Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Friend the Shepherdess

Today we have a guest blog from Maureen Yencha, a long-time friend and recent adopter of two female sheep. In the nine years we've known her family, our family has been witness to their transformation from rural-ish homelot to an honest farmette. First a large garden, various fruits and fruit trees, somewhere along the line a pond, then chickens... and now sheep. She's so enthusiastic about everything, I asked her to share how she got there....

Fall and Ester near their original shelter

I’m a shepherdess. My flock of two ewes arrived just over three months ago. How did I get here?!?!?!?
Let’s backtrack thirteen years…

July 1998: Mike and I were recently married, and the world was ours. The plan was to move from our
current home on .19 acre to a larger house with some land, and raise our family there.

February 1999: Mike and I took a trip to the beautiful Yorkshire region of England. This was the setting
for James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small novels. The endless rolling green pastures dotted with
sheep were so picturesque. Out of the blue, I decided some wooly sheep on our future property would
be cool. Mike agreed. (Now I understand he hoped it was just a passing phase. It wasn’t.)

May 1999 and 2000: I “discovered” the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. Who knew there were so
many different kinds and breeds of sheep?!?!? Wool or meat? Isn’t a sheep a sheep?!?!? No!

August 2000: Bought our house on a five-acre lot of land in western Howard County, MD. We spent the
next NINE years fixing up the house and gardens, having babies, nursing babies, potty-training toddlers,

August 2009: It was sometime around now that my friend, Renee, invited me to join a small group of
local women who shared an interest in exploring more natural, sustainable, local options in our lives.
Food choices made up the majority of our monthly “Green Group” discussions… organic, Community
Supported Agriculture (CSA), making cheese, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chickens… fermented
carrots?!?!?!? What?!?!?! A whole new world opened up to me. With five acres, I could actually DO
some of these things and, ultimately, control my family’s food chain.

October 2009: I decided it was time to make use of our land, or at least a chunk thereof. Enter our
friends Chuck and Nancy Gardetto of Copper Penny Farm in Hanover, MD. They had lots of fun farm
critters on their nine acres… cows, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens. After seeing their setup, I knew I
could make my little sheep flock happen on my own little slice of heaven.

August 2010: The Howard County Fair! I was so impressed with the 4-H kids showing their animals
(especially the little ones, who can only “show” a stuffed animal, but will still answer questions from
the judge). The beaming smiles on their faces when they received their 4-H Participation ribbon spoke
volumes! My kids wanted in! I wanted my kids in!

I seriously researched the breed I was interested in (Katahdin, a HAIR breed… not wool) at the Howard
County Fair, and made contacts with local breeders. I found local 4-H clubs for the kids to join. They
were excited at the prospect of having sheep in the front yard.

September 2010: The day I picked out my first sheep. Eric Neilson of Justifiable Acres was one of the
breeders I had spoken to at the county fair. I made the short drive to his farm in Woodbine where I
selected “Fall”, a 2.5 year old ewe that had lambed twice before. I left her to hang out with Charcoal, a
jet-black Katahdin ram, for two cycles so she’d already be bred when she came to her new home.

Speaking of her new home… she had none… just my ideas on paper. My husband had nooooo idea how
drastically requirements creep was coming into play. (Did I mention we had gone through this process
two years earlier when I started my chicken flock? I’ll save that for another story.) My original plan for
two spring lambs contained within an electric fence to be butchered in the fall had evolved into two
year-round breeding ewes with lots of aesthetically-pleasing, sturdy, NICE fencing in which to graze. Yes,
I said TWO ewes… they’re social animals after all. The following week, I went back and my 6-year son,
Michael, picked out 9-month old “Ester”. The night before, we discussed questions to ask the breeder
and what to look for when selecting ewe #2. Michael was so proud of himself, and so was I. I opted not
to breed Ester yet. Eric would deliver the girls in three weeks. Surely we could get fencing up in that
amount of time.

Time for another major decision. Now that we had farm critters, we needed to name our farmette. It
had to be cool with personal meaning. I called upon my original, decade-old inspiration for this ruminant
adventure and decided on “Harrogate West”, after the beautiful spa town nestled in the center of James
Herriot’s beautiful Yorkshire.

