here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
Aldo Leopold

28 December 2005

To Ponder on the Way Out The Door...

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

T. Roosevelt

"Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

22 December 2005

Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being

Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being by Victor Hanson

Classics and military history scholar Victor Hanson is a professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His family farm includes 40 acres of seedless grapes grown for raisins. Hanson hopes his son, William, will succeed him in tending the farm.

"I believe there is an old answer for every new problem, that wise whispers of the past are with us to assure us that… we are not alone." Morning Edition, December 19, 2005 ·

I believe we are not alone.Even if I am on the other side of the world from the farmhouse I live in, I still dream of the ancient vines out the window, and the shed out back that my grandfather's father built in 1870 with eucalyptus trunks. As long as I can recreate these images, I never quite leave home. I don't think farming in the same place for six generations is a dead weight that keeps you shackled, doing the identical thing year in and year out. Instead, it is a rare link to others before me, who pruned the same vines and painted the same barn that I have. If those in this house survived the Panic of 1893 or the Great Depression, or bathed with cold water and used an outhouse, then surely I know I can weather high gas prices. I believe that all of us need some grounding in our modern world of constant moving, buying, selling, meeting and leaving. Some find constancy in religion. Others lean on friends or community for permanence. But we need some daily signposts that we are not novel, not better, not worse from those who came before us.

For me, this house, this farm, these ancient vines are those roots. Although I came into this world alone and will leave alone, I am not alone.

There are ghosts of dozens of conversations in the hallways, stories I remember about buying new plows that now rust in the barnyard and ruined crops from the same vines that we are now harvesting.

I believe all of us are natural links in a long chain of being, and that I need to know what time of day it is, what season is coming, whether the wind is blowing north or from the east, and if the moon is still full tomorrow night, just as the farmers who came before me did.

The physical world around us constantly changes, but human nature does not. We must struggle in our brief existence to find some transcendent meaning during reoccurring heartbreak and disappointment and so find solace in the knowledge that our ancestors have all gone through this before.

You may find all that all too intrusive, living with the past as present. I find it exhilarating. I believe there is an old answer for every new problem, that wise whispers of the past are with us to assure us that if we just listen and remember, we are not alone; we have been here before.

20 December 2005

Luke's Way -Coda

The last day of deer season for me was a Monday. Luke and Rob left Sunday morning for Kentucky, and I decided Sunday evening to get out for just a few hours on the last day. I was still basking in the afterglow of the memorable squirrel hunt turned deer hunt and feeling relieved and thankful that the weekend was a success for Luke, and for me also. I once again awoke before dawn, but more gladly than in days past, moving in that mode of savoring the last day of something, be it a vacation, a season like summer, or whatever one looks forward to for longer than one can actually enjoy. I was clearly savoring the last day of deer season. Putting on my orange coat, which thankfully was becoming just slightly less jarring in its vividness. Grabbing a handful of slug shells out of the cigar box, picking up the old deer gun. It occurred to me that I might want to “keep my luck” and not switch guns, owing to the recent success of the “magical gun of mystery,” but I scoffed at my hunting mysticism and superstition and reminded myself that this was just a couple of hours on the last day. So I settled on the bolt action WWI relic and headed out the door.

My destination was the O’Connor tree stand, not 50 yards from where the gray doe came to rest Saturday. It is a comfortable stand, easy to get to quickly in the snow, and over the years, incredibly productive, or so I had been told. To date I found it to be excellent for ground squirrel observation.

As I settled in I took my habitual deep breaths and closed my eyes, listening for a few minutes. It was beautifully quiet. Even more snow had fallen in the night. A Great Horned Owl announced the end of his shift, and a gentle breeze made the tree sway slowly. I opened my eyes and there was a bit more daylight. The trees looked like they had been lightly moistened and dipped into confectioners sugar, creating a fantasy quality in the gully where one might expect to be visited by the Sugar Plum Fairy or Old Saint Nick at any moment. I chuckled at this thought, preferring rather a gift of a different sort on this last morning of deer season.

Yet, I was aware of my inner voice encouraging me to avoid being greedy, especially as Christmas approached. So I rested my mind on the gift I had been given by Luke, by hunting Luke’s way. I replayed the dinner conversation where Luke innocently rescued me from wallowing in self-pity, a perfectly ridiculous waste of emotion, especially during hunting season. Turning my head slightly, I scanned the ridge top where we had stood, looking down at the fleeing doe. Slowly turning my head still further, exaggerating deliberateness, I surveyed the area where she was bedded, where she began her ascent up the far ridge, and where she fell. And then I froze.

Simultaneously I saw motion in the extreme periphery to my right and heard twigs snapping. “Too loud and too cold for the ground squirrels” I thought. The problem was, due to my reminiscent rubber-necking a moment ago, I was now in need of a more than 180 degree adjustment of my field of view. I began the super slow revolution of my head upon its axis of my slightly cramped neck. Gradually, in the periphery of my left eye, one doe appeared, then three, then five then more than I could easily count. They were moving quickly from left to right. I was thinking to myself, “Well now, what an embarrassment of riches…which one shall I concentrate upon?” Just as I was about to raise my gun, the does seemed to hear something behind them, which caused a domino effect of snorting and tail and ear twitching. They began to move further to my right at a trot, looking as if they might slip over the little ridge to the west without offering me much of a shot, especially if I didn’t hurry. And then I saw two more deer coming fast out of some brambles from the left, two that had been lagging behind the larger groups of does apparently.

The lead deer seemed smallish, the second appearing larger, but her head has concealed behind the first. “Ok” I thought “slowly raise the gun, just wait for them to pass into your field of fire, and take the second deer.” I raised the gun, aware of a faint sound of fabric rubbing. I remember hearing a belch-like grunt and thinking “Strange…that second doe just burped” and then feeling like I might have been injected with a few cc’s of straight caffeine intravenously. At about the same moment, all of the moisture previously existing in my throat and mouth was forced as if by a press directly out of the pores in my hands, my heart rate spiked like the NASDAQ at the birth of the phrase “dot com” and, oddly, I was aware of the sound an overloaded transistor makes before exploding, that high pitched note that keeps getting higher. All of this because I was witnessing a natural history miracle; the belching trailing doe raised her head and became a magnificent nine point buck before my very eyes.

The miracle buck was trailing the doe in heat with a purpose, and they were moving quickly. Everything was moving quickly, and paradoxically, ever so slowly. As I watched the buck extend his neck and head to better understand the doe’s tail, it was as if I had been given wildlife footage and was being afforded an opportunity to leisurely observe the film frame by frame. In this frame, hmm, interesting, look at that moss hanging of off those antlers. In the next, oh, I see, they were down in the little bog…look at all of that mucky mud on her and all that pond scum and vegetation on his front legs. In the next frame, well, extraordinary, those antler beams look thick as axe handles from the rear view. And then the film was speeded up, fast forward style as I became aware that I could no longer see the doe and would quickly lose sight of the buck. He was escaping me after passing at twenty yards. For some still unknown reason, I whistled, as if hailing a taxi, and then said “Hey!” The buck pulled up short, and stood stock still for a second or two. I was aware that if I clenched my jaw any harder I would break a molar. He turned his head to the right, eliminating the back of the skull shot I had just set up, but giving me a fair neck shot if I could readjust quickly. I re-targeted none too smoothly, in a fast, overly law enforcement-esque fashion, saw the red dot settle in, and touched the trigger. At the report of the gun, the miracle buck went directly down, and I remember exhaling, or was it inhaling, as if I had nearly drowned but made the surface at the last second. The sound of my gasp startled me more than the report of the gun. The powdered sugar on the small trees where the buck now lay was sliding off of the branches and sprinkling down over the animal’s massive head and antlers.

The buck unofficially “green-scored” darn close to 140, which is big news for me and my neighbors, but probably won’t make the local papers, and surely won’t make the big book. Yet sitting here now, basking in the magic of my family at Christmas and thinking back to the fairy dust sprinkling on the miracle buck’s head, I know the real story. I know that the deer campaign I set out upon on opening day, the “year of the buck” obsession that drove me to measuring the enjoyment of my hunts by the presence or lack of quantitative accomplishments and achievements, wasn’t hunting. I learned that taking a young person out to have an adventure, or sharing the woods and waters with a friend, or that taking “me” and my need for success out of the equation and putting the focus on relationships with companions, with the game, the worthy quarry, and with all that is wild or desires to be, is hunting. I know that the way of hunting, the ways of predator and prey, are paths sometimes hidden from us. And I know that Luke’s way, the young boy’s way of noticing but perhaps not judging, is a good way to avoid becoming lost while on these paths. I know that in hunting, as in life, things don’t always go our way. And that’s okay

08 December 2005

Luke's Way Part 4

My name was called kneeling under that oak tree looking at squirrel sign with Luke and his father. Rob later said my expression was really like I, but nobody else, heard perhaps my wife calling my name or the phone ringing. Luke asked �What?� and I put my finger to my lips. I was suddenly very alert, but still unsure why, or what called me. We kneeled silently together for a moment, and I remember how beautifully quiet it was, and how lovely the faint rustling of the dead oak leaves still on the branches sounded. Luke and Rob were looking at me intently, like I was either going to tell a joke punch line or break some bad news. Instead, I smiled and slowly, deliberately, removed the three bird shot shells from the �magical gun of mystery�, and replaced them with three deer slugs. I wasn�t sure why.

