Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bicameral Dissonance

Here's a follow-up write up to the previous post. It's from this week's newsletter and it was written by Ben.

With the failure of the Congressional super-committee to reach any sort of consensus regarding a deficit reduction plan, I think this is a good time to update you all on the Farm Bill and my letter to Rep. Renee Elmers. Here is the response I received from her aide who works on agricultural issues...

Thank you for your email Ben, I will certainly pass your concerns along to the Congresswoman.  She is keeping vigil as next week is when we should hear how Chairman Lucas is planning on moving forward with the Farm Bill.  Thank you, Allison

Short and bittersweet! The Farm Bill draft came to a halt with the failure of the super-committee to reach a deal on the weekend before Thanksgiving and was not submitted for inclusion in the mega-deal.Come to find out, the bill was being written by the "gang of four!" The "gang of four" consists of the two chairs and two ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees. So my letter to Rep. Elmers was in vain, because even she was held at arms length during the process and was not allowed to participate as a House Ag. committee member! It seems to me our government has made a turn for the worst with the use of a draconian budget cutting exercise to avoid democratic consideration of our next farm bill and many other programs.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), there are a few Farm Bill scenarios that can play out over the next year or so. The first scenario, also the most unlikely, is that the Farm Bill is passed by the end of 2011. Not enough time is left for such a deal. The second scenario, in two variations, is that the Farm Bill is passed in 2012 by either using the unpublished Final 2011 Farm Bill as the jumping off point or the Farm Bill is drafted from scratch. Neither of these variations seems likely in an election year. The fourth scenario, which according to the NSAC, is most likely, is that Congress will take a wait and see approach. This is most likely for a host of reasons, beginning with the fact that automatic budget cuts will begin January 2013 because the failure of the supercommittee to reach a mega-deal. This further means Congress will want to wait for the dust to settle on a possible 2012 mega-deal as well as on the deficit reduction targets before drafting the Farm Bill & budget therein to avoid doubling up budget cuts. NSAC expects the current Farm Bill to be given a one year extension and the drafting to begin after the 2012 elections.

I hope you have found this as interesting as I have. The Farm Bill has such large effects on the condition of our national food system that it is critical to the future vitality of this country. How would our lives change if commodity crops were not heavily subsidized? How would our lives change if healthy food were more affordable or perceived as equitably priced? How would our lives change if children receiving school lunch were fed good, healthy and local food? These are some things Patricia and I ponder as we think about the Farm Bill and our state of agriculture.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


This is a newsletter entry written by Ben.

Hello all. It has been a while since you have heard from me via newsletter...I can't remember the last time. Anyhow, I have recently become aware that the Farm Bill is being rewritten behind closed doors in record time (2 weeks vs. 1 year!). Below is a little bit of information I found on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website followed by the letter I fired off to our Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R), who happens to sit on the House Agricultural Committee. This is the first letter I have written to a Congressperson, ever! I called my father this morning for advice on how to speak to issues that concern us and our farm. He is a seasoned, politically active farmer because in the dairy business, wholesale prices are supplemented by gov't subsidies which, unfortunately, are necessary for them to stay afloat as a farm. He enlightened me by telling me to speak to issues that directly concern us and not disparaging others and to directly contact the Congressional Aide for our Congressperson who deals with the issues at hand. He also suggested we attend affordable fund-raising dinners put on by our representatives and speak to them personally about issues which affect us directly, the method which tends to have the biggest impact for small folks like us. I will let you all know what becomes of my letter to Congresswoman Ellmers...

The following is from http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/super-fast-farm-bill-super-fast-update/

 Last Monday, the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction suggesting a net $23 billion cut in mandatory farm bill spending over the next decade as their collective recommendation to the Joint Select Committee (hereafter referred to as the Super Committee) that is tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in government-wide cuts or revenue increases over the next decade by Thanksgiving.

Having sent off the joint letter, the staffs of the two Agriculture Committees hunkered down all week to stitch together a farm bill in what, if successful, would be record time.   Due to the brief two week window, none of the normal congressional processes for farm bills or other major legislation are being used — no hearings, circulated bill drafts, mark-ups in which committee members get to offer amendments, etc.  The primary activity has all been behind closed doors and has for the most part only involved the staff of the chairs and ranking members, not the members (and their staffs) who make up the rank and file of the two committees.

With action on the farm bill moving (at least for now) at such a rapid pace, members of the House and Senate are getting ready to introduce two major new bills this week.  One contains major rewrites of programs and policies to assist young and beginning farmers get started in agriculture.  Another proposes a comprehensive set of revisions and additions to farm bill programs to help renew local and regional farm and food systems.  Both bills promote new opportunities in farming and increase rural job creation and economic growth.  Both also renew funding for farm bill programs that currently have mandatory funding but which do not have secure funding after fiscal year 2012. 

