JOURNAL - FARMING IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC

JOURNAL - FARMING IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC - MICHAEL'S MUSINGS

FARMING DURING A PANDMEMIC

JOURNAL #17 SHMUTZ AND DREK

Michael Tabor – Licking Creek Bend Farm

1/24/21  

After a recent local shopping experience at Lidl, that just moved into our community, I had to do penance late in the day and go to Goldberg’s Bagel for a hit of a real everything bagel.  (The Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Co-op’s supply of their bagels were already gone).  

If you grew up in working class New York, the food shopping experience was part of your daily life - the corner Mom and Pop store with sawdust on the floor rather than Safeway or Gristede’s.  And, “hondling” was always part of the experience. 

The idea was to buy at the lowest possible price.   So, a few years ago, when Aldi’s opened in this area, I had to check it out.  Owned by the same corporation that operates Trader Joe’s, it featured cheap food, plus, for a little more money, organic products (not locally grown).  

But now, as a person whose been a farmer for 48 years, I look at things differently.   Are the food handlers paid a decent, livable wage?  Do the ingredients include noxious additives?  Does the product have a good reputation? (To this day, we don’t buy Nestle’s products that infiltrated poor hospitals in this country and in developing countries, pretending to be maternity nurses, forcing their formula on the unsuspecting new mothers by giving them a small free supply, causing their milk to dry up, use contaminated water, and causing malnutrition trying to stretch the very expensive formula) or Purdue products whose treatment of their farmers and workers is inhumane).  

Buying cheap food is tempting.  However, for limited income families, there is a rationalization that can be made for buying them.  But, as best as possible, we have to keep thinking about our core values – integrity, paying employees a living wage and justice - and demand ways to deliver affordable food with those core values in mind.  

So, when I went to Lidl, the newest grocery store that replaced Shoppers Food Warehouse located on New Hampshire Ave, in Langley Park, MD, I was more than curious.  Some feared it might hurt business at our beloved nearby Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Co-op.   My experience was a bit on the surreal side.  Their formula seems to be good lighting, wide aisles, plenty of staff.  There was a surprising amount of labelled organic products from other countries and not local, lots of frozen and processed food.  And candy, lots of cheap and unhealthy “Little Debbie” and Peanut Buddie wafer-type snacks.  

Out of curiosity, I bought a bag of Lidl bagels for $1.29. To many, Lenders are considered by a lot of consumers as what a bagel tastes like outside of NYC.  Or here, where Posin’s bagels were the standard.  The Lidl bagels were, “shmutz”!  I found, no matter how you dress them (mushrooms, Swiss and Boursin cheese), they are still “drek” quality white bread shaped like a bagel.   The inexpensive organic vegetarian pizza, imported from Italy, with eggplant, squash, broccoli was barely passable.  

But it was the frozen eggrolls that forced me to flee to Wikipedia to read up on Lidl.  We found a bone splinter in the eggroll.  I immediately called customer service and a very nice sounding person listened attentively to my concern and promised to get back to me.  While they got back to me a week later, they said they needed a picture and receipt to their “quality control” dept and wanted to send me a coupon for the store and would send me an email with what they needed.  I will press them to follow up with me about what happens at quality control to see what they will do about it, but wonder if they send the coupon in the hopes the customer then drop the issue.  Almost a week later, the only email I received is “will you rate your service with us”.   The cheap clothes, hardware, luggage, wheel covers all added to the surreal-ness of the experience.  

I encourage everyone contemplating shopping at Lidl to first read through the very long critical sections, “Working conditions and labor rights” and “Suppliers” in Wikipedia.   Some sample entries:  

·  In 2020, Lidl was fined one million euros by the Italian Competition Authority because Lidl had been misleading consumers about the origin of Italiamo and Combino pasta.[46]

·  In 2018, it was reported that Lidl imports raw sausage from Poland into Germany. Pig farmers in Germany have been worried that African swine fever will spread to Germany.[47]

·  In 2017, Lidl was involved in controversy over eggs contaminated with insecticide fipronil.[48]

·  In 2016, poisonous xylene was discovered in a gravy sold by Lidl UK.[49] After being notified of the product error, Lidl waited for more than two weeks before recalling the toxic product.

