Category Archives: agriculture

Open Transparency or Is it?

As I’ve been going through a couple of classes, I’ve been trying to integrate what I’m learning into some blog posts. What I am discovering is rather disturbing and alarming in some respects.

My question goes out to all those farmers out there: If you are sharing what you do, are you doing with transparency and communication or are you just telling people what you do and then dictating to them what’s okay and what isn’t?

Many farmers I know aren’t afraid to hold an open discussion with a back and forth dialogue with consumers (or customers of food, if that suits better). Sometimes, we stumble upon that one person with a great deal of practical knowledge that offers advice in a reasonable and sensible manner. Do we listen? Most of the time, the answer is a big, fat NO. Don’t get mad before you hear me out, please.

As a farmer, I also have the tendency to immediate jump when someone gives me any advice because they don’t know my specific circumstance or my mission for the future on my farm. While I am sharing my story, I’m not listening to comments with much more than a grain of salt because… well, let’s be honest here: very few people in today’s society are farmers and how could someone outside of farming possibly know what I’m dealing with? Over the years, I’ve learned just how wrong that assumption can be.

Why am I bringing this up? People have real fears and concerns today when it comes to the production of their food. People have the same access to internet and teachings that we do. Maybe they don’t know each specific detail about something you do, but they do have an idea of what they would like to see in the ways of humane treatment, environmental concerns and more. I bet there are farmers reading this right now saying that “It’s because they have listened to non-sense, non-scientific data” and immediately slam the proverbial internet door in someone’s face. If you were never told what ASSUME means, let me explain. My high school history teacher told me that “To assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”

It’s not just farmers that need to stop assuming either. It’s the customer and consumer. Only a fraction of the farmers out there should be classified as bad farmers. Lumping us all together is hurtful and unproductive. I know I hate the word “factory farming”… what does it even mean anyway? If I had 100 cows, would I be a factory farm? How about 1,000? Does anything else I do matter? Here’s an example I want you to think about: One farmer milks a 1,000 dairy cows in a freestall barn and let’s his/her cows out to pasture for roughly 18¬†hours a day. Another farmer raises 1,000 steers on 2,000 acres of pasture. Why is one a factory farm and the other isn’t?

Farmers are trying to tell their stories, showing how animals are cared for and how well they are treated. I will again and again express to you that EVERY FARM is DIFFERENT! It’s a huge load of factors from taxes, land, water and food availability, environment, buildings, equipment, manpower and overall knowledge that determines what farms become. Texas farmers and ranchers to things very differently than ones in Vermont, Colorado, California, and every other state. Farmers aren’t behind a desk, depositing money in armored trucks to the bank and we must continue to learn more and more.

Without communication and transparency by all parties, farmers and consumers alike, we don’t know the whole story or situation. I know I don’t want to be judged the same as a farmer that doesn’t give 100% compassion and care to his/her animals. I encourage you to talk to local farmers, even farmers talking with other farmers. I encourage you to talk to your consumer/customer about their fears and concerns WITHOUT dictating to them.

I am open about 99% of the happenings here on the farm. The one percent that I don’t is the struggles about finances, the tears I shed or the sleep I lose over battles on hard choices that have to be made. If you would all like me to begin journaling and discussing that too, I will. Especially if it helps you to see and understand how hard this life is on many different levels. I’ve shared the good days and the bad (we have way more good days). It’s not easy for any farmer to lay themselves out there to the public. We are fairly private people but we also know that our consumers honestly want to know more about what we do. I know that I also look forward to conversations with consumers because I’m a firm believer that perspectives matter.

I’m just a small time operator but that doesn’t mean that I don’t give 100% to what I do either. One cow or a thousand, each still requires the same work and care. That’s not something that is going to change here. It’s the root of who I am as a person. I’ll listen and discuss anything with anyone at anytime. Just please don’t ask me to do a halal butcher on my beloved cattle… morally, I can’t do it. If you want to know why, ask and I will gladly share the horrifying experience.

We all need to be more open minded and learn from each other. In closing, just give what I’m saying some thought. Stop the bashing and hate, start building bridges.

What Does Farming Mean To Us?

Today is National Agriculture Day. It’s being celebrated across the country, mainly by farmers who are eager to share their stories and things they’ve learned to come to appreciate.

