Category Archives: Agriculture

A beautiful time for a drive or a walk

Mallard hen on her nestBeside a road off Pa. Route 34, somewhere north of Gettysburg, Don Yost and John Deere team up to pull a chisel plow through a field of corn stubble.

Last year was no-till for the field, and the crop was corn. No-till means the ground is left unturned, the roots of the previous crop keep the hillside from flowing to the bottom in heavy rains, and new seed poked into the earth with a tool made for the task.

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EPA defines a bee killer

A wild bee collects pollen from a flower.“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”  – Naturalist and preservationist John Muir, 1838-1914

The quote received a bit of supporting illumination from the Environmental Protection Agency this week – a little reminder that this great life-system of which we humans are part is a sophisticated (some might say complicated) bit of cosmic machinery.

In a report published Wednesday (Jan. 6, 2016), the EPA said it has figured out what is killing honey bees. The culprit (or one of the culprits), it seems, is neonicotinoids-based pesticides. That has been a suspicion in some quarters as an explanation for what is generally termed “colony collapse disorder.”

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At last, I’ve found my milk

Fresh raw milk awaits in Oyler's Organic Farm's refrigeratorI like raw milk. I will die one day, I am told, but I think I would not blame the milk.

On the other hand, it could be dangerous when carried in the handlebar basket of a teenager’s bicycle. We picked up two gallons of milk every other day from a nearby dairy farm. One day, as I coasted down Norton Hill on the way home, I met a car speeding the other way, enough on my side I was forced off the pavement.

I rode onto the berm, and when I tried to get back on the pavement, it gave way, and down I went. I broke my pointing finger and tore my thumbnail. I’m pretty sure the two gallons of raw milk had little, if anything to do with the fall, though they did make the front of the bike about 16 pounds heavier coming home than going away.

Years later, I became a journalist, and wrote a story about Kenton Bailey, a seventh-generation Mainer and the last fellow in the state to deliver raw milk door-to-door – though he would not allow me to call it “raw.” The word upset some people, he said. I had to call it “unprocessed.”

One of the treats of drinking raw milk is you can taste when the cows are put in the barn for winter, and when they go to the pasture in summer. It is a subtle accent on the flavor.

Milk we buy in a grocery story has been so mixed up it’s lost all its character. A tank truck picks up milk from Farmer Jones, then Farmer Smith and Farmer Brown and the white liquid slosh-mixes on its way to the processing plant, where it is dumped in huge tanks to mix with milk from farmers McBride, McHugh and McGillicutty.

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Vacations are about the people

A 985-pound Johnson-powered pumpkin

Going on vacation is loads of fun, especially in the people we meet. Like the night in Maine last week when we had dinner at the Salt Bay Café in Damariscotta, Maine. Couples three were we, sitting to our first dinner on the rocky coast of the Pine Tree State. We each ordered our favorite choice of fresh-from-the sea fare.

… he would grow a pumpkin – his first “boat” was 754 pounds – and build the boat, but he would not get in it.

I had oysters. I love the things on the half-shell, with jalapeño relish to spice ’em up a touch.

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Feline wizardry makes some enjoyable joe

Plastic-lined burlap bags of in-house roasted coffee beans wait to be brewed(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 1/17/2014)

The Tuesday Noon Coffee and a Movie Philosophical Society meets here, as does a Wednesday night knitting club. During the day, shoppers stop by for conversation and a cup of joe.

“Here” is Merlin’s Coffee, at the far end of a short alley at the Outlet Shoppes, on the outskirts of Gettysburg. Sometimes called by customers “the cat house;” owners Donna and Eric Burns, of Hanover, are deeply invested in rescuing cats, have named the business for one of the animals, and have decorated the interior with cat art and knick-knacks. All their employees agree to allow Eric and Donna to donate the tips to animal rescue efforts.

