26 January 2008

Yeoman Pollster

The good folks at MercatorNet have published an interview with yours truly about political polling.

In case any of you were curious as to whether I'm really supporting the family by being a farmer...the answer is a definite "no."

Hopefully this interview gives you folks a few more insights into what I do for my day job.

25 January 2008

Soft Landing

The story of the stranded lamb shipment has a happy ending.

FedEx called back late last night with an update: it turns out, the package had never gone to Arizona Wednesday night. On the tracking site, it APPEARED to have done so because the CONTAINER scanned in at the airport in Arizona --- but my box of lamb was mistakenly left off that container. It spent Wednesday night and all day Thursday in a warehouse in Memphis, and fortunately that warehouse was extremely cold. The box touched down in Arizona early this morning, and was delivered to my folks by noon.

Amazingly, the meat was still frozen solid as a rock. Thank God for small miracles. Still frozen, and I get my shipping charges refunded because it was late.

Mom says she's planning to thaw the largest package of ribs and enjoy it tomorrow night with some good friends of our family who have also retired to that area.


Strange Sacrament

In case you had any doubts about abortion being a holy sacrament in the church of militant secularism, LifeNews today brings us this story:

Rev. Larry Phillips of Schenectady's Emmanuel-Friedens Church dedicated the ground, according to a report in the Albany Times Union.

He called the abortion facility "sacred and holy ... where women's voices and stories are welcomed, valued and affirmed."

Phillips said the abortion business was "sacred ground where women are treated with dignity, supported in their role as moral decision-makers ... sacred ground where the violent voices of hatred and oppression are quelled."

Note to clergy: When Jesus said (Luke 23:29), "For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck," he wasn't saying that would be a good thing.

24 January 2008

Another Reason to Eat Local

One of the nicest things about having a farm is that your produce makes for wonderful gifts. My family members are spread out around the country, and really appreciate a shipment of frozen meat that was raised on our farm.

We'd planned to send a box of lamb to my parents, right before Christmas. They ended up going out of town just as we were about to ship it, so I put the box back in our freezer. This week, the timing seemed perfect for everyone. The kids and I took Grandma & Grandpa's package to FedEx last night, and called my folks to let them know it was on the way. They were thrilled, and said they'd keep an eye open for the truck tomorrow, so they could get the meat right back into the freezer.

Ah, FedEx. Remember their commercials from the 1970s and 80s, when they were brand new? They were the company to use when it "absolutely, positively, HAS to be there overnight." This box sure fit that description.

When my cell phone rang this afternoon, and my mom's cell number lit up the display, I assumed it was to let us know the meat had arrived. Instead, she was worried. They'd been watching all day, but there was still no sign of a FedEx truck. I dashed to my computer, kicked up the tracking website, and discovered something unsettling: the package was indeed shipped out to Arizona and arrived right on schedule this morning --- but instead of going on a delivery truck, the next scan was at 4:38 this afternoon...IN MEMPHIS.

I got on the phone right away with FedEx, and the woman confirmed that the package had gone back to Memphis. She didn't know why, and immediately opened up a trace, but we likely won't have more information until tomorrow morning. She was very apologetic, and assured me that FedEx would cancel the shipping charges and reimburse me for the value of the meat.

But what is the value of this meat? I figured I could have sold it for $100, so that's what I declared as the value. But how do you put a dollar number on 13 pounds of gourmet Icelandic lamb that was born and nurtured on your farm, carefully raised to maturity on organic pasture, taken to a custom butcher for processing, and promised as a special Christmas gift to one's parents? I cannot go to the store and replace this package. I can't even go to another Icelandic sheep breeder and buy 13 more pounds of meat; what made this package special was the fact that it was raised on our farm. It was a gift literally from the heart of our farm --- not from a supermarket.

And now, that lamb is likely rotting in a FedEx facility in Memphis...for a reason that has yet to be explained. We're just hoping that the cold weather will keep it from spoiling altogether. At a minimum, hopefully my folks will be able to cook up all that meat this week and invite their friends over for a series of feasts. They certainly won't be able to put it back in the freezer and enjoy it over time at special occasions, as had been planned. But maybe something can be salvaged.

And, as I assured my father this evening when I had to call and break the news, when the kids and I go out to visit them in the Spring, we'll hopefully be able to bring some more of that meat with us.

22 January 2008

Back to School

Hard to believe...but I am again a student.

Even harder to believe: I am a student at a university in Connecticut.

No, we haven't moved again. The course is being offered online, and most of the students are mid-career professionals; many already have post-graduate degrees.