As a farmer, I look to today as a form of Thanksgiving for all that Agriculture means to each and every person. It doesn’t matter if we are young or old, man or woman, It doesn’t matter if you are vegan or a meat eater.

Agriculture touches our lives in so many different ways! From the cotton grown to make our jeans, tshirts and sheets to the soybeans raised for tofu burgers… it’s all supplied from a farm.

The national average age of a farmer is over the age of 50. I know many that are much older and have spent their entire lives farming the land, building a life and risking it all to be able to supply goods for food, fiber and fuel. Today, I’m not going to describe the benefits that agriculture provides us. Today, I’m giving thanks to all those that have come before me. Those older generations of farmers that worked hard and still do.

Agriculture is and always will be the backbone of our culture. Agriculture is what built this country and I will forever be grateful for each and every lesson that has been passed down from generation to generation. Agriculture is rooted in the passion, drive and dedication of the many who live, work and die on the farm.

The beginning clip of the video below shows an elder man who says “Farmering is my way of life and I enjoy it. It’s a good life.” Today, instead of discussing advancements in scientific technical progression or all those material goods… Let’s celebrate the men and women who have given so much for the “good life”.

Thank you to:
Harry and Martha Liddington
Harold Cooper
Josephine Dyer Cooper
Earnest Barrows
Erford Barrows
Though you may all be in heaven now, we were blessed to have learned so much from you during our formative years!

Special Thanks to:
Jim and Kate Barrows
Harold Liddington
Jim Dickson
Art and Peggy Diekow
We may not always see eye to eye but we are thankful to have had your guidance and assistance over the years! We’ve both been blessed to have y’all in our lives. Farm family strong!

Chicken Experiments – Fermented Grains

I have been planning on putting this post up for a while now. It’s a little late for the winter effects but the value of this process can pay big dividends throughout the year for smaller producers.

I’ve been asked for years what I feed to my chickens. After a few years of evolution, I’ve finally got myself on the right tracks for better year round egg production and have seen a reduction in feed costs with the added benefit of strong, healthy chickens.

Before I get into detail, I want to give you a bit of back story into our road to discover. In 2013, we had a field that was newly seeded down for pastures. The crop specialist, Rich, was determined to plant a cover crop that would sprout fast and provide soil cover to prevent weed growth. The choice was made to plant forage oats.

What are forage oats? Well, it’s the rudimentary form of oats. It’s got wide broad leaves that sprout from the ground after just a few days of germination. It grows much more like a grass but if left long enough will produce the seed heads just like an oat plant.

As summer went by and we tried to get into the field to take the first cutting of hay, we experienced rain delays and scheduling issues. By the time we managed to get the field cut, the forage oats and developed their seeds and they had started to dry. Here on our farm, we like to feed the cattle baleage.

What’s baleage? Baleage is created when hay isn’t left to dry down all the way in the field before it’s baled. It’s not fresh cut but it isn’t dry either. Once the low moisture hay is baled into round bales, it’s then wrapped in a form of shrink wrap plastic. They look like those long tubes you see along the highway or the one’s you joke with little kids about being giant marshmallow poop. ūüėČ

Once the bales of hay are wrapped, they go through a fermentation process that “cooks” the grasses inside, leaving more available nutrients than standard hay and also leaves the grass soft for the cows to eat. Since some of the forage inside these bales were the oats, they were “cooked” too.

That winter when we started feeding these bales, we noticed that one set of our chickens had stopped eating their layer mash (a special mixture of powder feeds that is formulated just for laying hens). Upon monitoring this group, we noticed that they spent all day around the hay feeders in the cattle barns. “Why?” we started asking ourselves.

Low and behold, we had stumbled upon something that had us researching what was going on. Why would the chickens prefer the oats overtop of their own feed?

What was soon discovered is an article about fermenting grains. What was the big deal? Why would chickens like the fermented grains better? Apparently, a little known fact about grains and fermentation processes is that when the grains start breaking down, the release a lactic acid. The lactic acid breaks the bonds within the grains compounds and makes the sugars and proteins more readily digestible. “Huh, who knew?” is what we were thinking.

Off we set to do some experimentation! What did we need to do? According to a couple of reference (listed below), all we needed to do was add water, stir occasionally and sit back to wait.