From the squirrel�s vantage point high in the swaying branches of the oak tree, this is what he saw. Directly below him, at the base of his tree on the ridge, were three humans with guns, nothing unusual this time of the year, crouching, looking at his acorn peelings and footprints, pointing here and there. The squirrel barked warnings to them, declaring his rights to privacy and property so that they will leave the place where he has buried a nut or two. Far below the squirrel, down in the ravine, in the blackberry bramble on the far side of the creek, rest three does, their ears twitching, nostrils flaring, puzzling out mixed signals on the wind. They are laying low in the snow where they often seek refuge, riding out the winter weather in the shelter of the gully. The humans with guns often walk past them where they lay quietly. This day they snort nervously, aware of a predator, of impending danger. The sounds and smells are strong, though intermittent. They decide to depart quickly.

Meanwhile, on the ridge the squirrel sees the human with the orange coat rise and motion to the other two to follow him. The little one follows next, followed by the one with no hat. The squirrel turns his gaze again to the deer, now standing up in the snow, twitching their tails and snorting. One is big and gray, one is slightly smaller and more tan, and one is younger and tan colored. Looking back at the humans, the squirrel sees that they are walking towards the edge of the ravine, to a clear spot recently logged. The deer are moving now toward a switchback trail up the far side of the ravine, running. The humans have reached the edge of the ravine. The little one is pointing at the running deer and the one in the orange coat is snapping his gun up to his cheek. Bang! The squirrel drops his nut and dives into his tree home, where he is greeted by the noisy chatter of his tree mates.

I shot three times, the �magical gun of mystery� performing flawlessly for once. I lowered the gun and it registered that I had just seen deer and shot at them. I heard a squirrel chattering. On my left I heard Rob say, �You got �im,� incredulously. �We got a deer!� Luke exclaimed. At first I couldn�t see anything. We were standing side by side by side on the ridge in the fading light as the snow fell. Then I could see a big gray doe laying on the deer trail across the creek about 120 yards down and away. She was still. Two other deer were running up the trail, pausing for a moment looking back, cresting the rim and bounding out of the gorge and out of sight.

I turned my head and looked at Rob and Luke, who were smiling. �I am going to the deer,� I said. �Would you gentleman mind keeping your eye on it from here in case she gets up, or I can�t see her from down there in the thick stuff? I�ll give you a shout to come down when I get to her.� We all agreed to the plan, and as I excitedly and hurriedly slid down on my backside down the snowy ravine (which I must remember to do again as it was quite exhilarating!), I could hear Luke speaking with exuberance to his father. While chambering a few shells in case the deer was not finished, I resolved then to do all I could to help Luke own this hunt.

As I feared, it was difficult to see anything in the tall brambles, and slowly I picked my way through the brush. I called to Luke, �Luke, can you still see her? Am I getting close?� Simultaneously, both Rob and Luke answered. Luke said �Yep, you�re almost there,� while Rob said �Keep going, a little to your right.� Then, after a few more steps, I saw the gray fur and white tail. When I got to her, she was quite still and dead. I called for Luke and Rob to come down, and emptied the shells from my gun. I leaned the gun in a low fork of a tree, and knelt down to my downed deer. I felt for her wound and finally found an entrance and exit wound in the neck, where the lead slug had severed her spine. She died almost instantly. No wonder she disappeared from view so quickly, which also better explained my instinctive second two shots at the other bigger deer.

Luke and Rob came up behind me and I could hear Luke saying �Wow, it�s bigger than I thought.� I was feeling her fur, and I invited Luke to check it out. It was then that I felt that �performance pressure� ease away from me, and a feeling of immense gratitude came over me. I realized how fortunate we all were to experience this, in this unique way, together. I became aware of how fortunate I was to be hunting in such a beautiful place that happened to be my back yard. And it occurred to me to impress upon Luke the importance of gratitude versus gloating when we have the good fortune of our hunt including a kill. I looked at Rob, and he communicated without words his deference in this situation, which is a compliment to another, as any father knows. I said �Can I get serious for a minute with Luke?� Rob said �Yes, of course.� So I said to Luke, �Remember how I said in hunting, as in life, things don�t always go our way? Well, today they went your way Luke, and my way too. We killed a deer. Now, we must be thankful for this deer, for this life we have taken. We don�t have to do anything fancy, we should just be quiet for a minute and think about this beautiful deer in this beautiful place and be thankful.� After a few moments as we knelt around this gray doe in the snow, giving thanks how we each saw fit, I heard a squirrel�s chatter from the big oak tree up on the ridge. I looked at Luke. �Kind of a strange squirrel hunt, huh Luke?� He had a shy look, turned his head away. �Yeah� he said, sort of laughing.

I asked Rob to go up to the house and get my butchering equipment and some baling twine from the sheep barn while Luke and I found a small lodge pole. While we waited for Rob�s return, we sat on a log and had target practice with the .22 on an old tree trunk that had gnarls in it that looked like the rings of a target paper with a bull�s eye. Luke showed that he was a pretty good shot. We ran out of rounds for the .22 just as Rob appeared up on the ridge. As he was picking his way down to us in the fading winter afternoon light, Luke said �This is the best hunting trip I have ever been on.�
�Sorry we didn�t get you a squirrel� I said.
�Well, getting a deer is pretty good too� he replied.
�Yes,� I said, �because deer are pretty smart.�
We laughed as we stood to greet Rob, having returned from his mission.

Working quickly, we had the deer field dressed before dark, and we hung it from the lodge pole just like in the Davy Crocket books I read when I was a kid. Rob took the front, I took the rear, and the successful hunting party labored under the load of the heavy doe up the path to the top of the ridge as darkness fell. As we approached the farmhouse, we could see the warm yellow lights of the windows and we could all imagine the cheery fires and food, fun, and family waiting for us inside. My children and wife, as well as Rob�s wife and daughter were waiting at the door for us when we returned, and I couldn�t help thinking I was in a Currier and Ives dream state, or that Norman Rockwell would be sitting with his easel in the yard.

So, despite not having shot a trophy buck, my deer drought ended on a happier than could have been expected note. From what I hear, Luke is still telling his New York deer hunting tale. I never told Rob about how preposterous it was that an instinctual snap shot on a running deer at over one hundred yards down hill in bad light with a dubious gun shooting 2 � shells through a stuck poly choke last set for ducks with two witnesses resulting in an instant kill neck shot was. That it was unbelievably lucky, never repeatable, I mean. Not that it wasn�t meant to be. I have told Rob that the hunt I shared with he and his son was one of the most memorable hunts, if not moments, of my life. I am hoping Luke will be willing to go after squirrels with me on my next trip for Moose in Maine or Elk in the Rockies. I hope that in life, as in hunting, things will continue to go Luke�s way.

30 November 2005

Luke's Way Part 3

Luke is an interesting young fellow, thoughtful, sincere, and comical in an off-the-wall kind of way. Luke looked at his father and seeing no sign to maintain silence, furrowed his brow and declared �Huh. Well, deer are pretty smart.� Never truer words were spoken. The boy had just delivered a simple yet profound nugget of truth to me in taking the attention off of myself and my misery and my woe-is-me deer-less pity party and putting the focus squarely where it belonged, on the honorable and magnificent quarry I was after and the reality that hunting deer should not be easy. I smiled and laughed a little, and so did Luke and Rob, but uncomfortably. Apparently, I was wearing this all on my sleeve. I needed to remedy the ambiguous tension in the air.

�Luke, in hunting, as in life, things don�t always go our way. Right now, I am a little discouraged because I have put a lot of thought, time, and effort into getting a deer, and I haven�t got one yet. Most everybody I know has gotten at least a doe or two by now, and many have gotten a buck. I guess I have been feeling a little sorry for myself because I haven�t had a fairy tale deer season where I got a trophy buck on the first day. But, like you said, deer are pretty smart, and I will keep trying. I am glad you are here, and we will go squirrel hunting tomorrow morning, and see what we can do. Are you prepared?�

Luke�s eyes got a little wider and his voice a little higher as he listed all of the things he had done in preparation for his hunt. His enthusiasm elated the mood in the room and the rest of the evening was relaxed for the grown ups, and full of anticipation for Luke, who decided to �turn in early� to be ready for the morning hunt. The fires died in the fireplaces, the wine gave out, and conversation waned. We retired with a steady snow falling.