·  In 2008, German newspaper Stern uncovered Lidl spying on its staff, including registration of employees' toilet visits as well as personal details regarding employees' love lives, personal finances and menstrual cycles.[70] In September of the same year it was fined €1.5 million for the unauthorised surveillance of its employees in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.[71]

·  In 2008, it was reported that Lidl's Czech branches had allowed female employees who were menstruating to use lavatories on condition that they wore conspicuous headbands during their periods.[72]  

My conclusion:  I doubt our beloved Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Co-op will be adversely affected by the proximity of Lidl.  But when you need to shop elsewhere, think of patronizing union-affiliated stores like Giant or Safeway, and check out with a person, not with machines.  As for Whole Foods, remember they’re anti-union, plus their president is a climate change denier and publicly objected to Obamacare.   And whenever possible learn as much as you can about the stores you patronize to support those that aspire to your values.  

FARMING IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC

JOURNAL #16 1/11/21  

National Farm Issues  

The world of agriculture, especially in this challenging time, is not a topic in the forefront of our minds and concerns.  So, I’ll attempt to offer highlights that are and will be of importance as we enter the new year.  

1.  Biden’s choice for Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, who served 8 years under Obama, is not considered the best choice by Progressives because of his coziness with corporate agriculture.  However, many of Biden’s choices are for those with deep familiarity with their agencies and be able to “hit the ground running” to help repair the damage done the last 4 years.  The hope is also that Vilsack will implement climate change and social justice initiatives, Biden’s priorities (but not necessarily mainstream farmers), so it might be a reasonable choice for the moment.  

2.  Out of the recent stimulus bill, farmers and processors get $4.5 billion.  However, there is a lot of “pork” in the packages (of which $1.5 billion is earmarked for limited income people).  

3.  There was a USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that provides $22 billion to farmers, under a Food Box program, to supply Food Banks, families and anti-hunger groups with fresh dairy, meat and produce.  The actual boxes, had to include a letter by Trump crediting himself for the box.  We’ll see how Biden runs this program!   Who was the US’s biggest “trade partners” this year?   Despite tensions between the US and China over Hong Kong, discrimination against its Uighur population, cybersecurity, and the “China” virus, China purchased $33 billion in goods from the US, mostly pork, beef, corn, soybeans and peanuts. Who knew!  

Our farm staff feared drawing attention to their political views with our neighbors   In the past, I’ve not shied away from expressing my views in local media outlets.  This year, after seeing the turnout of neighbors many of whom own AK-47s denouncing BLM demonstrations at a local “peace rally”, the staff asked me not to make written comments in local papers that could draw attention to the farm.  

Many of our farm neighbors are strong Trump supporters and include some of the kind that took over the US Capital this week.  As you probably heard, the PA General Assembly refused to seat the newly elected Democratic elected representatives this week!  And many of them believe the latest conspiracy theory that it was Antifa that infiltrated the US Capital mob attack.    

Food Safety  

We feared the many changes we needed to make this season to keep our staff, market customers and CSA members safe would be overwhelming.  But with the cooperation and support from our staff, market customers and CSA members, the changes went over smoothly. 

At our markets we adhered to strict safety measures including distance, no touching of produce, one customer at a time, self-bagging and of course mandatory masks.  Without the support from the many neighbors and volunteers, we would not have been able to pull it off.  We are so grateful to them because of the extra work that went into setting up the markets and CSA and then the extra time it took with each customer.  It was a collective neighborhood effort.  Many other farmers markets did not follow those safety procedures.  

Our CSA pick ups also developed their own rhythm.  Our friend, Melissa envisioned a system to fill the boxes that was incredibly efficient and made it possible to serve about 80 families in Takoma Park, at each of the two weekly pickups.  Our members were patient and cooperative during pick up.   Our staff was extraordinary this season led by our totally amazing farm manager, Charmaine, without whom there would not be a farm season, and Justin who lives permanently on the farm and also without whom there would not be a farm season. Volunteers included, Julia and Gina (former farm workers), Lenny, Michael T., Gina, Ellen, 2 Kates, Lisa, David, Jim, Rae, Stephanie, and several others.  

