Archive for the ‘Farm Philosophy’ Category

Scenes From the Cabrillo College Plant Sale

As many of you know, I am going to farm school. Alright, it’s not really farm school, it’s just Doug O’Brien’s Organic Food Production Class, at Cabrillo College. Every year, on Mother’s day weekend, the horticulture department at Cabrillo holds a plant sale. It’s huge. All students in the horticulture program (and even just those of us who are taking a single class) are enlisted into indentured servitude. The family came and visited me while I was working and Moo took the following photos (These photos have not been Photoshopped):

The Boy mans the plant wagon

Hydroponically grown tomatoes

Moo, lost in the hydroponic jungle

More hydro veggies

Hot house cacti

As you might notice, here are a lot of photos in the greenhouse and specifically, in the hydroponics area. The children were making good use of their time while Dave, the knowledge seeking, question hound that he is, was annoying the poor student working in that area, with questions, until he finally called over the head of the program. The end result of the most likely baffling conversation is: hydroponics isn’t about creating stuff that tastes good. It’s about creating  uniformly perfect vegetable that consumers want to buy because it looks good. Moral of the story? Don’t buy with your eyes, even though that’s what you are programmed to do. But do enjoy the kids photos with your eyes, they don’t taste good.


Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exagerated

You want to know where I’ve been? Me too. Let me see if I can explain my extended absence from the blog.

Aliens? Not unless you count the hairless cat.

Was I traveling the world? London, Paris, Rome, Prunedale? One out of four would be correct.

Oh, I know! Midterms, packing, and plant propagating. There have also been some significant weather events that have kept me at work more than normal.

Perhaps you heard about the tsunami? Perhaps you observed the tsunami first hand? Then we had fires, floods and mudslides, all in the same week. Needless to say, I was exhausted after that but since there’s no rest for the wicked, I also have to contend with midterms (someday I’m going to get an actual degree. Maybe when I’m 40.) Somewhere in all the madness, I found time to re-pot 1000 seedlings, redo the lighting system in the grow room and I’ve been marketing seedlings like crazy. As part of my marketing scheme, you can now find us on Facebook:

Click here to be a fan of Redemption Organics on Facebook.

I also realized there’s no way to contact me from the blog other than commenting. I’m working on creating a contact page for the ranch but in the meantime, you can always contact us through Facebook (though I recognize not everyone Facebooks. Those of you who don’t will have to wait just a bit while I figure out what to do.)

Fun story: While I was on blog hiatus, we ran out of propane. Propane fuels out heater, stove and at the time, we thought it fueled out hot water heater. In typical fashion, the propane ran out at 5:15pm on Friday, just after the Propane office had closed. It was also one of the coldest weekends we had this winter. We spent the weekend bundled up in the bedroom or hanging out in the grow room, which I call the beach. It’s always sunny and warm at the beach. It’s where I go to shake my Seasonal Affective Disorder. We would go in the grow room, warm up, come back out to eat ice cream and read in bed.

As you can see, I’m reading up on chicken rearing. It’s been a long time since I’ve had chickens and the refresher course is welcome. Dave has never had chickens but he’s going to wait and glean his knowledge from me.

Because we were sure we our hot water heater was propane, we refrained from showers for three days. Boy didn’t we feel like greasy nincompoops when we realized that the hot water heater is electric and we could have been in a warm bath for three days, instead of freezing in the bedroom. That’s one of those things that wasn’t so funny when it happened but we can laugh about it now that we’re warm and we smell nice.

I do have more posts planned for this week. It’s spring break, so I should have some extra time to do some blog maintenance.


Marianne's Northern Oregon Blackberry is my favorite!




Meet Testify. He enjoys long walks,

belly scratches,

and grazing in the yard with friends.

He’s a friendly fellow.

He got his name because he only has one testicle.

You didn’t see that coming did you? No one ever does.

Testify is living a good life but soon he will be meat. Ham hock, pork chops, bacon.

My point? Of course there’s a point. Most meat animals never experience any of the pleasures above. They live in squalor, like Honduran children (and didn’t Sally Struthers convince you to send just pennies a day to little Jovita, in Honduras, so she may have shoes and gruel?)

I encourage you to get to know your dinner before it’s on the plate. Maybe you would prefer to know that chicken frolicked in a field instead of laying listlessly in a dimly lit shed.