The next morning I did not awake before dawn as was my usual routine, because squirrel hunting need not be that kind of affair. We all ate a leisurely breakfast, carried a little wood for the kitchen fireplace, and drank coffee and hot chocolate. We went scouting for squirrels, did some farm chores, and before we knew it, it was 2:00 PM. I had forgotten how civilized life could be at such a pace, what with the water fowling season and deer season rigors. Finally, according to Luke, we turned our full attention to the squirrel hunt.

We adjourned to the gun room and began dressing for the field, bundling up against the dropping temperatures outside. Luke was going to borrow my .22, and Rob and I each carried 12 gauge shotguns �to help out� Luke. Rob�s gun for the day was a New England Firearms single shot, mine was a FieldMaster pump, named the �magical gun of mystery� in honor of its often idiosyncratic ways, especially in the duck blind. Would it cycle, would it fire? One never knew. I thought I�d give it a run since I had recently cleaned it good. My hope was that this would be a good barn gun, an extra shotgun to have around, used more as a tool than as an instrument of sporting leisure. It was the right gun for the day.

Luke loaded a pocket full of .22 rounds into his hunting coat, and I grabbed a handful of number sevens. �These ought to do the trick for backing Luke up,� I thought, smiling at the remembrance of my first boyhood squirrel which mysteriously had more than one hole in it despite the fact that I only shot my .22 once. My glance skimmed across a wooden cigar box which held my deer hunting slug shells. �Better grab a couple of these, too, just in case,� I said out loud, noticing a definite increase in my optimism levels. Luke grinned at me.

We crunched through the fresh snow past the barns toward the creek ravine. The ridges over looking the ravine are dotted with 100 year old oak trees that are in decline and full of large cavities. They are like housing projects for gray squirrels. We arrived at the biggest of these, which stands guard over the trail that descends the steep banks of the gully. The ravine is gorge-like in places, with depths of up to 70 feet from the ridge to the creek bottom below. One can only see the creek bottom by standing on the very edge of the ravine and peering over the edge. Adding the 100 plus feet of height of the oak trees, the squirrels are afforded quite a vantage point indeed.

On this day, a squirrel was noisily gnawing away at something in the higher branches. We spotted him high above, a silhouette against the gray sky. �Too far, too high� Rob explained to Luke, taking advantage of an opportunity to explain how rifle bullets travel, even .22�s, and how we must anticipate how far past what we shoot at our bullets will fly. We observed the copious squirrel sign on the snow covered ground, and we bent down studying the comings and goings of our quarry. Luke asked about the blurred tracks, and we spoke of the wind, and the snow, and how animals react to severe weather. And then it happened. It was subtle, almost the same feeling you have when you have been in the waiting room at the doctor�s for hours, and have become drowsy and resigned to forever waiting, and then your name is called. It is both startling and no surprise at all.

24 November 2005

Stuck in the Middle

I post this in case some have not seen it...

New York Times
November 23, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor
Stuck in the Middle

THIS Thanksgiving there's something to be really thankful for: more and more Americans - at least 250,000 of them in New York alone this week - are shopping for their turkeys and sweet potatoes at local farmers' markets.

They're doing so because the food is fresher, less processed and generally tastes better than what you'd find in a supermarket. But there are also political and social considerations: supporting small farmers, these shoppers believe, will preserve farmland, reduce the number of industrial farms and help us move away from an agricultural economy that encourages the production of commodities like corn, soy and sugar at the expense of just about everything else.

These people are right. And they're also wrong. The bitter truth is that American agriculture - its land and its immensely complex distribution system - is no longer in the hands of the small farmer. Small farmers and farmers' markets, as much as we want them to, are simply not in the position right now to save American agriculture.

Giant farms won't either, of course. For the most part, these are the farms that grow a single crop or raise large numbers of animals in close confinement. To sustain their unnatural existence, these megafarms, whether they're raising crops or animals, require enormous quantities of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics simply to survive. The result? Pollution, erosion and diseases that spread easily among factory-raised, immune-deficient animals.
Sadly, these farms aren't going away. In a perverse logic that defies nature, a farm needs to get ever larger and more specialized to survive. The number of farms with annual sales of more than $500,000 has increased 23 percent from 1997 to 2002. American farm policy, with a dazzling menu of subsidies, will keep us on this path for the foreseeable future.

The answer to this agricultural puzzle lies somewhere in the middle. Actually, it lies exactly in the middle, with the nation's 350,000 midsize farmers. These farmers, who are too big to sell directly to greenmarkets but too small to compete with highly subsidized industrial farms, cultivate more than 40 percent of our farmland.

Such farmers tend to be highly effective stewards of the land, with intimate knowledge of their farms and their communities. They are small-business owners - not corporations - and have proven records of being interested in protecting not just the economic health of the land, but its ecological health as well.

Unfortunately, these farmers are also on the way out. Midsize farms, with sales of $50,000 to $500,000, are declining rapidly. According to government figures, the number of these farms has declined 14 percent from 1997 to 2002, a net loss of nearly 65,000 farms.

According to Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State, it is no longer hard to imagine that most of the farms of the middle will be gone in another a decade.

Why should we care? Because our ways of farming are intimately linked to the destructive ways we're eating. Think about your local supermarket. There's fresh produce on the perimeter; but venture into the middle aisles and you're surrounded by processed, canned, preserved and frozen foods.

It may appear to be a world of variety, but look closer. The cookies, granola bars, crackers, chips, salad dressings and baby food all have one thing in common: they are made from derivations of corn, soy and sugar. About 70 percent of our agricultural land in the Midwest is devoted to producing these crops.

The farms that produce these single commodities average about 14,000 acres, roughly the size of Manhattan. And the future? Thomas Dorr, under secretary of agriculture for rural affairs, has predicted that 250,000-acre behemoths will dominate agriculture. If they do, the number of farms in Mr. Dorr's home state, Iowa, would drop to about 120 from 89,000.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. "Get big or get out" has been what farmers have been told for decades. And big farms have come with one big benefit: inexpensive food. Americans spend a smaller percentage of their disposable income for food than anyone else in the developed world. But these savings are illusory.

A funny thing happened on the way to our cheap food system. The books were being cooked in a kind of shell game, Enron-style. The real cost of these monocultures were not being properly accounted for: those taxpayer-financed subsidies ($143 billion over the last decade), the unfairness that results when our excess production gets dumped on developing countries that then can't develop their own resources, the environmental effects of pesticide runoff - the list goes on.

Midsize farms have the potential to be profitable without these hidden costs. After all, there's a large, existing market - school systems, hospitals, local grocery chains, food service distributors - for varied, healthier foods. These institutions, because of their size, cannot shop at the farmers' market. Even if they could, there would never be enough volume or consistency to meet their needs.

Midsize farms can meet those needs. They may be caught up in the commodity game right now - trying to expand, trying to focus on single crops - but that's largely because that's where the incentives are. For many of these farms, racing to keep up will be their downfall.
We need to encourage these farms to do what they do best: grow a variety of crops, raise a variety of animals, resist the temptation to grow too much.

How do we do this? By shifting the money. Our government now subsidizes the commodity production of grain - mostly corn and soybeans. We need to pull farmers out of the commodity trap and help them make the transition to growing the kinds of whole foods - fruits and vegetables - that would benefit us all. This is not another subsidy, and it's not welfare. It's seed money for a new frontier (actually, an old frontier) in agriculture.

A small number of midsize farms have already arrived. Niman Ranch with meats, and Organic Valley with milk, are examples of profitable alternatives to factory farms. Large food-service companies too, like Sysco, are responding to their customers' increased desire for products that have a story attached to them by reaching out to midsize farms.

Make no mistake: this change will require us to change our ways. We're going to have to support a diet that contains fewer processed, commodity-based foods. We're going to have to pay more for what we eat. We're going to have to contend with those who question whether it's practical to reduce subsidies for large farmers and food producers. And we're going to have to reward farmers for growing the food we want for our children.

These recommendations may seem bold to the point of audacious. But are they really? After all, what could be more audacious - or contrary to the rural heritage we celebrate this week - then great stretches of our landscape covered with 250,000-acre farms?

Dan Barber is the chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and the creative director of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

17 November 2005

Luke's Way Part 2

�How�s it going?� my freind from Kentucky inquires. �Great� I reply, aware that in that moment I might have wasted the last ounce of contrived optimism I may somehow have still been in possession of, and would be utterly bankrupt of positive thoughts when I get to my stand this afternoon. �What�s up?�

�Well, you know, Luke has been talking about wanting to hunt, and I don�t hunt, so I was wondering if you would take him hunting?� My friend Rob is not an avid outdoorsman, preferring to heap his genius upon more predictable and controllable things than nature, such as computers. I have considered the wisdom of his choices while freezing in my deer stand and have found them to be admirable, especially admirable this deer season.

�Has Luke ever been deer hunting?� I ask.
�Not really. We shot his .22 a few times together, though.�
�At what?� I ask.
�Cans, mostly.�
�See, all of his friends are starting to go hunting with their Dads or uncles, you know, everybody hunts down here.�

�Well, I�d love to see you guys, and I think it would be great to get Luke out hunting. Maybe we could go for squirrels.� I was thinking it might be better to postpone this hunting expedition idea until after deer season was over, so I could finish my languishing campaign in peace. There was only a week to go.

