News and Blog

A bi-monthly blog on permaculture and sustainability related topics. Posted (circumstances permitting) on a bi-monthly basis.
Posted 1/7/2015 2:01pm by Leaf Myczack.

Haymaking serves three main purposes: the first to conserve excess forage during the spring flush for use when forage growth is slower or non-existent, secondly, to produce a cost effective, nutritional livestock feed, and thirdly, it allows feeding without having to let the herd trample around soft, wet pastures in wintertime. Because we are a 100% grass fed operation, we require good quality hay to feed our livestock throughout the winter months. 

By early January, the heart of mid-winter, we should be able to accurately judge the nutritional worth of our haymaking efforts from the previous summer as this is the sole forage for our overwintering cows.  Cattle farmers who have to feed a grain supplement to boost the daily nutritional intake of their herd, are able to mask the shortcomings of feeding poor quality hay. If one has to feed a grain supplement they didn't grow themselves to compensate for poor quality hay, then any chance of producing a profit from one's farm is greatly diminished.

Our farm is still in a restorative process to bring back depleted pastureland, and as a result, we cannot produce enough quality hay for ourselves. That forces us to buy hay from our farmer neighbors which we would rather not do for many varied reasons. Chiefly among them is the poor quality of first cutting hay available. Because of our shorter growing season in the mountains, second cutting hay is almost always better quality since it doesn't have much opportunity to over-ripen as cooler weather and shorter days prevail. It doesn't have to be this way. Two cuttings of high quality hay are easily accomplished in an "average weather" growing season. For this to happen though, requires a fundamental shift in practice to return the craft of haymaking into an environmental and significant economic asset.

When should one cut hay to produce the highest nutritional quality hay? While this information is readily available from numerous academic and agricultural research sources, it is still problematic to find quality cut hay in our farm-based county here in SW Virginia. The most common deficiency in local haymaking is leaving the grass stand to over-mature before cutting. For years I puzzled over why farmers cut the first cutting so late, long after most nutritional value has left the plant. For farmers working jobs off-farm, the answer is obviously not being available when the forage is ready to be cut. However, the bigger answer has a lot of variables, but once weather conditions are satisfactory, the next variable is whether the hay is being cut for on farm use, or is intended to be sold. Hay for on farm use has a somewhat better chance of being cut closer to the optimal time. The hay being cut for sale will be based more on volume, usually cut later, and will be of poor nutritional quality, even straw-like. Good forage hay should have a greenish hue, while straw is golden yellow in color. Smell plays little part in accessing the quality of hay. Even some straw can smell "sweet & grassy."

I seriously question the ability of the modern haymaking equipment being used today to produce hay effectively in its optimal nutritional state. And perhaps herein lies a culprit overlooked by today's hay farmer. Farm machinery has evolved to become extremely complex and expensive, and is rendering the farmer more a heavy equipment operator than a steward of the soil. I have watched countless manufacturers' videos extolling the abilities of today's Tedders and Rotary Rakes. Filmed zooming across broad hay fields at speeds up to 15 MPH, cut hay flung about in a blur of stems and dust, I have to wonder what they are thinking? Because of the ag-industry's emphasis on speed and size, hay forage has to be tough to stand up to the beating it receives from large, heavy equipment.

The leaves are the part of the grass plant with the highest protein and digestibility. How the hay is handled after cutting is of critical importance. Dried grass leaves are fragile, and beating them about with rapidly spinning steel fingers will knock most of the desired foliage from the stem. Hay that is composed primarily of stems and seed heads is more akin to straw. While straw-like hay has some nutritional value, by itself it rarely provides enough energy and protein to meet the animals requirements. The same principles that apply to tedding also hold true for raking. Raking when the hay is limber but not wet with dew will reduce leaf loss. Also using rakes that handle the hay more gently or slowing the speed of the rake if it is working the hay to hard are ways to reduce leaf loss. Front mounted rakes keep the tractor from running over the curing hay, thus preventing avoidable loss.

And lastly, how a farmer manages his or her hayfield is of critical importance. Hay fields should not be an after-thought. They are cropland, and should be treated in the best manner of soil stewardship possible. Failure to do so will result in poor quality hay in spite of when it was cut and how it was baled. Repeated takings of hay will deplete the soil in a few short years if nutrients are not returned at a greater rate than being withdrawn. Hay is not a free lunch. It requires a stockman's learned attention in order to make it the valuable food stock it can be.







Posted 10/7/2013 9:33am by Leaf Myczack.

It is an interesting turn of events that have transpired since we turned our lives over to the task of providing for the well being of our small bovine family. In the early days, we thought keeping cows was about having our own source of milk and meat and manure. While it still is in part about those things, it is also much more involved as they have come to dominate our lives as we follow the unfolding of our human / bovine relationship.

The purchase of our dairy cow in 2011, as readers of Blog #35 well know, was a business deal turned rescue. It has in retrospect, been an amazing journey to walk in the world of the cow. Through the process of befriending these big gentle mammals, an opportunity arose to expand our teaching farm concept in much more fertile ground, both literally and figuratively.