October 2010: The week before Fall and Ester were to be delivered, we barely had the holes dug for
the fence. But I had a plan, and we made Home Depot and Lowes very happy with all of our lumber
and hardware purchases. Thank God for Mike’s big Ford F-250! We finished the fence the day the
sheep were to arrive. There was no shelter yet, so I put the kids’ Little Tykes playhouse in the pasture
to provide some protection from the elements. Eric delivered the girls and they promptly headed for
the wooded part of the pasture. The sheep never used the playhouse, and preferred to hang out in the

By the end of the first week, the girls were used to their new home and came running every time they
saw us. They knew we always had a cup of grain to greet them with. I never realized sheep really DO
bounce all four feet off the ground. It was like watching Tigger in a Winnie the Pooh cartoon! Ester
literally SPRANG across the field and again SPRANG circles around Fall. Fall would get playful but wasn’t
nearly as playful as Ester. Perhaps because Fall was older and carrying lambs.

Every day, I’d come home from work and would play with the sheep. I had recently modified (ie.
REDUCED) my work hours, and had a very good work-life balance. I was in a “good place”. I remember
commenting about that when my friend, Renee, came to meet Fall and Ester. Boy, did I jinx myself on
that one…

29 October 2010: I got a call at work telling me that my 84-year old mother was in the hospital and in
very bad shape. My world completely changed in that very brief phone call. Mom immediately became
my #1 priority. I took an extended leave from work and dumped everything else (house, kids, and
critters) on my very supportive husband.

November 2010: For the first two weeks, I pretty much lived at the nursing home Mom was transferred
to. I didn’t see my husband, kids, or critters. I missed them all. Mom was improving and that kept me
going. On the nights I actually came home, I’d sit in a lawn chair in the pasture and feed Fall and Ester
grain by hand. Eventually, Ester let me scratch her behind her ears and under her chin. Fall would just
get a mouthful and step back to chew. That nightly ritual evolved into what I refer to as my “sheep
therapy”. Just sitting out in the field with them helped me to decompress after the stress of the day.
Supportive friends joined me for sheep therapy sessions, so I could vent my worries and frustrations.
Sometimes tea, cocoa, or even wine was present at these sessions. Sometimes cheese and crackers.
Sometimes a big box of Kleenex.

With the weather getting colder, Mike knew I really wanted a shelter for Fall and Ester to get out of the
elements, muchless to provide safety and warmth when Fall lambed. (She was due on 20 February.)
One afternoon I came back from the nursing home to find Mike and his dad had built a wonderful small
barn for the girls. Measuring 8’ x 6’ or so, it was perfect. Mike added a Dutch door, so they could be
contained yet still see out and get plenty of fresh air.

The new shelter

Jauaryn 2011: With Mom’s health crisis, Christmas had been a total blurr. We did manage to get the
sheep their own Christmas stockings though. They are members of our family after all, even if we do
plan to eat their babies.

On that topic… the kids understand the lambs won’t stay past November, and we will eat them.
They’re lobbying to keep one. I don’t know if that will happen. The pasture is very lush and green from
spring through fall. I’m concerned the quality of the pasture may be affected by more sheep. I could
supplement with hay, but that would defeat the purpose of trying to control my food chain.

The kids… Breanne has become quite the responsible shepherdess, providing food and water for the
girls every morning before she has breakfast. Michael takes care of the chickens and collects the eggs.
The youngest, Jaclyn, does whatever she can to help.

February 2011: Currently… With the extremely cold weather and Fall’s lambing date fast approaching,
I’m vigilant about making sure she’s safe and secure in the barn each night. I’ve heard too many horror
stories about ewes lambing in a cold field at night and the lambs freezing. I use grain to lure them to the
barn, but they don’t always want to go in. I learned that if I cut out their afternoon grain snack, the girls
will be hungry enough to come into the barn at nighttime. THEN they get their snack and dinner rations.
Looking at them through the open top of the barn’s Dutch door, and seeing them safe and snug has
become another extension of my sheep therapy. I stay out there or even go back out late at night just to
check on them and give Ester a scratch behind the ears.