How to ferment chicken feed by the Art of Doing Stuff

Fermented Feed by Natural Chicken Keeping

Why and How to Ferment Chicken Feed by Garden Betty

We started by using the layer mash we had. While it worked okay, the process took a lot of water and you had to keep stirring and stirring. The chickens did eat it, if there was no other food choice. Maybe my chickens are just picky, but they didn’t care for it one bit. The method was also long, sometimes taking two or three days to even start the “bubbling” needed.

Last winter, I was extremely discouraged and went back normal feeding of just mash. The results were astounding and I didn’t realize the impacts it would have. Our chickens didn’t lay eggs. Their feathers seems more ruffled and they just seemed more down than normal.

This last summer, I decided to give it another go for the winter season. I turned to a local farmer who plants a variety of crops and started talking to him about what my options were based off from what he plants. Matt set me up with a mix of crushed grains. The mix includes corn, wheat, rye and oats. It was mixed at 25% of each grain after it was augered through a pro-box and put through a roller mill. He then bagged it up in 50 lb bags for me to transport it home (and because I can lift that size bag, 100 lb requires assistance).

Upon getting it home, I took an old folgers coffee can and filled it up roughly 3/4 full (to the top of the handle mold). I added hot tap water (roughly 140 degrees) until it was just covering the grain by about a 1/2″. I put on the top and set it aside. Later that afternoon, I checked it again, stirred it up and added a little more water to one of the two I had set up. Much to my surprise, the next morning I had bubbles forming on the top of both containers. I left the one I had added water to and just fed the other. At first, the chickens and turkeys weren’t too sure but by sprinkling some of the dry grains on top, they devoured what was left. I repeated the process for the container I had fed.

On day two, the container I had left had fermented so much that there was literally mold growing on the top of the grain! Nope, that wasn’t going to work. Matt did such a great job with raising the grains and the processing that I only need to wait 24 hours!

The routine now goes like this: Morning feeding, I take out two coffee cans of fermented grains to feed to roughly 50 birds. As soon as the mixture is plopped out of the can, it’s standing room only around the dish. The grains are devoured in less than 1/2 hour with not even a kernel or glob left! I refill the containers and bring them inside to repeat the process again.

What’s the benefit? Prior to beginning the fermented grain feeding, I was getting roughly 2 eggs a day. The chickens were always huddled together and rarely ran around the barns. After just three days of feeding fermented grains, the egg production shot up to 6-7 eggs a day. After a week, the chickens were running around on days when it was -30 below outside and still laying an astounding NINE eggs a day from three year old chickens!

This week, we topped our highest egg days that we’ve seen in months at 12 eggs. I can see a vast improvement in their energy, their overall condition and their eggs. I see the same thing in the turkeys too. I’ve also seen their water consumption drop. Probably because they are getting the moisture and flavored water from the grains.

I might not have fancy photos like the other folks do above…but I do know this is the better way to go. We are feeding roughly half the amounts we were before and the layer mash that been given as free choice over two months ago, is still sitting there in the feeder. The wild birds and chickadees are loving it though.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the grains themselves, Matt is the guy to talk to! He’s available on Twitter and is full of great information about a variety of other stuff too (Just ask him about pressing ragweed for oil for confirmation). He can be found at @mdedrick1.

If anyone wants to see photos of the entire process, the way I do it… Just give a shout and I will edit accordingly!

Image of Agriculture – Conformity and Loss of Individualization

As a farmer, I like to think I express a great deal of my own individuality. I’ve heard it referenced in the past (by myself, I think) that ‚Äúfarms are like snowflakes, no two are the same‚ÄĚ. Each farm has different soils, different landscapes of rolling hills or flat ground, different weather (NY sure is a whole lot different than Hawaii) and each farm has a unique set of owners, operators or managers bringing in their own beliefs and perspectives.

Recently, some research has come to my awareness that has me rethinking that statement and adding much more detail. All farms, no matter where they are located are impacted by authority. Nationally, we are all impacted by the USDA, the EPA, even organizations like Farm Bureau. How does their authority impact what we do as farmers? The laws and regulations handed down from our government officials are enforced by some, others hold political clout that impact these decision making government processes. The end result is a law or regulation that dictates things like our planting schedules, our water usage and testing, slaughtering and food safety processes, emission recommendation on our trucks and tractors and even recommendations about the foods we all eat.

