Farm update, mid-March 2009

Spring is progressing rapidly, with all natural signs that we track at least a week ahead of the past few years. It’s very warm and the natural world is really taking off. We’re shaping up for either a spectacular early spring or a heartbreaking late freeze like 2007.

In any case, we work with what we have, and are moving forward on preparing our spring plantings. Multiple beds of radishes, beets, and peas have been seeded, and we’ve transplanted out several beds of lettuce. The vole population seems to be enormous this spring; their tunnels are everywhere in our permanent beds and they’re eating some of the peas and even the young lettuce plants. I think the previous year of mild weather has caused a population explosion.


Above, you see a market garden bed of transplanted lettuce, with our home-built plastic hoops offering some extra warmth and protection. These are built from 7′ lengths of 1/2″ PVC set onto thin rebar. The plastic sheeting is tied at the end with baling twine and braced with wood and more rebar. Twine tied to the PVC’s rebar and stretched tight over the plastic holds the sheeting in place and allows the plastic to be lifted up for ventilation on hot days.

We’re experimenting with different methods of starting seed this year, from soil blockers to very small plug trays. Above is a 288-cell tray which allows the lettuce to get started just enough for early transplant. Below, I’m keeping the copious records required for organic certification; for this bed of transplanted lettuce it includes transplant date, seeding date, variety, source, any soil amendments, number of transplants, and more.

We have many trays of onions going, which are currently up in our new hoophouse hardening off for transplant later this week, along with various brassicas, herbs, and other items. We don’t really try to get too early a start on summer items like tomatoes; we have enough going on and have found that the early yields aren’t that spectacular for the extra work and danger of early tomatoes. Potatoes will go out eventually, but our field soil is very clay-rich and stays wet far longer than we’d like; it’s currently too mucky out there for spuds.

The Columbia Farmers Market opens on March 21, this coming weekend. We expect/hope to be there by mid-April, with early greens, radishes, and probably goose eggs. We spent Tuesday afternoon laying out our stall design for this year and working out our new materials, presentation, labels, and so on. We’re trying some new ideas for presenting variety information and prices, and will post on that when the materials are ready and can be photographed.

In other projects, we’ve trenched the fenceline for the larger field and drilled about half the post-holes. Foundation holes for our new prep shed have been drilled and basal piers poured; the concrete is curing and I’ll be doing the main post piers later this week. I hope to have the shed build by mid-April. We’ve mostly cleaned out and reorganized our main barn and are moving forward with running electricity to it. Joanna shovelled out the goat hoop and built a massive new compost pile (more on that soon) of which she is very proud. Spring is definitely here when our infrastructure projects begin to run up against our produce projects; time management becomes very critical now. In any case, we feel pretty good about where we’re at for the coming season.

Upcoming local foods event in Columbia

Just a quick notice for all local readers: the Columbia Farmers Market is organizing and hosting a really neat event for Saturday, April 4, 2009. It’s envisioned as a community event in which farmers, consumers, gardeners, cooks, and more can all meet and learn from one another. From the official notice:

The Spring Round Up Community Day will bring together local farmers, community members, gardeners, cooks, and all who enjoy fresh, local food. The afternoon event will feature speakers and workshops on diverse topics connected to food, agriculture, cooking, gardening, and home preservation of fresh foods. Local farmers will have booths at which customers and community members can stop to talk, ask questions, learn about the farms, and build relationships in a more relaxed setting than the farmers market. Come join us to learn about and take part in your local food supply!

The keynote speaker sounds especially worthwhile. We’ll be hosting him on-farm during his stay in Columbia, and find his background and accomplishments related to local foods in Iowa quite inspiring:

Kamyar Enshayan, Ph.D., is the Director of University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education as well as for the regional Buy Fresh, Buy Local initiative, which strives to connect people, restaurants, and stores with local farmers and processors. The winner of the 2008 Sustainable Agricultural Achievement Award from Practical Farmers of Iowa, Kamyar has been recognized for his influential work in local foods and local communities. Enshayan also teaches environmental education classes at University of Northern Iowa, is program manager for Yards for Kids, and is a city council member for Cedar Falls.

I think he’ll really enjoy being hosted and fed by a real farm rather than the typical hotel and brunch, and we’re looking forward to his presence and talk.

In any case, read about the whole event here, and spread the word to everyone you know. Let’s make this event a really useful and worthwhile day. It’s a good, positive initiative in a food world going slowly mad.