Breanne lets the sheep out in the morning when she feeds and waters them. Sometimes getting the
barn door all the way open after the ground freezes is a challenge. Frequently, it opens just wide enough
for Ester to get out, but oh-so pregnant Fall can’t fit through. Ester becomes quite upset and kicks at the
door with her front legs until we open it all the way. If we have to go back to the garage to get a shovel
to hack at the frozen ground, Ester will go back in the barn with Fall. She doesn’t want to be apart from
her “big sister”. She immediately calms down as soon as she’s once again shoulder-to-shoulder with Fall.

As soon as we get the door all the way open, they scamper out and down their self-made trail to the
wooded part of the pasture.

Last minute preparation for the lambs has included installing a baby monitor in the barn so I can hear
Fall when she goes into labor. (She’ll start talking to her lambs before they’re born.) I also installed
a small work light as sheep have poor eyesight and it will make them feel safer. These conveniences
require a LONNNNG extension cord from the house. (Maybe Mike will run electric out to the barn, in his
copious spare time.)

I expect that before this weekend is out, the lambs will be here. What have I gotten myself into?

I’m a shepherdess.


Me again. This post is part of the weekly blogroll at Sustainable Eats, and GNLOWFGLINS, Simple Lives Thursday. Though I'm not convinced the sheep have actually made life for the family simpler! :)  Check out all the other posts for the day. I usually find a few great ones.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Raising a Homemaker

Head chef for Blueberry Kuchen
One of my big goals in raising my son is that when he flies the nest he can run a household.  I have no idea whether others share this goal consciously in raising their children; I am not sure that I've really ever discussed it with other parents. But for me, it's a real concern and it's something that I think takes energy and progressive conscious education. It's frequently easier to do the job, whatever it is, yourself than teach a child to do it, review their work and help them improve it. When my son first started cleaning the bathroom at age seven, I think there was more work required to clean the clean bathroom; but at nine, he needs no assistance and he knows all the mechanics.

I'm guessing that a lot of people enter into adulthood and their own home without being taught, not just about how to clean a toilet bowl, but how to manage their finances or cook their meals, how to fix a leaky toilet or grow food.  I personally was really good at managing finances because a family friend had spent time teaching me how to make the most of credit cards without debt.  I was relatively weak on a lot of other aspects of running a home.  When  I was in school, it wasn't cool for the academic kids to take courses like home economics or shop - i literally think no one I knew took those courses - and so I took typing. Ironically, here I am in my forties learning to cook and having chronic muscular pain that largely prevents me from typing. Schools do a great job of preparing you to contribute to society and the economy and traditionally the family taught you all the skills needed to fly in adulthood. My husband hadn't been taught to cook, clean, or do finances growing up. That's not a disparaging comment on my in-laws; I think that boys in the 1960s and 1970s simply weren't taught these things that often. But I don't want my son to have to be dependent on someone else, which is quite different than choosing to be interdependent.

Of course, a critical area for me is food. He has been actively cooking, not just putting sprinkles on cupcakes, since he was at least six. We work on reading recipes, assembling ingredients, measurements, principles like cutting, etc. In Italy, we discovered the mezzaluna, a two handled knife shaped a large "U" that allows even the youngest children to safely chop things on the cutting board. This is the perfect way to allow them to really participate in preparing food. After all, what kid doesn't want to use the knife? But knife skills are hard, say I who has routinely stupidly cut herself. With the mezzaluna, their hands are never near the blade and they can be completely responsible, except for an initial coarse cut, for making things like bruschetta. I think the pride of being a specialist at some recipe is huge for young kids, at least, it is for my son.  He's big on bruschetta and tiramisu.

He's proud of his whipping skills
We've just begun knife skills and I dont' let him move things into and out of the oven yet. He's itching to use the oven.  I do now let him monitor things on the stove.

