Easter traditions: whipping and splashing girls

Whipping girls and dunking them in water are beloved Easter traditions in Ukraine, Russia, Czechia, Slovakia and nearby countries. This week was Easter Monday in Orthodox areas. In Ukraine, Czechia and Slovakia boys and men were whipping girls and women with the willow branches. It makes them prettier, younger, and more fertile (which is why the whip is known as “pomlázka”, a kind of “rejuvenator”).

In addition to the whippings, girls also get picked up and thrown in the river. Or, perhaps just splashed with a cup or bucket of water if no river is readily accessible.

Girls and women thank the boys and men for the bruises by giving them candy, decorated eggs or at least a glass of vodka. Some Americans could find it politically incorrect for men to periodically beat women – or for women to thank men for those occasional bruises or unexpected dunking.

How Americans and other foreigners react to the tradition may be seen in the following almost authentic entertaining video.

How foreigners react to Easter whip – Stream.cz • Internetová televize, seriály online zdarma a videa

Girls who do not get whipped or splashed know that the boys don’t like them, so all girls want to get whipped and splashed. And reward the boys for doing it.

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Guernsey or Jersey? Both are winners

Guernsey or Jersey? You really have to choose. This exciting debate is one you may not be aware of, but small farmers and homesteaders get passionate about.

Guernsey and Jersey are two English islands of the coast of France. They also are the origins of two of the best milk cows for the family farm. Unlike the Holsteins of German origin, these two breeds don’t produce watery milk that almost looks blue. Instead their milk is almost golden due to the high concentration of beta carotene. Beta carotene is not digested by these cows so it passes into the milk and produces the wonderful golden color. Beta carotene is found in green vegetable matter like grass and gives protection against certain cancers and even aging, they say. You know it’s healthy to eat vegetables high in beta carotene, like carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach. But did you know you can get the same benefits from drinking Guernsey or Jersey milk? Drinking their milk is like having a serving of veggies.

And many folks who think they can’t digest milk, find Guernsey or Jersey milk suits them just fine. That’s because their milk proteins are the A2 protein which has been bred out of the most dairy cows in order to get high production of that watery substance passed off today as milk.

Whether Guernsey or Jersey milk tastes better is not an debate I want to enter. Both sides are just too passionate. Bringing up the topic is almost as bad as bringing up politics at Thanksgiving dinner. Some like Jerseys because they are smaller and produce more milk on less grass. Others like Guernseys because they have a little more A2. The rancor doesn’t last though. Unlike Democrats and Republicans, Jersey and Guernsey lovers have a whole lot in common. They love living on small farms and producing healthy food. No matter which of these English breeds you like the best, you know they are better than the German Holstein breed.

Jersey and Guernsey were also at the forefront of another English-German battle you may have heard of. The two islands were occupied by the Germans in the Second World War soon after they took over France. The English got early warning so the children were evacuated. The adults were left to cope with the German invaders.

The Germans confiscated nearly all the islands’ animals to feed their soldiers in France. About all they left the islanders was potatoes. They even invented potato peel pie which has no flour or sugar or fruit. Only potatoes.

A few animals did remain hidden. In defiance of curfew a few residents roasted a hog one night and consumed it along with some home brewed spirits. When confronted by German soldiers while heading home, they invented the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society since such literary society meetings were permitted by the Germans. Read about it in a book named after the Society or watch the movie based on it.

The Germans were defeated and left Guernsey and Jersey. But the modern Holstein milk cows still remain dominant worldwide. Modern people like the low fat Holstein milk, not realizing that wholesome natural fat is good for you. It’s only the artificial fats that hurt you.

After the war, back in the late 1940s, 50s and early 60s, there were still plenty of Jerseys and Guernseys supplying high quality milk to Americans. Efficient, industrial agriculture has made short shrift of them in the last 50 years. Modern attitudes have taken over. Relations between the sexes and races has changed for the better, but we may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

In decrying the stifling attitudes of the past, we’ve abandoned a way of life which was much more resilient. We need to speak up for many of the attitudes of the 1950s. Everyone used to value working with your hands, being self-reliant, raising your own food. Some of us still do. My family still milks Jerseys on the family farm in Missouri. Three households raise their own eggs and meat on the farm where I grew up. I’m writing this in a small country in Eastern Europe where people still value the wholesome food produced on small farms.