I've been finding that data mining is becoming an increasingly important part of political campaigns, and I've very much enjoyed doing that sort of work in the last couple of election cycles. In the downtime between busy periods, I've made a point of buying and reading books about data mining, and exploring the capabilities of my software.

I've discovered, however, that there is a limit to how much a person can teach himself---even with a good textbook. There's really no substitute for taking a graduate-level course at a university. And that's what I've decided to do. Central Connecticut State University has established an excellent online program in data mining, and even offers a Masters degree in that field. I doubt I'll go that far in the program, but I'm definitely looking forward to expanding my toolbox and strengthening my understanding of the fundamentals of statistics. And that's the wonderful thing about these programs: you can do as much or as little as you like. The more motivated you are to put effort into it, the more you'll get out of it. This isn't about getting a ticket punched; it's about learning more about doing something you love.

Today was my first day of class. I think the kids are excited that they are no longer the only ones at our place who are being homeschooled.

16 January 2008

Dueling Geese

Back in Illinois, we called ourselves "Rolling Goose Farm." It was basically an elaborate pun; we figured we were the only family in Ford County with two old Volvo 240s. The word "Volvo," in Swedish, means "rolling." And we raised geese. Put it all together, and you get "Rolling Goose." Here is the logo we had a friend design; we used it on our farm sign and on egg carton labels, etc. It basically shows one of our geese commandeering our 1978 Volvo 244 (after having chopped the top).

And yes, one customer actually asked us, "Did that ever really happen?"

Anyway, because "goose" is in the name of our farm, and we're listed on a number of internet farm directories, we seem to turn up on everybody's search...and as a result, we get quite a few inquiries about geese for sale. And we have to turn most of them away, as we can't ship goose meat.

Usually, these inquiries end at Christmas time. But today, I got an amusing call from a gentleman in Arizona who was looking for goose. Actually, two geese. He has a friend from Europe (many of our goose customers are European immigrants) who really likes to cook goose. And my caller says he really likes to cook goose, too. That friend will be coming to Arizona soon to visit, and they're trying to organize a cook-off. They were trying to get two large fresh geese from one farm, go head-to-head cooking them, and then have a large gathering of friends and family judge the winner.

"Sounds like Dueling Banjos!" I laughed. If I had more musical talent, I might have attempted to do the song's opening riff, but with "Honk-a-honk-honk-honk." Instead, I added, "Wish I could be there to sample that."

"I wish you could, too!" he chuckled.

And then I explained that we can't ship our meat...and that he'd have a tough time finding anyone --- even local --- that has fresh geese at this time of year. Goslings have a very limited hatching period (basically February-June...our birds just started laying this week), and cannot be raised off-season. To be any good for eating, geese must be butchered in their first year of life, and nearly every gosling ends up getting butchered for Christmas. Any goose left from last year's hatch would be likely be intended as a breeder, as they'd be borderline too tough for eating now.

He appreciated talking with me about how geese are raised, and I enjoyed hearing about what he'd like to do. He'll probably end up getting a couple of six pound frozen geese at Whole Foods...but I still wish I could be there to sample the results.

12 January 2008

Life Imitates Bad 70s Music

One of our goals in moving to Michigan, other than proximity to family, was to be near other homeschooling Catholic families. We've met a few already at our parish, but this afternoon was the first opportunity that Mrs Yeoman Farmer (MYF) had to go visit one of them and hang out for several hours.

As I enjoyed a lazy afternoon on the farm (and watched my beloved Seahawks get trounced by the Green Bay Packers), MYF and the kids were having a grand old time visiting the other Catholic homeschooling family (about 7-8 miles or so away from our place). They really hit it off, and our kids really enjoyed playing with their kids. It was proving to be a powerful affirmation of our decision to come here.

And then something particularly remarkable happened. As MYF was packing up and preparing to head on to the nursing home and take the kids to visit her mother, the husband of this family mentioned something.

"Hey, with all the farming you guys do, you're reminding me of this great website that you should check out," he said.

"What is it?" MYF says, assuming it's going to be Joel Salatin or Countryside magazine or something.

"Well," the husband replies, "It's called 'The Yeoman Farmer,' and..."

MYF burst out laughing, paused for a moment to pick her jaw up off the floor, and blurted out something about that being her husband's personal blog.

I guess it took several moments of chaotic laughing before they were able to resume a normal conversation. The husband said he'd been reading this blog since last fall, including everything about our moving to Ingham County (MI), but had been holding off on contacting us --- I guess out of a desire to protect our privacy. He couldn't believe that TYF was really...the husband of the woman he was talking with. "Yep," MYF assured him. "I am Mrs Yeoman Farmer." That must've done it; who else on earth could have used a title like that?

