Another unpublished letter to the editor

If the Strib does print this, I’ll make a correction…

On reading the piece by Caitlin Dewey about the generically engineered (GE or GMO) Arctic Apples in the Sunday January 29, 2017 Science and Health section of the paper I noticed a few inaccuracies. With all the recent interest in fake news, I wanted to bring them to light.

Since any critical discussion of genetic engineering is met with cries of ‘anti-science’ you should know that I have a degree in Physics from the UofM and worked for a high tech company for 18 years helping researchers in the US and around the world make laser based velocity measurements on micron sized particles.  Just sayin’…

The first half of the article is mostly cheerleading for an apple created with a new GE technology (technology is different than science ) that suppresses the expression of a least 4 of 10 similar genes in the fruit. In the second half the writer  stumbles over a few inconvenient truths.

The writer’s claim that there is ‘scientific consensus that genetic engineering is not dangerous to human health’ is incorrect.

Consensus is commonly understood to mean ‘everyone agrees’.  At best, the consensus in this case would not include scientists at the EPA who set the safe exposure level to glyphosate ( part and parcel of most GMO crops) at 0.1 ppb in the 1980s, scientists at the  FDA who expressed concerns when GE / GMO crops were introduced in the early 1990s (who by the way, were simply over ruled by an administrator), through to scientists at the IARC who labeled glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

In addition, science is based on an examination of data. If there were indeed meaningful scientific consensus on the safety of human consumption of GE / GMO food, all those scientists would have had to see compelling, reliable data that convinced them of that.  However, that data either does not exist, has not been collected, or is unavailable for them to review.

It is absurd to claim scientific consensus exists based on data that has not been seen, much less replicated. That is opinion rather than science. The writer’s claim of consensus is as meaningless as saying there is consensus among organic farmers on the spin of the various flavors of quarks in dark matter.

Another obvious inaccuracy is the statement that ‘most agricultural engineering  has focused almost exclusively on improving yields’.  I’m sure the author means in the context of GE / GMOs, otherwise that statement would be drifting towards misleading.

In the late 1990s variety trials conducted by universities around the country, including the UofM, show a decline in yield for RoundUp Ready soybeans when compared to conventional beans. Published data shows the average yield in central Minnesota was 55.5 bu./acre for conventional public and private varieties while RoundUp Ready beans averaged 48.0 bu./acre. There are several years of data, but there is no need to present it here as it is easy to find.  It is pretty clear that most GE crops were created to resist applications of RoundUp.  Yield increases are due to conventional breeding and selection.

Now, to come back to the point about anyone who is critical of GE / GMO technology is anti-science. People who are wary of GE foods and their inherent pesticide residues, would love to have access to safety data on these crops and products.  Especially interesting would be the long term toxicology, immunological,  and epidemiological studies done on consuming GMO crops, and RoundUp as applied, rather than the single pure compound glyphosate as approved (a nitpicky, nerdy point, but science is that way). These would be very concrete steps in building a real scientific consensus on the safety of consuming GE crops.

 

 

 

 

Recommended Reading

Riverbend Farm Reading Recommendation                                 January 15, 2017

If you have ( or are going to have)  small kids you should read this.  It is also worth reading if you are not interested in eating any more chemicals than you need to.

The transcript is  long and involved and they talk about numbers without sticking to one set of units.  But it is important. It is winter. Nights are long and the roads are slippery. Make yourself a cup of tea and settle in by the fire for half an hour.

Note on units:

One kilogram (kg) is 1000 grams. One gram (g) is 1000 milligrams (mg).   One mg is 1000 micrograms (µg).

A million is 1000 thousands.

1 mg is one part per million of 1 kg.

1 µg. is one part per billion of 1 kg.

This is the transcript

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-06/glyphosate-unsafe-on-any-plate/  . Who ever was transcribing it did not get quite all the words right, but, you know, I have to look at the keyboard when I type and seldom get it right…

If you would rather listen to a podcast,  follow this link  https://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/105335/dave-murphy-glyphosate-unsafe-any-plate  .

The original report that they are talking about it is found here.  https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/FDN_Glyphosate_FoodTesting_Report_p2016-3.pdf  . I have not yet read the entire report but the podcast covers a lot of it.

Spoiler Alert: The good news is that they provide a way to do something about eating RoundUp  all the time – eat organic food.  It lowers your consumption by 90%.

The real question is Are we better off  living in this sea of chemicals ?

Greg

 

Early Winter News

Riverbend Farm Early Winter 2016 Newsletter                             December 14, 2016

I’m sitting here watching the chickadees and cardinals hunting for sunflower seeds outside my office window. It is easy to identify the pairs of cardinals, chickadees and juncos, not so much. The bluejays will be along in a bit.

When I sat down to write this a few days ago there is no snow to speak of and the temperatures were just a little colder than normal. Now it looks and feels like serious winter.  If you have been up in the middle of the night you must have seen the spectacular full moon on the fresh snow.  The moon always amazes me, a planet that is 1/3 larger than Pluto and close enough to clearly see surface features.

This was a transition year for me and I learned a lot. I think the decision to quit doing the bunched greens and radishes was a good one.  One thing that I had not counted on was the big knock on effects on sales. There must be an inertia to buying and when we are not in the market early it takes a long time for  buyers to switch to our produce.