Some in the US are waking up to the realization that some of the old ways were not so bad. We’d all be better off if we threw off the shackles of modernity and kept the old attitudes of the family farm. To be resilient, you have to innovate, but it must be conservative innovation. You must conserve the tried and true from the past. Conserving while innovating is tricky, but it’s the only way. Only the resilient survive.

Improving soils through biochar: the water bed method

The daffodils are blooming everywhere here in the Delta. Spring is coming, but the winter rains are hanging on, keeping us from doing much in the garden–except making biochar.

Biochar is the most revolutionary change in farming since organic methods. Biochar improves soil health by improving soil structure, increasing organic matter, reducing soil acidity, reducing the need for chemical and fertilizer inputs and increasing drought resistance. Most importantly to farmers, biochar increases productivity and crop yields. If you aren’t familiar with biochar, read this article and you’ll want to try it.

Comparison of traditional rainforest soils with biochar plot. Source: biocharinternational.org.

We especially like it down here in the Delta because our soils are much like those where biochar was first found. Five hundred years ago Spanish explorers, winding their way through the Amazon River Basin of South America, came upon an interesting phenomenon.  Due to high rainfall, most rainforest soils are leached of plant nutrients and organic matter.  However, periodically the explorers would find small patches of black, highly productive soils.  Upon further investigation they found that these patches were created by local Indian tribes using the partial burning of biomass.  They made these soils from biochar (charcoal).

There are fancy ways of making biochar using pyrolysis in closed containers, but we like quick, easy ways that don’t require any equipment except our trusty shovel, rake and pitchfork.

Water stands on our soils nearly all winter. We have to build them up in raised beds if we want to get any early crops in. Since we have plenty o’trees growing on our property, biochar is the perfect method for us.

We have developed a unique method which might also work for you if you have wet soils and trees you need to thin out. We call it the water bed method because it uses our plentiful winter water and beds.

We start by double digging the soil in dry weather (digging in wet weather just leaves huge clods). We dig down about a foot. We pile all the topsoil in one bed leaving a ditch beside the bed. The ditch fills with water in the wet winter.

As we are cutting firewood in the winter, we haul the branches over next to the new ditch. Then, on a nice still, cold day, we light the brush pile on fire. We enjoy the warmth of the bonfire, but don’t let it get too fierce. We don’t want all the wood to burn up, we just want to turn it into charcoal. When one section of the brush pile has burned down to charcoal, we push it into the water filled ditch. The pleasant sizzle of hot charcoal hitting water means the wood has quit burning and we have just contributed a little biochar to our next bed.

When the winter rains lessen in Spring, we cover the now biochar filled ditch with soil from the side of the plot where we burned the branches. Since it was burned, it has no grass or weeds to deal with. Nice clean soil for our next bed is what we are putting on top of the biochar filled ditch. And we are creating a new ditch for our next biochar prodution phase.

It’s a simple easy method for us. And fun. We have an excuse for nice bonfires in the winter when everything is cold and wet. And we know we’re doing something productive with all that wood waste. It will be soil in the Spring. A resilient soil which can be planted early.

If you create biochar, you’ll be creating the most resilient soil system. As shown in the rainforest plots in the Amazon Basin, biochar appears to sequester carbon for hundreds if not thousands of years.  It is resistant to the microbial breakdown that is common with crop residues and other types of soil organic matter.  Crop residues break down in a couple of years and humus oxidizes in less than 25 years.  So, biochar is not subject to the “leakage” that is a concern for carbon sequestered with no till farming and the carbon capture and sequestration of fossil fuel carbon emissions 

You’ll be countering global warming. Biochar has been shown to reduce the soil emissions of nitrous oxide (as a greenhouse gas, it is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide) and improve the uptake of methane (21 times more potent than carbon dioxide).

Biochar has a unique ability to reduce atmospheric carbon levels. 
Biochar production takes plant based carbon that originated from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and sequesters it in the soil. 

Plus its a great way to spend a clear winter day when you want to be outside and you want to be warm. Start a fire and make biochar!

How a weedkiller drives farmers out of business

Down here in the Delta, we know that Spring has arrived when the spray planes come out. That’s proof its warm enough to get ready for the growing season. For the last couple of years, however, the spray planes have been spreading something which is killing agriculture.

The only growing sector of American agriculture is being destroyed by a weedkiller which makes big profits for European chemical makers. The chemical is called dicamba. When you spray it on a field, it floats to neighboring fields. When conditions are right, it can even lift up after being sprayed and move to other fields.