Because of the different seasonal grasses that grew on our former hot climate farm in TN., we were unable to adequately winter pasture our 3 cow herd on our 11.3 acre leased farm. Our farm forage was dominated by hot weather grasses that faded out in late October. We had an arrangement with our deed holder to use an adjoining 10 acres of semi-scrubland with a good ground cover of fescue for winter pasture. However, on December 4th, (2012) she informed us that the cows were no longer welcome to graze the 10 acres. For us the decision was to either sell the cows, or to move our farm. The choice was simple.

We view the non-human residents of our farm as being equally deserving of the best possible living conditions that we can manage to provide. Our day does not end until we know that all are well fed, well provided with drinking water, and are safe for the night. While the honey bees pretty much take care of themselves, we still assist them by inserting and removing hive-opening reducers based on cold and warm ambient temperatures. Here in the mountains at this time of year, it is a daily, routine chore. But I digress a bit. The point for us is, we take seriously the admonishment to "respect all creatures both great and small." That translates to mean clean stalls and roosts everyday, a predator proof place to sleep, and non-abusive treatment by humans. As noted animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin, has stated, "just because we are going to eat them, doesn't mean we can't treat them kindly."

In this day and culture, a farmer viewing animals in this way is considered both quaint and impractical. However, by following this philosophy, Cielo and I were forced to make a difficult decision with the outcome mostly unknown. It was a leap of faith, as when a fledgling bird leaps from the nest for the first time.

Moving at our age (68 & 69) is difficult enough, but moving a working, living farm is a whole different and a much more challenging undertaking. It is not a journey for the timid or faint of heart. As one farm died, another was birthed, but not without the sadness of the former and the labor pains of the latter.  During the Spring and Summer of 2013, we worked diligently to move both the practical infrastructure of our Tennessee River Valley farm, and our roster of non-human farm residents, 300 miles northeast to the mountains of southwest Virginia. The stress level imposed on body and mind was significant, and our very physical survival was deeply questioned.

The gains for taking this risk have been enormus. We have been able to design a new teaching farm from the very start of clearing pine scrubland to the design and oversight of the construction of the farm structures. We have a new partner who shares our dream of creating a sustainable agricultural model for the next generation of farmers and homesteaders. And we are involved in a community of diverse talents that share the excitement and promise of a thoughtfully lived life.

Additional benefits of moving the farm include a parcel of land that 95% of the total acreage faces south and southwest, a building site that is quietly secluded and sheltered from weather extremes. We also gained overall better soil with a more balanced mineral content, hardier and more nutrious forage grasses, clean spring and well water, much cleaner air, less summer humidity, lower overall summer temperatures, and neighbors who are friendly and open-minded. In short, it is a wonderful place to start anew with an ancient belief in an ancient craft; a sustainable way to live in harmony "with" the Earth.

Posted 12/6/2012 8:27am by Leaf Myczack.

Nine years ago, we moved to an 11 acre strip of pasture that had been divided off from a much larger piece of former cattle farm. The pluses were that there was a house and barns, albeit in terrible condition, that were on this waterless property. It was the proverbial "handyman's delight," and for my family, it was an exciting challenge. The negatives were just mentioned-waterless! There was one shallow dry basin, a former stock pond. The land had been recently mowed, and walking through the short weed and grass stubble, it was quite evident that the land had been terribly overgrazed, and was in very poor condition.

We started the restoration process much like a pebble dropped in water. We began at the core, the house, and turned a thoughtlessly built box into a comfortable and sustainable dwelling with minor add-ons, and without the installation of central heat or air conditioning. We then spread out in rings, permaculture fashion, planting shade trees, and windbreak trees, vegetable gardens, fruit trees and berry bushes. Our soil healing spread out further, to chicken houses and chicken pastures, and beyond. In some areas of the farm, only narrow paths penetrated the weeds and briars that the former pasture was now birthing. Reclaiming the land by hand was slow and careful work. The further out from the house, the slower and smaller the short-term effect.

From the beginning, we began to bring water to the dry farm. We immediately installed a rainwater collection system on the house and woodshed. We installed pre-formed cisterns, and also built stone cisterns as the water collectors spread out over the land. We hand dug small ponds, and we used diesel powered track-loaders to dig larger ones. Rainwater collection was eventually installed on every single sky facing surface, including our solar panel rack. The soil, rejuvenated over the years through careful natural permaculture practices, was once again the living, dynamic substance that readily supports life. It was time to bring back the grazers, but in a careful and controlled manner, lest we crush and deplete the life of the soil once again.

We introduced large mammals back onto the land cautiously. We started with a mule and pony in 2008, used as small draft animals. Each was worked individually to plow our larger growing plots. After Molly, our old mule, died (she was 35), we replaced her pasture niche in 2010 with a 6 month old beef steer bought on shares with friends.  We had never raised cows, although we had certainly killed and eaten a number of them in our farming career. "Chuck" was a baldface Angus, (black with a white face) and although he was rightfully leery of us, we eventually were able to scratch his "sweet spot," the neck flap, and we became friends. As noted animal behaviorist, Temple Grandin, so poignantly states, "Just because we are going to evenyually kill them, doesn't mean they have to be treated badly."