My letter...

Dear Congresswoman Ellmers,

My name is Benjamin Shields and I am a constituent from Clayton, NC. I started Ben's Produce along with Patricia Parker, my fiancee, in August of 2009. Ben's Produce is a small, un-certified organic produce farm that sells directly to the public via farmer's markets (Western Wake Farmer's Market and Clayton Farm & Community Market)  as well as our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with 35 member families. We also began Farm It Forward, a CSA program that provides our produce to families with children at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and teaches the participants how to build lifelong healthy attitudes about food and fitness. This collaborative program is coordinated by Advocates for Health In Action, the participants are drawn from the WakeMed Energize! program and the cooking classes are put on by the Interfaith Food Shuttle. Sixty percent of Energize! participants are low-income, which brings me to my concerns with the cuts being made to Farm Bill funding.

Every Saturday at the Western Wake Farmer's Market (WWFM), we make a number of sales to folks who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. WWFM is the only farmer's market in Wake Co. that accepts SNAP benefits. We also serve SNAP beneficiaries in our Farm It Forward program, 60% of the participating families are low income. Unfortunately, we do not currently accept SNAP payments from the Farm It Forward participants. As a small farm on a shoestring budget, every sale we make counts towards our profitability, including those sales from folks who use SNAP. I urge you to minimize funding cuts to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your service.

Benjamin Shields

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall 2011 CSA Week 1

We know that a lot of folks have a hard time sometimes distinguishing between, say tat soi and bok choy, so we like to take pictures of our CSA share items and label them, so our members have a reference once they bring their shares home. I took these pictures at market on Saturday, since I won't be home on Tuesday when Ben will harvest and then deliver your shares. We usually like to put all the CSA items together for one picture, but since we did this at market, it wasn't really conducive to our situation. Anyway, the single picture items should be somewhat helpful for identifying your CSA share items. So, as I stated in the email, you will receive the following items in your shares:

SCALLIONS                           ARUGULA
BOK CHOY                           PEPPERS
NAPA CABBAGE                  HAKUREI
LETTUCE                              TURNIPS

Note: scallions, lettuce, and hakurei turnips not pictured

bok choy great for stir-fry

tat soi also great for stir fry, but also salad

daikon radish
you can cook the greens and stir fry the root or eat it sliced, raw with salt
it's also good in kimchi

red Russian kale (aka ragged Jack)
this is good every which way
you can also save and eat the stems (they require a longer cooking time than the leaves)

great raw and cooked

French breakfast radishes
you can eat the greens cooked
the roots are great as a snack, in salad, or in a stir fry

sweet gypsy peppers
raw and cooked - either way, they're tasty!

these are my favorite sweet peppers, by far

Well, that's all folks! We'll try to post more share pictures as the season progresses. Definitely feel free to email us if you have any questions about your share items or what to do with them. We've got TONS of ideas :). Thanks for stopping by!

- Patricia

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy Autumn!

Hi folks! It's been a LONG time since I've posted on this ol' blog - again - but what can I say? We're busy farmin it up out here and that leaves little time for blog posts. As the weather turns colder, you can expect more posts. Until then, I'm posting one of our write ups from the first Fall CSA newsletter. It's all about greens - and I figured lots of folks might be interested in how to deal with the plethora of greens to come this season. I've been taking pictures on the farm - some of them are outdated already, but expect a picture blog in the near future. 
As usual, thanks for stopping by! 
 - Patricia 

Greens Galore
By Patricia Parker

Even for greens lovers like us, it can be a challenge to keep up with all the greens (but we like challenge) and root veggies of the fall. I’d like to share a bit of our greens wisdom with the hopes that you find some of our strategies helpful.

First and foremost, it is important to get acquainted with your greens. You’ll be receiving numerous types and varieties, each with their own unique flavors and textures. Additionally, their flavors will change as the weather grows colder (they’ll get sweeter – this goes for the root veggies too!). I recommend trying your greens every which way – starting by trying them raw. I find some greens less palatable raw than others – for instance, turnip, radish, and mustard greens are a bit too pungent raw for my taste. But, when they’re cooked, they’re delectable. And some greens are great raw – like arugula and spinach – and others that might surprise you, like kale and swiss chard (all of them are great cooked). As a general rule of thumb, the more tender the green, the better it tastes raw (and the less time you will need to cook them).

