Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter
July 2006

 Special: FREE BREAD MIX and a Salute to Family-Scale Farms
SPECIAL OFFER - Mid-Summer Special! FREE organic Breakfast Raisin Bread Mix ($5.95 value) for all purchases over $25. Orders must be placed by Monday, July 17 and must ship by July 27. Please refer to Code XXXXX.

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We've had hail the size of nickels and thunderstorms that have dumped piles of rain in minutes. Despite the un-typical summer weather for us, the crops are growing well and the fields are now awash with potato blossoms. Where you once heard "I'm all done." after the prolonged spring plantings, now that the summer fields show bounty, those words are forgotten by those who uttered them. Read how that phrase relates to northern Maine farmers in our 'Maine Speak' section at the end of this newsletter.

For our 'Conversations With...' section of this month's newsletter, we speak with Don Bixby, Research and Technical Programs Manager of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization that works for the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock. Read what work the ALBC is doing now and their stand on the controversial National Animal Identification System that is now before Congress.

We salute the work of the ALBC because here at Wood Prairie Farm we believe in the importance of diversity and that family-scale organic farming should be synomynous with sustainable farming; using crop rotations, planting a diversity of crops and building organic matter in the soil. With that in mind, read about the Wal-Mart announcement of getting into "organics" in this month's 'Potato Bin' and how that will have an affect on the sustainable philosophy.

To the right is a photo of a literal definition of "family-scale" farming. Our daughter Sarah (7) helps us on the potato planter. - Jim and Megan


  Q&A - Hilling Potatoes
Q: I am a first time potato grower and received my Reddale and Yukon Gold seed potatoes from your company. I am very impressed with the quality of your potatoes and they are growing amazingly well inside garbage can containers in my basement. I have a greenhouse set up down there with a 1000w growing light.

My question is on hilling. As the plants grow I am adding dirt, but I understand you are not supposed to cover the leaves. Does this refer only to the top leaves? Most of the plants have small leaves far down the stalk. - KC, Las Vegas, NV

A: This is a very common question. It is fine to cover a few leaves, up to 25% of them. You want to allow the plant to photosynthesize with as many leaves as possible. - Jim


  The Potato Bin
According to Bruce Peterson, head of perishable food at Wal-Mart, "this is like any other merchandising scheme we have". In The New York Times May 12 article, Mr. Peterson also stated his view that organic agriculture is just another method of agriculture - "not better, not worse". The company's intention to sell organic products for just 10 percent more than their conventional equivalent will have far-reaching consequences. Author Michael Pollan describes those non-sustainable consequences in an article in The New York Times Magazine June 4th. He writes that Wal-Mart is bound to hasten the globalization of organic food in countries such as Mexico and China or wherever in the world it can be produced most cheaply. Mr. Pollan also writes about Wal-Mart's intention of pricing organic food just 10% higher than conventional food. "To do so would virtually guarantee that Wal-Mart's version of cheap organic food is not sustainable, at least not in any meaningful sense of that word. To index the price of organic to the price of conventional is to give up, right from the start, on the idea, once enshrined in the organic movement, that food should be priced not high or low but responsibly." To read the May 12 article in full, search at nytimes.com (requires fee for archived article viewing) or to read Michael Pollan's article, go to https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/magazine/04wwln_lede.html

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You may recall reading our September 'Conversations With...' interview with Dr. Stephen Jones, a Washington State University wheat breeder. He has received a grant of $680,000 from the US Department of Agriculture to develop wheat varieties in the nation's only certified organic wheat breeding program. For the last five years, Jones and his students have worked on crossing modern wheat varieties with 163 wheats grown in the Pacific Northwest from the 1840's to the 1950's, a time before the heavy use of chemicals and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. With this research, Jones hopes to develop varieties with good end-use qualities, compete successfully with weeds, efficiently use nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil, be nutritious to humans and yield well with low-input and organic agricultural systems. Dr. Jones hopes to release the first organic wheat varieties from his program in the next five years.

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Last month we reported on the discovery of two potato cyst nematode (PCN) organisms in tare dirt samples from a field in eastern Idaho. Since then, Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea have closed their borders to US fresh potato shipments. Only two PCN specimens were found in 10,000 soil samples collected during the past three years which resulted in the quarantine of 500 acres. Out of those acres, more than 2,500 samples have been tested, with 19 positive samples traced to one 45 acre field since the initial discovery. Source: Potato Grower, May, 2006 and North American Potato Market News, June 14, 2006

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A new report from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture addresses the economic impact of people in the State of Iowa eating five servings of fruit and vegetables every day - with 25% percent of those fruits and vegetables being Iowa-grown. The potential result? An additional $302 million in sales and more than 4,000 jobs added to the Iowa economy. One of the reasons the impact on the state would be high is because much of the produce currently eaten in Iowa comes from outside the state. For a full report, go to www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/staff/files/health_0606.pdf

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Innovative members of the North Dakota Farmers Union recently opened an upscale restaurant in Washington Harbor. With 90% of the restaurant's investors farmers from North Dakota and beyond, Agraria has cut out the middleman and will source its ingredients directly from family farmers in 25 states. The NFU hopes to fulfill two objectives with this project: boost farmer profits and subtly educate diners about the lives of family farmers and ranchers.

