Friday, May 13, 2011

Movie review: King Corn

King Corn is documentary about economies of scale in agriculture and food. Two guys, fresh out ouf college, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, take off for Greene, Iowa. Why? To live their dream of growing one acre of corn in order to gain a greater understanding of agriculture and the food production system.
With help from local landowners, they successfully work through every step of raising corn, from seed purchase to harvest. Little do they know, that they will lose $19 dollars in the process...until they applyfor government subsidies, which brings them $21 dollars into the green: a first hand look at our tax dollars at work.

This movie is both entertaining and eye-opening. It investigates the economic benefits and dietary pitfalls of the use of corn as both an animal food and a sweetener. Along the way, their adventure raises questions about the economic and health benefits of our twenty-first century diet, and leaves the audience interested and curious about why we eat what we eat. The one big area in which King Corn falls short is solution proposition. I'm looking forward to watching the sequel, Big River

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alabama Disaster Relief

Thursday, at 3:45 AM, Chris, Ben, and I headed down to Ashville, AL to help with the disaster relief effort. After a few Loca Moca Monsters, we stopped at Chick-fil-a for some chicken biscuits. At 8:00 we arrived at the Boyds. The first people we saw when we got out of the truck were some friends that live 7 miles from us. It was strange to see somebody from home first thing. Anyway, we were redirected to the Crawford place where work was beginning to start for the day. After surveying the damage we went to work with our chainsaws. Log after log, limb after limb, we sawed and stacked until 6:00pm. The crew that was pulling up flooring from the remaining house structure were starting to look tired, so we helped them out until 7:30 when we packed up and hit the road...the road to Steak 'n Shake. Oh, yeah. A few Monsters and many miles later, we arrived home 12:15am...and we crashed.

 The Crawfords house used to sit on this foundation.
 And the chimney fell through the floor

 We also helped the Crawfords neighbor clean up his yard.

 Money doesn't grow on trees, but sheet metal might...

 This is a picture of one ridge of the valley...
 This is a picture of the ridge on the side of the valley most affected by the tornados. Aaron Crawford said this ridge looked like the one in the picture above before the tornado hit.
 He also said that the tornado passed in 45 seconds and was about a mile wide. Incredible.
 Many of the trees had rocks and grass embedded in the trunks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Buying local

This is kind of a stream of consciousness post. I hope it's not too disjointed.

Buying local. This is a subject that is very important to me. It is also important to the survival of my business and the business of any other entrepreneur.

In this day and age, many Americans do not have an appreciation, or even an understanding, of the local economy. “Cheapest is best” tends to be the motto of the multitudes. This is what I call the Stuffmart [industrial] mindset.

To state it simply, shopping at Stuffmart kills small businesses.

Would it not be better to drink one $8 gallon of milk from a local, honest, trustworthy farmer and keep him in business then drink two $4 gallons of milk, full of rBGH from a statist, small-business-killing corporation?

With Monsoonto monopolizing the corn trade and corporations selling foods chock-full of genetically modified, high-fructose corn syrup, pretty soon US citizens will be hard pressed to buy decent, wholesome food.

We Americans often have our priorities out of line. We spend a good deal more than we ought on entertainment and squeeze the food budget to come up with the difference. One of my friends toured Europe a few years ago with a group researching local food. Many of the people they interviewed claimed that they would be ashamed to pay their farmer less than $5 a dozen for eggs. (Most Americans would riot if they had to pay more than $1.99.) They get that crossing jelly-fish and corn is not a good idea. They value the long term benefits of eating quality produce.

The low prices at Stuffmart are misleading. They are selling produce for less than how much it costs to grow it. How can they do that? Government subsidies...that's right...our tax money.


Jake is a farmer who raises beef. Dan, the local chicken grower, always buys his beef from Jake. Kyle, the local dairyman buys his chicken from Dan. Kyle's neighbor has a electrical company, Lovelace & Sons, that Jake uses to do all of his wiring jobs in his house, barns, shop, etc. Frankie Lovelace has a fleet of electrical trucks that are serviced by Baits' Garage. Mr. Baits buys his milk from Kyle.

Currency travel goes something like: Lovelace>Mr. Baits>Kyle>Dan>Jake>Lovelace [Ta-da]

Here is how it happens in the US:

Jake is a farmer who raises beef. Jake buys all of his equipment from Mr. King, the local farm equipment dealer....who buys his beef at Stuffmart because it is only $2.99/lb. Stuffmart continues to buy produce from Mexico and undersell the small American farmers and put them out of business. He “can't afford” to buy local beef. Jake goes out of business and no longer buys Mr. Kings equipment. Mr. King takes government subsidies [paid for by Jake, Dan, Kyle, Lovelace, & Baits in various taxes *sad trombone: wah wah wah waaaahhhhhh*]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quick update

I have several ideas for actual blog posts jostling around in my head and no time to write/upload them due to the fact that I have been swamped with work on and off the farm, *no way*, so this will have to do for now.

Possible future topics:
Buy-local Philosophy
Composting *Feels the readers' excitement. woo.*
Timber Framing: multi-generational agrarianism
Rotational Grazing
100% Grass-fed Dairying
Milk Stanchions

Stay tuned, because I will likely scrap all of these topics and blog about something totally different.

Anyhow, here is what's been going on in the life of this farmer:

  1. Garden prep: tilling, compost hauling, soil blocks.
  2. House construction: trim, siding, caulking *oh yeah* 
  3. Timber frame construction: cutting, raising
  4. Disassembling timber frame "temporary" bracing: Ring-shank nails + seasoned white oak = disaster.
  5. Cross fencing dairy pasture: hopefully this will maximize chore efficiency
  6. Cleaning up the shop: still looks like a tool-bomb went off.
  7. Getting over a broken finger and shoulder injury: *figures*
  8. Training Hoss...the ever loyal but sometimes pesky Great Pyrenees
On the agenda for tomorrow and the next day is....dun dun dun electrical work.