When we began to envision the farm after Chuck had become meat in the freezer, we realized we had become attached to having cows on the farm. There is something special about these big, gentle, gassy creatures, and the relationships between cows and their keepers. We didn't just want to keep killing and replacing calves each year, that would not satisfy our cow-learning desires. Passing-up a bred beef heifer, we instead took a big leap and bought a milk cow with a new bull calf.

The cow is a beautifully colored Jersey-Holstein mix with just 3 useable quarters or milkable teats. She would never stand in a commercial dairy barn on the milk line, but she was perfect for a family milk-share cow. When we first saw her, she stood in a nasty mud/manure paddock, amid discarded metal junk piles of a really rundown dirt farm. She looked resigned, but not happy, for this situation beyond her control. I walked up to her, touched her gently on the side, then stooped and milked a couple of squirts out of each teat. She didn't flinch! Her calf, a fawn colored little Jersey bull, was lethargic and laying down. The farmer kicked him to get him up for inspection. I could feel my stomach turn and the blood pressure start to rise. Also present was a little orphaned, shaggy, brown-colored beef calf that had been put on her to nurse as well. As we loaded the momma cow (this had now turned into a bovine rescue) into the stock trailer, the little guy looked totally bewildered. Our summer intern, who was along for the learning experience, made a very strong case for not leaving him behind, so we bought and loaded him as well. Following the trailer back to the farm, I felt like I had made the worst livestock business decision possible, but I had faith in the ability of the farm to "heal" the big cow. I was wrong about the first part, and right about the second.

It is now 15 months later. The little Jersey bull died shortly after arriving at the farm, but Ida Rose (momma cow) readily adopted the little chocalate-colored calf in his stead. "Choco" is now a big round and wooly 700 lb grass fed steer. A now 13 week old Holstein steer day nurses on Ida Rose now. "Hey Boy" is getting what offspring of commercial dairy cows never get anymore, a mother to lick him, nurse him, and graze with him. He is so thriving and already weighs over 150 pounds. And Ida Rose is still lactating and daily producing fresh milk for us, our 2 milkshares, as well as nursing her thoroughly adopted little Holstein calf. All this is made possible with only pasture grazing, supplemented with our own hay, and a mineral salt block. This is a true field test of the vitality and nourishment residing in our living soils.

In the presence of this little cow family, I have become the 4th cow. When herding the cows in from the fields in the evening, I sometimes find myself walking in the line with cows ahead and behind as we all quietly file along, our feet all making soft crunchy sounds on the dry grass. It is the perfect evening ending chore as dusk descends to envelope the land. At the barn, each cow is put in its stall for the night, and then they get brushed down. This mimicks the cow social behavior of licking each other. The cows stand perfectly still with noses almost touching the ground as the curry comb grooms their soft winter coats of thick hair. This attention to their social and physical needs has allowed me to established a rapport with these animals that greatly increases everyones safety in the barn. Docile, stress-free cows are a lot less likely to injure a stockperson or each other when working in amongst them in tight and confined quarters.

On December 4th, we were informed that the conservation easement in place on the adjoing land had been changed, thereby abruptly terminating our winter pasture grazing rights. This left us in an acute bind as an especially dry and warm fall, punctuated by hard freezes, has left the cool weather forage grasses on our 11 acres in poor shape.* The only workable solution acceptable to the overall deed-holder of the entire land parcel would mean that we would have to give up our cows. This we are not ready to do, as they are at the heart of our meat, milk and fertilizer program for the farm.

So together, we and the cows will be leaving this lovingly tended patch of earth in search of new, more suitable  pastures. Our loyalty is owed to these big gentle creatures who can convert the sunlight and rainfall entering the plants into nourishing food for our bodies. We like getting our meat, milk, butter, and cheese from cows whose names we know, and whose presence on our farm enriches our lives in so many different ways.

*The deedholder later granted us a three month grazing extension to see us through the winter months.


UPDATE June 6.2013  -

Since the above blog was written, we have been systematically dismantling our farming infrastructure in TN., in preparation for moving our farming/teaching operation northeast to the mountains of Floyd County, VA. We were gifted 10 acres of land in the northwest corner of the county. This land adjoins a much larger tract in the headwaters of Laurel Creek belonging to our good friend Swede McBroom. The work of environmental education and our permaculture demonstration project will be greatly enhanced in this new location.

Pastures have and are being prepared, a seep spring has been cleaned out and is in use. A new all weather access road (driveway) has been installed to the building site where a new, smaller, and more efficient dairy barn is under construction. Overnight of May 25-26, our three hives of bees were successfully moved to their new beeyard on our Virginia homestead. 




Posted 8/16/2011 11:37pm by Leaf Myczack.

Working with Natural Energy

Webster’s dictionary defines energy as “vigor in performance of an action,” and “vitality in expression.” Nowhere is this definition more in evidence than in a diverse and healthy forest, or on and within well cared for farmland. In my opinion, the biological productivity of managed land is in direct correlation to the consciousness and awareness of the land steward. I speak experientially as a farmer about working in tandem with the inherent energetic forces that pervade the natural world. In a phrase, this means farming by being directed by the land energy itself.