Overall, I think the year will be a little less than average but the reduced labor cost will almost make up for the difference in the lost sales.  The greatest effect of the smaller crew was that I didn’t need to spend as much time managing people as usual.  We were a little short handed, but over all, my blood pressure was down an average of 12 points.

The weather continues to confound.  We had a warm wet summer and fall, but we were lucky. When farms west or south of us were getting 6” of rain we got 2”.  It was still really wet but our sandy soil drains well and usually things got done in a timely manner.  Irrigation was never needed once we were past the transplant stage.  Drip irrigation that was put down in the tomatoes and peppers never even got hooked up to the headers. I think the warm wet soils all fall allowed the soil bacteria to remain close to the surface and that causes some problems with squash and pumpkins rotting.

In the last installment of this newsletter I had mentioned that  Mark and I had just finished putting the combine motor back together.  August is the time I should be using my combine, not reassembling it. With any complicated piece of used equipment there are issues that come up and repairs that should be made as long as it is all apart.

By the time the combine was back together and all set up, the wind and rain had caused all the small grain to lodge.  Some of the rye had been so wet for so long that it had sprouted in the head.  That is not too surprising since it was October when it was being harvested, a more typical time to be planting cover crops.

I could have bought  replacement seed but there are a few new varieties that I had only grown for a couple years and I didn’t want to loose the adaption that had taken place.  After it was all dried and cleaned the yield was about one quarter of what I had expected.  Not good by any means but more than enough to try it again next year.

Jerry Ford decided to quit growing onions so I’m going to have to take that up again.  Onions are always a problem. We can weed them a dozen times and still need a mower to find them at harvest. Jimmy and Heather set out onion seedlings in late fall and over winter them. I tried direct seeding some this fall to see if they  will 1) come up and 20 be ahead of the weeds. I also have a roll of weed block that I’m going to burn holes in and plant the onions through the holes.

At this point the field work side of farming operations are well and truely done for the year. Our winter’s fire wood got cut and split before the snow and big freeze up.  I have already packaged up most of the seeds I’m saving and sorted the peanuts.  We roasted the immature peanuts for a few minutes in a moderate oven.  They were great. Hopefully we can save enough seed to plants in the spring.

Now is the time for indoor projects. A couple big projects at the top of the list are a powered sifter and a small, stand alone thresher.  When it warms a up a little there are a few semi indoor equipment maintenance jobs that need to be done too.

Our neighbor Greg just delivered a semi load of potting mix  on the last day the temperature was above freezing. If it is too cold the material freezes to the walls of the trailer and has to chipped out.  After Gardens of Eagan folded last year I have been growing a lot more vegetable garden starter plants in the spring.  Thousands of 3½”  pots take a lot of potting mix.

One thing that needs to be worked out is how to label each pot. Since I’m not growing Big Beef and all the other standard varieties there are no preprinted pot stakes. A basic printer for pot stakes is about $2000. Hand writing each marker is a real chore. Printing the variety name on a mailing label and sticking it to a popsicle stick is better but still very inefficient.  What I need you to do is to come up with a convenient, inexpensive, fast way to print on a 1” X 5” pot stake. Pot stakes are perforated   plastic, and come 5000 on a roll.

One of the real successes this year has been sharing deliveries with Jimmy and Heather over at Farm Farm.  The bulk of their business is CSA and farmers markets with a little wholesale on the side. They work really hard and grow some beautiful stuff.  Sharing deliveries lets us cut down the number of vehicles on the road and we both get an extra day on the farm.  Their list is a nice compliment to ours and t makes our ‘cart’ a little fuller.

Another success was remodeling our CSA.  Having all the shares picked up at the farm was great.  We could meet all of our members,  see what they liked and didn’t like, and persuade some dedicated eggplant haters to try some new things.  Lacto fermented and dried ‘chips’ took eggplant in an unexpected direction for me, and I like eggplant.  Mmm  Steaming hot eggplant parmesan sounds good right now…

Our current CSA members should send me their list of improvements for next year. It can go beyond brussel sprouts and more fennel to the logistical side of the pick up.  I had threatened to do you-pick, but never pulled it off.  I’d say that is still an option that needs some work.  Sign ups for next year will start in a few weeks.

Thanks for making this another good year. See you in the spring.

Greg

 

End of Summer Newsletter

Riverbend Farm End of Summer Newsletter                                 August 31, 2016

The days are getting shorter faster now. The sun isn’t up even if I sleep in a little and it is looking like dusk by about 6:30. The State Fair is in full swing.  Summer is coming to an end.  Typically we will have our first brush with frost in a couple weeks.  And then we will have another 6 weeks of decent weather.  On average.

It has been a warm, humid summer. We have had a couple months worth of rain in August and the mosquitoes are thick, but we have not had rain like other areas of the state – http://water.weather.gov/precip/index.php?analysis_date=1472515200&lat=47.1411618030&location_name=MN&location_type=state&lon=-91.5468107407&precip_layer=0.75&product=observed&recent_type=today&rfc_layer=-1&state_layer=0.75&hsa_layer=-1&county_layer=0.75&time_frame=last30days&time_type=recent&units=eng&zoom=6&domain=current  .  You can recognize the shape of Hennepin County. Wright County is the next one WNW of Hennepin and we have had a solid 6” of rain in August. You will notice the band of 10-15” rain just south and west of us, which I an very glad that we did not get.

