This time on The ‘Steadcast: The Farmkids and I visit the “What IF Festival” in downtown Colorado Springs, updates from the farm, more on what the solution was to the well water crisis for Colorado small farms, and The Pasture-Raised Life segment “Meet your Meat.”
First off, I’d like to give a shout out to some original listeners who stuck by us and got right back on the podcast bike with us. Now, that’s a phrase I’ve never quite understood: it’s just like riding a bike… like it’s supposed to be easy to get back to it after you’ve been away from it for a while. Because have you ever watched someone who hasn’t ridden a bike for a few years get back on a bike? They look like drunken idiots for the first few blocks, and if they’re doing it on a beach bike path or something, there’s a good chance a rollerblader is going to be eating a set of handlebars along the way. So, in that case getting back to a weekly schedule on the ‘Steadcast is indeed like riding a bike, because we’re wabbling and cursing our way through the first few. More cursing off-mic at Audacity and WordPress, but you get the idea.
So I thought I had a point there… right, right… shout outs! One of the early adopter listeners, Ed of the St Louis area, is doing good stuff on social media with his own efforts at homesteading. Check out Coriander Fields on Facebook to see what he’s been up to. We also received a visitor post on the Gray Area Farm facebook page from Rebecca, who says she’s originally from Eugene, Oregon… which, as a staunch USC Trojans family we’ll forgive the Oregon Ducks reference… but she’s now in Istanbul, where she listens to the Steadcast which she says gives her a taste of home. So hey Ed, hey Rebecca. There are many more early listeners who are clearly back with us based on social media likes and the geolocate stuff on the server logs. I also want to give a shout out to Yosef and his crew at Ahavah Farm for a great share on Facebook that brought a few new people over.
The 50 new chickens we had shipped to us a couple months ago are almost ready to start laying eggs. Probably another two weeks or so. A back-of-the-envelope calc shows we would probably get about 16 dozen eggs a week out of them, which means the really ad-hoc way we’ve been selling eggs so far is going to be changing. Until now, we’ve had situations where people have been either really annoyed that we’d already pre-sold the eggs we bring to Falcon or on the flipside we come back home with some unsold. Therefore, we’re introducing an egg CSA program that we’re calling “rent a hen,” so people can rely on getting their eggs and we can rely on getting their money, to put it somewhat callously.
We still have a couple shares of pork available, as we mentioned last week. We’re somewhat confused by Lollipop because we haven’t seen her come into heat yet. She totally should have, because she’s plenty old enough. But because of her coloration and behaviors it’s been difficult to tell. Meanwhile, the younger ones that are destined for freezer camp have been cycling and if you scratch their ears just right they’ll go into standing heat. Which… is kinda disturbing that these girls think I’m just that sexy as a boar that they’ll go into standing heat that quickly. But… when you got it, you got it, I guess. Anyway, with lollipop we definitely want to start tracking her cycle because artificial insemination supplies are.. shall we say… perishable…. and wicked expensive. Like $200 a dose expensive. Sure we could let her hang out with a local boar for a few days, but our goal with her is to really start getting a super-awesome genetic line of piglets and breeding stock so we can get awesome pork and awesome show pigs a few years down the line for Travis for 4-H.
One of the better meteorologists around here is saying that the long term models show we’re probably going to be getting some snow in the first week or so of October. So indeed, the short growing season here is coming to a close all too quickly. We’ve got some spinach that will be included in the CSA shares soon, and the new arugula beds are up and in production so I can scrape out the older arugula. Sure it’s “cut and come again” but after a certain number of “agains” it gets bitter. And indeed, the evenings and mornings are starting to get a little bit of a chill. We’re sending the kids to school with light jackets, and we are almost – but not quite – ready to do our start-up procedures on the ol’ Tiny House heater. We certainly don’t want to just fire it up without doing a solid clean out and check on it, after what happened last year with the original heater tearing itself apart on us to the order of $600 and several weeks of space heaters.
The kids and I went to “What IF – A Festival of Innovation and Imagination” in downtown Colorado Springs today. They had a hundred and a half booths spread across four city blocks of parks and plazas showing off all kinds of groups and businesses doing cool STEM (that’s science, tech, engineering and math) stuff. Robots, green tech, utilities, media, whatever. They also had about maybe a dozen or more booths from folks in the local food movement. Heritage Belle Farm was there, we finally got to meet the legendary Katie Belle Miller in person. Farm to School, a couple hydroponic veg companies, passive solar greenhouse designers and the state university extension office folks.
So obviously the kids had a blast playing with the robots and seeing all the cool stuff the library system brought out, etc etc. You can see some photos I put up on the facebook and instagram accounts of the kids having themselves a good old time if you look in the early September 2016 range, if you’re listening to this as part of a binge-listen sometime in the future.
But here’s something that struck me as we walked to the rest of the displays after seeing the local food folks…. Wasn’t there a time in our nation’s past when eating food grown inside a hundred miles of your home wasn’t “innovative” or a product of “imagination?” I mentioned to a few of the food growing displays that it was kind of a bummer that the festival had them all off in a low traffic corner of the deal. But …. ‘what if’… we could get to a place where it wouldn’t even occur to the farms or the organizers to have them there in the first place? – What if – it wasn’t unusual to buy your pork or beef from someplace where you could meet your meat if you wanted to? What if.. getting your veggies in season from local CSA farms where you choose to help volunteer planting or harvesting if you wanted was considered ‘normal?’
I dunno…. that seems like a better vision to inspire people than the battle robot team of the week. But… apparently… that’s just me… and Katie Miller… and Yosef Camire… and, I guess, you fine folks listening to the ‘Steadcast.