Gettin’ Educated

I’ve been going to school for approximately forever, with no end in sight. I’m working on  degree in something but it’s been so long, I can’t remember what credentials will someday grace my wall. This semester has presented me with a unique challenge opportunity. California’s budgetary crisis has caused my community college to cut classes by 25% and increase enrollment at the same time. For me, this means that I couldn’t get the two classes I need in order to transfer. I also can’t just take a semester off because I’ve been going to school for so long, the criteria for my degree has changed. If I stop going, I will have to comply with the new criteria and I am not even close to being on track for that. As long as I stay enrolled, there’s good faith that I am working on my degree and I get to stay the original course. Since I have to stay enrolled and I can’t get the classes I need, I figured I should take the classes I’m interested in taking. What a novel idea! I might actually enjoy school this semester.

How does this apply to you dear reader? Well, I’m gettin’ educated for the greater good of the ranch. I’m taking Organic Food Production (HORT 71.) HORT 71 focuses on “principles of good management agriculture.” I’m assuming he’s using good management in the same way that one might use sustainable or biodynamic; as another farming technique/philosophy. Most of the class is hands on. By the middle of March we will be done reading text and all theory will be presented as lecture with hands on training at the college’s farm. I’m pretty excited about propagating, composting and irrigating for college credit. Every Saturday morning is a lab conducted at the college’s horticulture center. We will be taking field trips to local farms to learn about marketing and CSA practices. Who knew school could be so interesting?

To add to all that, I think I may actually enjoy the instructor, which is a rarity in my academic life. Most of the time I tolerate my instructors, at best. I frequently drop classes when the instructor rubs me the wrong way on the first day of class. It took me three semesters to find an English professor I could live with for English 2. This instructor, Doug O’Brien, actually works in the real world as a crop consultant and though quietly unassuming, he made a statement about local agriculture that involved the phrase, “the tyranny of strawberries,” denouncing the cash crop monoculture that rules our Santa Cruz County. I love a good catch phrase.

I can’t wait to learn new things that I can apply to the ranch. This class is very exciting, especially since I have decided to sell some of my seedlings this year. Actually, it wasn’t a decision so much as a necessity. As it turns out, I’m an addict and I can’t stop buying seeds. Then when I plant them, I’m pretty good at growing them. Well, today, I started 180 various pepper seeds. Let me know if you’re interested in buying seedlings. I’ll get a list up shortly of all the things I have planted and all the things I’m selling. Hopefully, I’ll get a lot out of the marketing section of my course.

Out with 2010, In With 2011

I got this idea from Rachael Ray, the worlds most annoying cooking show host. I dislike almost everything about her, but her magazine (I was bored at work and there was nothing else to read, OK?) had an in and out for 2010-2011 feature. I thought it was way more interesting than listing my resolutions. I don’t actually have any resolutions so anything is more interesting than a blank page:

OUT for 2010: IN for 2011:
Demolition Reconstruction
Home design Logo design
103 tomato plants A variety of heirloom veggies
No walls No floors
Putting up gates Building fences
House plans Business plans

A Vegetarian Looks at Raising Meat Animals

I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years. (Right now my parents are counting years and thinking, that can’t be possible. When did the numbers get so high?) When I quit eating meat, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I didn’t have a solid reason why. Everyone asked, why would you do this? There were no other vegetarians in our family, it didn’t make sense. It especially didn’t make sense to quit right before a holiday that focused on eating a particular, and particularly unlucky, animal. I had a canned answer that involved something about poor furry animals that would rather be cuddled than eaten. Over the years I have developed a much more involved rhetoric that focused on health, kindness and environmental issues.

The health issue is a tricky argument. There are unhealthy vegetarians and there are exceptionally healthy meat eaters. I don’t argue that just because you eat meat means your diet is unhealthy. I generally focus on what we put into commercially raised meat animals: antibiotics and crap feed. Most animals that are raised and slaughtered for meat. We grind up animal parts and re-feed them to animals that were designed to live on grass and foliage. In doing so, we create an unhealthy animal. Then frequently, we house animals in small quarters with too many animals per square foot. In order to house unhealthy animals with other unhealthy animals, we pump them full of antibiotics that are fed to animals until their very last day. When the animals are slaughtered, we dip their carcasses in ammonia in order to further kill bacteria. Then we dine on that delicious USDA Prime steak and think nothing of the grossness we can’t see. To me, eating a steady stream of antibiotics and ammonia dipped animals is just not that healthy.

