Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Left Behind

People have left many things behind when they come to buy eggs.  They've left egg cartons and money in the envelope, of course, but also sippy cups, shopping receipts, toys, etc.

Today someone left behind their child

P.S.  We were home, child was playing with the chickens, all was well.

P.S.S. Can it get any crazier than that?

P.S.S.S. Don't answer that please. I don't wanna know.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grassfed Beef for Sale

Currently Available: Grass-fed, grass-finished beef. 

The meat will be available on or around July 14th and processing will be done at Eickman’s Processing in Seward, IL. (All wholes, halves and quarters will be picked up at Eickman’s.) Please place your order as soon as possible, keeping in mind that orders will be filled on a first come first served basis.

___Whole beef, $3.00/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 320-400 lbs. beef)
___½ beef, $3.25/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 160-200 lbs. beef)
___¼ beef, $3.50/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 80-100 lbs. beef)

*Processing fee not included. Processing usually runs about $0.55/lb. depending on how you specify your order. You will need to contact Eickman’s to specify which cuts you prefer.

___Variety Beef Box, $135
Includes approx. 25 pounds of varied cuts: steaks, roasts, round steaks and/or cube steaks, ground beef, etc. Processing fee is included in this price. You will pick up box at the farm.

Our cattle are rotated through organically-managed pastures and have free-choice access to an organic salt, mineral and kelp supplement. They are fed absolutely no grain, hormones or antibiotics.

Send your name, contact information and order to Jackie at Thank you!

Local orders only. We do not ship or deliver at this time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Farm Events Galore

We've been busy this spring.  Busy with farm work, yes.  But also busy with events.  Farm events.

The renewed interest in local food has meant that there are a lot of people suddenly interested in and wanting to visit farms.  So far this spring we've been the destination for a local elementary school field trip, we participated in our second annual Openfields Farm Tour, and we hosted a Pasture Walk.  All of these events are a lot of fun (and a lot of work). 

The first event, the fieldtrip, brought 20 1st-graders and their parents out to see the chickens.  Each classroom at their school focused on a different farm animal, organized a field trip around that animal, and then reported what they learned back to the others.  They all visited a large farm and a small farm in the same day to see the differences in production styles, which I thought was a brilliant idea.

The kids that came here had first visited Phil's Fresh Eggs in Forreston.  There they got to see a video about egg production, they got to see the egg washing machines, the egg sorters, the egg packing machines, etc.  Everything is very mechanized--it has to be when you're packing 150,000 dozen eggs a day (!)--and must be pretty cool to watch, especially for a 1st grader!  But they didn't get to go in a see the chickens (disease control) and they didn't get to touch an egg (not quite sure why--couldn't they spare a couple?).

When they got here, I let them visit the chickens, taught them about the different breeds and showed them the food that we used.  We showed them the baby chicks and explained the difference between those used for meat production and those kept for eggs.  They got to hold the chicks and gather some eggs.  Every single one of them got to candle their own egg, grade it and put it in the appropriate-sized egg carton.  They then took home a few dozen eggs (the teachers insisted on paying for them) so they could each take an egg home with them.  I joked that I took no responsibility for school-bus-induced scrambled eggs in their backpacks. 

The kids had fun, and so did I, but the best thing that came of that fieldtrip was the packet of thank you letters and hand-drawn pictures I got back from the kids about 2 weeks later.  They were absolutely hilarious.

Next, we participated in the Openfields Farm Tour for the second year in a row.  I seriously considered not doing it this year because the tour comes at the busiest time of year for us.  But it's an Extension event, and I work for Extension, and my boss and co-worker basically told me I had no choice but to sign up for the tour, the big bullies.

That's OK, it turned out to be a lovely day, Laura and Rob and family came over to help, and we had about 90 people come by the farm.  Wow!

Look at that farm crew! (Madelina was such a good tour guide she was given a few tips and I even had a lady threaten to steal her away. We definitely have her slated for the marketing and advertising department.)

Here are some happy visitors taking home a dozen eggs.  (This lady is running for the county board!  She likes farms, so she just might get my vote.)

Rob is taking some visitors out to see the baby calves, which reminds me I need to post some pictures of them soon.

And Ana is taking advantage of the fact that we finally have enough people around to make a good go at a lemonade stand. Marketing and development for her, too.

All in all the day was a success.

Our final farm event was a Pasture Walk.  A pasture walk is an informal event for people interested in grazing.  It was hosted by the U of I Extension and the Northwest Illinois Grazing Network.  Extension did a good job of advertising for the event so we had between 20 and 25 people come, which I think was a really great turnout.

I explained our operation, Jim Morrison from Extension provided some technical information about finishing animals on grass, forage values, grazing techniques, etc., and Ed Johnston from NRCS gave the crowd some information about the EQIP program, which we used to cost-share for our fences and waterlines.  There was a nice article in the Freeport Journal Standard about it, so I'll let you read it.

That's right, I'm getting tired of typing. Follow this link:

Pasture Walk

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flynn Family Reunion

Every summer we have a Flynn picnic at a local Forest Preserve shelterhouse. Everyone in the family is invited, but usually just those of us that still live in the area show up, eat some good food, play a few games and catch up with each others' lives. Every three years, however, is the BIG Flynn reunion. The one where everyone makes a little extra effort to come, even those that live across country.