The on farm pick CSA has been a big success on our side and Mary has gotten a lot more involved with it.  Our CSA is much smaller than previous years but we have had a chance to visit with our members, trade recipes, see what is popular and what is not, etc. It is a lot more fun that dropping off stacks of boxes behind a co-op.

Getting rid of the bunched arugula, radishes, and other greens seems to have worked out pretty well. Numbers at the end of the year will tell the tale. Our crew is much smaller, about 7 person days per week ( and now 5) versus  25-30 pd/wk the last couple years.  I actually have time to do something other than try to have enough work ready for the crew to do.

Not that it has all been smooth sailing this year but I don’t think that you can make any big change and not have to deal with some bumps a long the way.  One noticeable problem is that I should have had people working 3 days per week to keep up on weed control and things like trellising tomatoes, but all in all, it has been good.

This year we had a few hot rainy days  in early August when the weeds just exploded.  The pepper plants were too big to cultivate the last time I went through in late July. By early August there wasn’t anything that could be done from the seat of the tractor.

Meanwhile, on the mechanical side of things,  I think I have figured out some replacement nose rollers for my potato digger.  Last year the bed chain would come off ( and bust something)  when the digger had a big load of dirt  on.  A cursory look showed that the front bed roller on the left side was now a three piece  unit when it should have been two.  The machine is probably 100 years old and the rollers that run in the dirt all the time finally wore out.  As you might imagine, there are no replacement parts for an Oliver potato digger that was made when horse power was provided by horses.

McMaster Carr has some heavy duty cast iron wheels that were about the right size.  A few pounds of spacers and shims and it looks like it will be ready to go again. The hard part was figuring out how to keep the dirt out of the bearings on the new wheels.  In the end I turned four caps out of 3” aluminum round stock to capture a piece of 2” straight radiator hose between each cap and the hub of the new wheel to make a grease seal.  A couple grease fittings and it should be good for the next 100 years.  I hope.

The combine project is at a bit of a standstill while the potato digger gets repaired.  The wet weather has made it impossible to combine anything. I expect that the wheat and oats are a complete loss. The rye is tougher stuff, it started out as a weed in wheat.  While it would be nice to have it ready to go on Saturday, the vast majority of the small grain will go into cover crop seed. I can buy enough cover crop seed for $6-700, On the other hand there are thousands of dollars worth of potatoes out in the field that will need to be dug.

It looks like another good year for potatoes. They like cool wet weather, but don’t seem to mind the warm weather either.  For the past two years we have been planting potatoes very late to avoid the big waves of potatoes bugs. It appears to have worked. It seems like when the potato bugs chew on the plants they are also spreading diseases. Usually the potatoes would die off in late July. With the late planting they go until frost, giving me another 6 weeks of growth. Some of the potato varieties are starting to fade but mostly they still look good.  I know our crew, Nikki and Kathy, are looking forward to adding a thousand pounds of potatoes to the pick list.

Mary  waded into the mosquito infested squash field to see how they are doing.  She did not get very far but found a big rotten pumpkin and noticed that some varieties didn’t seem to have a lot of fruit. The butternuts looked okay. She found a delicata that snapped off and cooked it last night. The flavor was good but the texture was very dry, like an uncured kabocha. Hopefully this year will not be a repeat of last year when we lost half of the crop due to wetness in the fall, leading to lots of rot.

Well, last week a big week but not a lot got done on the farm. My Mother died on Tuesday and the funeral was on Saturday.  Thanks for all your kind thoughts on my Mother’s passing.  It is really true that everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go today.  My Mom was a devout Catholic her entire life but felt that she was a terrible person who was bound to go to Hell.

She made everyone that came into our family, spouses, grandchildren, great grandchildren feel more than welcome and made sure that they were taken care of as best she could.

At the end of her life she was probably the happiest that she had been for a long time.  Mom started going downhill shortly after my Dad died, and for the past few years her short term memory was shot. She couldn’t remember all the things she was ‘supposed’ to be worrying about.  While she would ask me how the farm was doing three times in twenty minutes, she could remember details from her childhood as if they has happened yesterday.  And she was not afraid to speak her mind up to the very end.

All my brothers and sisters came into town and we spent more time together than we have in years.

Mosquitoes are still terrible.

Greg

 

 

Early Summer Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Early Summer Newsletter

CSA started this week so I suppose I should get busy and write a newsletter.

First of course is the mosquito report. We have had 3.36” of rain in the past two weeks.  The warm weather last week brought out all the mosquitoes that had been hanging back since the first of May.  They are thick.  The good news is that they have sucked all the juice out of the wood ticks and slowed them down.

As is usual for these days, it has been a bit of an up and down sort of season.  Early on it was very warm. May was cool and we had some flat out hot humid weather in early June.  The cool weather kept things from growing and the hot  weather made them bolt to seed.  I have lots of arugula and radish flowers.  Rapini had about 3 leaves when it flowered.