Regionally, we are impacted by state run organizations like NY Ag and Markets that set standards, recommendations and laws on things like milk pooling for dairy products, testing and even additional standards on exactly what can be sold without a license and what cannot. We also have the Department of Environmental Conservation that watches us to see how much manure we spread, when we spread it, and they monitor for things like soil erosion and runoff issues.

It doesn’t matter what state, region or locale you are from as a farmer. We have federal laws, state laws, intrastate laws, county laws, and local town laws. Talk about being overloaded with authority. We may say that we are doing things the way WE want to do them based off from a decision making process on the land WE own or operate‚Ķ but are we? How much of an impact about what we do is derived from one or more of these laws, rules, recommendations or regulations? Coming from NY, the second least friendly state for agriculture, I will flat tell you that authority dictates a lot of what we do. From filing documents on manure application, to agriculture exemption forms for taxes, to how we can slaughter an animal and even what types of fuels we can run in our equipment, we plan according to authority.

Sure, we make small decisions on stuff like what kind of operation to run, whether it be confined or pastured for example. Still, there are many outside influences that factor in. Farmers like Joel Salatin have been pushing to buck that trend for years. He also takes a lot of flak from other farmers too about what he’s doing.

The rest of us are doing the best we can, without bucking the system (always issues somewhere by the way). That means we are conforming to authority, whether we agree with it or not.

As we have progressed through the years and have become a society of conformist to laws handed down to us under the guises of sustainability, environmental soundness, or food safety, have we traded off our own values and beliefs to not end up being punished? I’ve read countless articles about the sales of raw milk that have landed sellers in court, broke and some have been threatened with jail time. 75 years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Times have changed, without a doubt, but at what cost?

Growing up on a small dairy in Upstate NY, we didn’t have these high overhead expenses from these laws and regulations of today. My grandfather used belly milkers on his dairy herd and stored milk in milk cans until the milk truck came, which wasn’t a tractor trailer either. Today‚Äôs milking happens with pipelines and goes into rooms filled with giant shiny equipment that sparkles in the sunshine. The glistening effect has come at a cost though. Dairy farmers conformed to laws or went out of business. These milk house rooms that have more stainless than professional chefs see in a lifetime cost a chunk of income to build, equip and maintain. Not only did many conform, they went bankrupt doing it or they ended up adding to the herd to get more milk to cover the new bill each month. Why would they just conform? They conformed because authority told them they had to, all in the name of food safety. They either conformed or they would not get milk pickups which meant no income. What do you think you would do at the prospect of losing any prospect of income? Would you conform or rebel against the new laws?

Dairy farmers across the country were impacted by this change. I can almost visualize the conversation around the dining room table. My grandpa with his weathered skin, hat next to him on the table, scooping his food around his plate with his head hung down. My grandmother sitting by the fire, sewing up patches in the boy‚Äôs pants because they couldn’t afford to keep buying new ones, watching everyone eat the meal she made from the goods she pulled from the garden that morning and the meat from the cellar that had been smoked last fall. Everyone is tired from a long day of work, the heat from the wood fired cook stove keeping it hot inside. Grandpa says, ‚ÄúBoys, we won’t be getting new tractor this year. We gotta buy a new fancy thing called a bulk tank and a bunch of fancy pipe to meet this new law so we can still get paid for farming.‚ÄĚ The oldest probably rebelled and ensued in a heated discussion about what a bunch of bull it was to change the system. One probably spoke up and commented that its progress and it‚Äôs not healthy or sanitary to milk this way anymore. I‚Äôm sure an argument ensued. It probably went on for weeks, if not months.

Slowly, the time came to when a bulk tank would have to be put in. Unfortunately, the decision was never really made. My grandparent’s house burnt that winter. They barely had enough money to pay for what few groceries my grandmother bought, let alone homeowners insurance. Not a week later, all the cows were sold and my grandparents retired. My grandpa knew that he had to conform or sell, that was the option he was given. It’s hard to believe that this all happened early in 1982.

In the mid 1980‚Äôs, along came some new issues for dairy farmers. Milk prices plummeted and the government offered to buy farms out to help offset the over saturation of milk in the pool. Farmers were given good prices to sell their cows for slaughter or continue struggling. I don’t know the specific numbers or percentages but I can tell you that I know of two small farms that sold out, took the money and ran. What do you think you would have done? Would you have risked your family heritage or sold off cows for a profit?