H.R. 875: A truly frightening bit of legislation

Apparently in response to the growing number of contamination scares in the national food system, a new bill was introduced recently in the House of Representative aimed at fixing our deeply flawed system. Unfortunately, though the bill has lofty goals and means well, in practice it would be a disaster for small farms, local and direct-market food systems, and basically any other form of non-corporate, small-mid scale agriculture.

H.R. 875 basically creates a new government agency tasked with food safety. It requires all food establishments and food production facilities (“any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation”) to register with the government and be subjected to random inspections by an agent with the right to seize or condemn any food product deemed “adulterated” with little right of practical appeal. It requires every person or business in any way involved with food to institute a full tracking system that would allow the government to trace every bit of food from beginning to end, and to maintain complete records that can be demanded at any time by an agent. It basically places every kind of farm, restaurant, market, store, processor, and so on under direct Federal control at the whim of whatever national regulations are passed, regardless of local conditions, diversity, or relevance to different types of food production and sales. It’s a nice theory, but as soon as you start to think it through, it becomes a nightmare for anyone not a large corporation.

Quite a lot has already been written about this, and I don’t really need to reinvent the wheel here. The best summary I’ve seen so far is from the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s website. The raw text of the bill itself can be read here; focus on sections 206, 210, and 400s for the most farm-related portions. I’ve been fuming over this all week, and have started all sorts of different posts about this, all of which become run-on rants about the utter asininity and un-American nature of something that places so many ridiculous restrictions and infringements on as basic an American right as growing and selling food. So I’ve tried to boil my objections down to some shorter points, presented in no particular order:

1) The bill is completely impractical. Even if you agree with its intentions, food and farming is far more complex than the large corporate growers and processors it’s clearly aimed at. There’s just no way you could enforce something like this across the entire country, on every small farm and ranch trying to make a living. How many Federal agents would you have to hire to conduct inspections and visits on every farm, restaurant, market, processor, and shipper in the country? How many staffers would you need to read the yearly applications and records from all these places? And if you couldn’t enforce it effectively across the board, why is it being done in this format? Government should not take on projects it can’t do effectively, and this reeks of a huge unfunded mandate that will be applied unevenly, ineffectively, and unfairly.

2) The bill will disproportionately affect small farms and local foods. Can you imagine a market farm growing 200 varieties of produce on 5 acres, using sustainable intensive methods, attempting to comply with that sort of record-keeping? Maybe big ag can hire some flunkies to keep records on their 100-1,000-acre fields of one tomato variety, but the rest of us don’t have that kind of time or resources. Ironically, certified organic farms do have to comply with a somewhat similar structure, but (a) it’s voluntary and there’s a financial benefit as a tradeoff, and (b) far more farms DON’T certify primarily because the record-keeping and requirements don’t work for them. The most recent Ag census conducted by USDA showed that, if I recall correctly, a large percentage of farms that drop organic certification (not methods) do so because the record-keeping and regulations are impractical for them. This bill would mandate worse regulations with no compensating benefit other than continued legal existence and no jail time.

3) It’s going to have a lot of unintended consequences. Whenever you attempt to over-legislate a complex system, it’s like stepping on a toothpaste tube. Everything squirts out where you don’t want it, and nothing is solved. In this case, what you’ll end up with is a Prohibition-style farm economy, with a massive black market of small farms dodging the law just so they can sell to local customers, and a few getting busted here and there because they became too noticeable. And lots of farms going out of business because they don’t dare risk large fines or jail, but refuse to submit to this level of Federal interference in their affairs. It’s difficult enough to start and maintain a small farm under the current regulatory, tax, and health framework; this would end any hope.

4) I wonder if it’s even Constitutional. Intrastate commerce is, in my understanding, generally held to be the states’ responsibility. Can the Feds actually regulate and restrict farming and food sales at a local level to this extent? Selling produce to our local community is not exactly interstate commerce. Anyway, if it doesn’t violate the letter of our founding document, it sure as hell violates the spirit of it. The right to farm, the right to make a living off your land, is one of the oldest and most fundamental American rights and traditions. Can you imagine the uproar if Federal agents start raiding and condemning small farmers’ henhouses and vegetable patches because they’re not meeting the same requirements as Dole? The way this bill is written, that’s the inevitable result, or at least the sword they can hang over our heads.