Hiring Farm Staff  

Every year at about this time, we start looking for paid farmworkers and interns.  If you know of someone who might be interested, let us know.  Qualifications are flexible but it helps to: 1

.  have a driver’s license and car

2.  be in good shape for hard work

3.  have some knowledge of agriculture/gardening or real interest in learning

4.  be a non-smoker of any kind

5.  have lived independently

6.  be willing to commit to a mutually agreed upon time frame during the season   Staff is hired by the current workers.  To inquire, contact us through email (esiegel2@igc.org).

We ask to include a resume and a short bio and why you would want to work on the farm.  We start in April through November.  

This is an appropriate place to acknowledge the tragic death of Tommy Raskin, the son of our beloved Congressman, Jamie Raskin and Sarah Raskin.  Tommy worked on our farm for a short time and as with all that he did during his short life, was an exceptional worker.  Our hearts ache for the Raskin family and we will be a support to them in any way we can.  Donations in his honor can be made to the newly formed Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for people and animals:       https://cfncr.wufoo.com/forms/tommy-raskin-memorial-fund-for-people-and-animals.  

Farm Chemicals  

Our farm is in Pennsylvania and is chemical-free.  However, if you live in Maryland and are concerned about the presence of farm chemicals in our water and food chain, right now, Maryland legislators are preparing bills to introduce this session.  I’m going to spend the winter working with our MD legislators concerning Atrazine, a herbicide used on corn and soybeans and found in 100% of Maryland’s waterways and linked to breast and uterine cancer.  If you want to join me in this effort, contact me ASAP via email, esiegel2@igc.org.  This is the time to act!  

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)  

The concept of a community supporting the farmer during this time of year when farmers have no income but have to prepare for the coming season, was conceived of in Germany in the 1960’s.  Every CSA is different. Farms in rural areas close to cities can have folks pic up at the farm;  others with lots of land, animals and staff can offer dairy along with fruit and vegetables in a variety of ways – different size weekly boxes, computer-generated selections, home deliveries, etc.  

We are a small, worker-run farm with 5-6 seasonal staff and provide what is ready in the fields each week. Each crop readies at its own pace throughout the season and the crops change with the season. When the crops start to be ready, there is less; and when the crops are in full bloom, there can be a quantity, all of which is shared equally among the CSA members. 

We’re currently involved in ordering about $1,200 worth of organically-grown seeds.  

A CSA doesn’t provide all the food needs for a family for a week.  Families are different sizes and have different eating habits.  What we do provide for $35/week is pesticide-free produce that is harvested the day before pick up.  

If you’re interested in finding out how to learn more about our 2021 CSA season, contact us by email, esiegel2@igc.org. Our pick up sites are in Adams Morgan, Brookland and Takoma Park.  

We hope to be able to invite folks to our farm for our annual Farm Visit Day in the fall which will mean we are past the pandemic!    

Check out our: website:  www.lickingcreekbendfarm.com Instagram:  lickingcreekbendfarm  

Thanks for reading (and acting)      

 

 

LCBF JOURNAL #1

April 1, 2020 Michael Tabor  

NOTES FROM A FARMER IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC  

Licking Creek Bend Farm (LCBF) starts each season with a tour of the farm in Needmore, PA (Fulton County), and pot luck for our customers, CSA members and friends in the WMV area.  This year, it’s become obvious that won’t happen.  Most of our regular farm markets and wholesale outlets are also in question.  We are committed to continuing and enlarging our CSA and the markets allowed.  

In light of all these circumstances, I decided to start this journal as a way to keep in touch with our customers and CSA members and let you know what is happening on the farm.   Part of the purpose of a CSA is to re-establish the connection that once existed between farmers and consumers.  When the CSA system first started, it wasn’t that unusual for families to come and help out on a farm and pick vegetables for themselves, feeling the dirt on their hands and knees in the soil, and being in touch with the cycle of growth in the region.  While we’re hopeful this moratorium is not the new normal, for now, folks will not be traveling to their local farms and participate in the planting and harvesting.  

The good news is that as of April 1, there are no known COVID-19 cases have been reported in our Fulton County, PA.  Nearby counties only have a handful.   Much has changed near my farm since I started farming in 1972. 

We are located in the “panhandle” where Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia meet.  There are hardly any more family small farms that raise dairy, pigs, corn, oats and barley.  The clothing factories like London Fog have closed or left the County, a loss in nearby Hancock, MD of over 400 union-scale waged jobs held largely by women and replaced by a few antique malls in the hopes of attracting tourism.  CAFOs (confined animal farm operations) have tried to move in to the county, one near us was successfully stopped by the community.  

