Food Connection

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The colorful eggs of Leafhopper Farm show the mixed flock of ladies working the land and turning it into gold (with some great Scratch and Peck layer mix). The last of one of my deer harvested in 2015 is being ground up for some good sausage. Protine is very challenging to come by in wild foraging. Eggs are one of the easiest agricultural production models in farming. Together, these wild and domestic foods satiate the pallet at Leafhopper Farm.

Another quick reflection on harvesting your own food and how important it is to stay aware of consumption. When we no longer know where our food comes from, we are severed from the very life which sustains us. The majority of civilization are not aware of what goes into growing food, how it does directly affect us, and what can be done to reconnect with our diet in a more holistic, and nurturing way.

It is through the conditioning of our society that we have come to assume the grocery store will have what we need to eat, and in some cases (more than many would like to admit) a growing number of people are eating out of gas stations and fast food establishments. The quick mart food is not fresh, and often has the most additives of any food choice. On the other hand, it is convenient, and we are cultivating a society of convenience, so reach for what’s closest.

When the first frost comes, and I know, because one verity of Leafhopper apples are picked after the first frost for peak flavor. This heritage fruit was cultivated for maximum seasonal growth, ensuring good sugars for our winter diet. People continually grafted this frost apple to root stalk and carried it into The Pacific Northwest. Eventually, it found it’s way onto Leafhopper Farm; that’s deep culinary survival for both the apple and human beings. Survival is truly the end game, for all life.

Chickens come from jungle fowl in Indonesia, yet we now cultivate endless verities and types of chicken today that barely resemble their ancestors back in south east Asia. The Europeans took this bird and bread it up to make a larger egg for humans, giving us an easy source of protein in return for stewardship of the birds. The heftier animals need more food, especially in colder regions of the world where many of them are now bred (Barnevelders of Holland are an example).

By this time, people were settled in homesteads and small villages, where they could not only keep a flock of birds near by, but also grow the grains to feed them. Agriculture was a great advantage for human development, and the development of all livestock. I put a lot more faith in living stock, as opposed to the stock market of flashing numbers which runs our economic success, for now. The benefit of livestock is the immediate return in food we can utilize if needed. Why is currency not measured in living stock? Can’t eat money. That’s a classic fact.

What would happen if we, as a species, decided to look at the collective support each species brings into being; the added strength and resiliency the diversity of connectivity brings, instead of monetary value?

The venison often enjoyed at Leafhopper Farm is wild harvested in our local forests each fall. Hunting is a privilege, not a right, and many people do not realize this. America and Canada are anomalies in the Western World. Europe is small countries owned by the rich. There is little public land in most countries. The United States has the most public land of any country in the world. But it’s changing fast. We’re selling it off to developers, and renting it out to natural recourse extraction companies. My hunting grounds are in a logging operation working 100,000 acres along The Central Cascades.

At least I can appreciate the land and harvest something wild to eat there. I do pay a fee, but just a few miles to my west is another forest with totally public access and lots of great hunting. Logging is happening there too, and in most forests across the country and the world. You have to step outside your neighborhood to really understand this. Then look back at where you live and ask yourself what was there before people developed it. The old growth stumps around the farm bare witness to an ancient forest that once thrived here.

You do not have to be growing food or harvesting it to know the land and understand living systems, but it helps to know what you eat. What does that even mean; know what you eat? Well, to me, it means connection to food, land, place, people, nature, nurture, world perspective. This is where your own individual needs, wants, and dreams come in handy. Community can also greatly enhance ability and action, so connect, like all growing things do. At Leafhopper Farm, we’re connecting to food and place, stewardship and abundance; what’s connecting you?

WWOOFers Welcome

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A wonderful couple, Gina and Judd, came for a day at Leafhopper Farm. They are part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms- a non-profit organization matching organic farmers with people looking to volunteer and learn. I learned a lot with these two wonderful people as we tended young fruit trees and talked about the state of food, living in Seattle, and working spread sheets in the 9-5 office world and why getting outside for some “real” work is so important to health and happiness. All work is important, whether in a cubicle or an orchard, our collective labor helps tend community and survival. Taking time outside is part of living in balance, and for Americans, less and less of a priority as we urbanize and socialize. A hive has to feed from surrounding gardens, and the plants don’t survive without pollination. Where do we stand in that cycle?

