Monthly Archives: September 2014

Friends with Animals

Living in the country not only gives you access to open spaces, quiet roads, and friendly folks. It also gives you access to the friendly folks’ livestock!

This spring, my friends Carolyn and Eric invited Mike and me over to see their new babies. They raise Lusitano horses, a Portuguese breed. Beautiful animals. We got the full tour—the nursery, the geriatric pasture, the young females’ and males’ separate quarters.

Baby's first hay

Baby’s first hay

This suave dude reminds me of Robert Plant

This suave dude reminds me of Robert Plant

Around the same time, we were invited over to our friend Nancy’s house to see her baby goats. We didn’t make it there until a week ago, but they were still fun to hang around with! Nancy also gave us a tour of her incredible outbuildings—an old granary that will someday soon be the most spectacular guesthouse in Wallowa County, and a heritage barn. We climbed the stairs to the second level and startled a gorgeous, snowy-white barn owl from her roost. She glided silently overhead, and was gone.

Sweet goat that tried to eat the zipper-pull on my jacket

Sweet goat that tried to eat the zipper-pull on my jacket

Nancy and Mike contemplate the hay loft

Nancy and Mike contemplate the hay loft

 

Early September boasts Mule Days in Enterprise, which includes a completely non-motorized parade. Mules of every shape and description pull wagons and haul packs down the streets of the town. But the star of the show has to be the oxen pair brought by “Bushwacker Sue.” Their trailer rivals that of any successful touring band’s.

Look at this big guy!

Look at this big guy!

Okay, okay, so Bushwacker Sue is not technically my friend. However, she did chat us up about her gentle giants. I know I shouldn’t view my agriculture-centric county as one big petting zoo, but it sure is fun to live in close proximity to so many animals.

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Apple Ball

How do you relieve stress: Massage? Herbal tea? Video games? How about smashing rotten apples?

My friends Ed and Devon live in the Oak Grove area of Portland—Milwaukie, actually—in a neighborhood near the Willamette River that boasts extra-large house lots and mature trees. Many of those trees are oaks, giving the neighborhood its name, most are pines, and many are neglected apple trees. Because these trees were left to run amok for decades, and haven’t been pruned or culled, their fruits are scrawny and wormy. While these apples do not lend themselves to fresh-eating, they still serve a very important purpose.

In 2009, Mike and I were invited to a Labor Day party at the house in Oak Grove. “Apple Ball” they were calling the party. Intrigued, we showed up with some beer and snacks.

Those of you who are up on your Get Your Pitchfork On! chronology know that 2009 is the year we sold our land in the Gorge. The sale closed at the end of July. It’s safe to say that on Labor Day we were pretty stressed out.

We walked around our friends’ house to the backyard, where we could hear everyone congregated. In addition to the usual murmur of voices and music, I kept hearing a high, metallic tink! sound. As we rounded the corner, a smile lit up my face. Our friend Ed was pitching rotten apples to one of his neighbors, who obliterated each one with an aluminum baseball bat. I couldn’t wait to get in on this!

Once it was my turn, I picked up the bat and faced Ed. He pitched an apple, and tink! it exploded, and then rained apple-shrapnel on us and anyone who had ventured too close. This was great! This was cathartic! This was exactly what I needed!

2009: Action shot!

2009: Action shot! Please note flying debris in upper-right corner of photo

The following Labor Day was the same story. More rotten apples. More silly giggles.

2010: Apparently, I was still using “tutu therapy” (https://getyourpitchforkon.wordpress.com/?s=tutu)

2010: Apparently, I was still using “tutu therapy” (https://getyourpitchforkon.wordpress.com/?s=tutu)

Last year, Ed and Devon understandably decided to take a break from throwing this huge party. I was sad to lose my opportunity to take out some aggression on unsuspecting apples, but we were preparing to move to Wallowa County, and I was in the middle of a yard sale.