Also during this same time, the USDA started recommending to farmers that they could increase milk production if they confined the animals and started feeding in the barns. The reasoning also included a reduction in herd health issues, broken legs and the list goes on. Many dairy farmers followed along like sheep in a pasture being herded with a dog. I think many did because they had just been forced to build these fancy new milk houses and a penny saved is a penny earned. In retrospect, I almost wonder how many farmers transitioned because of the fear of another new law coming down the road that could cost them a lot of money if they waited.

More farms start shutting their doors, going bankrupt and more laws just kept coming down the pipeline. The farms that have stayed have conformed to all these new laws and regulations. Today, the general heading of farm has been gathered into this rather large group of a one size fits all mentality, even while the individual farmer struggles to find their own identity.

As a result, some of the people that have fought back against the grains of laws and regulations have also been taken over by government organizations. These farmers are now deemed as Organic Farmers. The farmers that have conformed have all been lumped into the nutshell of Conventional Farmers. In today‚Äôs society, something has happened nationally that I don’t think was anticipated by any farmer, group or organization‚Ķthe deindividuation of the American farmer.

Today, less than 2% of the population is a farmer. The majority of people today don’t have any idea the plight of the farmer in the minority. Deindividuation when defined in a psychology term occurs when ‚Äúindividuals are not seen or paid attention to as individuals‚Ķ [and there is] a reduction of inner restraints against doing various things.‚ÄĚ The negative extremes of deindividuation are lynching, gang rapes, and riots, stealing and cheating.

The negatives I’ve witnessed, read about and later saw video, for farmers is astonishing. Social media provides an outlet for the bias against farmers, not matter how good of a job they do. Organizations like PETA and HSUS, to name the two major ones, post videos about the horrific treatment of animals using the scare tactics and emotional based content, to turn average citizens against farmers. The long term impacts have been devastating to farmers, as a whole not just as individuals. These tactics create modern day lynching on social media sites. Farmers are demonized for using animals (often referred to as machines) for milking. We’ve been told that we rape our cows, that we all abuse them like the videos portrayed. These sensational videos get hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views but farmer‚Äôs videos rarely hit the 10,000 views mark. Social media provides anonymity unparalleled to any venue seen in the past.

As the size of the social networks increase, the more vicious the attacks on farmers and some have gone to the extent of criminal arson of cattle haulers. As the size of the groups continue to grow, the stronger the urge to do non-normal¬†behavior increases and the greater the diffused responsibility. This effect is rather overwhelming for a small portion of the populace. The minority perspectives do still have an impact on these judgments roughly 8% of the time; according to research experiments concerning the impacts of minorities on a group of majority. Yet, 25-35% of the people that don’t conform to the group dissent initially will before the ‚Äúwar‚ÄĚ is over.

Yet more deindividuation occurs between the differing social groups within farming. The line has been drawn in the sand by both consumers and national advocates that you are either an organic farmer or you’re something else, typically defined as a conventional farmer. It‚Äôs an internal war waged about the good and evil of the farming culture. Farmers are pitted against each other in this debate. Modern Era farmers are tech-savvy and social media crazy. We know it doesn’t matter which side of the proverbial fence we stand on, we need people to side with our decisions and beliefs. When consumers lash out against one form or the other, the non-normal¬†behavior rears its ugly head yet again. The conventional farmer is an abuser. The organic farmer gets deemed a greedy person due to cost structures. The comments will spin out of control; result in hate speech spewing from each side.

These actions and group sociology impact all of us as consumers of these goods. The arguments are always the same; each individual farmer should represent themselves clearly and defend their positions. Enflaming the counter arguments is unproductive and typically results in dissention among the groups, often resulting in a negative extreme on all sides of the table. Farmers need to be more aware of their beliefs on issues of conformity, as do consumers. Basing decision making processes on the ‚Äúin-crowd‚ÄĚ and against our own standards and beliefs is causing a larger rift between the sectors. We all need to be more aware of the agenda hidden behind authorities‚Äô procedures and law making capabilities.

Educating yourself thoroughly, speaking up to others about your beliefs and communication is crucial to stop this cycle of negativity by all. Every person that has become involved in any of these arguments needs to heed these words of advice, farmers and consumers alike.