Conventional wisdom holds that sudden changes in the physical structures that make up the biological web of life are inconsequential. Hence we blithely clearcut whole forests, dam up rivers, plow under native prairies, and smother rich bottomland under endless shopping malls and sub-divisions. Within the philosophical and scientific context of realizing that the Earth environment does indeed matter, these above mentioned actions represent a net loss of natural energy, or a loss of vigor and vitality in expression.

Plant yield is the ability of a species to reproduce itself. Plant one corn seed, get two ears and 327 kernels of corn seed in return; plant one pine tree seedling, get 1,242 board feet back, or nothing, or something in between. Modern agriculture, and that includes tree farming, is foolishly ignoring that real is better than imitation. That real soil fertility is more likely to  succeed than constant inputs of non-renewable synthetic, and soil-toxic fertilizers; that natural plant health and disease resistance is more effective than constant spraying of toxic pesticides. Energetic imbalance in nature is manifested most appropriately by showing up as disease. Most of our current conventionally produced food is “diseased(1) and therefore of low energy and nutritional value.

If domestic animal health is dependent on medications rather than local forage plants, then one may say with a certain degree of correctness, that the natural energy has been forcefully negated through human intervention, usually in the pursuit of greed. What is important to understand though, is that the sources of natural energy can be restored. However, since natural vigor (energy) did not get suppressed overnight, there is no quick, magic silver bullet that will restore authentic natural balance. It will take time, it will take commitment, and it will take a labor of love attitude to accomplish.

Healthy land feeds healthy animals and people, and most importantly, feeds itself. Healthy land is vigorous land, and we feel the more vigorous and alive for sharing a presence together. Healthy land is the result of many species and processes working in symbiotic relationships with each other. Most often these natural relationships, such as rust, mold, fungi, bacteria, wilt, etc., and the resulting loss through decay, are seen as a threat to mankind’s edifices, structures, and vegetative manipulations, and are targeted as nuisances to destroy, rather than essential forces in the regeneration of topsoil.

I can’t actually measure the energy output of birds creating waves in our small “bird bath” pond, nor the energy output of schools of fish swimming about in the farm ponds, nor the energy output of moles burrowing through the topsoil, nor the thousands of daily bee flights back and forth over garden and pasture, but I would be shortsighted if I ignored their impact on the intricate workings of all that constitutes our farm community. But here is what clinches it for me: when I step back from my collaborative relationship with my farm community, there is nary the slightest disruption in the natural flow of life. The energy, the vigor and vitality, is inherent and self-perpetuating since I am merely a willing worker in the big seasonal scheme, much like a bee gathering nectar, or the bird eating bugs. In my opinion, this way of being and acting as a respectful community member is the best way to benefit from the abundant natural energy at our literal fingertips.

(1)This claim is based on the empirical knowledge that if the pathogen blocking and biocide agents were removed from the food producing systems in this country, there would be a pandemic of plant and animal illnesses of a fatal nature. As one example, I cite the large commercial orange groves in southern Florida. As they are abandoned for financial reasons, there is rapid and total destruction of the groves within one year from disease pathogens. In other words, they are so naturally weakened, that without frequent intervention using toxic substances, they are unable to survive.

Posted 5/21/2009 10:14pm by Leaf Myczack.

Good bee news for a change  ( From April 27th)

With all the disheartening news about honeybees dying off, my wife Cielo and I got to witness a rather unique occurrence this afternoon. But first some background.

A few days ago I was checking our one remaining hive, and I noticed that it was vigorously growing in size. Thinking they might soon be out of room and swarm, I moved a partially filled (with last year's honey) deep super (box) from a hive that froze this winter to this remaining hive. A couple of days later when I checked, I noticed a lot of drones returning to the hive. They had obviously been out flying in large numbers. My thought -"must be a new queen getting mated."

Two days ago, I noticed about 30 or so bees noisily buzzing about some empty supers I had stacked up under the back steps. Their flying and buzzing was notched up considerably from bees just out working. I had seen this before, but didn't realize that they were a scouting party looking for a new home. Yesterday they were back, so I went to the bee yard looking for a swarm hanging in the old hackberry tree there. Nothing.

Before I went to bed last night, I made a mental note to make a bottom board and set up a hive body just in case. After some early morning garden work, I then constructed a new hive bottom board, painted it, and set it in place. I then went indoors for lunch.

After I ate, I was in the process of washing my dishes, and noticed out the window that there seemed to be an awful lot of bees buzzing around the yard. I went downstairs to check the hive. To my utter amazement and joy, thousands of bees were draped in a long beard from the new bottom board. By the hundreds they approached the entrance slot and entered the hive. I put on a bee veil and opened the hive. Bees were swarming over every surface. The air was full of buzzing bees in a high state of activity.

I sat and watched this activity for quite some time. These bees had done the dance of the swarming funnel, a truly spine tingling event. Then cleansed and energized, they had eventually come to this, their new home. No factory raised (artificially) bees, shipped in a box could ever match the energy and vigor of this swarm. This was the way nature intended them to spread and multiply. Within a couple of hours, they were inside and hard at work building comb and cleaning out the debris.