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Planting and tending fertility, diversity, and thriving productivity seems to be a good mantra. Fruit trees offer lots of flower, fruit, and seasonal canopy. They are growing slowly, but continue to go up, expanding branches with the space for more fruit every year. We took time to weed, mulch, and water these young trees, and they look good. These young plants have been fending off goats for a few years now, and though some of the leaves may be missing, or a branch torn off, they manage to continue reaching into the sky and enlarging their canopy. We are expanding the fences and putting down new cardboard to prevent grass choking out the young tree.

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This line of trees thrives along the east fence-line of the property, along the swales where we will be planting a food forest next year. The fruit trees currently establishing are not only a nice reinforcement of our fence line, but also acted as test trees for the soil and climate. By observing the health of the cherries, plum, and apple trees, we can better decide which verities work better in this location. Though the cherries struggle a little, all the trees (save one apple the goats completely cut down) are thriving in their soil.

The WWOOFer help was greatly appreciated; we all learned, laughed, and lunched together in harmony. It is so good to share my passions, encourage stewardship, support mental health for those working so hard in other important technologies which keep our world thriving, and meeting new people. Please take a moment to visit the WWOOFer website for more information. You can find Leafhopper Farm there, as well as thousands of other farms around the world. All are organic, and eager to connect people, food, and farming.

Dinning Ducks

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Our aquatic feathered friends are on the landscape eating slugs with gusto. We’re thankful for their work and apatite here at Leafhopper Farm. The challenge is keeping our flock of ducks moving around the land, and they don’t do that often right now, because of our pond. I’m going to have to fence off the pond so the ducks can’t get in it any more, as they were never supposed to go into the pond, and the water is now very poopie, causing an overabundance of nitrogen, which is clogging up the water with algae and making the whole pond unhealthy. This is the challenge with keeping a flock of ducks out of the open water.

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Ducks need a lot of water, and though they would LOVE to swim all the time, it’s not required. Enough water to dunk heads in is plenty, and a 5 gallon bucket works just fine once the ducks are old enough to reach it’s edge. Right now we are working on a problem with the ducks fearing a new kitty pool. They are in the habits they formed as young birds, and it’s not in rhythm with the other systems; that’s my fault. I was not around to encourage them in a good routine, and because this is a new system (pond and ducks together) it was bound to have some issues. So, we’ll be wrangling the flock into a pen where we can reintroduce water, food, and roaming habits in a mindful way for the ducks to get their needs met and provide work on our farm where needed.

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The ducks do play an important role in our farm’s plan for good fertility and healthy soil. Their poop on the landscape is a rich gift, spread by their wanderings through the fields and garden edges. Below is a video of the ducks eating slugs. They can really slurp em’ down! Just listen to that feasting.

The ducks will need to be “sheparded” around the landscape, and I hope the electric mesh will serve as enough for our flock, especially at night for protection. We’re also looking into a simple coop for the ducks, which would allow them to roam freely during the day, and remain sound at night in a confined space like the chickens. This experimentation will continue, as the ducks find their place in the systems of holistic management here at Leafhopper Farm.

 

Summertime

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We’ve had a “normal” summer so far this year. It’s great to receive rain and overcast skies to keep things cool. Much of the rest of our western states are in drought and fire this year, but Washington seems to be getting a break, finally! It’s been a real pleasure to watch crops and plants taking off in the summer warmth and sun with the great rains, while I can focus on other tasks besides watering. We will be back into a watering schedule tonight, but it’s been over a week since I had to get out the sprinklers.

Some residents of Western Washington have been complaining about not getting enough hot weather and sun, but they live in a temperate rain-forest! Just like the lawn lovers who cut all the trees and put in grass, I say, move to Nebraska where you get all the grass; if you want non-stop sun and warmth, head south to Florida or Texas, even Colorado is a sun state. Washington is not, at least on the west side, the east side of the state is high desert, but brutal winters would make rainy cool summers look like a dream.

The weather this summer is a break from several drought years, and we’re still in need of more rain. The farm is planning for more hot weather in summers, along with harder winters of more cold temperatures, and a lot more rain. In spite of drought summers which have broken all sorts of heat records, our winters have been breaking records too. We’ve had more rain than ever, and that should make us less susceptible to drought, but that’s not the case. Instead, the rains are getting harder, and that water is shedding off the landscape and into rivers to the sea much faster, instead of the slow soaking Western Washington’s great evergreen forests need to survive.

I am eager to know how the rest of this year’s climate change will play out in The Pacific Northwest. For now, we’ll keep enjoying a temperate summer and keep the tomatoes in the greenhouse. Our additional water catchment systems will also create more irrigation security as we continue to face summer droughts. A 20,000 gallon cistern is going in this year, and we’ll have more water retention capability, which allows us to develop more food production spaces at the farm.

Backyard Bear

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This guy has been trolling around our stream buffer habitat for weeks now and it’s a great reminder of the wilds in our backyard here at Leafhopper Farm. Special thanks to Kyle for getting this trail cam footage of the Ursus Americanus in our wildlife habitat of the stream buffer at Weiss Creek. Below are some impressive plaster casts taken by Trevor of the bear earlier in June when it came through our hand dug cold plunge pool.

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left hind

The hind end of this animal is big, and the back feet carry that weight, so they are bigger than the front. Our cast is only a partial track, having a great capture of the claws, most of the toes, and “ball” of the back foot. A full track would have a much longer heel attached, much like our own footprint. In fact, it’s not uncommon to confuse human and bear tracks in certain sub-straights.

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close up of back left claw and toe

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I’m guessing this is a male bear, based mostly on sheer size. Though considered smaller on The West Coast, in Washington, the bears tend to be heavier, following Bergman’s rule. This fantastic specimen is no exception, and it’s the largest of the few I’ve been close to in Washington State. Am I scared? Well, no, unless I come upon the bear suddenly, which is unlikely. The residence here on the land are being careful, not leaving out food or taking quiet walks down by the stream. Clap, sing, stomp, and talk boisterously when you think there might be a bear around. That’s the best way to avoid surprise encounters.

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right front

Black bears are common across the state, but at Leafhopper Farm, this is our first resident bear we’ve been aware of. When I moves onto the property in 2013, there was recent bear sign, but after settling in, there was no more fresh bear sign till this June in 2018. Now he’s in the area and very active in our stream buffer. That’s great! For the farm, having wildlife in the habitat we are cultivating for them is the plan. Will the bear stay in our fenced buffer space and not find his way to the chicken coop, grain room, or orchard later this fall? Who can say? I know it could happen, so we have to take careful steps here at Leafhopper to ensure the safety and preservation of our stock.

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right front

The realities of living on the edge of wilderness means wildlife overlap with domestic life, and as stewards of wildness, we have to take a step back and really think about our relationship with nature. For me, there is a very active crossroads between farming and a passion for wilderness. I want to let all the wild things do as they will, but when it infringes on my livestock’s health and safety, I have to take steps to protect my investments in cultivation, sometimes at the cost of something wild. We do this every day in ourselves, and it’s not easy. The lesson here is adaptability, for me and the bear.

Summer Check In

 

The goats are out keeping the grasses down and working the edges as fruit trees put on their lush fruit in a cascade of bounty. Trailing blackberries¬†Rubus ursinus are ripe on edge-land, and red huckleberries Vaccinium parvifolium are on in the forests around Leafhopper Farm. The apple trees are showing good fruit development, while cherries skipped this year all together (I really don’t think the cultivated strains will do well here long term), but the Asian pear tree will be a bumper crop. The three plumb tree cultivars are at three different stages- totally dead, partially alive; and fruit production on one branch from the liveliest of the bunch. Counting the flowers and unripe green fruit our tenacious Rubus armeniacus, we’ll see another bumper crop this year, unless the cold rains return in August.

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Wildflowers at Leafhopper are brighter and more abundant than ever. Pollinator specie numbers are up too, and this year, Calypte anna and Selasphorus rufus are actively defending territories in the gardens! It’s a frenzy of flight and fluttering and good pollination ecology on the farm. Bees are only part of the pollinator system, on the yarrow Achilles millefolium below, Polistes dominula¬†is eating pollen and perhaps, opportunistic in who might also land for a feast and end up the main course. However, I have not witnessed predation while on the yarrow flower.

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Honey and bumble bee share neighboring plants as they dip into the summer nectar. Though Leafhopper Farm does not steward hives right now, we have been feeding all kinds of pollinators on the landscape and will continue to develop more pollination terrain here on the farm. It is great to see such response in only a few years of pollination station development around our tended spaces. The color and diversity are endless, and the sights and sounds grow ever richer.

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This summer, a lot of our pasture has grown into mature grassland, something great for birds and insects, voles and mice, but ultimately not ideal for a working farm. Because we chose not to get sheep this year, the pastures are overgrown a bit, as goats are not really grazers, but browsers. We are pushing them through the overgrown fields to help glean some of the under story growth, but the dry grass seed stalks will not be their main interest. They will however, knock down much of the hay and help get the pasture back on track for chickens to comb through later this month.

 

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Bran is working hard, and putting on great summer weight. Because of our travels this summer, we’ll be culling all our weathers before August. The two male kids were culled today, and they will make great tender goat steaks and succulent rib roasts over the 4th of July. Our herd also lost Brockstaro, the breeding buck of the farm, earlier this summer to injuries sustained in a butting match with Bran. This is a hard lesson in putting two goats of vastly different sizes together in a stall with one feeding station. The behavior happened over night, and Brock was not recovering. He was put down to end any suffering, and it was a great loss for the farm. We hope to acquire another breeding buck next year, or pay for stud services in the upcoming fall season.

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For now, the gardens are in the height of summer growth, and we’ll have a lot of great seed for planting next year’s garden, as well as a feast of different veggies as the harvest continues here at Leafhopper Farm.

Small Scale Agriculture

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Leafhopper Farm is an egg producer! We’re churning out a case a week now, and it’s going to stay at this level to maintain quality (and sanity of the farmer). Hands down, more than 40 active layers on a small farmstead becomes too much on all the other systems. If the hens are at peak of health, and your accounting for mishaps, they will regularly produce about 15 dozen eggs a week. That is a case worth of golden nutrition. Between cost of grain, pen size, and wear on the land, the flock should not grow past 40 active layers, which means about 50 birds (including chicks) being maintained on site. This number is supported by the incubator success rate, health of the individual birds, and time on the part of the farmer to process the work.

Now, a lot of farmers would immediately reflect that for about the same amount of work a day, I could have 1,000 birds and make a heck of a lot more money for my time. But in experiencing this profit driven model of production, I’ve encountered a heck of a lot of hurdles, which, though surmountable, cannot outweigh the benefits of small flock for my farmstead model.

Let me take a moment to break this down:

1. health of birds and people-

In raising birds for 6 years at Leadhopper Farm, and having worked with much larger flocks (100s of birds) in organic settings, I can say with confidence that going over 50-60 birds in one flock is pushing the limit of keeping healthy hens, and an awareness on each individual bird. The concept of herd limitations is a crucial part of animal husbandry that does not get enough study, and I would argue that contamination outbreaks in animal industries would drop to almost 0 if the number of animals in systems was reduced, in most cases, significantly.

All the USDA inspection laws revolve around human health, and if the animals aren’t healthy, it will transfer to people. This is one of the biggest threats facing the human race today. We’re more likely to be infected by viruses, than murdered by anyone else, and yet we continue to ignore pathogens, which thrive in overpopulation.

E coli and H1N1 are real, and happen in overcrowded animal systems. I believe more sickness happens when people cannot keep track of their animals. How could you know each bird in a flock of 1,000s? How can you keep bio-security of so many? Our laws try to crack down on the risks, but we’re already pushing the envelope and failing to contain infection. The diversity of genetics is also a point to bring in here, and large mono-culture industrial agriculture cannot produce diversity. This puts our animal systems at great risk, and smaller, and more numerous systems are the answer.

Another reason to limit flock size is the psychological well being of the birds. I don’t know any animals, including people, who enjoy being crowded in together en-mass. In community, even humans have their limits, and our brains cannot handle too many names and faces. The chickens have similar limitations, and at Leafhopper, they start pecking each other when in groups of more than 40. A fellow farmer in the valley puts blinders on his birds to prevent pecking, and I wonder how the bird’s brain is effected by this sense deprivation. It’s also comical to me that you would have to put little plastic goggles on all your birds, but hey, if it works, why not?

2. economic incentive-

Scale is always used in economic arguments, and the scale of animals seems to be bigger is better. However, we know through many studies, that growing a natural system beyond it’s limitations does not end well. Until we as a species can get it through our thick skulls that natural resources are finite, and cannot exponentially grow like imaginary profit margins for investors, we’ll always end up shorting ourselves and causing catastrophe. Please look at history and all the other “great” civilizations who topple when they overtaxed the ecology around them.

Scaling down can mean scaling up in other ways. Shrinking herd/flock sizes down would mean less profit for the individual, but a greater opportunity for others to raise manageable herd/flock sizes and better balance ecological impact and overall economic participation. This is a win win for everyone, as long as the theory of more money=better life could be abandoned for evolved theory brought on by real world events such as global economic collapse and the “drying up” of natural resources available to feed the exponential growth of human population. As we evolve our awareness, we can enhance our solutions as gain balance, even abundance.

