Buy Local and keep millions of dollars in our economy

DSCN0900Even though it is 68˚ at 4:30 am on December 11, people are preparing for the Christmas season and often that entails spending money on gifts, food and decoration this time of year. If you spend your money at a department store or supermarket, most of that money goes out of the area to middle men, trucking companies, China, Mexico…
If you spend the money on something produced locally and sold at a farmers market or many local shops, most of that money will be recirculated in the community.
We used to write on past due invoices at my old company, “Please pay us, so we can pay him, so he can pay you.” Money moves, and when you can help direct where it moves, it benefits friends and neighbors.
If 10% of the people in the greater Houston area spent $100 for locally produced Christmas goods this year, over $50 million would be recirculated in the local economy.
If 1% of the people in the greater Houston area were to spend $50 per week at a farm or farmers market for an entire year, that would contribute about $130 million per year to our local economy. That would support a lot of farms.
We consumers make a lot of decisions that effect our economy. We often complain about the federal reserve, congress and the jobs in America, but consumers choose where to spend some of their money. Don’t send money to China or Wall Street this year.
Invest in your local farms and shops.
Whether it is fruit trees, gift certificates, art, meat, cheese or vegetables, make sure some of it is locally produced.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, Happy Kwanzaa, and enjoy the solstice.

Beaver Wars

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When we bought our farm, we were assured that this pond had never gone dry and, sure enough, it did not during the 2011 drought. This year the water level has increased by two feet. The pond drains out to a small creek to the west side in a heavily wooded area and we have assumed for some time that a dam had been built on that creek, and we theorized that beavers were the experts at work. Now we know. We planted this cypress ten years ago, so that beaver has started a war.
Beaver pelts anyone?

Fear and hate are not American or Christian values

In 1972 I was driving a group of actors from Berea College through Alabama. We were touring a production of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” to Talledega College. All the actors were black. We were in a loaned white limo. George Wallace was running for president on a segregationist platform. At one long stop, due to construction delays, two men with flattop haircuts were putting “Wallace for President” stickers on passing cars. When all the tinted windows rolled down and they saw a limo full of black people, they played up the process and it inspired David and Francis to get out of the car and confront them. In 1972, if you were openly gay, you were quite flamboyant and these guys were truly actors to the core. They pranced around these men, who could snap them easily, talking a mile a minute until I got out and threatened to leave them. I was a bit nervous but I quickly noticed that the two men were seriously scared. Not only had two black men invaded their personal space, but two gay black men. Fear is the harbinger of hate.
It is sad that some Americans are willing to turn their backs on our values out of fear. Many of these governors, preachers and social media posters claim to be Christians. If Christ and all the early Christians had let fear cower them into a corner like our Texas governor is doing, Christianity would not be a choice we have. They welcomed the immigrant and spread their beliefs to the Romans. And doing so was not safe.
Values are something you don’t just have when it is convenient. Our country has always welcomed the refugee that is fleeing political turmoil. It is even more important for us to welcome people fleeing conditions when we share in the blame.
From before the time that the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossaddegh and installed the brutal Shah Pahlavi as dictator in 1953, until now as we try and finish a war against our previous favorite despot, Saddam Hussein, the west has exported war and suppression to the middle east and supplied billions of dollars of weapons that are being used by all sides of each conflict. The fact that most of the young people in the area know more about war than they know about peace is partially a product of our creation.
Of course, we need to know the refugees. Nothing connects most of these Syrian refugees to ISIS except that they are fleeing ISIS. I, too, would flee. Most of the ISIS fighters are not Syrian and many of them are from western countries. Should we now ban Belgium citizens from Texas after they were connected to the Paris attacks?
The desire to keep muslim refugees from entering the US is about hate and fear.
I have many casual acquaintances who are muslim. They shop at my market. I have taught a seminar at an Islamic school to attentive, intelligent children. Immigrants add vitality to our economy and fit in easily in a town like Houston.
My values have not changed due to these unpleasant realities. I grew up with Christian values of love and compassion and they are too engrained in me to resort to hate.
ISIS must be stopped, but hate will not do the job, it will only generate more radicals.
I truly do not understand people who want to punish those who are fleeing these brutal terrorists. One thing for sure–the Americans that harbor this hate of Islam do not hold Christian or American values.
It is anger and disenfranchisement that are leading these young people to terrorism. Religion is only a crutch, where they cherry pick a bit here and a bit there, the way some Christians do, to validate their actions.
It might be best that our response is measured and well thought out. Not an angry attempt to disenfranchise more of them.