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Idea: kids pick up lunch on the way to school

A few remaining peppers hang ripening on the vine.(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/18/2013)

It’s nearly 7 a.m. The sun soon will come into view. Not long ago, I would sat on the back porch to read. Now I am glad the electronic paper on which I write has its own illumination.

“Seven out of 10 people will live in a city by 2050,” Meaghan Parker, writer/editor at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

A school bus passes my home, right on time. It will stop in a hundred yards or so to pick up several students and carry them to brick-walled institutions of learning. Would that it take them to a forest or a garden. I live in a county where agriculture is one of the two main industries, so a smaller percentage of our kids than, say, Baltimore’s or New York’s, think food comes from a Food Lion, but even a few are too many.

The stream beside our back porch looks and sounds cooler these days. The Forest of Brown-eyed Susans and Echinacea has withered, as have the clumps of Hostas, their tall purple bell-bearing stalks nearly completely bereft of their autumn royalty.

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Sorry guys, no trash this week

Trash collection truck transports municipal waste to landfill.(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 8/30/2013)

My spouse has been exploring Alaska this month with a high school girlfriend. Grady the Golden and I have had to fend for ourselves. We’re doing alright, thank you, though the company of She Who Must Be Loved would not at all be a bad thing.

I had told her, during one of our evening phone calls, that I had lost a little weight while she’s gone. Not enough to make friends start tacking the ambulance company’s telephone number on the fridge, but enough I’m using holes in my belt that have been pretty much useless for, well, too long. Continue reading

On assigning value to the fruits of our (neighbor’s) labors

Most of us do not know the work that is involved in so peaceful a scene.Few of us really know the work others of us do. That goes for everyone from the farmer to the potato chip maker. Most everyone works pretty hard doing what they do, but few of the rest of us are as willing to pay for their work as we are to charge for ours.

I’m not suggesting that everyone be paid the same, regardless of task. But last week a potential buyer loved and wanted a print I’d created – until she learned the price. Suddenly, there were serious problems with the print, all of which came down to she didn’t want to pay for it. Continue reading

Buy fresh, buy healthy, buy local

Farm markets are a way to know the food and who produces it(First published in the Gettysburg Times, 5/17/2013)

I was visiting the other day when someone acknowledged the strawberries tasted good, but suggested washing them with vinegar to ensure that if there was any insecticide on the berries, its “-cide” was rendered harmless.

There was a time when washing one’s food meant using water to remove the garden dirt. Vinegar was for making pickles and sauerkraut. Mom took the four of us kids to the Pick Your Own strawberry fields, where the farmer at the checkout table threatened to charge mom for the berries we kids had eaten while picking. Unfortunately, he had neglected to weigh us when we entered the field. Continue reading

If we knew what we’re eating …

 Contains Potassium Benzoate, Acelsulfame Potassium, Phenylketoneurics and other more pronounceable chemicals(Originally published in Gettysburg Times, March 22, 2013)

Have you ever wondered what’s next in the soft drink line? A television commercial the other night had the answer.

Pepsi NEXT. With 60 percent less sugar – though less sugar than what, it didn’t say. Pepsi LAST, maybe?

I like carbonated water. I rarely drink sodas because a) I’m diabetic and b) I’m not sure what they use to replace sugar is better for me than the sugar it replaces. Your mileage may vary; I’m not preaching here. Still, it would be nice to now exactly what is in the stuff we eat and drink. We have gone a long time surviving on jokes such as, “I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce,” but that’s not true, either. Trying to read the list of ingredients in, say, a loaf of bread can cause one’s eyes to tangle.

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GE labeling bill author says it’s about choice

Acres of corn prepare for harvest.Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery & Delaware counties, told a gathering in the state capitol Tuesday morning his bill to require labeling of genetically engineered foods was about allowing consumers to make choices, not a statement about food safety.

