Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hot August Days!

We increased the amount of land we are farming this year.  It was quite a process.  We laid down almost 1000 feet of 1 inch pipe to get water to this new growing area this spring.  Last year, we experimented with a small run of drip tape on top of the soil and knew it worked well.  This method of irrigation conserves water and is used in as a tool in developing countries.  How fun for American agriculture to learn from how they do it in India! As with any new endeavor, the problems seemed to pile up.  And they are never what you anticipate!  But, all is going well now!  And these sure are some hot August days!  Here is the fruit of that labor - a new ~1/3 acre plot of vegetables.  Enjoy the pictures!

Looking at rows of corn, cucumbers, and beets

Rows of tomatoes, kale, and cabbages

Cabbage up close!

Lactinato Kale

Basil - and a peek at our drip tape that runs down each row

Swiss Chard next to Beets

One last picture of a portion of the field

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Farm Fresh Eggs!

Our place has been home to chickens for many years.  Probably more years than any other animal.  When we first bought our acreage in 1999, we had no outbuildings.  Gradually my husband built all of our sheds and barns with his own hands - using many recycled materials.  The chicken coop was no exception.  

Previous owners left us a concrete pad.  It was a small rectangle shape probably used underneath a dog kennel.  My husband looked at it and decided to turn it into a chicken coop.  He extended the concrete pad and built a beautiful chicken coop on top of it.  

If you couldn't see the outdoor chicken run, you may mistake the chicken coop for a garden shed or kid's play house.  It is framed with 2X4 construction, has insulation in the walls, vinyl siding (removed from Grandma's house), a window (removed from our house), and roofing, and ventilation under the eaves. 
Our Chicken Coop

 In the picture to the left, you can see many of these features, plus our less than ideal electrical set up to run our electric fence charger and water tank heaters...  We lost one batch of chickens to a dog breaking through the screened window.  The window is now covered in a chicken wire frame that seems to work and hold up well.  It is hard to see in the picture, but we also had to screen our under eave venting to keep out small birds.  Every few years, the birds discover a hole in the screening and 20 or more small birds will be inside the coop eating the chicken food.  We shoo them out and repair the screening.

A Young Chicken Catching a Ride
Our chickens seem to do well inside the coop even during cold winter temperatures.  We are also particular about our breed selection.  We like Orpingtons, Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds (or whites), Americaunas (actually Easter Eggers since they don't meet all the breed characteristics), and Barred Rocks (Plymouth Rock). These breeds don't seem to mind the colder temperatures.

We use supplemental light during the winter months to give our hens the recommended 14 hours of daylight.  A great way to provide this is by using a outdoor Christmas light timer.  They are programmed to come on at dusk for the number of hours you determine by turning the dial.  We check day length online and adjust the timer as needed every few weeks.

Statistically, most egg laying is completed for the day by 10am.  Around lunchtime or early afternoon we let the chickens out of their pen and attached chicken run to free range.  They put themselves back into the coop once darkness falls.  We close them in for the night around 8-9pm to keep them safe from predators.
Our Farm Fresh Eggs
The end result is happy chickens and lots of eggs!  We collect our eggs once a day (more often in colder temperatures).  One of our youngest son's chores is to gather the chicken eggs.  I wash and sort the eggs.  Our oldest son will candle any questionable eggs for me using a dark room and led flashlight.  This is by far his favorite chore!  Then after the eggs dry I will package them into egg cartons for sale.  Currently, you can purchase our farm fresh eggs at the Main Market Coop in downtown Spokane.  We deliver eggs to the coop on Tuesday afternoons and I hear they sell out fast!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chocolate Anyone?

Christmas is almost here!  Our Christmas tree is up and covered with lights, garland, and ornaments arranged entirely by our two sons.  Even though we don't have snow on the ground right now, the anticipation of Christmas begins to build.  There is just something about snow on the ground for Christmas, isn't there?

In preparation for Christmas stockings, most people including me shop for candy.  It just wouldn't be Christmas without chocolate, would it?  However, there is a dark side to the chocolate that many of us will be purchasing over the next few weeks.  Much of the chocolate that we consume is harvested and processed by young kids who are victims of child labor.