Small farms selling organic food direct to consumers are the most vibrant part of American agriculture. They are growing because consumers want fresh local food not contaminated with pesticides. Many farmers have created thriving businesses providing such products with roadside stands, farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA). With just a few acres and a lot of hard work, new businesses are being created to meet the growing demand for fresh, healthy food.

Down here in the Delta, those farmers are being run out. Drifting dicamba from big farmers spraying non-food crops like soybeans and cotton destroys the small farmers next door.

Small farmers growing healthy food have been hit by pesticide drift before. Glyphosate and Facet both drift under the right conditions. But dicamba is a whole new ball game.

Dicamba’s effects aren’t limited just to small organic farmers. Dicamba is sold as a package with dicamba resistant seeds. Farmers buying both can spray over the top of their soybeans or cotton and kill weeds while their crops survives. The volatility of dicamba means it drifts to neighboring soybean and cotton fields. If they are not dicamba resistant, they are dead.

So even row crop farmers who don’t want to buy the expensive dicamba resistant seeds are forced to. The chemical companies now have a product which big farmers are forced to buy even if they don’t want to. The high cost is contributing to driving some of these farmers out of business, too.

The most ridiculous fact is that dicamba will become useless in a few years. Weeds are remarkably adaptable species. They develop resistance to herbicides. The only reason dicamba has a market is because pigweed became resistant to glyphosate. And glyphosate only had a market because weeds became resistant to other weedkillers.

Many row crop farmers are locked into this pesticide treadmill and paying the high prices chemical companies demand. Dicamba’s drift to neighboring fields is forcing all farmers to get on the pesticide treadmill if just one neighbor does.

The only bright part of this picture is how city people have risen up against dicamba. Dicamba drifts so far that it even kills plants in the city. At a hearing about dicamba in Little Rock yesterday, more than half the attendees were city residents whose ornamental plants and personal gardens had been destroyed by dicamba.

If enough of us get fed up, maybe things will change. Until then just one farmer using dicamba can cause every farmer in a region to use the chemical or go out of business.

One organization uniting farmers and city folk to fight dicamba is Freedom to Farm Foundation. Contact them through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/freedomtofarm/

The auctioneers are busy this winter

When you’re young, farm auctions are fun. When you get older you realize a farm auction means another farmer has gone under. When your young, smart, hard-working neighbor has an auction it’s tragic. Last year was tough for farmers and many are going out of business and selling all their equipment this winter.

Farm size is increasing and number of farms decreasing across the US.

When I went out to get the paper yesterday morning, a line of pickups already stretched a quarter-mile to the west and trucks lined one side of our narrow road for a half mile to the east. They kept coming until both sides of the road had almost a mile of parked trucks on both sides.

Our young neighbor had taken a loan, rented some land and started farming on his own 15 years ago. He’d been working on other people’s farms all his life and finally got his chance when an older farmer decided to start a liquor store and rent out his land.

Now he will go back to work as a hired hand on one of the growing megafarms in our county. Federal farm policy makes it easy for the big boys to get bigger. To do so, they have to put other farmers out of business.

Increasingly the best land in our country is owned by non-farmers. People who don’t really know how to manage the land and are often mostly interested in the rent payment.

There is nothing resilient about a system which runs smaller farmers out and helps non-farmers get control of their land. Some of us are fighting to create a more resilient agriculture in the US. Join us at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

A resilient government?

Washington, DC, used to be the place to go. I arrived for the umpteenth time two days ago and rode in my first Bangladeshi cab. Like almost everyone I meet these days, the cabbie was interested in growing food on his own small farm. I contributed a little experience and a few dollars to his endeavor.

I used to go to Washington, DC a lot. I used to go to the state capitol a lot. I really thought changing the country’s laws would change the country.

Now I realize I was wrong.

We went to the state capitol and got the Arkansas Department of Agriculture established and a bunch of other laws enacted to help small farmers. One helped a few dairy farmers stay in business for awhile. But eventually, the big feedlot dairies in Texas and Oklahoma destroyed almost all the small family farm dairies from Arkansas to Georgia.

We went to DC a lot and got a bunch of sustainable agriculture programs established and even got the Delta Regional Authority established. Some of these have helped a few farmers and rural communities, but the big boys continue to expand and push out small farmers and destroy small communities.