Throughout the month of August this year, at our house in Enterprise, I have been dealing with windfall apples from two trees in our backyard. I’ve gotten a few crisps and a batch of applesauce out of the deal, and also buckets of windfalls too damaged to salvage for food.

And then, Ed came for a visit. We have a wooden bat, which makes a duller sound, but it did the trick.

Look at that form!

Look at that form!

I know that a lot of people enjoy Apple Ball, but I’m pretty sure no one enjoys it as much as Ed or I. I submit this video as evidence.

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Converting a Conventional Farm to Organic

Here is another of my research papers from my Food Policy and Law course that I took this summer. The assignment was to consider a hypothetical conventional farm and calculate the costs and considerations for converting to a certified organic farm. My scenario is not particularly realistic, but it gets the job done …

Carol and Ron Hinckel, the owners of a conventional 50-acre wheat farm in Damascus, Oregon, want to convert their acreage to USDA-certified 100-percent organic asparagus. They plan to sell this crop at the Portland Farmers Market, which takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays in downtown Portland, 19 miles away. The Hinckels are looking for a seasonal, low-maintenance, high-premium crop that will allow them to spend much of the year traveling to visit grandchildren. Because Carol worked for city government for 25 years, she has a pension, and they have saved enough money to cover the three-year transition period that is required of farmers converting a conventional field into an organic one. They have considered the changes they need to make that will affect the land and their business.

Changes to Their Land

The Hinckels’ soil is volcanic and heavy, and has been planted in wheat since 1973. The wheat was sprayed with a number of chemical herbicides and synthetic fertilizers over the years. In order to rest the soil and prepare it for an asparagus crop, they will first put in a triticale/vetch cover crop, plow that in at the end of the season, add compost, lime and phosphorus, and finally amend the soil with sand to lighten it.

They will need to expand their existing buffer zones, adding native plants, trees, and grasses. They also plan to restore a streambed that was re-routed in the 1960s to create more arable land; they received a grant from their water conservation district for this project. They estimate that their restoration efforts will leave them with 25 acres to plant in asparagus.

They will buy one-year-old organic male crowns to plant in the spring, rather than start from seed (§ 205.204(a)(4), Baier, 2012). The asparagus must not be picked for two additional years after planting in order to establish the root system; this will coordinate with the three-year waiting period associated with becoming certified organic growers.

Asparagus is a perennial plant that can produce for ten to twenty years, and therefore cannot be rotated with other crops; the Hinckels will keep their soil healthy by side-dressing with compost (Hutton, n.d.). Weeding is essential; the first two years, especially, they will hire extra help to hand-pull weeds to ensure that none get established. After the asparagus plants have grown, the Hinckels will switch to an approved fabric row cover. They will keep wide aisles (72 inches) between the rows to accommodate a compact tractor for these tasks and for use during harvest.

They plan to use an integrated pest management system to keep their asparagus plants healthy. Asparagus is generally a low-maintenance crop; the most common pest is the asparagus beetle. Since the Hinckels will have only male plants, they should have less problem with the beetles, as the eggs are laid in the berries of the female plants (Pleasant, 2013). They plan to hand-remove any beetles that appear, or use a USDA-approved insecticidal soap if they have a larger infestation.

Changes to Their Business

The Hinckels will need to invest in refrigeration equipment to keep the asparagus cool once it is picked (U.S. Dept. Agriculture, n.d.a.; Baier, 2012); a van to transport the produce to the market; a tent, tables, displays, signage, and POS equipment (cash register, credit-card reader); and possibly temporary housing for their interns. They will be able to use their existing irrigation equipment. Once they have tilled in the cover crop, added the amendments, and dug the asparagus trenches, they will sell their full-sized tractor and buy a compact tractor. They haven’t decided what to do with their grain bin. They have hired out the spraying and threshing in the past, so they have no equipment to liquidate in that regard.

The Hinckels have “hired work done” in the past, but never had regular employees. They are looking into WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and other avenues for bringing low- or unpaid interns onto the farm to help with hand-weeding, and to send to the market to sell the asparagus. Most farmers they know use migrant workers, but they are hesitant to explore that option.

