to help community and CSA farms become secure on their land. Jim and I spoke about the problem of investor expectation.  Jim and I agree that we need new institutions that are founded on new principles about capital and its sources and uses.

Jim pointed me to a new initiative called “Common Good Bank,” a project of Common Good Finance, which is working to build a bank that combines the spirit of a credit union with the power and growth potential of a stock savings bank .  CGB is being founded by a group of people who share my point of view about the finance system, and have realized that a fully chartered bank with a different commitment to depositors and borrowers will be needed.  Though we see no American banks doing this today, a bank CAN offer basic services to depositors such as checking, saving, IRA, etc, at small returns on investment, and in turn can lend those assets back to the community, especially to businesses, at reasonable rates.

To start up the bank and pass regulatory muster, significant reserves have to be gathered.  The current phase involves a member investment program that is designed to help the project cover its costs of development while building reserves to support its eventual operation.  I am in the process of establishing the CSA as an “organizer” for the bank, which will allow your support for the bank to also indirectly support the CSA.   To get more information, anyone who is interested can visit:  Common Good Bank and click on “join us”.

This week’s Cow stories:  Mesa Top cows, and Jim Miller Ayrshire project:

My initial vision for the dairy side of the Ayrshire project was inspired by Pat Sullivan, a raw milk cheese maker in Lincoln, NM who I met about 3 years ago.  He had developed a program where he produced aged cheese from a small herd who calved in late spring and was dried off each fall.  He then closed up shop for the winter and lived on the cash flow from ongoing cheese sales.

The idea of seasonal dairying seems very appealing and I took Pat’s idea forward as the foundation of the Ayrshire program that I have been working to develop since buying the herd from him in fall 2007 when he closed his business and sold his farm.

That approach has a serious drawback:  it is a LONG time from calving to the time when a product is available for sale.  Raw milk cheese has to be aged for at least 2 months to be legally salable.  Meanwhile there is expense on top of expense;  feed, labor, vet expense, and the costs of cheese making.  This approach would work for a farmer with sufficient reserves to weather that lengthy delay between initiation of the program and first sale.

Andy Warner at Twin Mountain added the cow share component, selling a portion of his milk as fresh, raw milk under the Colorado cow share system.  This approach afforded Andy with steady cash flow to pay labor, feed and care for the cows while the cheese aged.  Revenue from cheese making was intended to provide reserves to cover the period when less cows were fresh and also to provide a return on investment for the farm.

Ideally the milk covers the costs and the cheese earns the farm its value added profit.

For farmers willing to milk year round, this approach has tremendous appeal, as fresh raw milk is very much in demand. But alongside that demand is intense pressure from the dairy industry as well as from public health authorities who are concerned about the risk posed by raw milk.  Improperly handled, at any stage in the process from milking to consuming, raw milk is one of the riskiest foods there is. Properly handled, from the foundation of a forage based hard management program, through to consumption, it is one of the healthiest foods there is.

There is plenty of good information from raw milk advocates regarding the positive qualities of raw milk.

Click here for the Real Milk website

And there is plenty of publicity regarding diseases outbreaks resulting from improperly handled raw milk.  Here are articles from this summer in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper site.

Click here for the recent news articles

I am beginning a process in collaboration with a group of Colorado Raw Milk producers, to develop a self-administered food safety program for their farms.  This is very exciting because many of the skills and resources that I have developed over the last 2 years on produce food safety will be relevant to this project.  I could not even consider this work if it were not for Colleen and her vet Dr. Dale Rice, who is trained in food safety from a food manufacturing and especially from the meat side of food manufacturing.  His skill with food safety and understanding of animal health as a vet is crucial to this venture.

If it is possible, would members like to “benefit” form this project?  If there is a way for Raw Milk to come to the CSA that is from verified safe dairies, would people be interested?  A number of years ago we helped members gain access to raw milk.  At that time I was not satisfied with the safe handling practices and backed away from offering that product.  With the new collaborations that are possible, I am regaining confidence.

Would CSA members like to get access to raw milk through the CSA?  I would love to hear from you on this topic

Meat program update:

Plans for harvest of our next steer are in place and we expect beef to be ready in approx late December.

This week’s cheese share update:

This week the cheese share will be a variety of artisanal cheeses.

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

Exciting news going into winter is that we have agreements with two local farms who expect to be able to supply us with important staple items all winter long!

The Gemini Farms carrots that you have enjoyed for the last several weeks will continue all winter.   These carrots were grown according to very high sustainable agriculture standards in a high valley of the Sangre de Cristos at Las Trampas.  They were harvested in October and are being stored in low tech root cellars, and packed and prepared for us as needed each week.  Shortly we will switch to a system where a larger amount is processed at a time, and the finished carrots are delivered to the CSA and other customers by La Montanita CDC.

We also have an understanding with Agricultira COOP to purchase their salad mix, which is intended to be available straight through the winter.

We also have our agreement with Bill and Claudia Page of Ojo Ajo, and their fine storage garlic will be available for most of the winter and spring.

There are winter squash, Winesap apples and poms in storage that will get us through for the next couple or few months.

We also have our staple, White Mountain potatoes, certified organic and in addition to being available to us, they are shipped all over the country.  San Luis Valley potatoes are rivals to the famous Idaho spuds, although not as well known.

There are just a few storage onions, grown at Mesa Top. That is a shortcoming that I wish we had been able to avoid.  In future years the CSA will work to assure a supply of onions and also other roots crops from fall harvest and for winter distribution.

This weeks share includes staples from the list above:  Gemini carrots, Agricultura salad, and Ojo garlic.  Along with them we have several surprises!  Del Valle pecans for baking, Shiraz persimmons, which we will have 2 or 3 times before the end of the year, frozen Shiraz apricots (preserved during the summer), and pie pumpkin, which can be cooked like any other squash if you do not wish to make pumpkin pie!

Membership news: Thank you to the 45 members who have completed our online survey! We are reviewing your responses and preparing a thoughtful report and response to members on the CSA’s progress and on areas for improvement that your comments have helped us to identify and what we will do to address those.

Happy Thanksgiving.  See you on December 2nd!! Thank you for your continued support!

Steve Warshawer

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