Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy the garden

The season has pretty much slowed down. Finally a breath to be had and some thoughts to share! The past few days i have been at the Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference at Penn State and have met so many wonderful people and learned so many useful things!

Yesterday over lunch a fellow farmer who was probably 25 years my senior was kvetching about the costs associated with being a farmer (organic feed, costs of markets, costs of licenses and inspections...) She was complaining about how another farmer in one of her markets is a non-profit. 'They are there selling eggs for less than I am. Of course they can do that, they have grant money. I depend on $5 a dozen for my eggs, I just can't make it work any other way. I also need to sell more, but I can't if the grant run farm is selling right next to me."

This has been a conundrum I have thought about for a long long time. Two years ago after trying many different ways to make a farm happen in different ways, I joined the non-profit forces. I had been working and farming on a beautiful island in British Columbia and finally got so fed up with being nickled and dimed by the general wealthy public who would come to this island for it's renowned produce and farm fresh products that I decided to move to the city where 80% of the population lived (and needed to be educated about food and farming). I realized that growing food and selling it just wasn't enough. Big Ag was still the booming food business no matter how many vegetables and animal products we supplied. People are addicted to convenience and I no longer wanted to feed into that addiction. I wanted to educate. I did not want to enable. I was an angry farmer for a long time. So upset that no one who eats really understands the value of their food. Angry at the customers, angry at the government subsidies, angry at the education system, the big ag, the processed food producers, and sure, the grant driven non-profits. Mostly I was angry that making an honest living on this planet was seemingly impossible.

"It has gotten so much worse the past few years." this farmer says to the table of fellow female farmers. "What changed?" I ask, thinking it had something to do with regulations or markets. "My husband and I retired from our full time jobs and are now full time farmers."

This woman and her husband entered into a broken agricultural system and hoped to reap a living from it. Fortunately they had jobs for 40 years and probably some savings to live off of (for now). But the fact of the matter is that the system as it is doesn't work. It just does not work.

The whole system is broken. It reaches from Wall Street all the way down to the food we eat. To deny this is our demise. I think the conversation that I was in yesterday is a result of someone being stuck in the system and the choices that they made to be in it. I am sorry that so many people are in this situation, I do hope that we can all learn to work together and help each other out of it.

Today people are waking up, men and women are looking around. Looking at their lives and thinking 'nah, this ain't right'. And if fact, it isn't. Folks want to do something different, but don't know how or don't have the means to. Farmland is disappearing (for greed). The upcoming farmers who want to take care of the land and not just take from the land do not have many options. I spent 10 years working on farms and learning from different farmers. Who has the time to do this? I have had no money to buy a piece of land. I cannot afford taxes and tools and all the equipment needed to efficiently run a farm. I imagine most other folks don't either. What can we do to change the land accessibility for wanna be farmers? Most successful farmers that I meet in NJ have the family farm (no mortgage, no down payment, equipment already there...) or they had/have a good paying job (ie: worked within the broken system-usually supporting corporate greed) and have the money it takes to grow food for little profit.

I do think much of the onus comes down to each and every one of us in the daily decisions we make and the consciousness we carry with us when we purchase and eat food. The whole system needs to change, and in the mean time, or as a means to an end, how about we support one another with the food/knowledge/resources we have!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Let go and let the weeds grow!

"Weeds are just plants whose virtues have not been discovered."

"Weeds are just plants in places we don't want them."

Two probable misquotes from a couple people, or just two old sayings that hold true in my heart.

Seems to be the topic of conversation and back breaking work these days.


When I think of weeds I think of strong plants that adapt to their environment; often in places where people do not want them.


I remember teaching a class of delinquent high school students in 1998. They were a group of kids no one wanted to have anything to do with, so they were given to the long-haired hippie teacher who could have a bit of patience with them, but were going to be cast aside none the less. He called me in to take them on a weed walk. I walked them around the school yard showing them the different weeds that they could use for health, wounds, sleep, depression... I explained to them that they are like weeds of the school system. Cast off with no purpose, but still they had many gifts to give to those who were wise enough to listen.


And then there were the times in Montana I viciously dueled with the cowboys about the value of st. john's wort. Billboards proclaiming "The War On Weeds" dotted the landscape while friends of mine fresh out of their resource management courses would get work for the United States Forest Service pulling up this weed. The same weed on which folks in the cities spend millions of dollars to curb their depression. Instead those neophytes rounded up the plants and ignited them.