Now, there are countless ways to prepare your greens – you can steam them, sautĂ© them, stir fry them, put them in soups, chilis and stews, eat them with eggs (e.g., as a side, in an omelet or frittata), etc. We’ll provide you with recipes for your greens throughout the season to help spur along your greens creativity. We’ll also give you basic cooking instructions and storage information. If your greens ever start to feel like they’re piling up on you, remember how few greens there are in the summer. You can blanch and then freeze your greens to use them any other time you like. You can also use up lots of greens if you make them the primary course on your plate (e.g., dinner salad or beans and greens with meat on the side). Of course, you can also share with your friends, family and neighbors – and if you don’t have any takers, you can leave them with us and we’ll donate them to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle for you.

Keeping up with your greens can be a daunting task in the beginning, but before you know it, you’ll turn pro!

Note: If anyone would like to share their own methods for keeping up with your CSA share, please send a write-up our way. We would LOVE for CSA members to contribute to weekly newsletters. You can send your write up in an email, as a word file, or as a pdf file. We’ll be sure to place it in the next newsletter.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Time Keeps on Slippin', Slippin', Slippin' Into The Future

Ahhh, it seems I have slacked on my blogger duties. The last time I posted a blog was June 17th (besides the one below about our upcoming Fall 2011 CSA), nearly TWO months ago!!! Oh my. I can come up with a long list of excuses for why this is the case, but I'll spare you those. Instead, I'm going to post a few of the old "On the Farm" articles I wrote for our Ben's Produce weekly newsletter. Enjoy! 

Down on the Farm
By Patricia Parker 
Week 10 (June 22nd - July 23rd) 

photo by - rani urabi mustafa

In the last week a lot has happened here on the farm. Two new apprentices have joined the Ben’s Produce team. Their names are Meredith and Aaron. Meredith just moved here from Colorado and she’ll likely be heading to Nicaragua to work on a nonprofit agro-ecology project in the Fall. Until then, we’re very excited to have her on the team. Two of our CSA members (Bradford and Melody – Melody is Meredith’s mom) pointed Meredith our way and we are already so very thankful to have her help out here. We only hope we can give her as much as she is giving to us. Aaron, like Meredith, also found us by way of a CSA member, Adam. Aaron is going to school this summer, but will be joining us on the farm on his days off and before class when time allows. Both Aaron and Meredith’s extra help is already going a long way!

We also had the help of Alan Oswald, partner to Rene Oswald, author of Transitioning to Living Cuisine. Rene is doing a book tour up the East Coast from Florida on up to Montreal. Alan contacted Ben about a month ago to see if we would show him around the farm and to see if he could help for a day or two while they stopped in the Raleigh area. He just happened to find us online. Sure enough, Alan spent the day with Ben (I was diligently grading) doing all sorts of stuff. Ben said Alan kept up with him through the whole morning and afternoon. Alan is in his early 50s and he and Rene eat only raw foods. It seems the raw food diet provides quite a lot of energy, for Alan and Rene at least!

So, these are the folks that have helped us on the farm this week. And to get an idea of what’s been going on in terms of the farm itself, I thought I’d share with you all some of the things we’ve marked off of the do-to list this week.

1) Ben spent quite a lot of time prepping ground (about a ¼ of an acre) with the walk behind tractor (aka tiller) and then seeded cover crops including, millet, sorghum sudan-grass, and cow peas. The two former grasses scavenge nutrients. This means they take up nutrients in the soil and recycle them. The cow peas fix nitrogen in the soil.

2) Ben, Alan, Aaron, Meredith and I all mulched almost 3,000 feet of peppers with straw. This basically means you place straw in the pepper beds. You do this for a variety of reasons including to suppress weeds, to hold in moisture, and to reduce soil splash (which keeps the dirt of f the pepper plants so they’re pretty but this also helps with disease prevention). We used about 50 bales of straw. 

3) We also cultivated (fancy word for weeded) melons, winter squash and eggplant.

4) Ben inter-seeded buckwheat with the okra, field peas, and summer squash. We do this to suppress weeds, attract beneficial insects, add organic matter and prevent erosion.

5) Ben has been diligently staking peppers. We’ll be tying them shortly (to keep the plants from falling and/or breaking from the weight of the peppers).

6) Ben has also been doing quite a lot of tractor research. We were going to take a road trip to Charlotte last Sunday but after speaking with other farmers at market, we found out the tractor was way too pricey for what it is. So, we opted to float the Falls of Neuse with a few friends instead (and were able to do so thanks to Randy and Leza, who lent us their canoe for over a month!).