I guess that's a wrap.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Maple syrup - evaporating

Raw maple sap looks like water and tastes slightly sweet. Boiling it is necessary to evaporate the water content and increase the sugar concentration. The use of a wood fire is ideal because it gives the syrup a slightly smokey flavor.

In Middle Tennessee, it takes approximately 50 gallons of raw sap to make 1 gallon of finished syrup.

Making Syrup from the sap

In a nutshell: build a fire and find a pot.  Not mom's nice cookware. Trust me, that goes over like a lead balloon. I use an old stainless pressure canner to evaporate my sap. Add sap to pot. Do not fill the pan/pot completely or it will boil over. The more violent the boil, the faster the water evaporates. If foaming occurs, skim it off with a fine strainer. Continually add more sap as it evaporates. Carefully monitor the syrup, never letting the level of the liquid get below 1.5". If it gets any lower it will scorch.

Finishing the syrup
When you are ready to finish the syrup (basically when you run out of sap), stop adding sap, and continue the evaporation process until the liquid is boiling at a temperature of 106 degrees Celsius (or 6 degrees over boiling point in your location). We usually finish the syrup over the stove because it is easier to control the heat. Finishing the syrup to the correct temperature is critical for the syrup to achieve optimum viscosity.

Evaporators don't have to be fancy. Just a fire and a pot will work. Here are some pictures of my current cinder-block evaporator prototype:

 "Right. Riiiiight...."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Maple syrup - tapping

" cant make maple syrup in Middle's not cold enough."

Oh, but it is. There is nothing like homemade maple syrup from your own trees. Not only does it have an awesome flavor, but making it is a very enjoyable, easy process.
Where to start?
Identifying the trees is as good a place as any. Sugar maples, silver maples, and red maples may all be tapped as long as they are at least 1.5 feet in diameter. Sugar maples are ideal because their sap contains the highest concentration of sugar. Yeah, I know, right? The higher sugar content, the less it has to be boiled down.
When to tap:
We tap our trees in February and collect sap until early March. Maple sap flows after a hard freeze, followed by a temperature swing up into the 40 degree range. The sap flow will cease when the temperature does not rise above freezing during the day or drop below freezing at night.
  • 1/2" aluminum conduit
  • angle grinder or hacksaw
  • 5gal. buckets with lids
  • nails
  • hammer
  • 5/8" auger bit
  • cordless drill
Tapping the tree:

Use an angle grinder (or hacksaw) to cut the 1/2" conduit into 5" lengths. These are called spiels.
Using a 5/8" drill bit, drill a hole in the top of the buckets.

Drill a hole 1.5-2" inches into the tree using a 5/8" auger bit,
. The hole should be bored about 4 feet above the ground and at a slight upward angle .

Insert a spiel into the hole and tap it in at least 1" making sure it is a very snug fit. If it is too loose, the sap will leak out around the spiel and not be collected in the bucket, but if it is too tight, it will split the tree.

Push the hole in the bucket over the spiel. Then drive a nail into the tree for the handle of the bucket to hang upon.
If the tree is larger than 24" in diameter, it can support 2 taps.

Voila! Now the sap will drip into the buckets and be ready for collection and evaporation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rose Colored Glasses

Farmer Jake got up at 4:45am one summer morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to skip down the sunny, tree-lined driveway, and fetch Daphne the sweet milk cow. [Farmer Jake actually crawled out of bed with his eyes all puffy, he and stumbled all the way down to the barn in the dark before he realized he left the milk bucket at the house] Daphne moo'd for joy and skipped to the barn with Farmer Jake. [Daphne actually had a long night and didn't feel like walking to the barn, so Farmer Jake pushed her all the way] Farmer Jake patiently brushed Daphne to make her furry back all glossy [and get off the cow patty she managed to get on her side, which got the brush so nasty it had to be washed before continuing] Within minutes he had a full bucket of nice cold milk. [well he would have gotten some milk if the calf hadn't gotten into Daphne's pasture...but the milk would have been warm. Oh, and, turns out, he wasted 10 minutes going to get the milk bucket he didn't need] True story. After a filling breakfast of sausage, bacon, country ham, biscuits, toast, orange juice, and coffee [oatmeal: quick and cheap] he saunters out to pick the strawberries. 'Nother story for 'nother time.

Take off the rose colored glasses. Please. Farming is hard. Especially if it is not a hobby but an bona fide business. It's not all about sitting in a rocking chair watching the corn grow, or taking a nap under the shade tree. There is always a huge list of things that need to be done.

Don't get me wrong. We take some time to do fun stuff, and I love farming. I love farm life. What other occupation do you get to experience God's creation more? Watching a calf grow or seeds germinate is pure awesomeness. Sure, there is a lot of nitty-gritty, downright hard work, but it's worth it. It's not what I really expected five years ago, though. I had Rose Glasses Syndrome for a while there, too. I think everybody does to some extent.

Just to solidify what I just said...I was typing this blog entry while boiling down maple syrup last night (next post) at 3:30am (I had started boiling it at 5:30pm). I checked on the fire and the syrup needed to boil for about 5 more minutes. Great. Just enough time to finish my blogging! I woke up at 4:00am with my MacBook still open in my lap. Panic struck. *Kronk Voice:* "*gasp*My maple sap!" To make a long story short, I burnt 8 hrs. worth of work...proly at least a gallon of finished product. When I went outside it was foaming/bubbling candy-like out of the pot. This morning I had the uber pleasant chore of cleaning candied charcoal off the pot. It's not the end of the world, though. Life will march on, and I am determined to enjoy every step of the way...mostly.