“People in America demand information,” Leach said. “People don’t like being told, ‘You don’t need to know that; it’s OK.’” (Additional remarks by Leach in video at the end of this piece.) Continue reading

Bill to require labeling GMO products to be introduced Tuesday morning

Rows of corn waving in a summer breeze.A bill that could require labeling genetically engineered foods sold in Pennsylvania is slated to be introduced in the state senate Tuesday morning. Several farmers, church leaders and consumer group representatives are scheduled to accompany Sen. Daylin Leach (D- Montgomery and Delaware counties) as he announces the bill on the capitol steps.

The bill would make Pennsylvania the first state to require GE labeling. Continue reading

Support a farmer, eat heartily, and stomp to some great music

Hamburgers on the hoof wade and feed in a pasture creekFarm Aid 2012 is Saturday, Sept. 22, at Hersheypark Stadium. This is Year 27 of the event begun in 1985 by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp – Dave Matthews joined the team in 2001 – to raise money for programs that support family farms in their competition with land developers and huge factory farms.

I was raised on a farm, of sorts. There was Mom, Dad and four of us youngsters, and a 50-foot by 100-foot patch that kept us in veggies. We grew corn, asparagus, beets, carrots, and several other crops. And we picked crab apples from the Bates’ tree, bought raw milk from the Ellises.

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The hidden cost of food

Fields of crops becoming ready for pickingMen and women are picking tomatoes to earn 50 cents for each 32-pound bucket, $50  to hand pick more than two tons of tomatoes in a 12-hour day.

Of course,  cheaper isn’t always better. The idea leaves thousands of farm hands needing taxpayer support for food stamps and medical care because their wages will not cover the expense.

For one more penny a pound, the person who picked it can see a doubling of her wage, but it’s hard convincing grocery chains and restaurants it’s the right thing to do.

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Consumers demand may be restoring an endangered species

Customers crowd around to inspect a display of fresh produce at a farm market
The 2011 Census of Agriculture by Statistics Canada reveals the past five years have seen a 10 percent reduction in the number of farms in our northern neighbor’s inventory.
But the average farm size has increased by about seven percent. In one province, the number of farms is down 17 percent, while the average farm size is up 15 percent.
A similar phenomenon has been taking place in U.S. agricultural areas. What’s up with that?

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Speaking of bullies – a case in point

A field of plowed furrows awaits planting the new year's cropVermont residents would like to know what the heck is in their food. So they went to their legislature to ask for a law, and it looked for a time that their request would be honored. Unfortunately, Monsanto – the poster child for Genetically Modified groceries – informed the state that should it have the effrontery to pass such a law, the agricultural mega-corp would sue.

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Notes From a Road Trip

Bright colors and a stereotypic sarape and sombrero welcome travelers to South of the BorderYou can’t look out a window from 30,000 feet and see a flame burning on a wastewater treatment plant in Richmond, Va. I wonder what a wastewater treatment plant would have to burn to make that much flame.

I made that note on a drive last week to Florida, a purpose of which was to gather some photos and maybe contact some people working to get better wages for migrant farm workers. You can’t do either of those things in an airplane at 30,000 feet.

I sleep when I fly. When I drive, I think a lot, and talk to a voice-to-text app to keep notes. Such as, in 2,600 miles of driving, how much construction is putting people to work … Continue reading …

Organic and independent farmers feel under assault

An independent organic farmer tends cropsOn a trip to New England last week, my niece treated me to some really good salsa. It was made in Maine, we were in New Hampshire, and I’m now home in Pennsylvania, way south of where I can buy some.

On the other hand, there are several Mexican stores almost within walking distance of home where maybe …

Meanwhile, I was in the local discount grocery store the other night and picked up a container of Marketside Chipotle salsa. It actually has a nice flavor, and adds a pleasant bite to my favorite chips which, the way I eat the stuff, are simply devices for scooping large dollops of salsa the way someone might otherwise use a soup spoon to scoop the favored ice cream.

If fresh salsa is what you seek, though, you probably won’t find it in a container marked “Manufactured for Marketside, a division of Walmart Stores Inc.” Continue reading