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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

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Things have been busy here at the farm as is typical at any farm most any time of the year.  We’ve had our goats kid, we have been working on the ground getting ready for planting, the pigs have started to farrow.  On top of this we have had a few mishaps and some around the home appliance malfunctions and this is on top of the never ending cold that I seem to have.  (since end of Feb beginning of March and its not giving up)

With pigs on the mind lately I thought I’d show a few pictures I was able to get of the Tamworth’s and Old Spots to help those who may be farrowing pigs for the first time get a visual of of signs of farrowing.  Emily, the more yellow of the Tamworth’s farrowed the morning that these pictures were taken.  You can see that her teats have dropped and that her vulva is quite swollen.  Compare this to Fran (more red of the Tamworths) Fran is also swollen.  Fran farrowed two days after these picture was taken.  Petunia the Gloucestershire Old Spot, also posed for this indelicate photograph.  Her vulva is not puffy at all.  She has some time to go before she farrows as there is no milk letdown in her teats and she is not poofy yet.

Emily's vulva the day she farrowed

Emily's vulva the day she farrowed

Fran's Vulva two day's prior to farrowing.

Fran's Vulva two day's prior to farrowing.

Another view of Fran's vulva

Another view of Fran's vulva

Petunia is not due to farrow for a few weeks.  Notice the marked lack of swelling.

Petunia is not due to farrow for a few weeks. Notice the marked lack of swelling.

So far we have had two litters both Tamworth X GOS.  The one was a terrible litter of 5, yet all  were born and are still alive.  This mother will get to wean them and have one more go before she is off to slaughter because its not economical to keep her if she is only going to farrow a few at a time.  Plus she is just awkward with the piglets laying the wrong way for them to get to the teats.  She does however have a good length and structure.

The other litter was 1 stillborn, 1 crush, and 9 alive.  This is not bad and she is good mother wise, very attentive and yet friendly with us.  She is a bit shorter in body length but the numbers for her make the difference for us.  She has thrown good sized piglets and tends to be able to raise them well.  I’m excited to see how these TamX GOS grow out as these will be our first litters of crosses.

This is the tiny but healthy litter, only two gilts out of the 5.

This is the tiny but healthy litter, only two gilts out of the 5

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.

Ever wonder why people charge so much for goats milk? Its because its a lot of work. Not only do you have to care for the animals which takes time, but the process itself is time consuming. Starting with washing your buckets and pails are meticulously clean the next step we do is to get the goats up on the stand and brush the goats down. This helps to loosen and brush away any dust or hairs on the goat to keep them from falling into the pail while milking. Next step is washing and drying the udder. Then we squirt the first milk from each teat into a strip cup. This is because the milk that has been in the teat since the last milking is higher in bacteria. You want to flush it out so you have the freshest milk possible and also to check to make sure the milk looks good, no clumps or lumps. Now its time to milk. Milking by hand is a rythmic squeezing of the teat. I liken it to tapping your fingers on a desk. After we have milked all of the milk from the udder we dip the teats and put mama back in with the babe. Its then into the house for storing the milk and washing up the equipment.

By the time you are done your hands are tired and achy until you get them used to the work. As our does are just freshening my hands have been killing me lately.

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

Since I had a bit of time stuck in the house while sick, I re-listened to some of my CD’s from the PASA conference.  One particularly interesting CD was Jerry Brunetti’s Talk on the healing value of food and the importance of good soils to increase nutrients and minerals in said foods.

A bit of background, “In 1999, Jerry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and given as little as six months to live without aggressive chemotherapy. He instead chose a holistic path of nutrition, detoxification and immune modulation and applied his vast experience with farming and animal nutrition to his own health.”
I’ve posted a youtube link to one of his talks.  I completely recommend that you have a sit down listen as you will be inspired.

Several months back we received a copy of King Corn in the mail via our Netflix membership.  This was a fun and interesting documentary and we would recommend it.  I checked out the website today and found that they have done some spoofs on the corn refiners association commercials that promote High Fructose Corn Syrup as a “natural” product good for your kids and your lover.  Here is the original Corn Refiner’s versions.

