Honeybees: Keep on Survivin’

survivorbee_heroSource: modernfarmer.com ~  Author: Katie Mast

It’s no secret that America’s bees are in trouble: Since Colony Collapse Disorder hit the U.S. in 2006, the country’s beekeepers have reported an average annual hive loss of 30 percent. A groundswell of hobby beekeepers has emerged, wanting to do their part to save honeybees, and commercial beekeepers are racing to come up with solutions. It’s not just a critical issue for bees, but for our entire agricultural system: One-third of our food depends on bees and the industry is responsible for $15 billion in increased crop value annually.

But some progress is being made. A group of honeybee breeders across the nation are looking to hardy, resilient bees they call “survivor stock” as one important step toward a solution. A host of factors likely play a role in CCD, including habitat loss, overuse of agricultural chemicals and an array of pests and diseases. Similarly, a variety of characteristics come together under the survivor stock definition.

For example, one particularly pernicious pest, a parasitic mite native to Asia and aptly named Varroa destructor, can destroy a hive in months. Varroa mites arrived in the U.S. in the late 1980s and have caused significant losses across the country since. In addition to feeding on bees, Varroa, like mosquitoes carrying malaria, are vectors for bee diseases.

While there is no standard definition for “survivor stock,” longevity and natural pest resistance are key.

Most commercial beekeepers treat their hives with a pharmaceutical poison to control the mite, but the pests are developing resistance to the treatments, and the chemical residue can wind up in the honey and comb. It takes, at most, 18 months for varroa to kill a hive, but some hives have a genetic resistance, or have extra hygienic behaviors, and will continue to thrive without pharmaceutical treatments despite a small varroa presence. While there is no standard definition for “survivor stock,” this longevity and natural pest resistance are key.

Another element is hardiness. Near the town of Truchas, New Mexico, nestled under the soaring peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe, several dozen beehive boxes dot the meadow at the Zia Queenbee Co. The owners, Melanie Kirby and Mark Spitzig, collect a few jars of honey each year, but their main products are their survivor queens. They are both queen breeders and producers. They isolate specific stock for mating breeder queens and raise up to 3,000 production queens ready to take over or start new hives. Kirby and Spitzig define their survivor stock as hives that have survived two winters, and they cross their breeder queens with drones (male bees) from hives that have lasted at least three or four.

Honeybees have an unusual breeding strategy that makes breeding on most farms an inexact science: A virgin queen may fly several miles in search of drones, which congregate in groups of up to 2,500. She mates only once, storing the sperm of 10-20 males to build her colony throughout her lifetime. Breeders like Kirby and Spitzig, as well as bee clubs from California to Colorado to northern Michigan, Virginia and Pennsylvania, reduce the element of genetic surprise by saturating a region with healthy survivor hives.

However, this approach is not without its own issues. Just as diversity is important to a healthy ecosystem, it is necessary for a strong, fit hive. That’s why Susan Cobey, a bee geneticist at Washington State University, worries that restricting bee breeding regionally in this way limits genetic variation. “Bees are incredibly susceptible to inbreeding,” she says. “If your population gets too small, which is really what selection does — you’re thinning out for what you want — then you get in big trouble.”

Back in New Mexico, Kirby shares that concern. She infuses her bee yard with survivor stock from as far away as Vermont and Oregon. “You still have to bring in stock, or you’ll have a collapse,” she says. She hopes to receive funding to help build a national network of survivor stock breeders to encourage more trading.

Cobey is also a bee breeder, but confines her work to the lab. She’s found a different way to avoid the difficult bee breeding habits: She is one of the leading experts on instrumental insemination, a process of collecting sperm — called “germplasm” — from drones and using it to fertilize young queens. The process is pretty simple and straightforward, she says, but you have to be comfortable with a microscope and good with your hands.

Instrumental insemination allows Cobey to collect semen from specific drones with good genetics to make desired crosses. It is also helping to reinvigorate the honey-bee gene pool in the U.S. Since 1922, when the U.S. government banned live imports of honeybees to help curb the spread of a destructive tracheal mite attacking hives in Europe, American bee colonies have remained largely isolated. Periodic die-offs, including the recent CCD, have further bottlenecked the gene pool. Since European settlers introduced honeybees to the New World, only a handful of the world’s 28 subspecies have dominated the North American landscape. Germplasm imports, however, can introduce a jolt of genetic variety into American honey-bee stock.

And while there is a growing interest in beekeeping, a lack of experienced keepers is its own problem. In New Mexico, there aren’t enough producers to meet the blossoming demand of backyard beekeepers. That becomes a problem when aspiring beekeepers find a cheap source online and ship in bees knowing nothing about their history or health, says Kirby. “We do need more beekeepers, but we need more conscientious ones, and not all in one place,” says Kirby.

Unfortunately, there are more interested hobbyists than experts able to provide adequate training. “You have a lot of new beekeepers on the hobby level, and they are getting this advice to not treat [for varroa] and see what survives,” says Cobey. Varroa is very difficult to detect before it’s too late and once a hive becomes infected, the mite can quickly spread to other hives in the region.