5) It’s not going to solve the problem. There is no doubt that our national food system has serious issues, but you don’t solve them just through massive new regulations. You solve problems by looking for their ultimate source, not the immediate source. For example, if arson-set wildfires are becoming a problem, you may look into stronger laws regarding arson, but you don’t assume the entire populace are arsonists and require registration of every lighter, matchbox, and flint in the region. Moreover, you look at why the wildfires are even possible, and whether existing polices and systems are making the arson events worse than they need to be. To come back to food, all of these food scares are ultimately sourced in the fact that our food system is incredibly concentrated in the hands of a few large companies, and the paths through which food travels are incredibly centralized. It’s insane that one squalid peanut factory could contaminate most of the country. There’s a fundamental problem there which is not going to be solved by regulation alone. And by passing laws which do not know the difference between a market farm selling direct to local customers and a factory supplying most of the country, you’re going to stomp out a lot of the budding diversity in the food system which makes our food supply safer. Quick, when’s the last time anyone heard anything about a local farm or market causing any form of illness or trouble on any meaningful scale? Yet we’re going to get hit hardest by a deeply flawed approach that declares us all arsonists.

5) As a bill put forward in a strongly Democratic government, it’s going to sour a LOT of people who might otherwise sympathize with that party. And it’s going to cause a LOT of anger (and already has; just look through Google results for “HR 875″). Consider this: when Joanna first read through this bill, she started shaking. Her first two statements were something like her first two statements were something like “so this is how wars are started” and “if they want me to learn to use a gun, they can try enforcing this”. I’m not sure how much of that was a joke. We have put our savings and our future on the line in starting this farm; we’re responsible law-abiding citizens who pay all our taxes and spend far too much time attempting to understand the legal and tax requirements the government puts forth.

We do not expect to be treated this way by our own government, and if this goes through, we won’t be, because we won’t farm anymore. At least not for income. We’ll lock our gate, grow food for ourselves, give it away to our friends, and tell the government and the rest of the world to go to hell. If they want to make it illegal and impossible to grow and sell fresh, healthy food to our community, they can. Just see what happens next.

Recipe: spiced sweet squash soup

This is a basic desperation soup, something I threw together using what I had on hand in the depths of winter. I often struggle with squash soups, particularly when using frozen squash, as the flavors are tough to get right and the squash often swallows whatever spices are used. This one came out reasonably well, so I’ll share it for inspirational purposes. This was heavily adapted from a Moosewood recipe.

1 quart cooked squash (fresh or frozen)
1 cup onions
2T butter or oil
4 cloves garlic
Fresh ground spice mix, including things like cumin, coriander, cloves, black pepper, hot pepper, mustard, and turmeric
1 cup yogurt or milk
1/4-1/2 cup honey and/or sorghum syrup

Saute the onions & garlic in butter. Add spices, then a little water and simmer a few minutes. Add squash and cook until heated, then puree with an immersion or other blender. Keeping heat low, gently stir in yogurt or milk, then the honey and/or sorghum. Simmer gently as long as needed to allow flavors to blend. The spices provide a background, while the sweeteners balance the potential for squash to be strong or bitter flavored. Serve alone or over rice.

Like many of our recipes, this one is crying out for customization. Adapt to your own tastes and ideas, tasting as you go until you get what you want (that’s how I came up with this particular iteration).

First fresh food of the year

Tonight we enjoyed a true sign of spring; the first fresh vegetable of the year. Last fall, we left one bed of spinach to overwinter, though we never took much care of it or offered any protection. Nevertheless, the plants survived and began to green and regrow over the last few weeks’ warm weather.

So tonight, along with some excellent pasta and fresh bread, we had fresh spinach salad, topped with toasted Missouri pecans, shredded non-local carrots, sprinkles of cheese, and oil & vinegar. Just delightful, and a great preview of the months to come, when food comes fresh from the garden and field rather than from the freezer or jars.

Movable greenhouse trial

There are various uses for greenhouse-type structures on a farm like ours, from starting and hardening off seedlings to in-ground production within the protected confines of the structure. A wide variety of permanent structures can be purchased or built, depending on what type of growing and use the farm desires. As we don’t have much experience with growing under greenhouses or other types of hoop structures, we’ve been looking for a way to test such a system without spending a lot of money or erecting something too permanent. Enter the Washington State Extension service, with their Portable Field Hoophouse publication.

This design is not portable in the day-to-day sense, but is not permanent. It’s intended to be set up and taken down in a few hours, such that it can be moved once or twice a year, or taken down at the end of the year for storage. It’s intended specifically for small farms who need smaller and adaptable types of hoop structures, and seemed to fit our needs perfectly. The authors estimate the cost of construction at $350 for a 10′x42′ hoophouse, which is far below the cost of a more commercial structure.

