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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Udder Disappointment

Udder Disappointment

“Udder” Disappointment

by David Umling of Petersburg, WV

David’s story has since made the local news, “Farmers in West Virginia” on the WHSV tv website.

Since my first journal posting on our Peeper Pond Farm website in September 2016, I have addressed many subjects. I have done instructional postings on farming, exposes on the beautiful natural amenities that abound in our area, somewhat whimsical and/or philosophical discussions of traditional values, updates on our farming activities, humorous accounts of farm life, and even a ghost story. Throughout it all, I have tried to keep my posts entertaining, educational, and thoughtful. Farming and traditional rural living framed my childhood upbringing and became my chosen retirement lifestyle. I feel it is important to convey why I cherish it so and why it represents an important pursuit and lifestyle choice that should endure. In order to maintain that focus, I have tried to minimize (if not outright avoid) political commentary. Today, however, I have decided that I can’t achieve my primary farming objectives without making a political statement on our state government’s abject lack of focus on the survival and ultimate success of small, family owned and operated dairy farms.

In early August 2017, I was forced to sell our dairy goats and end our milking operation because the laws and regulations in West Virginia made it cost prohibitive for us to sell our farm fresh, unprocessed milk and dairy products, and we couldn’t afford to finance the cost of our operation solely on our retirement income. I then dedicated my energy to work for positive, progressive changes to those laws in an effort to salvage what was left of small family dairy farming as well as to promote agricultural diversification and profitability in West Virginia. I even wrote a book about those issues, The Peeper Pond Farm Story: Where Have All the Small Family Dairy Farms Gone, last August and September. In it, I explained the critical issues as they affected our farm and dairy farming throughout the Potomac Highlands region. I further discussed what positive changes we needed to make to improve the situation and make small-scale dairy farming a more viable lifestyle choice. I even made multiple trips to Charleston (our state capital) to discuss with Department of Agriculture officials and my legislators why these issues were important and needed to be addressed. During those efforts, I encountered a state government with an institutionalized regulatory culture so dismissively entrenched in its own lack of concern for the continuing demise of small family dairy farms that they could hardly show any interest in, much less be bothered to listen to my concerns.

I can understand that my legislators have to address a wide range of important issues to govern our state, and that the concerns I raised may not be something that they could prioritize at this moment in time. However, I cannot excuse the West Virginia Department of Agriculture for not recognizing the importance and critical nature of my concerns. Critical nature, you may ask? Yes, because in my August 2017 book, I noted quite factually that only two family dairy farms remained in our tri-county region of Grant, Hardy, and Pendleton Counties. As I write this post today, neither of them remains. The last multi-generational family dairy farm in the region, owned and operated by Chris Keller, ceased operation in December 2017. The Maryland company that collected and transported his milk daily, decided that it was no longer profitable to collect it, and severed his contract with them. Yet, according to the Hardy County Cooperative Extension Agent, there were a total of 28 commercial dairy farms operating in Hardy County alone when the 1985 Whole Herd Buyout program was introduced. Since the State of West Virginia remains one of only 19 states that prohibit direct customer sales of unprocessed milk directly to a growing number of consumers eager to purchase such milk, Chris was forced to sell all but eight of his 35-cow milking herd to avoid impending bankruptcy. He now milks his remaining milk cows, at his own expense, twice daily and dumps whatever milk he can’t consume or use in his home. I have referred to dairy farming as a lifestyle, rather than just a business pursuit because of its time and work demands. In Chris’ case, the farm was his family’s heritage as well.

The news of this tragic and unanticipated loss made front page news in the February 6, 2018 edition of the Grant County Press, even though Chris’ farm is actually located in neighboring Hardy County. Steve Davis, a radio personality for our local radio station, WELD, invited Chris and I to participate in a series of interviews regarding the ongoing demise of family dairy farms and the changes we feel need to be made to salvage what may be left of it. However, the Department of Agriculture’s own state-wide farming newsletter, the Market Bulletin, has yet to even acknowledge it occurred, much less devote any attention to what, if anything, should be done about it.

To place this abject neglect in perspective, you should know that when I met with Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Kent Leonhardt, on September 18, 2017, he was very concerned about the Health Department staff’s lack of responsiveness in giving Chris the most recent sanitary milk quality test results on his herd’s production. Chris told me he had been waiting on those results for several months. Commissioner Leonhardt asked me to tell Chris that he was working on this issue and that he hoped to get those results to him as soon as possible. It was only two months later that his dairy farm was put out of business by the dairy processing industry without so much as an official expression of sorrow regarding the loss from anyone at the Department of Agriculture. No one from the State of West Virginia has approached Chris to offer any financial help or technical assistance in deciding what, if anything, can be done to salvage his family farm. The ultimate magnitude of this loss — the last dairy farm in the Tri-County region — has not even been acknowledged by the state. In fact, a deafening silence was the response from the one state department that is focused exclusively on agricultural issues and needs. The Health Department’s untimely response in issuing required sanitary milk quality test results was the only concern ever expressed by the Department of Agriculture. By the way, Commissioner, Chris still hasn’t received those long overdue test results. Perhaps, at this point, it just doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?

Yet, it is the state’s onerous sanitary milk regulations that prohibit Chris from selling any of his fresh, natural milk to a willing customer base without first sending it to a dairy processing plant. This is why I argue that those regulatory prohibitions leave small dairy farmers subject to the financial whims of a dairy processing monopoly. A regulatory monopoly that allows dairy processors to control the wholesale prices they pay for the farmer’s milk and leaves the farmer with no dairy sale options if the milk processor decides they no longer want the farmer’s milk. Even the states of California, New York, and Massachusetts — highly urbanized states known to impose more restrictive regulations than those of West Virginia — have amended their laws to allow direct farm-to-consumer sales of unprocessed milk. It appears that our state has no concern about this situation, which would be untenable to any other line of business, much less a business that immediately impacts a family’s life and livelihood. Not to mention the fact that dairy farming was an important element of the state’s agribusiness industry only 40 years ago. I recognize the fact that it was when I drive around the South Branch Valley and see the deteriorating remains of long-abandoned dairy barns across the landscape. What value do regulations serve, if they have the consequence of ultimately destroying the activity it seeks to govern? Perhaps the state’s remaining embarrassment will fade when the last dairy barn collapses and disappears into some distant landfill. What then, I ask, will be left of our traditional farming and rural landscape?

Once again, I apologize to my readers for this lapse into the disgraceful state of our political system. However, I hope that by explaining my concerns, you will understand my reasons and need for doing so. How much does the survival and/or potential rebirth of this cherished, traditional lifestyle choice mean to you? I wish to enlist your help in educating the State of West Virginia to the fact that fresh, unprocessed milk is NOT an elixir of death. At least it never made me or Chris Keller sick, even after consuming it for years. If it was truly the dangerous, potential killer our state regulators fear it to be, neither of us would be here to tell you about it today.

David Umling – Peeper Pond Farm, Petersburg, WV
www.peeperpondfarm.com

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

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We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

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One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

The First Year

The First Year

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Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

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Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

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Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

Useful Birds

Useful Birds

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Whether a bird is beneficial or injurious depends almost entirely upon what it eats. Birds are often accused of eating this or that product of cultivation, when an examination of the stomachs shows the accusation to be unfounded. Accordingly, the Biological Survey has conducted for some years past a systematic investigation of the food of those species which are most common about the farm and garden.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT