Sound bites in an eggshell

I’ve taken to watching video clips or listening to podcasts while I wash eggs in the evening – it’s roughly a 20 minute job, which would probably go faster if I stood up and did it like I used to since I’d be less distracted, but hey, what else am I going to do at 9 o’clock at night?  So, I relax with it and do some learning while I get a boring job done.

Gavin Webber at Greening of Gavin does podcasts on a fairly regular basis.  These run a wide gamut of topics but tend to focus around sustainable living practices, coping with climate change, peak oil, etc.  His Aussie accent makes them easy to stay focused for this Northerner, and his sound quality is the best of possibly all the podcasts I listen to.  One of his best podcasts in my opinion was his interview with Linda Woodrow who lived in Cuba during the Special Period.  A bonus is that Gavin is an organized guy and keeps a podcast archive in his sidebar.  Once in the podcast part of his site, the podcasts are archived by month and year.

Ethan Book at The Beginning Farmer just recently started doing podcasts.  In his mid-20’s, Ethan is growing a pasture based farm (mainly hogs and beef), raising a young family, working as a pastor in his church and coaching community sports on the side.  I have no idea where he finds the time to record podcasts, but he does.  The format is friendly and casual, the recording quality is good, and each post gives a useful outline of what he’ll be touching on in the podcast.  Topics focus on farming issues, be they animals and fencing or budgeting and time management.

Peak Moment TV has been around for ages, and I check back once in a while to choose a video to watch.  Again, the topics are wide ranging, and as you might guess from the site name, centred around the concept of peak oil; lots of homesteading, sustainability, renewable energy and the like.  Most videos are interviews on site with the show host Janaia Donaldson.   They tend to be too long for an egg washing session, so I’ve watched a lot of half episodes.  If it’s particularly engaging, I might sit and finish the rest of the episode with a cup of tea, but often, the 15-20 min has been enough.

Handpicked Nation is a polished, beautifully presented site, with a whole bunch of short videos I’ve been working my way through.  These are centred on food, food producing, local food, local farming, and more.  I found Handpicked Nation when Joel Salatin was featured about a year ago, and I check back once in a while to see what they’ve added.

Chris Stelzer does videos and podcasts on pasture farming on his website Agricultural Insights.  I just recently came across this site when Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm posted that he’d been interviewed for a podcast.  Chris has done an internship with Greg Judy, one of the leading grazing management gurus in North America and also with Ian Mitchell-Innes of South Africa, famous for his grazing techniques and soil regeneration through holistic management.  I’m finding video quality kind of irritating, and podcast quality ditto, compared to the sites so far mentioned, but they’re adequate, and the subject matter has been meaty and interesting every time I’ve listened/watched.

Pasture Promise is a fairly new website, with dozens of videos of very high quality.  Obvious from the name, this site is all about grass farming, but it’s aim is education of both farmers and consumers and to that end is sub categorized into farming, health, food, environment.  The video production is very high quality, the farming interviews (the only ones I’ve watched so far) are interesting and diverse; I watched one on the benefits of robotic milking for the small farmer, and another with a farmer managing hundreds of acres, who was passionate about wildlife and maintaining habitat.   This is not a homesteading level of farming, but is focused on farming sustainably for profit.  There seems to be a wide range of pasture management methodology covered, from moving cattle every 12 hours, to classic crop rotations.

John Suscovich of Farm Marketing Solutions interviewed Ethan Book not long ago, which is how I discovered this site full of useful podcasts.  John is a beginning farmer himself, but has a strong marketing background.  The podcasts are usually interviews with other farmers around North America who talk with John about business aspects of farming – particularly marketing.  Like the Beginning Farmer podcast posts  (maybe Ethan got the idea here), each podcast post has an agenda that will be covered in the podcast.

There are some TV series I like to revisit occasionally too – Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, (all available from the same site) and Wartime Farm, all out of the UK, feature the same three historian/archaeologists living the life of whichever period for the course of a year, demonstrating and discussing the farming methods of that time.  All of them are far better value than the old PBS series Frontier House and Colonial House, which could have been good had they not taken on the reality TV format, complete with marriage breakups, “rule” breaking and teenage rebellion.  The UK series mentioned above are about exploring the methods, trying out the tools, learning the “why” of things, rather than testing the ability of 21st century people to live in a previous century’s culture.

And of course, there’s always YouTube.

So there you have it  – a dozen ways to entertain yourself while washing eggs.  Like you needed more reasons to sit in front of your computer in Springtime on a farm….

Farmer2Farmer Conference


courtesy of: Capital Regional Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CR-FAIR)

A few weeks ago, I attended a local one day conference called Farmer2Farmer, with workshops all day presented by local farmers and lunch provided by the Island Chefs Collaborative from local ingredients. For $30, how could I not go? The most valuable outcome of the day for me was the connections I made and learning about resources on the Island that might be helpful: a slaughterer who is very small scale but does about 10 sheep a week and can do the same number of pigs (and is within an hours drive of here), a butcher who specializes in charcuterie for the high end market and cannot get his hands on enough pasture raised, heritage breed meat. Or the guy who is the current president of the national Small Scale Food Processors organization, which guides and supports small producers through all the licensing and legal requirements to sell their products anywhere other than farm market.

To open the whole day, we had the Lieutenant-Governor (provincial representative of the Queen, for my American friends), her Honour Judith Guichon, who was just back from an agricultural trade show in Paris, and pleaded jet lag as her excuse for what might be a slightly disjointed speech.  It was, but charmingly so.  With a background as a rancher from BC’s cattle country in the Interior, she was probably supposed to say something pithy about the benefits of farmers getting together to support each other, and the importance of regional food security, but she got a little sidetracked talking about the varieties of cattle she saw in Paris that she’d never heard of in a lifetime of ranching, and from there got into the benefits of holistic management and her admiration for Allan Savory – and as a result, she was a highlight for many of us.

The keynote speaker, Brent Warner, was brilliant – 40 minutes of a fast paced and entertaining slide show and spiel in which he addressed the importance of food safety in relation to small producers. With a background in government, his perspective on regulation was different from most of us in the room, but he was compelling nonetheless. It may seem obvious that if we sell meat (if it’s even legal where we live) at a farmers market, it should be kept cold/frozen, wrapped hygienically, labelled etc. Yet he had several pictures from farm markets around the continent showing people displaying meat without any effort to keep it chilled, some of it not wrapped. And people buying it like that. Apparently this stuff is not obvious to everyone. His point was that there is a place for some regulation, a need for food education both for producer and consumer, and a responsibility on the producers part to make sure we are selling produce to a very high standard of cleanliness and safety. He also addressed professionalism both in appearance and business practice for small producers, who (and I feel some guilt here) have a tendency to hope that our customers will accept the authentic rusticity of our farms (read thistles, piles of stuff everywhere, barn doors hanging from a single hinge, etc), as proof that we are so busy producing this amazing good-for-you produce that you’re paying a premium for, that we don’t have time to keep our place of business in good repair and presentable. His point was that if we can’t keep on top of maintenance and general tidiness (he wasn’t talking white board fences and golf course grass), then we probably aren’t as businesslike behind the scenes either – record keeping, budgeting, planning, regulation adherence, etc.  He had slide after slide of farm stand signs that really ran the gamut of professional to crude – from something done in a sign shop to the sign clearly felt penned by a child. He showed farm stands at markets that covered the same range – the folding card table with a few bunches of carrots and wilting lettuces, to the table draped in gingham, laden with crates of nicely bunched, crisp looking produce, each clearly marked with price. The people manning the stands? There was the guy clearly just in from digging the carrots – covered in dirt, including his hands, cigarette in one hand, Styrofoam coffee cup in the other, taciturn and unsmiling. There was the dude with dreads, funky farming slogan on his T-shirt, grinning as he chatted to a customer, showing her different bunches of greens – with clean hands. The difference in energy and customer attraction was obvious, even from just a picture.

A highlight for me was the talk on Charcuterie and specialty meat markets, as the main speaker was Tom Henry.  If you’re in farming in Canada, you probably know his name – he’s the editor of the magazine Small Farm Canada, and his editorials are worth the price of the issue all by themselves – I don’t always agree with him, but he can be hilarious and always thought provoking.  He owns Stillmeadow Farm, about an hour away from here, primarily pigs and sheep, but also, as I learned during his talk – grain.  And the grain is for the pigs (mostly).  He’s raising about 200 market hogs a year, all slaughtered and butchered locally, from his own breeding stock.  He spoke about the learning curve of feeding pigs on commercial feed, saying that doing so pretty much guarantees that you will spend more on feeding your pig than you will earn back selling it as meat.  He punctured the balloon of optimism that most beginners (like me) have that we can get bakery and produce waste easily to offset the cost of feed:  the truth is, most of the grocery stores are now leery of doing this, in case something litigious comes back at them – a produce knife might get dropped in the box of wilted cabbage or something, and either injure the farmer or the pig.  He has tried getting scraps from the kitchens of some of the institutions around, notably a swanky local private school – and it’s the same issue, with the added concern on the institution’s part about the optics of swanky private school food being fed to pigs.    So Tom started growing grain, to see if he could economize that way.  He is in a long term cooperative farming arrangement with Parry Bay Farm down the road from his own farm, and with both properties, as well as what he leases, he figures he has about 35 acres in grain on an annual crop rotation with pasture and hay, which does indeed supply enough for his pigs.  He owns a combine, albeit a somewhat old, cranky machine, which gives him more flexibility on harvesting, and also allows him another farm revenue by contracting combine services for other small grain growers in the area.  As an added bonus, he is also able to sell some grain to a couple of local artisanal bakeries.  He has a good relationship with The Whole Beast, a local butcher shop; Cory Pelan of that business also spoke to us about market preferences and a little about the inspection requirements for small scale locally produced meat.

All in all a great day.  As those who follow my blog will know, the learning part is fun for me, it’s the doing part that’s a little harder, so of course the challenge has been to take the next steps – take what I learned, form some plans and start acting on them.  Well, I did order the piglets as a result of that day, which forced me to go buy electric fencing supplies, and we also finally painted a pretty nice road sign to sell eggs – believe it or not, in all the years we’ve sold eggs, we’ve always managed to sell out by just selling to colleagues and friends, but egg production is up, so we had to do something.  In our second week of roadside selling, we are averaging 2 dozen daily, which supplements our regular sales just about perfectly, and gives us a toe in the door if we decide to sell surplus of anything else.  So, two immediate actions.  Be proud of me.

egg sign 2013 003

Burn, baby, burn


raw material

Believe it or not, I’m still here…though you’d never know it from this blog.


We’re not doing a whole lot of farming stuff just now, though we should be – the list of projects and “need to do” stuff is endless – but life is full in other areas, and while the weather was miserable, we were happily putting off the projects.


they look like ships in line astern…

In February, both kids earned some money by hacking blackberries which grow rampant around the place. Huge mounds of bramble began to accumulate, so in early March, during Spring break, we hauled the piles to the field and the older daughter and I burned them. Burning rules locally require a fire no more than a cubic meter (equivalent to a yard), not to mention only Thursday, Friday or Saturday before noon.  So one person stayed by the fire and added to it from the piles, while the other hauled more piles in from around the property. We had a perfect burn day, just a light breeze, and the piles were dry enough that we burned the entire shebang in one hour. No petroleum used to start the fire by the way, just a few matches and two paper feed bags, unlike my neighbour who seems categorically unable to start a fire without that exciting and somewhat dangerous “whoooof” of gasoline soaked starter material.


I had my laparoscopic gall bladder surgery last week.  Yippee!!  I’m walking wounded at this point, still unable to lift anything heavier than the cat, which pretty much rules out feed sacks, full laundry baskets, wheelbarrows, etc.  On the other hand, I’m eating all sorts of delicious things again, which is a real joy. And the family have taken the most wonderful care of me, so that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my lazy convalescence, being waited on hand and foot, reading sappy novels and dozing in the sun after lunch.  I thought such behaviour couldn’t ever be boring, but I’ve found I prefer it in short bursts, so have begun getting back into the household routine, trying not to see too much of what needs doing outside that I most definitely will have to wait on for a while – fenceposts, digging, clipping and hauling, mulching, cleaning out…still, as someone said the other day, it will all be there when I’m allowed to lift stuff again.  Indeed.


From heavy weather jacket to t shirt in 1 hour. Thanks, kiddo!