�Were you thinking in a few weeks� I asked?

�Well, we could do it next weekend�� I did the mental math. That would be the last weekend of deer season. But, for goodness sake, I had better at least see a deer by then.

�That will work just fine. Make sure Luke brings warm clothes and good boots. We have snow. Should be great hunting weather.� I can never pass up an opportunity to share the hunting tradition with a youngster. Besides, if I have wrecked my deer karma, maybe this will help.

The days passed by much like the preceding days of deer season, though I did at least get a fleeting glimpse of a doe or two, and even a handsome buck passed by out of range. The weather got colder, the ground squirrels seemed to disappear, and the snow deepened by the time Luke and Rob arrived. Shots were infrequently heard now, and my musings were muffled in the snowy quiet of the winter woods. I heard the dogs barking back up at the house and guessed that my hunt for the afternoon was over, that the Squirrel Hunting Expedition had begun. As I lowered my gun to the ground and climbed out of my tree stand, I heard the alarm chirp of a gray squirrel. I noted his location, and thought �Now don�t you guys all disappear too, Mr. Gray Squirrel.�

I made the hike back to the house quickly. It was easier now that I didn�t carry the back pack loaded with rope and knives and other sundries needed in the event one slew a deer. Now I just carried my gun and a handful of shells. Luke and Rob were standing on the steps, hands on hips, looking at the frozen lake, while my labs entreated the new arrivals to heed their wagging and whining. I felt my spirits lift a little from the heaviness I was beginning to suffer from the battles with self-doubt in the deer campaign.

We entered the house where my wife had a cozy fire going and delicious smells to greet our guests. Both Rob and Luke were immediately under the spell of our little piece of heaven, and by dinner time, Luke was being regaled by stories of �Myself as Great Waterfowl Hunter.� He listened enthusiastically to my tales, and my labs wagged their tales where appropriate. Rob also indulged me and encouraged me to continue with laughter and questions. As I was pouring a wee bit more wine into my glass, Luke deadpanned: �What about the deer?�

Waxing nostalgic about hunting aesthetics is one thing, but it should not be forgotten that hunting has its origins in a fairly straightforward requirement to put meat on the table. Leave it to a child to do so well what most adults have an increasingly more difficult time of. Ask the hard ones. Cut to the chase, get to the bottom line, and don�t equivocate. So there it was, the question laid before me. �Meat, or no meat?� �Success, or failure?� I looked into this aspiring hunter�s eyes and I could see that no flowery talk of �enjoying nature being the point of hunting� was going to fly. I think he understood the point was to hunt, which is more than to kill, and he was asking just how I was faring in that department. I cleared my throat, breaking the silence. �This is the year of the buck� I said flatly. �I have hunted hard for him, and he has eluded me. I haven�t seen many deer at all, and I have killed none.� I took a gulp of wine and swallowed. More silence.

11 November 2005

Marking the end of conservation?

Reprinted from:

Richard Louv

November 8, 2005

The American conservationist may be an endangered species, both in
numbers and public influence.

That's the bleak news suggested by some attendees at the National
Conservation Learning Summit, held this weekend at the sprawling
woodland campus of the National Conservation Training Center in West

Some estimates indicate that as many as 60 percent of the most senior
federal employees are eligible to retire in 2007. Many of those are in
conservation and natural resource fields. Over one-half of the senior
executives at the Department of the Interior, USDA Forest Service and
Environmental Protection Agency will retire by 2007.

Within that same period, the Department of Interior will lose 61
percent of its program managers, the Forest Service will lose 81
percent of its entomologists and 49 percent of its foresters, and the
EPA will lose 45 percent of its toxicologists and around 30 percent of
its environmental specialists.

"A brain drain is imminent," according to Cheryl Charles, an organizer
of the summit, convened by the Brandwein Foundation and attended by
representatives of more than 100 federal conservation services and

There's no guarantee that boomers will go gently into that good
retirement; they're a stubborn, age-defying lot. Still, these are
pension-rich government service jobs we're talking about. Will young
people move into these jobs? Maybe not. In past decades, the
idealistic, outdoor-oriented young were drawn to government careers in conservation.

But that interest peaked in the 1970s. As baby boomers move toward
retirement, the stock of new conservationists may be drying up.

From 1980 to 2003, undergraduate enrollment in natural resource
programs has fallen, according to research conducted at Utah State University.

Interpreting hard statistics prior to 1980 are problematic, says Terry
Sharik, a professor at Utah State's College of Natural Resources. But
he estimates that if the '70s are factored in, enrollment may have
fallen by half.

"We've got to find out why this is happening," he says. "If we don't
answer that question, our academic departments and conservationists may
soon be seen as irrelevant, if they aren't already seen that way."

Sharik and Charles point to decreased physical involvement of children
in nature - and the difficulty conservationists have communicating what
they do.

Environmental organizations are also concerned about generational
attrition. So is business. The Outdoor Industry Association, which
represents hundreds of companies selling everything from backpacks to
kayaks, reports healthy sales of upscale products. But sales of
traditional entry-level gear are nearly dead in the water. Discouraged
by the trend, some companies have decided to drop their entry-level
product lines. Thus, worry about the trend may be self-fulfilling.

Government conservation agencies face a similar pattern. Most agencies
don't seem to have much of a recruitment problem - yet. That gap will
likely occur when the boomers retire. A more immediate concern for the
agencies is ethnic diversity, recruiting new workers who represent the
changing populations they serve.

This summit, and others, could help - if action follows.

Here's one approach. The challenges of scarcity and diversity could
both be met, or moderated, if every conservation agency offered
entry-level conservation corps positions to the young, and actively
recruited from ethic communities. That approach would demand the kind
of investment unlikely in the current political climate.

The hardest nut to crack is public perception. Conjure up a mental
image of a conservationist, and you might envision Teddy Roosevelt, or
a lanky guy in green khaki talking soil science with a Dust Bowl
farmer, a Forest Service firefighter, or a bureaucrat at a desk piled
with regulatory paperwork.

None of these images is particularly attractive to most young people

"Students in my school don't even know what a conservationist is," said
Jeremy Byler, a Washington, D.C., high school student attending the
conference. The students at his school aren't the only ones with a hazy
image of conservationists.

Since 1970, the word conservationist has been overshadowed by the word
environmentalist. Along the way, both words have picked up political
and cultural baggage. For example, many hunters and fishers tend to
call themselves conservationists; while most preservationists and
activists refer to themselves as environmentalists. Such stereotypes
are unfair, but they do reflect the growing confusion about the players
and the score cards.

Bradley Smith, president of the Council of Environmental Deans and
Directors and a dean at Western Washington University, takes issue with
the bleakness increasingly attached to environmental issues by students
and parents. "During the next 40 years we're going to have to do
everything differently," he says. From green architecture to organic
farming to new alternative energy industries, he foresees an array of
exciting careers emerging.

Indeed, the young - or the best of them - have always been drawn to the
possibility of creating a new and better world. Offer more ways to
build it, and they will come.

10 November 2005

Luke's Way Part 1

I had been watching deer all summer and this was to be the �year of the buck.� We purchased our farm in upstate New York to raise a family, to live in the country, and, for me, to hunt. My first hunting season on the farm was a frenzy of hunting, an orgy-like frenzy of hunting madness. Yet despite long (constant if you ask my wife) hours a-field, the first year yielded little by way of game. A few ducks, a goose, some small game, a doe on opening day of deer season. Mind you, it was huge success relative to my previous years hunting, but of course not what I had in mind now that I lived in what my friends referred to as a veritable game preserve. So this year, our second, was to be the �year of the buck.�

All throughout the early small game seasons I kept myself alert for deer, always on the lookout for sign and patterns. I knew where they crossed the creek, where they bedded down, where they browsed the hedgerow fruits and berries, where they traversed our woods en route to corn and soy bean fields. I knew their paths through the cattail marsh, through the overgrown orchard, through bottomland brambles. I had mental notes of all of the rubs on and around my property. I had them patterned and I had seen at least two large bucks. Things were shaping up well for the �year of the buck.�

Opening day of deer season arrived with me riding high on a tide of confidence after a highly productive waterfowl season. I put in a few hard days of last minute preparations, stand placements, shooting lane clearings, all in anticipation of filling at least a doe tag or two and hopefully bagging my buck on opening day, before the deer changed all of their routines due to hunting pressure. I cleaned my WW I Mauser rifle-turned bolt-action shotgun thoroughly, sighted in the red dot scope one last time, pulled my deer hunting garb off of the clothesline where it had been �airing out� for a week or so, and completed last minute checks. �Tomorrow morning is it,� I kept thinking.