Now, as Christmas is approaching, let us remember that Mary and Joseph were Middle Eastern refugees.

Are you smart enough to be a sheep?

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I have been approached several times with comments like “aren’t sheep stupid?” or “I couldn’t work with sheep. They are too dumb”. My reply is “It depends on what you are raising them for.” If you want them to do cognitive analysis they do not excel at that. However, with their instinctual behavior they have no use for analytics. They work fine in their social organization without control task or strategical analysis.
It reminds me of a story where the farmer in Africa was raising cattle. He bragged that his cattle were the smartest cattle in the country. When asked how he knew that, he explained that his cattle grazed on the fields during the day and were put in secure pens at night. His cattle never figured out how to get out of the evening pens, and therefore were not eaten by lions. Then there is the horseman who described a horse as smart because it discovered the secret of opening its own pen, got out, got hit by a car and died. “Too smart for his own good.”
We anthropomorphize intelligence, deciding an intelligent animal is the one most like a human?
Our situations are not the same. My ewes give birth on pasture and I just show up one morning and there is a new lamb, all cleaned and nursing with the placenta, a predator attractor, nowhere to be seen.
Some plants are poisonous at one stage of life and edible at another and the grazing animal instinctually knows this. He does not learn it from watching another sheep keel over after munching on a nightshade plant.
The herding instinct, which I have to acknowledge people, especially teenagers, share, helps to protect the individual. However, when adversity happens, like a predator’s smell, they pull together, and do not turn on one another. Individualism is not a smart thing for a sheep. So when I have a sheep that has figured she can jump the fencing and go away from the herd, like Lefty used to do, and eat fresher grass, she becomes vulnerable and I say “Get back in there you stupid ewe”.
They are smart enough to know that when it is 100˚ you should sleep in the shade, grazing in the morning and evening. As Noel Coward penned, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in the midday sun”. However, I see road crews on asphalt, landscapers mowing, and roofers working on the sunny side of the roof, not to mention the joggers on Memorial Park trails in the hottest part of the day, and they are not Englishmen nor mad dogs.
Sheep are smart enough to adjust their “work” schedule.
Gulf coast native sheep have evolved over centuries and are able to thrive in their environment, both socially and ecologically .
Meanwhile, my sheep are not planting a garden, digging a trench, or listening to presidential candidates.
They just breed and eat.

Jimmy Carter, Habitat for Humanity and Me

IMG_3744I met Jimmy Carter in 1998 when he came to Houston to help Habitat for Humanity build 100 houses in one week. Saint Paul’s Methodist Church quickly raised the donations to sponsor one of the houses, but, while recruiting volunteers, we found ourselves lacking in construction expertise. It seemed there were no professional builders or carpenters at the church. If we had needed lawyers or doctors we would have been ok.
I volunteered to be on the crew, acknowledging that I was a pretty good handyman, but no builder.
Never-the-less I was anointed the “house head”, a position way above my head. But with the help of an interior designer, an engineer and an insurance agent as the rest of the supervisory crew, and a great education program that Habitat offered us, 50+ of us met at 7:00 am one Monday morning in June and started building. We worked rotating crews for 16 hours a day and certified professionals (electricians, plumbers and hvac) worked during the night shift.
President Carter came by the site almost every day, accompanied by secret service agents wearing fishing vests instead of suit coats to accentuate the casualness of the situation. Every day that week it got over 100˚.
Volunteers came around every few hours to thank us for being there and make sure we were hydrated and fed, but Jimmy Carter came by to get the job done. After a quick introduction and a handshake, his first comment to me was something like “Do you have everything you need? It looks like you are a few hours behind on window installation, do you need help? Will the interior doors be installed today?” the next day “The sheetrock ceilings need to be hung today. Can you assure me you will get this done?”. He pushed us, encouraged us and motivated us.
We finished our Habitat house on Saturday morning and the doorbell did not work due to an electrical problem. The family was delayed 8 days before they could move in because of a doorbell that I could have fixed, but not legally.
President Carter moved on to his next project and I went back to painting decorative art and watering my 100 square foot garden near the University of Houston.
Two years later I used much of what I learned there and built another house, the one I am sitting in now.
I wish President Jimmy Carter the best of luck in his struggle against cancer. He is my model for outreach, religious values and helping make this world better. I wish there were more like him.

