AgriCulture: The Shape of the Future

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 TURKANA FARMS, LLC October 4, 2019 WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:A note on Thanksgiving turkeys: It has been both gratifying and a sad reminder of reality to have gotten so many recent inquiries about Thanksgiving turkeys. We have none this year. When the barn burned back in late Spring, the turkey poults burned with them. We had neither the time nor a place to start a new flock, so we are with great regret taking the year off. We will be back in the turkey business again next year when we start them in our new barn. We hope you find birds to your liking this year, but that you resume what for many is an annual custom of a fresh Turkana Farms turkey for Thanksgiving next year.What we do have right now, for the first time this year, is some broccoli ($3/lb), decorative (i.e. inedible) Tennessee dancing gourds, (4 for a $1), some delicatta squash ($2/lb). Turnips and a few Long Island cheese pumpkins are looking great.Sold out are acorn Squash, cucumbers, larger tomatoes and green beans are.

The shape of the future

(Photo by Troy Spindler)

Stay Small and Stay In?Hi all, Mark here.Hard as it is of late to keep one’s mind off the impeachment psychodrama playing out in Washington, there are other matters that necessarily require some mental focus here at the farm. The new barn is going up. Troy and Victoria are making decisions both about aesthetics (green roof or white?) and practicalities (where should the new power line go?). They are paring down the sheep herd to a manageable winter size, planting cover crops where they think the soil will most benefit, and are selecting seeds to save for next year. That is, they are generally taking the managerial lead. And it gets me thinking about the shape of the future.A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Sarah Smarsh about the rural “brain gain.” In it, she suggests that the flow of rural residents to cities is reversing. She cites, among other examples, a study of rural Minnesota which found that a majority of the state’s rural counties gained early-career to midcareer residents (that is younger folks) with ample socioeconomic assets in the decade from 2000 to 2010. A third of the inflow consisted of people returning to the places where they grew up, while the rest were new recruits.Ms. Smarsh tells us this is happening because while 80% of Americans live in urban areas, when asked in polls what life they would like to lead, rural life is the most wished for. She paints a picture in which the countryside is not only repopulating, but also becoming more diverse, tolerant and cosmopolitan as a result of this brain gain. It’s a picture of cultural vibrancy, not torpor. And I can easily see Troy and Victoria and their young farmer friends, like the ones who came to dinner last weekend (raised, respectively, in Brooklyn and in Philadelphia’s suburbs), fitting in this picture. All of them college educated, well-traveled, sophisticated in their tastes and embracing friends from a broad range of cultural, racial and sexual categories. And all of them farming
The mid-Hudson Valley, thanks to its proximity to New York City, may be an extreme example of the successful in-mixing of urban vibe with rural sensibilities. There are probably not many places in the prairie counties Ms. Smarsh writes about where the farmers can and do go from slopping pigs and harvesting beans by day to full throated response to a transgressive drag show at night. Here it happens.But while taking great pleasure that the rural and urban can so fully come together in such a beautiful setting as this, I wonder how these young farmers will sustain this life. Is it viable over the long term? I realize that these twenty-somethings are doing the sort of work Victoria so vividly described last week: physically punishing and hard to do as one ages. To boot, the work is denied the prestige and respect it deserves, hence putting agricultural workers at the lowest end of the compensation scale. Maybe those born to farm families, or privileged young people with family nest eggs or other support can take a chance on farming, but the vast majority of Americans, no matter how much they romanticize the independence and nature-connectedness of the small farmer, would probably never risk embarking on that journey.Ms. Smarsh reports triumphantly on one college senior who founded a direct-to-consumer beef company in Otoe County, Neb., and sold $52,000 worth of meat in the past nine months. It sounds highly successful, and that may indeed be great gross revenue for a start up, but then I think what the costs must have been to produce that beef. Accounting for acquiring the livestock, feeding and caring for it, and obtaining the land on which the beef grazes, after expenses this young man would have precious little, if any, of that $52,000 left to live on.The young seller of beef might be able to make above poverty wages if he substantially increases his revenue, but that requires dramatically ramping up the scale of production. That was the message Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue delivered to Wisconsin dairy farmers this week, according to CBS news. He told them that “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.” In Wisconsin, one of the nation’s biggest dairy states, farmers are contending with falling milk prices and declining markets resulting from Mr. Trump’s trade wars. The state lost 465 diary farms in 2017, 638 in 2018, and 551 so far in 2019. A disproportionate share of the federal money aimed at insulating farmers from the effects of the trade wars is going to big agribusiness, not to the little guys. Wisconsin state legislators are considering increased appropriations to combat depression and rising suicide rates among farmers.Some small dairy farmers, hearing Mr. Perdue’s get big or get out message, left the conference where he spoke feeling that there was no place or future for them. Ms. Smarsh’s op-ed points out that many of the Democratic candidates for President have very innovative proposals to support small farming, and can justify that support because of its lower environmental impact and contribution to public health. But these candidates are, right now, just candidates. Even if Mr. Trump, the friend of big agribusiness and fast food, is removed from office, the rest of his administration, which tilts so strongly against the small farmer, will still be in control for another two years, at least.I watch Troy and Victoria contemplate not only what the farm will be doing in the future, but what they will be doing too. They are figuring out how to generate off farm income by working remotely from the farm (which they are able to do because we, unlike vast swaths of rural America, enjoy fast broadband connections) or at part time jobs in the area. Their challenge in balancing the demands of farming with the need to generate “real money” represents the struggle of almost all small scale American agriculture. After all, the average American farm family earns 78% of its income from off-farm sources. We have yet to arrive at a public policy that really supports the small farm endeavor as a full livelihood; the goal of many agricultural initiatives is only to make the balancing act easier.I watch them in admiration, and in trepidation. I hope this is the generation that will turn around the dynamic of farmers sacrificing their financial well-being to do something of such broad benefit. I hope they can, contrary to Secretary Perdue’s prediction, stay small and stay in. But I don’t think they can do it entirely on their own. The broader public is going to have support that effort, politically and financially.WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Raspberries, $6/pint — Just a few available
Fish Peppers, 2 for $1.00
Cubanelles, 4 for $1.00
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $2.50/bag — spicy, great for stringing and drying
Oasis turnips, $2/bunch
Cherry Bell Radishes, $2/bunch
Broccoli, limited quantities, $3/lb.
Wild Water Peppers, $2/bunch
Tomatoes, only Sun Golds $4/pint
Lots of Rainbow Chard – $3/bunch
Leeks, $1.50/each
Honey nut squash, $2/each
Mugwort, $1/bunch for infusions or tea
Scallions, $2/bunch
Kale $3/bunch two different varieties, deep blue green straight leaf and curly leaf
Collards, $3/bunch
MINT: $.75 a bunch
SHISO LEAVES green or red, $1.00 FOR 10EGGS: $5/dozDecorative Tennessee Dancing Gourds, 4 for $1MEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezerGEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.ROASTING CHICKENS – Nice fat Freedom Rangers, frozen, largish (4 to 7 lbs, a few smaller), $6/lb.LAMB: Riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb, lamb stew $7/lb, shanks, $10/lbPORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb,
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb
baby back ribs $8/lb
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) SOLD OUT
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Kielbasa $8/lbFARM PICKUPS:Email us your order at, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.


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