So, as we have done for the last 48 years, on April 1, we start planting long rows of red, white and yellow onion sets – about 100lbs of small bulbs, planted with the root end down and covered by rich compost and straw.  They will grow quickly and be ready for a first markets (this year perhaps in mid-May).   Justin, our year-round indispensable, vastly experienced farm staff, has been working all winter readying thousands of seedlings for early planting, preparing our machinery and keeping the farm in beautiful shape for the coming of this season.  And, Charmaine, our beloved farm manager of 15 years moved back to the farm April 1.   We are gambling, that despite an unusually early spring, we won’t get a surprise dip in the temperature below freezing and destroy the young seedlings.  In the past, with “regular” weather predictions, we have had to wait until mid-May or even early June to plant.  

Farming is amazing exercise and keeps me in shape during the farm season , so during the winter, I am grateful for our local YMCA where I can stay in shape, taking all sorts of classes, so I can be when I return to work where my workday starts and 5:00am – 8 or 9:00pm. The classes that challenge me the most include core-conditioning classes, stationary cycling, Hatha Yoga class run, H.E.A.T. (High Energy Athletic Training), men’s strength training class and “tribal dancing” Zumba class and I get to be one of the few men shaking his hips and trying to keep up with all the women who tolerate my awkward rhythmic presence.  But, with social distancing, the Y is closed and I’m taking walks and riding our stationary bike to keep in shape.  

PREPARING THE FRUIT TREES   My work on the fruit trees doesn’t usually start until mid-April.  This year, I’ve started a month early. In early March, due to climate change, “budding” started happening 6 weeks early!  The trees looked like they were dormant and bare, but if you look carefully you’d see the buds and this year’s fruit starting to form. 

So, at age 77, with only a short winter’s farm break, it was time to get to work again.   

Since we don’t use chemical pesticides on the farm, the fruit trees were sprayed in early March with 98% organic mineral oil.  The spray smothers, winter insects and their hatching eggs.  We’re concerned with the Pear Psylla.  There are 4 generations of this onerous insect.  Anytime the temperature gets above 40 degrees in the early spring, each female produces 650 eggs!  So now, this week at “bud burst” the pear psylla are returning from nearby locations and I’m ready to do another spray mix of organic insecticide.  I’ll also use “Surround” a clay-based barrier film that repels and irritates insects.   Plus we add copper, an old-fashioned “general biocide” to kill fungal and bacterial cells, approved for organic farming.  This has to be done delicately to avoid damaging plant tissue.  The same method is used on the apple and peach trees.  This year we’re also trying something new against the Plum Curculio.  These bad boy beetles appear during the first warm period after petals fall when it gets to be 70º.  The beetles puncture each tiny apple where they deposit eggs that drop to the ground and grow.  The method we’ll use to try and stop this cycle is wrapping sticky tape around each tree to stop the new beetles from crawling up the trees and infect the apples.  While this method is more labor intensive, it is better than any chemical alternative.  We’ll see how it works.   Then there’s the danger of cool weather and late frost.  The cool weather will discourage pollination. A late frost will damage or kill the delicate apples, pears and peaches.  

CSA OUTREACH   In addition to reaching out to our regular email lists, we’d like to reach out to hospital personal and other first responders and folks whose jobs cannot be done at home and may be without paychecks during this pandemic, to offer a CSA weekly share at a substantially reduced rate, and through donations.  We already know of three Fire Department volunteers who have been diagnosed with the virus and we hope to work with their families to arrange for CSA participation in June.   If you are interested in helping identify folks or want to chip in what you can, please let us know.  We can be reached best through our email.   Stay tuned for the next periodic journal email! Stay safe, find things to enjoy, and be mindful of the blessings we do have.  

Michael Tabor Licking Creek Bend Farm      

 

 

Collages

Here are several collages created by Diana:

The Land

The Harvest

Farm Friends

Ode to Squash

FARM VISIT DAY, SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2021 11:00AM - 4:30PM (tentatively scheduled for this season)

 In the hope we will be able to have gatherings this coming season, we've moved our Farm visit to the fall - Sunday, September, 19, 2021.