Cutting back on the bunched greens and radishes looks like a good move at this point.  We have a much smaller crew this year. Right now our crew consists of Nikki and Gwen, who work Mondays and Thursdays. Margaret was a great help with all the transplants, but the commute was killing her. Not spending 3-4 days per week  bunching and delivering opened up a lot of time to keep up on primary tillage, planting and cultivating. Cultivation is a little behind right now due to the regular rain. Our on-farm pick up only CSA is also much smaller but we did a ton of veggie transplant business  this spring (since Gardens of Eagan closed). That has helped a lot with cash flow. And we learned a lot about growing thousands of starter plants.  Next year…

All in all, it has been a  typically busy spring but we have had an absolute  whirlwind of activity here in the past few weeks.  Since Memorial Day we have had a crop mob, visitors and have been plowing, planting, planting, cultivating, plowing, and more planting.

Usually crop mobs are the last Saturday of the month, but we had  about 2½” of rain the last  week of May. It was too wet to do any field work to get ready to plant.  A couple dry days and Monday was just about perfect, also, being Memorial day, there was a chance that some of the people who signed up for Saturday could still make it.

Monday is a regular work day for us, so Nikki and Gwen were here early to get things ready. It was nice to have help organizing the crop mob. The crop mobs consist of a mix of people who show up for almost every one and new people who sometimes come back for a second or third go round. Something like 20 people showed up and we planted a little over 5000 tomatoes in a few hours. Many thanks to everyone who came by to help.

That Tuesday was another rainy day, perfect for getting the seed potatoes out of the root cellar. That way they would get a chance to warm up and get a little moisture. The lack of sun let the little sprouts start to harden off without drying out. Dave Rieder showed up to show me a new sign he is making for the bistro in town and wistfully remark about working on the farm.  I immediately took him up on his offer and invited him to help plant potatoes on Thursday.

On Wednesday, June 1st we had company for lunch, Magnus Nilssen and a few of the local James Beard Award winners.

It all started innocently enough, a few months ago Paul sent me an email asking  if I would be willing to do a farm tour for Magnus Nilssen. The proposed date was months away on a Wednesday, so of course it fit into my schedule.

As it got closer Paul checked in to see if we were still up for it and I started to look up who was this Magnus Nilssen guy. It turns out he runs a little place (16 seats) called Fäviken  in the middle of nowhere Sweden. Seriously nowhere, a couple hundred miles from the Arctic Circle.  The population density is about 3 people per square mile.  Fäviken is ranked as one of the top 20 restaurants in the world and very focused on local food.

The idea was to do a short farm tour, chat about local food, and have a little lunch.

The farm tour consisted mostly of a short walk and retreating to the greenhouse to get out of the wind. It was chilly.  Besides the chefs and writers a bunch of people from the Swedish Institute in Minneapolis dropped by. There was even a lady from the Swedish Embassy in Washington.

Mary suggested fried sunfish for lunch. They are biting over at Lake Sarah and are about as local as you can get. Mary called our friend Leroy and asked if he would be willing to go fishing.  Leroy may live to fish. They were delicious. Panfish are at least as good as walleyes. Too bad northerns have all those little Y bones.

We called on some of our friends, Mary Jane and Gina,  to help pull off the lunch. It is great to have an understanding wife and friends to take the pressure off hosting a group like this. Lunch was quite wonderful and Mary Jane made a  buttermilk custard corncake with rhubarb topping that was so good. Mary Jane says it was more fun than cooking for the King and Queen of Sweden.

The Bachelor Farmer sent Ian and Harper to help out. I spotted them out in the field looking at Mary’s caterpillar tunnel experiment. They had not been exactly kicked out of the kitchen, but they would step up later to make sure that the second round of fish was hot and ready , keep the serving plates full, and make sure the people from the Swedish Institute got something to eat. It was very nice of them to take care of the behind the scenes stuff so we could have a great lunch.

Magnus is a pretty intense guy. Besides running a top notch restaurant he is trying to grow a lot of the produce they use at Fäviken. He is trying to develop a tomato that will mature outdoors there.  They get 90-100 days worth of growing season and may have frost in August, depending on the (east) wind.  I think that  Amber or a selection out of Early Girl will make it.

They are very much into local food there. Fäviken bought a local sausage maker to keep them from folding and contracted with the local pig farmer to keep him form going out of business. He raises an old Swedish pig that isn’t as profitable as the new fatless ( and tasteless) confinement  hogs. Add in shipping and he needed twice the going price to make it. So that’s what they paid.

Fäviken also gets their beef from old Holstein dairy cows and buys fish on the honor system. Local fishermen have access to a locker where they can put their fish and an invoice when they catch it. The restaurant pays them and uses the fish as it is available. Magnus would be an interesting neighbor.

The ASI comped us some tickets for the opening of the photo exhibit at the Swedish Institute.  By the time we cleaned up, it was time to close up shop and leave. Mary Jane ran home, stuck her cooler in the fridge, changed clothes, zoomed back. We picked up Gina on the way through town.

It was a great day thanks to the help of family and friends. It was a pretty magical day. Thursday was like waking up the day after vacation and having to go right back to work.

 

Just about 10 days ago we had lows down in the mid 40s, a little cool for peppers and eggplant but perfect for potatoes. Nikki and Gwen showed up for work as usual. Dave dropped by as promised. I asked Jean Peterson if she would come over and help too. Jean arrived promptly at 10 and set to work with the tractor marking out rows  and making the furrows for the potato seed pieces.  By 4 pm we had a ton of  potatoes planted,

Towards the end of last week you may have noticed that it has warmed up nicely, just right for eggplant and peppers. They went in on Thursday and Friday. Now I’m a few days behind on finishing up planting winter squash and a few more beans. Cultivation is right at the point where it needs to be done, but the next few days should be dry and warm. Perfect for killing little weeds.  It everything goes according to plan I’ll get another round of seeding done and it will rain Sunday night.

