Monday, November 28, 2005

men with guns and little dogs

We came home Saturday and there were three trucks parked in one of our fields.

Three trucks I had never seen before.

Trucks with rifle racks and, in the back, kennels for carrying hunting dogs.

In fact there were several beagles in one of the kennels.

Dogs but no hunters.

The only problem was, I hadn’t given anyone permission to be out hunting on our property.

Especially I wouldn’t have given anyone permission to be hunting with dogs.

I stopped the car near the trucks, got out and called at the top of my voice.
‘Whoever belongs to these trucks better get down here right now before I call the sheriff.’

Of course there was no response.

I stood there a moment longer, looking across the field, trying to identify someone standing in the woods. Listening.

When Wenonah called from the car.

“Come on, lets go to the house. I’m afraid of people out here with guns that we don’t know.”

So I got back in the car and continued down the driveway.

For anyone who has been out to our farm you know how the drive is laid out. First you drive half a mile through the woods, passing two houses, then there is our road and you turn right, cross the creek, drive up the hill and after a quarter mile, there is the first field, the cemetery field (there’s an old cemetery with a stone wall around it, right in the middle of the field).

That’s where the trucks were.

Then the road goes for another quarter mile, past a stand of several hundred poplar trees, a stand of beehives and the road turns to the left.

From there you can see across several more fields and on the other side, our house.

And that’s where we saw the men with their guns.

Two men were out in the middle of the field below the beehives, Both of them armed with shotguns. Half a dozen beagle running across the field in front of them.

And in front of our house. Our home. Actually in our front yard was another man, holding a double barrel shotgun.
He was standing there, right by our front door looking intently across our yard and into the field. I had the impression he had just fired his gun.

And as I looked from car window I realized that I didn’t know any of these men. There were three armed men in front of our house, in between us and our front door, and we didn’t know who they were or why they were their on our property.

We certainly hadn’t given them permission to be there.

I only slowed the car for a moment but quickly hit the accelerator and drove down the hill to the house, threw open the door and jumped out.

And started yelling.

I don’t know exactly what I yelled. And as I think back about it, I realize I probably hadn’t acted in the safest manner.

I jumped out of the car and started yelling that I wanted the two men out of the field immediately.

“you get out of my field and get your dogs over here right now.”

And then I turned to the guy in our front yard.

“What do you think you’re doing in my front yard?”

I stood there and he stood there. He stood there in between us and our home with this very expensive double barreled shotgun held across his chest.

We stood there staring at each other. For the longest moment he didn’t say anything at all.


The loaded shotgun in between us.

And then he spoke.

“Why, we’re killing rabbits for you, what do you think we’re doing?”


It turns out that this guy, this man, had delivered a piece of rented farm equipment (a machine that you pull behind a tractor and it picks up rocks) last spring and at the time asked if he could come out in the fall and hunt rabbits.

“I like to get out during rabbit season and hunt rabbits.”

I told him that he should check with me closer to the fall. “I usually don’t let very many people hunt on our land, and then, usually only members of our CSA. But give me a call in the fall and I’ll tell you then if you can.”

By then Wenonah had darted past the two of us and in to the house.

I stood there trying to make out who this man, this rabbit hunter (who I was starting to realize looking surprisingly like the rabbit hunting cartoon character) was. Was he really on the level, or what he someone back here up to no good.

“Anyway,” I said. “You don’t have permission to be out here hunting.

“So I think you should pack up your friends and your dogs and your shotguns and get out of here pretty quick. You hear me?”

And with that I walked past him and into the house.

It was only later that I realized how incautious I had acted. How that probably wasn’t the best way to handle armed men in your front yard.

Both Wenonah and I watched from the window to see if they really would take their beagles and their shotguns and walk the quarter mile back up the drive to their trucks and leave.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The title of today's entry should be:

Full grown hog, on the way to the butcher, breaks lose in the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria and runs amuck through the court before being cornered in the back of the jury room.

This week was, after all, the annual 'take the pigs to market day'. Which, for all of you who have been reading our newsletters for several years know, is always worth a good story or two.
For recent examples see:

This is because hogs, like most pigheaded creatures (a category which I include many species, especially humans) do not want to do what they don't want to do.

