Thursday, February 26, 2009

The "Meat Ordeal"

This picture was entitled "Cows in the Mist". Isn't that a hoot. I like the white one. It looks like she's got shaggy hair on her poll.

But seriously. I picked up a couple of books at the library about agricultural farming and animal welfare. Now, I already knew about the horrors and maladies associated with containment animal production facilities (aka Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations - CAFO for short), but I wanted more info.

Both of these books are well written, and the authors are activists and animal advocates in their own rights. They're also both vegetarians. In these books, I believe they are not only trying to open the readers' eyes to what goes on in feedlots all across the country, but in a way, I think they're trying to turn people into vegetarians.

I have nothing against vegetarians. As a matter of fact, my wife and I were vegetarians for awhile before we had kids. Thinnest I've ever been in my life - hmmm, maybe I should try that again (NOT!). But I believe there are different reasons for doing a thing. In this instance, I feel that the authors are vegetarians because they believe that raising of animals to be used as food is morally wrong. I, however, do not. Of course there are the health concerns. Do you KNOW where the meat in that burger you ate came from? Best not to think about it. I do most of the shopping for our family. I know the ills inherent with most of meat I buy. Even Tyson chicken, though labelled as antibiotic free, still contains traces of the stuff. But it's not enough to turn me vegetarian.

See, I realize that animals have personalities, express emotion, have intelligence to their respective degrees, can express affection or disdain. However, I feel that to give an animal the same protective status that we would give a human (less and less these days), is wrong. Why? Because humans are the only creatures God breathed life into and gave a soul to. That makes us special, unique, different.

Now believe me, I think the kind of life 90% the meat animals in this country live is awful. CAFO's are a bane to health, environment, and economy. I believe that if you have animals you're raising for food, you are obligated by the Biblical mandate to have dominion over the Earth, to not abuse what you've been entrusted with. Meaning, you should do all you can to ensure that your animals live healthy lives with as much access to sunshine, fresh pasture, clean and safe housing, and plenty of room to move around, as is within your ability to provide it. So that when the time comes to "Say goodnight, Ruthie" and put the chickens in the freezer, not only will they be healthier to eat because of the life they lived, but they will not be full of stress hormones to taint their meat. Further, you can do your butchering knowing that you aren't just taking life from the birds, but that you also gave them a good life in the process.

So what does this mean to me? Well, my wife still isn't a big fan of red meat. My daughter has also periodically shown some distaste for it as well. So really, I should probably look at ways of cutting it out of my diet a little more. I do have sources for grass-fed beef and pastured chicken. Both, however, tend to be a bit on the expensive side. I suppose if I cut the meat intake down to only a couple of times a week max, then it would be more economically viable. These are some of the reasons I want a place in the country. To raise my own food.

To cut the meat intake down will take some planning and forethought. Beans, rice, veggie stir fry, quiches, pastas - these can be done fairly easily without meat. And really, ground beef is about the only red meat we eat. Once in a while I'll buy a roast or stew meat. But I don't think my kids have ever had a steak. Maybe this is doable after all. Especially if I can and freeze more veggies this year. I'll let you know how it goes. Your thoughts?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Makes me so sick....!

I'm a red-blooded American. But more and more I feel like I'm living in the Socialist States of Amerika. Here's just one reason.

Our government, for several years now, has been toying with the idea of a national registry of every livestock animal in the country. They say it's for disease control and tracking. Right. And I was born on Pluto. It's really not as cold as you think.

Here's the deal. The USDA has come up with a plan whereby every farm or homestead would be given an identification number. Then, every animal on the farm would be given a tag or chip to identify that particular animal. Every time an animal was born, died, was sent to the butcher, got out of their pen and wandered down the road, was sold off, or moved from one place to another for any reason, a form has to be filled out and sent to the USDA. There, the form is processed so Big Brother knows exactly what you're doing. Problem. Not only do you have to waste time filling out the paperwork, you also pay a fee for processing. EVERY TIME.