7) And finally, we harvest squash and cucumbers everyday and harvest everything else for the CSA and market every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Saturdays Leslie (and now Laura and Brian as well) pick up our goods for the Clayton Market and Ben and I have been taking two pick up trucks worth of stuff to the Western Wake Farmer’s Market.

Also, in all of that, I cook at least two meals per day, teach for my online Intro to Sociology course, write the newsletters, come up with recipes and type recipe cards for the market, do basic household chores including washing the never ending sink of dishes and laundry (including hanging it to dry and taking it down and in to put up), and every once in a while, also make samples for the Western Wake Farmer’s Market. This Saturday we brought quick cucumber kimchi and beef and cabbage bulgogi for beef day at market. Oh, and I forgot to mention we also had dinner guests on Wednesday night (CSA members Lara and Sam) and went to our neighbor’s 50th birthday party Saturday after market. 

It’s been a busy week and we’re ready for more. My folks and my nephew are coming into town tomorrow. That means I have to finish grading final essays and cleaning the house by tomorrow at 7pm. Plus, it’ s my nephew Julian’s 13th birthday on Thursday, so I need to get some balloons and cake action on somewhere between today and tomorrow. Meanwhile, Ben is going to check out a tractor in Zebulon tonight after the CSA drop. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We need to find a quality, affordable tractor. Ben is busting his hump on that walk behind tractor and it’s taking him at least three times as long to do things he’ll be able to do once we get that tractor. And while you’re at it, please send some rain energy our way too!  I think y’all helped us out yesterday – we got ½ an inch!

Okay – we hope y’all are keeping up with your own do-to lists and keeping happy. We’ll see you around. 

Down on the Farm, pt. 2
By Patricia Parker 
Week 11 (July 4-July 10)

Well, another week has passed us by. And, as usual, a lot has happened in those seven days. My folks came into town last Wednesday, with my nephew Julian in tow. Thursday was Julian’s 13th birthday and he got to spend it weeding in the morning (we’re cruel, we know) and then we went shopping and baked a yummy red velvet cake (from Nancy McDermott’s book, Southern Cakes). 

Julian is into the cake baking shows and wants to learn more about baking, which is why he baked his own birthday cake. My folks left Saturday morning to head back to Tennessee. Their visit was way too short, but I imagine we’ll be seeing them again soon. Of course, it was also Independence Day yesterday, so while Ben, Julian, and Meredith and I all worked in the morning (Julian only for an hour before he left with Beth and Eric and the kids to check out the Clayton parade), we spent most of the afternoon socializing. Beth (our neighbor, landlady and friend) had a 4th of July party that began at noon and ended sometime after 10 last night! Fun times were had by all, especially all of the kids J. So, that’s the fun we had, but we also managed to get quite a lot of work done too. Here’s the rundown from last week:

·         Dad and Ben built our chicken tractor!!! We’ve been wanting to build the chicken tractor pretty much since we got the chick-a-dees last year, but time and money kept us from doing so. As many of you know, the poor chickens have been cooped up most of their lives to keep Charlie the sweet, but chicken-eating, farm dog away from them. We do let them out in the evenings and keep Charlie inside, but we’ve really wanted to let them roam more often. We feed them greens daily, but at this point, we’ve been having to bring the greens to them. Now, we’ll be bringing them to the greens. For those of you unfamiliar with what exactly a chicken tractor is, well, it’s basically a moveable chicken coop. We’ll be putting the chickens out to pasture and they’ll be able to eat bugs, eat greens, and fertilize our soil while they’re at it (we’ll move them daily). Now we just need to work on getting some electrical fencing so we can keep Charlie and other chicken “loving” critters away from them.
·         Of course, we also did a whole lotta weeding this week. This is Julian’s least favorite farm task. I happen to think it’s not so bad, especially with our sandy soil. We weeded the butter beans, the field peas and the okra. We also all received bee stings of some kind. Well, almost all of us (Meredith managed to escape the wrath of the bees – but Ben, Aaron, my dad, Julian and I all received stings on Friday).
·         Yesterday Julian, Ben, Meredith and I all took strawberry cuttings off of the spring strawberry plants. We cut plants between 2 ½ and 4 inches long (about 700 of them) and them Ben made soil blocks and Meredith and I potted up the plants. We’re hoping we’ll be able to grow some strawberries for the fall – keep your fingers crossed for our fall fruiting experiment (it means you’ll have berries too!).
·         We also finished up staking and tying the peppers. There are plenty of peppers on many of the plants, but none of them are quite ripe – but you should start seeing peppers in your shares soon.
·         Finally, Ben has been working quite a lot on the fall crop plan. Speaking of…since I have some room below, it’s time to start thinking about the Fall 2011 CSA..

