Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 114 - Sugar

There is whole agricultural industry built around the production of sugar.  If you are trying to avoid sugar it is important to understand what sugar is called in all of its forms.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 113 - Eat More Chicken

Chickens are highly efficient at converting plant, bugs and grain into a high quality human friendly protein. Chick-fil-a has a lock on the "Eat More Chicken" slogan. But they are right, you should eat more chicken. But what chicken should you eat?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 112 - Adhesive

Erosion is the ticking time bomb of the modern agriculture world. We have lost soil that took thousands of years to develop in just a few short generations due to mistaken agricultural practices. We may only have a few generations left.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let me tell you about my "X"

When I started my first job out of college 30 years ago this month I got a shiny new IBM PC XT. This new PC was the first with a hard drive, 128 kB of RAM (Woo Hoo), Intel 8088 4.77 MHz processor, and Lotus I23 spreadsheet. It was a beauty and state of the art. We were still using punch card for FORTRAN programs and terminals hooked to a Digital PDP 11 in college. Even digital calculators were only a few years on the market and slide rules had been the rule up until the early 1980's. But I digress... I used a PC both at home and at work for over 25 years. I still use a Windows laptop at work and I'm writing this on a windows lap top at home.

About 3 years ago I got fed up with the extreme vulnerability of the Windows operating system to viruses and getting hung up. We were constantly having to do "maintenance".

So we jumped ship

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Mac

My MacBook Pro. Photo taken by Reed Petersen
The Macintosh computer celebrated its 30th Anniversary on Friday, January 24. It was a revolution in software technology at the time. It was the first time that people could navigate with a graphical user interface, menus and icons. The real breakthrough was the low $2,500 price as opposed to the original Apple list price of $10,000.

The Mac also introduced the WYSIWYG formatting for the first time. Success was limited until Adobe PageMaker a year later. It also didn't have a hard drive. For Apple, this was mostly a niche product for graphic artist, publishers and the academic world.

Despite its most recent success Apple nearly failed in the early 1990's

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 111 - Euphoria

The meaning of euphoria has the connotation of elation, filled with joy, tremendous satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness, and well-being. Many words in our lexicon originate in our agricultural roots. In the ancient Greek world the word euphoreo meant "to yield a good crop". Not just a good crop, mind you, but one that is over the top, unbelievable, amazing, and once in a life time.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Market Menu for January 25, 2014

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, January 25, 2014. We are at the fair ground for winter market this week.  (New items are in Bold Print)

Salsa - Brandywine, Cherry Tomatoe, Roasted Roma, Hot'n'Sweet, Jalapeno Jelly (yum)

Red Onions
Garlic (We ran out of garlic last week, but shallots are a good substitute, see "shallot week posts")
Sweet Spanish Onions - these babies are very sweet.
Chipolini Onions - limited supply
Dried egg plant (see recent blog posts)
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Lisa's Soap

Chemical Agriculture 110 - Corn Fed Beef

Grain on The Farm. Photo by Reed Petersen.One of the artifacts of chemical agriculture is cheap grain. Historically grain has been an expensive and precious resource. Ancient literature including the Bible talked about the relative value of grain and it was very expensive. It is only recently in the 20th and 21st century that inexpensive petroleum based fertilizer, high yield hybrids and exceptional mechanization has allowed grain to be grown and harvested with extreme efficiencies. Today grain is a high energy and inexpensive feedstock used pervasively in agriculture.

Corn is king, due to the higher solar and fertilizer conversion efficiency, and is used in modern animal husbandry in ways never dreamed of only 100 years ago.  My father was very proud of his small herd of Iowa Corn Fed Beef. Those last 90 days before his steers and heifers went to market, they were on 100% corn and a little hay to keep the rumen going. Love it they did, but we fed that prime beef until they were morbidly obese. We didn't have some of the issues with feedlot runoff and ground water contamination that large lots have as we worked real hard to re-cycle nutrients.

So why did my father feed his steers this way?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 109 - Financing and Facilities

The family farm can be a great way of life. But the capital costs in agriculture can be very high. The barriers to entry can also be very high. For young people to get started can be difficult without financial help from their families. But part of the problem is the model that is used in the typical agriculture paradigm. Current agriculture spends a lot of money on large single use buildings and implements.

Large confinement buildings for chickens, pigs and cattle have but one use for those purposes. The investment is high and the returns relatively low. These large single use buildings handcuff these farm families to an agricultural model that rust, rot and depreciation will eventually destroy. This model is not sustainable.

Most of agricultural equipment is the same way. Limited use tillage, planting and harvesting equipment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and is used for only a few months each season.

Land becomes increasingly more expensive with prime farm land pushing $12,000 per acre. Making purchase difficult for the young farmer.

So what is the bottom line?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 108 - Promiscuous Pollen

Pollen is by nature promiscuous. Corn disperses pollen prolifically so we should believe that GMO pollen carried by the jet stream has invaded and mated with local corn varieties in much of the world. A paper published in Nature showed how genes from GMO corn entered local varieties of corn in Mexico, where GM crops are banded. The corroborated results show 1 percent contamination by GM varieties.

Promiscuous GMO Pollen is already far and wide in our world. But is this an issue?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 107 - Seeds and Genetics

Large multinational corporations control most of the commercial seed sources. What is deemed of commercial value is based on the priorities of the corporation. Many varieties that are of low sales or not deemed of commercial value have been lost as they are let go out of production. These are typically varieties for the home garden or heirlooms and much genetic potential has been lost.

The corporations are now dabbling in GMO's in a big way. Why do they do that?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 106 - Minerals and Micro Nutrients

Chemical agriculture focuses on N, P & K to the exclusion of all others. As a result, we are mining our soils of essential minerals and micro-nutrients. We pretty much ignore these small but essential nutrients. If we had hundreds or even thousands of years the weathering of the soil would eventually restore these elements, but the removal rate is many times faster than natural processes can restore them.

The Petersen's have addressed this need by adding minerals to our soils. We started by adding 600 lbs per acre of lime (calcium carbonate) to the whole farm for the first several years. I knew that we needed calcium because of the weeds we were seeing (ones that grew well in a calcium deficient environment and because of some of the calcium deficient diseases, like blossom end rot in the tomatoes and peppers.)

In addition we added kelp a broad spectrum of minerals from the sea and we used fish emulsion which is also a broad mineral supplement.

The 3.5 million pounds of compost also has significant minerals. Why would that be?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 105 - Soil Life

It is said that all soil on earth has been through the gut of an earth worm. Worms are some of the biggest of critters in the soil, albeit a very productive and important one. However, bacteria are the real work horses in the soil and are so tiny that billions will fit on the head of a pin and trillions in a gram of soil.

You can tell the health of the soil by the life in the soil. Chemical agriculture suppress the life in the soil. Most chemically farmed soils have no earth worms and beneficial insects are at an ebtide low. Beneficial bacteria and fungi are suppressed by anhydrous, pesticides and herbicides. We suppress and chase away the organisms that can benefit us the most in terms of soil building and crop quality.

Let me use our own farm as an example...

Our land was farmed chemically 12 years ago when we moved here. Because of the suppressed biology in the soil it took 2 acres to grow what we had previously grown on 1/4 acre. A productivity ratio of 8 to one. I also noticed that the quality of the produce was very inferior to our previous growing area. So what to do?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 104 - Who Is the Customer

So far in this series we have discussed Chemical Fertilizers, Chemical Pesticides, and Chemical Herbicides. This is in contrast to natural fertilizers, no pesticides (healthy plants) and no herbicides in an organic system.

One of the biggest contrasts to an organic system of growing is the way the product is marketed. The chemical farmer typically has no idea who his customer is. He sells his grain as a nameless product to a faceless corporation. Tons and bushels is the mantra with little thought to the nutrition of the grain or quality of the product. Cheap food and low quality is fostered by our government programs.

Have you ever thought about the word "commodity",

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 103 - Weeds and Herbicides

In our previous post we learned that chemical fertilizers create imbalances in agricultural plants that beg the insects to destroy them. Pesticides are not the savior from insects that we thought, because they kill the good with the bad.

The same thing happens with weeds,

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 102 - Insects and Pesticide

In our last discussion on Chemical Agriculture we learned that plants on chemical nutrients like Miracle Grow in the garden or corn in the field, look really lush and nice to our narrow vision of the spectrum.

To the insect pests this rapid uptake of highly soluble nutrients makes the plants look out of balance and sick. The insects both good and bad have antenna arrays in their bodies that are sensitive far outside the visual spectrum into the infrared.

To these pests the large corn field mono-culture screams, I'm sick, I'm unhealthy, I'm out of balance.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 101 - Chemical Fertilizers

So what is so bad about growing commodities with synthetic fertilizers and a little help from pesticides and herbicides?

In this blog I have spent a lot of time explaining how we grow vegetables organically. I believe in educating our customers on the whys and wherefores of the organic system.

Occasionally someone will ask the question about the pervasive system of chemical agriculture. For example, isn't nitrogen in whatever form still nitrogen, and isn't it all the same at the chemistry level. Well no not really

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 100 - Disambiguation

When I was in high school, I "drank the cool aid" on chemical agriculture. I grew up on a traditional "chemical agriculture" farm and spent the first 25 years of my life farming  that way. I was Future Farmers of America chapter president for three years, I took four years of Ag Classes in High School, I read every text book I could find on how to grow corn, soybeans, oats, sorghum, alfalfa, clover and livestock husbandry from an chemical agriculture standpoint.  I passed my chemical applicators license on the first try.   Yet all this time I had this nagging feeling that there was a better way.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Market Menu for January 11, 2013

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, January 11, 2013. We are at the fair ground for winter market this week.  (New items are in Bold Print)

Salsa - Brandywine, Cherry Tomatoe, Roasted Roma, Hot'n'Sweet, Jalapeno Jelly (yum)
Winter Squash - We have a 1 week supply remaining
     Acorn, Spaghetti, Delicata, Orange Hubbard, Butternut, Buttercup, Orange Kuri, Kubotcha
Pie Pumpkins - New England Pie, Winter Luxury
Red Onions
Garlic (We ran out of garlic last week, but shallots are a good substitute, see "shallot week posts")
Sweet Spanish Onions
Chipolini Onions
Dried egg plant (see recent blog posts)
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Lisa's Soap

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Food Prairie

In earlier posts we considered the dark side of food availability as described by the ecology of the food desert and the food swamp. We now turn our attention to the more positive approaches and what we can do

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Food Forest

We have been considering the dark side of food distribution as described by the ecology of the food desert and the food swamp. We now turn our attention to the more positive approaches and what we can do

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Foodshed

A foodshed is the geographical region where the food for a particular population is produced. Like a watershed it is used to describe how food flows within an area from where it is produced to the place it is consumed. It includes the land where the food is grown, transportation from farm to table and the household it ends up in. A foodshed is a hybrid social and natural concept.

The term foodshed was first used in 1929 by WP Hedden in a book he wrote called "How Great Cities Are Fed".  Hedden defined the foodshed in 1929 as the "dikes and dams" guiding the flow of food from the producer to consumer. He said "that the barriers which guide and control movements of foodstuffs are more economical than physical."

Rochester's foodshed is truly global. Last time I went to the supermarket I was able to buy

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Food Swamp

In our previous discussion on food access we discussed food deserts defined as an urban neighborhoods were residents don't have access to healthy, fresh and affordable food alternatives within a mile of where they live.

In this post we are going to describe a food swamp

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Food Desert

This post is about a special kind of desert you may not have heard about, but a desert that is very prevalent in Minnesota.

According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Dried Eggplant with an Attitude - Moussaka (eggplant casserole)


 This is an eggplant casserole. Note both eggplant and bell peppers are dried and need to be rehydrated. You can use fresh bell peppers if you have them.

     2 tablespoons dried bell pepper pieces, ¼-inch thick
    3 tablespoons water
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup onion, chopped fine
    1 tablespoon garlic
    1 pound ground meat, lamb or beef
    2 tablespoons dried parsley, crushed
    ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
    ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
    3 cups canned tomatoes
    3 cups water
    24 2 by 7-inch dried eggplant slices
    2 cups ricotta cheese
    3 egg whites, beaten
    ½ cup Parmesan cheese

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dried Eggplant With an Attitude - Simple Lasagna

Dried eggplant can be used in almost any way that fresh eggplant can be used. This recipe is a low carb version of lasagna using dried eggplant instead of pasta noodles. We dehydrated several bushels of eggplant last fall and so have lots of dried eggplant for sale at winter market. Enjoy one of the tastes of summer with dried eggplant.


- two bags dried eggplant (about 3 fresh eggplant)
- 2 large red bell peppers
- tablespoon oregano
- tablespoon thyme
- fresh pepper to taste
- 1 large onion chopped
- two shallots chopped (or one head of garlic)
- 5 cups (36 oz) marinara sauce
- 16 oz ricotta
- 8 oz mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How to rehydrate eggplant

Eggplant is very crispy when dried and it keeps very well.

It can be easily rehydrated by putting in a bowl and pouring boiling water over the pieces. Put a plate or bowl over the top of the pieces to help keep them submerged in the hot water. Let the eggplant pieces soak up the liquid for 30 to 60 minutes until desired consistency is reached.

If you are using it for lasagna you can soak 30 minutes, as it will continue to soak up the liquid from the lasagna sauce, and this is desireable.

If you are using it for a dip and are going to cut into small pieces, soak for more like an hours.

If you are adding it to soup which will cook for a while. You probably wouldn't need to rehydrate at all just cut up pieces to the size you need and then add to the soup liquid for the required time.

The dried eggplant will be more intensely flavored and concentrated.

Find Your Resolve in Better Health

I'm not too big on New Years  Resolutions, we start the year with great intentions and typically within a few weeks we revert to our previous habits.

Here some items that I'm working on for the new year and you might want to consider too. They may be helpful in improving the quality of your life.
  1. Exercise 30 minutes a day. 
  2. Buy Local. If there is an option buy locally grown food and locally produced goods
  3. Incorporate More Vegetables into your meals. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, the list  of health benefits is long.
  4. Preference Organic.  Get the chemicals out of your food chain. The price premium is worth it. Pay a little extra for delicious food now or pay for poor health later.
  5. Eat More Chicken. I know this slogan is already taken. If you have never had a free range chicken, you have never had chicken.
  6. Grass Fed Beef.  Again if you have never had grass fed you haven't had beef. But it isn't just the flavor. Grass fed also has a very healthy Omega 3, 6, & 9 fat profile. Similar to wild caught salmon.
  7. Use more herbs. Use natural, healthy and organic herbs to season your food.
  8. Try a new recipe once a month. Cooking is becoming a lost art. Expand your repertoire.
  9. Loose 20 pounds. A good goals for about 80% of the American population.
  10. Donate to the needy. Clean out your pantry or grow a little extra in your garden. The poor will always be with us, but at least they don't have to be hungry.


        Wednesday, January 1, 2014

        Average Isn't Enough

        As I was thinking about the new year and goal setting,. I was considering whether we should be satisfied with average? That is not always and easy question to answer. For example, if the average mileage of your car is 100 miles per gallon average isn't so bad. If the fleet average for pick-up trucks is 12 miles per gallon then that isn't so good. So the answer is, "it depends".

        So what is average anyway? For the purposes of this post average is the norm, it is what the typical person does. It is the status quo or the existing state of the society.

        I have found in my various endeavors that average is rarely enough achieve my goals. For example,  goals academically, for my family, for personal enrichment, and for the farm.

        Academically it takes a little work to exceed average. If you are going to spend the time and, these days, a mountain of money, you should make the absolute best out of your studies, whether high school, undergraduate or graduate school. The absolute best investment you can make is in yourself and your education.

        To build a strong family takes a little work and a plan. Start with your spouse: dream together, plan together, budget together, and spend time together. Marriage is a with me experience that takes two to be successful.

        The average time fathers spend with their children is typically much lower than they'd like. When my children were young I was working 50-60 hours a week at a job off the farm. I liked the work but needed to be spending more time with my children.  So I put more emphasis on farming and engaging my children in the process.  We do farming together as a family and I know my children well because of it. They have learned life skills, people skills and a little about farming too.  Dad's especially can make a world of difference with their children, but you have to invest the time.

        Personal enrichment means different things to different people. Many get caught up in entertainment versus authentic enrichment. For example, TV, internet and sports can be a significant distraction to many of us. On average Americans spend 34 hours watching TV and 5 hours a week on the internet.  That is almost as much time as we spend on the 40 hour work week. What would happen if we spent just half of this time learning a new skill in some favorite area.

        For example, I like to cook, Lisa likes to sew, Reed likes electronics, Jenna likes photography, and Andrea likes music. (Some of us like more than one thing and as a family our "likes" are strongly coincident, ie. they overlap.) Our family has tried this approach and we are becoming accomplished in these interests and arts. We are more satisfied, giving and happy when we pursue authentic enrichment.

        I'm not sure if there is any such thing as an average farm. As Garrison Keillor might have said,"Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the fields are weed free, all the pastures are green and all the farms are above average." Garrison didn't say this of course, I did, but I am just as passionate about farming as Garrison is about Lake Wobegon in the prairie Home Companion. So like Lake Wobegon, on our farm average isn't enough. We focus on excellence in freshness, quality, flavor and value. Those are the metrics most evident to our customers. But our real passion is improving the land, soil and discovery of new methods and relearning old methods to steward our farm.

        We explored the concept of average for academic, family, personal enrichment, and farming. While average is the norm, we conclude "average isn't enough", and excellence is needed to achieve many goals in life.

        Something to consider as you plan for the new year.