Streets, Autumn, Photos and Barns Abandoned

They finally finished paving the street in front of the house the other day! We were very glad of that. The dust from the trucks rolling past over the unpaved sections was getting onto everything. We couldn’t open the windows on that side of the house. For a few days I couldn’t even get the Corvette out of the driveway because after they did the final grading there was a 5 inch drop at the end of the driveway that would have ripped the front splitter off the nose of the car.

We have an open front porch tucked into the side of the house which is a great place to sit and have a coffee and read on warm days, which is now covered in a thick layer of dust. I’m going to have to get out there with the car wash brush, a big bucket of soapy water and the hose and give it a good scrubbing. There’s so much dust you leave footprints when walking across the decking, the window sills are thick with the stuff, and even the poor plants out there should get hosed down.

IMG_0744Colder weather and rain have slowed things down as far as biking is concerned. I manage to get out most days still, but I know the time is coming when the bike is going to have to hang up in the garage and it’ll be back to the treadmill (ick). Still, when the weather does cooperate, it is absolutely beautiful out there in the countryside.

These crisp, cool autumn mornings are amazing. Now that it’s cooler there is less moisture and haze in the air, making everything seem more crisp and clear and brighter. There’s something about the quality of the light as well that changes because the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. The result is that on some mornings everything just seems to glow with this lush, rich, golden light that seems almost impossible to capture with the camera.

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There is something magical, mystical about being out in the woods on mornings like this, at least for me. The sounds, the smells, the crystal clear air. Everything seems more — more alive, more vibrant. With the brilliant greens now fading into browns and reds and dull orange, the woods begins to transform itself in that endless cycle of life, dormancy, rebirth…

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It becomes a place of wonder and takes on an almost spiritual quality. It makes you wish you were a poet because only a poet could adequately express what you are seeing in mere words.

But then time presses, and you have to leave and you know, hope, you will be back soon to feel that breathtaking beauty, the astonishing complexity of nature, that golden light…

IMG_0746Gads, after writing all that guff switching to this is going to be a jolt. Going from the beauty of nature to, well, to this… Yet another abandoned, collapsed barn. This one is just outside of town and it caved in about a month ago, and I decided to take a picture of it when I was out on the bike the other day.

It hurts when I see this happening, but it is happening more and more often. The whole countryside around here is dotted with abandoned barns in various states of collapse. I keep thinking of the pride, the hope, the joy the original farmers who put it up had as they watched the timber frame going up, the roof being put on, the side boards being nailed into place. A new home for their cattle, storage for the feed. The barn was the center of the farm, it’s heart.

But I know why it happens, why they are abandoned. Farming has changed drastically in the last few decades and these old barns are completely useless for modern farming. They’re the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong, well, wrong everything when it comes to modern farming.

And they are incredibly expensive to try to maintain as well, and even more ridiculously expensive if you want to restore one. The wood they are made of was once so abundant it wasn’t worth much. Even if you could find a 10X10 oak beam these days, you couldn’t afford it. And the long, wide, solid wood boards the siding is made from? You can’t afford those, either. So they don’t get repaired because of the huge cost, and there’s no incentive to repair them in the first place because they aren’t useful any more. So they sit, empty, the roofs leaking, timbers rotting, boards falling off, until, at last, this happens.

The big, red barns that dominated the countryside around here are, within another few decades, going to mostly be gone except for the few that are being maintained by people who can afford to do it.

It’s sad, but at the same time it is, I suppose, natural evolution at work. I still wince and shake my head when I see it happening, but I know why it is happening. So there is a feeling of deep nostalgia, but understanding and acceptance as well. Life moves on.

 

Wait, what??? Strawberries? Really?

Okay, so we had a pretty poor year here in my home county for some crops this year because of the weather. So it wasn’t a surprise when I learned USDA had declared Calumet and the surrounding counties a disaster area because of the crop damage we had. But this?

MADISON – United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue designated Calumet County and six surrounding counties as disaster areas due to crop losses from heavy rains in late June and early July. Calumet County lost more than 30 percent of its strawberry crop as a result of excessive rain and flooding that kept fields underwater and soils oversaturated for an extended time.

What the hell is going on here? Strawberries? Strawberries??

Calumet County doesn’t have a strawberry industry. Not really. Oh, there are a few “pick your own” places and home gardens, but other than that there are no large commercial strawberry growing places in Calumet County. I doubt if the entire strawberry crop in the county, including the pick your own, home gardens, etc., amounts to more than a few dozen acres total.

On the other hand, we lost our entire hay crop this year. The figures I’ve seen indicate the hay crop was a 90+% loss here and in neighboring Manitowoc County.  Thousands of acres of hay were a total loss. Anyone who raises cattle is scrambling to find fodder for their animals. Corn that was supposed to go for grain is being chopped for fodder to feed cattle at a massive loss to the dairy farms around here.

But we’re getting the disaster declaration because of strawberries according to the governor’s office…

 

 

Beautiful Mornings and Silliness

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We’ve had some breathtakingly beautiful mornings here recently, and I took full advantage of it, getting out on the bike whenever I could.

We had some very odd weather here recently. Well, to be fair, the weather all spring and summer was a bit odd. The summer was remarkably cool and wet, and when fall finally hit, that’s when it seemed summer finally arrived. We had mid to late September temperatures well into the high 80s and flirting with the mid 90s here away from the lake. We ran the air conditioning more in late September than we did in July and August put together.

But then things started to get back closer to normal with daytime temps around 60, and night temps down in the low 40s, which makes for great biking weather.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do when the weather starts getting really cold and the snow flies and I can’t get out on the bike. Back to pounding the treadmill I guess. Ick.

Banging Your Head On The Table Dept: Windigo Fest

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 6.58.03 AMThe city of Manitowoc, in its never ending quest to try to get someone, anyone, to come to town and spend some money, is putting on a Windigo Festival on Oct. 6-7. It looks like it could be a good time but I doubt if I’ll get over there because I have stuff on the schedule for both days.

But in a classic example of “why we can’t have nice things”, someone, of course, had to take offense at the town’s attempt to have some fun and drum up some business. Why? Because of, well, Satan apparently.

This person, who owns a very small and utterly insignificant shop in downtown where the festival is going to be held, has gone totally ballistic over this thing. Apparently the person harangued the city council for a considerable amount of time about how this festival was evil incarnate, was a satanic plot to corrupt the youth of the city, how it would lead to the evils of witchcraft and plunge the city into the corruption of sin, bring a host of demons down upon us, God would curse us and the Chicago Bears would beat the Packers…

Oh brother…

It gets worse. The “windigo” is, supposedly, a Native American monster of some sort that would run around and eat people. This person claims it is actually satan himself, and went on and on about satanic worship, demons, etc. for quite a while.

According to this person, pretty much everything about the fest is “satanic”.

The parade they’re going to have is running north to south down the street. That’s “satanic” because normally traffic runs from south to north. Exactly why having the parade route go in that direction is “satanic” is something I’m not really clear about. I mean I’ve read the Bible and I don’t really recall there being any verse that says “And lo, the City of Manitowoc shall route all traffic on Eighth Street from south to north, for routing traffic from north to south is the devil’s work”. And since 10th street two blocks over runs from north to south, does that mean 10th street is satanic and everyone who drives it worships the devil? They weren’t real clear about that one.

Even the dates of the festival are “satanic”. October 6 and 7? Yep, that’s satanic too, it seems. Six plus seven is thirteen, you see, and thirteen is the devil’s number.

The only reason I know about this is because the local paper decided to spend way, way too much time on this nonsense. And while I admit I found it mildly amusing, come on, really? This nonsense should have gotten exactly zero press coverage.

Anyway, if you go to the festival, make sure you say “hi” to Satan. He’s supposed to be hanging out over there. Haven’t seen him in a while. Last time I saw him was when he was in his guise as a state legislator and he sat down next to me at breakfast at a local restaurant.

Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the farming world.

Dicamba Herbicide Fight Continues: The fighting over the new Dicamba blends of herbicides continues. BASF and Monsanto continue to argue that their newly approved blends of herbicides containing dicamba are completely safe and aren’t a problem at all, while the farmers who have had thousands of acres of soybeans ruined by the herbicide after it drifted long distances, argue that it isn’t safe for use.

Arkansas is pushing for a ban on all dicamba use except for those uses that were permitted before the new blends came on the market. The ban would last until October, 2018, and would halt the sale and use of both Monsanto and BASF’s new dicamba based products, and probably halt the sale of Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans as well because if the herbicide can’t be used, there’s no point in paying a premium for Monsanto’s new beans, either.

Monsanto is, of course, not happy about any of this since they stand to lose millions of dollars in sales of both their herbicide and seed. The company is blaming anyone and anything for the problems that have been going on, claiming that there is no “scientific” basis for the ban, that “scientists” have discovered that even if their product does drift outside of the application area, it doesn’t really hurt anything anyway, that some of the experts testifying in favor of the ban are prejudiced against the company, blaming the people who apply the herbicide, blaming the equipment used.

It isn’t just Arkansas that’s having problems. In Missouri it’s estimated that up to 22% of the soybeans planted in the Bootheel area were damaged by dicamba drift, along with acres upon acres of tomato, watermelons, vineyards, pumpkins, organic vegetables and even trees, shrubs and people’s home gardens. The product isn’t just moving a few yards, in some cases there are indications the herbicide is drifting for miles according to the Missouri Extension weed specialist Kevin Bradley.

Farmland Partners Makes Major Buy: Farmland Partners is an investment company that buys up farmland for no reason other than to rent it to actual farmers. The company now has about 160,000 acres of farmland. They just bought over 5,000 acres of nut orchards for $110 million from Olam, a Singapore based company that ventured into the nut business.

My feelings about this kind of thing? I find it extremely concerning. Companies like this are, well, to put it bluntly, parasites. They insert themselves into the process, competing against actual farmers for a scarce resource, farmland. They artificially inflate demand for that resource, driving prices up. They rent the land back to the farmers at ever increasing prices because the shareholders demand ever increasing profits, and at the same time the company itself provides absolutely no value at all to the whole process. It exists only to skim off profits from the whole system while contributing nothing itself, while at the same time destabilizing the whole system and actually degrading its health through it’s manipulation of the market.

Seed Terminator: Combines are great at two things; harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans, Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.53.30 AMetc., and spreading weed seeds all over your fields. The problem is that a lot of weeds are coming ripe at around the same time as your crop. So when you combine your crop, you’re also combining the weeds and blowing the weed seeds out the back of the combine and scattering them all over the field. A lot of people have worked for a very long time on this problem, with various attempts at a solution.

This one which is now going into production it seems, adds a screening system and high speed flails that pulverizes the weed seeds before they get blown back onto the field. If you click the link up there you’ll jump to the article about it. Apparently it works pretty good, and I’m always in favor of anything that helps farmers reduce the need for herbicides.

The problem is that this puppy costs about $70,000. Even when we’re talking about combines that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more, that is a pretty significant amount of money. Is it worth it? No idea.

Pork Cheap, Beef getting more Expensive: Beef prices at the consumer level haven’t been all that good for some time now. Pork is almost ridiculously cheap right now. Pork futures have fallen like a stone since July, dropping some 30%. Pork bellies, where we get bacon from, dove straight into the dumper, falling 60%. Although I note that hasn’t helped the price of bacon in the store. That keeps going up and up, it seems.

Beef on the other hand… Sheesh. Prices on some cuts have moderated a bit, but not by much, and they’re claiming prices are going to go up significantly over the upcoming months. We generally buy a lot of beef from MrsGF’s brother and sister, but because of logistics issues they aren’t going to have any ready to go for probably a year now. So MrsGF and I are looking into seeing if we have enough freezer space to get a quarter or half of beef from the local butcher because we can get that dressed, cut, wrapped and frozen, for $3.90 a pound which is less than what hamburger is going for in the grocery stores around here.

Syngenta Lawsuit Settled: Syngenta, a seed company, was sued a while back over one variety of it’s corn. The corn, a GM variety, was heavily marketed by the company and a  lot of farmers planted it. Only to find that when it came time to actually sell their corn to China, the country rejected it because Syngenta allegedly hadn’t told told the farmers that China had not approved that type of corn for import. In addition, it was alleged that the company deliberately misled farmers by claiming the corn variety had been approved by China when it had not.

Farmers, grain shipping companies, etc. lost millions of dollars on the deal and sued. Syngenta claimed they had told them that China hadn’t approved it. Lots of lawyers paid for their kids’ college education out of this one, raking in millions in legal fees, and the final result is Syngenta and the plaintiffs are apparently now going to settle out of court. I haven’t heard yet what the settlement will be, but you can expect that the company is going to have to pay a huge amount of money to make this one go away.

Addendum: Just ran cross another story that had more details. Syngenta is apparently going to cough up $1.4 billion to make this lawsuit go away. The company already lost a $218 million jury trial to a group of Kansas farmers about three months ago. There are still lawsuits pending in Canada against the company that will not fall under this agreement and will be thrashed out in the Canadian courts.

That Organic Food You’re Buying May Not Be. Oh, and a Cat Picture.

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With demand for organics growing every year, the US can’t produce enough to meet the demand, and hasn’t been able to for some time. At least not at a price that US consumers are willing to pay. So we rely on imports from other countries to fill the gap. Imports of organic produce, cattle feed and other organic products has been increasing every year for a long time now.  We imported about $1.2 billion worth of organic products last year, and that number is going to keep growing.

That brings up the question of how you know that a product labeled as organic, produced 7,000 miles away, is really organic? You can’t know, of course. You have to rely on government agencies to do the proper inspections, certifications and tracking to make sure the stuff you are buying is really what the seller claims it is.

And apparently USDA and its Agricultural Marketing Service, isn’t doing a very good job of doing any of that according to USDA’s own internal audits. A story originating at Bloomberg reports that USDA’s internal audits indicate that the AMS couldn’t prove that cargo labeled “organic” coming into the US were actually organic. It couldn’t even properly track whether or not the product came from an actual certified organic source.

To quote the report, “The lack of controls at U.S. ports of entry increases the risk that non-organic products may be imported as organic into the United States”.

The problem isn’t just with a potential failure to grow the product according to organic standards, it’s shipping as well. A lot of products, especially bulk shipments of grains, beans, etc, are routinely fumigated by storage facility operators and shipping companies to reduce the formation of mold, prevent rodent infestations, etc, which, of course, violates organic regulations.

So the agency responsible for making sure that organic products coming into the US actually came from certified organic sources, and weren’t fumigated or treated with non-organic substances along the way, pretty much can’t do it’s job.

Kind of depressing, so here’s a picture of one of the cats staring at me while I’m writing this, wondering why I’m not playing with her.

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Catching Up

IMG_0702The pears have just started to ripen, something we always look forward to. Alas, it hasn’t been a good year for pears. Normally we end up filling five gallon buckets with the things and giving them away to anyone we can talk into taking them, but this year we’re going to be lucky if we get more than a few dozen. The weather this spring when it was putting out flowers was not very good. We were getting cold days, lots of rain, and not a single bee in sight. I think it was the lack of pollinators that caused the drastic cutback in production this year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. When that tree is in full production we have far, far more pears than we can deal with. We give away all that we can, eat what we can, and, alas, the rest end up as compost.

This particular type of pear doesn’t hold up well for canning or freezing. They are best eaten fresh, just after they turn ripe. And dear lord, they’re good. Sweet as candy, juicy, with a lush, melt in your mouth texture. The ones in the basket are still too green to eat but they’ll start to turn yellow in a few days.

One problem we have is trying to pick them before they fall. Wait a just a bit too long, and they’ll hit the ground and because of the soft texture they turn to mush from the fall. So you have to try to pick them just before they turn.

Now I love peppers, but I prefer the milder ones. Poblano peppers are probably my favorite. Just a touch of warmth to them, with a rich, slightly smokey flavor. I’m fond of jalapeno  peppers as well, but that’s about the upper limit of my tolerance for heat.

IMG_0703So how we ended up with these guys, I have no idea. The little red ones… Dear lord, they’re hot! When they were green they were tolerable and had a fairly good flavor, but now? Just cutting one in half sends out fumes that make the eyes water, and those little yellow ones are almost as bad. MrsGF, it seems, didn’t label the seedlings with great accuracy last spring, if at all, so we had no idea what we were going to get until they started to produce fruit.

The yellow ones are even worse. Just cutting one up makes my eyes start to water and my nose burn. I cut one of the yellows up last night and talked EldestSon and YoungestSon into trying them, after I took a bite myself to prove they weren’t all that bad. Apparently my tolerance for hot peppers has increased over the years because they both thought they were pretty bad. Not to the point where you’d run to the fridge for the milk, but darn close.

Addendum: I just found out that the yellow one is apparently a golden habanero pepper with a heat rating of up to 350,000 scovilles. Wow… Jalapeno is only about 5,000 scovilles. Yeah, that’s a bit hot.

I need to make sure we only put in poblano and sweet bell next year, and maybe one or two jalapeno.

MrsGF pointed out that it seems that the only veggies that grow really, really well here is the stuff we don’t really like, like the super hot peppers, eggplant and the like, while the stuff we do like a lot, gets eaten by bugs or doesn’t grow well. That’s an exaggeration of course, but some years it does seem that way.

IMG_0689We’re very fortunate in that the town has an outstanding composting program that it’s been running for years now. We’re even more luck in that we’re just a couple of blocks away from the compost site. The guys have been busy sifting the newest batch of compost and it’s ready to go. After cleaning out the garden spaces I’ll be making regular runs down here with my little trailer to take advantage of it.

IMG_0686Last weekend I proved to myself that I’m still a 6 year old at heart because seeing this thing in the parking lot at the grocery store made me grin like an idiot. Yes, the Weinermobile. Oscar Meyer has been running these for a lot of years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of them close up.

I should point out I’m not a big fan of Oscar Meyer products. And the free hotdog I snagged reminded me why. A pale pink tube that tasted mainly of salt and artificial smoke flavorings and one of the most unappetizing colors I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.

IMG_0697Then we woke up to the sound of our street being reduced to gravel. Literally. Big road grinder moving slowly back and forth in front of the house grinding the pavement and everything else in it’s path into dust as they prep for repaving a section of the street. Loud? Oh dear… Sounded and felt like a 747 was landing in the backyard. They’ve been prepping for this for weeks now, replacing sections of curb and gutter and driveway aprons.

IMG_0699We’re hoping they get this done soon. Right now the road in front of the house is pretty much nothing but dust. We get a lot of big trucks through here and there is a patina of dust over everything. It’s getting more than a little annoying.

Let’s end this with some roadside flowers. Clumps of these have popped up along the backroads around here all over now and they make a brilliant display when you stumble over them.

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The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention. Source: The great nutrient collapse

I don’t lead off these epistles with links to outside sources very often, but this one at Politico, of all places, is a wee bit scary and it’s something that effects all of us because it’s about our food.

So here’s the background: We’ve known for some time that the nutrient density in the plants we eat has dwindled over the last century. Concentrations of minerals, vitamins, etc. in plants has been shrinking. Our produce, on average, now has fewer nutrients per kilo of plant material than it had when the measurements first began. It’s been assumed that there were two reasons why.

First, our farming techniques have changed drastically over the last hundred years. We’ve moved to “industrial” farming, which relies on heavy applications of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. By dramatically altering the environment the plants grow in, we’ve also alters the chemical composition of the plants.

Second, over the centuries we’ve bred plants to grow faster, produce more fruit or grain, and to produce fruits that last longer after picking and which are tough enough to tolerate rough harvesting and shipping conditions. When selecting plants for these traits, we’ve often ignored things like the nutrient content of the plant and flavor. So we’ve ended up with plants that produce fruit that can be stored longer, is easier to harvest, etc. but which is lower in nutrients and flavor.

But that isn’t all that’s been going on, it seems. Apparently increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere seem to have played a significant role in decreasing the nutrient levels in plants.

Maybe… The thing is, this is difficult to test for. The testing requires extensive, difficult to accomplish, and rather expensive experiments, and while there are scientists who would like to do the testing, it has been difficult to get funding to actually do it.

As of right now I don’t think the science is actually settled. The preliminary testing that has been done tends to support the belief that increased atmospheric CO2 levels can indeed result in lower nutrition levels in the plants. But there is still a lot we don’t know. We also don’t know how serious of a problem this may be. A  lot more testing and experiments need to be done to answer all of the questions that need answers.