Now, if this was truly about disease control, that'd be one thing. I still would be against it, but it'd at least make a little more sense. What's really behind this is government helping big agribusiness. Ever hear of Tyson? That's one. See, big CAFO (that's feedlot to you and me - where 99.9% of the meat at the grocery comes from) companies have a bunch of animals all born on the same day, kept in the same lot, moved together until butchering day. Those companies would get ONE tag for the whole lot of 500 animals (for example), pay one processing fee for all of them and fill out one form. THAT's what this is about. There are just a handful of agribusinesses that provide the lion's share of meat to the nation - like five or six, maybe less now. They stand to gain a lot from this. How?

Well, besides the fact that they will move many animals under one tag for one fee and that alone will be a cost savings, the plan will drive many small farmers (the relatively few left in our country) and many homesteaders out of business. For the person with a small backyard flock of chickens, a couple of milk goats or a cow, some summer feeder pigs, this plan would be too time consuming, and way too costly. Once you pay for the tags, then pay the fees for processing all the paperwork, it'd be just too expensive. So then what's a consumer left with but to be forced to buy the CAFO produced food. Even if they buy it now, the point is, they eventually won't have the choice later on. Further, some other countries, Japan for instance, quit buying American beef because they didn't want meat raised in CAFO situations like we have here with the high chance of disease. So the big businesses want a regulated Government stamp on their meat saying it's A-OK, in order to help other countries feel at ease about buying our beef. More money for them.

Disease control and tracking my foot! Get off my farm! Oh sure there'd be all sorts of people who would just initially refuse to register. But veterenarians and feed stores would be required to report non-compliant farms. Already, some feed stores take your name, address, and phone number every time you buy a bag of chicken feed. What do you think they do with it? Some are already sending the information to their state NAIS offices and registering farms, without the owner realizing it. Kinda underhand if you ask me.

Now, at this point, the Federal Government is trying to lay the responsibility on each state to get this set up and going... too costly for them to do it. But that's like trying to herd cats. Further, the program isn't a law - yet. I understand that our esteemed President was pro-NAIS when he was governor of Illinois. I get that info from a homesteader over there. A lot of states currently have an 'opt out' program for the farm id. But as I understand, you have to ask for it, and check annually that you weren't registered without your knowing it.

There are a lot of organizations that are working to oppose this program. A lot of supply companies, like hatcheries, oppose it as well. They get a huge percentage of their business from the people that this plan would directly and negatively effect.

I tell you, I get antsy, frustrated, and discouraged sometimes. I feel less and less like I live in the Land of the Free. Now, this post is by no means intended to be THE source of information about the NAIS and I don't guarantee the 100% accuracy of everything I've said. Only 99%. Go read for yourself. Sure, go look at the USDA site. But be warned, that's like the fox telling the farmer he's carrying the bag to put wild greens in, as he's on his way to the chicken house.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last Year's Food

My homepage is set to Yahoo! Sometimes it kills me what they think is news, but the site does offer some interesting blurbs, periodically. So recently, I opened a link to a Yahoo! Money news article that said, "Americans' lower standard of living may be permanent." Like that's a bad thing or something. We all need to live more within our means, myself included.

Here's the crux of what they were saying... Retailers are having fits. People just aren't buying things like they used to. When they go to the mall, they aren't going home with three $100 pairs of shoes. Nor are they buying the $150 torn and faded blue jeans (I never understood that to begin with). No, rather, consumers are basically concerned now with just covering themselves (barely, sometimes). You can wear last year's clothes. Consumers are spending their money not on clothes, but on food, especially as prices continue to rise. The comment was, "You can't eat last year's food." WHHAAATT?

Ok, well, hmm. I'll concede that I understand what they were 'trying' to say. But just barely. Really, it's not a true statement at all. Obviously Mr. Money-Analyst person who made this comment is one of the millions of Americans that couldn't feed themselves for a year if the grocery store closed for good tomorrow. Fact is, you CAN eat last year's food.
This is what I'm saying, people. We Americans are so stinking spoiled that we have become soft and have forgotten many of the basic skills our parents and grandparents took for granted. Why'd they take them for granted? Because they were such a common part of their existence.