Now there is a lot of misunderstanding about what child labor is and what it isn't.  My own kids have almost an hour of chores they must do every day.  Even though some people may see this work as excessive for kids, it does not fall under the definition of child labor.  According to Wikipedia child labor is when a child between 4-14 (over 14 is considered an adult and kids under 4 are typically not working yet) who is engaged in:

work that "is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; by obliging them to leave school prematurely; or by requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work."[7] 

Not all work that children do is child labor. Work done that is not detrimental to children’s health, development or schooling is beneficial because it allows children to develop skills, gain experience and prepare them for future positions;[7] these are not considered child labor.[7]

The worst forms of child labor, related to cocoa production, are using children as slaves or in debt bondagetrafficking them, and forcing them to do hazardous work,[8][9] which includes using dangerous machinery or tools, manually transporting heavy loads, working with hazardous agents or working long hours.[9]

When we give our children chores to do, we are allowing our children to develop skills and gain experience to prepare them for adult life.  We don't assign our kids so much work that they are unable to attend school because of their work schedule.  The work we give them doesn't take priority over their school attendance.  And, of course we for sure don't go kidnap kids from a neighboring city to do our work for (this is one aspect of human trafficking).

Does this use of child/forced labor really exist?  I think so.  Here are a few resources to view so you can decide for yourself

  • A CNN report in January 2012 documenting the use of child slave labor in chocolate production.  
  • From an article from 2010:  Link to full article here.  Quote shown below:
"ADM and NestlĂ© are both currently involved in a pending lawsuit concerning child trafficking and forced labour launched in 2005 by two human rights organizations, Global Exchange and the International Labor Rights Fund. The suit, filed on behalf of four Malian citizens, accuses the companies of benefiting from child slave labour at cocoa bean plantations in Cote d’Ivoire"

  • Hershey was just sued for alleged child slave labor use in its chocolate.  The complaint alleges that the Board of Directors has know for 11 years of child slave labor use.
  • Another article about the November 2012 lawsuit against Hershey which includes this quote from the complaint that Hershey:  “has knowingly failed to fulfill its promises. Instead, Hershey has continued to produce and sell chocolate that is the fruit of child and forced labor. If the company has knowingly supported or exploited the use of child or forced labor in Ghana or the Ivory Coast, Hershey itself has acted unlawfully or aided and abetted unlawful conduct.”

So, how do you know if the chocolate you bought is harvested or processed using child labor?  The answer is:     You can look up a company at Free2Work and see if they are graded (not all companies are) on their policies and practices for child/forced labor use.  This site also includes articles about successes such as Cadbury's deal they signed with cocoa farmers including FairTrade Certification and the resulting improvements to life in cocoa villages.  You only know for sure that the chocolate is free from child/forced labor if it is Certified by Fair Trade.

Certified chocolate will cost more than the bags of candy on sale at the grocery store.  With my economics background, I am comfortable arguing that American demand for cheap chocolate keeps child labor in place.  To pay all workers requires raising prices of the end product.  Over the past few years prices for Fair Trade and Certified Organic chocolate have dropped.  But, I would never expect Certified chocolate to ever be the cheapest option available.  Instead, I encourage you to buy less chocolate and buy Certified chocolate instead.

Why would a Spokane, Washington farm family who doesn't even grow cocoa beans even care about this?  Well, we are not living in an isolated world anymore and we can see and hear what happens all across the world in a matter of seconds.  A generation ago this information would have taken months to get to us via a letter on a ship.  There was no "seeing with your own eyes" through video cameras that record images, investigative reporting, and the internet.  Once we know of oppression, we believe that we have a responsibility to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and release prisoners from darkness.  While we can't travel to this area and physically make these changes.  But, we can speak loudly through how we spend our money and time.  I invite you to join me in having a bite of Fair Trade chocolate this cold winter!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cattle Escapades

Well, I must say that cows are entertainment.  Just ask my facebook friends who have already heard most of these stories.  We purchased two cow-calf pairs this fall.  Although my husband and I both grew up with cattle, we have never intentionally owned a cow in our adult lives.  We have owned heifers (female cattle that have not had a baby calf) and steers ("fixed" males)  that we fed until butchering weight then sold and ate the meet a few weeks later.
2008 Steer Crop
We did own one cow for a week or so.  That was an oops.  We were feeding a heifer until she reached butchering weight.  One morning as my husband left for work, he noticed that she was starting to calve.  He drove back to the house to tell me to watch her that day.  Later that evening she had a grey heifer calf.  We sold the calf to a couple from Idaho who needed a calf to "graft" onto a cow that had lost her own calf.  The cow was butchered for meat about a week later.  We though about keeping the cow and calf.  But, we were in the middle of a major remodel of our house where we had to completely replace our roof; trusses and all!  We were doing all the work ourselves and could barely keep up with the required work.  A cow and calf were out of the question!
Our Boys with the Grey Calf in 2009

You see, cows are a year-round commitment.  They need vaccinations.  They eat a lot of feed.  They have to be bred to a bull or artificially inseminated.  They have babies yearly and introduce the owner to newborn calf and possible calving difficulties.  They are harder on our fences.  It seems as though they can smell when the electric fence is off.  When we raise cattle for butchering (the technical name is "back-grounding") we only own them for around 6 months.  When we have cows, it becomes more complicated.

So, we jumped into the world of complicated this September.  And, it has not been with escapades.  To begin with, we noticed that our seemingly docile two cows were really one docile cow and one angry, snotty cow.  Darla is docile.  Oreo is an angry snot.  We first noticed this when we helped the previous owner and vet give Brucellosis vaccinations to the calves.  Oreo rolled her eyes back until the whites showed, lowered her head, and almost sent the vet technician airborne    My husband and I determined to keep a respectable distance from her and wished we we had noticed her "condition" before purchasing her.

Our cows and calves in 2012.  
As we loaded the cows and their calves up to bring them home, Oreo kicked my husband in the shin as she passed by.  He still has a bump on his leg from her kick two months later.  At home, I won't let the kids into the cattle pen without an adult.  I won't be in there without something to smack Oreo with if needed.

Manure present from Oreo.

It didn't take long.  After being home about four weeks, Oreo decided I was in the way of her food.  She backed me into a corner and rolled her eyes back and began kicking at me.  I fended her off with a small grain bucket becoming splattered with fresh wet manure in the process.  Thank God I had a bucket and no kids with me!

All was calm for a couple weeks until Oreo decided to try to eat the grain set aside for the calves.  We though she wasn't capable of reaching it.  But, somehow she got her massive head through a 7 inch opening. Her head went in, but was not coming out.  Oreo was stuck between a 2X6 board and the barn wall.  I tried getting her to turn her head and drop it down low - the way she got in to start with.  But, she was not having that.  Instead she threw her head around showering everything around her with snot and saliva.  Since she was wedged against the barn wall, I figured she could not flip herself over and suffocate, so she stayed stuck until my husband got home from work.
The infamous Oreo aka angry snotty cow.

Forty-five minutes, a crowbar, a piece of wood, and some nails later we had Oreo free.  My husband removed a section of the barn wall structure to allow enough room for Oreo to get her head free.  She still had to twist her head to be free.  It took prying her head up with another 2X6 temporarily nailed in place to give my husband the help he needed to twist her hear and lift it the final foot to freedom.  Needless to say, that area of the barn is no longer a favorite for Oreo, even though it is the location where I feed grain.

Darla is such a sweet cow with a nice large and tame heifer calf.  Our plan now is to eat Oreo for meat and use Darla and her calf as the base of any herd of cattle at our place.  Between our kids and location close to the city of Spokane, we can't risk ornery animals like Oreo at our place.  So enjoy the exciting cattle stories for now.  I am expecting my story bank will dry out once Oreo leaves.  You are welcome to have a good bbq'd beek steak with us at our place though!