Farm (and Off-Farm) Life
By Patricia Parker 
Week 12 (July 18-July 24)

Since last week was our last week with Julian in town, it was an even crazier whirlwind than usual. I remember when Ben and I first moved to the Raleigh area, we were amazed at how many people rarely, if ever, went to the beach. Now that we’re rooted in our place, we’re beginning to understand why that’s the case. Pretty much the only time Ben and I leave the farm (barring holidays or other family celebrations) is to go to the CSA drop, go to market, go to school, or run errands – and that’s just to go to Raleigh. The beach is much farther away. However, Julian gave – at least me – the excuse to go to the beach. Last week here’s a recap of what we did:
·         Monday: Julian and I went to Kure beach. We packed a picnic and swam, dodging jelly fish as best we could, boogie boarded, built a sand castle with moat, and collected sea shells. We also stopped at a seafood place on our way back home to bring home some NC shrimp and scallions – YUM!
·         Tuesday: Ben, Julian and I harvested for the Tuesday CSA folks and Farm it Forward. Julian and I set up the drop and then packed up to head to the last Cooking Matters class for Farm it Forward. Julian had an awesome time and the Inter-Faith Food shuttle gave him a Cooking Matters cook book and nutritional information packets for his enthusiasm. After the class, Julian and I headed to CSA members and friends, Cate, Jeff, Ally, and Josh’s place for Josh’s 5th birthday celebration. Josh loves fireworks, so our lateness was sort of perfect timing – just in time for the fireworks and cake.
·         Wednesday: Ben and I harvested for the Wednesday folks and Julian played with kids over at Beth’s place. Beth has yoga at her house most weeks and mamas bring their kids in tow. It’s free yoga for the parents and playtime for the kids. They also usually have snacks and lunch in the afternoon. Living on the farm is so cool! J
·         Thursday: We all harvested and then we met up with CSA members and friends, Emily and David, to check out the Carolina Mudcats game. It was Julian’s first baseball game (that he could remember). He bought a foam finger and David brought Julian a glove. It was quite cute seeing him with one on each hand ready for a foul ball (glove) or a homerun (foam finger). Hot dogs and peanuts were had. Julian even got Muddy the Mudcat (the team mascot – who is a catfish, if you don’t know) to sign his foam finger. 
·         Friday: We all harvested for the Western Wake Farmer’s Market and the Clayton Market. We finished up early so we could make it to the 4:40 pm last Harry Potter movie. Julian even had time to fashion himself a wand to take with him. I’ll confess – I went to the grocery store prior and bought soda and snacks to sneak in to the theater. I carry a large purse and that can be particularly handy when going to see over-priced movies and smelling all of that over-priced popcorn. I think Julian was a little embarrassed when our soda cans popped loudly, but when I suggested he buy us some snacks from the concession stand, he got over it J.
·         Saturday: We all headed to market. When we got home, we made lunch, ate and packed Julian’s things up. His flight was scheduled for 6:35pm. This was Julian’s first flight and his first flight alone. I spoke with my mom (his Oma) after he arrived and she said he was ecstatic about the flight. After we saw Julian off, Ben and I went to the Bavarian Brathaus for dinner. I bought a Groupon last year for Ben’s birthday and Saturday was the last day it was usable. 
·         Sunday was fun day. Ben and I slept in and picked some of Beth’s blueberries and Ben made blueberry muffins. I’m not sure how many he made, but we’ve already eaten them all! We spent Sunday relaxing.

Now, on to more farm stuff! Here’s what happened on the farm more specifically:
·         We cleaned about 300 pounds of onions. When they’re curing, we keep the green tops on. Once they’re finished curing, we have to cut off the tops, one by one, for storage. Since this is something you can do sitting down and in the shade, this was one of Julian’s favorite farm tasks.
·         We made and seeded up to 40 flats of seedlings, including:
o    Kale
o    Kohlrabi
o    Chinese cabbage
o    Tatsoi
o    Scallions
o    Fennel
o    Cauliflower
·         We cultivated, staked and tied the second round of tomatoes – or rather, Ben and Kevin did these things.
·         Ben, Meredith and I put up our newest edition – the high tunnel. We put shade cloth on it so we can keep the seedlings in it (and keep them away from the rain, so we can control the water, and the bugs). This first tunnel is about half the size of the other 2 or 3 we would like to construct this year. It’s 54x12 feet and it cost us about $450 to purchase the materials (which is about $0.72/square foot).
·         We also purchased and received a truck load of compost (38 yards) for the fall crops.
·         That’s all folks!