Aster, clover, dandelion, goldenrod.
All delicious food for the three hives I have on the City Green Farm at Schultheis.
"Weeds!" they proclaim, with disdain for me and the organization that the farm is a part of. "Cut down those weeds!" It is a simple cry of ignorance. While I understand wholeheartedly the problems weeds can present (I am a farmer after all), I do wish to step up here and educate people about the virtues of plants that have been demonized by, ahem, corporations that stand to make money from you not wanting plants like, let's say, dandelion, growing in your pristine lawn.

In case you haven't noticed, habitat for insects and critters is disappearing. (The bees are dying!). Pesticides are over-used (often by unknowing homeowners), running into our waters and soils, poisoning not only the critters, but also ourselves. The latest greatest is that Scotts® has developed--and the USDA is allowing--GM lawns that are resistant to Monsanto Roundup! OMG! Now you can spray even MORE Roundup on your grass! Green grass at everyone's expense!


The toxic enemy.

The deep tap roots of dandelion and yellow dock will pull up nutrients from the depths of the soil and offer it to the surrounding plants. They aerate the soil and offer habitat and food for earth-loving worms. Nature knows balance; corporations do not. When will we stop being sheep to the slaughter of their greed? When will we wake up and allow the wisdom of the plant world to rattle us a bit and feed all of our senses?

Common Sense
Poison on the ground is poison in our food
Poison in the water is poison in our veins
Do not wonder why cancer is prevalent!
Do not wonder why allergies are everywhere!
Open up to the reality that clinging to the notion of control is killing the very essence of life.
Let go and let the weeds grow!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice

Berries and Legumes in Paterson Children's Garden

the longest day of the year

i shudder at the thought of the darkness returning again
how could it be that we embrace the light so strong now and in a few months time it will be cool again?

as with every earth holiday, today is a day to take stock and honor the transitions of seasons and the paths that we have taken. today is a day to hone one's intentions for the coming days until lughnasadh (lammas) the harvest holiday of aug 1.

today i am in a whole different realm than i was on the winter solstice. 6 months have passed and i am now in a new home with my loving partner and her daughter. we have moved to millburn and i am so much more comfortable living close to the reservation and a walk away from the creek. neighbors are nice and the space is comfy. :)

Sarah and Leah painting pink

i am also working at a new job for an outstanding non-profit, City Green. i am teaching adults about farming. i am growing food for folks in Paterson and Clifton. i am working hard at starting up a new farm and growing enough food to have viable markets in the food deserts of Paterson so people will have access to fresh food. we will be taking food stamps and doubling their value thanks to Wholesome Wave. so many wonderful things are happening on this lovely day and here are some pictures of the progress

May at Schulties Farm in Clifton
Schulties Farm at Clifton
Paterson Farm at Eastside Park

I have 3 new beehives too!

a swarm that was probably knocked down from a tree in maplewood
it is so nice to have bees where i am and not have to travel to see them :)

buckwheat is going in tomorrow :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ranting of a toad


Lets say you are feeling a little off. Maybe a cold, maybe a bad diet, maybe lack of exercise, maybe you are just constantly told to behave yourself and feel no room to be yourself. Who is to say? No tests can measure the cause.

So the doctor prescribes some prophylactic antibiotics. You take them like the good patient that you are and you get a bad case of diarrhea. The doctor tests the diarrhea and declares that your problem is...oh lets say...nosema...

Given what I know about bacteria and the delicate balance of life inside of our bodies as well as most other life forms on this planet, I am venturing to guess that nosema is no CAUSE of anything..

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Update on the state of the Japanese Hornfaced Bees in my Pilates Rope

For those of you who did not read the previous post from last spring about the Japanese Hornfaced Bee, catch up on it here. Essentially this new bee friend came into my apartment and moved into my sadly seldom used pilates cord. After roasting in the summer sun in an attic apartment I wasn't surprised to see no bees emerge in the fall. I waited to the spring to see if they would emerge then, but to no avail. So an autopsy is done...

razor blade to cord with crunchy bees under the plastic
there was a layer of mud in between each of the larvae
the bees were fully developed and had this tiny mouse turd looking
things on them.

we took out the magnifying glass and looked closer...
I am not sure what they were? Bee poo? or maybe a parasite of some kind that killed
them? They looked like little grains to me.