What I know about farming

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• It is always too wet or too dry.
• Roosters have egos bigger than Donald Trump’s.
• Livestock is only born during sleet, rain or hail.
• Heat and cold are not excuses, but siestas are a reasonable summer escape. You still have time to get your 14 hour work day in.
• Never bend over in front of a ram.
• Daylight savings is a scam. There is no way you can cash in on those 16 hour summer days during those 10 hour winter days. It does, however, make you learn how to program the clock in your truck twice a year.
• Every brilliant solution is a birthplace for a new problem.
• Emergencies are like wild hogs, you never see just one at a time.
• In the first years cash flow is not a circle graph, but an outgoing spout.
• Raising livestock always includes some heartbreak.
• Horses are not agricultural unless they plow. Otherwise they fit in that area with things we haven’t done since we became farmers.
• Never keep track of the hours you have worked. Just figure out how to get enough sleep.
• Promising a certain number of eggs is like promising your weird in-law will finish a construction project — unless you personally can lay eggs.
• Failures are inevitable.
• Going to work is my favorite thing to do.
• What we do is important.
• Sit down, have a beer, watch the sheep and dance in the pasture.

Who are these illegal immigrants and why does Donald Trump need them ?

One day in the mid nineties I was working on a painted design in a new high dollar Houston house while about 50 workers were painting, cleaning and arranging, getting ready for the new owner to move in. I heard a man come to the door asking for Glen Miracle (me). The guy near the door said, “Oh, that’s the old white guy”. My colleague Scott and I were the only white guys on the job that day and, then, in my mid forties, I was probably the oldest person there. Hispanic workers dominate the home building businesses in Texas.
I have been working 40 years in construction and agriculture and this is what I have seen in the labor market.
Large employers of temporary workers, such as painters, landscapers, cleaners, and agricultural employees, donate money to the campaigns of politicians, with the understanding that these immigrants remain illegal, and that they remain in the work force in plentiful supply. This arrangement keeps wages low and insures that these employees will not call OSHA, will not sue, and cannot demand decent working conditions.
I knew a young Honduran man who fell off a roof while working for a roofing company. The supervisor called 911 and told the ambulance drivers that he didn’t know who this injured man was. The man spoke no English, was illegal, and was powerless to object. He was not paid, charity paid for his hospital stay, and he was on his own with a bad back. They did not need workers compensation insurance, they had fraud and you paid for it. This is the system we support by keeping workers labeled “illegal”.
Commercial buildings hire management companies to hire the cleaning crews, who often work night shifts. If those employees happen to be illegal, it is two degrees of separation before the claim of “we did not know”. I met a landscaper who hired workers by the day and paid cash, claiming “I assume they are legal and will pay their own taxes”.
The end result of this accepted practice is lower costs to businesses, cheaper houses, a large pool of affordable housekeepers, cheap produce and well mown lawns.
It becomes difficult for American citizens working in these job markets to make a decent salary.
I have actively been a capitalist entrepreneur for over 40 years and I understand that getting the most for your labor dollar is important, and that improving efficiency and delivering a quality product to the customer is part of the reason capitalism works–when it works. However, a constant downward pressure on wages has caused many of us in the middle class to suffer. Not all this work is done by illegal immigrants, but they affect the wages of those who do the rest. In places like Texas, where the political establishment has protected employers of illegal workers, the income from manual labor jobs is below a decent living standard.
Giving guest workers some path to work in this country within a legal structure would benefit that worker and all the American citizens that compete in the same job market. Keeping the worker in a shadow economy benefits nobody but the people who exploit them.
It is not the immigrant that comes and sucks vitality out of the economy, they are a potent source of energy for our country. However, the unscrupulous employer who hires the immigrant at unreasonably low wages or the corporation that pretends it did not know that subcontractors were hiring illegal workers, they are hurting the American worker.
Should the buyer/consumer who knowingly purchases a product produced by that labor bear responsibility? What about the politician that makes sure this system of exploiting labor keeps him in office by demonizing the “illegal immigrant” and accepting donations from businesses that depend on them?
I do not suggest that we hand out citizenship to visiting workers, but I think we need to develop a guest worker system that ensures non-citizen employees are not living in a shadow economy that gives employers the ability to exploit them at the cost of their health and dignity and harms our unemployed and underemployed American citizens.
Most of the hundreds of illegal workers that I have worked along side of were hard working, honest people who sent much of their money back to their home country to support the mothers, children and siblings left behind. They had family values and a work ethic. I would never direct my anger at the people who come here to better their lives.
Of course, some of the illegal immigrants are criminals, and they should be dealt with like we deal with our home grown criminals.
America’s support of the dictators in Central America and our demand for illegal drugs has made living conditions in many countries untenable for the law abiding and very profitable for the criminal. So called “free trade” agreements have destroyed the small farms and family businesses in much of Central America.
If we need the energy and labor of visiting workers, let’s welcome them to work along side us and give them decent living conditions and a living wage, with an understanding that they are here under some sort of a legal, taxable agreement. The system we have right now is illegal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I support people who work hard, those who pay them well and those who treat them with dignity. This is not what we are getting in the present American labor market.
I can stand in line at the department store and hear condemnation of these immigrants from people who are buying the products they produce.  One cannot pay and employ someone under decent conditions and sell green beans or chicken for $1.59 a pound. When we buy many cheap products we are supporting some type of exploitation, usually of the worker and the environment, and we should not blame the exploited worker, illegal or legal, but blame ourselves.
I am wondering if Donald Trump and his companies aren’t one of the largest employers of illegal immigrants in America? He would be lost without the housekeepers veiled under two or three degrees of separation.
Who built your house and who harvested your dinner?
I respect those who did, and hope we will rebuild respect for people who do manual labor in America–legally. After all, I am one of them.