So we went ahead and built the thing to our specifications, making some changes and substitutions along the way as needed. Above is a rooftop photo of the completed 10′x30′ structure in our developing orchard area; if you look closely you will see this year’s asparagus beds marked in yellow flagging and our first blueberry row marked in blue.

The basic design is a set of PVC pipes bent into hoops and supported on rebar driven into the ground. The ends are constructed of lumber and corrugated plastic, braced into the ground. Greenhouse plastic is stretched over the structure and secured at either end, and along the structure (read the publication for details). It took us about 1 1/2 days to set up, including laying out the site and constructing the ends. Our costs were lower than the authors’ estimates, partly because of the shorter length and partly because we used all our own cedar lumber rather than purchasing any (makes it look nicer, and eliminates the need for treated lumber which wouldn’t be allowed on an organic farm anyway). The photo below shows the home-built ends with the PVC hoops and plastic inside.


We made a few changes to the authors’ plan, based on our experiences.

1) The plan calls for 1″ PVC, but the 1″ pipe I found at Home Depot couldn’t be bent by me even when I jammed it up against a storage rack, so I went with a thinner version that I could bend. It’s a bit floppy, but works so far.

2) The plan calls for drilling bolt holes through several parallel PVC pipes at the ends, then inserting the plastic between them to hold it taut. We tried this, but it weakened the structural integrity of the pipe too much, and involved putting an awfully big hole through the plastic, asking for rips. We adapted the plan by placing duct tape on both sides of the plastic anywhere we needed a hole, poking a very small hole with an awl, then tying twine loops around the pipes and through the reinforced hole. It’s not perfect, and we need to monitor it and look into other ways of securing the ends. UPDATE: since I first wrote and queued this, we’re finding that the string is slowly working its way through the plastic in a few places. Some form of change is called for, including possibly some form of installable metal grommet like a tarp.

3) The plan calls for 1′ rebar, but that seemed awfully short to me for really holding this structure down in Midwestern winds, so I used 2′. That was a good choice, as several strong windstorms since then have pulled one of the 2-footers out of the ground with its associated hoop, so I shudder to think where our structure would be if I’d stuck with 1′. I don’t think the small-farm district of Washington State gets the same winds and weather extremes Missouri does, and we tried to take that into account in planning our version.

4) We found that 4 sheets of 2′x8′ corrugated plastic were not enough to cover the ends, so we used some cedar planks to build up one end as shown in the photo. I think this looks better and is structurally stronger anyway, though it does add noticeable weight. The far end is built to specification.

5) We wanted to help conserve heat overnight in the structure, so set up several of our large 50+ gallon water tanks inside to hold thermal mass overnight. We’ll see how that works.

6) We made our doors from plastic sheeting with velcro-type fasteners sewed and attached to the sheet and the frame. This lets us seal the door more effectively against wind.

So far, we like the structure. It’s held up well to reasonably strong wind, and is doing what a greenhouse ought to in terms of warming the soil and air inside. Joanna has already observed the joy of working inside this thing while it’s raining outdoors. Some parts will be direct-seeded with greens, others used to grow and harden off transplants, and we’re planning to transplant some early tomato and pepper plants into the ground there. It’s basically our research lab for learning more greenhouse techniques in advance of planning and erecting larger, more permanent structures. We feel pretty strongly about trying things out cheaply and simply before diving in head-first. The few hundred bucks for this setup are well worth the experience we’ll get before laying out a real farm-scale green/hoop house complex.

I could easily see this working for home gardeners as well, as a simple, inexpensive, and removable option for advancing your growing. I’d love to hear from others who have tried it.

Working with Goatsbeard Farm

Eleven miles west of us lies Goatsbeard Farm, our local artisan goat dairy and cheese-makers. The proprietors are good friends and have been willing resources for us from the beginning of our own goat herd. All our goats have come from their herd, and we’ve bred with their buck. Keeping a reasonably closed herd is a good way to manage disease and other issues, and we’re very happy to have a good working relationship with them as we build our experience.

One of the best aspects to running a small, diversified market farm is the contacts and connections we are able to make with our colleagues and peers. We’re all pretty scattered around the region, our vegetables, goats, and so on separated by seas of corn and soy and overgrazed cattle pastures. However, we manage to keep a pretty good network of cooperating friends who can share work, ideas, assistance, and materials as needed. For example, our milling days have been attended by several farmer friends who exchange their work for some useful lumber. One friend in particular and I have been exchanging work days on each others’ farms for a long time, travelling back and forth over an hour’s separation to give full days of work on tasks that can’t be done along while our significant others are away at off-farm jobs.

