Sunday, April 22, 2012

the vaccine refusal epidemic

I really love our community in so many ways. There is a higher percentage of people who are thoughtful about their food choices and also care enough about the environment to spend actual money on products that are less harmful or even beneficial. This is rare in America, studies have been done showing people will spend more if it has personal health benefits but mother nature just isn't worth much to most Americans even now.

So based on the title of this post, you know that there's a great big BUT coming. One unfortunate thing is that our community is so privileged many people seem to have forgotten the spectre of disease. Since kids aren't rolling around in wheel chairs, and there aren't many babies dying all the time as a result of contracting measles or pertussis, folks seem to think that risks, side effects, and downsides that may be involved with vaccination outweighs the risks, side effects, and downsides of deadly diseases. Unfortunately it seems to me that the uninformed conspiracy theorists are the only voices speaking up on facebook and there's nobody with actual knowledge of fact rebutting the frequent bad-logic/science-free posts I see frequently from these people.

Today I saw a post (from a person I totally respect mind you) on facebook linking to an article who suggested you should "think twice about vaccinating your kids". The article was from a guy who always follows his scary articles with a product offer allowing you to buy a $500 item from him that will protect you. He looked at a very reputable study involving a Kaiser in San Rafael and completely distorted its content and meaning. We logged into UCSF's servers and actually took a look at the study. The point of the study it turns out is that we might need to look at giving boosters more frequently. The 8-12 age group is the most vulnerable, and then contraction of the disease just drops off when these guys finally get their booster. Its only in the past 5-10 years that we started giving boosters, and the point the authors are trying to make is that maybe we need to be giving the booster at age 8. Herd immunity and surrounding babies by vaccinated people is the best solution we have.

But the article was asserting that the study was saying that many of the people who got vaccinated still got pertussis. He's trying to have it both ways. He complains that the vaccine isn't effective enough and somehow wants that to justify a suggestion to not vaccinate at all. He'd like people to misinterpret him and think something even he wouldn't say, that you can get it from taking the vaccine.

Its not just a "personal decision" to not vaccinate your children as some would have you believe. Take the case of measles, which you cannot get your baby vaccinated for until age 1. Not a problem in a place where we have herd immunity, but if we have a community that isn't vaccinating and is affluent and travels the world, we have a real risk of re-importing measles. It kind of makes you want to keep your baby in the house until age 1. Is that fair? In my opinion insurance companies should include a severe penalty for those that do not vaccinate. After all, they are going to cost us all health care dollars and that's what insurance pricing is ultimately all about.

I understand that people are trying to do the best for their kids. But unfortunately they seem a little lacking either in information or in compassion for the rest of the community. The jury is in on the value of vaccines: they work, they are safe, and they are a gazillion times better than the alternative: rampant disease. Herd immunity is great, but herd mentality can be very dangerous. Put on your scientific mind as you look at this issue. Read the actual journal articles rather than the publications of snake-oil salesmen. I'm no fan of corporate influence of big government. Scientists however are still a group that is more committed to learning about their area of interest than getting rich. Turns out the corrupting influence of money attacks a defenseless mind on all parts of political spectrum.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Original Santa Rosa Farmer's Market

The Original Santa Rosa Farmer's market needs your help. This is a farmer owned non-profit organization that has been operating a farmer's market at the same location for 41 years. 41 years. In flush times, the Santa Rosa Parks and Rec department was giving them a pretty sweetheart deal on rent, and the group of course rolled that into a market with one of the lowest booth fees around.

I am not there, I have been moving my product direct to consumer until now, mainly because I was so small I could and because I hated my one experience with the Certified Producer's Certificate with the Sonoma County Ag commissioner. No offense to those good people, I understand why they have to do it (to prevent people from just buying product from the central valley and selling it at a farmer's market as their own) but I truly dislike paperwork. Administrivia. gack. Anyway I point this out to show that I have no vested interest in this market yet. But I see an injustice being done here.

What I understand from Heather Irwin's article in the Press Democrat, the Parks and Rec department decided that the gig was up, times are no longer flush and its time for the local sustainable small farmers to cough up their rent in full starting July 1. They were not really informed in writing, they heard about it through rumors apparently and asked for a meeting. During this meeting they expressed shock and dismay, and as a farmer run co-op they had to go back to their membership and develop a process of deciding how to handle it. They developed a committee creatively named the "rent" committee and investigated other sites, informally polled the vendor-members, and were just basically wrapping that up and getting ready to vote to stay when suddenly they were informed the lease had been granted to a new group.

This group is formed by Dan Smith the owner of the French Garden restaurant. A pillar of our community and someone everyone in Sebastopol owes a great debt to for being involved in the turnaround of our local hospital which we absolutely adore and really should not be without. Medical attention is so important. I know for me I feel a lot better knowing that if an employee of mine is injured there's a hospital less than 10 minutes away. And that's just the farming angle. Nate has been to that ER 3 times already. If Dan Smith wants me to jump my answer will be "how high?" He appears to have a long standing feud with the manager of the market, an employee of the farmer-members who run the market. Well its time for that to stop. The changes he wants to make: (as I understand it, I have yet to meet with him in person which I hope to correct very soon) to grow the market, make the process of selection of new vendors more transparent, and give extra weight in the vendor selection process to farms that are more local, are goals that could be easily accepted by vendor/members of this non-profit that runs the market. The manager is simply their employee, to be hired/fired and managed by their elected board of directors; her personality or whatever has nothing to do with it. She is a hard worker by all accounts and her being as feisty as, well, I am, is no horrible mark against her in my book.

So is this the right way to handle the situation? Here you have a pure representative democracy, a non-profit run by an elected board of directors, with a manager hired by a recent vote of 52-12 of the general membership. Is it a clean process without acrimony? certainly not, you need a benevolent dictator for that. But its so American, and being in this meeting, where even total wing nuts with no affiliation with the market whatsoever (like me) got their 60 or 120 seconds to say whatever they wanted was inspirational, and I was just so inspired to be in a room full of farmers who were trying to cope with a threat to their method of obtaining income and by and large comporting themselves with fantastic aplomb. They've been a tenant here, built a history, and been successful for 41 years. Did the parks and rec department negotiate with them in good faith? It would appear not. I really have to wonder if the right solution here isn't for this new Redwood Empire group to just be allowed into the current market so they too can become voting members who can have their say in meetings and convince the other farmers to start doing things in a way that will benefit everybody including the market. This might force them to remove from their midst anyone who has pending litigation against the market and/or its individual members, but that's probably for the best. Can we all agree that there's too many frivolous lawsuits in this country?

Back to the action taken by the Park's and Rec department to just award the contract to a new entity with no board of directors, no bylaws, funded by one set of deep pockets, without warning to its current tenant. Let me make an analogy here. Lets say you own a house, and you are renting it to an old lady who's been there for 41 years. You were doing good, business was great, and you were giving this lady a break on the rent because you thought she was cool and you could. Well, the economy went south, you suddenly were scraping by, and you decide that you need that old lady's rent to go up. Not to mention, she's been a pain to deal with sometimes, she's got a bit of a surly personality and she never seems to answer your phone calls or respond to your requests. A slick young businessman arrives in a BMW and offers you the full value of rent for that apartment, pays first and last month's cash deposit right there on the spot. Do you accept this offer and chuck your current tenant out on the street? I say no way, you are obligated to go back to that old lady, tell her she has x number of days to respond to your request to meet the new price of rent, or leave your house. And frankly, when it comes to old ladies, many places (like SF) you definitely can't even do that.

So anyone reading this blog post, if you live in Sonoma County, please contact your supervisor and request that they require their parks and rec department employee to get back to the negotiating table with the current tenant of 41 years. In my opinion, the rent increase should be phased in over 5 years or something fair and not sudden just because revenues for the county or city are down. That's not the fault of the farmers in this county. Farming is good for the county! They harness the free power of the sun and soil microbes, and convert it into an export product, thus importing money into our economy and raising the standard of living in our county, to the extent that some of the product is sold to people from outside the county. It goes the other way, farmers from Mendo can produce there and sell to us here and take some of our money up there. But nothing stops us from selling at their farmer's markets. That's the free market. In any case, its my opinion that farmer's markets _should_ get a sweetheart rent deal. I have yet to meet a farmer selling at a farmer's market getting rich off of what they are doing. Those that are wealthy would do well to make darn sure they are acting as a force for the good of those good people...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

to blog or not to blog?

When Google+ came out, I figured oh cool, now I can drop twitter, facebook, and the blog and just use Google+ for everything. But if Google+ is being used by more than a handful of people around where I live then its news to me. It just isn't taking over the other services as I'd hoped, even though it would be much better for all of us if the other less functional sites would just go away. (facebook and twitter, how about just throwing it in?) They seem to have reached critical mass, where like Ebay, the other sites are just never gonna get there because the biggest one is the only place most people care to be. Crappy or no, they seem to have traction and critical mass and I am stuck dealing with the mishmash SM stuff to spend my dark-outside time on.

I return to the blog for a simple reason: I have something on my mind. Its food of course: is the food we sustainably produce too expensive? Is it worth the blood, sweat, and tears to create this food if my friends can't afford to feed it to their kids? Isn't that why I started farming, to make better tasting, more nutritious, better for the planet and our community food for my friends to feed to their kids?

But what is "can't afford?" I know people who drive Lexus' and BMW's who don't buy local food because they think it is over priced. People who have read Omnivore's Dilemma, and have plenty of money, just can't see spending twice the price of Rosie when she's organic fed after all. I also have among my customers people who are clearly making every penny count but wouldn't buy a Rosie if their dinner depended upon it. Yet for everyone, food IS a large part of the monthly budget (even if its a smaller part in the USA than it is in every other developed country) and is everyone ready to double that? Then do it again? What if they are already having a hard time saving up a nest egg and nourishing the 401-K? Dont those 2 need to be prioritized over eggs with less cholesterol and more vitamin D? I mean, you don't DIE from eating a $1.50 dozen of eggs, but you could easily croak if you dont have health insurance and you get sick, at least if the tea-party gets to take over you are dead.

How can we prioritize something as indirect as our topsoil and our ocean and our atmosphere when these things are so vast that any major damage we do to them will only really manifest itself in our children or grandchildren's lifetimes? Paying for college and gas for the commute and the rent is so RIGHT NOW. Plus, these are the commons, and without everyone having a crystal ball isn't it a little silly to make financial sacrifices yourself when everyone else is just gonna go for what's cheapest? And as for the welfare of animals, well, what's more important, animals or people? Vegans you are not spared, your vegetable mono-crops come at the expense of wildlife from huge to microscopic, both on the farm and very very far away. It is shipping our topsoil off to the ocean. It is messing up the climate, terrestrial hydrology, and polluting non-stop.

A Kurt Vonnegut quote comes to mind. I can't remember what it was exactly but it was something along the lines of "I smoke because I'm too cowardly to commit suicide all at once." We can't see the future, these changes are happening slowly and the effects are absorbed by the vastness of the systems involved (the solution to pollution is dilution). A few people have put some money into getting some data that shows us that sustainably produced food is actually better for our bodies. Focus groups have shown that people won't really pay more for the environment but they will pay more if they think its better for their health. But there isn't much out there proving that conventionally farmed food is actually bad for our bodies. There is a lot of unexplained illness and disease we didn't used to have (heart failure, cancer) but this could be environmental too, or social issues like more stressful lives. So we are back to why pay $8 for something you can get for $1.50?

Why can you get it for $1.50 anyway? How did that happen? Developing systems that reduced risk, minimized labor, and maximized efficiency. What are the costs and who pays? Animal suffering=not me, environmental degradation=not me, human exploitation(cheap labor)=not me. Also governmental corruption subsidizing any farming that is cheaper than the others makes this uber-cheap food possible. Modern marketing further allows for pushing food that isn't really food at all and for changing traditional nourishment strategies into modern ones. How in the hell have we convinced people of the complete oxymoron that food should be cheap and illegal immigration is just a bunch of criminals ruining our country? Media/marketing of course.