Despite the many complications and potential pitfalls, infusing the landscape with survivor hives can help with overall resiliency. And, Kirby says, an increasing demand for survivor stock will encourage large-scale producers to supply it. “It does indeed take a community to raise bees.”

Winter on the Farm: 5 Farmers Discuss Their Plans

Source: modernfarmer.com ~ Author: Monica Johnson

Ever wonder what a farmer does during the wintertime? Think they use this time to catch up on sleep and binge-watch Netflix? We asked five farmers, located in different regions of the U.S., their winter plans — as well as their favorite wintertime dish, travel itineraries and what’s inspiring about the coldest season. You might be surprised at their answers.


Eliot Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, own and operate Four Season Farm, in Maine. Their farm is nationally recognized as an example of successful small-scale sustainable agriculture. Between the two of them they have written numerous books about gardening and farming.

The busiest season at Four Season Farm is during the wintertime. They raise crops all year, but only sell them from September to May. This is obviously different than most Northeast farms, which slow down in the winter and sell crops during the warmer months. It’s achieved through a mix of year-round greenhouse crops — lettuce, spinach, leeks, chard — and easily stored root veggies, grown outside in the summer. “This schedule allows us to concentrate on supplying eager customers during a season that has heretofore been ignored,” Coleman points out.

Jere-Gettle-Baker-Creek-Heirloom-Seed-Company-Mansfield-Missouri-with-Emilee-and-daughter-SashaJere Gettle is founder of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, in Mansfield Missouri. They have the largest selection of rare and heirloom seeds in the U.S.A. Along with his wife, Emilee, and their two children; they also host festivals, publish catalogues and magazines and have written many books.

During the wintertime, Baker Creek is busy fulfilling seed orders for gardeners and farmers worldwide, as well as amending their garden beds and tending to winter crops. For them, farming is year-round, but Gettle admits winter is his least favorite season. “I am always ready for spring. It can never come quite soon enough, unless I’m in the tropics. I just see winter as the murder of my gardens,” he declares.

Gettle and his family travel during the majority of winter, but it’s not just a way to escape from the cold; he seeks out new fruits and vegetables to add to Baker Creek’s seed collection.

Favorite wintertime dish: “I love growing kale; it is super easy and has delicious leaves available through most of the winter, and then first thing in early spring,” says Gettle.

But, they still have time to enjoy the cooler months. “We are working during the winter, but we also read novels, cook great meals and drink a lot of wine,” says Coleman. They also squeeze in cross-country skiing and the occasional game of ice hockey with their neighbors.

Favorite wintertime quote: “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” -John Steinbeck

annieAnnie Novak is manager of the Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Garden, founder/director of Growing Chefs and co-founder/farmer at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. She is currently writing her first book.

Annie Novak used to travel during the wintertime. “I would escape the winter season in New York and go to strange and beautiful places in the Southern Hemisphere. I would continue farming strange and beautiful places with ancient corn, highland coca, lowland cocoa. I would return when the frost had securely cleared,” says Novak.

This year, she has reduced her time away because she is just too busy. “The emails keep coming, the rabbits need be fed, the re-establishment of our year-long interns; winter never feels long anymore!” she exclaims.

Favorite winter crop to grow: Carrots. “They are the best reason to go outside in January,” says Novak.

hannahHannah Koski is the director at the WE Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College, a student-run organic farm located on a converted football field.

Hannah Koski seeks balance during the wintertime between farm work and personal endeavors. “We could really grow year-round, but we take about a month and a half off in the winter,” says Koski. Even during this “time off”, she is busy planning for the upcoming season, raising pea shoots in their aquaponic system and hosting public school groups for hands-on tours.

Koski shares, “For a farmer, I think wintertime teaches the value of every passing hour, of how to be present and mindful, which can be lost during the hustle and bustle of the growing season.” With that in mind, she plans on learning to play the guitar, traveling to Costa Rica with family and taking a few road trips with her puppy.

Favorite wintertime quote: “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” – William Blake

ryancaseyRyan Casey owns and operates Blue House Farm, a certified organic farm in Pescadero, California.

Blue House Farm grows year-round. “Although the winter brings shorter days, muddier conditions, and more frequent long-weekends, it still produces an abundance of vegetables,” says Casey. But he does spend more time in the office in the wintertime. “In addition to the usual boring indoor stuff like paying bills and doing the payroll, I get to work on fun things such as planting schedules and ordering seeds. This is also the time to tune up the tractors, trucks and equipment,” says Casey.

A self-proclaimed workaholic, Casey does try to make time for a vacation. “I’ll probably go somewhere warm where I can sit on a beach and practice my Spanish,” he says.

Favorite wintertime dish: Roasted Brussels sprouts. “The frosty nights make them really sweet. I add bacon. Everything is better with bacon,” says Casey.

Farm & Ranch Guide Talks Up Low Cost Solar Energy

solar panels

Source: cleantechnica.com ~ Author: 

When Farm & Ranch Guide starts tooting the low cost solar energy horn to its targeted readership of — you guessed it, farmers and ranchers — that should be a pretty clear indication that the war over renewable energy in the US is all but over. The bi-weekly publication just spilled a load of ink explaining the benefits of low cost solar energy to agricultural operations in an article with the lede, “It’s time to consider solar power again.”