Texas, religion and the law.

Texas’s governor and attorney general, in response to the supreme court ruling on gay marriage, have said that if a ruling or law conflicts with your religious beliefs, you should not be legally required to obey it. That, of course, would pertain to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, American Indians, Baha’i, Taoists, etc., and I would assume it means any law. I wonder what Scientologists, Wicca, Vodun, or Atheists can do with this newfound freedom.
I am reminded of the civil rights era when issues like school segregation and interracial marriage were met with bible verses that “proved” that blacks and whites were never meant to be equal or together. “Religious liberty” was many people’s code for racism then. I remember the posters that a “religious” group stapled all over Berea College in December of 1971. They quoted scripture that they said “proved” that black people (not the word they used) were not human, and therefore without rights.
The use of pieces of scripture, searched for and plucked out, while ignoring the rest of the bible, is not the true basis of Christianity, no matter for how many centuries you repeat them.
Islamic fundamentalist militants use the same method to justify their actions.
After many people searched 31,173 verses in the bible (thanks google), some found six or seven passages that could be interpreted to support discrimination against homosexuals. There are more verses about figs than homosexuals. People love to quote one line from Leviticus, but you seldom hear the one on shellfish or mixing fabrics, much less all that stoning of people.
Many couples choose for marriage to be a religious union, which no one is objecting to and this ruling will not change, but marriage is not solely an institution of your religion. People with no religion get married in America.
This does not mean you need to approve of gay or interracial marriage. I do not approve of much of what we Americans do and I can find passages in the bible to support my beliefs, including our consumerism, wars, and the mass incarceration of the poor. I do not like the fact we subsidize monoculture and the inhumane treatment of farm animals, both condemned in the bible. But I do not stand in front of the supermarket to castigate people buying cruelly raised meat and quote Deuteronomy 25:4 or Proverbs 12:10.
In the meantime I will look at the bible for a solution to the smothering effect the state of Texas has on my farm requiring a nursery permit, a food establishment license, an aquaculture permit, and heck even a fishing license for my own pond. I know I can find a passage in the bible to back me on these core beliefs of my religion.
Then I will move on the bigger things like funding those wars. I think this new direction the state of Texas is taking will be a fun ride. Start reading your religious texts.
If I can only find a religion that says we should not pay taxes.