 

On the mechanical front, the F150 developed a bad habit of draining the battery over the winter. The battery checked out fine, but unless I disconnected it, the battery would be dead in a couple days. The fuel pump relay was energizing as soon as I hooked up the battery cable. Reading the manual made it sound like the relay got its ground through the Engine Control Unit (ECU). Unless the ECU was powered it shouldn’t be active. Power for the ECU comes from the ignition switch. That lead me to replace the electrical part of the ignition switch.  It turned out that was not the problem but it did fix the issue with the wonky tach.  Working up the line, the fuel pump relay had failed in the closed position. Replacing it solved the problem. I do not know where it is finding a ground, but it works fine now.

It was evident that the old white Volvo needed a valve job after our trip out west last summer.  It took a lot longer to get the head back than I expected, but that rainy Memorial Day weekend was the perfect time to put it back together.

It turns out that the original 1.8 L motor had been overbored to 2 L (3 5/16” to 3.5”, i.e. a lot) some time in the past 48 years. The B18 head gasket would not work, but a B20 gasket would.

As a further complication the cam was from a very early B18 (pokey) and the lifters were worn. Replacing the lifters would require regrinding the cam. It was less expensive to buy a new cam and lifters than to have the old cam remastered and a little livelier cam is always more fun. I went with a replica of a Volvo D cam. They were used in the 140 series with early fuel injection.

Head is either from a later model (B18 type 2 or 3) which is thinner than the head that originally came with the car. Volvo basically machined a quarter inch off the old heads to bump up the compression ratio. A thinner head means that the valves will come closer to the pistons when they open and close. The D cam has higher lift and longer duration than the old A cam ( see Wikipedia for an explanation of valve overlap).

The combination of the bigger bore and the thinner head means that the compression ratio would be much higher than stock (10.4:1 vs 8.5:1). The larger swept volume of the cylinders were trying to compress more fuel and air into a smaller cylinder head volume.  Add in the hotter cam and I went with a thicker B20 head gasket to keep the compression ratio down to what would work with premium gas and keep the valves from crashing into the tops of the pistons.  If you have ever broken a timing belt, you know that is a bad thing.

After all that it started right up. I have not driven it yet (not enough rainy days in a row) because I want to retorque the head,  readjust the valves, and reset the timing. ‘They’ say not more the 34 to 38° total advance. Maybe Sunday afternoon will be rainy…

Other than that, there have been the usual flat tires and loose bolts, but nothing big. One project on the near horizon is putting the motor for the combine back together. It has taken even longer for the machine shop to get that done.  The rye and vetch are going to need to be harvested before too long.

Today we transplanted the melons and a few variety trials for University of Wisconsin, covered the seed potatoes that were peeking out after the rain, and removed the cover from the 2nd greenhouse. This year it is getting in floor heat.

That’s enough for tonight.

Greg

 

 

Riverbend Farm Early Spring Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Early Spring Newsletter                           March 1, 2016

It is the first day of meteorological spring. The coldest 3 months of the year are behind us and it sure looks like spring is here. Has anyone got any snow left in their yard ? It is a serious understatement to say this has been one weird winter.

The river didn’t freeze over until early January (typically mid November) and just before this dip back to historical normal temperatures the ice was starting to break up. If the frost has not gone out, it is pretty rotten. The water that collects in the two low spots in the spring has drained. That usually doesn’t happen until late March. The National Weather Service is forecasting a good chance that this summer will be warmer than normal.

It has been a little dry lately but the marshes and sloughs are still full of water so the soil must have held onto the rains that fell last fall.  The long term forecast is for  an equal chance of above or below normal precipitation. I could go for a warm summer with normal precipitation.

Last week was the MOSES Organic Conference so it is now time to fire up the greenhouse and get some seeds started.  Most of the seeds are inhand,  potting soil is in the greenhouse, it is time. This year I’m going to try several seed starter mixes. In the past I have just used potting mix and had variable results. In early trials with potting mix, Beautiful Land #12, and straight sphagnum peat moss, the Beautiful Land starter mix looks the best.

At the Organic Conference I did a presentation as my last official act as 2015 Farmer of the Year. I talked about Adapting and Selecting Vegetable Seeds. It is a big complicated subject  but people have been selecting and saving seeds for 10,000 years. They did not have advanced degrees, but it is hard to argue that they didn’t know what they were doing.  Until about 50 years ago it was very common for farmers to save their best crops for replanting.  Now it is unheard of.

There is something very wrong with having chemical companies decide what varieties we can plant. As evidenced by the rise of patented and Genetically Engineered commodity crops,  they are mostly interested in selling chemicals.  They also appear to have a strong interest in controlling the vegetable seed market.  If you look at the graphic in this link https://msu.edu/~howardp/seedindustry.html , you will see the consolidation that has happened in the past 20 years.

Every time a buyout or merger occurs about 1/3 of the varieties get dropped.  The dropped varieties tend to be older open pollinated or public seed varieties.  Hybrids and GE seeds have a much narrower genetic base than OP seeds.  With our erratic climate we need seeds that are able to adapt to changing conditions.  Not that all hybrids are bad, but they may not be bred to deal with less than ideal conditions.  Hybrids are usually based on two very inbred parental lines and obviously not selected for genetic resilience.