The decision to make a hard pitch for distributed solar is especially interesting because Farm & Ranch Guide, which describes itself as the “best-read ag publication in the Upper Midwest,” distributes primarily to the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana. These are not exactly prime solar spots, so what gives?

Farm & Ranch And The Writing On The Wall

Farm & Ranch Guide makes it clear that the bottom line is what gives. The article, “Solar moves beyond early adopters in upper Midwest,” sticks strictly to the business side.

After briefly acknowledging that low cost solar energy was pretty much of a pipe dream until recent years, FRG gets into the meat of the matter:

Consumers can now purchase solar energy systems for as low as $1 per watt, with added installation costs.

The federal government provides a 30 percent tax credit and some utilities and states provide other incentives for approved solar projects.

As for those who are skeptical about the ability of low cost solar to deliver in the upper Midwest environment, FRG writer and assistant editor Andrea Johnson covers all the bases.

Citing sources at the Minnesota’s public-private Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS) initiative, Johnson describes how FRG’s readership in the Upper Midwest can follow the model of solar powerhouse Germany, which is a global leader in low cost solar energy even though it is located even farther north than the Dakotas, Montana, and parts  of Minnesota.

Plenty of open space and large barns for either ground mounted or rooftop solar are among the advantages.

To help move things along in Minnesota, CERTS has developed the Minnesota Solar Suitability App, which provides potential solar consumers with an instant site assessment down to the square meter.

The True Cost of Low Cost Solar Energy

Did you catch FRG dropping the s-word, as in subsidies? While the Koch brothers and other fossil stakeholders have been blowing a lot of smoke to the effect that “taxpayers are tired of being asked to indefinitely fund corporate welfare for the Obama Administration’s favored industries,” the FRG readership has taxpayer support written into its DNA. Supporting a critical industry, whether it’s agriculture or energy, is what taxpayers do in a developed country.

There’s always the denial factor, but it’s hard to see how FRG readers would let a little subsidy here and there get in the way of a reasonable bottom line decision.

With that in mind, check out FRG’s example of a Minnesota dairy farm that recently installed a 39,840-watt solar array. The initial cost of $4.62 per watt went sailing southwards after this: “a $2.25 per watt rebate, a 30 percent federal tax credit and accelerated bonus depreciation.”

Before we leave the subject of subsidies behind, let’s note that Johnson also included a pitch for REAP, the federal Rural Energy for America Program that funds renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Now consider that FRG is just one part of Lee Agri-Media, a subsidiary of the leading US publishing group Lee Enterprises (300 specialty publications covering 22 states), and you have a pretty good counterbalance for the anti-renewable noise machine.

Speaking Of Subsidies

Actually no, we’re not quite done with subsidies yet. There’s another aspect of solar energy and agriculture that doesn’t appear to make much bottom line sense for the chilly upper Midwest, at least not at first glance.

That would be greenhouse farming, which can require substantial energy input in cold climates. Those bottom line obstacles could be partly offset by low cost solar energy and other renewables, and we’re especially interested in the potential for integrating solar energy harvesting technology into the greenhouse itself.

Energy-generating greenhouses are already a thing and the cold-climate greenhouse movement has been growing in the upper Midwest with an assist from the University of Minnesota, which is also the academic partner for CERTS. We’re guessing that the emerging crop of translucent and transparent solar panels could have a hand in the future development of this sector.

If cold-climate, energy generating greenhouses do succeed, all you taxpayers out there can give yourselves a nice pat on the back. The Energy Department has been supporting see-through solar panel R&D with private sector partners, one example being the company New Energy Technologies.

NET has been nailing down low cost, high efficiency technology for replacing windows and glass structural elements with see-through solar panels and it just issued a report on thetechnical milestones it achieved in 2014, so stay tuned.

Rent or Buy? The Beginning Farmer’s Rock and Hard Place

ca agriculture landSource: modernfarmer.com ~ Author: Andrew Jenner

Whether they’re diving into 1,200 acres of corn or a few raised beds of farmers market veggies, beginning farmers need land. Getting it, though, is often easier said than done, and is consistently ranked as one of the biggest barriers to entry into farming.

As with housing, there are basically two ways that farmers get a patch of dirt to call their own: buying or renting. There are advantages to both, but each option also has major drawbacks and challenges that can make it tough for new farmers to get ahead.

Every situation is different, and the happy fact remains that many new farmers have solved this land riddle for themselves. That said, below is an overview of the considerations aspiring farmers have to juggle as they’re getting into the business.

This one’s pretty easy: the best thing about renting is that it’s far more affordable than buying (more on this below). It’s so much more affordable – perhaps “so much less unaffordable” would be a better way to put it – that for many beginning farmers it’s essentially the only option. So from the perspective of an eager farmer-to-be, we’ll consider this a pro.

Renting: Con

The most prevalent farmland leases offer relatively short terms of just a few years. That’s a con for a number of reasons, particularly in that it doesn’t provide the long-term security farmers need to invest in the land. Who’s going to build a barn, or a high tunnel or a bunch of raised beds on a farm they may not even have access to next year?