When we cook together, I try to act as his sous chef, so that he is largely responsible for bringing things together. Yesterday we made a blueberry kuchen, the German word for cake, from the wonderful local cookbook, Dishing Up Maryland. We've never been a big dessert family, but this year with over 100 lbs of fruit stored from the Summer, we are diving in to all things fruit. We've made crisps and cobblers, compote and fruit ice cream. It's a new adventure for both of us. Yesterday was the layered kuchen, with a somewhat thick pastry like bottom, a layer of blueberries, and a crumble topping. Perfect with ice cream.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at Sustainable Eats, a blog from a family attempting a "hard core" approach to local living. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How to Pick the Right CSA for You

Truffula Seed Produce fields
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a popular and growing business model that allows consumers to become more connected with their local farms and the food they eat. We are just entering into the registration time for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangements. A lot of people I talk to find the notion of CSAs intriguing, but unfamiliar and sometimes confusing. Like my post a few weeks ago about buying local beef, I'm hoping this post will help connect readers with farms that will lead to a positive experience.

First and foremost, CSAs serve as a means for farmers to receive funding to help offset early season costs. Many consumers are led into a CSA with the concept that it is pre-paying for bargain priced produce, and that is simply not the case. Others find themselves overwhelmed with the produce they've signed up for by the middle of the season.  It's important to understand exactly what the arrangement is that you are joining and also what kind of variety exists within the CSA model, so that you can figure out what will work best for your situation.

The primary advantage of joining any CSA is to actively support local farming at the time of the year when farmers are most vulnerable - the end of Winter through early Spring. You might ask, well, what's in it for me? I'd say, you're supporting the local economy on the cycle that is necessary for it to thrive. Access to early financing is what makes local sustainable farming possible, and it is what brings that food to the local farmer's markets in the Summer. Beyond that? Many people join CSAs for the convenience. Instead of committing to a weekly market visit, where they may arrive just a little to late and find the stands bare, they are guaranteed a box of fresh picked produce. You might scoff, but I have indeed arrived at the market on more than one occasion to find slim pickings. A lot of people also enjoy the forced variety of a CSA membership. In most cases, the farm will provide you with a bag or box of what's in season right then. It could well contain produce you've never seen or heard of before. This Winter, our family ate its first celeriac through a CSA.

Farms might grow things you've never seen. These long purple beans are from Truffula Seed Produce
A CSA arrangement challenges you to try different foods and think more about your meals. To help out, most farms provide recipes with the produce each week.  Many, but not all, farms also host special member events and offer opportunities, or even require a small commitment,  to volunteer on the farm during the season.  As a general rule, price itself is not an advantage. And this causes a lot of confusion. A "share" of a CSA rarely means that if they grow X heads of lettuce and have Y members, that each member gets X/Y heads of lettuce themselves. Instead, the funds raised through the CSA process offset the upfront costs of the farmer for seeds, compost, equipment, etc. early in the season, and are repaid in equivalent produce during the Season. The extra produce grown by the farm is then available for sale at markets. The CSA memberships alone do not provide an adequate farmer income; just do the math. Small farms can have upfront costs in Winter and Spring in excess of $20k.

These are the reasons people often tell me they joined a CSA:
  • I wanted more local food because of "stuff" I'm learning about Big Ag (good reason!)
  • I wanted to support local farmers (good reason)
  • I thought I'd get discounted organic produce (not usually)
  • I thought I'd get new, unusual foods to try (depends on the farm)
  • I'd be forced to try new things (depends on the farm)
  • I wanted organic food (depends on the farm)
  • Convenience (good reason)

These are reasons people often tell me they left a CSA:
  • Too much food (that can happen), 
  • Too much zucchini or squash (that happens often)
  • Too little food or unhappy with quality (rare)
  • Wanted more control of their produce selection (depends on farm)
  • Want to participate in the market environment and mingle
  • Didn't like to drive to pick up at a set time/day
If you pick the right CSA for you, most of the time you can avoid these kinds of worries and end up a happy customer. 

How the CSA model works.

Some farms, like Green Akeys, leave members with choices
Farms advertise their CSA memberships in the January-March time frame and fill the slots on a first come, first serve basis. In most, but not all, cases you will have to pay the entire season membership before it begins. I have seen a few farms that ask for half upfront and half mid-season. In almost all cases, the farm will offer a certain number of weeks and a share of a certain value. Typically, you will see things like a 20-week share with $20/week of produce. So, your cost this Spring would be $400 and sometime in late Spring you would have your first pick up. The number of weeks and size of shares does vary extensively, and this is something you want to consider. For instance, Truffula Seed Produce is offering 22-week shares this year, starting in early June and running until early November.  They are also offering three sizes of shares. On the other hand, Everblossom Farm is running for 25-weeks (mid-May through mid-November), but only offers one share size. The costs of shares varies somewhat within the range of $20-40 for a full share. Many farms offer half shares.