Wanna eat last year's food? Plant a garden, go to a farmer's market, join a CSA, whatever, but learn to can and 'put up', or 'put by' your food. Yes, it takes time, equipment, and some know how. But you can acquire all three pretty easily if you put your mind to it and make it a priority.

I don't have a pressure canner. It's something I want and will probably get in the next few years. But I still preserve food. I have a dehydrator and a water bath canner. Water-bath canning is so easy it's almost unfair. Why more people don't do it can only be attributed to the ease with which we can go to the store and buy food already canned or preserved. Or laziness. But the idea is to save money and not pay so much for what you eat. You can use water-bath canning for pretty much any type of fruit jam or jelly, applesauce, tomato products (as long as you don't add so many other ingredients that it lowers the acid level), pickles of all kinds (carrots are good, and I've heard green beans are too). There's a lot you can do.

I have a hard time not being down and gloomy as it is, without making dire predictions about our country's economic future. But I truly believe it'll get worse. A lot worse. Don't be caught feeling the crunch between paying bills and buying food. Think about what you can do, make phone calls, ask around, read books... find out where the good food is or how to grow it, then learn to preserve it. The "Ball Blue Book" is probably one of the best places to start. Go to your local library and search for food preservation. There's likely more there than you care to look at. Search yard sales this spring and look for jars, canners, supplies. You may get a real deal. Ask older relatives or neighbors for advice or instruction on canning. Truly, the most valuable people in our nation in coming days may be those of us with this kind of knowledge. We'll be surviving and have to help everyone else out.

A final note about dehydrating. there are many different ways to dry foods. My wife bought me my Nesco dehydrator as an anniversary present last year. Nothing says "I love ya, honey" like homemade beef jerky. But something very worth trying: Dried Watermelon. Seriously. Cut it up into thin strips or chunks, take the seed out and dry it. It comes out like chewy fruit leather, and wow is it sweet! You'd think it had soaked in sugar. My kids loved it. No additives or preservatives. Just watermelon. Amazing!

Updates on Life

Well, first a couple of updates. I got a call from the auto dealership this morning. The manager of the shop had been out of town when I took the van back in earlier this week but was back today and had been told of my situation. One of his employees called to tell me that all I needed to do was bring the van back in, they would look at it again and fix it for me - no cost to me! Praise the Lord! For serious! I can't tell you what a relief that is.

Second, last evening, my computer began doing some funny stuff. I'd go to log into my gmail account, or even my blogger account, and all I would get was "Internet Explorer is unable to open the webpage". YIKES! Called Dell, explained. Virus. Gonna have to reboot the whole shebang. Fortunately, I have an external hard drive so I saved everything I could against this impending doom. But today - for now anyway - everything is ok. I'm crossing my fingers, and hoping like crazy. Of course, I did breathe a prayer last night about it. I was just preparing to go through our "favorites" list and copy down all the links so I could find the pages again. Maybe that won't be necessary. As a note, I do have virus protection and ran a full scan, which showed nothing. So, we'll see. Pray for me.

Further, I'm reading other blogs and realizing that I'm not alone in my dire misery with winter. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. But this kind of company doesn't make me feel better. Here's a totally honest assessment of my condition. I'm miserable. I have a seriously shortened temper. I can feel my frustration and anxiety go up (consequently, so does my blood pressure). I haven't got the patience to finish reading lesson with my son. I'm a mess. I'm taking vitamin D-3, but nothing beats good ol' sunshine. It's snowing here now.