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Traveling in Maine this weekend? For those of you wanting to experience a northern Maine summer afternoon, come join us for the annual Wood Prairie Farm Tour Day July 16, 2006. Starting at 2:30pm, we'll have a hayride tour of our farm with a Slow Food potluck and swimming in the pond after.

        The Potato Bin

  Recipe: Field-Baked Potatoes
On our last day of planting potatoes we had the boys build a fire in the field and bake some potatoes for our lunch. They had a lot of fun doing it and it worked great. For those of you feeling adventurous, here's how we did it.

1 medium-sized potato, good for baking
wood for fire

Build a small fire. Cover the potato in mud 1/2 inch thick and place "mudball" in wood fire. Cook for approximately 45 minutes to one hour (the time it took us to make a round trip on the potato planter). Brush off mud, slice open the potato, add some butter and enjoy!


    Conversations With... Don Bixby
Don Bixby is Research and Technical Programs Manager at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and was formerly Executive Director for 14 years. He received a B.S. and D.V.M. from Michigan State University. He has been involved in breed conservation and livestock and poultry genetic conservation for over 20 years. Bixby organized the first North American rare breeds show and sale in 1986 and went on to develop of the first national gene bank for rare breeds of livestock. He represented ALBC as a founding member of Rare Breeds International and has collaborated with other international conservation groups with first-hand experience in South Africa, Brazil, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Wood Prairie Farm: The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) protects domestic animals in opposite ways than when a person thinks of a wild endangered animal being protected under federal law. Can you explain? How does this fit into the ALBC mission?

Don Bixby: While federal law does not regulate breed conservation, it is very similar to wildlife conservation in that restoration of habitat is essential to conservation of both domestic and wild creatures. Most people do not think of a farm as a habitat because farming has been changed from a biological system to an industrial system, with the animals being mere cogs in the wheel instead of partners for survival.

The mission of ALBC is the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock. Communication and transportation advances have posed a threat to breeds and their integrity. This threat has usually arrived from a gradual homogenization of regional and international cultures so that unique products and the animals that provide them are much less valued than once they were. Consolidation of the production and marketing of agricultural products dictates that producers must follow the mandates of this consolidation to be successful. Globalization is the final stage of this process, and if unchecked can result in a severe diminishment of breeds globally for the production of unique, satisfying, healthy, and interesting local products.

Increasingly the cultural environment for breeds has also changed. Breeds which were once valued as essential ingredients to local and regional agricultural production and cultural identity have become trivialized as lifestyle endeavors for those wealthy enough to indulge themselves in this activity. Breeds, while saved, have moved from essential partners in production to a nonessential pet or hobby status. This cultural shift changes the selection environment, and can only result in genetic changes as well. Breed genetics can easily drift, so selection within the traditional production environment is necessary to maintain the characteristics of the breed.

The future is looking brighter, however, as both producers and consumers are realizing that a sustainable and local agricultural system has great advantages for people, animals and the environment. The growth of this view of agriculture will help to provide traditional breeds a secure future as the connection of breed, place, and production system becomes recognized and appreciated by larger numbers of people. The Renewing America¹s Food Traditions (RAFT) collaboration, explained more fully below, is evidence of this realization.

WPF: The ALBC collaborates with many other organizations in the promotion of rare and endangered livestock breeds such as Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT), Slow Food USA, and the Chef's Collaborative. In 2006, how important are these collaborations and how has the work of the ALBC benefited from such partners?

DB: It is important to remember that generations of breeders have given us the breeds that we enjoy and use today. The future hope of breeds and their conservation lies with breeders as stewards. While ALBC works directly with farmers, ALBC has always tried to be a collaborative organization, understanding that breed conservation will not be successful as a centralized endeavor. ALBC works with over 200 breed associations, species groups such as American Poultry Association (APA), Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPPA), and American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), hatcheries, a host of sustainable agriculture groups such as American Grassfed Association (AGA), education programs at zoos, nature centers, and historic sites, animal welfare programs, and environmental advocates.

