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I cannot emphasize enough how poorly written legislation can harm the smallest farm enterprises.  Please if you can spare a few minutes, read this letter from PASA and then contact your representatives urging them to support the outlined amendments.  This has the potential to seriously hinder the buy local community farming movements that are taking place if not written well.  I could not do a better job of outlining the concerns so I’ve included the well written e-mail from PASA for you to read.

To: All PASA Members

From: Brian Snyder, Executive Director

Dear friends,

I’m going to make this as succinct as possible, while also giving you enough background to understand what’s going on.  In brief, the Food Safety bill in the House of Representatives (HR 2749) is expected to move as early as tomorrow (if no bumps in the road), but certainly by early next week. The goal of the Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) is to move this bill under “suspension,” meaning with limited debate and no amendments, which requires a two-thirds vote, and to do so before the August recess starts in two weeks.  Delay of healthcare legislation at this point means they will try to move forward on food safety first, aggressively and somewhat undercover of the healthcare debate.

PASA has been centrally involved in consulting with E&C on this legislation since March, along with our friends at MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc.), NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) and others across the country.  Last week, PASA farmer member Nick Maravell (Potomac, Maryland) testified in a hearing on the bill before the House Ag Committee and did an incredible job of raising the most important outstanding issues.

To date we have achieved some things we can be proud of, including exemption for direct marketers from most traceability requirements (including for sales to restaurants and grocery stores), and now including some clear language in the bill to define what on-farm processing activities might be exempt from FDA registration as well.  Things are still in flux as I write, but we believe all such processing will be exempt as long as 50% or more of sales (including by Internet and mail order) are made directly to individuals (i.e. retail, as opposed to wholesale). And a huge gain just this week will likely be another exemption on sales of feedstuffs for livestock from one farmer to another, which had been included in the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 (thaaat’s right…) as an activity requiring registration.  There have been other gains in specific wording of the bill, too detailed to enumerate in this email right now.

But we’re still disappointed that the fee being assessed to eligible businesses, including some on farms, will be the flat rate of $500 instead of our preferred sliding scale for smaller operations, including a minimum size below which no fee would be charged.  We in fact would prefer to see a much higher fee paid by the largest food processing companies, from which most food safety issues seem to emanate in any case — but that may not be achievable at this point. We also have other language we’d like to see in the bill that would focus attention on high risk aspects of food production, protect organic farmers from duplicative paperwork and expand the research agenda into more diversified systems.  All of these concerns are contained in an amendment being sponsored by Representatives Farr, Kaptur and others that E&C must deal with if they expect to get their two-thirds vote to limit debate.

So, we’re asking ALL of you to take a little time out of your busy summer schedules to help advance the sustainable farming agenda with respect to food safety even more than what we’ve been able to on our own.  Call your representatives, and maybe a few others, and express strong support for the exemptions now contained in HR 2749 for direct marketing, and ask them to support the Farr-Kaptur Amendment that would do even more to focus food safety efforts on the REAL problem areas.  To be clear, they will need to insist that language of the amendment get into the bill before it is introduced on the floor. Also, let them know what you think of a system that would charge a small on-farm processing operation the same fee as facilities operated by the largest food companies in the world!  Following are links where you can find contact info for members of the House of Representatives:

Find your Rep: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

Phone listing: http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/mcapdir.html

This has already been a long slog, and if this bill passes we’ll now have to begin working with the Senate, and then a likely Conference Committee, to make further improvements.  As usual, we are greatly outnumbered and outsized ($$) by groups that would rather see sustainable farmers pay the price of food system sins that have originated elsewhere.  But we’ve been here before, and prevailed.  A few minutes of your time today or early tomorrow could make sure that common sense wins out again!

Thanks for your care and attention to this important matter.

Brian Snyder
Executive Director, PASA

We have taken some time off from the computer and have been spending much more time outside working, all apologies for being lax with the blog.  Things we’ve done or are working on are selling the vast majority of our stock.  We have kept back a few GOS and some of the Tamworths and we have sold most of the goats.  Its been tough because its hard to decide to size down and emotions sometime come into play. We decided earlier this summer to downsize to free up more time to improve infrastructure.  We have dug lines and assisted the electrician in putting in electric to the land. Even the pigs and dog’s joined in.

The pigs helped to backfill some of the trench...

the trench... around 500' of it

Currently, as I type, I’m waiting on the electrical inspector to co

me out and approve the work.Then we will have electric to run some permanent lines and for general comfort issues.

We are still getting quotes on wells so we don’t have to haul water daily allowing us to set up automatic waterers.  The sawmilling has been slow becuase we have not had the tractor freed up from the backhoe attachment and its harder to manuver small paths with the extra stuff on a tractor, plus you can’t really skid logs well with it on.  So as soon as the electrical inspection clears we will be cutting more wood.

I’ve spent the past few evenings reading Michal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma which is an interesting read.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in food and agriculture.

We haven’t had the opportunity to see Food Inc. due to the limited distribution however it seems to be along the same vein as the Omnivore’s diemma and something which we hope will be at a theater near us rather soon.

The pigs that we have kept are growing nicely.  We’ve been moving the adult pigs weekly as that had been sufficient given the lower numbers and dry ground.  Now that the rain is back I anticipate our weekend we be spent setting up new paddocks and moving everyone again as the wet ground makes for easy rooting and isn’t able to stand up to pigs as well as the dry.  Whenever I ead back out I’ll try to get a picture of this same view today to show how much it has been trampled since the rains started.

Port-a-huts on pasture..

Port-a-huts on pasture..

Thanks to some nice weather, we finally got all of the pigs up to the new land.  Its been a long time coming.  5 months of wintertime kept us away.  They loaded on the trailer in less that 5 minutes.  They unloaded well.  The only hiccup was that we had to make a chute out of 1 strand of electric wire (not electrified) which ran 400′ and around a corner to their new paddock.  They moved fairly well however, one section was damp and they decided to have a brief wallow before walking the last 100′ to their home.  I was stuck pushing Charles (the young old spot) up the hill as he was taking his time and rooting and wallowing the whole way.  It was suprisingly un-stressful and it went quite smoothly.  They are now all settled in and loving it.

I love the grass...

I love the grass...

While watching them appreciate their new abode, I was able to get a few pictures of everyone.  I have a wonderful video of Newton (the red pig which is a tamworth boar) walking up to Ian and looking at him then laying down.  Newtown loves a good scratch on his belly and every time he sees Ian he knows he either gets food or a scratch.  If Ian doesn’t have a bucket Newton knows that means the scratching will commence so Newton gets ready by laying down.  If I can figure out whats up with the problem attaching video I’ll put it up sometime.

Most likely due to the nice weather, this weekend was the first time the piglets came out of their huts.  It is also the weekend when we got all of the piglets that we have castrated.  The castration on this batch seemed harder.  I’m thinking it was because the boys were stronger.  It is, however, amazing how quickly they get up an go after being castrated.  I think if I were a male and I had my testicles taken out, I would be so uncomfortable I wouldn’t be moving for a couple of days.  They mustn’t have felt that way because they were out wandering around within an hour.  The first hour was spent in the hut probably afraid to come out again for fear of what they would lose this time.

They're thinking..."Oh my god, not her again."

They're thinking..."Oh my god, not her again."

In addition to moving the pigs, we also got the some of the goats up to the new land as well.  They seemed settled in and are liking all of the browse.

We're loving the new scenery...

We're loving the new scenery...

Moving the housing for all of the animals proved to be difficult as the trailers that we have do not fit some of the housing that we had built prior to getting the new land.  We ended up having to use the handy, but very redneck looking truck cap housing for the boars.  The goats got the A-frame since the large goat house would not fit onto anything.   This means we have a wonderfully large dog house that we need to revamp.

The dug spring

The dug spring. Notice the old pipes in the bottom left hand corner.

In other good news, we found why we have a nasty wet section in one of the fields.  There is an old dug spring at the bottom of the hill.  I plan to check the rate of flow this week to get an idea if it will be worthwhile working on it to use for livetock water.  I’m thinking it will be worthwhile by the looks of things.

Where the spring runs out into field

Where the spring runs out into field

We also got the chance to start some plowing.  We got an older john deer 3 bottom plow from the spring consignment auction last year.  It works very well but now we need more implements.

My future veg garden.

My future veg garden.

The only nasty thing to happen this weekend was when one of my goats sucked my finger into her mouth and then bit it.  It happened so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to react.  it hurt like heck but its better now.  It just feels like I whomped it with a hammer.

Nasty Goat Bite

Nasty Goat Bite

Whats more to say… Ian got it stuck driving where he shouldn’t.  Thank god for good family and good neighbors.

Can you spot the front tires?

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NY state is decommissioning its prison farm program.

“DOCS runs farm operations at a dozen of its 69 correctional facilities: Green Haven and Beacon (Dutchess County), Clinton (Clinton County), Eastern and Wallkill (Ulster County), Elmira (Chemung County), Greene (Greene County), Groveland (Livingston County), Sullivan (Sullivan County), Wyoming (Wyoming County), and Mid-State and Washington. The farms, which produce meat, milk and vegetables for the production of meals in the prison system, are intended to provide inmates with vocational experience. However, the farms have become increasingly costly to operate when viewed in light of the limited benefit they provide.

Beacon, Clinton and Washington run beef operations. Wallkill has a dairy farm. Elmira, Green Haven, Greene, Sullivan and Wyoming operate dairy farms and milk processing operations. Groveland grows field crops. Mid-State grows field crops and vegetables. And Eastern runs dairy, beef, beef processing and sawmill operations.

The farm operations employ 39 correction officers and 41 full-time civilian employees, and 188 inmates work on the farms. The correction officer jobs will be eliminated through attrition. DOCS will offer the civilian employees other jobs within the agency to the extent possible and will work with those employees and other State agencies to enhance the employees’ opportunities for transfer to other State jobs during the six- to eight-month decommissioning of the farms. The ultimate elimination of the prison farms will produce a net savings to DOCS of $3.4 million annually.

DOCS will work with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to assist in decommissioning the farms.”

As you can see  their explanation is budget justified by limited benefit of farming to the NY prision population.  In a report by WBFO, it was reported that, “.”

Though I was never a 4H kid, this argument runs counter to all research on the benefits of 4H, including coping skills, public speaking, leadership, etc.  Now granted these farm are not running on the 4H model, however there are able to teach many real world skills that in many circumstances, people in prison may not have learned while growing up.  They can learn budgeting, business managment, marketing, inventory, shipping/receiving, general vet tech skills.  The practical skills go beyond learning how to clean a barn.  The DOC’s view on the career benefits alone shows their sterotype of the role of a farmer, that they don’t have marketable skills off the farm.  In my opinion its just the opposite.  To be a successfull farmer, you need multiple skill sets all of which are transferrable to jobs in any sector.

This program, if ran correctly, could provide emotional and interpersonal skills useful to the inmates for life, along with skills that are usable in any 9-5 job.  I truly believe if they ran the prison farms in conjunction with a combination 4H/shock treatment facility model they would be well on their way to reducing recidivism.

After two days off work being ill today was a long day back in work. The day was made even longer by one of our wethers getting out and eating our trees. Then Riley, the goat that just kidded last weekend developed a temperature. I called the vet out and she thought it looked like she did not expel all of her placenta when kidding. So she gave some shots and then chatted a bit. $100 for the checkup and meds and call out after hours which I don’t think was too bad at all. Then however we go to finish feeding the pigs up on the land. Luckily they hadn’t farrowed because I was not in the mood to notch ears and process them tonight. The ladies did however escape by pushing their hay bale onto the fence line. They were rooting away when we came. Luckily they have learned to come running for feed when they see us so they weren’t too much trouble to get back into their field. It wasn’t however, what I wanted to do tonight. I was hoping to quietly feed everyone and then go to bed. Tomorrow is a day school on swine at Cornell so we have to be up at 3:30 to get there in time. I need to be in bed about an hour ago.

On a high note the peepers were out for the first time this year. I’m marking my calendar March 27th the day the peepers sang.

Johann 1 day old

I’m sure it is too early to really be saying this but it really felt like spring is in the air.  It was sunny and warm (50’s) and a great day for working outside.  Ian, however, is still ill.  I’m not 100% but he is like 20% and I’ve not seen him like this ever.  Needless to say we didn’t get all that we hoped to finished.

Our big plans were to finsih the frost seeding on Friday.  Get straw on Saturday and then go to Tidioute to visit the family.  Then today was to be spent puting in fenceposts.  However, Friday the fanbelt snapped on my old jeep while heading back to my work office.  Needless to say I didn’t make it back to work nor home in time to do the seeding.  Saturday we did pick up the straw.  It was the best straw we have found so far and we will definately get some from the gentleman if it is like that this summer.  We took all that he had which was around 30 bales.

After we got home from the Straw we had to wait for the dogs to get finished at the groomers.  We fed the animals and figured we’d start the seeding since we had a few hours to spare.  Well I managed to lock our jeep keys in the car.  Looking to see if we could find another set took up some time.  We ended up giving up before we got into an argument over the situation.

We did end up making it up to the land to do some seeding before we went to visit the family but I didn’t get much done.  We have never attempted to frost seed before so here is hoping that it works and will improve the pastures.  I chose red clover, timothy, and orchard grass and mixed them.  Doing any acreage with one of these hand crank models takes some time.  This however, is much cheaper at under $40 vs something to use on a tractor.  Plus you don’t end up with compaction of the ground this time of year. However, I don’t think I’d like to to it that way every year.  My arm is aching after it.

Around 3:30pm we finished up at the land, went and got the cockers and drove to PA.  The visit to Tidioute was good.  I do like going to see the family as often as possible.  Another benefit of going down is that my dad graciously made us a solar furnace out of pop cans.  We brought it home last night and put it up today.  I do believe it made a difference in the house.  Yesterday the outside temperature was about 40 and the furnace maxed out the thermometer at 150.

Other than working on setting up the furnace, we were able to finish the seeding today.  Instead of walking to finsh up the fields Ian drove the ATV and I tried several different positions trying to find the best way to sit so the spread would not hit any parts of the atv.  The hardest part was holding on and keeping balance while bumping around, cranking the handle and keeping the spreader in place.  I think we may have to invest in a spreader that we can attach to the atv for upcoming years.  Even driving I would say it took about 2 hours going back and forth with him driving and me cranking the spreader.  The darned pigs and goats better appreciate the work we do for them!

On a high note we were able to break into the jeep to get the keys out.  On a not so high note it was pretty easy to do it.  Thankfully the jeep not really theiving worthy.  Speaking of vehicles reminded me of our other vehicle issue.  I’ll try to type up our progressive insurance and autobody collision repair shop frustrations tomorrow because that is something that really isn’t making me happy now.  Needless to say if you have to get collision work done I wouldn’t recommend autobody collision in Warren PA.

Lastly, no kids or piglets yet.  We are still playing the waiting game.

This post is a followup to a comment:

A fair price is a tough thing to peg down. For us a fair price would be covering our expenses, paying us for our labor, and not gouging the customer. Unfortunately, consumers have grown comfortable with artificially low priced goods. We all want cheap. The problem is we don’t fully recognize the actual costs of cheap. Across the US the prices will vary. Right near us there are no large CFAO’s putting downward pressure on local pork. Nor is there a lot of competition in the pastured pork arena (yet.) However we have the difficulty of living in an economically depressed area. We’re in the “rust belt” We have high unemployment, and even now working hours at factories and in manufacturing and even some service sectors are being cut.  Layoffs are happening in many industries. Because of this we’ve had to re-think our prices. Right now we are re-budgeting to try to come up with new prices that can accommodate all the costs, infrastructure, taxes, electric, fencing, housing, we have feed, seed, breeding stock, vet costs, straw, hay, gas to and from the processors and to get supplies. When everything adds up it is VERY difficult to make any profit in pork.

