Unintended Research & Support

Research:  I read somewhere that some people will drive up to 50 miles for fresh local food. In fact, I tried to convince a neighboring effort to drop their grand vision of a downtown location in the urban area in favor of a lower-cost, off the beaten path storefront. Well, people are driving from their city to purchase unrefrigerated fresh fruits and veggies from my front yard. Mind you, this is a 35-minute drive from the closest edge of the city, heading to a blip on the map that I call home.

That’s not the extent of it. We have found checks in our Honesty Box and talked to customers that live 40+ miles in every direction, and they drove just for our Social Media-advertised stand. We have not advertised in any traditional manner, beyond $5 worth of paper signage. Word of mouth and Facebook…those are the advertising mediums, and they are working wonderfully!

Despite the ridiculously low pricing we offer (like 25 lbs of #1 tomatoes for $7) and losses due to spoilage, we have been able to donate food, can/freeze hundreds of pounds, and have lost hundreds of pounds to Mother Nature. A cost-analysis of leasing an air-conditioned place, at least in season, is quite favorable! Add in a cooler…double profits and triple shelf life. This is a next-year idea, of course, but it will happen.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, this season has again been one of change and uncertainty. As opposed to spending my life on the road like 2012, or glued to a computer like 2013, I have been able to connect on a local scale while maintaining traditional employment. Local restaurants are coming to buy bulk out of our front yard via the Honesty Box. We have been thanked so profusely by our neighbors and our community that I’d continue doing this at a loss, if I had to and could. The point is that I do not have to.

I spoke with the Superintendent and Principal of our school, and things look promising. Again, I will press the issue more in-depth next year. This year…we’ll just see what happens. Next step is to speak with the person in charge of Food Service. I’m not sure when that will be, but I will have that talk. I may wait until I read the newest publication from Farm to School–Evalutation for Transformation: A Cross-Sectoral Evaluation Framework for Farm to School.

Well, that’s all I have time for right now…. Until next time!

My Organic Garden

Well, I must say that the whole blog idea is great…for those with the time. I’ve not forgotten to blog; in fact, I have tens of drafts that span March and April. But…. They became obsolete before they were published. I stopped trying for the next couple of months, watching and doing….

I guess I will start at what I remember prior to be the break from blogging. First, I went hog-wild laying out plans and deadlines. I hate deadlines, by the way. Well, I was poised to purchase the “perfect” home for Illiana Ag Alliance and my family. Instead of securing the deal, I started anew with recruiting/reassuring local farmers and buyers. I ranted about how I was going to approach the School Board, the City of Martinsville (and Martinsville on the Move), etc. I spoke of the Clark County Farmers Market probable shutdown…. While on the tirade, well, life happened.

I missed out on the house and pole barn–someone else followed through more quickly than I. I then received a phone call (hours after learning of the missed opportunity) from an interested local intern focused on Organic foods, and I shut the conversation off immediately. I regret that decision, yet I had no clue what to tell her. I may well have alienated a boon to the Food Hub. Almost immediately following the phone call, I read a message from someone that states that she not only reads this blog of mine, but that she is excited about “what I am accomplishing.” I’m not sure if I thanked you for that, Janet, but I thank you now. At the time, it hurt. My “accomplishments” were swirling away. That’s the inherent problem with deadlines and timelines…they evolve, and not always in the way one desires!

I hit the brakes…hard, and without warning to most people. Part of the reasoning behind the fall from online interests lays in the fact that I had to make some hard decisions. I had to decide which parts of my life demanded immediate and full attention and which ones could wait. Work…my career…took its place above the struggles of the Food Hub. This was a bit of a no-brainer, in hindsight. At the time, I felt like a sell-out. I love what I do, and an unbelievable number of my personal values are encompassed within my job description.

Part of the reasoning that led to a full stop was tied to my family’s needs. These correlate directly to my great career and the time I needed to make for my wife and children. I believe that I briefly mentioned both before now…Process Control Engineer at Rowe Foundry, Inc., in my hometown of Martinsville, IL…newborn preemie son and six-year old suffering from jealousy/perceived long-term fatherly neglect….

A huge part of the reasoning behind the stop was that the Farmers Market held a meeting…and there was discussion about NOT closing! The desire to not interfere with direct-to-consumer marketing and my ideas of local wholesale did not mesh well in my mind. I wanted to see how things panned out…and there is a Farmers Market this year. I’ve not made it to one yet, but I will!