The Owl in the Hen House

great_horned_owl3.jpgTuesday’s encounter with a great horned owl, caught in my electric netting as he tried to grab one of my hens, brings me back to the question of predators, a place all farmers visit occasionally. As a permaculturist I try to mimic nature in my gardens and pastures. I mob graze the sheep through small diverse pastures in an attempt to copy the movement of the wild herds. My gardens are not monoculture, but include diverse plantings with fruit trees nearby, and borders of grapes and berries. We introduce a predator, chickens, to roam around the gardens catching the grasshoppers and beetles.
We welcome predator insects and insect eating wild birds.
The question is not how we can rid our farm of predators, but how we can protect our animals from the owls, hawks, coons and coyotes.
Kenan “nosed” that the owl in question, who rode in a dog crate to the Wildlife Center of Texas for rehab, had recently been eating a skunk, another chicken predator. Did that owl save a chicken from a skunk before he tried to kill one? The owl will eat baby possums, who, when grown, will eat my chickens as well, but possums also eat copperheads and roaches. It is a complicated system.
We have manipulated the system for many years without observing and understanding it.
We consider our a farming practice regenerative permaculture. To regenerate the ecosystem, we have to cooperate with nature, not control it.
The smallest predators, the microbes, live underground. The anthropods eat the nematodes, who eat the protozoa, who eat the bacteria. The chain goes on with earthworms, insects and birds, until you get to the king of the forest.
I do not want to fix mother nature.
That does not mean I want wild hogs and coyotes on my property. I need to protect my animals. I work to discourage the predators and fence them out.
But let’s face it. If we want to get rid of the most effective and destructive predator of all, we would have to kill ourselves.
The owl was doing fine at last WTC report.

Searching for higher ground

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IMG_3411 I do not mind feeding my chickens in pouring rain, especially when it is warm, but I will not move electric net fencing in a lightening storm, so the sheep are going to have to stay in where they are for a while. The sheep and chickens are soaked, like I am, and the prognosis for drying out within the next week is dismal. So far the flowing sheet of water across the pastures has drowned only one 8 week old broiler chicken–one too many. Even our well adapted Gulf Coast Native Sheep do not like having their hooves wet all the time. We spent the evening yesterday doing Famacha testing for internal sheep parasites that thrive in warm wet weather and can be deadly to sheep. The gardens, our June income, are gone, sitting in standing ( and sometimes running) water most of the month, and much of the road is impassible.
Additionally, we suspect the sheep are not getting as much nutrition out of the grass because the rain has leeched so much from the soil.
Farmers are always working in a tug of war with the weather, but this season has been especially challenging. Since Jan 1 we have received over 40 inches of rain, half of it here in May and 9 inches in the last 36 hours. On the bright side this morning at 8:15 am, as I was hooking up the battery/inverter power to the freezer, electric power returned and I expect the internet will return soon and I will post this.
Kenan and I are some of the lucky farmers because we have the opportunity to take decent paying part time off farm jobs. Many farmers do not have that choice. But we still have to work long hours at the farm to keep the animals as happy and healthy as possible and to maintain the systems we have in place for the future of the farm.
This weather calamity to local farms is coming at a time when ethical and health concerns abound from industrial food sources. Your chicken might be from China, your pork may be from pigs that have never been able to turn around in their cages, organic vegetables from foreign countries might have no regulations. The problems go on and on. You have to know your farmer. The farmer has to stay in business.
At Laughing Frog Farm we are going to be fine, but it will take time for us all to recover from this. We all appreciate the customers who continue to support us.
Buy local, healthy, ethically raised food direct from the farmer whenever possible. I want to thank all my customers, past, present and future–and I will see you at the market.
We farmers plan to be around for you in the future.