We’ve built an especially steady and helpful relationship with Goatsbeard, getting advice and support on our animals in exchange for help at their place. Now I’ve taken the next step in that connection, starting employment there. Since early this spring, I’ve been working one day a week as a general farmhand, managing the animals, helping with dairy tasks, and general farm labor as needed. It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone. For me, it’s some reliable income that is appreciated, and a chance for more hands-on experience with running a full-time dairy & cheese operation, something I have no other way to learn. For them, it’s another reliable employee who can be called on any time, and who makes their life a bit easier through delegation of basic work (they use many such part-time employees to keep the operation running). Our farms also complement each other well; we’ve been supplying regular truckloads of firewood and lumber for their use, while getting cheese, milk, and more in return. We keep good records of these transactions to make sure we’re balancing the books right.

In any case, I think I’m getting the best end of the deal, earning useful money while really getting an education in full-time animal management throughout the season. Spring is naturally a busy and exciting time, as kidding is going full-blast and milking & cheesemaking is just starting up. There’s a great deal to learn, and I’m doing my best to absorb everything for our own future use. And, as Joanna puts it, this arrangement keeps me from getting to aggressive in expanding our own population for the next few years while we really need to be focusing on growing our vegetable production, which is still the only product we’re actually allowed to make a living on at our scale. So in the meantime, I’ll be over at the dairy every Monday, working with 60+ goats and amassing knowledge and ideas for the future. And this year, we can still look forward to kids from Garlic in April and a steady home milk & cheese supply through

fall.

Recognition of local agriculture from unlikely sources

I’ve come across some positive coverage of local foods and farming in surprising places the past few weeks, and want to flag a few articles worth reading for interested parties.

The Economist, our standard newsweekly, has had a series of worthwhile and fascinating pieces lately on agriculture. Of special note are:

The return of Victory gardens, which focuses on the growing interest in local foods in America. Of particular note is the coverage of efforts underway in Little Rock, AR:

Classes are being offered on canning vegetables and raising chickens. The Station, a new grocery store about to open in Little Rock, will sell primarily local foods. Heifer International, a non-profit group that hopes to fight world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability, will host a conference in the city later this year to encourage the use of local produce in school cafeterias. The two-acre Dunbar Community Garden in Little Rock has served as a model for several years. More than 600 students a month have learned about gardening there. The students can take these lessons home and recreate them in their own back yards. The garden, attached to an elementary and middle school, allows inner-city students to taste fresh-grown fruit and vegetables, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Produce grown in the summer months is sold to local restaurants. Perhaps the most positive aspect of the garden movement comes from ventures like the Backyard Garden Project, which helps inner-city families start gardens for self-sufficiency.

It’s worth noting that these sorts of efforts are a core goal behind the Farmers Market Pavilion Campaign, as the Pavilion is seen as a resource for SF&C to engage in such work to complement the Market.

What’s Cooking takes a fascinating look into the anthropological perspective on the history of food preparation:

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running.

This was especially interesting to me, since shortly after reading it I spoke about the Market Pavilion at a local gathering of raw-food advocates, and had done some research on that perspective in preparation for the presentation. I’d like to do a future post on this, but don’t have time to do it justice right now.

Finally, George Will’s column in Sunday’s Washington Post made me rub my eyes in disbelief. It was one of the single best distillations of our current agricultural system’s problems, and its links to health, government, and more, that I’ve read. Michael Pollan (whom Will cites often) would be proud. I enjoy reading Will’s column, though I don’t always agree, but I never thought I’d see something like this come from his pen:

Vilsack’s department is entwined with the food industry that produces a food supply unhealthily simplified by the dominance of a few staples such as corn….Hippocrates enjoined doctors: “Do no harm.” He also said something germane to a nation that is harming itself with its knives and forks: “Let food be thy medicine.” That should be carved in stone over the entrance to Vilsack’s very important department.

If we’ve won George Will, we’re getting somewhere.