“This is a challenge, especially if you’re going onto a piece of land that needs a lot of soil amendment or things like that,” says Annie Heuscher, program manager for the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition of Missoula, which runs a land-link program for farmers in western Montana.

Comparing the landlord-tenant relationship to dating, Heuscher says it makes sense that landowners usually aren’t ready to jump into a 10-year lease as soon as they meet a tenant farmer. There are all sorts of compatibility questions (Where should the compost pile go? Do we work well together? etc. etc.) that need to be worked out, and short-term leasing is the best way for everyone to test the waters.

Nevertheless, many working on land-access issues have begun encouraging landowners to become more open to the kinds of long-term leases that enable new farmers to get a start.

“We’re trying to shift the conversation,” says Karen Stettler, with the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings Program. “How do we … help people be successful in long-term conservation leases?”

In some markets, Stettler continues, even rental rates have begun to strain the beginning farmer’s budget. That’s prompted some of the conversations about landlords to focus on values: What is lost when a landowner chases market rates that make it harder for the next generation of farmers to start up?

Owning: Pro

A farmer that owns a significant part of his or her farm sidesteps the long-term land security drawback of leasing. Build that barn! Improve that soil! The whole equity-building aspect of land ownership is also a plus. Owning your farm is great – if you’re able to own.

Owning: Con

That “if you’re able to own” thing is a pretty huge if for a beginning farmer. Unless this beginning farmer is coming to the table with an unusually large down payment or has access to an impressive second income, he or she isn’t going to be in position to buy land. It’s just too expensive.

“There’s very few startup farming operations, whether you’re a CSA or a dairy, that can withstand a mortgage payment on real estate right from the start,” says Tom Stanley, a farm business management extension agent in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

For some farmers he’s helped to acquire land, Stanley says, it’s taken more than two decades to build enough equity to even consider buying a fraction of their total land base (farmers in high-value sectors like fruits and vegetables may develop secure financial footing more quickly, he points out).

Out in Montana, Heuscher agrees. Stettler, who works in the Upper Midwest, does too. On top of the land’s price tag, getting financing can be a trick. Beginning farmers, by the very definition of the term, aren’t going to have an established track record of making money at farming – something a lender is going to generally want to see.

Notice how the “cons” are a lot longer than the “pros”? That’s a reflection of the land conundrum facing new farmers. Buying usually just isn’t in the cards at the start. Renting presents its fair share of difficulties – but there’s really not much of a way around it.

“That’s part of the huge risk that a beginning farmer has to take,” says Stanley.

The food vs. fuel debate: Growing biofuel in the U.S.

Studies suggest biofuel can be grown on 'marginal land,' but no standard definition of 'marginal land' exists.

Studies suggest biofuel can be grown on ‘marginal land,’ but no standard definition of ‘marginal land’ exists.

Source: ucanr.edu ~ Author: Jeannette E. Warnert

In order to slow global climate change and achieve greater energy independence, Americans are showing an increasing interest in switching over to clean, renewable fuels made from home-grown crops. In fact, Congress has mandated that at least 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol be added to the U.S. fuel supply by 2022.

However, estimates suggest that growing crops to produce that much biofuel would require 40 to 50 million acres of land, an area roughly equivalent in size to the entire state of Nebraska.

“If we convert cropland that now produces food into fuel production, what will that do to our food supply?” asks Maggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and the director of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide IGIS Program. “If we begin growing fuel crops on land that isn’t currently in agriculture, will that come at the expense of wildlife habitat and open space, clean water and scenic views?”

Kelly and UC Berkeley graduate student Sarah Lewis are conducting research to better understand land-use options for growing biofuel feed stock. They used a literature search, in which the results of multiple projects conducted around the world are reviewed, aggregated and compared.

“When food vs. fuel land questions are raised in the literature, authors often suggest fuel crops be planted on ‘marginal land,’” Kelly said. “But what does that actually mean? Delving into the literature, we found there was no standard definition of ‘marginal land.’”

Kelly and Lewis’ literature review focused on projects that used geospatial technology to explicitly map marginal, abandoned or degraded lands specifically for the purpose of planting bioenergy crops. They narrowed their search to 21 papers from 2008 to 2013, and among them they found no common working definition of marginal land.

“We have to be careful when we talk about what is marginal. We have to be explicit about our definitions, mapping and modeling,” Kelly said. “In our lab, we are trying to understand the landscape under multiple lenses and prioritize different uses and determine how management regimes impact the land.”

If you are in the market to buy or sell agriculture property in Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M Agriculture is look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Agriculture Realtors will do their best to make sure that both sides are protected during the transaction and we will our Realtors will not sell you a haunted farm.


How Turkeys Got Broad, White Breasts

turkeyThis Thanksgiving Day, some 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey. Each year, magazines and cooking blogs offer up the newest tips on how to prepare a turkey so the white meat of the breasts stays moist, while the dark meat of the legs and thighs gets fully cooked. Workarounds include brining, salting, flipping the bird upside-down, spatchcocking, deep-frying and butchering the bird into pieces so you can cook the white and dark meat separately.