3. impact on landscape-

Again, nature is not exponential, and our fantasy of “mining” other planets and asteroids from the heavens is not realistic- the pollution we would create using extraterrestrial inputs would quickly destroy our world. If we take into account visionary movements towards “green power” we still fall short of the mark because of inputs- how the solar panels and wind turbines are constructed, for instance. But at Leafhopper Farm, we’re talking chickens. The birds themselves are hatched on site, from eggs our birds lay. The chickens lay those eggs because of good diet, including, for now, grain sourced from off farm. I know VERY few farmers who grow all their own grain for their animals. I think that’s more to do with land prices, and a lack of cooperation between farmers due to lobby intrests.

My chickens like to scratch and peck at the ground, and in concentrated mass, they can do a number on the soil. Now, most coops have “sacrifice areas”, and my coop is no exception, but it’s a very limited size, and would be non-existent in a fully mobile system. This is my future goal, and I can build a portable coop of manageable size for 50 birds. I also think that I could raise a flock of broilers in the summer months, to utilize my pastures even more, but that will be complicated by grain.

Grain is the game, and getting enough nutrient dense food to the birds is my next goal. If I’m going to claim the farm is holistic, I’ve got to have as little inputs as possible. That’s going green in my book. You only extend within your means. What a concept for life. Now, extending your reach through stretching and testing is totally ok, as long as you are aware of the consequences. Yay scientific methods! Today, there seems to be a lack of assessed risk taking. Instead, we are jumping into the wide blue yonder like a theatrical video game. It’s not necessary. We can deduce our soil’s potential using very calculated algorithms and chemistry. Technology can propel our awareness about nature and its capacity, help shape the use of our landscape without abusing it.

At Leafhopper Farm, we’re watching the entire system work together in all its parts. Beyond our little 9.8 acre parcel. This is the deeper thinking I wish all land stewards would participate in. Buying tons of grain and having it shipped to you is completely disconnected form place. Your animals only live because of a huge input from outside your capacity. It’s costly, environmentally unstable, and assumes the crops will come to you. I buy a locally (in state) grown and packaged grain, which is painfully expensive. I pass that on directly to my consumers by asking $7.00/dozen, and many people can’t or won’t pay that. It’s all the grain costs for me, and I know my farm can grow enough food for 50 birds, but no more without external inputs. If my neighbors were to pitch in land, we could grow something larger, but still no where near the industrial levels which give us $0.99/dozen eggs.

4. buying time

I once shared a story with anther farmer about walking out with the hens in the morning, spreading their grain around the field to encourage scratching and tilling of the soil in that pasture. He laughed and asked how much time I was spending out there in the field, just standing with the birds when I could be working more efficiently to better maximize my time by feeding in a central feeder and moving on with my day. Well, again, if you want your life to be about deadlines and maximum output at the cost of your health and happiness, that’s one way to live a life.

Animal systems can be stream lined to buy time for a farmer, often the guy who has to run everything, and never has enough time. As a farmer, I know the feeling, but I also learned from nature recently that she’ll take her time about most things, and I can’t rush her without consequences. We live in a world of short term gain, and it’s not something I appreciate in modern society. If anything, we should be looking at more long term goals, for sustaining a shared vision of health and happiness. Yeah, and there’s the need for vigilance against strange outside forces which might be lurking and definitely will predate the weak- or something like that. But really, wildlife predates my stock often enough, but not all of it, and I certainly still have more than enough, but I also don’t just stand around when predation happens. I act, and responsibly too.

This is another myth we’re perpetuating today; if someone or something else takes from me, revenge! It’s almost comical, but really, we can’t avoid these natural systems; we can continue to learn from them and adapt, without sacrificing our health and happiness. On the farm, I build better fencing, stronger stalls and coops, and I’m around a lot to keep a human scent strong. That’s most of the deterrent- presence. So, still wondering about my stance in the field? Well, I also take time to watch my birds, see how they are, make sure they are physically fit, eating well, drinking, social interaction, and which birds are foraging the best.

Buying time for myself by finding the fastest way to complete a task is not always optimal. In rushing, we forget all the details that go into our rich and complex lives. These complexities are strengths in survival, and we’ll need a layered system of stewardship to remain successful in cultivating with the natural world. You really can’t beat nature, only abuse her for a short term, while causing long term destruction that cannot be easily reversed. If we continue our exponential growth model, and keep feeding an overpopulated planet in the short term, our long term path to extinction will continue on its way.