August 2011 Archives

The Flies

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My collection of fly swatters. The blue one is definitely the best.

When we first moved to the farm, nearly 4 years ago now(!), it was early fall. One of the first things I did was to throw away all the nasty fly swatters that were hanging in the entry way near the kitchen. Who would want those filthy things in their home? Ewwwww.

I found out why the following summer. Farms have flies. Lots of flies.

Last week I was sitting in my comfortable St. Paul campus office enjoying my lunch and a latte at my desk. I was working on the computer, taking an occasional sip of coffee and slowly eating my lunch. But something was out of place-- something nagging the back of my mind. I felt uncomfortable. I finally put my finger on what was wrong. I wasn't constantly waving my hand over my food and drink. It was the absence of flies on my coffee cup and threatening my food.

I am hopeful each year that we do a home repair that THIS will finally take care of the fly problem "New windows and screens will stop those flies from getting in!" Nope. "That new roof will put a dent in the number of flies!" Nope.

Exasperated, I asked Mike if the flies had always been this bad. "No" he said, "they used to be worse." He remembers spending an hour after dinner swatting flies, killing 3-5 per swat. The farm was an active dairy farm then, so his memory is probably correct.

I have this short childhood memory etched in my mind. Sitting in my grandma Alvina's kitchen in the late evening (after milking cows), a bare, dim yellow lightbulb hanging from ceiling, and the room just filled with flies everywhere. But 15 years of living in the City and one can completely forget that flies even exist at all. Likewise with mosquitoes compliments of Metro Mosquito control.

I've been quite good at killing flies. Killed two with one blow this morning. Got some ooh's and aah's from the kids and I believe I even took a bow. I've often thought that there should be Olympic events for the things in life that really matter-- like Olympic baby diaper changing (having had 4 babies- I often fantasized about the crowd going wild over my fast, but gentle diaper changing abilities). Likewise, my fly swatting skills are a matter of pride. Getting the correct angle and aim, the flick of the wrist, the trajectory of their falls so they don't land in our food, etc....

We recently painted every room inside in the house-- lovely yellows, chartreuse, sage green, brick red, Mediterranean blue, and in the main level- shades of nut browns. I picked the colors with an eye towards what would show the least amount of fly specks (a.k.a. poop).

I think I paint an idyllic picture of farm life most of the time. So good to introduce those small, uncomfortable bits of reality. And while we have flies in the house nearly every week of the year, but it's only this bad for a few weeks at summer's peak and that is right now.

Big Stone Bounty

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Blueberries grown by Koopman farms, Milbank SD. Frankly, the best tasting blueberries I've had since I lived in Silver Bay during the year of bumper crop wild blueberries

It is the peak of local foods luxury in Minnesota. Everything is bursting forth... at last. The harvest is rolling in. Thanks to Izzi who offered up the bounties of her apricot trees in Clinton, I've been able put up apricot jam and apricot chutney using my own ad lib recipe which turned out great (apricots, dates, raisins, garam masala, sugar, and onions). Last night's dinner (below) was Wild Rice (MN lake harvested) hotdish with carrots and our own chicken. Accompanied by the fresh Koopman blueberries, sliced green peppers, and local red wine. A perfect meal for a cooler August evening.


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Easy summertime meal... local wine, wild rice hotdish with our own chicken, carrots, and ground flour, and fresh sliced green peppers

And then I had the adventure of buying my first piece of farm equipment at the auction on a neighboring farm. It was the first ever auction at this farm that had been in the same family since this land was settled. Jiggs was a good man who cared for his farm until his dying days in his 90's. He made sure, even from the nursing home, that the buildings were painted and the lawn mowed. He'd fed the deer for many years and they still congregated at his farm waiting for him, even a couple years after he'd moved to the nursing home.

Chances are his parents were immigrants... making him a second generation American. There's what I think is the original house on the farmstead-- a small, tall, thin wooden house. It sits behind the more modern 1950's rambler where Jiggs and Marge lived out their lives.

So, at that auction, I had the thrill of holding up my white numbered card, surrounded by a crowd of a hundred and bid on my hearts desire. There was only one thing on the auction bill that I really wanted. If your a farmer, look at the picture below and see if you remember this piece of farm machinery.