People will say that markets determine all of this. Cheap food exists because there is a market for it, and sustainable will take over only if and when the market demands it. Alas markets are not truly free of outside forces and thus dont work in reality as well as they should in theory. We behave irrationally for a variety of reasons. But most importantly I think that the corrupting power of money has so much control over policy that we have the markets we do in a large part because super wealthy people think its better for them this way. I disagree, I think the current economic system as deployed since Reagan of dismantling the New Deal is weakening the middle class, the true big spenders of our economy, which actually hurts the wealthy, who's wealth is invested in markets which crash when the middle class has no more money to spend. Robert Reich just nails this one: first we sent women to work, then we worked longer hours, then we borrowed like no tomorrow, and now there's just nothing left for the middle class to do for themselves to increase their spending power. Their bosses just have to increase their pay at this point for their wealth to grow. And that ain't happening you communist america hater. As long as we can be convinced that the reason our local governments are so broke is because of teacher, police, and fire-fighter pensions then we aren't going to make any progress strengthening the middle class. And of course, its gotta go way beyond the public sector, the middle class needs more wealth across the board. The wealth is right there in Warren Buffet's bank account. He's one of the good guys, but the point is, the super rich are richer and more numerous and powerful because the middle class is dwindling, and educational quality has been dropping for a while now, and we are all plugged into a media that can convince anyone that which is bad for them is actually good and vice-versa. I'm not convinced there is really such a thing as wealth creation. I think its a vast closed system, like the atmosphere, and it all sorta sloshes around. You add to this pile by removing some from that one.

So maybe the question isn't why should we pay more for food when we have so little money to go around and should instead be why is there so little money to go around? Its basically the force behind the Occupy protests, why do I have enough free time to Occupy this place instead of working? Because I have no job. Because the old contract with our society, that if I'm willing to work hard for a lifetime I get to have kids and a place to live and a good education for them and a comfortable old age has been chucked out the window.

We live in THIS place, at THIS time, with THIS system. A local farmer once admonished a bunch of us: "we farm in the economy we have, not the one we want" and surely the same is true for the consumer. So what can we do?
-pray, work, and advocate for change towards a more just society
-buy direct from a local farm so they can farm sustainably and you can afford it since there isn't a middle man with his margin
-plant a garden
-get skilled in your kitchen
-heck if I know

I wish I really knew the answer and could figure out how to produce wholesome food for less right here in Sonoma county, without cheating the land, our employees, or our livestock. They after all give their last measure of devotion to become immortalized as part of our children.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

lets try this again

OK, its been a few months again. the longer it gets the more daunting the post ultimately becomes, thus forming a vicious cycle. To break this, I'm going to resort to posting pics of the various farm babies and other iphone pictures of interest since February. It seems as soon as the goat kids and piglets popped out I knew I had to post their pics but just haven't found the time. Well, here goes.

Jeremy with a new barbados lamb back in December.

me scratching monster's belly. he's a bottle baby, his mom had too small a pelvic bone for birth and he had to be pulled with an obstetrical snare. we lost the rest of his litter and his mom had to take up residence in our freezer. but out of the bottle feeding we got the nicest baby pig you could wish for. He has been a cute little honker to have around.

Our egg operation in full glory just after moving down from the spot behind the photographer. It was in the middle of the pasture 2 weeks before that, where you can see the bare spot near where one of the coops were. That's what chickens do to the grass around their coop where they hang out all day and why you have to move the coop if you want to have superior eggs. you either have to move the coops or pray that the "local" movement will help sell your eggs since they aren't much better than a CAFO.

Eggmobile2 after its retrofit. Chicken farmers have to replace their flocks at 2 years when their laying tapers off and they eat more money in feed than they make in eggs. That gives me a perfect opportunity to fix the things I didn't like about my 2nd coop. It got new water tanks, and nipples inside and out, which are much more sanitary and less failure prone than the gravity based waterers.

Tamworth litter. Only one gilt though, the rest were barrows. We learned how to fix them, not nearly as bad as I'd thought. I sold the gilt for a weaner price to a nice lady who wanted to breed her. Next litter I will have the confidence to sell the best ones for a higher price as breeding stock.

Cinnamon's twins: sugar and nutmeg, still wet from being born. We had 9 kids out of 4 does and it never got boring. I guess we are doing something right.

Meat chickens on pasture. More water nipples. These things are a labor saver and the consistent water that never fails is a plus for consistent bird size and good growth throughout.