If you are planting a garden, save some of your own seeds. The Organic Seed Alliance  http://seedalliance.org/publications#publication_category_title_12  has online instructions on saving most types of seed. They are based in Port Townsend,  Washington so they have a Pacific Northwest bias, but their techniques are widely applicable. If you are in the mood to buy books, the Seed Savers Exchange has a new book on seed production “The Seed Garden”. It is a great general purpose reference.

By the way, I’ll be selling locally produced organic veggie transplants at the Birchwood Cafe  May 7th & 8th and the 15th & 16th.  A lot of the plants will be from seeds that were grown right here. The recent weird weather has made for several great years for selecting seeds for adaptability.  There will also be some outstanding hybrids like Sungold cherry and Granadero  roma type tomatoes, and their OP counterparts.  None of these plants will be stunted with growth regulators or poisoned with systemic insecticides like you may find at the big box stores.  Since Gardens of Eagan went out of business, a couple of the co-ops will be carrying our veggie transplants also.

The sun is out. The greenhouse has warmed up. I gotta go get some onions started.  See you soon.

Greg

 

 

 

Reply to pro GMO op-ed

In today’s Strib there was an article in the Opnion Exchange about the slippery slope of GMO labeling.  It is part of a campaign to redefine GMOs as the same as traditional plant breeding. I wrote a response that you will never see in the paper. Here it is –

I would thought that you would have been too embarrassed to provide space in your newspaper to a piece so clearly written to deceive as the opinion piece on the slippery slope of GMO labeling.  The claim that  traditional breeding is  the same as genetic engineering is absurd. Selecting and crossing compatible species is not the same as shooting foreign genes into a cell.

Trying to redefining GMOs is a word game. That is not going to help the companies supplying Genetically Engineered ( if you prefer) food avoid the direction the market is moving.  Ask General Mills how their sales in the middle of grocery stores are doing.

GMOs in our food supply have been a very well kept secret since the 1990s. Today word is leaking out and no one likes it.  People are not stupid. They read these articles and see they are being told a lie.  That convinces them that the chemical companies behind GMOs (or Genetic Engineering…)  are trying to hide something.

Not to mention the Strib looks less and less like an unbiased provider of information. Yeah, yeah, I know that not all the copy on the Editorial pages reflects the views of the paper, but any reader paying the least bit of attention can’t help but notice what is selected for publication.

Lets get rid of the corporate speak and the verbal sleight of hand and have some real data. I’m  sure (well, at least hopeful) that long term (more than 90 days)  feeding trials were done to assess the safety of the novel proteins in Genetically Engineered food.  Lets see it.  I have looked for it, talked to a bunch of GMO supporters, and no one has ever seen it.  It is interesting that any research  using GE crops is tightly controlled by the chemical companies  who produce the seed.

I’m not interested in inferences from arguments that ‘people have been eating it for 20 years’… Besides being a totally uncontrolled ( unscientific)  feeding experiment, it is easy to find data that show an increase in the rates of  immunological disease, autism, etc. in the past 20 years.

No more word games, lets see the data.

Greg Reynolds

 

 

Riverbend Farm Winter Newletter

Riverbend Farm Winter Newsletter

Winter has finally arrived. The long warm fall made it easy wrap up the season and get a little caught up on things I should have been doing last summer.  We had a tremendous crop of potatoes. I was able to finish digging, washing, and store them before the ground froze. It was the best potato crop that I have ever had.  Pole beans that were looking like they would be abandoned did get harvested. Cover crops were planted. Potting soil was delivered and stored in the greenhouse. All the tractors got an oil change, battery charge, and were parked in the shed. I had time to go get a combine engine to replace the one that had blown up last summer.

All this wildly variable weather makes me wonder how the weather will play out next year.  It is kind of remarkable to think that 20 years ago we had very predictable summers.  About 10 years ago things started to get a little wonky and now  every year is completely different than the year before.  These few below zero days are comforting in a way.

Over all, last year turned out to be about average.  And truth be told, I would just as soon have a string of average years rather than surf the waves of boom and bust.  Last summer was generally cool and wet. Just about the only time we used irrigation was in late May. After that we had very nicely timed rain all summer.  June was cool and we never had the big heat in July and August.  Very comfortable. But the heat loving crops got off to a slow start and never had time to catch up.  Around here, vine crops almost universally suffered from rot.  Cucumbers had soft spots on the bottom and one half to one third of the winter squash rotted in the field.  Pole beans started flowing like mad in late August, usually much too late for them to make it, but they did.

On the mechanical side,  you may recall, the engine on my Massey Harris combine broke a piston last summer  and the piston pin gouged  the cylinder wall.  Finding a replacement engine has been difficult. A guy a few miles away has one that would work, but  he couldn’t  quite bring himself to sell it or something. I did find an engine down in Iowa  that had been sitting for ages and was seized up. After finally melting the pistons out, the block was junk.  The exhaust pipe was off and a couple of the valves were open.  Sitting for so long, the exhaust manifold, ports and one cylinder were full of sand. The amount of corrosion was phenomenal.