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Fanning Mill, circa 1900, used to separate the wheat from the chaff (and the weed seeds)

I bought myself a Fanning Mill. Originally hand cranked, Jiggs or his dad rigged this one up with an electric motor and it still works. This is a beauty, with all the screens for the different crops. I wanted this for my wheat and edible beans. Right now, I wait until a windy day to separate the wheat from the chaff to grind it for flour. Likewise with my beans, I hand picked through them to get out the little clods of dirt and the dried bits of bean pods.

This mill was proudly made in Minneapolis and attention was paid to make it look beautiful.

Here's how it went... The auctioneer came over with his microphone and started calling for opening bids. When he got down to $25 I put up my card. He scanned the crowed yelling "25-30-25-30-25-30." Then he went 'whose gonna give me 30-35-30-35-35-35." Well, since he'd skipped 30, and the way he was gesturing, I thought someone had bid 30 and so I held up my card for $35. Then we kept going and the same thing with 40-45-40-45-45-45-45" So I raised my card again. At this point the auctioneer stopped the auction. As it turns out. I was the only bidder and had bid myself up from $25 to $45. So we started all over again, and much to the amusement of the hot, overall wearing crowd. "Oh come on!!" said the auctioneer "I just sold one of these last week for $140."

I got my Fanning Mill for $25.

Pretty darn proud of myself for scoring this lovely equipment for my local foods dreams and ventures. Thanks Jiggs for taking such good care of it for all these years. I'm lifting a glass to you tonight sir!

On Elephants and Agrarian Populism

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A mighty fine day at the end of the Age of Abundance


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The Circus came to town on Tuesday-an honest to goodness professional circus. It was the first time, to the best of the town people's considerable knowledge, that a circus had set up the Big Top in Clinton, Minnesota. As far as I know, it is the first time that elephants and a zebu spent the night in Big Stone County. Maybe an elephant or two had passed through the county in the past, but it was remarkable to be standing in the rural prairie with elephants. Don't get me started on their cousins the mammoths (which I miss).

It started as a day like any other. I woke up early on my farm-- a place on the edge of wild. A rough place of fields, flies, weeds, and animals. I took the kids to town to see the Big Top go up- rumor had it that the elephants would be part of the work crew. There was a crowd of people, not all of them with kids in tow.

The two performances that day, as I heard it, were the best of local entertainment. They were brought to this corner of the earth by expensive gas and a poor economy that makes a hamlet like ours (and the next down the road) both viable and appealing to this family owned Circus and their business model.

From the circus I went to the local branch of our State's land-grant University where I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with boiler engineers, farmers, students, professors and other people who hold their heads up high without a single doubt that they belong exactly where they are. The inscription on Northrup Hall reads:

The University of Minnesota
Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

And for that one night it was true. We were enobled... to the person. We were there for a common purpose (clean energy, sustainable food systems, clean water) though approached from many perspectives. We were treated to some of the finest foods I've ever tasted (all locally raised meat and produce), good homespun local music, and the best of people. In the glow of it all, I earnestly loved each and every one of them.

In some ways, Tuesday August 2nd, 2011 was the remaining shadow of the pinnacle of the Age of Abundance-- a time when public universities educated everyone, when we could afford to take risks with resources to see what innovations would emerge, a time, frankly, when the seeds of a Minnesota miracle could take root and grow.


One should savor every moment of the waning Age of Abundance. As I drove home from UM Morris the orange sliver of a new moon pierced the red and purple horizon and around me were pelicans, geese, fox, a turtle, and frogs to dodge on the road.

But do not despair at the end of this Age-- because it brings things to us that we might not otherwise have, like elephants in Big Stone County. Proof in point: On one single day in very rural America, a woman can go from her rustic farm to seeing elephants to being enobled and inspired at a public university.

And I'll leave you with these words from a Wall Street Journal article titled "The End of the Age of Abundance"

"Dynamism has been leached from our system for now, but not from the human brain or heart. Just as our political regeneration will happen locally, in counties and states that learn how to control themselves and demonstrate how to govern effectively in a time of limits, so will our economic regeneration. That will begin in someone's garage, somebody's kitchen, [somebody's farm- kjd notes]... The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local. That's where the magic will be. And no amount of pessimism will stop it once it starts."

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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