And her is the spoof. 

The original versions definitely present corn syrup as benign at best and imply if you are questioning if you should use it you are just silly.

To me the fact that the process of converting corn to corn syrup is what makes it inherently unhealthy.  The process includes the use of sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid.  According to Wikipedia, “Sulfur dioxide is an allergen to which some consumers are sensitive. SO2 is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death…Concentrated hydrochloric acid (fuming hydrochloric acid) forms acidic mists. Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines. Upon mixing hydrochloric acid with common oxidizing chemicals, such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach, NaClO) or permanganate (KMnO4), the toxic gas chlorine is produced.

With the process of making the HFCS in mind, how could anyone consider it a healthy alternative.  Though we have not eliminated all sources of HFCS in our diet. (Its in sooooo many processed foods) We have eliminated soda pop and sweetened drinks to start.  In addition we make as much of our own foods as we can.  Though there is a time element involved this does mean that we know what we are eating.

I challenge everyone to check to see if there is HFCS in any of the foods you eat this week and keep track of the percentage of foods that do vs. do not have them.  Then try to lower your percentage next week.

Today I attended my first ever livestock auction.  Ian was sleeping since he worked overnight and I didn’t feel like spending the day at home.  I noticed that Sherman has its 3rd Saturday of the month auction so I decided what the heck I’ll drive out and give ‘er a go.

Any time we have purchased livestock in the past we bought directly from a breeder.  I’ve always been told that any animal that goes to auction is the sickest of the sick or terribly diseased.  That being said, most animals at the auction looked ok if not good.  A few calves had a poopy rear but they were active and bright eyed.  There was also what appeared to be a tamworth cross piglet that was just standing staring off into space.  If she was on our farm she probably would have been put down if she had been that way.  She just didn’t look or act right.  I definately wouldn’t have taken it to auction to further stress the poor thing.

Overall the auction was run much the same as a typical estate auction.  I made my mind up to not buy any animals while there.  I’ve always heard of horror stories about buying at auction.  I did however, pick up a couple of buckets and bowls for use with the animals here at the farm.

The auction ran from about 10:00am until nearly 5pm.  The first several hours were mainly tack items.  There were few things that I wanted since we don’t have horses here at our farm.  After the tack and miscellaneous, they then moved on to poultry and rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets.  After than it was goats, pigs, cows and finally hourses.

To get an idea of the prices that animals fetched here in SWNY and NYPA I’ll give a brief run down.

Turkeys – appeared to be royal palm hens $40-47 each
Rabbits – $6-15 each (one guy bought just about every rabbit)
Guinea Pigs – $2-3 each
Buck Goats $80-90
A doe that looked in milk – $100
Other does $60-65
Cross breed steer calf – $55
Heifer Holstein calf – $60
Holstein Bull Calf – $10-22.50
Jersey Bull Calf – $7.50-15
Bred Sow probably yorkshire cross – $160
Feeder Guilts approx 300# = $165
Weaner pigs – $35

Horses I didn’t write down the prices because I really have no clue one horse for another.  One that stuck out in my head was a bred halflinger mare $385.  There were a lot of broke horses good for trail rides but many many went unsold.

What suprised me was that the goats went for so much.  For cross bred auction goats I wouldn’t have touched them with a 10’ pole for fear of CL or any other number of insidious diseases that don’t always make animals look ill.  I was also suprised to see guinea pigs and pigeons…oh and a ferrett.

Overall, I really would have expected more animals.  The bulk of the auction was non-livestock.  By the 50th halter I was ready to need a bit for myself.  Despite this it was a worthwhile day.  I learned a bit and I talked with some very nice folks.

I kinda wish I would have spent the money on the steer and bull calves and given them a go.  I don’t think I would have bought a heifer at auction for fear that it would be a freemartin but going did open my mind to the auctions.  It didn’t, however,  break me of all of my fears.  Now that I’m home my carharts are in the sanitary wash and my boots will be getting a scrub in disinfectant.  I my not taking any risks with my livestock just in case there was something catchy there.