Just before it started getting cold I pulled the blown motor out of the combine. Now it is all apart and the block is up at John’s Precision Machine in Buffalo to be cleaned up and have all the cracks located.  John is confident that he can bore the bad cylinder and drive in a new sleeve.  After all that it will get reworked for new pistons, a valve job, and rebuild.  It is a lot of fooling around for an old small combine, but it does a great job on small grains and I am looking to expand the amount of grain that I grow.

Besides regular maintenance, the other big project has been to revive a ’92 240 series Volvo station wagon. This car was given to our daughter as a parts car  (a very thoughtful gift…)  but she didn’t have a real need for it. After sitting in the grove for a couple years it was better than the one I was driving so I pulled it out and started working through all the problems that caused the previous owners to junk the car.

I already know that next summer will bring some big changes around here. I have been growing the same amount of stuff for several years and have not found a happy medium between production and overhead. Everything that was on my to do list in May was still there this fall. That does not work.

I have decided to scale back our vegetable production to just a few acres.  There are several factors driving this decision.  One is that the physical demands of the work are taking their toll. If I want to be able to close my hands in five years I have to quit bunching radishes and greens. I can still feel the ache just going through the motions of making a bunch. Probably not a good sign.

Another issue is that even if I hire people, I still don’t have time to keep up on maintenance much less make progress on any of the myriad of projects around here. It seems I spend more time managing people than I do farming.  I’m not under the illusion that doing a greater proportion of the work by myself is going to be any easier,  but I won’t have the overhead of a bunch of workers to keep busy.

Perhaps the biggest reason to scale back is that a friend of ours died suddenly. He was only a few years older, active, and seemed in fairly good health.  It was kind of a wake up call.  Maybe Mary and I should do some of the things we have wanted to do now, before we are so old and beat up that it is no longer possible.

Scaling back will have a big impact on all of our markets.  Our farm has been known for all our bunched greens and radishes.  When we started out, they were our way into the co-ops. The bunched items opened the door for a lot of our other products. Without them our sales to the co-ops will be less, greens and radishes are still the bulk of what some stores buy from us.  I expect the number of co-ops we sell to will shrink as well as the volume of sales.

To keep the CSA in proportion with the new size of the vegetable production, it will be much smaller too. This year CSA shares will only be available for pick up on the farm in Delano. I’m going to start by limiting the shares to current CSA members with a maximum number of about 20 shares.

Additionally, this year’s CSA will be in a farmers market style rather than picking up a prepacked box. On pick up day there will be a display of veggies in bins and crates with instructions like: One of these, three of those, etc. You will pick out the items for your share like you were shopping at a farmers market. There will be a swap box at the end so if you don’t like broccoli, you can put yours in the box and take out some tomatoes or something.

I don’t have all the details worked out but there are a couple new things I would like to try. One would be a garden share in the spring where you can pick up your starter plants like tomato, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Another would be some pick your own for larger quantities for canning and freezing. Crops like peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes  would be in that mix.

If you are interested, please let me know in the next few weeks. Like I said, I’m still working out the details and could use your input.

For CSA members who can’t pick up their share at the farm, our friends and neighbors have CSAs that drop off at the same locations as we did or nearby. They all do a great job and without reservation I can recommend:

Heather and Jimmy Bauman at Farm Farm

www.farmfarmlovesyou.com

Nick and Amelia Neaton at Sweet Beet

www.sweetbeetfarm.com

Red and Nina Kirkman at Fox and Fawn Farm

www.foxandfawnfarm.com

All the best in the New Year

 

 

Greg

 

Early Spring Newsletter

April 6, 2015

Riverbend Farm Newsletter Early Spring

It is the first week of April. Snow is long gone and the ice went out on the river two weeks ago. The birds are back and staking out their territories. The fields are starting to green up. Much different than last year. Spring is certainly on its way.

The recent warm weather has been good for getting head start on field work. Before last Wednesday’s rain I was able to plow up several beds in the field that was always too wet all last summer. There is still a wet spot where I almost got stuck. See the two grass strips that are wider than the others? On the far end of the near strip, by the tree line there is a spot where the frost had not completely gone out. The frost doesn’t let the water soak in and keep that area wet.

 

I also plowed under all the old cabbage and kale plants to help with the number of cabbage moths this summer. In the fall the mature cabbage worms drop to the ground and pupate just below the soil surface. Plowing buries them too deep for the moths to dig themselves out. I’m sure more will blow in, but when it comes to pests every little bit helps.

 

The greenhouse is filling up again. Yesterday was a good day to put up the plant sale tomatoes. The onions, first kale and lettuce are up. I don’t know if the weather will be warm enough to set them out when they are big enough to go into the field, but if we do get an early spring, they will be ready. If not, they will be salad mix.

 

 

On the subject of plants, I am growing peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and some various kale, cucumbers, etc. for home gardens. If you would like some locally grown certified organic transplants for your garden, let me know.  Most of the plants will be from locally grown and adapted seed.

I have had it with voles getting into the greenhouse and eating the baby kale or the tender squash. I found a couple thousand square feet of discontinued random pavers to make a hard floor in the greenhouse. The floor will still be porous so the water will drain away but impervious to rodents.

 

 

A little over half of our CSA shares are sold at this point so if you were a member last year and would like to continue, please get in touch and I will reserve a share for you.