In the back of my mind I knew I needed to make a contingency plan about how to deal with the yearly tension between waterfowl hunting, my first love, and deer hunting, a growing obsession in its own right. The night before opening day, I committed to 100% attention to deer season until I got my deer tags filled, or the season ended, one of the two. It felt good to arrive at that position, knowing I seem to do better at whatever I endeavor when I sell out to the cause. So, I was committed to an extended �deer campaign� if required, which was appropriate for what was to be �the year of the buck.�

I slept fitfully and finally gave up at 3:30 AM. �Might as well get going,� I thought as I lay listening to the rain on the metal roof. �Things will be slower in the rain.� I was up and dressed by 4:00 AM and on my way to the stand in the thicket shortly thereafter. The thicket stand, I reasoned, was well placed on a regularly traveled route, and after all the shooting got started, I would be in an easy ambush position as the deer made their retreats to safety. Unfortunately, in the absolute darkness of the cloudy and foggy morning, it took me much more searching, and swearing, than expected to find the tree, despite the fact that I had just looked it over the afternoon before. Finally, as the darkness began lifting, I found the tree stand, and got myself situated. I was overheated, now soaked from the rain and the wet underbrush, and out of sorts. I tried to take some deep breaths, achieve the elusive Zen state of deer hunting, but I kept hearing deer moving around me. With twenty minutes to shooting time, I was strung as tight as a piano wire.

A shot to my left, single, followed by two follow-ups and the sound of someone whooping. �The season is five minutes old and someone is already happy,� I thought, �Won�t be long for me either.� A single shot to my right, near the hedgerow. �Must be Woody�he always gets a deer opening day.� Half an hour passes, and though I regularly hear deer in the brush around me and on the many spur trails, I have yet to see one. A shot to my rear, down by the lake in the vicinity of the cattails, followed up by three more shots in rapid succession. �Hmm�maybe I should have taken up that position near the marsh,� I mutter. Catching myself beginning to second-guess prematurely, I take a deep breath, steady myself, and focus. �This is the year of the buck,� I repeat, as a mantra, as I hear more shots in the distance.

The next two weeks differ very little from opening day. Snow falls, changing the scenery a little. The number of shots heard while in tree stands, or tracking and trudging, diminishes, leading me to believe that most of the deer in the county have been killed by what must be more lucky or more skilled hunters than I. I fall into a routine. Arise an hour before dawn, quickly dress and head out to one of my outposts of despair, while repeating my mantra �This is the year of the buck.� Mentally note the sound of the ducks or the geese on the marsh, taunting me, chiding me for wasting my time on deer when I could be waterfowl hunting. My lab gives me the same look every morning when she sees me put on the orange coat and not the old Filson, and more severely upon my return around 10:00 AM empty handed. Return to the woods around 3:00 PM for a few more hours. Somewhere in those two weeks I manage to show up for work for �reduced hours,� but those minutes are not memorable. What is most memorable, other than the bizarre behavior of ground squirrels which I have become an expert in due to my intimate and extended observations of, is a phone call from a good friend in Kentucky.

(To be Continued...)

01 November 2005

Support the Grassley-Dorgan Farm Program Reform and Ag Conservation Funding Restoration Amendment


Ask Your Senators to Support the Grassley-Dorgan Farm Program Reform and Ag Conservation Funding Restoration Amendment

Please Call Today. Vote is Thursday, Nov. 3

The Senate is considering its FY 2006 Budget Reconciliation bill, which includes $1.1 billion in cuts that could cripple conservation programs over the next five years. New enrollments to the Conservation Security Program (CSP), an innovative, non-trade distorting program to reward farmers and ranchers for stewardship, would end after 2006. These shortsighted cuts come at a time when 3 out of 4 farmers and ranchers who apply for conservation cost-share programs are denied due to lack of adequate funding.

This Thursday, November 3, the Senate votes on the Grassley-Dorgan Farm Program Reform and Ag Conservation Funding Restoration Amendment. The amendment would cap farm program payments at $250,000 for farms with two actively engaged spouses or farming partners. The amendment would make the cuts to agriculture programs more equitable and would restore valuable conservation funding resulting in cleaner water, more wildlife habitat and less soil erosion.

Identify your senator. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator�s office. Once connected, ask to speak with the legislative assistant who covers agricultural issues. If they are not available, leave a clear and concise message with the receptionist.

* You are a constituent and are urging the Senator to vote for the Grassley-Dorgan Payment Limitation and Agricultural Conservation Amendment to the Budget Reconciliation bill.

* The amendment restores funding for important conservation programs like the Conservation Security Program and Conservation Reserve Program that help to protect valuable wildlife habitat and provide clean air and water to residents of their state.

The Senate is voting this week on a FY 06 Budget Reconciliation bill that would cut conservation programs by $1 billion over the next five years. The bill would reduce funding for the CSP, the nation�s first comprehensive stewardship program for farmers and ranchers, by $821 million. These cuts would effectively close the program to new participants after the FY 06 sign-up period. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage would be cut from 39.2 million acres to 36.4 million acres. This reduction is expected to impact the ability of several states to implement the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in which federal and state funding is used to address high priority conservation issues of both local and national importance. The bill would also limit funding for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to $1.185 billion annually, a total reduction of $135 million over five years.

The Grassley-Dorgan Payment Limitation and Agricultural Conservation Amendment would provide additional savings by limiting to $250,000 the value of farm program payments that farms with two actively engaged spouses or partners can receive. The savings brought about by the payment limitation amendment would allow the Senate to restore some of the funding originally slated for conservation programs.

24 October 2005

More on the CIA director as farmer...

Is this a Yeoman??

CIA director moonlights as farmer in Va.

By Katherine Shrader, Associated Press Writer October 12, 2005

ORANGE, Va. --Just like his spies, the CIA director lives a double life. Porter Goss, the head of the nation's leading intelligence agency, moonlights as a farmer at his 575-acre property in the rolling hills of central Virginia, where he raises cattle, sheep and chickens.
He and his wife, Mariel, practice sustainable agriculture: humane farming techniques, no pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Locals can stop by the Gosses' nearby boutique general store for organically grown tomatoes, raspberries and pears. They can pick up a bag of "Bare Naked" banana nut granola, a woolly lambskin or, if they're lucky, some of Mrs. Goss's famous blackberry preserves.
Goss, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was supposed to retire last January, leaving Congress after representing a Republican district on Florida's West Coast for 16 years. In 1999, he and his wife purchased Retreat Farm, now worth at least $1.3 million, and they own the Village Depot store almost two miles away.

But when President Bush called, Goss put off retirement and became CIA director in September 2004. The Yale graduate from a wealthy Connecticut family now oversees the highly secretive and tumultuous agency as it adapts to the war on terror.
Retreat Farm, Goss says, is his escape.

"This is the opposite of Washington," Goss told Virginia Living magazine in August 2004. "This is nice. This is not cutthroat. This is where people come out to help you."
Open Thursday to Sunday during much of the year, the Village Depot store doubles as a community center, featuring a bulletin board with postings about festivals, nearby yoga classes and other happenings in the Virginia Piedmont.

It's also taking orders for organic Thanksgiving turkeys at the "good neighbor price" of $3.15 a pound -- the same price the store pays.

But perhaps the store is most well known for the farm's homegrown Piedmontese cattle, an Italian breed whose steaks are more tender and less fatty than those typically found at a regular meat market.

They come with special cooking instructions on bright green slips of paper: "LOWER HEAT and LESS TIME are the keys to the perfect Piedmontese. ... Let the meat rest after cooking so that it can retain its wonderful juiciness. ENJOY!"

A congressman at the time, Goss told Virginia Living that the farm brings uncertainty, but has its little rewards: "Like sitting on the porch after a day of work with a glass of ice cold water, watching as the evening settles in, or having breakfast with two fresh eggs you just got from the henhouse.

"You just have a sense that you're doing something that matters, in a small way, but in a significant way," he said. "I think that's good for the human psyche."

20 October 2005

Carrot Power

"The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution."

Paul Cezanne

Doing sustainability...

"Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there."

Gary Snyder

18 October 2005

Wolves in the Northeast?

Judge Rules in Favor of Wolves in the Northeast

The National Wildlife Federation reports that more than 100 years after the howl of the last gray wolf echoed through our northeastern forests, efforts to return these animals to the region recently got a boost-thanks to a decision by a federal court judge in Vermont. The decision marked a major victory for the National Wildlife Federation and a coalition of environmental groups, which had challenged a 2003 U.S. Interior Department Wolf Reclassification Rule that had downgraded the status of gray wolves from endangered to threatened in the Lower 48 and had ended recovery planning for wolves in the forests of northern New England and New York.

see http://www.nwf.org/enviroaction/

17 October 2005

Tis the Season...

...hunting season is in full swing. Posts may be even more intermittent than usual. Meanwhile, ponder the following, sent to me by none other than my own boss:

"I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have a hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult."

E.B. White

"Carpe Diem" indeed.