There are other reasons…no soil close to home for so much as a garden, unless I chose to use chemicals to take care of weeds. I chose not to. To list more reasons/excuses would be…whining?

Skip to today:  I have relocated six miles away into a rented home. It is located approximately two blocks from where I had my first roadside stand in my early teens–where I attribute the beginning of my local food passion’s growth. I am also less than half of a block from work–convenient and a fuel saver. My back yard holds a thriving 1,200(ish) square foot Organic garden! Beyond the need to replace a couple of heirloom tomato plants and the current head-scratching over how to keep my eggplant leaves from being eaten in an organic manner, it is looking immensely successful!

Sales? Well, I guess I never mentioned that one of the Owner/Managers at Rowe Foundry is also the President of Martinsville’s School Board, huh? I’ve yet to approach him, that will come in due time. First, I need to establish a processing method for most of the crops I’m growing. I’ll do the colorful carrot thing as a second-cropping, but promising without delivery is something I’ll refrain from now. I’ve done a bit of that, and it does not give me the warm fuzzies. (Current idea: Work with the Farmers Market and the local Food Pantry–they have an established connection–and follow the previously outlined idea of a % to be destined to processed school sales and a % for donations).

Melons will still be sold. Whether I continue down the path I’ve prepared with the purchase of a 3/4 ton beast of a truck and a fifth-wheel hitch, leasing a trailer locally, and placing someone else in the position to deliver melons to grocers and restaurateurs is undecided. What will be done is a permanent roadside stand in my shaded front yard. I’ll have plenty to sell (hopefully), my wife is a stay-at-home mom that loves the melon run/direct sales thing, and if local ordinances are persuaded to follow the best possible guidelines (following recent legislation at the State-level), there will be some consignments to complement our offerings. The stand will likely be closed during the Farmers Market time, I think. Maybe not a Food Hub, per se…but local foods (including Organics) will be available locally.

I am connecting and have reconnected with new and old friends here; including farmers, some members of the Fair Board, and some current and former City Officials. “A bug in the ear” is the newest approach I’m trying in an effort to increase local awareness and support. I still hold dreams of a Public/Private/School collaboration, but the timeline has changed to “if/when the time is right.”

Did I mention that the Jr./Sr. High School has a greenhouse that is not visibly used? (It is not in use, according to one staff member). Read: School Garden potential! Well, the “bug in the ear” has been initiated, and I’m ready to help however I can. Circumstances here are a bit different than in Casey: Martinsville is a tiny school…supposedly the smallest to have a boy’s athletic program in the State (we have three). Martinsville also has a positive budget (one of eight? in the State). We are also the only City that is growing within the County, according to second-hand knowledge. Yes…much different than Casey.

And some ramblings:

Hmmm…. Well, one of my pet peeves is judging others by family name. I hate that about small towns. It has caused me grief. Worst of all, I’ve been as guilty as possible of doing  just that–judging and condemning a governing person’s family and family businesses due to kinship. This is another reason for my online disappearance; I’ve noticed that the foot in my mouth was gagging my brain. I’m guilty, and I apologize to anyone reading this that this relates to.

I did not complete the “State of the Food Hub” information that I was invited to fill out from the Wallace Center at Winrock. At the time, I was considering closing the Food Hub as an official entity…and I was not doing anything to forward the Food Hub physically or financially. Putting ideas into words for others to read does not meet my criteria for Food Hub status.

One last thing:  The “Seeds and Starts Campaign” was abandoned. I only have so much time, and my email program/Social Media information was so spread out that it hit the back burner. I bought seed and starts from local nurseries instead.

I guess that’s all I have for now. I’ll most likely blog again someday…deadlines/timelines are now officially removed for any posts in any forum!

The Farm Bill, the Produce Rule, and Illiana Ag Alliance

The Four Hour Workday…. 

I have published elsewhere about my being referred to this book (thanks L.A.). I listened to the YouTube audio a few times, learning and forgetting to listen equally. The truth is that the lessons I gleaned may or may not have been those intended. Patience and…well, that is about all I remember. I still am not that guy that can stop the grinding of the brain-gears easily, but doing the right thing helped.