Once the season begins, you'll pick up your produce either at the farm or a designated meeting spot each week. You'll want to check out what the pick up days are, they vary. Most of the time, farms can not accommodate alterations to that schedule, so if the pick up day is Wednesday, you are really expected to pick up Wednesday. Some farms offer two pick up days. Most also specify a time slot of several hours, during which you need to pick up your goods. Another important thing to consider is vacations. Generally speaking, you will have to either find someone else to pick up your share while you are out of town or forfeit the produce. You won't get a discount on the CSA for missed weeks.  These kind of details are things you want to get straight with the farmer now. I wouldn't be afraid to try negotiating some aspects that are important to you; these farmers are real people and not big companies, after all. But I wouldn't expect much ability to change what they've laid out for the very same reason. Some CSAs are really quite large, having memberships that exceed a hundred families, and it is highly unlikely they will change on request.
White Rose Farm prepares CSA shares

When you pick up, you'll receive stuff either in a reusable grocery sack or, more frequently, a 12"x12"x24" size produce box. In most cases, you'll be expected each week to return the boxes/bags from the previous week so they can be reused. How full will the box be? In the middle of the season, you can expect it to be very full. On the edges of the season, you may have half a box. It all depends on what is ready to eat. The farmer will do their best to provide fair market value as they promised, so it you have a $20 share, they will try to provide $20 equivalent to a farmer's market visit. Some farms will actually itemize the costs over the season to demonstrate the total value and,  in other cases, you might have $15 in value the first week of June but $30 in mid-July. From another perspective, the farm will try to put in each share the produce required for a family of four, eating veggies most nights.  The rest of the harvest for that week will be sold by the farmer at farmer's markets or farm stands. Often they will offer the extra produce first to the CSA members at pick up.  I only know of one variant to this scheme in Maryland, and that is Green Akeys Farm. In 2011, they are going to try a true share concept for their small CSA, in which members truly buy a portion of all the produce the farm harvests. Their members will be entitled to consume the full bounty, and will share in the risk/reward of the farm in that way.
Everblossom Farm Winter CSA pick up

Most farms will have the CSA boxes pre-filled for pick up each week. You drop by, grab the box, and away you go. But there are some variations. Some farms allow the member to pick from a set list each week and they partially fill their own box. So, you might have a list of fourteen things in season and be able to choose any ten. Or there might be a wide variety of winter squash, and you can choose any one. These arrangements are designed to help alleviate members frustrations with getting too little variety or too much squash. You might instead be able to get more green beans or tomatoes, say. These arrangements vary by farm and are often found with larger operations. Most farms will tell you upfront what they plan to grow for the season. Read that list carefully. If it only contains six items, you might end up with lots of squash or cucumbers.  I have seen farms in Central Maryland that allow the members to input during the seed buying time (now) to what they'd like to see grown. They take the members suggestions, usually for more heirloom type fruit, and grow a few rows of those items.  But these are all deviations from the standard arrangement, so you need to look around and ask questions. In most cases, the farmer will fill the box fairly with what's ripe and have it ready to go when you arrive.

If you think that a full box sounds like too much food, or too much money, or you want to go to the market, many farms do offer half shares. Some farms also offer reduced prices for volunteering in the fields during the season. If you want to get your hands dirty, this is a great way to do that. Green Akeys does volunteer hours for a reduced rate, and Kayam Farm in Reisterstown actually offers a work share option, which has a $50 registration and 50 hours of work requirement in return for a 26-week share of produce.

What to consider in choosing a CSA. 

Some Farms, like White Rose Farms, offer more than produce
When considering a CSA, it's fair but may not be that useful to ask about return members. National statistics show that somewhere between 40-60% of membership turns over in CSAs each year, presumably for the reasons that I listed earlier.  I would say that a farm that has a much higher membership loyalty, or a much lower one, is doing something out of the ordinary (good or bad). But, for the most part, if 50% of their members decided not to renew, that's not unusual. It seems to be the natural cycle of this business model.