This is part of the problem. Profits are hard to come by and many farmers are happy to break even and not give themselves pay. We were guilty of this at times and we’ve had to step back and smack ourselves. Our biggest competitor is the grocery store.  There is no way we can compete with those prices.  I wouldn’t say they undersell farmers because I honestly don’t believe the quality is there.  WHen you take like for like they are probably charging too much for the quality of some of the meat they are selling.  However, getting consumers to recognize this is part of the battle.  I’m hoping that the HBO special on pigs will drive more business our way once people can get a face to the food and see where it comes from.

Part of our key is marketing.  Marketing to consumers is all about sharing our excitement and our true affection and belief in the product. We are willing to let people come and see the animals for themselves. They are able to recognize the humane treatment. They see the animals express natural behaviors. They can see the vigor in the pigs and see the food they eat. This helps. We constantly explain away the stereotypes of pigs: they are dirty, pig farms stink. None of this is true if treated and raised properly. This ability to talk one-on-one with the end consumer is key.  Ian and I truly live, eat and breath pig here.  We are converting people one pork chop at a time.

The land prior to pigs

The land prior to pigs

Less than 24 hours of pigs on the ground

Less than 24 hours of pigs on the ground

Pigs on the land two full days

Pigs on the land two full days

Ian hating the mud...

Ian hating the mud...

Saturday the pigs arrived at the pasture land from our woods down the road.  Since then it has rained and rained and rained.  Today we had a break in the rain because it turned to snow.  It is supposed to rain Tuesday and Wednesday as well.  The animals and I are sooo not looking forward to it.  I guess its easy to forget how much mud hinders daily life on a farm.  I know I was sick of the snow and cold but overall having it cold and dry and frozen is easier on all of us than having wet and cold and mud.

Because of the mud I added more straw to the huts tonight as I wanted to make sure that the girls were able to keep cozy and dry.  Prior to getting the port-a-huts we always had huts with floors.  These proved to be terribly difficult to move and sanitize hence the port-a-huts.  However, when it comes to mud nothing beats a floor.  I figure we’ll need to add a bale every other day if the rain keeps up.  That way the ground builds up a straw pack keeping everything upabove the mud level.  I’ve recently bought  straw at 4.95 a bale because we needed it (hay just isn’t as good for bedding when its muddy plus the pigs eat a lot of it, leaving them with less bedding)  With the straw they are much less likely to eat it and it holds up better in the wet than does hay.  Luckily I found a man selling hay for $2 a bale.  I told him I’d take all he has.  This weekend we are getting the 50 bales he has figuring the money will be well spent.

We still don’t have a clue when the pigs will definately farrow.  Tomorrow is the full moon.  The girls are due anytime after the 12th.  I know I saw a boar mount each of the tamworths the day that they were put together.  I also saw one of the old spots breeding as late as January 18th.  This means that the piglets could start coming as early as the 12th by the math and then as late as April 13th.  Its always a waiting game this time of year.

Speaking of waiting, the goats are bagging up real well.  I still have two weeks until the scheduled kidding date for Riley one of the LaMancha does.  She will be a first freshener and is  due the 21st.  She has an udder that really impreses me.  This is my first time with dairy goats but I think she is looking huge.  Her ligaments are still really strong so I don’t expect her to kid soon.   I just don’t know how much larger an udder can get on a goat.  If it keeps going, in two weeks time it will be weigh as much as her!!!  Rileys udder 2 weeks to scheduled due date

Side view of the LaMancha udder 2 weeks till due date

Side view of the LaMancha udder 2 weeks till due date