I know many farmers that are willing to answer questions and talk about what they do. I’m one of them. To name just a few additional blogs you can read or follow to learn more:

Ryan Goodman at I am Agriculture Proud

Carrie Mess at The Adventures of Dairy Carrie

Megan Brown at The Beef Jar

Jenny Rohrich at The Prairie Californian

and many, many others that you will see referenced and linked within other blogs or shared via Twitter.

To start the conversation with farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and advisors via Twitter

Doreen Barker @CNYFarmGirl
Lorraine Lewandowski @NYFarmer
Carrie Mess @DairyCarrie
Ryan Goodman @AgProudRyan
Megan Brown @MegRaeB
Jenny Rohrich @PrairieCA
Mark Rohrich @sunflowerfarmer
Howe Ranch @HoweRanch
Ryan Bright @Farmerbright
David Foster @fosterdairy
Sheila Marshman @Marshisms
Nicole Day Gray @CatskillsDay
Laine Lewin @2cylinderfarmer
Kathy Swift @cowartandmore
Bossy Eats @BossyEats

I could probably add a 100 more names to this list too. Each person above is linked with more¬†from all around the world. I know that each one will take the time to answer any questions in a positive manner. I encourage you to NOT send hate mail but to reach out in a positive way to ask questions first. Let’s create a wave of positive change and I’m hoping that this will spur further conversations into the choices that farmers make and why.

Image of Agriculture vs Beliefs

I’ve written up a post before about the Image of Agriculture¬†(following the link to read more about how farms and ranches can “dress for success”). Now, I want to utilize some stuff that I’ve just learned in a Social Psychology class.

I’m going to transpose an excerpt from the book “Social Psychology” by¬†David G. Myers. ¬†(This book is utilized within the course as a form of a textbook and contains lots of great information)

“…Research reveals that it is surprisingly difficult to demolish a falsehood, once the person conjures up a rationale for it. Each experiment first implanted a belief, either by proclaiming it to be true or by showing the participants some anecdotal evidence. Then the participants were asked to explain why it is true. Finally, the researchers totally discredited the initial information by telling the participants the truth: The information was manufactured for the experiment, and half the participants in the experiment had received opposite information. Nevertheless, the new belief survived approximately 75% intact, presumably because the participants still retained their invented explanations for the belief. This phenomenon, called belief¬†perseverance, shows that beliefs can grow their own legs¬†and survive discrediting of the evidence that inspired them.”

I want to point out here why this is important to agriculture. It’s important due to the power of persuasion used in advertising and marketing campaigns. Some of you are already aware of the fear tactics used by food companies pitting one style of farming against another (ie: the great GMO debate and Organic vs Conventional). These fear tactics play on our emotions and health concerns. *As an FYI, I’m not taking sides here, I’m just looking at the tactics and impacts*

How do these powers of persuasion in advertising and media affect our behaviors and beliefs? Here’s how! Let’s use the example of this image¬†below.

Image clip from: http://newmacdonald.onlyorganic.org/
Image clip from:
http://newmacdonald.onlyorganic.org/

As a mother, the first thing I notice in this image is the toxic sign to the left of the image and the brown sky. Second thing I notice is the no spray zone and the sun shining in the blue sky. As a farmer, this is a polarized image with zero fact based information.

How does this clip use the power of persuasion with fear appeals? Well, that type of farming to left appears to be dirty (brown sky) and toxic (the sign). It looks unhealthy even with the corn growing exactly the same as the right image. The type of farming on the right shows me a beautiful landscape with sunny blue skies and the idealist image of what we would all want farms in our neighborhoods to be. See that little logo at the top, with the “join the New MacDonald Movement”, well that gives us a directive to what to do as the next step if we “fear for our environment”.

Here’s the funny thing. The New MacDonald is the OLD MACDONALD! It’s the image of what we all think as consumers of what we want farms to look like. It’s the image we’ve seen our entire lives as we’ve driven past farms in rural areas. To be honest, I’ve never once witnessed huge puffs of pesticides bigger than the clouds in the sky. I’ve never once seen green soils in corn fields. I’ve never once witness a brown, dirty sky (other than a dust bowl which I’ve never physically witness, just to clarify).

This image is very polarizing and untrue. Now, let’s see some reactions if this was done in real time with real people. (Pay close attention to the reactions in the audience, staged or not they still impact us with a power of persuasion)

Say you are a farmer now that sits on the other side of the fence. You aren’t organic, yet you aren’t a conventional farmer either (like me, by the way). I know you will find these images and tactics rather disturbing. I’m sure you noticed that NOT ONCE was there any factual information that discussed any type of real environmental impacts, crop yields, or hell, even a tractor (not one? How can this be?)

Peripheral routes to persuasion are one’s that makes us feel good and making us “feel good” about let’s say choosing Organic based products is saving the environment, creating a better life for animals and giving us the perspective of all those farms we pass by on road trips. While in reality, some organic farms aren’t any different than what’s deemed a conventional farm. Yet after many view this imagery, they associate a feeling of bad and negative to any farmer not carrying the organic label.

Why is this bad for all of us? Let’s go back to the ¬†quote at the top about belief perseverance. If ten¬†people see this image for the first time and believe the center line of demarcation, all farmers that are not organic are deemed as bad, untrustworthy and uncaring. Even when these 10 people are presented with fact based information and many times know farmers they can talk too (either in person or via social media), 7.5 people will still hold the belief that it’s organics only from now on.

Now, I want all of you folks that are non-organic believers to step back for just two seconds and put on your thinking cap. Haven’t some of us done the same thing? How many are sitting there right now thinking about where their beliefs come from that GMO’s are good or that spraying pesticides are okay for the environment? With the sheer number of farmers that are generational farmers, I will lay money on the table (that I don’t have to spare) that you use the systems you do because your dad did it and everything turned out okay. Some will say that they have read the research and they are confident in their belief. How can you be when for every pro scientific study their is one that contradicts the findings?

Many of us will immediately jump on the band wagon to refute claims, as I did above. Here’s the issue with counter arguing: If you aren’t convincing enough in your counter appeal, all you do is build resistance against your viewpoints. It’s called attitude inoculation and very much like immunizing someone with a low dose vaccine. The more you argue, the higher the vaccine and the more resistant the opposing side becomes.

Why is all this important in today’s world of agriculture? It’s important because to be FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED. We live in a world today full of available outlets and inlets for information. Just be aware that everywhere we look someone is trying to persuade us to their side. I think Myer’s had some good advice for everyone to use, farmer or consumer, it doesn’t matter….

“To be persuasive, you have to stimulate people’s thinking. stimulating thinking makes strong messages stronger and weak messages less persuasive.” (Myers, D. ¬†Part 3 Social Influence, Social¬†Psychology, p. 180.)

What we think of a message is crucial. That’s where our beliefs come in, but don’t argue your case unless you have all your counter arguments lined up and are prepared to have the case you’re making not result in immunization of the recipient. Second, if you are going to make your case…. make it first. I’ve said before (and I’m going to continue expressing it) that you need to be proactive, not reactive.

You have to get people’s undivided attention, present your case (with facts preferably) and keep repeating your message.

What’s my message in all this? I just want people, all of us, to sit back and think about the arguments we all have over food production. Some of us know and understand that it takes all of us and that many farmers make the best decisions they can based on the information and circumstances in front of them. Let’s stop focusing so much on peripheral and subliminal advertising and start communicating with each other directly. Today’s farmers are much more available than ever before. The diversity of farmers on Twitter alone is staggering and they are from all regions in the world.

Communication between the producer and consumer are crucial to the future. All of us have the same goals in mind for the future: Safe, healthy and nutritious food for everyone. Can we stop throwing up prison fences around one production form over another? No one wants to climb chain link fence to get ripped to shreds by razor wire. Each side does it too. Stop demonizing others for their choices, hold open discussions, everyone ask each other questions. Take the power back to make your own educated decisions, not just follow along because someone told you to.

I’m hoping this gives everyone as much food for thought as it did me. Please feel free to comment, add remarks, whatever.

Transitions

Since I haven’t updated anyone in a couple of weeks, I guess I need to take the time to do so. As we have been building pages with the sale information (please see our Farm for Sale page), listing the ad on several social media sites and craigslist, it has become official that the farm will be sold.

As much as I hate to see this happen, I know that there are many different factors that have contributed to this decision. Looking back through the photos I’ve gathered over the years, it’s been an amazing transition to see the farm change. We’ve seen animals grow from newborn calves into cattle that have had their own (one has had two). We’ve watched turkeys grow, lay eggs and hatch their own young that are now prepared to do this same this coming spring.