How did we get to the point that enjoying a decent turkey dinner requires secret hacks?

We can thank the steady march of technology and innovation in the 20th century, which led to the development of the Broad Breasted Whites. Efficiency is the raison d’etre of this breed, which now dominates the market. The birds were bred specifically to produce maximum meat at minimum cost. Because of the bulk of their hefty breasts, they notoriously cannot mate naturally; the hens must be artificially inseminated.

But in early America, turkey farming was a small-scale affair. Popular breeds included Bourbon Red, Narraganset, White Holland and others. They actively foraged for most of their food, and did not gain weight rapidly because they burned calories looking for lunch. Most farmers raised a few birds for their families, perhaps a few more to sell to neighbors or markets.

Improvements in transportation and freezing technology enabled a cottage industry to become a modern industry. In the early 1900s, farmers cannily shifted from charging a flat fee per bird to a per-pound model, and this made raising plumper birds more lucrative. With refrigerated railroad cars hauling frozen turkeys, the range of distribution expanded vastly. It took money to make these things happen, giving larger operations with more capital an advantage.

Turkey breeding enthusiasts, who showed their best birds at American Poultry Association events, in part bred turkeys for their colorful plumage. Consumers didn’t care about pretty feathers, though, since they never saw them. As turkey production took off, breeding programs focused instead on packing as much meat as possible onto the bird’s frame. Breeders in the late 1920s began breeding birds that grew rapidly and had large breasts; the nickname for one variety was “Bronze Mae West,” but the industry eventually agreed on calling these new birds Broad Breasted Bronze.

Improvements in transportation and freezing technology enabled a cottage industry to become a modern industry.

One player in this history was my husband’s grandfather, the late Victor Ryckebosch. A strategic thinker and inherent entrepreneur, as a young man Vic noticed that turkeys were a luxury item raised in small production. He seized the idea of breeding fleshier birds, and starting in 1929 kept an incubator in his Santa Monica apartment, where he raised poults (baby turkeys) for six weeks before transferring them to his family’s farm in the high desert of the Antelope Valley, about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

Vic’s business grew considerably. “Broad Breasts in the Land of the Joshua Tree,” reads an article preserved in a family scrapbook that features a photo of turkeys on the ranch resting under the shade of said Joshua trees. Vic eventually spread out the operation and formed a turkey-ranching co-op, eventually working with 300 growers. The birds were sold under the Lancaster Farms brand. A December, 1948 article in the County Chronicle reported, “He farms the birds out to other ranchers in a share basis and provides them with feed. This leaves the Ryckebosch place free for breeding purposes, hatching and the sale and shipment of eggs.” This shift toward vertical integration was happening all over the country, not just at Vic’s farm.

The Broad Breasted Bronze ruled the roost, so to speak, for only about two decades. It gave way to the now-ubiquitous Broad Breasted White, developed in the 1960s. Its paler, cleaner-looking carcass especially appealed to consumers. According to the National Turkey Federation, a hen takes about 14 weeks to get to a post-processing market weight of 17.5 pounds; toms take 18 weeks to reach a market weight of 38 pounds.

Now, more than 99 percent of American breeding stock is tied to a few strains of Broad Breasted White. For chefs and foodies, this is a culinary travesty; Broad Breasted Whites are not known for flavor. But as pointed out in”The Turkey: An American Story,” by culinary historian Andrew F. Smith, “Americans consistently choose lower prices and greater quantity in their food. That the modern turkey has less flavor than its forbearers seems to be of little interest, for consumers usually add flavoring and condiments.” That is, we like our turkey to be a blank vehicle for spice rubs, gravy and cranberry sauce.

For chefs and foodies, this is a culinary travesty; Broad Breasted Whites are not known for flavor.

Taste aside, the dominance of the Broad Breasted White is troubling with regards to genetic diversity. The Livestock Conservancy says that of the 10 species of domestic farm animals that are the focus of their work, “none is more genetically eroded than the turkey.” Genetic diversity makes it easier for breeders to adapt animals for new environments, and it also helps with maintaining strong immune systems, fertility rates and longevity. The one breed we now overwhelmingly rely on is prone to sickness and can’t reproduce without human intervention.

All of the family scrapbook articles about Vic, which range from the 1940s to the 1960s, blithely focus on progress. They relish details about increased production and profits, the American Dream manifesting right there on those yellowed pages of newsprint. It’s been years, however, since a Lancaster Farms turkey graced tables on Thanksgiving Day. The sizable business Vic started went under in the 1990s, unable to compete with the even larger corporations that eclipsed it.

It’s not uncommon now for grocery stores to offer free frozen turkeys around Thanksgiving with transactions above $100 or so. We consumers think of turkeys not as farm animals, but just another mass-produced item on a shopping list. While there’s a small movement of farmers and cooks working to bring back heritage turkeys, the bland, broad-breasted gobbler most of us have grown up knowing will remain our generation’s touchstone. Now, can you please pass the gravy?

Of Course You Want Vegetables From Overstock.com

Of Course You Want Vegetables From Overstock.comSource: modernfarmer.com ~ Author: Meaghan Agnew

Overstock.com: your go-to resource for first-apartment couches, affordable LCDs, and …. organic vegetables and locally raised grass-fed beef?

The online retailer has just launched its own Farmers Market, an ambitious, large-scale effort to bring the CSA model to the discount-armchair masses.

CEO Patrick Byrne explains that his original inspiration harkens back to his own childhood, spent on a New England farm: “I was never so happy as the time I spent on a farm in Vermont.”

But nostalgia quickly gives way to sickle-sharp business acumen as he walks through the disintegration of the country’s foodways. “Everything is supply chain theory,” he says. After World War II, “The rise of the corporate agri-business supply chain … made it uneconomical to be an old-fashioned farmer. You had to be a cog in the machine.”

The result, per the CEO: “I think the food Americans eat is disgusting. We’re so unhealthy because we’re eating this industrial food-like substance.” (Byrne is not a “Modern Farmer” reader, but at this point we enthusiastically invite him into our fold.)

A couple of years back, Byrne, himself now a vegan, learned more about the CSA model from the niece of a rancher. After doing his own research, he had the proverbial “wow” moment: why not integrate the CSA model into the Overstock.com platform?

“A lot of the CSAs don’t have good technology,” he explains. “We’ve kind of supercharged [the CSA model] with our technology and our marketing efforts.”

“I think the food Americans eat is disgusting. We’re so unhealthy because we’re eating this industrial food-like substance.”

The company acquired a list of some 1800 CSAs from the Department of Agriculture and began cold-calling,supplementing its outreach with articles and advertisements in industry publications. Ahead of last month’s launch, more than a dozen farms were officially signed up, with about four dozen more shortly on the way. Cities now served include San Francisco, Austin, Richmond, and Atlanta; Byrne’s ambitious timeline has 50 to 70 percent of the country’s zip codes eligible to participate by the end of the year, and “99 percent” by next March.

Is it truly a win-win? Well, farmers pay nothing to participate in the model, though they must have the ability to deliver their produce directly to the buyer; Overstock.com also handles the customer service end of things, which can be a welcome relief to small-staff outfits.  Consumers, meantime, get to waive any signup fee, and all O Club members — the frequent-buyer set — also receive a 5 percent cash back reward.

The only drawback thus far seems to be one born of success, with some farmers running out of shares well ahead of weekly signups. Byrne calls this a “high-quality problem. It’ll just take time to scale up to demand.”

Those customers not currently in zip code range can make due with a select number of non-local sustainable farm offerings, including grass-fed and -finished beef, raw honey, and organic fruit conserves. The new site also includes self-written farmer profiles as well as recipes inspired by the seasonal haul. Said recipes skew simple (schnitzel, mac and cheese), but that might be the point.

“What we’re trying to do is introduce our customers to this other style of eating,” Byrne says.

So at this point you’re saying … Overstock.com? But consider that Byrne is a Warren Buffett mentee, a Wall Street vilifier, and an educational and international development philanthropist. In 2001 Overstock.com launched the fair-trade artisan site Worldstock, and earlier this year, the site unveiled a pet adoption section that lets you daydream-adopt by distance, animal type, and breed. (We currently have our eye on a 5-month-old hound mix named Katniss Everdeen located just 3.6 miles away.) And Byrne is hardly one to shy away from large-scale transformation. Just consider his long-term vision for the new venture.

“If this works, we can disrupt that corporate agri-business supply chain.”

Farmers interested in joining the program can email the company at farmersmarket@overstock.com.


Mobile Cider Mill Is A Game Changer For Orchards

mobile cidermill

Source: modernfarmer.com ~ Author: Erica Scime

In the small town of Clarington, Ontario, two apple-farming brothers, Garry and Gord Geissberger, are hauling the old fashioned, time honored tradition of apple cider pressing into the modern world on the bed of a tractor trailer.

Their “mobile apple cider mill” is stationed on a 20-foot trailer, powered by a 24-kilowatt, three-phase diesel generator, stacked with stainless steel equipment with folding walls. The press is one of four in Canada and the first of its kind in Ontario.

The mobile apple cider mill came to be a couple years ago when the Geissberger brothers began looking to upgrade their pressing equipment. They contacted a fruit processing equipment manufacturer in Germany and were put in touch with the Canadian distributor, Frank Dieter.

“We got in touch with Frank and he says, ‘I have got something you need to take a look at,’” Garry says.

When Dieter, a fruit liqueurs distiller, moved from Germany to British Columbia he was surprised at the amount of apples, pears and cherries that were being wasted each season. He came up with the idea of a portable cider-making unit and fifteen years later, the first mobile mill was built. Since then, Dieter has built and sold four of the machines.

Local orchards have been bringing their apples to the Geissberger farm for more than 40 years. But the orchards could only transport so many bushels of apples and it meant a lot of driving. Many orchards have never been able to produce apple cider because the cost of transportation and refrigeration is too high. But the mobile cider mill changes all that.

The orchards could only transport so many bushels of apples and it meant a lot of driving.