Where did the swarm come from? I checked our existing hive, and observed no change in numbers. We'll never know where they originated from, but we were grateful that they came to us on their own. Maybe they knew they would be safe to act naturally and would be free of toxic chemicals at the Broadened Horizons Organic Farm.

Bees come, bees go  (From May 20th)

In an earlier post, I told the story of how a swarm of bees flew to one of our empty hives and moved in as a colony. We received this "natural world " gift with much gratitude. Then yesterday, while cutting hay near our bee yard, I saw our biggest (most bees) hive swarm out of their hive and up into the old hackberry tree that shelters the beehives. They were out of reach, even on an extension ladder. I rejected the idea of cutting the large branch they were hanging from, as inappropriate treatment for this wonderful old tree.

I set out some empty hives, hoping to attract bee scouts and perhaps lure the swarm back. Five hours after they swarmed, it became real still up in the tree-the moment for them to move had arrived. The bee ball quickly came apart as the bees took to flight. With much buzzing and flying about, the swarm began to slowly drift west southwest toward the house and one of our empty hives.

I stood and watched, even walked under them a bit as they were moving so slowly. Then I stopped and watched this bee cloud continue its WSW drift, and it soon became apparent, they were heading off the farm.

I watched them slowly fade off toward the distant tree line. I was disappointed that they were leaving, but I was also mindful that this created another "wild" hive that might increase the native density and survival of bees in our area. And for us the bottom line is "What is best for the bees?"

This was a great lesson in the circle of give and take. In truth, who can really own a bee? They serve their own nature, and while we may manage them for awhile, ultimately, they operate without regard to human needs.


Posted 4/7/2009 7:43am by Leaf Myczack.

Congress is feeling pressure to respond to food industry incidences of contaminated processed meat and peanut butter. However in their drive to act, several "one-size-fits-all" bills have now been proposed, that if enacted, could very well act as a defacto frontal assault against organic farmers and gardeners. It will probably be called the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.

H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 is: To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes. Now this sounds like a good thing, except all the disease and contamination seem to be coming from Industrialized Agri-business, not small independent organic farmers.

Congressional Bill HR 875 was introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro,(D) whose husband Stanley Greenburg works for Monsanto. And now Monsanto wants its own employee, Michael Taylor (the man who forced genetically engineered rBGH (increases milk production) on the country when the Clintons placed him over “food safety” in the 90’s) back in government, this time to act with massive power as a “food safety czar”. HR 875 would give him immense power over what is done on every single farm in the country and massive policing authority to wield over farmers.

Monsanto is a powerful entity that has repeatedly proven its clout. Monsanto has already managed to lead the world into a new age of potentially hazardous genetic modification of seeds. Patenting not only their own GMO seeds, but also a huge number of heirloom crop seeds, patenting life forms for the first time — without a vote of the people or Congress. Once Monsanto has patented an heirloom seed, it results in not allowing farmers to legally save their seeds to replant the next year – a practice that has been done since the birth of agriculture. They have even sued farmers who have not been able to prevent the inevitable drift of Monsanto’s GE (genetically engineered) pollen or seed onto their land for patent infringement!

Perhaps their biggest assault to our food supply already is what’s known as terminator technology. These are seeds that have been genetically modified to “self-destruct.” In other words, the seeds (and the forthcoming crops) are sterile, which means farmers must buy them again each year. The implications that terminator seeds could have on the world’s food supply are nothing short of disastrous: the traits from genetically engineered crops can get passed on to other crops. Once the terminator seeds are released into a region, the trait of seed sterility could be passed to other non-genetically-engineered crops, making most or all of the seeds in the region sterile. If allowed to continue, every farmer in the world could come to have to rely on Monsanto for their seed supply!  With thousands of organic farmers driven out of business, they would be that much closer to dominating the food supply of the world, since organic farms don’t use either Monsanto seeds or toxic products.

Based on their overseas seed patenting history, (especially in India) I believe it’s prudent to question what the future of our small farms will hold, should a bill with such blatant ties to Monsanto be allowed to pass without further scrutiny. It is quite possible, perhaps even most probable, that the bill entitled H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 is designed to halt the growing trend of small organic farms by insidiously creating punitive rules and laws, having little to do with food safety, that will make it extremely difficult, and incredibly expensive, for small farms to fully comply. And in this case, these rules and regulations created by this proposed bill are mandatory, not voluntary, meaning they apply equally to a tiny farmer with half a dozen cows as it does to a massive factory farm.

Some of the potential hazards of HR 875 include small farmers who just sell their fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets. Anyone engaged in food growing, or “holding food for consumption” in the U.S. would potentially have to register annually, and create and maintain extensive records of the foods they grow and/or store.

It appears it could dictate how all food growers would have to grow their food, including potentially, the necessity to use certain pest control measures, for example. Authorities would have the ability to inspect any food production facility at random to make sure it’s operating in compliance with the food safety law, and again the definition of “food production facility” is so loosely defined it could apply to your personal orchard, vineyard, or vegetable garden, as long as it produces something edible.

After the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture will promulgate regulations to establish “science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food” by food production facilities. Meaning, no one even knows what the food production standards are yet, but whatever they turn out to be will have to be followed. It is prohibited to: fail to register; refuse to permit access to an inspector; refuse to allow copying of all records; fail to establish or maintain any record required under the law. Should you fail to comply with any of the rules and regulations, there are both civil and criminal penalties, going as high as $1 million per violation, something that could clearly wipe out any small farmer in a blink of an eye.