And being forced to leave a nice pasture with plenty of food and shelter and water is not something to which pigs usually willing submit.

And they especially don't want to do it if it means climbing up a ramp and into the back of a pick-up truck.

So, this time of year is the time of year us humans (and by that I mean me and anyone I can talk into helping me) attempt to show once more that we are in fact truly smarter than our pig brethren.

This entails, each year, devising a new and improved means of tricking the pigs to willingly get into the back of the truck.

Only, this year, I was not at the farm for pig loading day but instead I was all dressed up in a suit and tie sitting in a jury box.

I spent all week in a court room watching several attorneys explain how they spent several hundred thousand taxpayer dollars trying to prove that a woman who has lived and worked and paid taxes in the US for over 25 years filled out her citizenship forms wrong 15 years ago and therefore should now be kicked out of the country.

Among other things, I got to listen to opposing 'expert' witnesses try to define to everyone's satisfaction what exactly the correct definition of a Somalian clan was for immigration purposes back in 1990.

And while both professors (the expert witnesses) were really interesting chaps and while I would have enjoyed taking a class on Somalia and clan structure from either of them, I couldn't help but thinking (during breaks, of course) what fun my son was having loading nine 250 pound hogs into the back of the truck all by himself.

And thinking about how quickly my suit would be ruined if I wore it anywhere near those pigs.

(usually, I come away from 'pig loading day' coated from nose to boots in mud and other pig related matter).

And when I got home that evening from jury duty and asked 'How did it go?'

The answer was simply: 'It wasn't fun.'

(And not one for sharing details of humiliating experiences, he didn't elaborate).

So, no amusing hog story this year and for that you have only the US District Court to blame.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Heirloom turkeys

Thanksgiving dinner is not not why we have all of those turkeys. You know, the turkeys out in front of the house. We're talking about fourteen various heirloom turkeys. Four different breeds.

Sort of tall skinny birds.

Not much like the broad breasted bronzes that end up in the grocery store. (did you know that bbb turkeys can no longer breed without human assistance? That shape, the size of the turkey you get in the freezer department over at Whole Foods, is not a natural turkey shape).

The reason why I have so many turkeys is that the nursery (no doubt the same one that sells the ‘weeder geese’) won’t ship less than 14.

So, while I only wanted two or three as sort of pets, I ended up with an entire flock.

And do you know how much damage a flock of heirloom turkeys does to a field of vegetables? if you didn’t see any spinach or chard in your fall share. Think Heirloom turkeys.
Until I realized what was happening the flock of turkeys would run down the rows of greens, gobbling away as they went.

That’s when they got locked up in the greenhouse for the month of October.

But, now they are free, and living in the same pasture as the chickens.

And while I wouldn’t mind keeping two or three. Fourteen is a bit much.

I suggested a solution to Wenonah. “How about we have one of our very own turkeys for thanksgiving dinner?”

She laughed.

I told her I was serious. “I mean, if we’re going to eat a turkey, we should probably kill it ourselves rather than have someone else do it. It seems much more natural that way. If we are going to eat a turkey we should look it in the eye first. That’s better than buying a turkey from Whole Foods that’s lived its entire life in a cage And then when the day comes, its treated like something that’s manufactured. It’s hung up on a conveyor belt and run through a factory that turns it into one of those packages you find over at the grocery store.

“At least this way we’d be more in touch with what we are eating.”

Wenonah didn’t want any part of it.

“If that’s what you are going to do,” she said. Tell me that morning, so I can make sure I’m not home.”

So there you are. Almost a dozen full grown heirloom turkeys looking for new homes. (and yes, I have never butchered or plucked a turkey, but I do have a book that explains all).

Weeder Geese

It just occurred to me.

There was an original reason for acquiring all of those geese.

It’s just that I forgot what it was.

Until this morning.

This morning I was looking out the window, looking at the field in front of the house where the chickens and turkeys and guineas and, yes, geese are currently pastured.