Definitely look at the number of weeks, the cost per week, and think seriously about your families food habits. Ask them what they are growing. Many farms provide a list of week-by-week examples of what to expect to help consumers, as Kayam does here.  If you think you might get too much food, consider whether a family member, friend, or colleague might share a share with you. Also, most produce can be "put up" for the Fall and Winter season without too much work. You don't have to necessarily deal with boiling glass jars. Got too many tomatoes? Toss them in the freezer, as they are.  They'll be fine for sauce later.

If you care about organic practices, ask. Not all local CSAs are growing organically. They might avoid pesticides, but use non-organic fertilizer, for example. Also, people have varying irrigation methods and systems. You might ask how they faired in last year's drought. The quality of their soil is going to greatly impact the quality of their harvest. The best local organic farms I know are putting very large quantities of compost into the soil to provide nutrients at the start of the planting season.

Many farms are now joining forces to provide the consumer with a multi-faceted CSA membership, or are offering more from their own farm. They might offer egg, meat, or even flower shares, in addition to produce. This gives you a convenient way to get more shopping done each week. Some farms offer their own honey in the late season, like Ceilidh Meadows Farm in Finksburg. This year, Truffula Seed Produce is joining with several farms to offer that broad set of memberships, and Green Akeys is offering chicken and eggs from their own farm.

You probably should also ask about the size of the CSA. This is a personal preference. A smaller CSA may offer more connection with the farmer, but in many cases, it will also offer less variety of produce. You have to check. Many of the farms also host membership BBQs at the farm or other social event to bring folks together at the farm. Farms like White Rose Farm in Taneytown have a monthly event calendar, as being part of the farm is central to their philosophy.

I often get asked about whether I am a member of a CSA. I have been, but last Summer, I chose not to join a CSA. This Winter we've been a member of a Winter CSA, as I've described on the blog, and it was a fantastic decision. I have not yet decided what to do this year. The CSA is not the perfect business model for me. I am happy to pay upfront, but I like the farmer's market environment (hough I hate arriving to no produce). And I like control of my menus. When I want to make pickles, I want a ton of cucumbers that week, not the week before or after.  What I'd personally like to see is a variation in the model where I pay early in the year for some kind of credits to use at the farm itself, or at the market, during the Summer Season. Doing that with a cooperative of farmers would be ideal, though complicated to execute. I personally think changes like this would reduce CSA membership turn over, but I've never seen any examples.

Still, I really think that membership in a CSA is probably the best introduction to someone new to the local movement.

What are your experiences? Do you have a CSA to recommend?

Here is information on several local farms that have released information on their 2011 CSA.  Several of these are farms that I have written a detailed profile of in the last year, which can give you a bit more about the character of the farm. All of the farms listed here use completely organic practices.

Of course, is an excellent resource to find others in your area.

Truffula Seed Produce (profiled by me here) in New Windsor is running a CSA for the first time. They are offering 22-weeks and three sizes of shares, with a Wednesday pick up in Westminster or at the farm. Truffula has also teamed up with other farms to offer egg, meat, bread, and flower shares, as well.  Their large size share does include a discount on the standard market price.

Nev-R-Dun Farm (profiled by me here) in Westminster is running a CSA for probably the 10th or 11th year. Tom is offering single size shares for 26 weeks at $20/share.

Green Akeys Farm (profiled by me here) in Westminster is offering ten shares of produce for $800 and 20 weeks. Based on what I saw last year, with this membership, you can expect a lot of food and a lot of variety, which explains the higher cost. They are unusual in that the members are entitled to the entire harvest of the farm. They also offer egg, chicken, lamb and beef shares. They offer a reduced rate for working at the farm some hours.

Everblossom Farm (our Winter CSA) outside Gettysburg, PA is offering a 25-week membership for $500. They also partner with other farms to offer a 21-week fruit share for $136 and an 18-week flower share.

Kayam Farm (not yet profiled) in Reisterstown is offering 26 weeks for $500 with over 30 varieties of produce. They also offer a work share option which provides food in return for 50 hours of volunteer labor on the farm. They require four hours of work from all members. This is a Jewish organic farm that I hope to profile in the coming weeks. I met them last Summer and was very impressed.

