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Friday, August 07, 2020

This is NUTS

It appears that a company with a terrible track record has purchased the second largest lamb processing facility in the country under dubious conditions.

First, here is an article with the details on that mess. It is nearly impossible to buy US lamb unless you buy from a local farmer...nothing wrong with that, but supplies are limited. It's all imported and not of the quality that my grandma used to bring to the table at Sunday dinner for sure. I really like lamb but we almost never have it for those reasons.

Now the supply will become even more constricted in times when we should be looking for more domestic products rather than fewer. He who controls the food controls everything!

Below is an article I wrote in June of '17, a bit rambling, but enough to show that this is neither a good company or a new situation.

Yes, you read that right...slavery!

JBS Swift is one of the largest meat processors in the USA as well as the biggest cattle feeder in the world. With businesses in 150 countries, they boast 8,000 “team members” and operate more than 100 facilities in the United States, Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

They are also in trouble.

Recently charges of far reaching corruption have been brought against them, which follow close on the heels of reports of skeevy meat, peddled on the markets of the world. The earlier scandal saw 63 people indicted for selling expired and adulterated meat products both domestically and through export markets. According to the Tri-State Livestock News, “All have been charged with passive corruption, use of forbidden or illicit substances, falsification of medical records, adulteration of food products or substances, embezzlement, malversation, and use of false documentation, among others.”

This may have contributed to illicit advantages over American producers, as well as leading to possible lower domestic beef prices. The same source reports that the Billings, Montana-based cattlemen’s organization, R-Calf, sent a letter last week to President Trump, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing, included allegedly bribing nearly 2000 politicians. “JBS is the second-largest beef packer in the United States and owns the nation's largest cattle feeding company, which the group contends was used by JBS, in conjunction with imported cattle and beef, to manipulate the cattle markets in 2015 and 2016, causing fed cattle prices to fall by more than $850 per head.”

So extensive was the scandal that there was even potential for the Brazilian government to be brought down by it. The Sidney Morning Herald said the company’s controlling shareholder, J&F Investimentos, agreed to a fine of $5.4 billion under a leniency deal, “The settlement follows testimony from J&F's owners Joesley and Wesley Batista that they spent 600 million reais to bribe nearly 1900 politicians in recent years, revelations that have deepened Brazil's political crisis.”

Seems as if the news just couldn’t get worse for the company, right?

But, wait, there’s more.

In a June 6th article, the Guardian Newspaper said that the Waitrose Supermarket chain, a major grocery supplier in Great Britain, which holds a royal warrant to supply food and beverages to the queen, recently recalled its corned beef due to allegations of what some sources are calling slavery. The paper said in part, “In a series of raids in June 2016, prosecutors say federal police officers discovered men forced to live in inhumane and degrading conditions, with no shelter and no toilets or drinking water. Prosecutors believe the workers were in debt bondage, with payments for food and protective equipment illegally deducted from their wages.”

The owner of the farm in question has also been fined in the past for illegally clearing rain forest land. Not surprisingly, JBS denies the allegations, and says that it ceased buying from the farm as soon as accusations came to light. However, the problem appears to be widespread. The Guardian claims that 13,000 people have been rescued from what amounts to slavery on cattle farms since 1995.

Unfortunately, rather than clean up their act, it appears that the Brazilian legislature may simply change the definition of slavery to accommodate the foul conditions.

These scandals shine a spotlight on a much different culture of protein production than exists here. Kinda makes you wish for Country of Origin labeling again, doesn’t it? Maybe the 100% USA beef trademark embraced by the National Dairy Producer Organization is an idea whose time has come.

In a similar light it was announced recently that Stewart’s is partnering with the New York State Grown & Certified program to offer the program label on dairy products and eggs sold in the company’s over 300 stores. The program includes product labeling, informational signage, and instore videos promoting the whole deal. Unlike many if not most other retailers, the company has its farms under contract to supply locally produced milk for its dairy products, so it can make such a claim.

According to its own website, “New York State Grown & Certified is the first statewide, multi-faceted food certification program designed to strengthen consumer confidence in New York products, address food product labeling, and assist New York farmers so they can take advantage of the growing market demand for foods locally grown and produced to a higher standard.”

Looks like a good deal for farmer and consumer alike. It is particularly heartening to see such an arrangement extended to dairy products. As things stand now, milk moves freely all over the country. The boss counts milk trucks and identifies them by state of origin while he waits for Becky and me outside the library every now and then. You would be amazed how many don’t come from NY, despite our extensive dairy industry. He spots trucks from Ohio and Pennsylvania and even sometimes as far away as the midwestern states, all hauling milk to be sold here. Imagine how advantageous it would be if more retail outlets embraced locally-produced milk, both in terms of freshness for the customer and profitability for the farmer.