One last thing,  Mary and I were named MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year at the MOSES Organic Conference in LaCrosse.  It was a great honor and a bit of a surprise too.                                                                                                  

 Greg

More GMO Nonsense

March 1, 2015

On February 8th 2015 the Washington Post ran an editorial by the Opinion page Editor Fred Hiatt titled  ‘Science That is Hard to Swallow’ . His premise is that the science on GMO safety is settled. You can find the entire piece here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-genetically-modified-foods-prove-hard-for-americans-to-stomach/2015/02/08/3ae7902c-ad60-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html  .

On February 10th the STrib reprinted the Washington Post Editorial on their opinion page. I wrote the following in response.  They thanked me for my work and asked for 10 days to print it. Time’s up.

February, 10, 2015

I am writing thank Mr Editor Hiatt for settling the debate about GMO labeling once and for all.  The only thing missing from his call to scientific reasoning was any data.

A quick google search for climate change temperature data and finds 100 millions hits from universities, NASA, NOAA. There are all manner of charts, data points, graphs, etc. Easily accessible data is all over the place. A similar search for GMO food safety data does not bring up much in the way of easily accessible results, making Mr Editor Hiatt’s claim of settled science hard to verify.

The GENERA website has lots of interesting scholarly articles concerning GMOs. Many of the articles deal with feeding GMO diets to livestock and report finding no trace of GMO protein in their blood or tissues. GENERA also lists a Canadian study finds traces of GMO corn proteins in the blood of pregnant and non pregnant women in eastern townships of Quebec. That seems rather contradictory for settled science. Or are they saying the GMOs interact with humans differently than livestock ? Unsettling.

The magazine Scientific American has noted that the companies that produce genetically modified seed control the use of the seed for research and have a say over what data gets released. You can find a contract stating that on the back of any bag of GMO seed.  That sure makes it seem like those companies don’t want just any researcher testing the safety of their products and publishing the results. That lack of open access has the appearance of hiding something.

Anecdotally there are hundreds or thousands of studies purporting to show that GMOs are safe. Unfortunately, toxicology studies only show whether the substance in question will or won’t kill all the rats in 90 days. And all of those studies are approved by the owners of the GMO seeds. Not completely reassuring for a lifetime of eating, especially coming from companies that produced products like Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs. Not that they would lie, but they may not showing us all their cards either.

To dig a little deeper, there is the issue of the approval of GM products and crops in the ‘90s. The revolving door between the FDA and Monsanto was spinning pretty fast back then. I’m not saying anything untoward was happening, but it certainly looked fishy.

We all know that corporations are all about making money. An obviously egregious example is the financial industry and the collapse of the housing bubble. Big pharmaceutical and chemical companies don’t have  a better set of values and ethics. They are not bad people or even breaking the law, they just have a responsibility to their shareholders. I would be more trusting of the claims of settled science if the whole process was more open and accessible.

And then there is the increase in immunological illnesses that has occurred in the past 20 years. Our immune system reacts to novel proteins, things that we have not seen before.  Many of the diseases have to do with digestion and diet, which would at least appear to be related to what we are eating. The big change that happened in the food in the last 20 years was the introduction of novel GM proteins. A 90 day toxicology study does not say much about effects that take years to manifest. Not labeling GMOs in foods makes for a very large uncontrolled long term feeding experiment, which is not at all scientific.

When I talk about organic agriculture to college students I like to ask them a few questions to see where they are at, what they are interested in.  When I ask ‘Who eats genetically modified foods ?’ One girl timidly raises her hand. When I ask ‘Who eats a mostly organic diet ?’ The same girl raises her hand. Consumer’s (when did we go from being citizens to consumers ?) level awareness of GMOs in their diet is abysmal, but surveys show that upwards of 90% of people think GMO foods should be labeled.

If GMO crops had some advantage besides selling herbicides wouldn’t every box of cornflakes have a banner that proclaimed NOW WITH MORE GMOs!  ? They don’t. One of the arguments against labeling GMOs in food is that the Invisible Hand of the Free Market would reject them. But, science be damned,  isn’t that the way the market is supposed to work ?

In his call to science Mr Editor Hiatt also trots out the victims of starvation. He fails to mention that there is more than enough food produced today to feed the world’s billion plus hungry people. The problem is that people living on less than $1 per day can’t afford to buy food. If exponential population growth continues until 2050 even more of the world’s population will be trying to live on pennies a day. GMOs are no solution to abject poverty.

Mr Editor Hiatt mentions some of the other promises of GMOs.  Observation shows  that so far GMO crops have been a failure when it comes to dealing with pests and weeds. Corn root worms developed resistance to Bt corn in a few short years.  Weeds developed resistance to GMO crops’ companion herbicides in less than 20 years.

The chemical companies recognized this problem and their solution is to introduce new GMO seeds that are also resistant to older more toxic herbicides like dicamba and 2,4-d.  Except that weeds are already resistant to dicamba and 2,4-d. Not exactly a long lasting solution.

Just like reduced pesticide use, higher yields, drought resistance, more nutrients,  etc. the claims of benefits are simply vaporware deployed to enhance a corporate bottom line.

So, let’s settle the science once and for all. How about if we trade GMO labeling for free and independent access to all GMO seeds and crops for all researchers  interested in testing them in food safety, long term feeding, immunology, etc. studies ?  Until that happens, labeling GMO foods makes a lot of sense.

Greg Reynolds

Riverbend Farm