Correcting the record

Since posting my original comments, I have spent a good deal of time researching the actual facts of the proposed Food Safety Bills, and it now looks like there was some unrelated linkage in the first press releases. Perhaps I should have done the extra research first, however the number of messages I was receiving about HR 875 could not be ignored, and it was our decision to post what information we had.

What I have subsequently learned, is that Monsanto Corp. and the Food Safety Bills are not directly linked as earlier reported. (Delauro's husband Stanley Greenburg does work for Monsanto) While the information concerning Monsanto and GM seeds and seed patenting is true, it is unlikely the seed issue will be a major factor (if at all) in these bills. We are unable to ascertain exactly who linked the Monsanto information to the Food Safety Bills, and why, but the majority of reliable informational websites seem to indicate this linkage is inaccurate. In spite of these discrepancies, the threat to small farms from poorly written Congressional bills cannot be dismissed as unfounded.


This is from

Action Alert: Critical Pending Food Safety Legislation

We Must Tell Congress to also Protect High Quality Organic and Local Food

Supporting Viable Federal Oversight over Corporate Agribusiness
Local/Organic Farming: Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!

1. HR 875: The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009
2. HR 759: The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009
3. HR 1332: Safe FEAST Act of 2009

The blogosphere has sounded the alarm warning that Congress and agribusiness and biotechnology lobbyists are conspiring to pass legislation that will force organic and local farms, and even home gardeners, out of business. What are the threats and opportunities, and how should we gear up to communicate with our congressional representatives?

There is no question that our increasingly industrialized and concentrated food production system needs a new regulatory focus. Contamination of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peanuts and other foods are an indictment of a food safety system that is out of control and has become dominated by corporate agribusiness and powerful insider lobbyists. Regulators at the FDA, USDA and other agencies have fallen short in their public safety responsibilities.

The public outcry over this situation has finally led some in Congress to propose remedies—and we should support strict oversight of the runaway industrial farming and food production system that is responsible for illnesses and deaths among our citizenry.

Although stakeholders in the organic community need to be on-guard, the flurry of e-mails and Internet postings suggesting that HR 875 will end organic farming as we know it seem to grossly exaggerate the risks. Here’s what we know:

Some level of reform is coming and we must work diligently to make sure that any changes do not harm or competitively disadvantage organic and local family farm producers and processors who are providing the fresh, wholesome and authentic food for which consumers are increasingly hungry.

Several bills aimed at fixing the broken food safety system have been proposed. Of these bills, the FDA Globalization Act (HR 759) appears most likely to be voted on, with elements of the other bills, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875) and the Safe FEAST Act (HR 1332) possibly incorporated into the bill.

A vote on a final bill shortly before Memorial Day is likely.

All three bills would require new food safety rules for farms and food processing businesses. Therefore, as with most legislation, the real battle will be in the rule-making process that follows the passage of the bill. We must stay engaged.

Anyone with an interest in food safety issues has probably seen or received emails charging that backyard gardens and organic farming would be outlawed by new food safety laws. We have closely read the proposed legislation, done extensive background research, and talked with the chief staff member responsible for the drafting of HR 875. Some have argued that this is a conspiracy promulgated by Monsanto and other corporate interests in conventional agriculture. It is our conclusion that none of these bills would “outlaw organic farming.” Other groups, such as Food and Water Watch and the organic certification agent CCOF have reached similar conclusions. But as we just noted, we need to be engaged in this process to protect organic and family farmer interests.

Such one-size-fits-all food safety rules, especially preventative measures, created with industrial-scale farms and processors in mind, would likely put smaller and organic producers at an economic and competitive disadvantage. A similar voluntary set of regulations in California have damaged the environment and hurt organic and fresh produce growers.

These high-quality, owner-operated, and often “local” farms are an important part of the solution to our nation’s food quality problems—not the cause—and they must be protected!

Whatever the final legislation looks like, it must make clear that it is the intent of Congress to ensure that ensuing regulations will not disproportionately burden small-scale family farm producers and farmstead businesses that are the backbone of the local, sustainable and organic food movement.

Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!
We must tell Congress to protect high quality organic and local food production

Please contact the following representatives to urge them to support legislation that will protect organic and small-scale family farmers while strengthening food safety:

• Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce—send a message through the Committee website at: Link...
• John Dingell (D-MI), the sponsor of HR759
• Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the sponsor of HR 875
• Jim Costa (D-CA), the sponsor of HR 1332

Posted 1/21/2009 7:26am by Leaf Myczack.

It has become apparent that the National Weather Service (NWS) has lost the ability to accurately predict the long range weather forecast. Utilizing computer modeling based upon historical records and current data, the NWS makes seasonal predictions about future tempertures and rainfall for the various geographical areas of the country. Farmers, such as ourselves, have come to rely on these long-range forecasts in order to plan agricultural activities.

Here in the Southeast, the NWS predicted a warmer than "normal" Winter for 2008-2009. This information influenced our decision to delay our Fall planting schedule in order to focus on two urgent construction projects. Another factor in our decision to delay, was the exceptionally dry weather during September and October. In order to sprout our planted seed, we would have to irrigate, which is a very time consuming activity. So we limited our early planting to a few plots that we could easily water. The rest of the planting took place in mid-November, a viable option if the warm Winter forecast was reliable.

Winter came early and harshly here in East Tennessee, around the third week of November. Less than a week after we sowed down turnip seed in our recently de-rocked barn site garden, we had our first hard freeze. The emerging seedlings were hammered by successive hard freezes interspersed by periods of heavy rainfall that saturated the soil. With each artic blast, more of the seedlings, as well as the older, established plants were killed. Our crop losses for the late planting are nearly 100%. 

After missing the mark on the first part of the Winter, the NWS revised their forecast to state that the second half of the Winter (2009) would be mild as earlier predicted. However, January to date has been the hardest Winter we have experienced since moving to the farm in January 2004. Many days have seen temperatures unable to rise above freezing, while nights have seen single digit lows. For the first time ever, ice formed on the cistern water in our greenhouse. Far from being warmer than usual, this Winter has been just the opposite. 

In spite of advanced computer and radar technology, meteorologists seem to be floundering around blindly while trying to get a handle on the record breaking weather anomalies that just keep coming. It is our educated opinion that climate change is now the tail wagging the dog. Scientific climate data indicates that the accelerated melting of glaciers and the polar ice caps is wreaking havoc on the intra-planetary mechanisms that moderate climate swings.

The rapacious destruction of the Earth's forests, combined with the wholesale burning of fossil fuels worldwide, is beginning to make itself felt in various and unpredictable ways. Persistent regional drought, re-occurring regional floods, ravaging, year-round forest fires, dying coral reefs, rising sea levels, massive-strength hurricanes, all are pointing to a climate system whip-sawing out of control.

Many learned and well respected scientists believe we have crossed the threshold and will have to ride out the climate-changing consequences as best we can. Fortunately, the U.S. now has a new presidential leader, who in sharp contrast to his ignorant predecessor, values scientific fact and the need to rapidly switch to green, Earth-friendly energy sources.

Only time will tell if we waited too long before acting, but at least we seem to be waking up from our coal and oil addicted stupor. In the meantime, it is in our best short and long term interest to do everything possible to lessen the negative human impact upon our only home, planet Earth!


-farmer leaf

Posted 12/17/2008 9:20am by Leaf Myczack.

It has been five months since I commented on the "fat lady singing", as in the show isn't over until the fat lady sings. Well in that brief time since my last musings, the show has  indeed ended. I am referring to the Capitalist show. The American "not so free" market system has come crashing down, and like Humpty-Dumpty, there is no putting it back together again. Better to just scramble it into a new form and begin all over again.

As someone who came of age in the gilded era of the American automobile, it is almost dreamlike that I am witnessing the sinking of General Motors beneath the financial waves of the second great economic depression in recent time.

With all the current focus on the economic meltdown, it is easy to overlook the next shoe to fall. I have often written about the artificially propped up, subsidized, topheavy, unsustainable industrial approach to agriculture that is currently in place in this country. It is about to fall flat on its' economic and biological face.

Yield is essentially the expression of a plant's abiltity to reproduce itself. And reproduction takes most, if not all of the skills that a plant has, if you will, from its ability to tolerate changes ranging from temperature and moisture availability to pest attack. Non-organic farming has relied on costly industrial / chemical inputs to boost yield at the expense of the plant. The most egregious and expensive form of plant manipulation is in the field of genetic modification (GM).  The obvious and accelerated climate changes lashing our planet has the potential to render the discussion of the benefits of so called modern agriculture moot. On every level of industrialized food production, the flaws and shortcomings, health risks, and unsustainable economic costs are showing themselves daily.

I am struck by the similarities of the collapse of the mighty imperial Roman Empire and of our own American version. Pirates and barbarians plunder our treasures and wealth with impunity. While some wear renegade clothing and carry weapons, others wear business suits and carry briefcases. All are a blight on our national well being. However, even in the darkest of times, new life emerges from the cold, wet dampness of the earth. It is here we need to tap into in order to move forward, reconnect to the natural world, and regain a sense of possibility.

Communities organized around the promotion of healthy and wholesome food, sound moral guidelines, and co-operation over competition are beginning to sprout forth. Couples and individuals are once again turning to the good earth with an attitude of humility and expection, and taking up the ancient art and skill of sustainable agriculture.

Broadened Horizons Organic Farm is one of these examples of a new way of going forth amid the rubble of our shattered "American Dream." We invite you to be a participant in this celebration of life as it should be. Like plants, we will have to use all of our ability to tolerate change and still thrive.


-farmer leaf

Posted 7/9/2008 11:29pm by Leaf Myczack.

For a lot of Americans, it is becoming painfully obvious that our hyper-consumptive cultural lifestyle, fueled by cheap energy and unlimited credit, is not sustainable or even desirable. In spite of soothing reassurances that the economy is strong, oft repeated by Bush administration lackeys, most people have a sense that the door has closed on the free-for-all boom days of “shopping ‘til you drop.”

The twin prods of this painful realization are $4+ a gallon gas and soaring food prices. And even paying high food prices doesn’t guarantee that the food is safe or nutritious. Labeling rules are so minimal, the average person has no way of knowing where the food was grown, what chemical sprays and poisons were applied,  what genes were spliced, or cloned, or what medications and hormones were used. In other words, if you are buying conventional food from the big box stores, you are essentially shopping blind.

The roots of our current food crisis reach back in time to the Nixon presidency. It was under Nixon that the Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, pushed for cheap food production in order to free up family income to purchase consumer goods. The small family farm, in his view, was an impediment to this vision. The new mantra from Washington was “get bigger, or get out.” Farm foreclosures began to gather steam as farmers over-extended and borrowed too much money in an attempt to keep up with the new farm paradigm.

Large agribusiness corporations bought up the land and began to turn agriculture into an industrial process. In the new industrial farming paradigm, bigger is better, and growing a monoculture crop more efficient. The mechanically intensive and soil abusive shortcomings of this unnatural approach would be, according to the USDA "experts,"  overcome by cheap fossil fuel use, synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizers, and chemical pesticidal and herbicidal poison applications.

Our food now travels hundreds, if not thousands of miles from farm field to dining table. One example of this ludicrous transportation situation is that poultry grown and slaughtered here in the U.S, is shipped to China for processing, and then shipped back to the U.S. and Canada! Now with transportation costs skyrocketing, the price of food is also on a steep climb. It seems that the “experts” were wrong about the miracle of modern industrial agriculture and its' promise of "cheap food."

If there is an answer to the current food crises, it lies within the scale of the local community. Food can and should be grown where it will be consumed, at the local level. There is a movement across the country, spearheaded by small-scale farmers and gardeners to return health to the soil, and in turn, bring nutrition and wholesomeness back to the food we consume.

Big Agri-business and their government allies view this movement as nothing short of a revolution against the status quo.The USDA is attempting to thwart this movement with punitive rules and regulations that are designed to hinder and impede the small-scale local farmer from supplying the wholesome, unprocessed food more and more people are demanding. The USDA has even trademarked the term "organic."

If you are having trouble hearing the fat lady sing, perhaps it is because of all the noise created by the over-sold American Dream crashing down around us. Change is not optional; it is being made mandatory by current economic and environmental events. Droughts, floods, heat waves, and depleted soil, along with soaring fuel prices, patented seeds, and world trade agreements are putting the global food supply at increasing risk. It is now time to return to locally based, organic agriculture to feed our communities.

-farmer leaf



Posted 5/22/2008 10:31am by Leaf Myczack.

Say you can, say you can't, and either way you will be right! It appears from the comments people make, that very few of us realize the power of our thoughts in shaping our life and how it proceeds to unfold. Attitudes do matter, and negative attitudes never bring about positive results.  Think an endeavor is hopeless, and it will become a self-fulfilling waste of time.

This is not to say that one need not be grounded in natural sciences and realistic expectations. For instance, jumping off of a roof with the expectation of being able to fly denies the role of gravity. However, if a human has successfully done some task before, it can be done again, although it may be extremely difficult to duplicate and not everyone will be capable.

When Cielo and I began to build our 30 foot sailing ketch, the naysayers hovered around like birds at a feeder. Comments such as "I could never build a boat," were frequent and the speaker(s) had unwittingly undermined their own self-confidence and set the stage for self-failure. We had to ignore these  bystanders who every step of the way tried to created mental obstacles for themselves and us. Even when we successfully launched the boat on May 30, 1989, there were still folks who pictured it sinking, us drowning, and other mishaps they were certain awaited us.

Now we face uncertain times that have people frightened about their future. Storms, droughts, economic collapse, terrorism, pollution, and lack of health care are just a few of the challenges facing us in the first decade of the 21st century. We'll be the first to admit that we don't have all the answers, but we do know that if we live in the moment, face our challenges with courage and determination, and set realistic goals, we have a good chance of succeeding in the face of adversity.

When we left our role (after 16 years) as citizen RiverKeepers in 2004,  and returned to the land to create an organic teaching farm, we had to start from scratch. We began with a piece of land that was dried up, depleted of nutrients, mostly barren of trees, with decrepit and unusable buildings, and with a bank account that could generously be described as lean.  Some thought we were hopeless dreamers, undertaking a task that would yield only heartache and financial ruin. Once again we set about the task at hand with a clear intention of what we wanted to accomplish.

Visitors to our farm marvel at how intelligent our operation is organized and managed. Few can believe the before photographs, and the current reality we have manifested and constructed. In the face of the worst drought in over 100 years, a bare minimum of mechanized equipment, scant financial reserves, and a seemingly inhospitable landscape, we have worked a miracle of transformation. We used experience, knowledge, intention, and cultivated a cooperative relationship with our neighbors. Putting aside worry, insecurity, doubts, and the many other "mind" worms that eat away at ones mental well being, we have forged a model of sustainability that works very well for us and all the plants, birds, fish, frogs, snakes and mammals that call this farm "home."


-farmer leaf 

Next Blog coming soon -"Almost certain I hear the fat lady singing."