To combat the rising frustration level, I listen to my MP3 player. There's a CD I bought recently on Amazon called "Praise 22". It originally came out on cassette tape in the late '80's. My college roommate and I, as odd as it may sound, would often fall asleep at night listening to this calming instrumental collection of what are now considered 'old school' praise and worship songs. (Remember "This is the Day"?) So I listen to that. I also listen to some of my favorite Irish music. It isn't all calming, per se, but it makes me happy, so that's just as good. Also, I have some very strong mental connections in my head where music is concerned. I don't know if everyone does this, but I can actually see and feel and almost smell certain days or seasons when I hear certain music. Sometimes these impressions are so strong. Yes, it's an escape. I don't deny it.

I also knit to relax. If I get a rhythm going, it's very relaxing, almost mind-numbing. Reading sometimes helps too, but I'm all out of motivation to read right now. Been doing a lot of it lately. And finally, I've pulled my guitar out again here recently and been playing it. I have a beautiful Martin that I bought several years ago, used, for quite a bit less than it was probably worth. Someone else's vanity afforded me the opportunity (that's another story). I was taking lessons at the time. I'm not good. As a matter of fact, I can't play very well at all, but I enjoy what I can do, and I try. Perhaps I should try harder. Thing is, I'm so right brained that using both hands is kind of difficult - about like playing piano. Trumpet, I can do. Mouth and one hand. Got it. Done it. Two hands... eeeh, not so easy for me. But I try.

Anyway, that's what's going on with me. My daughter is having her first real sleepover tomorrow night. I'll be making snacks and cleaning for that. She's got plans to decorate with balloons and streamers. It'll be fun for her. I have to take the boys out for awhile just to get them out of the way. Let me tell you, they're not taking this well. They get so bent out of shape if Anna gets to do something and they don't. Sheesh.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Well, I hurt right now. I just spent $800 at the auto repair shop so they could perform a steering gear rack replacement and a front end alignment. Yeah, I don't know what it is either. But I had this rattle under the car and discovered that if a certain couple of parts got looser than they were, I could be driving down the road and lose all control of the front tires. Wanna get that fixed.

Problem. The annoying rattle is still there. I'm driving home listening. It's still there. Not worse, not better. Still there. I'm so put out right now.

Thing is, they put the van up on the rack and looked around for a good ten or fifteen minutes the other day diagnosing the problem. So I felt pretty good about the money if it was going to keep us safe and fix the rattle. Now I'm out 800 bucks and still haven't fixed the problem. I guess I call them back tomorrow and find out what we can do.

I hate not knowing about cars and how they run. These days you about have to have a Ph.D. to be able to work on the silly things. But still, a basic understanding of how an engine works might come in handy. Unfortunately for me, the thought of sitting down and reading a book on the subject (or even taking a class for that matter) sounds about as enjoyable as reading a book that tries to explain football. I have never, do not now, nor do I foresee a time in the future when I shall understand or enjoy the game of football. Colts went to the Superbowl two years ago (I live in Indiana)... I didn't care. Couldn't have cared less. And the fact that the Colts were and Indiana team made me wanna care even less than I did, just to spite all the sports crazed people that decided to let their lives revolve around football. My point is... I have no desire to really teach myself about automobiles and how they work. Ergo, I am beholden to those who do know. Further, I must pay the piper when the rats come to town, so to speak.

Oh, and I had all the laundry sorted out and ready to go in the wash, when my youngest little angel (4 years old) decided to play in the piles and completely mixed them back up. FYI, I love sarcasm and use it freely. A whole household worth of laundry sorted, and messed up. I really don't care how much fun he had in the laundry. It made more work for me.

I'm really not having a very good day... or couple of weeks for that matter. I so, so, so need spring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not just another rainy day

Well, here I sit. It's been raining since last night and the water is standing in the yard and field like it usually does this time of year. I can't help feeling a little nervous as I think about the flood of last June. But we haven't had nearly that much rain, and the snow melt all drained away before this rain came. It's just pretty gross outside today.

Sunday night at the end of church, one of our Pastors told us that they had just learned that the son-in-law of our building manager and his wife was killed in action in Afghanistan. Our building manager, Carl, plays bass on our worship team and his wife Gayla plays keyboard sometimes. That I also sing on the worship team gives me a slightly closer connection to them than perhaps most of the other people there that night. But the news was still met with sadness.