What We Eat: March I

2/28/09 – 3/6/09: I don’t see any trend to report on in this week’s main meals, just the typical using what we have on hand. I haven’t addressed breakfasts in this series, so here’s a quick summary. Our morning meals tend to be combinations of the following: homemade granola with homemade yogurt and either raisins or thawed berries; oatmeal with sorghum & raisins; homemade yogurt with thawed berries and honey; our farm-specialty cornbread topped with honey or sorghum; other fresh-baked goods like scones or coffee cake; fried, boiled, or scrambed eggs (chicken and increasingly goose lately) and occasionally treats like Uprise pastries or Finnish pancake. Not a bad rotation, and one that keeps us going. On to the main meals:

Saturday: Main meal was lunch, as we had a crew of people over for our milling work and like to feed them well. Mexican-influenced spiced goat meat, similarly spiced black beans, served in fresh-made Missouri wheat tortillas with cheese and extras. Dinner was more like a typical lunch, with thawed zucchini soup & rice, and thawed Hoppin’ John (spiced black-eyed peas and rice)

Sunday: Leftover Hoppin’ John, meat, and beans from Saturday

Monday: Chicken pasta (our shredded chicken cooked in its broth, with our onions, dried green peppers, dried tomatoes; served over bulk organic pasta)

Tuesday: Fresh pizza (homemade dough topped with a mix of our dried tomatoes & green peppers, boiled eggs, onions, cheese, and more)

Wednesday: Asian-esque chicken soup (our chicken broth & meat with our green beans, onions, fresh mung bean sprouts, and dropped-in goose eggs; noodles and soy sauce)

Thursday: Spiced dal (organic red lentils cooked with many spices and our hot peppers, onions, green beans, and okra); South African-style marinated goat (our meat marinated & cooked in apple vinegar, our applesauce, onion, hot pepper; varied spices)

Friday: Leg of goat marinated and simmered in a Missouri red wine and juniper berry sauce, served over rice with side of lentils from Thursday.

Framing the news – Pavilion updates

The Columbia Farmers Market Pavilion campaign has made the news lately, specifically because the project has been recommended by the Missouri Department of Agriculture as a priority for funding under the Federal stimulus package. This has generated a variety of news coverage, which has in turn demonstrated the ability of media to shape or frame an issue.

The coverage began with this article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, with the title
Farmers Want Pavilion Built With Stimulus“. The piece seems to have generated strong reactions from pretty much everyone, with supporters of the project arguing that the piece and its headline falsely represented the nature of the project, implying that the market and local farmers were just looking for a handout without accurately referencing the years of work and fundraising that have gotten the project far enough to even be considered for outside support. Meanwhile a slew of mostly anonymous opponents posted all sorts of vitriol in the resulting comment threads. Read through to the end if you have a strong stomach.

Several supporters of the project later weighed in, including well-known local economist and author John Ikerd’s opinion piece in the Tribune, and Scott Rowson’s latest column for the Tribune’s food section. Scott notes on his blog that the published piece bore little resemblance to the text he submitted, and posts the real version here.

I could spend far more time than I have analyzing and discussing this chain of events, but I need to restrict it to a few main points.

I’ve never been particuarly impressed with the quality of journalism in Columbia, whether University or professional, and this latest chain of events hasn’t changed that. Living in this area has helped teach me how careful one has to be when working with journalists, and how easy it is for editorial decisions or journalistic biases (even latent ones) to shape coverage. It’s something to keep in mind all throughout media consumption in our lives.

It’s one of the reasons why, despite being a staunch believer in traditional media outlets like newspapers, I’ve gravitated toward the blogging world. While there are even more concerns about integrity and accuracy among blogs, it’s also a freer market for folks to choose the sources they trust.

I see the two systems as roughly comparable to the farmers market and supermarket systems. Supermarkets and print newspapers are the large, stable, wide-ranging sources of everything. At their best, they’re reliable, effective, convenient, and stable. On the other hand, the nature of their business also makes their contents somewhat restricted; using either one as your primary source of product (news or food) will only give you the variety the editor/manager feels necessary. Blogs and farmers markets, on the other hand, take more active consumer research and intelligent decision making. There is much more variety, and more likelihood of a source that’s really tailored to whatever specific item you want, but these sources also place more responsibility on the consumer to do some research and make an educated decision on where/how to choose the product.

This is especially true for folks like myself who advocate for a freer market for farmers and food, giving more responsibility back to the consumer instead of the traditional arbiters of quality and value like government agencies and corporate chains. Blogs, too, do not operate under the shackles/guiding hands of professional editors, and suffer or benefit depending on their writer and readers.

At this point I’m rambling and need to get outside. What is a blog if it can’t unleash a semi-coherent ramble now and then, for consumers to read or dismiss as needed? After all, I’m not getting paid for this.