Between brooder room and eggmobile we grow out pullets in these things I call "hoop tractors" of my own design. I have to move them with a tractor. This eggmobile2 replacement flock had some nice birds in it, this RI Red climbed me while I was moving their shelter.

She knows the best place to ride. Thank God for coffee btw. Just noticed it and thought I'd mention how much I love it.

OK blog. Sorry about the neglect. I think your problem is that you aren't a living thing, those have to take priority over you, simply a bunch of typed words and linked images.

Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 chicken season email

Dear Customers and Friends,

I am pleased to announce the schedule for my pasture fed chicken
program this year. I know many of you are hooked on our high standards
and I apologize for making you wait so long for this announcement.
We've been busy! We now have a new farm in Sebastopol with excellent
soil (but no driveway, water, or power yet :) and we'll be farming our
chickens on that good grass starting in just a few weeks. Now our
investments in topsoil through careful ecosystem management will
permanently benefit our own programs.

Because we supplement the natural forage diet with the highest quality
USA grown organic grains from Modesto Milling, we need to raise our
price slightly to $5.50/lb this year to ensure the viability of this

Chickens will be available on the following dates:
4/10 & 4/17
5/8 & 5/15
6/5 & 6/12
7/3 & 7/10
8/7 & 8/14
9/4 & 9/11
10/2 & 10/9
11/6 & 11/13
12/4 & 12/11

Those are all Sundays, but customers will also be able to pick their
chicken from that harvest up on Monday for convenience. After that
self-pickup out of the walk-in is arrangeable for emergencies but is

If you like a smaller chicken 3.5 - 4 lbs then try to order from the
first week. The second week birds tend to be a little bit larger,
4-4.5. But there are always larger ones in the first harvest and
smaller ones in the second so don't worry too much about this

In other news, I have a few lambs available that will be harvested
next month. My sheep are hair sheep, they shed out their wool when the
weather warms up, so they do not have the strong lamb/lanolin flavor
that some people when they've tried lamb have decided they do not
like. Give mine a try in that case, the flavor is out of this world
and you will broaden your cooking horizons as you seek recipes for the
various cuts you will receive. I only sell whole live lambs so they
can be harvested onsite for minimum stress. The price is still $3/lb
on the live weight so its around $7-8/lb once all the butchering is
done and paid for. I ask for a $40 deposit to reserve your lamb.

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I make this announcement
to open the 2011 chicken. Now, let the hard (but rewarding) work


p.s. if you want to be removed from my mailing list please reply to this
email with some words to that effect and I will make it happen. alternately,
if you know people who like local high quality food, I have expanded my efforts
this year and would welcome new customers. thanks!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

harvested today

We had a goat and lamb harvest today. I was quite pleased with the sizes, most lambs broke the 60 lb barrier which is what I'm shooting for in the hair sheep. You might wonder why I farm such small lambs, when wool breeds easily get 80 lbs or more? Well, some people really dont like that strong lamb/lanolin flavor, and my hair sheep don't have it. So most of my lamb customers can't believe the mild and delicious flavor and they come back for more.

Sorry for the squeamish about this pic, but this is how a stress-free lamb graduation ceremony looks when its done on farm. They get to meet their maker with a minimum of fear.

Here's a pic of Nate the other day doing one of his favorite things. I'm looking forward to the help of this farm hand:

for now though, this is pretty good Nate and Daddy time:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

its been a while

Here's us in the middle of moving the eggmobiles on the new farm. All but eggmobile2 are moved to their new location. Eggmopbile4 is red (youngest birds) Em1 is yellow (second youngest) Em3 is blue (second oldest), Em 2 is green (oldest), with the tractor connected in foreground. Em2's replacement birds are on pasture in the hoop tractors in the deep background which have been depicted in previous blog posts.

Carrie is grabbing a feeder in the old pasture. We have adjusted the space we give each flock, the old birds need less pasture and the young birds more, you can see the pasture degrading as it fades into the background.

Jeremy turned 7. We had his birthday in conjunction with another kid in his class so as to help minimize the amount of birdthay parties for the class this year...

And finally, they got hold of the entire bottle of bubble bath. Yup, daddy checks his email for one second and this is what happens: