Friday, December 10, 2010

Post season presentations, workshops and media!

Back in mid-October, I was interviewed via phone about the farm by Glenn Cheater, writing for the Canadian Farm Business Management Council.  We talked about why/how I got into farming and I sent him some pictures from the farm. You can see the results in the article "Farming their own way" in the December 2010 issue of the Canadian Farm Manager newsletter (go to link in blog title).

This year, I was also one of about 15 recipients of a $750 marketing grant from the Grey-Bruce Local Food Project which helped to pay marketing costs (signs, packaging materials, vegetable bins, printing and supplies, etc.). At the end of the season they hosted, along with the Grey Bruce Agriculture and Culinary Association, the Grey Bruce Local Food Summit in Owen Sound. All of us grant recipients spoke in a workshop about our farms/businesses and how our marketing worked out for the year. A big topic discussed by many at the event, was about the problem of efficient and cost-effective distribution of food products from the producers to local buyers (direct or retail). One of the stumbling blocks was that local restaurants/retailers/etc. were not necessarily willing/able to pay the higher prices for local food vs. foreign imports. This was not a shocking piece of news to any producers, but highlights the fact that though it's currently popular in the media for people, retailers and restaurants to want to source local food, they're not necessarily willing to pay the cost of that choice. The fact that our society expects low cost food is depressing, especially as a producer trying to make a living growing food. One day, we'll all have to come to terms with what the true cost of food is and allocate our budgets accordingly. Hopefully local food production can survive until such a time ;P

In November, I also took the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP)workshop, run by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) on behalf of OMAFRA, which I found highly educational. Before this workshop, I hadn't truly clued in to how contaminating industrial agricultural methods really are, and how the government is trying to get farmers to 'voluntarily' mitigate that contamination with cost sharing. I'm not sure what legislation there exists, if any, to get farmers to run cleaner operations. Apparently, the Grey Bruce region has a high rate of participation in the EFP, but it's certainly not all farmers. Many river ways still aren't fenced off from cattle (who stand in the river to drink and poop in there as well) and animal yards aren't necessarily roofed to prevent un-treated/directed manure run-off (think Walkerton...). As an organic farmer, many of the environmental risks addressed in the workshop don't apply to me at all so I'm applying with projects to improve my well (apparently, it needs to be completely above ground to be safe from surface water contamination), to plant windbreaks (silver maples, oaks and cedar along the road) and to buy seed for cover cropping. But it was very eye-opening to see how many costs of environmental protection need to be paid for by the farmers themselves. The cost of covering an animal yard to prevent manure run-off from rain/snow is upwards of $30-60K...half of which is paid for by the farmer. Given how little money many industrial farmers are making, I wonder what incentive/cash flow/borrowing is available to these farmers to make these changes to their operation...and the cost to society if they can't afford these changes (again, Walkerton). And for those industrial farmers that are voluntarily cleaning up their operations, it seems to me that our society should acknowledge the heavy costs they pay and how much cleaner operations contribute to improving the environment we all live in. Of course, if all farms in Ontario followed organic principles, that would be the best for all...but I don't live in that much of a fantasy world!

The applicaton process for EFP funding was itself quite crazy. Apparently, when the program was first funded in 1993, it was like pulling teeth to get farmers to participate, but now, it's a race to get your applications in on time to access the government funding (which has decreased over the years). On Nov. 15, I had to go to my workshop leader's house in Mildmay to join the many other farmers from my area in filling out the project application forms that would be mailed via Canada Post that night to get to the OSCIA head office in Guelph. It's quite a sight to arrive at a farm house with a farmer sitting at every available seat at multiple tables/countertops and more waiting on couches for their turn at the writing surfaces. My workshop leader used to drive the application forms in to Guelph to be as far ahead in the queue as possible, but now all the various applications have to arrive by Canada Post to try and level the 'distance to Guelph' playing field. I don't know yet if any of my applications have been approved, but I hope to find out soon so I know if I can go ahead with improvements to my well sooner rather than later!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prepping the farm for winter

I can't believe how fast time has flown by since my last vegetable delivery! I had to get lots of stuff done before winter came in earnest (there are a couple feet of snow on the ground at the farm right now).

In November, with the help of Jeremy, my intern for next season, I built spools for winding up irrigation drip tape, got the various bits of irrigation equipment off the field (so fast when you have 2 sets of hands!), did a final glean of the field and processed the laying hens (yes, that means they are now dead and in my freezer, ready to become chicken soup). The last harvest from the field yielded tons of chard and kale, as well as some root vegetables (beets, carrots & parsnips) and cabbage. Most of the chard is now in my freezer and the kale was turned into delicious, crispy chips! My neighbours came over for a field glean feast that night and we thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of our labour :)

For the house, I fire-proofed my basement insulation with a thermal barrier paint...a process which took more than twice as much time and paint than I initially expected :(  Not too much fun considering I don't like hanging out in my basement, the paint cost about $100/gallon and it had to be applied by brush. It was like painting a rocky cliff face. But, safety first after all! And now it's done, my insurer is happy too. The eavestroughs on my house were also replaced, so hopefully there will be no repeat of the basement flooding that happened this summer...though eavestroughs won't prevent that in the case of torrential rains, they might mitigate somewhat! At least my new washer is up on a platform so I will have more time to start bailing/pumping the basement if the situation repeats itself!

I've also been stacking wood for the winter, a process only half done so far. But this year I was smarter and covered the wood pile with tarps, so even with the snow that's come down, the wood will be more accessible than last year when I had to chip logs out of ice ;P It is quite lovely to have the wood stove heating the house. The flames are beautiful and the dry heat definitely takes the damp out of the house! The cats love sitting in front of the stove too :)

Which reminds me...I now have cats! I knew I had to choose between cats or mice in the house for the winter, so I went with cats. I adopted a lovely pair from a couple moving to Zurich and am quite happy with my new mousers. I haven't had any mouse droppings around the house since their arrival and I was presented with my first dead mouse while watching a movie one night.

The one thing I didn't get around to doing before the weather got cold, is set up my heat lamp for the well pump. I should probably have prioritized that as I'm currently sitting at home with no water because the temperature dropped below -10C last night so the pump line froze. I completely forgot about it before I left for Toronto to help my sister with the One of a Kind show, and wasn't paying enough attention to temperature to clue in that I needed to get that set up yesterday. Since I just got back to the farm on Tuesday, I guess my mind hadn't quite returned to rural mode yet! Plus, yesterday's all day snow storm meant I wasn't in the mood for wandering around outside running extension cords ;P

Now I'm in a Christmas decorating frame of mind...jump started by making the wreaths for my first set of Christmas wreath deliveries mid-November. I have another set of deliveries in about a week, but the greens will be harder to forage now since there's so much snow on the ground! It will definitely be good exercise to go snow hiking out to gather greens :)