They will continue to use their existing record-keeping procedures “concerning the production, harvesting, and handling of agricultural products” (Baier, 2011). They will also add personnel records to track their interns, and use the Field History/Previous Land Use form to document past farming practices, and note improvements to the soil and buffer zone (ibid.). They will create an Organic System Plan to which they can refer if they have an outbreak of disease or infestation; this plan will help them fill out the application at Oregon Tilth (Oregon Tilth, n.d.).

Because the farm will exceed $5,000 in revenue (Hutton, n.d.), they are not exempt from certification (U.S. Dept. Agriculture, n.d.b.; Baier, 2012). They will contact Oregon Tilth to apply for “transitional certification” and, once the waiting period is over, apply for full status (Oregon Tilth, 2014b, p. 19). They will welcome an inspector to their farm and follow up on any requests promptly.

The Hinckels’ fees during the first year will be less than $700 (see Appendix, Table 1). After the first year, the base fee is determined in conjunction with gross income (Oregon Tilth, 2014a). For the following two years, there will be no income, as the asparagus will be too immature to harvest. Things change significantly after that. With asparagus currently selling for $6 per pound at the Portland Farmers Market, the Hinckels have estimated their annual gross income to be approximately $21,780,000* (Hutton, n.d.; Johnny Seeds, n.d.). Their base fee will be $4,000 plus 0.05% of sales that exceed $2 million, or $13,890 total. However, the fee is capped at $10,000 (Oregon Tilth, 2014a). They will continue to pay for inspections every year, as well.

* This is not a realistic scenario; they would have to sell 3,490 pounds of asparagus at each market day in order to liquidate their produce and earn this income.

Appendix

Table 1

Oregon Tilth Fees, Year 1

Cost Reason
$75 First-time applicant fee
$399 First-year base fee
$200 Inspection deposit
$674 Total
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Windfalls

Remember last week, when I was waxing poetic about the night sky? And I mentioned hearing crickets, and sprinklers, and Pendleton eating windfall apples? Well.

That night Pendleton, who has been housetrained for months, snuck down to the basement and laid an enormous, foul pile of heinous fecal gore on the floor. Mike gagged when he cleaned it up in the morning (lucky for me, I was asleep and oblivious). What could have caused this horrific display?

We have some gnarled old apple trees in our backyard. They could use a good pruning, but we don’t have a ladder and anyway, they aren’t mine and not everyone appreciates a “good pruning.” I didn’t bother to cull the fruits this spring, and now we have dozens of small apples falling out of the trees every time the wind blows. Pendleton’s been foreman of the clean-up crew.

At your service, ma'am

At your service, ma’am

But the dogs are not the only ones who like free apples. The owner of the house we’re renting, last fall, told us that he kept the gate open so the deer could come in and browse. Otherwise, they all go to the wasps.

So, the morning in question, once I woke up and said, “Geez, it kind of smells like poop in here,” and Mike said, “You think?” before he went to take a shower, I walked out into the yard to collect the windfalls into a bucket, so Pendleton couldn’t reach them.

While I was out there, a doe walked up to the fence, as if to claim her autumn meal. The dogs went crazy. I calmed them, but the deer stayed put. Opening the gate is something of a formality, as any deer can jump a four-foot fence without even thinking about it. But she was, rightfully, afraid of the dogs and stayed outside the fence.

I wanted to scare the doe off, so I threw what I had in my hand at her. As soon as I did, I realized it was a bad idea. The apple fell short, and then rolled a foot or two toward the doe. She didn’t jump or even move, just considered it, and then took a step toward the apple and gently picked it up, staring at us while she ate it. That was not the message I was hoping to send.

I left the dogs in the yard and scared the doe off. She’ll be back; this is where those nice people throw apples for you to eat!

Mike’s and my yard-maintenance routine has included picking up poo-piles and refilling holes that have been dug. For the next few weeks it will also include regularly collecting windfalls, depriving deer, dog, and wasp.

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