This year was one of those years. The year for the geographically-extended family to come back to their roots and hang out near Irish Grove for awhile. The Flynn's have been in America for 6 generations and counting.  So there's lots of us by now.  Here's a small sampling of the crowd.  Can you still see a family resemblance?

Lots of cousins. 

Lots of Flynn's. 

Lots of love.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Change--For Better and For Worse

I tend to ignore the conventional side of the farm. On this blog, that is. Truth is, I never wanted to be a conventional farmer. Row crops--corn and soybeans--with their genetic potential and maturity dates, their herbicides and pesticides, their crop insurance and FSA payments, their demand for large and expensive equipment, their moisture levels and storage charges--they're not what's got me whistling while I work on the farm, if you know what I mean.

But I want to be very honest with you all about my relationship with conventional row crops, so that you can be honest with yourselves about yours: the row crops on this farm have been financially propping up the organic acres for 4 long years now and they should receive the credit they deserve. And I think I'm safe in assuming that row crops have probably been financially propping up your ability to buy organic and local as well. In other words, we all need to be better about leaving the judgment behind while we strive to do better.

We made some changes this year regarding our row crops. Changes for better and for worse. You see, last year was one of those years that just about breaks a farm. I have already whined and complained enough about the quadruple whammy of last year's high input costs + lower crop revenue + wet harvest weather + a gazillion dollars worth of drying charges, but the result isn't pretty. The result is a farm walking a fine line between financial solvency and financial ruin. I think the most shocking part of the whole situation is that it only took one year to get to this point! One year! (Ok, so the quadruple whammy also coincided with some needed equipment purchases and the removal of one field from the sugar daddy row crops to that cute new hussy on the block named Organic Transition.)

Anyways, since I've run the farm I had refused to plant GMO anything. Straight conventional all the way, baby. I was filled with self-righteousness and an unending optimism that only new farmers have: if it worked before it'll work again.

Except it didn't work. The weeds on our farm are typical of the weeds on most farms that have been conventionally managed for over 50 years--resistant to many conventional herbicides. Yes, we sprayed. And yes, the weeds thumbed their noses at us and laughed all the way to maturity. (Remember those posts that have Marcel and I wielding machetes and felling giant ragweed?) After 3 years of ineffective herbicide applications, low yields and falling farm revenue, I had to be honest with myself that my system wasn't working.

So we changed our rotation to favor corn in order to level out the farm revenue we could expect year after year. We have 3 fields in row crops, which had meant if this year 2 of them would be planted to corn and 1 to soybeans, the following year 2 of them would be soybeans and 1 corn. Corn makes more money than soybeans--depending on the year it can be substantially more. So the way it was, we would have a decent farm income one year and a bad one the next. On and on and on.

We switched our rotation so that every year we'd have 2 fields in corn, meaning field #1 in 1st year corn (corn after soybeans), field #2 in 2nd year corn (corn after corn), and field #3 in soybeans (soybeans after corn). Revenue should level out so that we know, more or less, how much money is coming in. Better income control means better planning means more stability. Stability means less stress and less risk of financial ruin. Whew.

The bad news: corn on corn requires more nitrogen. (We used the same amount of anhydrous ammonia as last year, but also put on a pelletized, slow release product that will give the corn an extra boost as it grows.)

The good news: I planted non-GMO corn again, because the herbicides you can use on straight conventional corn are still effective and because we feed corn to our chickens and grain-fed beef. Our beef, egg and chicken customers don't want GMO feed, so no GMO corn.

Soybeans are another story. Our soybean fields have been a horrible mess and our yields have been falling. There are fewer conventional herbicides that can be used on soybeans and our weeds are resistant to them. It has gotten to a point where they control large percentages of the field, crowding out the crops and competing for nutrients.

The bad news: we switched back to GMO soybeans. Round-up Ready, to be exact.

The good news: our weeds will be better controlled, our yields should increase substantially, and we'll make a little more money off of the field. (More money = more money for that hussy O.T.)

On the fertilizing front, we made a definite change for the positive. A company based in Wisconsin, Midwestern Bio-Ag, sells fertilizers, soil amendments and forage seeds and work with both conventional and organic farmers. They promote balanced, mineralized soils for improved crops. Blah blah blah, you can read more about them on their website.

We have purchased our organic fertilizers and soil amendments from them for the past few years and have had wonderful results, but had stuck with the local Coop for the conventional land. This year I decided that I needed to move forward, even as I moved backward; I needed to give our conventional land some TLC. I gave it a good, healthy dose of readily-available calcium (calcium increase a plants ability to absorb nutrients) and high quality fertilizers with micronutrients and will continue to do so until we get the soil balanced.

What I must do:

1) Get the weeds under control.
2) Balance the soil.
3) Force the hussy O.T. to support herself.
4) Give some loving to the conventional land.
5) Transition the land to organic as soon as financially able.
6) Keep the Repo man far, far away from the farm.

What you should do:

1) Support organics.
2) Support farmers in transition to organic.
3) Support medium-sized family farms, conventional or organic. (These are the ones suffering the most, and the truth of the matter is that conventional farms are better for the environment than housing subdivisions.)
4) Stuff the judgment to the very back of your junk drawer.

Change. It can be good or bad. For better or for worse. But it is what's called for in these tough times.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". -Albert Einstein