Thursday, July 30, 2009

Content and Grateful

Several things have made me content and grateful recently:

1) A few nights ago, reading a good book called "Gilead" while classical music played on the radio and the host dad prepared dinner.
2) Riding in a truck with the windows down as the sun was setting, setting aglow a nearby wheat field.
3) Having a wonderful dream where I directed an imaginary orchestra and choir as classical music poured out; new & beautiful words were created in that symphony.
4) Seeing clouds in a diagonal pattern that looked to me exactly like a surfing wave with certain clouds pouring over others.
5) Having a couple of dreams of reconciliation with some distant family members and friends.
6) Seeing the sun poke through a sky almost totally filled with clouds.
7) Seeing the circle of life here at the farm in northern MN.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Random Conversations

A few days ago, talking with Farmer 'John' and fellow volunteer 'Jane':

Me: I'm a pacifist and your a pacifist, but how do you feel about me punching one of your chickens in the face, when she tries to bite me and makes me bleed again?

John: Uhhh....I don't think it will work.

Me: Oh yeah, I'd probably just get bit again. They're quick.

John: But your question does bring up a really deep philosophical discussion about whether pacifism extends to animals.


Jane: These eggs at the bottom of the refrigerator are two months old! I'm still going to eat them.

Me: You're on strong antibiotics from your cold; there's no're invincible and could eat anything. If you get sick, I'll know not to eat them. If you don't get sick, I'm still not eating two month old eggs.

Jane: You know that most of the eggs you buy at the grocery store are at least that old, don't you?

Me: No.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Random Events

I'm out in the garden using this hat every day.

Yesterday, we checked on the bee hives.... Evidently bees are more agreeable when nectar is readily available & being produced (summer) so we only needed netted-hats and the smoker. Smoke 'calms' or 'frightens' the bees and is used before and immediately after opening the hives. We opened up 5 hives and checked each one methodically for chalk broods, for mites, honey production, queens, etc.

This is a re-enactment of the 'two-finger test' which is how my host farmer demonstrated how to tell whether a hen can lay eggs. He caught a hen, turned her upside down, and stuck two fingers in her. That particular hen could lay eggs because three fingers fit.

In other news, the farmer and I drove to a nearby dairy for non-homogenized milk yesterday. This is milk that you take home, let rest in room temperature for a couple hours to separate the milk from the cream and then spoon out the cream at the top.

Also, hay is any type of grass, alfalfa, etc. that is cut & dried for animal feed. I didn't know that until yesterday.

Outside of farm news...I thought this article:
was particularly interesting. I may post some more thoughts about the 'market' in the future and how psychologists and economists studying human behavior are radically changing economic theory away from 'perfectly rational participants' and away from 'greed and/or self-interest as the necessary main ingredient for a well-functioning market'.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tree Identification

The last few days have been quite fun:

Tuesday- we (the organic farm family) drove to Lake Itasca for tree identifications and measurements. There are many plots set up in Lake Itasca that have been measured every 7 to 10 years since the 60's for biodiversity. Stakes are set at particular GPS points with three lines going out from the stake. One line is placed directly north and the other two lines move in quadrants clockwise so that we are researching two circles around the stakes. The volunteer researchers are interested in everything within a particular radius from the stakes.

Within the first line (and first radius), two researchers confer about all the small plant matter within..including 'litter'-fallen leaves, twigs, etc.. The second line is for researchers identifying trees. The day consisted of going to many different plots in Lake Itasca and shouting out things like: "1-live, 2-red pine, 3-dbh: 50.6, 4-ring 4".

1-We differentiated between live and dead trees.
2-Researchers originally started calling out trees in English but in the middle of the day switched to Latin. So red pine would be pinus resinosa I believe. It made it difficult to switch gears half-way but still fun. I got to identify several different types of trees- red maple, red pine, black ash, paper birch, etc.
3-DBH refers to the measurement of the tree. centimeters times 3.14 (pi).
4-We had 5 rings from the stake and needed to shout out 'where the tree was' in relation to the stake.

Each researcher was given chalk to mark the trees measured and a tape measure. Later the data will be compiled. Lake Itasca is a particularly interesting research location for at least two reasons: 1) plants were selected and planted similarly in many locations but plants have become very 'micro-localized' with species dying and other ones taking their place. Researchers love knowing why certain plants have come in to these plots and others didn't survive...and 2) DNR in MN has done localized burns to prevent larger forest fires and to encourage biodiversity. The mixture of plots with and without burns can help researchers better understand what happens after a controlled burn.

