Eating local: Do farming cooperatives make sense?

October 4, 2012 § 4 Comments

Dave and I are working toward growing all of our food here on our little farm.  So far, we haven’t quite made our goal.  This season, with most of our tomato plants being destroyed by an unbelievable grub population, a drought that prevented our fruit trees from producing any fruit at all, some sort of weird blackberry blight (probably caused by the drought, but who knows?), and Dave inadvertently cutting down most of our herb plants, we’re not making much progress on self-sufficiency.

Not to mention that I want chickens and Dave doesn’t…he’s afraid of predators, and I really can’t blame him, seeing as how we have roving gangs of coyotes, plus ospreys and eagles that snatch up fowl (plus cats).  So, we aren’t even collecting our own eggs.  Except for the pastures that we rent out to the neighbor for cattle, our little farm isn’t terribly productive these days.

The only renewable resource that’s really going well for us with this season are wildflowers, and we can hardly eat those.

Although we’re planting more vegetables this fall (we have two growing seasons in our region), there’s no way we’re going to be able to get through the winter on our resources alone.  We need help.  I’ve considered joining a cooperative, which allows us to buy in to a local farm.  In return, we receive a share of the farm’s locally grown fruits and vegetables.  In theory, this sounds like a good idea…we give a farmer $45 a week, and the farmer gives us a bunch of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats.

Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?  These days, we’re easily spending that much money (or more) every week in the produce section of our local grocery store.  But, think further…the farmer isn’t exactly local.  He’s 2 hours north of us.  Once a week, he drives to a neighborhood coffee shop, where he delivers produce boxes (cardboard boxes purchased from an international box company), filled with produce that he grew on his farm, plus some meats that he raised and smoked, and some fruits that he imported from Mexico…wait a minute…Mexico?  So, it appears that it is not all exactly “local,” although, to be fair, Mexico is a 6-hour drive south of us, which is sort of local.

It would be nice to join the coop, but we wonder if the  transportation costs outweigh the benefits.  As an engineer, I consider the cost benefit of every decision we make in our household, and right now I am wondering if mostly local, all healthy outweighs what I am purchasing in the grocery store.

I love the idea of a crate of vegetables/fruit/meat every week, but dislike the idea of the packing crate being from Peru (or wherever it comes from), and my fruit being from Mexico.  While I wish Mexico great success, I also wish to support our community.  Meanwhile, I’m concerned about some truck driver, travelling 2 hours just to deliver a few crates to me and my neighbors.

Is it worth it?  What would you do, in my situation?  Would you buy the (mostly) locally grown food, or stick with the grocery store?  The prices for the farm food, via a cooperative, are really about the same, although I probably get a little more choice with the grocery store option.

Do you think a cooperative is worthwhile?  And if, so, how are you liking it?  I don’t care much about the selection, since Dave and I are pretty imaginative, and we can craft a decent meal from just about anything.  However, does choice matter much to you?  How much of a stickler are you with regard to using a menu?  are you willing to make substitutions?


Killer cows and crazy men

September 17, 2012 § 8 Comments

Conversation between Dave and our land partner Bernie:

Bernie: I almost got killed by the bull today.

Dave:  The one with the big horns?

Bernie:  Oh yeah.  He almost killed me.

Dave:  Really?

Bernie:  Thank goodness I was able to run to the tractor, or I could have been gored to death.

Dave:  Maybe we need to go out there.

Bernie:  Probably.

If you were nearly gored by a bull, wouldn’t you stay away from that bull later?  Why, oh why would you GO BACK OUT THERE and tempt the beast?

That bull is asking to be made into ribeye steaks.

Week in review: 8/17/2012

August 17, 2012 § 13 Comments

We’ve settled in to a routine with Chief.  We let him outdoors when we leave for work in the morning, and then let him back indoors when we come home in the evenings.  Now that he is allowed outside during part of the day, he has settled down, and isn’t quite so emphatic and aggressive about trying to sneak outside and get into fights with the neighbor cats.

Meanwhile, the cats that are outside all of the time (Sophie and Pixel) are quite happy to be outdoors, and spend most of their time sunning on the patio off the Master bedroom.  Here’s Pixel.

We made a fantastic dip this week.  It was so delicious, and fantastically easy to make.  We took an 8-ounce block of cream cheese, and cumbled in 3 slices of cooked bacon.  To that we added a minced garlic clove, 1/2 cup grated monterey jack cheese, and 2 chopped green onions.  We served it with vegetables and pita bread.

Dave spent several hours Wednesday night with our friend Bernie installing an electric fence in the back pasture.   Here’s a picture as Dave was heading out in the tractor.  I liked the picture so much, I installed it as our blog header.  We’ve planted grass seed in the refurbished pastures, and now the cattle think it is for them.  As fast as the grass can sprout, the cows are all over it, pulling it out of the ground…they have their own food and grass, but they prefer the bare field with the new grass.  This is why we are temporarily fencing them out.  When the grass grows, we’ll let them back in.  Or, maybe not.  We’re still considering alpacas.

I bought 3 new lunchbags from Target.  We really only needed 2, but they came in a 3-pack.  They were in multiple colors and were less than $10 for all three.  They’re  great little lunch bags, and easily hold ice packs without leaking or losing temperature.  I like that they can be folded up when they’re not in use.


June 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

We’ve been doing a lot of talking lately about purchasing Alpacas for the farm.  We have an agricultural exemption for our property, which means that we receive a reduced tax bill in exchange for agreeing to use the property for agricultural/farm purposes.  For most of the local farmers, this means chickens, goats, cattle, and food crops.  Our neighbor uses one of our pastures for his Texas Longhorn cattle, so technically our agricultural exemption has been justified.  Our plans also include chickens (next spring) and eventually Alpacas.  The chickens are just for us, and will be for eggs only (Dave and I tend to become attached to our animals, and can’t imagine eating a pet).  The Alpacas will be raised for their wool, which we will sell to weavers.

Alpacas are gentle herd animals.  They weigh up to 200 pounds each, and their average size is about the same as our Irish Wolfhound dogs.

We have coyotes at our farm, so we will build a barn to protect the Alpacas at night, and we will also purchase a donkey to help protect the Alpacas during the day.  Donkeys are enormously protective animals…I’ve had two in the past, and have been very pleased with their ability to defend…not to mention their sense of humor.  Donkeys are so much fun to have around.

Although I have never had Alpacas in the past, I’m very familiar with them from my visits to Australia.

Nearby my family’s Australian residence is an Alpaca farm, and my aunt and uncle and I have made several trips there to purchase Alpaca wool items.  The owners of the farm are very open to allowing us to feed and pet the Alpacas.  By the way, that’s me on the left.  Look how fuzzy this Alpaca is!  Alpacas are shaved in the spring.  Their wool can be spun, and then used for crafting hats, sweaters, scarves, blankets, and other handcrafted items.

Little chicks

June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Dave:  The tractor is going to need new tires soon.

Libby:  You can get some new ones on Craig’s List.

Dave:  Really?

Libby:  Oh, yes.  I saw some tractor tires there when I was looking for baby chicks.

Dave:   You’re not going to buy baby chicks on Craig’s List.

Libby:  Ok, full grown chickens then.

Dave:  No chickens.

Libby:  We need 7 or 8 hens and a rooster.

Dave:  NO CHICKENS.  What is it with you and chickens?

Libby:  Plus a little rolling chicken coop that we can pull all over the yard, so the chickens can eat the worms and bugs.

Dave:  Chickens attract rats.  We’re NOT getting chickens.

Libby:  How about goats then?

Dave:  Goats are WORSE.  They’ll hop all over the yard and jump on the car.

Libby:  Can you at least make me a chicken coop?

Dave:  Not rolling.  Stationary; with rat-proof fencing.  And no rooster.

Clover: Weed or beautiful flower?

May 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

Our front flowerbeds are a bit of a mess.  I’ve been spending some time this week, pulling out the weeds.  There were some weeds that I left in place though.  For now, this flowering clover gets to stay.

It’s beautiful.  Eventually, I’ll take down both of these flower beds, when we renovate the front of our farmhouse.  Today, we’ll enjoy the blooming clover.  While I was weeding, I also planted some vegetables in the front flower beds…I figured that the soil is rich, so why not use it for growing zucchini and crookneck yellow squash.

My next project is to begin tearing out some of the landscaping at the back of the farmhouse in anticipation of an upcoming remodel.  I’ll transplant the plants into some of the native gardens throughout the property.  I’m lucky that Dave’s mom had such a green thumb.  All I have to do is follow her vision.

We also purchased many packages of wildflower seeds, and Dave and I sowed them last weekend in the empty pasture next to the house.  Eventually we’ll likely place cows or goats in this pasture (maybe chickens, too).  This summer though, it will be blooming with wildflowers.

Texas Longhorn cattle

April 18, 2012 § 6 Comments

There’s a type of cattle that do particularly well in the area of Texas where we live.  They are called Longhorn cattle, and they are the product of over 500 years of natural selection.  This breed of cattle is adapted to our environment, and does very well with our hot summers, mild winters, and the ocassional drought.

The horns of a Longhorn can easily reach 7 feet across.  Longhorn cattle look mean, as if they could toss you into the air with their horns…actually they could easily do that.  Although many are mean, the cattle that graze daily in our pastures are very gentle.  They are also curious and interested in everything, and are especially intrigued by our dogs.  When we walk the dogs in the back pastures, the cattle will run to the fence, tossing their horns and asking to play.  When Addie was a puppy, one little calf was especially taken with her, and for a brief while she and the calf were the same size.  It wasn’t long though, before the calf became a large animal with very sharp horns, and we had to learn to keep our “little” 125-pound Irish Wolfhound pup out of harm’s way.

We remain careful and make sure that the dogs are on leashes, as we have no desire to pay several hundreds of dollars in veterinarian bills to have a dog stiched up merely because some cow wanted to wrestle.

Lately, the Longhorn have been plastered up against the fences, watching the workers that we’ve contracted to help us raise the level of the pastures.  We’re having truckloads of dirt hauled in, and the cattle think this is the most interesting event they have ever seen.  All day long, they lean against the fences, watching the activity, and also hoping for handouts from the workers, who ocassionally toss them a leftover apple core.

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