Then I talk about kindness. Animals that are commercially raised are not raised with kindness. There are many places you can travel in this country and pass by feed lots were cows are standing on gigantic mountains of manure. Those sprinklers you’ve seen are not there to “cool off the cows,” they are there to keep that mountain of manure from spontaneously combusting. Ever seen a mountain of cow crap catch fire? I have. Chickens have to have their beaks cut so they don’t peck each other to death in close quarters. Smaller animals are expendable and larger animals are kept alive even when they are half dead in order to get a return on the rancher’s money. The way the animals are slaughtered is also not kind. Even though people like Temple Grandin have worked to make the process less stressful for animals, there is a fair amount of animals that go through the slaughter process before they are fully dead. There is an allowable margin of error that runs around 5%, which says not every animal is going to be fully dead before it’s processed. That’s 5 out of every 100 cows. That’s a lot of cows if McDonald’s is serving a billion burgers every year. That’s a lot of animal torture. I’m not OK with that.

Then we run into the environmental issues. Mountains of antibiotic filled manure means poisoned water supplies. Over grazing strips the land. And have you ever passed a chicken house or a pig farm? The small travels for miles.

I won’t go on. there are whole book dedicated to the above arguments and they are written by people who have done far more research than me. As I really started to explore my feelings about meat I realized,  none of my arguments involve the feeling that eating animals is in and of itself inherently wrong. I know, PETA disagrees. And I likewise disagree with PETA. Humans are on the whole omnivores and that’s OK. I’m alright with people who eat meat, even though I choose not to. I’m not alright with how most meat is raised. So how do I make peace with all of this? I convince my husband we should buy 36 acres and raise some meat animals. We raise the animals in a responsible way that stewards the land and makes it healthier, stewards the animals and makes them healthier and makes the people who are involved with the farm healthier.

I’m developing a philosophy about raising meat animals. There are many questions I have yet to answer for myself like, is organic really the answer for meat animals? I don’t know. And of course the biggest question everyone has been asking is will I eat the meat I raise? Again, I don’t know.

The Swing of Things

I guess winter vacation is over, at least that’s what my husband says. He has demanded I get off my duff and get to blogging. Before you start directing me to the nearest women’s shelter please know that 1) my husband never really demands (unlike me) and 2) he does all the laundry, dishes and most of the housework as well as fixes everything I break. At some point I have to hold up my end of the work side of the relationship.

I’ve been working really hard on making the business side of the ranch come together. I haven’t had much choice since the permit to build side isn’t coming along at all but more on that later. I don’t want to start the day with a bitter heart. One of the biggest decisions I’ve come to is that there has to be a business side of the ranch. Not because I think it’s going to make mad amounts of cash; in fact I would settle for pays-for-itself. I think it’s necessary to continue to propagate the idea of responsible farming for local communities.

I had come up with a brilliant plan that involves small heritage meat animals because our land won’t support cows, gourmet heirloom produce that  you can’t get anywhere else, and of course honey, since bees are the key to taking over the world. I also have some other educational projects that I’m brewing up but I don’t have conformation that I can make those happen yet so I don’t want to talk to much about it. The plan was solid. Nay! Brilliant! There I was, thinking I was so very clever to come up with an all heirloom, gourmet, exclusive CSA project when I saw this:

South Paw Farms new CSA program

I had a moment of doubt. I thought, if they are doing it, I can’t do it, too. That would be copying. Then my logical side kicked in and gave me a stern talking to. It said, firstly, Marsha, it’s not copying. You aren’t in the second grade trying to decide which president you’re going to do your report on. Secondly, much like presidents of whom there is a limited amount, there is a limited amount of ways to sell vegetables; you will both occupy a niche market. Thirdly, weren’t you just preaching to yourself about how important it is to spread the word of local farming? Maybe you could actually walk the walk and start a dialogue with others in the same field. Fourthly, it sounds like South Paw Farm is ready to open doors and you don’t even HAVE doors.

My logical side is so…logical. So now that I’m at peace with not being the only person with really good ideas (it’s a side effect of being an only child)  I’m actually very pleased that South paw is going down this same road. I’m hoping those who work there will be open to sharing ideas, successes and failures. Those who choose to stay small and local will always fight the battle of being more expensive and not always available when customers want stuff. Best to have a network, a support group if you would, of like-minded people. So while you’re waiting for The Garden of Good and evil to start turning out veggies and goats, check out South Paw Farm or any other local, fun farm and consider the possibility of never having to eat another waxy, out of season, bland, Safeway cucumber again.