Wednesday-the dad went again for identifications, but I stayed behind to look after the farm. What was particularly fun was the 3 minute tutorial he gave about driving the tractor...then me driving it along paved county roads and then 'raking' hay in the afternoon with the tractor.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pommel Horse

Yesterday was spent driving from northern MN to Omaha for a good friend's wedding this weekend. It was not the most pleasant experience...

I had a bad head cold, my back hurt from farm work, and I thought I broke my hand in the night. I also carried two egg-laying hens for Silas and Kimberly.

To back up...I thought I broke my hand because starting around 1:30AM I woke up with my hand HURTING like h@ll!!. I woke up dazed, and pictured myself on a pommel horse, only to take painkilers and fall back asleep for a few hours.

I take painkillers for the ride but still feel the throbbing pain of my hand/wrist during the drive, peak over into the back seat to check on the hens in the back seat. They pop up their heads and occassionaly cluck. They are 'nestled' into a sewn towel because the farmer says they relax when in a tight & dark space. I have a pillow sheltering the sun, above the towel and balancing on the back seat.

I arrived first at Silas and Kimberly's and two of their children came running to see the hens I've brought. Silas opens the towel slowly to take them out and says 'I don't think these hens are alive.' He feels one that has already gone rigamortis and the other one he hits gently on the head to try to 'wake up' from its eternal slumber. I have just driven almost 9 hours with hens shitting and pissing in my back seat to deliver dead hens to good friends.

I had offered these hens to Silas and Kimberly thinking they might want to have fresh eggs in the mornings and they even had an Omaha government worker come out to inspect their yard and certify that it was suitable for hens.

Thankfully the kids seem nonplussed, don't cry or scream. I had asked the farmer specifically if the hens would survive an 8.5 hour drive and he assured me yes.
Thankfully Silas grew up in Kenya and knows how to pluck & cook the dead hens for a future family dinner. Sorry Silas and Kimberly.

While I was there, I asked Silas about my hand and if someone can break their hand while sleeping. Silas said 'for anyone else I'd say no, but I've seen you thrash around pretty good in the night-time.' I knew I tossed and turned, but this was a revelation.

I had dinner with Paul and Ana from Romania last night at the Brazenhead and then slept at Jared & Julie's. As always they were super gracious and kind. When I woke up after a good night's sleep, my head cold had significantly improved and my hand had stopped hurting! This morning it was breakfast with Chris Harrell, in from Romania for his brother's wedding.

Tomorrow is the wedding and then I'll head back to the farm.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In Min-a-sota

Working on a real farm is HARD! I have been here for about a week and 10 hour days are common.

I am enjoying working very much however and learning a lot. So far this week, I've:

-fed chickens and collected eggs from the chicken coop
-seen how eggs are cleaned and 'candled' in a home operation
-cut, washed, and bagged numerous vegetables for the CSA (community supported agriculture) that is delivered twice a week
-fed cows salt (more on this later)
-set up trellises for pea plants
-picked potato bugs
-tilled the land with both wheel tillers and automated tillers
-weeded & fed drip irrigation lines for several rows of plants
-planted from seedlings numerous vegetables
-used a scythe to cut down daisies which are poisonous to cows and thistle whose bristles don't hurt after being cut and which the cows will then eat.
-filled several compost bins with weeds and shrubs

The quaker family i'm staying with have been great. They live a real lifestyle of simplicity and make most of the food they eat. So far i've seen homemade: jams & preserves, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and bread. They rarely buy from the supermarket. We had worship in sunday morning in the typical unprogrammed quaker style...silence.

Some pictures of the 154 acre farm:

A rooster like this climbs up a picnic table every morning around 5 to announce the new day. It is two-toned and severely aggravating. I tried convincing the owner that this should be the next choice for the proverbial Sunday dinner but he had another old hen and rooster in mind. I may learn how to kill & pluck a chicken later tonight.

Evidently, the cows hadn't been fed salt in quite awhile, so yesterday when I brought the bag to the field, they could smell the minerals and started fighting for access to the salt while I was there. I was stepped on (WHICH HURTS) and horned (but not bad). I quickly stepped out of the way for the cows to fight amongst themselves and establish dominance and I could re-enter later.

These are two pictures of the 'upper field' with many of the vegetables. On the 'lower field' are mostly potatoes. Also there are many fields for pasture land.

I took a picture of a few of the hens where I collect eggs.