None of these programs have lived up to our hopes. What they’ve made us realize is that any good law coming out of DC is an epiphenomenon, a side effect. Good laws which have lasting effects are the result of thousands of individual efforts and the movements these individual efforts create. When the country is transformed, it can then transform its laws.  Until then, transforming the laws will have no effect. The laws will be implemented such that nothing will really change.

The sustainable agriculture movement was one such movement based on thousands, if not millions, of individual efforts. The Back to the Land folks in the 60s and 70s and the Organic folks provided an alternative to the “Get big or get out” mentality of farm leaders epitomized by USDA Secretary Earl Butz in the Nixon years.

The farm crisis in the 1980s convinced many that America needed a new approach to agriculture. Sustainability became the buzzword of the cogniscenti after the U.N.’s Brundtland report (Our Common Future) came out. Sustainable agriculture was born and became law in the 1990 farm bill.

In the early years, sustainability was just a modern version of the older conservation movement that resulted in national parks all over the country and even a Missouri Conservation Department. My grandfather was one of the first Conservation agents, but he didn’t live to see sustainability take the place of conservation.

Some of us who had established cooperative processing and marketing ventures in the 80s became part of the sustainable ag movement in the early 90s. By the late 90s, the leaders of the movement came to realize that transformation of the agricultural economy will only happen when farmers control processing and marketing. Farmers can preserve the air and water and sequester carbon to decrease climate change and still be put out of business unless they control processing and marketing. Those who take care of the earth while they produce wholesome food should benefit from the added value they create in food.

So the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program began. Farmers could now receive grants to help them develop new processing and marketing ventures. The program was based on extremely successful state programs such as the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) in North Dakota and the (AURI) in Minnesota.

We went to state legislatures in Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee and got programs established which adapted VAPG, APUC and AURI to those states. The one which has helped the most farmers is the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board.

These state efforts are still flourishing, but the national VAPG has run into hard times. When it began, there were many national groups working to promote sustainable agriculture policies. Today there is just one: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). NSAC is the sole force keeping VAPG alive.

And even some in NSAC are wavering in their support. Why should local groups continue to support VAPG? Six reasons come to mind.

  1. VAPG was started by NSAC.  Only NSAC pushes it for funding.
  2. VAPG gives funds directly to farmers. It’s the only competitive grants program which does.
  3. VAPG received a high score in a survey of NSAC members. Only two programs scored higher and neither of them focused on economics.
  4. VAPG is transformational. We won’t really change American agriculture until farmers own and control processing and marketing.  That is the purpose of VAPG.
  5. VAPG can provide funds to the organizations who are members of NSAC.  If you help farmers get VAPG grants, they can hire you to write the feasibility analyses and business plans they need under the grants.
  6. The final reason addresses the question: what is the purpose of NSAC?  Is the goal to help farmers or for NGOs to get grants for themselves? There is nothing wrong about NGOs getting funds to help farmers, but the goal should always be helping farmers become more sustainable and resilient. VAPG does that directly.

National advocacy organizations are like any natural system. They pass through a adaptive cycle with four phases: getting organized, growing fast, maturing and releasing. A farmer’s field shows these four phases every year. The seed is planted into prepared ground. It grows quickly. It matures and sets seed. The seed is harvested and removed from the land.

The sustainable agriculture movement is like that seed. It was organized in the late 80s and early 90s. It grew quickly in the 90s. It matured in the 2000s. Now it is getting ready for release.

Release in the natural adaptive cycle can mean death. Or it can mean reorganization and rebirth. Those systems which are resilient are able to reorganize and are reborn.

Those systems which are able to reorganize and survive are those which have nurtured their children well. National organizations only survive and thrive if they nurture the local organizations which are their foundations. Local organizations need money to survive. So, as most ag lobbyists will tell you, ag policy is nearly all about money.  How to get more money for this or that program.  Which will give farmers or farm organizations money for what many consider worthwhile projects.

Unfortunately that means farm organizations are glad when their part of the budget is bigger.  Today that means such organizations are, in effect, glad when the country accrues more debt. That is nothing that makes me happy and it shouldn’t make you happy either. The country is also a system which must nurture its children and not saddle them with debt they cannot repay.

We face the current maturity and pending release of the natural systems which are our country and many of our favorite national organizations. Natural systems which survive the release phase are those which have nurtured the next generation. For a national organization focused on helping farmers, survival and rebirth depends on the success of the farmers it tries to help.