Besides helping those involved in the milk to table equation, this could bring into play what is called the “local multiplier effect”. Economists believe that money spent locally returns three times as much to the local economy as money spent on products imported from other regions. Thus a buck spent on local dairy, beef, or veggies, is worth more to the local bottom line than the same buck spent on goods from far away. Add the value of extra freshness, plus the tax dollars generated by farmland and you end up with a pretty good deal.

It’s hard to put a dollar value on verdant hills, or ribbons of corn winding green and golden along the roadside, and the scent of fresh-cut hay floating on the summer breeze, but with buying local you get that too.

So now JBS appears to be in a position to bring our already struggling sheep farmers to their knees, while gobbling up even more of the domestic beef market than they have already devoured. Monopoly much?

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Requiem for a Winesap

Long before I met the boss his father planted a Winesap apple tree for his mother. By the time I first visited here it was a stately beauty. In typical fashion for a heritage apple it produced heavily some years....plenty for cider and deer and yellow jackets with some to spare for spring robins after a winter on the ground. Other years it would send out only a few shriveled knobs of greenish not much.

We called it the fruit salad tree because a grape vine that the old gent also planted turned out to be too close to it, climbed right on up and flung its grapes willy-nilly across the top.

Last year its two trunks began to split. Before that we hadn't really noticed that there even were two trunks, but the split was ominous. The boss worried and fretted over it all the time.

This spring it began to look really bad and by the time Isaias threatened it was a serious threat itself, to the horse barn, potentially the cars, and Mack's dog run. He brought the big tractor down, climbed up on a tire, and chained the bad trunk to it so it had to fall north and south, where there was nothing in the way.

Good thing because it came down yesterday afternoon.

There is a sad and messy tangle of branch, grape, and log lying in the backyard. Looks as if the "good" trunk will have to go too, as it's leaning toward the driveway. Last time we tried to save a split trunk tree there was a near disaster as the remaining half nearly fell on the kids. Thankfully my late father-in-law made them move just before it crashed to the ground.

I can't begin to tell you how I will miss that tree. It was featured in many blog posts and newspaper columns. It hosted so many robin nests and waves of winter-bound warblers in the fall and Scarlet Tanagers in the spring that its loss will impact them too. 

The cider was sweet and tangy and so wonderfully plentiful the year my brother and family made it.

Jelly from the grapes on the years when they were low enough to reach them was outstanding.

I guess the bright side is that we may be able to save the grapevine at least, and if we put it on a new fence we will be able to reach the grapes.

Anyhow, it will warm our house this winter after all those decades of warming our hearts all year and helping fill the pantry too.

Goodbye old tree. Losing you is going to sting.

Because I Can

Here's an old Farm Side
from June of last
 year. I guess I will share some of these now, just because I can. After all, they fired me......

                                    Getting the Third Degree

A bully moon in full regalia
gave me the third degree the other night. Not a truncheon in sight, but she shined her blinding spotlight right into my room and chased my sleep from pillow-to-pillow. Arghh, but not-so-soft, what light through yonder window breaks, and in all-night misery the sleeper wakes?

When I rolled out of her way, she used the white paint on the door to reflect on her accusations and wake me up again. What happened to the nasty drizzle of rain that was falling at bedtime, I wondered. I am really, really sick of rain, but least it was dark then.

The first robin started yelling at quarter-after-four and within minutes was joined by a dozen more. This place is baby bird central, a veritable assembly line of fluffy fledglings. Robins are the most numerous and full of early noise and drama. Little ones dot-dot-dash across the lawn, chirping for hand-me-down worms and looking cute as puppies.

Enough baby bunnies to fill a dozen Easter baskets are lined up along the garden edge every morning drooling over the beans sprouts as well. Tiny fawns hide among the bushes in the heifer pasture. We watch the does slipping through the tall grass, all secret and sly, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, as they visit the places where their babies are hidden. “Nothing to see here, move along, move along.”

We know they are there though and pretty much just where. It is a wonder how they stay hidden when the coyotes hold howling fests just yards from their secret nests in the tall grass.

The moon was relentless in her questioning so I gave up on sleep to start the day. It’s summer after all, moon to noon and dawn to day’s end. I don’t want to miss a minute.

As sunlight shivered on the other horizon at just about dark thirty, that meanie of a moon fell off the edge of the west, smirking in the early fog and pointing chilly fingers as I stumbled down the stairs.

Her sleep robbing midnight rudeness could not deflect from the delight of not one, but two, Indigo Buntings singing furiously from a pair of Box Elders in the front yard. It was surround sound awesomeness at its finest. After the robin opening sonata the other birds tuned up for the adagio movement, although daybreak is not so very slow in June at all.