White Rose Farm (profiled here) in Taneytown has not listed their 2011 CSA membership yet, but last year they offered 20 weeks for $500.

Ceilidh Meadows Farm in Finksburg offers standard shares that include honey and eggs. I don't have their specifics for this year, but in the past they were about 20 weeks long.  They are my standard egg supplier, and like the rest of the farms listed here, a great family farm.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop where you'll find a great variety of real food recipes, cooking experiences, etc. from around the world each week.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Now who's kooky? Defining sustainable and a silly video

I found this video on a post from Kelly the Kitchen Kop, a food blog. I thought it was entertaining, shedding some light on the complexity of making food choices while also poking some fun at the local sustainable advocate's concern for detail. You can interpret the video in a number of ways. I choose to roll with the punches, and say: this is why I don't eat out much!

Shortly after I had plopped this link into a draft post, Jackie Coldsmith of De La Tierra Gardens forwarded me a number of columns and letters that had recently appeared in the Carroll County Times. The original article published January 15th centered on comments made by a new Carroll County Commissioner, Richard Rothschild, about people who support "sustainabililty". Essentially the column claimed that the Commissioner associated sustainable with communism. It all seemed a little exaggerated as I read the first piece. And most advocates for a free market economy would argue that communism was anything but sustainable. But, alas, it seemed that the columnist was not being melodramatic, as the Commissioner restated his position in a response letter on January 22nd.

In his own words, Mr. Rothschild says, "Sustainability invokes government power to enforce activists’ views of environmentalism. They want to replace farmers,’ ranchers’ and other landowners’ concept of stewardship with government-centric control. It merges environmentalism and socialism to expand government into every aspect of our lives, including land use, food production, housing, transportation, manufacturing, energy rationing and even health care." What he really seems to be upset about is positions of the United Nations and a private organization regarding farming and regulation. Not being familiar with the offensive Agenda 21 , I certainly can't comment about the validity of his statements. He posits that sustainability in general, and Agenda 21 in specific, will "prevent lumber harvesting and beef production" by creating "millions of acres of wildlife corridors and wildlands (that) would eliminate or severely restrict human use".  A letter dated the 25th from one of Rothschild supporters is entitled "sustainability is communism".

It seems to me that there is a lot of reasonable debate to be had about sustainable farming, energy, and living. Making decisions that incorporate short and long-term goals for individuals, families, communities, regions, States, and the environment are really non-trivial from where I sit. But communism?!  It's so kooky that you'd ignore it as bizarre dogma if it weren't the words of a government official. I'm not printing the full text of these letters here, as they are too long, but I've tried to capture their drift. Mr. Rothschild argues that sustainability, specifically when used by the government, is an attempt for government to further dictate the lives of individuals here in Maryland and elsewhere.

The cool thing is that Mr. Rothschild, having been recently elected, now is Government and he can help return the use of the word from his current interpretation to one more inline with the way it is used by Carroll County farmers and most residents: the ability to be sustained, where sustained means to be prolonged at length without interruption or weakening.

Carroll County farmers incorporating sustainable practices are attempting to maximize the productivity of the land for the benefit of our region, while preserving it's ability to produce for future generations.That's what sustainable means to me.  I haven't met anyone yet, at least not that I'm aware of, that hopes to proliferate these practices through regulation. While that isn't the same thing as being against regulation, the farmers (and consumers) I know who are "sustainability advocates" are doing exactly that: advocating in the community. By setting an example, sharing their knowledge, and inspiring others.  I don't know a single one who has the energy or time to "collude with government to enforce oppressive regulations at any cost", as Mr. Rothschild asserts.

So having read all those letters, I hesitated about posting the link to this video. I thought, "hmm, this would really give them fuel for their fire." But, in the end, as much as a reader might think, "wow, those local living folks really are crazy", they are just as likely to think, "wow, Carroll County elected a really kooky dude."

p.s. My apologies to Mr. Neil Ridgley, the original columnist, for thinking at first blush that his words incendiary and likely blown way out of proportion.