We have seen major transitions in the land too. In 2006, the farm sat idle. There were no animals to graze, no tractors mowing the hay and the farm didn’t produce anything. In 2011, nearly the entire farm was planted into corn, contrary to what we wanted. In 2012, we planted fields back to a variety of grasses. In 2013, the whole farm was surrounded by new fencing and all the ground had been established as pastures. In 2014, the water system was built to make it easy to water the cattle without the use of electricity or trucks.

We’ve witnessed major improvements in the quality of the grasses we manage for grazing. We’ve seen first hand how well the cattle have done. This farm has also become a haven for birds like the Bobolink and the Eastern Bluebird. Last spring, we were blessed enough to consistently see the offspring of the wild turkeys (20 poults in total). We saw fawns and their mothers out grazing in the lush pastures. We’ve documented butterflies galore, by photography at least roughly 20 different species.

This farm isn’t just any other farm to me. In my opinion, it’s a work of art. It showcases our natural systems working together and how each layer benefits another. Consideration into small things that others typically overlook, like the earthworm population, and larger things like water quality and clarity of rainwater run off.

There is still work to be done like getting lime on the soil but, it’s still amazing to see how far we have come! It’s been a great lesson in learning that couldn’t have been done without trial and errors. This farm is at the cusp of becoming something great. With financial backing and the right people, this farm has the potential to become another Polyface farms. I know it can be done! Unfortunately, it’s just not us that will be able to do it. From health reasons, age and the lack of finances to keep expanding, we just can’t do it anymore. It would be great to be able to continue alongside the new owners as mentors/advisors though.

The new perspective is that this isn’t the end of an era, it’s the beginning of something amazing for the next person. There are others with the same visions we have and while they may be a select few, I know that someone out there reading this understands exactly what’s being discussed.

Thank you again to all of our supporters for the wonderful years you’ve given us. Hopefully, someone will come along to continue what we got started. I’m looking forward to making that announcement as time goes on and a buyer comes forward. Until then, we will keep searching.

Please feel free to drop an email to farmgirldoreen@gmail.com if you have any questions or would like more detailed information.

The Book of Life

The past is nothing more than pages written in our book of life. The future is still unwritten (I think those are lyrics to a song). As the pages develop, chapters start and end. Each new page contains another memory.

Barrows Farm has a big, thick book already. To tell the tale will take some time but, eventually I hope to put it all together. There are stories like the family history within the deed. A deed that contains pages dated all the way back to 1850. A deed that contains information on parcels that go all the way back to the Boston Ten Townships purchase. 165 years of heritage contained within those papers, written and documented history of Barrows Farm.

In more recent years, there are stories about farm owners and livestock that bring a smile and shared laughter among the family, tales of buggy rides to Syracuse and how a young man worked with his Grandfather and eventually took over on the farm.

Not all the memories are happy ones. There are tales of government buyouts and the end of a dairy here. There are tales of barn and house fires. Many things have changed over the years, mainly with the last owners occupation. It’s hard to express the hardships that have been endured. Granted, I haven’t been here for the majority of them.

I’ve lived here for ten years and I love this place as much as this family does. Someday, I really hope to be able to have the time to sit with Rich’s parents to document some of the history. Even if it’s only ever to just put together to share with the family for future generations. I think it’s something important to be passed down throughout the years, from generation to the next.

As I sit here with this thought rolling in my head, I’m also saddened that it won’t be passed down to the next owner within the family. After so much that has gone on here since 2008, I’m devastated. I can’t even imagine the thoughts rolling in Rich’s head. Having been on or around the farm his entire life, it has to yank a piece of his heart out to make decisions like selling. Eventually though, when push comes to shove, self preservation takes over.

I’ve talked with others about concerns over farmers committing suicide because of these types of decisions, lack of funds and severe depression. In my way, I’m trying to explain how hard it is to lose a piece of yourself at times like this. Farmers who have worked the land, watched it grow and change have an affinity for the property that is unparalleled. They put their heart and soul into every piece of hay, every head of livestock, every grain of soil and every drop of water. Farmers love their farms like parents love their children.

To farmers, our farm is our legacy. It’s our book of life that we have written the pages for. Failures or success, risks and rewards, it’s all in there. Our pages might not be written over the years on paper, but they are written on our hearts, our souls and within each detail we find on the farm. It doesn’t make a difference what kind of farm it is, how big or how small. It’s just the way it is for farmers.