Bee Parts
Japanese horn faced bee wing with pollen on it

And the pilates cord in back in use...a bit shorter for the journey, but usable :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring has Sprung!

Upon our arrival back from Massachusetts today we were greeted with muggy, hot weather. Along with the heat was the blooming cherry trees in front of our house, COVERED in bzzzz. Not only were there honeybees, there were mason bees, wasps and bumble bees! WOW, WINTER IS OFFICIALLY OVER!!

Notice the black dots in the picture...the big ones are bumbles...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Significance of Swarming (as seen in NOFA-NJ newsletter)

Learning about bees has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever embarked on. I have been a treatment free beekeeper since 2007. The way that I keep bees requires me to pay much closer attention to my environment because I have to understand what health and disease truly are. Coming from a point of view that all life is sacred and connected, I appreciate the profound message of interconnectedness that is permeating our society via the ancient honeybee. Bees have been the focus of much study lately due to the mass die-offs that are happening in commercial beekeeping. There are many factors that can be attributed to this problem, and swarm prevention may be a part of that. Swarms are a natural progression in a healthy hive, and allowing such reproduction may very well contribute to the overall health of the colony.

Inside the hive the queen bee does not rule, for there is no hierarchy. She maintains the hive with her scent and by the remarkable fact that she lays hundreds to thousands of eggs a day. A queen bee egg is laid vertically, in alignment with the sky and earth, and fed a continuous diet of royal jelly as she grows into a fully formed queen. By contrast, the worker bees (the females in the hive) and the drones (the males) are formed from an egg laid horizontally and fed a diet mainly of bee bread -- a mixture of pollen, nectar and microbes.

When a hive is healthy and strong it will want to multiply. This is the absolute beauty of the honeybee colony. The old queen will lay a fertilized egg(s)s in a vertical queen cell(s), and the workers will begin feeding the new queen(s)-to-be a milky substance excreted from their heads called royal jelly. When the queen cells are about to hatch, the old queen and about a third of the colony will engorge itself with honey and fly off to find a new home. Biodynamic beekeeper and author G√ľnter Hauk likens this to parents reaching their 60s, leaving the home to their kids, and going off to start a new life elsewhere. This is another selfless act of the bees.

All at once the queen and thousands of bees take flight. They find a nearby spot to gather while scout bees venture off to find the perfect hollow vessel in which to start building comb. Once a spot is agreed upon, the cluster of bees will disperse and fly off to their new home. This new home will be a hollow vessel such as a hollow tree trunk, an eave of a home, a pot, or a birdhouse. They do no structural damage to the vessel they choose as their new home. The hive begins building comb as soon as it settles in; the queen beginning to lay eggs as soon as there are cells to fill. Thus a new colony is born and life continues on for the great honeybee.

Many beekeeping books and courses discourage swarming. Coming from a capitalistic standpoint, swarms could mean a loss of field force, which would mean a loss of honey production. Given that most authors and teachers are coming from a commercial background, it makes sense that this is routinely taught. But upon further examination of all that plagues the honeybee faces, we might want to reconsider our actions of swarm prevention.

As I mentioned earlier, swarms are an indication of a healthy, vibrant hive. Swarm prevention is like birth control. In a climate where hives are dying at such a rapid rate, it seems only logical to allow the reproduction of healthy hives. Swarm season in this area begins in May -- an exciting time for beekeepers. There are many tools beekeepers can use either to encourage swarms or split hives in a way that mimics the natural inclination of the bees. Beekeepers can even register with local police or fire departments to be on call to trap a swarm if spotted in the area. (Free bees!)

I have seen that hives that are allowed to swarm have a much higher survival rate than those routinely prevented from swarming. In addition, swarming creates a period of time in the brood chamber where there is no brood: an excellent way to purge mites from the hive, since the parasite’s larvae is deprived of its food source during this time.

When a hive is strong and robust it will reproduce. Trusting nature and not interfering is the recommended course of action. If you are focusing on hive health and pollination, it is best to support the natural instinct of a colony rather than impose your own will. When we let the bees be we can learn much about their health and healing. I do believe that there are times to help bees when they are in need (such as when they appear to be starving), but swarming is not a time of distress; it is a time of celebration! May our skies be filled with buzzing this summer!