And there were the dozen and one geese (we originally had a dozen geese but sometime over the past year one of our neighbor, no doubt thinking he was doing us a favor, drove up with his goose in a cage and said. ‘Here’s one more to keep yours company.’

And I took it without asking why someone would get rid of their pet goose.

Anyway, this morning I was looking out the window and there were the thirteen geese. All of them busy. Eating.

Eating weeds.

And it dawned on me.

‘I remember, I remember why I bought those geese.
‘I bought them to eat weeds.’

And not just any weeds. I remember, I bought them to eat the weeds that grow in between the rows of asparagus.

Somewhere I had read that the ideal organic way to take care of the weeds in an asparagus bed was to have geese. Geese, the article said, eat the weeds and leave the asparagus untouched.

That was three years ago. I went through the catalogues, and while I had intended to get Chinese geese or Giant African geese, I ended up getting, what the nursery called:

Weeder Geese.

(I assume, being my cynical self, because, because the nursery owner had read the same article and she thought: ‘I bet a lot of people read this article and with the proper name I can sell a lot of geese’).

Unfortunately, the weeder geese hadn’t read the same article as I had and when put in our large asparagus bed they showed no discrimination between weeds and non weeds.

They ate asparagus just as readily as they ate anything else.

So, for the past year, instead of having them penned up in some place where they could do their calling, I had them down with the chickens where they ate a lot of expensive chicken feed.

That, now, explains the geese. But what excuse do I have for all of those turkeys?

Friday, November 04, 2005

NY Times editorial on organics

A very good editorial on the legislation changing the definition of organics in Fridays Times. I don't have the URL but it should be easy enough to find.

fall leaves

For all of you wanting to drive out to the mountains in Virginia and see the fall leaves I think they are about at peak right now. The oaks up on our mountainside are bright yellows and reds. The poplars lower down are not quite there yet though.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I was over in the cemetery field yesterday pulling up plastic mulch and turning over the soil, getting ready to plant a ground cover of winter rye when.

When a family of ground hogs (mommy and daddy, big sister and little brother) came out of the briar patch to see what was happening to their grocery store.

It should have made me sad.

(but it didn't)

to see this fat family standing on the edge of the field, obviously wondering what I was doing to their food for the winter.

Which reminds me.

Since we last visited with the groundhogs, several shareholders contacted me to say they would be glad to come out and take a groundhog or two off our hands.

They wanted the groundhogs to eat. you know, cook. As in stew.

Groundhog Stew???

I thought about it for a while and soon realized, 'Well, I eat beef stew, and I eat chicken soup and I've even been known to eat roasted rabbit while in a restaurant in Paris. 

'So why not groundhog? Isn't it just a matter of upbringing, I mean taste and, you know, culture?'

Wouldn't a Hindu pilgrim sitting on those steps in Varanasi that go down to the Ganges be horrified with the thought of eating cow?

(Did I ever tell you the story about the time Wenonah was run down by a Varanasi cow as we were walking down on of the city's narrow, busy back streets? No? Well maybe sometime).

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

300,000 letters and still...

Here's an easy question.
Which way did Congress vote: on the side of a trade association or on the side of a large (300,000) vocal group of citizens?

Last month , the food processing industry attempted to weaken the standards the 'organic' food label is based on. The Organic Trade Association and other food processors wanted changes to the legal definition of what 'organic' means.

* They wanted to amend the definition to allow as many as 500 synthetic food additives and processing aids (?) to be redefined as 'organic'.

* They wanted to amend the definition to allow young dairy cows to be routinely fed antibiotics and genetically engineered feed.

* They wanted to amend the definition so non-organic ingredients could be substituted for organic ingredients on an 'emergency' basis.

On the other side was the Organic Consumers Association, the Consumers Union and over a dozen other environmental, organic growers and organic retail groups.

The organic growers and consumers bombarded congress with over 300,000 letters and e-mails.

The trade association gave bribes -- excuse me, I mean, they gave campaign contributions.

And which side won?

Last week Congress voted to change the definition of organic to allow non-organic additives, to allow feeding young dairy cows antibiotics and genetically engineered feed, and to substitute non organic ingredients on 'emergency' basis.

For more information you can go to the organic consumers webpage at