Before I go into a lot of detail about the Agriculture Act of 2014 and how it impacts the movement here, I must make a confession: I tried to walk away again. I did. I also failed…those gears are connected to my heart somehow. There is more to the story than that: My son was born prematurely, I landed a great career position in my hometown…many personal occurrences…and yet, I am here blogging with a smile. I still have a duty and an amended plan on fulfilling said duty.

To quickly summarize the reference to the proposed Produce Rule: It’s perfect…at least from my vantage point. Perfect, however, is to be interpreted as “the best that one could hope for when others with varying agendas are involved.” All of the major aspects of the proposed rule were covered in their entirety by the GAPs Training provided by the University of Illinois Extension last year. Illiana Ag Alliance is poised to exceed all requirements!

The above link to the 959-page Farm Bill is…dull reading? I have not yet parsed down the exact verbiage. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition summarizes and breaks down the bill well. I will leave the reading of the synopsis to those interested in following the preceding link. I will instead focus on what is going on here currently, what is probable, what has changed, and what is still standing strong from the preliminary plans that have developed and evolved over time….

Setting up/keeping shop in Casey, Illinois, is changed. This is almost home…a mere six miles away. However, it’s the people and the municipality that spur the change. It’s the school system, the town’s dynamic, and the fact that the town of 1,300 individuals is where it all started for me. Mostly, it is the fact that Martinsville, Illinois is my home at heart. Shortly, it will be my home by location, also….

I will begin expounding here, with the forthcoming 6-mile move. As some may know, my new career position is with a family-owned company that has been a cornerstone of Martinsville’s economy and sustainability since 1898–providing fair wages, implementing a system of impeccable ethics, and offering an opportunity for many successes within, outside of…and very much in line with Illiana Ag Alliance’s goals today. We share values, and that is irreplaceable.

I had not yet read about this Farm Bill (truthfully, I had no clue that one was finally nearing completion) until today. However, it seems that legislators heard my prayers in so many ways. A Farm-to-School Pilot may be the best part. I have already spoken with a School Board member and two teachers, and I hope that a presentation is able to be added to the next Board Meeting Agenda following my request.

Other initiatives, such as expanding local food initiatives to include aggregators, are great to read about. The NSAC synopsis (above) mentions a grocery initiative. Leonard, the owner of Martinsville’s grocery store, is prepared to ally with Illiana Ag Alliance as a provider of source-identified local foods. There are still the other 20+ local/regional grocers and ? restaurants that desire local, sustainable food…but the in-town option helps fill the void left by the recent absence of a Clark County Farmer’s Market. Markets outside of Clark County and adjoining Counties are now in the “local melon/pumpkin-only” category insofar as planning is concerned for the forthcoming season.

I heard about the signing of the Farm Bill on my return trip to what I hope is to be my family’s new home in Martinsville. (The seller is also quite interested in furthering the local food movement). Our potential home sits on two lots…one with the house and room for a greenhouse, and one with an approximately 40’x100′ machine shed. Yes, a machine shed…destined to be the aggregation and wholesale distribution point for local foods. How? Truthfully, I’m not sure. I can tell you a million possibilities, a handful of probabilities, and some definites. Instead, I will wait for the next City Council meeting before I post more. It’s still in a “Don’t count your chickens….” stage today. The short story is that a Public/Private Cooperative is to be explored. The City was willing to assist the former Farmer’s Market in almost any way, so hopes are high!

So much is missing from this post: the most local Amish community is moving away, there are many new (very local) growers, the “Seeds and Starts Campaign” is about to begin, Organic Initiatives, invitations, and so very much more. Many events are destined without dates, what is to come and what is planned always evolve…and yet it is time to bring this local–where it all began.

At this second, however, I’m off to bed. 2:45 AM comes awfully early nowadays. The next step? Well, beyond the previous highlights, procuring the other 75% of the money to purchase the home and building outright–for roughly half of its value. This means I have a lot of research and number-crunching to do quickly, while exceeding the expectations of my new position AND keeping my family life in order…but the financial outlook is so much better than when I was trying to single-handedly change the local food system mere months ago. A modestly healthy revenue stream and expanded self-imposed timeline bring much opportunity and relief!

In short, Illiana Ag Alliance and the Burson Family are alive, well, and poised to fulfill our duty. Stumbling is again giving way to opportunity, insight, and refreshed vigor!

Live well…and until next time!