06 October 2005

The Agricultural Link: How Environmental Deterioration Could Disrupt Economic Progress

The trends of environmental deterioration are beginning to threaten the security of food supplies. These trends, combined with a shrinking backlog of agricultural technology, are slowing growth in the world grain harvest. Meanwhile, the demand for grain is expanding at a near record rate as 80 million people are added each year and as incomes climb at record rates in Asia, led by China. As demand starts to outrun supply, grain prices are rising. Higher grain prices will not have much effect on the world's affluent, but for the 1.3 billion people who live on a dollar a day or less, rising grain prices quickly become life-threatening. People unable to buy enough food to feed their families are likely to take to the streets. The resulting political instability could effect the earnings of multinational corporations, the performance of stock markets, and the stability of the international monetary system. At that point, the problem of the poor would become everyone's problem. Securing future food supplies now goes far beyond ministries of agriculture, involving family planners as well as farmers. Decisions made in ministries of energy that affect climate stability may have a greater effect on food security than those made in ministries of agriculture. The steps needed to secure future food supplies, including stabilizing population and climate, are precisely the same as those needed to move the world economy onto an environmentally sustainable path.

for more: see http://www.worldwatch.org/pubs/paper/136

04 October 2005

Farm Sanctuary Reports on Farm Animal Welfare

Animal-activist group Farm Sanctuary has released a report on the state of U.S. farm-animal-welfare standards.

See http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=53730

28 September 2005

FSA Offices Targeted for Closure

Another sign of the times.

Nearly one-third of Farm Service Agency offices targeted for closure
By Jerry Hagstrom, CongressDailyPM

The Agriculture Department late Friday sent members of Congress a state-by-state chart showing that it plans to close 30.3 percent, or 713, of the 2,350 Farm Service Agency county offices in the 48 continental states.

These offices, which were created in the 1930s, certify farmers for farm programs and pay out farm subsidies and disaster payments. The number of offices to be closed was higher than the 655 listed in an internal USDA memo obtained by the Associated Press earlier this month. Revelations of that memo led the Senate last week to amend the fiscal 2006 Agriculture appropriations bill restricting the USDA's authority to close county offices.

The USDA sent the information on the number of offices the FSA wants to close to Capitol Hill only hours after Agriculture Secretary Johanns issued a news release that FSA Administrator Jim Little, a longtime civil servant, had resigned to work on hurricane relief efforts.
Full story: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=32410&dcn=e_gvet

23 September 2005

Country Life and Incompleteness

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a Commission on Country Life, with Liberty Hyde Bailey as its chair. Bailey described the country life movement as �the working out of the desire to make rural civilization as effective and satisfying as other civilization. � The Commission held thirty public hearings throughout the country, circulated over half a million brief questionnaires, and held numerous other meetings. Its report, edited by Bailey, was printed in 1911 and republished in 1944. The Commission offered three recommendations: a nationalized extension service, which was formalized by the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914; continuing fact-finding surveys, fostering the development of agricultural economics and rural sociology in universities and the federal government; and a campaign for rural progress.

Bailey always saw agriculture as an academic discipline. To him, the fundamental purpose of education was to serve the people, and he believed that the resolution of agricultural problems was as important as cultural, ethical, and legal issues.

�I like the man who has an incomplete course�.If the man has acquired a power for work, a capacity for initiative and investigation, an enthusiasm for the daily life his incompleteness is his strength. How much there is before him! How eager his eyes! How enthusiastic his temper! He is a man with a point of view, not a man with mere facts. This man will see first big and significant things; he will grasp relationships; he will correlate; later he will consider the details.� � Liberty Hyde Bailey

(Photo-Liberty Hyde Bailey with Hortorium Specimens, 1949. Cornell University)

19 September 2005

There is a Yeoman...

A diligent, dependable worker.

A farmer who cultivates his own land, especially a member of a former class of small freeholders.

14 September 2005

Updates on Disaster and Ag

Here is a potpourri of ag disaster resources for your reading pleasure:

The newest issue of Southern SAWG's Newsletter contains disaster-related information at:

Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has written a book, Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance, which describes federal disaster assistance programs that are available to help farmers, such as housing and grant assistance offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster unemployment assistance, federal crop insurance, the noninsured crop disaster assistance program, the Emergency Conservation Program, disaster assistance programs for livestock producers, Emergency Loans from the Farm Service Agency, the Disaster Set-Aside program for existing loans from Farm Service Agency, Small Business Administration Disaster Loans, as well as brief discussions of bankruptcy and federal income tax issues as they relate to losses caused by natural disaster.
The fifth edition of the Farmers' Guide was published in October 2004.
Updates are posted on the FLAG Web site.


A limited number of bound copies of the book are available without charge for family farmers affected by Hurricane Katrina who contact FLAG and request a copy. Generally, a bound copy of the book is available for $40 per book, and orders can be placed by calling FLAG's office at 651-223-5400 or by visiting the FLAG Web site at

(This information, from Jill Kruger at FLAG), is somewhat subject to change, based on what Secretary Johanns and Congress do in response to Katrina.
Also, to clarify, the Emergency Hurricane Supplemental appropriations Act referred to in these documents is the one passed last fall to address damage caused by the series of hurricanes that struck Florida and the southeastern region last year.)






Tuesday, September 13, 2005
CONTACT: Barry E. Piatt
or Rebecca Pollard (Senator Dorgan's Office)
PHONE: 202-224-2551


Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Assist Producers Hurt By Natural Disasters

As the emergency relief effort continues in the Gulf Region, more than 100 family farmers and ranchers from across the nation joined Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, and Congressman Earl Pomeroy today to announce the introduction of emergency legislation to assist agricultural producers hurt by Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters this year. Members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) joined the lawmakers to unveil the Emergency Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act of 2005. This bill will provide disaster assistance to crop and livestock producers across the country who have suffered production and quality losses due to devastating weather conditions.
"We are hearing that Hurricane Katrina could cost the nation's agricultural sector more than $2 billion. That's on top of weather-related disasters that have already wreaked havoc on farms and ranches across the nation," the delegation said in a joint statement. "Without question, this year has brought a series of hits from which many family farmers will have difficulty recovering.

But this bill will give them a fighting chance." Weather-related disaster losses have affected more than half of the counties in the United States including over two-thirds of the counties in North Dakota. In addition to the extensive loss of crops and livestock in the Gulf, the nation's farmers and ranchers have also faced drought in the Midwest, flooding in the Plains region, crop infestations and livestock diseases. The spike in energy prices has also hit agricultural producers especially hard. Higher fuels prices mean additional costs to produce fertilizers, operate farm machinery and ship goods to market.

"Farmers and ranchers are facing low commodity prices, rising input costs due to skyrocketing fuel prices, and weather related disasters," NFU President Dave Frederickson said. "I am encouraged to see the North Dakota delegation and others introduce this legislation, which will help ease these burdens at his critical time."

The legislation includes several provisions to provide relief, including a crop disaster program, an extension of the Livestock Assistance Program, and an additional $100 million in Emergency Conservation Program funds.

Cosponsors of the Senate bill include Mark Dayton (D-MN), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Tim Johnson (D-SD).

Emergency Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act of 2005 Summary of Key Components

Agricultural Production Loss - Addresses weather-related farm and ranch production losses and resource management needs.

Provides payment for producers who lose over 25% of their production, either due to actual crop loss or market discounts due to quality. Provides for livestock feed assistance and payments for loss of livestock

Emergency Funding:
Does not require reductions in other agriculture programs to pay for assistance.

Provides additional funding for the Emergency Conservation and the Emergency Watershed Protection Programs.

Economic Assistance:
Addresses escalating input costs such as energy prices, market uncertainties caused by Hurricane Katrina and increasing demands on state food assistance programs.

Specialty Crop / Nutrition Assistance:
Makes grants to states to supplement food banks and other nutrition assistance programs. Promotes agricultural markets with a priority on specialty crops. Allows for economic assistance to specialty crop producers.

Extends the Milk Income Loss Compensation (MILC) program for one year.

Program Crops:
Provides supplemental payments to program crop producers equal to 20% of their 2005 farm program direct payment. Extends maturing commodity marketing loans for program crops for up to 6 months.

13 September 2005

Farms for City Kids

Just found out about "Farms for City Kids," a hands-on educational program for urban children that focuses on practical learning and teamwork as kids care for farm animals and crops. They are trying to instill in children with such lasting values as responsibility, self-confidence and the satisfaction of facing and overcoming challenges. By educating city kids about agriculture, something that is so different from their everyday lives, they hope to make an impression that will last a lifetime.

Check 'em out at:

11 September 2005


He reminded me today, that today was today. "It will not be forgotten" I said under my breath, rising to greet the day. He said, crowing louder than usual, "Live today, as everyday, like it was your last."