I support our troops. I believe that they work and fight to protect the freedoms that I hold so dear. Freedoms that I fear may be endangered in coming days. I grieve his death and I feel sorrow for Carl and Gayla... not to mention their daughter who lost her husband and the father of their two children. But I do not believe his death was in vain. He surely knew the risks involved in military service. He served his country to protect our rights and safety. I honor him and all of his fallen military brothers.

Further, I got an email today telling another sad story. A lady named Denise has an at-home business that she calls "The Country Baker". She sells grain mills and baking supplies. Every year that my wife and I go to our state homeschool convention, she's there with a booth and often holds a seminar about baking with whole grains. Well, she and her husband decided to allow their 14 year old (or thereabout) son to attend public school this year. Sadly, he recently contracted spinal meningitis, apparently at school, and has passed away. His funeral was this past Saturday.


Lastly. I'm not an economist. But I do read the news (no, we don't have cable and I don't watch it). Many businesses, some that have been around a long time) are facing serious problems. I believe we'll see quite a few bankruptcies in the near future. Job loss will rise even more. Folks, regardless of what BHO says (and I think he's coming around to being truthful about how bad it is... just beginning to), I think we're only starting to feel the crunch of what's to come. I don't know if it'll be another great depression. But I think it'll get pretty close. I'm hoping it'll wait until I get get out of Dodge and make my way to the country. If not, I'll do what I can where I am.

Even if you have a 'black thumb', may I suggest you look into a small garden for your family? Even a few plants can be grown on a sunny porch or deck in 5 gallon buckets and can provide some produce. The more you grow yourself, the less money you spend at the store.

As a Christian, I think I have an obligation to those around me to show how to survive tough times. Diligence, thrift, industry, self-reliance (God-reliance)... these are the things that our neighbors are going to need to see in order to find some hope, and perhaps survival.

It's time to start thinking ahead and really considering how we'll survive this mess. Don't be caught unaware and unprepared. Learn how to prepare and preserve food. "But we don't really like vegetables". Hogwash. Learn to like 'em. That processed junk they sell at the store will only get more expensive, and surely won't help you live a healthy life. Sometimes we do things, not because we like to (like eating our veggies), but because we have to. We may not have to now. Operative word, "now".

I guess I'm just feeling a little grumpy and fed up. Support our troops and eat your veggies!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A new hat

Here's my lovely daughter modelling her new Seed Stitch Hat that I made for her. I started it last Thursday, knit like a mad-man, and finished it today. It was tricky because I used two strands of yarn, which makes the hat a little stiffer. She likes it though.

The pattern came off of the Lion Brand Yarn website and was a Vanna's Choice (oh, Vanna, pick me a letter) pattern. I had to use smaller needles though, to accommodate the extra thickness of the two yarns. The seed stitch is pretty simple. It's just a matter of knit and purl over and over again.

My daughter had bought the yarn for a totally different project, but I thought it would go great for a hat. It's pink and lavender and they mix really well. Yeah, so it's cheep-o Red Heart Super Saver yarn at about $2.00 for 364 yards. Listen, I'm not a 'fiber snob'. If I like the stuff, I'll use it.

On another note, I had a pretty stressful day where a bunch of little things (like having to stay and help clean up at co-op this morning, to not finding out that the Kashi cereal I wanted to buy at the store -which WAL shall remain MART nameless - was recalled but was still on the shelf for purchase and I couldn't buy it) ... where a bunch of little things piled up and nearly sent me over the edge. I checked my blood pressure at the 'afore-not-mentioned' store and it was the highest it's ever been. Melora said I should be on medication for a bp like that. Sigh. Well, I know those store machines aren't the most accurate, and I was feeling quite stressed at the moment, but it's been on the climb for awhile now. Yes. I need to lose weight. That's all there is to it. Sigh.
I'll take care of myself. I promise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lessons from a Farm

This is my most recent 'finished reading' book. The author is Jerry Apps, published by Voyageur Press, 2005. I read this on recommendation of The Deliberate Agrarian, Herrick Kimball, and I'm glad I did.

Mr. Apps recounts his life growing up on the family farm in the little community of Chain O' Lakes, Wisconsin (Near the village of Wild Rose), back in the 1930's through 50's. He recounts many of the daily and yearly chores that marked life and made it good. On several occasions, he laments the purchase of 'new' technology that made life easier, like an automatic milking machine, a television set, a corn binder/thresher. He laments these things because they heralded the end of a way of life, one where people came together, shared their lives, knew each other, and had real community. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from his mother's money ledger, the excerpts introducing the subject of the chapter.

In this wonderful little 223 page book, we look back into the real life of an early American farm family. We share the joys of getting electricity in the house, of a good grain harvest, we get a small taste of sweat and toil of everyday life, and we hear some of the heartbreak that was as much a part of life then as it is today.

But I want this to be more than a book report (sorry if it's gotten boring). In the chapter called 'Windstorm', we're told of the spring of 1950 when a windstorm like no other blew through and literally took the barn off it's foundations. The milk cows had to be moved to a neighboring farm for several weeks while the barn was repaired. Unfortunately, the cows acquired brucellosis, or Bang's disease, while there and had to be sent to slaughter. These two calamities made life very difficult for the Apps family for some time after. The strawberry and cucumber patches were expanded to help provide a little more income until the new cow herd was up to full size and production. What struck me most profoundly out of all the book was what Mr. Apps says next:

"There was little complaining about the hard work or reduced income. Without saying anything, Pa convinced me and my brothers, through his actions, that the family had to work together as a team if we were to survive these hard times. Each of us, without bragging or talking about it, was proud to help; each of us knew our contribution was important to the farm's survival. Those years brought our family as close together as it had ever been." (p. 200-201)

Ok, some lessons... First of all, most families today aren't playing as a team, shucks, the members aren't even playing the same game. Second, it's the onus of the father to show the way. That's how it is with most things... faith, work, family.

I've often wondered recently, with economics being what they are, if things got worse, would people be as resourceful as they were back during the Great Depression? I'm not so sure. First, things would have to get so much worse than they are before people seriously start thinking about alternative means of survival (gardening, chickens, doing without, etc.). But I'm just not sure that many of today's families have the basic fabric fabric necessary to hold together and pull through. I think we're too soft, too accustomed to creature comforts that we'd just about die without our cable or internet (when was the last time you actually wrote a letter - you know, with paper- and mailed it to someone? I know I can't remember when. It's a lost art). This is just a side comment though. But I'd be interested in knowing what you think.

The big lesson to me is the responsibility that is mine. Oh, I've known about it, but this little book just kinda brings it home again. If my kids are going to learn the intrinsic value of contributing to the family economy with their work and effort, I'll have to lead the way and teach them. Not an easy task when the human nature desires to avoid work and difficulty, if you call hoeing a garden a difficulty -which it certainly can be.

The other lesson is more about the work part. Hard work. Some things aren't so hard, like hoeing the garden. That's just monotonous. But there are days when work has to be done whether you want to do it or not. A lot of folks don't know hard work. I wonder if I do. Will I/do I have what it takes to tackle hard work? I've worked hard before, but will I pass that on to my kids?

Here's the really personal part. I can take this little challenge one of two ways. I can look at it as a positive encouragement and run with it, and/or I can see it as 'one more thing' that I'll probably not do to well with and give up. I can be quite pessimistic at times, but I'm not as bad as I used to be. So I'll likely take both approaches, depending on the day and my mood. Being a father is a never ending job. The good thing is that I don't have any crazy notions of being the perfect dad - I screwed that up LONG ago. I'll settle for being as good as I can be, and if that earns me a 'great dad' once in awhile, all the better.