Grey Catbirds snap crackle popped a medley of a dozen other bird songs from the shrubbery. They can’t bring me a shrubbery, but they sure can sing me one.

“Look-up, over-here, see-me, up-here,” a Red-eyed Vireo played his cheerful flute notes, while a fledgling Northern Cardinal banged on daddy’s shins, as he sat in a tray full of sunflower seeds, begging to be fed.

A Carolina Wren suggested with his “tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle” that I put on a refreshing morning beverage to shake off the last dregs of sleep deprivation. I went with strong coffee instead and another June morning was off to a brilliant start.

June is my favorite month. It’s better than December with Christmas…who needs the stress and hassle anyhow? There is no need to agonize over appropriate presents in June, just a few brotherly birthday cards for the guys I grew up with. And what’s not to like about Father’s Day?

Golden June is way superior to February, chocolate hearts or no chocolate hearts. You can, after all, eat chocolate in summer too.

There is more fizz and bang in June than all the fireworks of July or the thunder that punctuates May.

It’s even better than Thanksgiving. Turkey is all well and good, but even the smell of homemade dressing in the oven can’t compare with the seductive scent of Riverbank Grapes blooming in their myriad millions all up and down the valley.

Despite delays in planting, corn is popping up all over, dressed in the exuberant shades of bright spring green. It has been a great pleasure to watch the river flats fields we pass, as the corn seedlings double in size overnight and triple their tall by the weekend.

Hay fields have been sheared and fertilized and are racing toward second cutting faster than a speeding lawn mower, only better.

June is also Dairy Month and that may just be the best part of all.

Dairy Month began as National Milk Month in 1937 and was originally a program planned to promote dairy products. Today it is still aimed in that direction, but I see it as a good reason to enjoy delicious things and have a lot of fun too.

It’s the perfect month to take a drive through perfumed air under an azure sky, heading for ice cream that tastes like Heaven.

It’s fun to change up the destination. We have a couple of favorite ice cream shops, where we indulge in a range of delights.

My favorite, and Becky’s too, Hawaiian Moon, a decadent concoction of coconut, cherry, and pineapple, is only available in summer, and as far as the Internet can tell, only right here in our area. Despite being named after that midnight nemesis that robs our sleep, we love it. We wait eagerly all winter for the first cone, and save a pint or two in the freezer for the winter wasteland.

And what’s a picnic without ice cream to follow the cheeseburgers from the grill?

There are more delicious dairy things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!

I chased down some recipe suggestions for dairy month delights and found cucumber yogurt dip, another great possibility for picnics by the lake. Or how about a Tangerine Strawberry Creamsicle Smoothie? If you can’t find just the recipe you want you can be sure that the American Dairy Association has your back.

I hope you are enjoying June as much as I am this year, rain or no rain. After all, June is Dairy Good.

*Eh, okay, okay, I KNOW it's August but I stumbled on this and was kind of pleasantly surprised. Hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020


It's raining already
and supposed to get worse before it gets better. Pretty warm out when I walked the doggo though. No time in his run for him today I guess, but he doesn't mind. Just as happy to play with his ball in the kitchen for a while. Good doggo.

They say the storm may blow in some interesting birds. I wish them well in landing so far from where they belong. And I hope I see them....just sayin'.

Stay safe and dry my friends. 

Monday, August 03, 2020

Learning Curve

This year marks the first time
I have participated in a breeding bird atlas. It is also the first time data entry, maps, instructions etc. were done online.

It is exciting for me, as during the last atlas we were still milking cows, my late mother-in-law was seriously ill and we were too busy to even notice, let alone participate.

However, there is a pretty steep learning curve, at least for me, in doing it right...or at least rightish.

Since the affair began I have tried to stay within block lines for my lists, as you are supposed to do. However, the lines that I thought were block lines on the maps were something else entirely (no idea what). Thus lots of lists that were eligible for the atlas crossed those lines and I didn't submit them to the atlas portal.

Over the past few days I realized that most of those lists are eligible and so I fixed the issue.

Made me quite pleased and sure upped my stats for confirmed species in various blocks. So far I have confirmed 20 in the block where we live, ranging from Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to Ospreys.

Had a lot of fun doing it too. Today I accidentally found breeding Eastern Wood Peewees at Yankee Hill Lock. Such cute little birds.

Anyone else atlasing?

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Welcome to August

Heaven only knows what this month will bring
, but if the rest of the year is anything to go by we won't be ready for it.

We still go out hunting for good birds though, road farming along the way.

Hope you are all well in mind, spirit, and body, and that you are able to stay that way in this new month of new challenges on top of old problems.