“With the trailer, we thought, ‘This would sure help the orchards out and it would help us out,” says Garry. “We could just pull into their yard, set it up and pretty much press the season’s worth for them.”

The mill is made up of three main pieces of equipment and there are five steps in the process: washing, shredding, pressing, pasteurizing and packaging.

First the apples are sorted and cleaned using a high-pressure washer. The apples are then tossed into a shredder, which grates the apples into a mash. The apple mash then falls into a hopper and is pumped through a tube that runs along the floor.

When one of the Geissberger brothers is ready to press the mash, he steps on a pedal and the mash is pumped out of the tube and onto a large rack and cloth press. Once he has seven layers of mash and cloth, he uses a hydraulic pump lever to press the juice from the apples.

Although the cloth filters out most of the pulp, the juice then passes through a screen, to strain out any debris. From here, the cider travels through another tube and into a holding tank before being pasteurized.

Then the juice is packaged — though not in the traditional, charming cider jug. Instead, the Geissbergers use the kind of bag-in-box packaging that many wineries have turned to. The cider is stored in a 5-liter, vacuum-sealed plastic bag, with a spout for pouring and each bag is placed in a cardboard box.

Because the cider is vacuum sealed and doesn’t come in contact with the air, it can be stored for one year and lasts three months after you take your first sip — no refrigeration or preservatives needed.

With both of the Geissberger brothers manning the machine and one other person tossing in apples, the mill can process up to 40 bushels of apples and produce 132 gallons of cider each hour.

“Mind you, you’re hustling,” Garry says. “You’re not looking around at the scenery or nothing.”

The orchards can then sell the cider to friends, family and neighbors and at farmers’ markets, farm stores and roadside stands. The mobile mill has not only turned into a more efficient business model for the Geissberger brothers, but it has also created additional revenue for the apple orchards.

This year, the Geissbergers have taken their mobile apple cider mill to nearly 20 farms throughout southern Ontario.

“It sure has taken us around the countryside,” Garry says.

The Geissbergers are finishing up the apple cider season but will press their own cider year round. A little cold won’t will deter these apple farmers.

“Last year, the coldest we worked in was five above freezing and it sure was cold. You could just see the diesel fuel going through the pasteurizer — like pull the tanker truck in and just hook it up! Yeah, it was snowing that day,” Garry says, laughing. “It was nice.”

If you are in the market to buy or sell agriculture property in Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M Agriculture is look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Agriculture Realtors will do their best to make sure that both sides are protected during the transaction and we will our Realtors will not sell you a haunted farm.

The World’s Most Haunted Farms

Source: ModernFarmer.com ~ By

hauntedfarms_heroThere’s no denying it: farms can be creepy.

Desolate fields, creaking barns, terrifying scarecrows — as anyone who has ever seen “Children of the Corn” can attest, even the most wholesome crops can take on a sinister pallor. But is it all in our heads? The stories behind these haunted farms make us wonder.

The Old Arnold Estate (Harrisville, Rhode Island)

“Leave the lights on at night,” was the advice the Perron family got when they moved into the old farmhouse in the winter of 1970. It didn’t take the family long to understand why. Eight generations of families have lived and died in the house and few seemed to have moved on, leaving the place packed with spirits, as recounted in the 2013 movie “The Conjuring,” which is based on tales from the farm.

According to town records, three people committed suicide at the house: two hung themselves and one chose poison. There were also two people drowned and four frozen to death; to round out the horror, an 11-year-old girl was raped and murdered by a farmhand. Ever since, bone-chilling incidents have plagued the house, described by Andrea Perron in her account of the haunting, House of Darkness House of Light.

The farm’s most dreadful ghost is Bathsheba Sherman, a rumored Satanist who hung herself from a tree behind the barn in the early 19th century. Andrea’s mother told a reporter from the Providence Journal in 1977 that she once woke up to find the head of an old woman shouting, “Get out! Get out! I’ll drive you out with death and gloom.” Attacks from Bathsheba got more intense. One of the Perron girls once found her leg bleeding from a large puncture and was allegedly possessed by the spirit. Her parents asked psychic investigators for help; they ended up moving to Georgia in 1980.

The family asked a priest to perform an exorcism more than once. It helped, but only for a short while.

The Dandy House (Hinsdale, New York)

On the day that James Link and his family moved into this picturesque farmhouse, a neighbor drove up to them, yelling, “What are you doing here? You can’t move in here!” That was Link’s first inkling of the terrifying events that transpired at the farm from 1970-1974, when the Dandy family was in residence.

The Dandys had witnessed a series of inexplicable events, from hearing strange chants to seeing chimney bricks removed by invisible hands to feeling burns on their bodies. They also spotted a male spirit in a plaid shirt and blue jeans holding a rifle at the end of the bed.

The family asked a priest to perform an exorcism more than once. It helped, but only for a short while. After the Dandys moved to the West Coast, the house passed through the hands of several owners, all of whom experienced these paranormal activities. Today, the Dandy House is still a destination for ghost seekers.

Elvey Farm (Kent, U.K.)

Located in the village of Pluckley, which was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998 as the most haunted village in England, Elvey Farm was built in 1406 and has been home to spirits ever since. Some of the spooky sounds visitors report hearing — such as mysterious footsteps and creaking floorboards — could be the work highwayman Robert Du Bois, who preyed on local villagers centuries ago until he was stabbed for his crimes. But the farm’s signature spooky happening, a voice saying “I will do it,” is none other than the ghost of Edward Brett.

Brett, who owned the farm in 1900, one day whispered those four words, walked to the old dairy barn and shot himself. His ghost apparently never left the estate. Now a boutique guesthouse, the current owners and their guests still report hearing his voice.

Monte Cristo Homestead (New South Wales, Australia)

The legend of Australia’s most haunted place began when Christopher Crawley and his wife Elizabeth built the old homestead in 1876. The family seemed to be doing well on their farm until a maid who was holding their little girl dropped the child down a flight of stairs, killing her. The maid claimed an unseen force pushed the girl out of her hands. After the death of her husband, Elizabeth left the house only twice until her death in 1933; it’s said that after that, she never left at all.

Young children suddenly feel agitated when they near the stairs, and some people feel the presence of Elizabeth’s ghost and have heard her ordering them to get out of the dining room. Visitors also report the sound of footsteps on wooden floor, despite the fact that the entire house is now carpeted.

The Ryans, current owners of the property, describe living in the house as living with another family, just one that they can’t see. At least, most of the time.

The Myrtles Plantation (St.Francisville, Lousiana)

Built in late 18th century, the rumor is that 10 people were murdered on this 600-acre land.

While only one murder is confirmed, there are plenty of spirit sightings in the house, with more than one way to let humans know they’re there. A grand piano on the first floor sometimes plays by itself, and the ghost of a curly-haired young girl wearing an ankle-length dress has been sighted floating around the house. Some people have seen children playing together.

The house was used as a location for the 1985 TV movie “The Long Hot Summer.” During filming, the crew rearranged the furniture in the game room and the dining room and left. When they came back, everything was moved back to its original place. Creepy.

The torments quickly escalated from scary sounds to physical abuse.

John Bell Farm (Adams, Tennessee)

When John Bell and his family began hearing knocking sounds on the doors and the walls and the sounds of chains being dragged around the house, they blamed their neighbor Kate Batts, who they suspected of being a witch. The torments quickly escalated from scary sounds to physical abuse: The youngest daughter, Betsy, was pinched, scratched and beaten, while John sometimes felt a stick being stuck in his throat. When John died in December 1820, neighbors believed that Batts was responsible.

Two hundred years later, visitors to the farm claim that they heard sounds of people talking when no one’s around, and mist and orbs of light sometimes mysteriously appear in pictures taken there.

Loretta Lynn’s Plantation House

The country singer Loretta Lynn bought this plantation in 1966, the same year her song “Dear Uncle Sam” ruled the radio. The mansion was built by businessman James Anderson in 1876, despite the rumor that 19 soldiers were murdered and buried there in 1863. That hasn’t been confirmed, but it seems to fit with the Lynn family’s experience.

One night, Loretta’s son Jack encountered the spirit of a Civil War soldier trying to take off his boots; another son, Ernest, saw two soldiers standing at the foot of his bed. Her twin daughters also spotted a woman dressing in white, as did Loretta herself, who came upon her sobbing on the balcony. The mysterious woman vanished when Loretta walked toward her. It’s rumored Loretta held séances in the house to try to communicate with the spirits.

The family moved out from the mansion in 1984 after Jack drowned. The singer later opened the estate to visitors but required that nothing be touched or moved in the house. The spirit of the first owner seems to agree with her: Once, a tour guide accidentally touched an object and was shoved down the stairs by an invisible force.

If you are in the market to buy or sell agriculture property in Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M Agriculture is look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Agriculture Realtors will do their best to make sure that both sides are protected during the transaction and we will our Realtors will not sell you a haunted farm.


California walnut crop exceptional, high quality

Source: westernfarmpress.com

walnutCalifornia walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial U.S. supply and 78 percent of world supply.

The USDA NASS California Field Office recently released annual crop estimate for walnuts predicts this year’s crop will 485,000 tons.  This is slightly lower than last year’s record breaking crop of 503,000 short tons, yet the second largest crop on record if realized.

According to California Walnut Commission Chairperson Charles Crain, “We are delighted not only with the crop size but also with the high quality kernels we are expecting thanks to the mild spring and summer weather.  This excellent crop will help us continue to meet the growing consumer demand for nutritious walnuts both domestically and around the world.”

California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial U.S. supply and 78 percent of world supply.  In the past year, approximately 40 percent of available product was shipped domestically and 60 percent was shipped to export markets, making California walnuts the fifth largest California export.  Since 2002, domestic shipments have increased 24 percent.

“People have made eating walnuts a part of their daily routine because they are convenient, taste good and offer proven health benefits,” explained Dennis A. Balint, executive director of the California Walnut Board.

If you are in the market to buy or sell agriculture property in Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M Agriculture is look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Agriculture Realtors will do their best to make sure that both sides are protected during the transaction.