I’ve wondered in my head… and out loud sometimes, maybe even once in a while with other people around… why it would matter if I had a podcast about what we’re doing here. Doesn’t the world already have Joel Salatin? Or Justin Rhodes? Jack Spirko? Chicken Thistle Farm? Permaculture Voices? Why does the world need The ‘Steadcast too? For the same reason that the world needs lots of small farms at all. Like you heard in that 30-second intro from the networking group last week, I can only currently reach a couple dozen families with the food we grow here. But we can reach millions more to inspire them to do even just one thing different in their lives. Maybe you’re listening to us but never heard of any of those people I listed off. Maybe we’re more your cup of tea personality-wise. Whatever the reason you’re listening to us instead of or in addition to other folks who talk about homsteading and small scale food, you can help us reach all those other people like you.
That means sharing The ‘Steadcast on social media, signing up for and forwarding our email newsletter on grayareafarm.com, or – most relevantly for the podcast – giving us a review on iTunes, stitcher or whatever app you use to find us.
Last week we talked about the Division of Water Resources battle against new small scale farms in Colorado. I said we’d talk about some of the very specific situations where folks like Ahavah, us, and other small farmsteads would be able to use what’s called “exempt” water. So, we’re gonna do just that. I addressed some of this in an article in this month’s New Falcon Herald. I’ll put a link in the show notes. Some of the quotes in the following minutes are from those interviews I did for that article.
Water law in Colorado is complicated. Lawmakers must balance the needs of agriculture in the state and thirsty urban areas versus what Colorado is legally required to release down river to the Midwest and desert Southwest due to a hundred years of fighting over the water in the Colorado, Platte and Arkansas rivers with the downstream states and eventually Mexico. Even within the state, bloody range battles over people diverting water led to a really aggressive water rights system called prior appropriation, or first-in-time, first-in-right
We are a prior appropriation state, where people have very old water rights that are their private property,” said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer for the Division of Water Resources. “People rely on those rights to run their businesses and livelihoods. If someone comes along and intercepts, it’s going to impact those people downstream.” A new farmer or gardener may not realize the water they pull from a shallow well eventually would have been the water a farmer in the Arkansas Valley or in Kansas uses. The water flowing under a property may be part of larger water rights purchased generations ago. “Someone might do that without intending to impact someone, and they may get a long way into their plans and spend a lot of time and money, only to realize they can’t do this legally,” Rein said. “And that’s not good for anyone involved.”
The relatively new beyond-organic small-scale food movement tries to keep water use as low as possible as part of an overall environmental philosophy. “We’re trying to do the right thing for our food supply and everyone else,” Camire said. “We’re trying to take into consideration the water supply, livestock and the environment.”
However, for small-scale producers like the Camire family, Colorado law historically viewed even a single gallon of water from non-commercial wells that had been used for commercial purposes illegal.
There’s a few different kinds of water legally in Colorado,” said Hank Worley, Colorado Springs based water law attorney. “It’s all ‘H2O,’ but its treated differently by the agencies.” Most homes with wells in El Paso County will have exempt household well permits that allow either inside-the-home use with no outside watering at all or domestic well permits that allow watering of up to an acre of personal lawn or garden and personal livestock watering, Worley said.
Newer micro farms and market gardeners get hung up on the phrase “personal use.” The local organic food movement is relatively new in the Pikes Peak region, so the law and policies have struggled to determine where these micro farms fit into water laws. “Before, I haven’t done much of these small farms, but it’s becoming much more popular,” Worley said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years; and, before 2011, the state would have taken the position you couldn’t do anything with the water for any sales purposes.”
There’s that continuum moving, from home lawn and garden through selling extras to actual irrigation of a large commercial crop,” Rein said. “The law describes it as a home lawn and garden. Initially, you might interpret that to mean that’s entirely for your own use. But we recognize the intent of the law is that people in rural areas will grow more and sell at a farmers market. So we articulated our interpretation to apply that people may grow products like vegetables that could be sold, but we require certain criteria is met for that irrigation.”
The DWR’s Policy 2011-3 allows the 1-acre of home gardens and lawns to include plants for sale as long as…
- The property has a home that is the primary single-family residence for the party growing the plants
- The revenue from the plants sold is not a primary source of income
- The primary purpose of the irrigation is for personal use of the same kind of plants being sold
- Irrigation of plants remains within the seasons for irrigation (i.e., no heated greenhouses)
So for us, we meet those requirements. We certainly live on the property, so it’s not like we’re managing a very commercial farm off in the prairie somewhere. Revenue from the farm is certainly not our primary source of income. And I would argue that if you’re showing a tax profit big enough to be a family’s primary source of income in agriculture, you need a new tax person. The third one, personal consumption of the same kind being sold seems to me to mean that you can’t be doing epic monoculture fields of field corn and soybeans for bean oil. Which isn’t what the local food movement is about anyway. And no heated greenhouses… well, I’m not totally sure why they care whether the season of use is consistent, because unless you have a really shallow alluvial well, the aquifers aren’t being replenished at all, much less seasonally.
But there you have it. This policy – as long as it remains in force, which is an issue since it’s just an agency policy and not actually written into statute – allows small farmsteads like us to keep on doing what we’re doing, selling veggies, meat and eggs through our CSAs and even farmers markets, without getting those cease and desist letters we talked about last week. Or at least it’s an affirmative defense against those if they do come. In a perfect world, we’d probably have to get a commercial well permit anyway if we ever wanted to expand into agritourism or make veggie and meat sales literally our primary income.
There you have it for this week’s episode of the ‘Steadcast. Next week, hopefully we’ll be talking about getting the roof put on Barn 2.0 because… the METAL IS IN! Yeaaaaaahhhhh! Tera Lynn’s ultra-deadline of death was that the roof had to be up before the first snow, and knock on wood, we might actually pull that off. But find out next week if we’re actually able to make that happen.