If conservation-oriented farmers beget more conservation-oriented farmers, then their organizations can be reborn, reorganized and resilient. Does your favorite organization fit in that category?

Nature builds its own walls

If you remember any poems from high school, you probably remember Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Two neighbors come together every Spring to rebuild the stone wall that Nature is intent on destroying. Every winter, the ground freezes and thaws and topples a few stones from the wall. Frost is new to this farm and not much of a farmer. He likes Nature.  He doesn’t like walls much.

vpr-noyes-thea_alvin-stone_wall-20140825_0

Ronald Reagan didn’t care for the Berlin Wall. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” he cried in 1987. In the early 90s the Soviet Union crumbled and the wall came down.  Will Pancho Villa’s grandson make the same cry in Tijuana some day?

All natural systems are open. All barriers, membranes and walls are permeable. They let some things in and keep others out. A system ceases to have any integrity, ceases to be a system, unless there is something between it and what is outside.

Today we have two North American countries with vastly different systems sharing a common boundary. The boundary is permeable—more so in some places than others.  In isolated areas, you can still wade across the Rio Grande when it’s low. Some would make the boundary more defined, less permeable. They would “build a wall.” This group also professes a deep and abiding love for America.  They not only stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, they put their hands over their hearts.

Those who most dislike America and standing for the Pledge favor more permeable boundaries. They want people and all sorts of substances to more freely move across the border. They are joined by those who say they like America, but only pledge allegiance to the making of money. This uneasy, and usually unspoken, alliance of big business and the anti-americans is the reason immigration reform doesn’t happen.

In 1914, when Robert Frost published “Mending Wall,” fences were built to keep animals out. The range was free in those days, as it still is in much of the world. Cows, goats, sheep, antelopes, bears, cougars and people could just range wherever their legs could take them. Frost, a bit of an anarchist as most poets are, liked that. So he didn’t like walls. Besides neither he nor his neighbor had cows, so why did they need a wall?

In 1914, most people in America still lived on farms, but by 1920, more than half lived in cities. In 1914, nearly everyone in Africa, Asia and Russia still lived on farms or in small villages. People had lots of kids and the surviving children spread out over the landscape to establish their own farms.  Today, in most of the world, people have few children. The exceptions are the poorest regions of Africa, the Americas and Asia.

The countries of Africa cannot provide for these burgeoning populations and people do anything they can to escape to Europe next door. The countries of Central America cannot provide for their poor families and the poor will do anything they can to escape to the U.S.

Because America’s border is porous, millions have come in illegally and live among us in nearly every town. We enjoy the fruits of their labor on our farms and at our construction sites. The unholy alliance between big business and the anti-americans will most likely continue to insure the border is porous. So your best bet is to learn Spanish. The wall in Tijuana will be torn down one day, if present trends continue.

Yet human systems are part of Nature, when push comes to shove. Resilient natural systems self-organize to perpetuate themselves and their component species. If we are resilient, we will self-organize to perpetuate our values and our way of life.  If not, we will disappear.

Any system must possess certain basic qualities to survive and thrive.  It is diverse, but the diverse elements are complementary and devoted to the goal of making the whole system thrive. The diversity which is extolled in America today is a chaos of conflicting values and goals, with one common theme–to tear down the present system.

A resilient system’s self-organization includes establishing a barrier between itself and other systems. It’s not an impermeable barrier. Resilient systems are highly connected to other systems. But they are also ecologically modular.  They are independent modules which can close off the connections to outside elements if those elements threaten the integrity of the system.

Robert Frost left the farm after one year and went to live in town. His neighbor and his neighbor’s sons continued to rebuild the wall every year.

Lots of stone walls have been built at Meadowcreek. None of them have kept out the riff-raff.

After Reagan’s Berlin Wall was torn down, a pastor’s daughter from East German took control of government. Germany today is coping with an influx of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, increasing crime and taxing public resources while big business welcomes their labor.

Soon, from an ecological perspective, Trump and Pelosi will be gone. Their current shut-down of government will end without anything close to a strong border. What will remain is the innate self-organizing tendency of all resilient systems. Which includes the innate desire for a boundary.

Natural boundaries brings the useful in and keeps the destructive out. Any thriving system has a such a boundary.

A thriving America will build such a boundary naturally. A nation which does not will disappear and chaos will take its place. Many are, wittingly or not, cheering at the latter prospect.