08 September 2005

Alarm Growing on Storm's Cost for Agriculture

The New York Times
September 8, 2005
Alarm Growing on Storm's Cost for Agriculture

CHICAGO, Sept. 7 - Two weeks from the beginning of harvest season, there is a mounting sense of alarm over a potential financial blow to American farming. Farmers in the breadbasket states rely on barges to carry their corn, soybeans and wheat down the Mississippi River, but cannot be certain that the Port of New Orleans, a crucial link to export markets that was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, will reopen anytime soon.
In the gulf states, the storm left farmers reeling from numerous other problems, including a lack of electricity to restore chicken and dairy plants to service, and a shortage of diesel fuel needed for trucks to save dying cattle stranded on the breached levees.
For all of them, it is a race against time.

Farmers in some states in the Midwest had already endured the worst drought in almost 20 years. The storm, moreover, flattened sugar cane and rice fields in the South. And farmers nationwide must pay more for fuel to bring the harvest in and transport crops, lowering the profit they will earn when they sell them. Now Hurricane Katrina is adding to the pain by threatening to curtail exports.

In all, the hurricane will cause an estimated $2 billion in damage to farmers nationwide, according to an early analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The estimate includes $1 billion in direct losses, as well as $500 million in higher fuel and energy prices.
Midwestern farmers are threatened by additional losses. Farmers are clearing out stored corn and soybeans to prepare for this year's harvest, which they normally begin exporting at the end of September. But the hurricane caused substantial damage to waterways and grain-handling facilities, and hundreds of barges have been backing up on the Mississippi River with no place to go.

The latest blow to the farm economy comes at a delicate time for the Bush administration, which has been pushing to trim farm subsidies to comply with mounting pressure from the World Trade Organization to level the playing field for producers in developing countries.
The post-Katrina troubles of American farmers could make it tougher for the administration to push through an overhaul of subsidies that is being sought by developing countries. That, in turn, could affect the administration's effort to win new export markets for American production.

Some 27 percent of American farm receipts come from exports.

Higher transportation and logistical costs - including diesel fuel, rail costs and barge rates - are slicing prices producers get for a variety of commodities. Corn prices, for example, have dropped 15 to 20 cents a bushel, or about a 9 percent decrease, based on Wednesday's price of $2.17 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, said Jerry Gidel, an analyst at North America Risk Management Services in Chicago.

The farm sector's problems are in sharp contrast to its good fortune last year. Driven by record-large crops, high beef prices and generous farm subsidies, net farm income hit a record $82.5 billion in 2004. Now the hurricane will put disaster relief programs into play and depress commodity prices, leading to billions of dollars more in government payments to farmers.

Next week, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are expected to issue reports on how they plan to cut $3 billion in Agriculture Department programs from the federal budget.
Farm groups have been pushing for any trims to take place in the food stamps and conservation programs, while the Bush administration has proposed ending the cotton subsidy program, which the World Trade Organization has ruled illegal in parts after complaints from Brazil and other cotton producers.

But the devastation wrought by the storm - and the ensuing economic impact on farmers both near the gulf and several states away - could alter the debate in Washington and hamper crucial trade talks scheduled for a December meeting of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong.

"Without question, this makes the reforms that a lot of the rest of the world would like to see happen here in the U.S. a lot more difficult," said Clayton Yeutter, a former secretary of agriculture and United States trade representative. "The general psychology of the event is clearly negative."

In recent weeks, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has been crisscrossing the nation talking to farmers. His message is the need to reduce farm subsidies both to open more export markets to American farmers and to comply with international free trade agreements. "There is a real conditioning going on here," said Keith Bolin, a corn and hog farmer and president of the American Corn Growers Association, who attended a session last week in Decatur, Ill., three days after the hurricane. "Get used to less, get used to less. That's the message."
After two failed efforts at trade negotiations in the so-called Doha round, another failure in Hong Kong could be devastating to developing countries, which are desperate to lift their economies through access to markets in Europe and the United States.

The World Trade Organization is working to remove $280 billion in subsidies among the world's richest countries. Of that, American taxpayers and consumers paid $47 billion to farmers last year, an amount equal to about 20 percent of farm receipts, according to the World Bank.

But Mr. Yeutter and others said the emotional and financial impact of the hurricane on farmers will be tough to ignore in Washington.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that Louisiana would lose two million tons, or 20 percent, of its sugar cane crop. That would reduce the total United States sugar harvest by 3.5 percent, according to the analysis.

In Franklinton, La., a milk-processing plant is struggling without power to dump 60,000 gallons of stored milk that has gone bad. At some nearby Louisiana dairy farms, farmers have continued to milk cows, but with nowhere to sell the milk, they have simply dumped it down the drain.

Some 25 million pounds of milk at plants in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi could be lost over the next month if the plants do not return to operation soon, said Michael Danna, a spokesman for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

Louisiana sugar cane farmers are worried that they may have to delay delivering their crop to mills while they wait for fields to dry long enough to apply an agent that ripens sugar cane, increasing the sugar content and making the crop more salable.

The delay could put the farmers dangerously close to the onset of winter frost, Mr. Danna said.
In Covington, La., thousands of cows are stranded in two feet of brackish water on the levees near New Orleans. Mike Strain, a veterinarian and co-owner of the Strain Cattle Company, struggled Wednesday to find a plane to airlift hay into the area to give his remaining 400 head of cattle "enough strength and energy to get them out of there." Already, well more than half of the 1,100 animals in his herd have perished, costing his company $2 million in uninsured losses.

"The timetable for survival is diminishing rapidly," said Dr. Strain, who is also a state legislator. "The death loss of cattle in southeast Louisiana will be 80,000 to 100,000 head when it's all tallied. That's 50 to 70 percent of the herd here, and that's before disease sets in."
Dr. Strain's rescue efforts are being severely hampered is a lack of diesel fuel to move the cattle to a ranch 100 miles north. "There is no fuel in the service stations that have power. That's just unconscionable."

Government officials are hoping for the best. Mr. Johanns, the agriculture secretary, said Wednesday that he was encouraged by the progress so far in restoring the flow of commerce on the river. He said ships are moving again and the majority of grain elevators in the region are resuming operations, at 63 percent of capacity.

"We are assuring our international customers that we expect minimal disruptions," Mr. Johanns said in a statement. He said workers were focused on restoring power, ensuring adequate staffing and reinstalling navigational aids to allow safe passage of ships.
Given a nighttime curfew, little electric power and potentially hazardous and disease-ridden working conditions, the issue of who will operate the ports remains unclear, with some analysts saying the military or National Guard may have to step in.

A union representative expressed confidence Wednesday that such severe measures would not be needed. The International Longshoreman Association's more than 500 regular New Orleans dock workers - nearly all of them evacuated to other cities - could be ready to work there "immediately,"said Benny Holland, vice president of the union. Additional workers are available, if needed, from regional ports, like Gulfport, Miss., that are not operating, he said.
Most nations that import large amounts of agricultural commodities shipped through New Orleans and other gulf ports have plenty of stockpiles to ride out any disruption in shipping, the Agriculture Department's chief economist, Keith Collins, said in an interview. "I don't think any of them are in any kind of jeopardy," he said.

China, the largest buyer of United States soybeans, for instance, is estimated to have 4.1 million tons on hand, equal to about 10 percent of its annual consumption. Japan, the biggest foreign buyer of American corn, has about 1.3 million tons in storage. "That's a typical number for them,"Mr. Collins said.

Some of the slaughtered chicken in storage at ports in New Orleans and Gulfport was lost, but production, which totals about 8.8 billion broilers a year in the United States, is little affected.

06 September 2005

Measuring Farmers' Agroecological Resistance to Hurricane...

In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch, one of the Caribbean�s five most powerful hurricanes of the twentieth century, slammed into Central America causing US$ 6.7 billion dollars in damage to infrastructure and industry (primarily agriculture)� an amount approximately equal to 13.3% of Central America�s GNP. Mudslides and landslides washed away crops, animals, buildings, roads and bridges. Topsoil, lost from hillside farms, silted rivers that overflowed their banks, flooding fields and urban areas. Over 10,000 people died and 3 million were displaced or left homeless. The environmental damages were incalculable. Countries hardest hit were Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Most observers agree the unprecedented magnitude of the disaster is the consequence of decades of deforestation, non-sustainable agricultural practices and other forms of environmental degradation that left the region exceptionally vulnerable to an erosive event.

While first reports regarding agricultural damage simply indicated that the levels of destruction were massive, subsequent on-site observations began to reveal a more subtle, differentiated pattern. Farms using what are commonly understood to be �sustainable� practices appeared to have suffered less damage than their �conventional� neighbors. These farms belonged to smallholders working within a multi-institutional, regional movement for sustainable agriculture known in Central America as Campesino a Campesino (Farmer to Farmer). The farming practices commonly encountered in Campesino a Campesino included a wide range of soil conservation and sustainable cultivation methods, tested and promoted by smallholders for nearly thirty years. Some of the most common sustainable practices included soil and water conservation methods, reduced or discontinued use of chemical inputs, cover crops, agroforestry, intensive, in-row tillage, organic fertilizer and pesticides, and different forms of Integrated Pest Management.