The understanding of endangered breeds as important players in the production of sustainable food has been a great boost to breed conservation. The original ALBC collaboration with Slow Food in heritage turkey promotion has snatched nearly all of the turkey varieties back from the brink of extinction. When ALBC conducted a turkey census in 2000, there were fewer that 1,400 breeder birds of all Standard varieties combined. A current census indicates that there are now over 8,000 breeder birds. Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) is a collaboration of seven non-profit agencies including ALBC, Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seed/SEARCH, Slow Food USA, Chefs Collaborative, The Cultural Conservancy, and the Center for Sustainable Environment at Northern Arizona University. www.slowfoodusa.org/raft These organizations have recognized the commonalities of their missions and the integral roles of farmers, ranchers, livestock breeds, chefs, and people who care about what they eat and how it is raised.

WPF: When building your conservation lists, who do you work with to determine what heritage breeds to promote? Do you work directly with farmers around the country to re-establish those breeds?

DB: The ALBC Conservation Priority List is a dynamic report published annually to focus conservation attention on the most endangered breeds and to highlight conservation successes (or failures). This is a working document for ALBC and for all who care about breed conservation. ALBC continually collects population data throughout the year. These data come from breed registries, hatchery reports, ALBC census work, and individual breeders.

ALBC outreach is directed to current and future breed stewards. Characterizing breeds and helping to find an appropriate production niche and market (restoring the habitat) is part of effective conservation. In addition to unique animal products from rare breeds, ALBC also promotes animal services, (such as pest control, grassland management, recreation, wildfire fuel management, among others), the traditional advantages of multi-species grazing and the integration of livestock and poultry into other on-farm endeavors.

WPF: What is the ALBC's stand on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)? How do you see this affecting those family-scale farmers who depend on raising a diverse livestock?

DB: The ALBC has accepted the invitation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others to provide input on the proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Many of our country¹s rare breeds of livestock and poultry are stewarded and maintained on small, independent farms and ranches. Onerous or cumbersome regulations, policies or procedures will discourage a significant number of those farmers and ranchers from breeding or raising such animals. The NAIS program, therefore, could have serious, unintended, and unanticipated effects on the diversity and long-term viability of our nation¹s livestock industry.

ALBC appreciates that some benefits can accrue from the development of a carefully considered national system of animal identification. However, as the leading national organization concerned with the conservation of our nation¹s endangered livestock and poultry, we urge all NAIS decision and policy makers to be aware of the importance of conserving our national livestock genetic legacy and to be mindful that regulations and procedures designed specifically for agribusiness and large-scale production systems may have a disproportionate impact on those currently maintaining these genetic resources.

Policies, procedures, and regulations that inappropriately or unnecessarily discourage farmers and ranchers from considering or continuing to steward rare and threatened breeds could lead to the extinction or functional loss of the genetic resource these animals represent. Such a loss would diminish our country¹s genetic legacy, significantly reduce the capacity of present and future animal breeders to respond to new challenges and opportunities, and potentially compromise our nation¹s food security.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy did not rush to judgment on the National Animal Identification System. Instead, ALBC followed established policy governing the taking of a public position on federal legislation of national significance that called for extensive research and analysis of the facts related to the proposed legislation and its draft implementation plan and the meeting of two key tests of merit:
1. The proposed legislation will have a substantial impact on ALBC's ability to accomplish its mission, and
2. ALBC's participation in the legislative process will make a difference in the outcome.

WPF: Lastly, since its inception in 1977, what has surprised you most in your work with the ALBC?

DB: I have only been involved with ALBC and breed conservation since 1983, but the issues of genetic diversity and breed conservation are quite different today. In the early days, breed conservation was dismissed as mere nostalgia. After all, was the agriculture industry in the U.S. the model of efficiencies and low cost that the entire world envied? In the intervening years some of the costs of that efficiency have become more evident:
1. Environmental degradation of farmland, ground water, and lakes rivers and streams ­- even a dead spot in the Gulf of Mexico
2. Social issues related to decreasing numbers of farmers, decline in rural services, agricultural workers health and well being, animal welfare
3. Economic issues forcing farmers off the land in favor of consolidated agribusiness
4. Health issues related to antibiotic resistant organisms, genetically modified foods, growth promoting chemicals, and declining levels of nutrition in industrial food
5. The loss of genetic diversity within breeds (leading to health and production issues) and among breeds leading to breed extinction.

Today the issues of genetic diversity and breed conservation are widely recognized as crucial to the health of our society. While ALBC has been the pioneer organization in breed conservation since 1977, there are now increasing partners in efforts to remedy the loss of this critical resource.

For more information on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, click here
Often heard late in the day with a tone of exasperation

I'm All Done: When the subject is "I'm done" it means "I quit"

Example 1. "I've had just about all the fun I can stand. Much more of this and I'll be getting done."
Translation: "I've had enough and I'm ready to quit."

Example 2. "Guess this is my 60th crop of potatoes. I'm gonna git done."
Translation: "Won't be long before I quit."

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(c) Jim and Megan Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm, 49 Kinney Road, Bridgewater, Maine 04735

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