Anyway, MYF called me at the first opportunity to share this incident, and we both had a hearty laugh.

But I couldn't help thinking, and mentioning, a really bad song from the 1970s. "You know what this is like?" I said. "The Pina Colada Song."

MYF laughed; though this situation doesn't fit the details of the song, she knew I was referring to the shock of getting together with someone you already know in a certain context...and then discovering you've unwittingly already "met" through the anonymity of media. And then she began singing, "Do you like Pina Coladas? And getting caught in the rain?"

We both laughed again, and talked about how bizarre the whole thing was. And agreed we were really looking forward to having this family over to visit. Soon.

09 January 2008

Big Food Making You Sick?

This mother in Colorado seems to think so:

But some days, her imagination gets away from her and she wonders if it’s only a matter of time before Big Food tries to stop her from exposing what she sees as a profit-driven global conspiracy whose collateral damage is an alarming increase in childhood food allergies.


Her theory — that the food supply is being manipulated with additives, genetic modification, hormones and herbicides, causing increases in allergies, autism, and other disorders in children — is not supported by leading researchers or the largest allergy advocacy groups.

That only feeds Ms. O’Brien’s conviction that the influence of what she sees as the profit-hungry food industry runs deep. In just a few dizzying steps, she can take you from a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds to Donald H. Rumsfeld, who once ran the company that created the sweetener aspartame.


Ms. O’Brien encourages people to do what she did: throw out as much nonorganic processed food as you can afford to. Avoid anything genetically modified, artificially created or raised with hormones. Don’t eat food with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Once she cleaned out her cupboards, she said, her four children started behaving better. Their health problems, which her doctor attributed to allergies to milk and other foods, cleared up.

“It was absolutely terrifying to unearth this story,” she said over lunch at a restaurant in Boulder, Colo. “These big food companies have an intimate relationship with every household in America, and they are making our children sick. I was rocked. You don’t want to hear that this has actually happened.”

Robyn O'Brien's conspiracy theories may seem a little over the top, but her personal experience with Big Food is quite similar to our own. When our firstborn started on solid food, everything he ate seemed to be making him sick. This continued for years, as we experimented with different foods and had him tested for all kinds of allergies. Only when we threw out the processed foods and began cooking from scratch with organic brown rice did his health improve. Whether he was experiencing "allergies" or just "reactions," I don't know (and frankly don't care). What did become clear is that something about the way modern "food" is processed to death was making him sick.

As I've posted on other occasions, getting control of our food supply was a big reason we moved to the country and began small scale farming. Yes, there are certain foods that make our kids sick no matter how they are raised or processed; even if we grew our own organic wheat and threshed it by hand, or our own open-pollinated organic corn, our kids couldn't eat it. The key has been growing the things they can eat (eggs, chicken, lamb, goat, goat milk, fruits, vegetables) and buying organic, minimally-processed versions of the things we cannot grow (rice, beef, certain vegetables at certain times of the year, etc.)

It's interesting that awareness of problems with "Big Food" seem to be spreading. My only fear is that with stories like these in the New York Times, some will come away thinking we're a bunch of kooks. Robyn O'Brien might seem a bit paranoid, and perhaps she is. But she does seem to be exactly right about what Big Food was doing to her kids and ours.

02 January 2008

Not Available in Stores

What's particularly fun about having a small farm is being able to eat foods which are largely unavailable in any store at any price. As mentioned in a previous post, we feasted on roast guinea fowl for Christmas dinner. They were delicious; despite being at least two or three years old, the birds turned out very nice after having been roasted in a Crock Pot for 18 or so hours on "low". Incredible how much gravy dripped off of them, and what a wonderful smell filled our house.

Also remarkable was how much meat we got off those two little game birds. We ended up storing the leftovers in the fridge for a week, unable to decide what to do. Finally, Mrs Yeoman Farmer (MYF) had a brilliant idea: Guinea Pot Pie. We defrosted a couple of quarts of chicken stock, then used it to simmer a pot of chopped carrots and potatoes. Added the de-boned guinea meat (and what was left of that wonderful gravy), then baked it with a freshly-ground rice flour crust.

As we were serving up this New Year's feast last night, I asked MYF, "How many people in this country do you think are having Guinea Pot Pie for dinner tonight?

MYF's response came quickly and without hesitation: "Exactly five."