In general, these sustainable farms exist as islands and archipelagos within a greater, conventional �sea.� Therefore, while often localized and geographically fragmented, they provided an excellent opportunity to compare agroecological resistance to the hurricane of sustainable and conventional farms. The presence of Campesino a Campesino, made up of farmers and technicians experienced in farm experimentation and farmer to farmer training, also provided the opportunity to carry out an extensive, participatory, action research project in the low, medium and high impact areas of Hurricane Mitch. Several researchers with years of experience working in the Campesino a Campesino Movement designed a study and wrote a proposal. World Neighbors, an NGO working in the region, agreed to sponsor the project, helped to find funding (Ford, Summit, Rockefeller and Inter-American Foundations), and provided administrative support.


29 August 2005

Horse Power

It is true that horses inhabit our dreams, carrying us to safety or on wild adventures. Some of our dream horses fly, others have magical powers. Whatever our dreams of horses might be, they inhabit a universe of freedom and power. They also involve a lot of work, care and sacrifice. Horses and riders achieve great heights, some in jumping, some in dressage, some on endurance rides.

Horse riders also dwell in our dreams, as rescuers, vanquishers, and villains. Or as bearers of tidings, of good or ill. Why do we ride? Why does she ride, especially? The horse persists because of her, perhaps inspite of him and his combustion engines, which I have been led to believe by a certain yeoman lawyer I may have to part with soon. So will I ride? I fear the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

03 August 2005

�Right to Farm� and Addressing Farm/Neighbor Conflict

�Right to Farm� and Addressing Farm/Neighbor Conflict:
A Role for County Agriculture Enhancement Board

While working to create a Comprehensive Plan for the Towns of Fayette and Varick, we have had numerous discussions about Farm/Neighbor Conflicts, concentrated animal feeding operations, or, �CAFOs�, and the NYS �Right To Farm� laws. Recently we have begun to discuss smaller Animal feeding operations (AFOs). Early in 2005, I was appointed to the Seneca County Agriculture Enhancement Board (AEB), where I proposed that the AEB could potentially serve an important role as a liaison between the agriculture community, the public at large, and local municipalities who find themselves embroiled in sometimes heated Farm/Neighbor Conflict Issues. This notion received a relatively warm reception, qualified with reservations about what limitations NYS Right to Farm laws might place upon any proposed AEB role.

In late June, I was afforded an opportunity to pose a question to Ruth Moore, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Agriculture and Markets, at a conference entitled �Open Space and Farmland Conservation in New York State: Why is it important to your community? What tools will work in your community?� The question was:

�Due to strong Right to Farm Laws, there are limited options for municipalities to deal with community concerns over �CAFOs� that are perceived by some to be in conflict with other notions of what �Open Space� and �Farmland� are. What are ways to encourage farmland protection, without running into trouble with �mixed� feelings on �CAFO� sites and frustration over conflicts between farmers and their neighbors?�

The answer given by Ruth Moore was:

"We need to communicate to our communities both as government entities and as farmers what our farmers are doing to maintain good stewardship of that land. We do have an agricultural environmental management program that helps livestock operations in particular, to install best management practices on their farms to protect water and air quality. And our farmers by and large are doing a great job of that. There ha(ve) been some concerns raised about the larger livestock operations. I just want to emphasize that good environmental stewardship is basically size neutral. You can have a small farm that's not doing a good job and a large farm that's doing a wonderful job and vice versa. Its a matter of taking the tools that we have and what we've learned working with our land grant institutions on how to protect the water quality and air quality in our communities and really aggressively implementing that. We've spent $45 million in this state to help local governments, soil and water districts, work with our farmers to plan for best management practices and install those best management practices on their farms. And I applaud local communities that are committed to farmland protection in the face of sometimes neighbor concerns that -- and legitimate concerns - that they need to balance community concerns and the needs of our farmers to employ practices to run their businesses."

Though I appreciated the answer, I was as unclear as ever on what we could actually do.

I invited Bob Somers, Chief of NYS Agriculture and Markets Department�s Agricultural Protection Unit, to come to an AEB meeting, so that we could present our ideas and receive official guidance. We proposed to Mr. Summers that we could envision the Seneca County Agricultural Enhancement Board adding to its function a role of �acting as a �review and advise� body in cases where Town Planning Boards or other Town entities require further input.�

The discussion with Mr. Somers was quite useful. Prior to taking up the issue of the role of the county farmland protection board, or in the case of Seneca County, the Agriculture Enhancement Board, we discussed more generally what local municipalities could and could not do, in terms of regulating farms and farm practices.

According to Bob, the Department recognizes a local government�s right to regulate certain aspects of the storage and disposal of solid wastes within its geographic boundaries.[1] However, AML �305-a constrains local governments from enacting and administering laws that would unreasonably restrict farm operations within a county adopted, State certified agricultural district unless the locality can show a threat to the public health or safety. This is more than aesthetic preference. Districts are established to encourage the development and improvement of agricultural land. In general, the Department believes that local waste management laws should provide exemptions to allow the land application, storage, and/or composting of animal waste, recognizable and non-recognizable food waste, septage, sludge, and composted sludge, or products derived there from, for agricultural purposes on farm operations within a county adopted State certified agricultural district. Certain local permit requirements are reasonable, however, including, for example, submission of copies of Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) applications, materials and approvals to the local government; provisions for access to permitted sites and information on the activity (e.g., copies of information submitted to DEC to maintain a permit); and a reasonable permit fee.

As regards the role of the Agriculture Enhancement Board (AEB) and CAFO/AFO issues, Mr. Somers saw no problems with the concept of expanding the role of the AEB to include �review, advise, and recommendations� regarding municipality level CAFO/AFO issues. The county Board of Supervisors, who have created the AEB and staff it with appointments, can charge the AEB to assist towns or local governments in dealing with situations in which Right to Farm interests collide with other interests at the local level, especially CAFO /AFO issues. The proposed example of an issue arising at the town level which is contentious being referred by the town planning board, town zoning board of appeals, or Town Board to the County Agriculture Enhancement Board for review, advice, and comment, and then returned to town level for action (AEB comments would be non-binding, non-regulatory, and not directives- AEB comments would be considered studied opinions of county appointed agriculture practitioners, experts, and other agriculture stakeholders) was thought reasonable. The AEB would need to be clear in every case about the Right to Farm laws that are in effect, and also be clear that its opinions were not to be construed as directives for regulation.

The benefits of this approach to farm families and operations would be an added assurance that their projects and proposals were being considered by informed agriculture practitioners or stake holders. The benefit to community residents not involved in agriculture is that they would have an additional assurance of transparency, of the fact that decision making was occurring with the benefit of research, thought, and discussion by a body outside of the town, but with vested interests in the town�s well being. The benefit to town level officials and decision making bodies would be (1) the existence of a public process in which the pace of decisions was measured and predictable, thus reducing the likelihood of rushed decision making due to the power of emotional intensity of adversarial parties in a particular issue, (2) the ability to draw upon opinions of others who are familiar and experienced with the issues, which may buffer individuals and shift attention to decision making bodies and processes, and (3) the basic added value of open dialogue among multiple parties.

In light of this, I suggest that the Fayette and Varick Comprehensive Planning Commission consider the following for inclusion in the agriculture section:

1) the plan(s) should recommend that we institute reasonable local CAFO/AFO permit requirements including requirements for submission of copies of Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) applications, materials and approvals to the local planning boards; provisions for access to permitted sites and information on the activity (e.g., copies of information submitted to DEC to maintain a permit); and a reasonable permit fee.

2) The plan should encourage the county Board of Supervisors, who have created the AEB and staff it with appointments, to charge the AEB to assist towns or local governments in dealing with situations in which Right to Farm interests collide with other interests at the local level, especially CAFO /AFO issues.

3) The plan should describe a process by which planning boards and zoning boards of appeals can forward issues for comment, advice, review, etc to the County AEB.

[1] Environmental Conservation Law �27-0711, for example, allows localities to adopt local laws, ordinances or regulations which comply with at least the minimum applicable requirements set forth in the DEC�s solid waste disposal regulations. See also, Monroe-Livingston Sanitary Landfill, Inc. v. Town of Caledonia, 51 N.Y.2d 679, 683-684 (1980).

01 August 2005

Joint Effort to Protect Nation's Food and Agriculture Supply from Agroterrorism

Joint Effort to Protect Nation's Food and Agriculture Supply from Agroterrorism

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last week announced a new collaboration with states and private industry to protect the nation's food supply from terrorist threats. Four pilot visits will be conducted in September and October. The purpose of these visits is to assess and identify vulnerabilities in the agriculture and food sectors. Over the next year, teams of federal and state officials will travel to all 50 states to meet with all sectors of the food chain. Together, the federal, state and private industry partners will discuss security issues from farm-to-table and consider ways to better protect our food supply. Additional information about agrosecurity can be found on USDA's Web site at www.usda.gov/homelandsecurity; the FDA Web site at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/bioterrorism.html; and the DHS Web site at www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=43&content=3802.