Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poor Melissa

She has had one hell of a week, and it's still got a couple of days to go. So far this week;

1. The truck died on her way home from Lynnville, and she had a heck of a time getting AAA to send her a tow truck, which is ridiculous.

2. We had a lot of drama with a commercial shipper who insisted that we meet him at a truck stop 30 miles away from home to transfer a horse from their trailer to midnight...when the owner had paid for door to door service.

Being married to me is often a trial (and yes, I'm admitting it !), but this week has been particularly so thanks to an ongoing bit of drama with my back that has left me at about 10 % capacity regarding sitting (which you have to do when driving) and walking (necessary when feeding horses). So in addition to everything else, her workload has doubled.

To top it all off, about the time my back went out I seem to have contracted some sort of stomach virus that makes my insides sound like I swallowed a set of drums and which in my enfeebled state means I had better be within eyesight of a toilet.

Blech !

I know factually that it could be plenty worse, but I'm about ready for some better days !

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TV Weather Drama

I don't know when weather forecasts changed in this country. What I mean by that is that when I was a child, weather forecasts (even American ones) didn't seem to be full of the sort of campy high drama one might expect to find on afternoon soap operas. But they sure are in 2010, on every channel you'd care to name, including especially the Weather Channel !

Given the number of clients who called and emailed to check up on our well being this afternoon, I'd say the national weather folk had middle TN in their cross hairs and were probably forecasting imminent death and massive destruction. I know all the local stations were because I was listening to some of them as I drove into Franklin early this afternoon ! While it was plenty entertaining, all the media attention kind of lends itself to more drama than the situation calls for most of the time and certainly more than it called for today.

The problem is that even if you live here and are looking out your window, eventually you begin to believe what you hear over what you see. Even I thought for awhile about heading for home and battening the hatches, but I'm kind of glad I didn't. As is often the case, it wasn't half as bad as all that. It got a bit windy for awhile this morning. Not death and destruction kind of windy, just breezy, like it gets right before a front's going to go through. About noon the wind died down and it rained for an hour, dropping the temperature from 85 to 65. And then the sun came out and it was over with. No lightening. No thunder. And no death and destruction raining down from the sky. Once again, we came through completely unscathed ! But I'm thinkin' that sort of weather non-event doesn't sell many commercials !

Hope everyone else had the same sort of drama free day that existed here in middle TN !

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rain !

After nearly two months with no real rainfall, last night the spigot finally got turned on and we accumulated a hair over three inches of rain. It's too late for the warm season grasses, and the trees are pretty well fried for the year too, but I noticed a whole bunch of green cool season grass shoots all over every pasture this morning. It won't take very long for it to grow if it keeps raining ! Our 4 inch soil temperatures are running in the low to mid 70's; perfect for germinating grass seed ! I think the best part is that more rain is predicted the next couple of days !

I was going to spend today applying and harrowing in manure, but it's too wet to do that and I will happily find another task if it means MORE RAIN !

In other news....

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Boy, it'd sure be nice to just lay down for a day or two and let everything sort itself out."

Well, I can now tell you from experience that it isn't nearly as much fun as it might at first appear. Somehow, I managed to twang my back out of alignment on Saturday morning and over the course of working through the day everything got tighter and tighter to where I could hardly move. Turns out the only halfway comfortable position I could find was flat on my back, so that's how I stayed from Saturday afternoon until this morning. After a little medical aid and chiropractic stuff, I'm happy to report I can move again, but I don't think I'm going to be running any marathons or lifting anything extraordinarily heavy the next couple of days.

Hope everyone has a great Monday !

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unreasonable Requests

Melissa and I do a lot of checking before a horse gets to step off the trailer at our farm, and our "pre-vetting" helps assure us that both the client and the horse are a good fit for our way of doing things. Because we are pretty fussy on the front end, we usually deal with nothing but great clients and great horses.

That said, we have dealt with our share of unreasonable requests during the "get to know you" phase with potential clients. Here are few examples !

1. I'd really like to send my horse but your rates are too high. Your farm is very elitist, and I don't see how you sleep at night charging as much as you do (no bull...someone really said this to Melissa on the phone).

Our emailed response went something like this.

Unfortunately we don't have a money tree in the backyard. We charge what we charge in order to make a fair living and pay for our overhead and (large) capital investments. We're full with a waiting list (this blew the caller away). There are lots and lots of cheaper options out there and you probably ought to check some of them out (we even recommended a couple).

Unbelievably, the SAME caller called back six months later, and this time she condescended to paying our asking price, minus ten percent.

Let's review.


End of review.

Sorry. Still full. For you, honey, we're ALWAYS going to be full !

2. When we come visit for four or five days, we'll bring the kids, our camping stuff, their dirtbikes, and all our pets and extended family. You won't mind, will you ?

Hell NO ! C'mon over ! Would YOU mind if I boarded my [insert animal of choice] at your house and I showed up in your backyard for a long weekend unannounced with twenty of my closest friends and family, a keg of beer and my 4-wheelers ? Get a life, get a new brain, and find yourself another boarding facility !

Well, honestly.

Hope ya'll have a great weekend !

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ethanol Production

The main headline in this week's edition of Feedstuffs magazine claims/cautions that the EPA has partially approved E15 ethanol blends for 2007 and newer model cars. Why this headline trumped a whole lot of other interesting feed industry news is that the whole ethanol situation has huge implications in animal agriculture if we choose to maintain the status quo.

Although using corn to create motor vehicle fuel is fantastically inefficient, we aren't literally on the verge of taking food out of someones mouth because we choose to use corn to produce ethanol. I think a more accurate assessment is that we are using some of our "cheap" grain supply to feed cars instead of cattle, and BOTH are fantastically inefficient uses of corn.

Given that ethanol production AND feed corn production are heavily subsidized by the federal government, we are currently in a situation where thanks to government intervention the market for corn has been severely and artificially manipulated. Since the acreage dedicated to corn is maxed out and pretty static from year to year, I'd say the price of corn is likely to stay high, at least relative to the long term average, until one or both of these industries lose their federal corn subsidies.

Unlike hogs and chickens, beef cattle aren't designed by nature to eat corn. At the end of the day, beef cattle always make sense in places that can't grow much grain. Unless it is fantastically cheap because it has been massively overproduced (as it has been my entire life), it makes no economic sense to feed corn to beef cattle. To grow a pound of beef requires 6 to 10 lbs of corn at a minimum.

As we move toward an election and a new farm bill, keep your ears and eyes on beef subsidies. I'd wager that somewhere in Washington, lobbyists for the cattle industry are proposing a series of subsidies for beef producers to counteract and overcome the current massive federal subsidies on corn.

Didn't we used to call government manipulation of free markets socialism ?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Canadian Words....

I am told that when I came south I had a "cute" but fairly thick eastern Ontario speech pattern says my spouse anyway. I hesitate to identify what I had as an far as I am concerned I had no accent then and I still don't, but others around me seem to disagree with that, sometimes vehemently. However, there is no doubt I use differing pronunciations and inflections than folks do down here. In some cases, I use different words to describe the same item or situation than would be normal in the south.

A (totally made up) example of this, " I sat down on the chesterfield to pull on my toque and mukluks before braving the trip across the frozen muskeg. Eh, while you're up, can you bring me a double double ?"

In spite of my sentence, I'm (mostly) a pretty easy guy to understand. About the only word that HAS led me astray way down here in Dixie is, "hydro". In Ontario, the provincial electricity provider before deregulation (ie. for most of my life) was Ontario Hydro. Given this bit of background, it's a fairly easy leap to understanding why over the last hundred years or so everyone in my part of Ontario uses "hydro" in place of "electric" (ie. hydro bill, hydro pole, hydro line, and, all by itself "hydro" or "the hydro").

Hydro is a versatile kind of word, and it continues to slip into my everyday usage without any thought on my part. If you add swear words to it, it becomes even more versatile ! :) The problem is that without the bit of background I gave, nobody down here has the faintest idea what I'm talking about when I use it in conversation which can lead to some interesting impasses during lulls. At various times, I've been asked whether hydro meant pole dancing (?), operating a space ship (??), losing control of one's car on water (at least this makes some hydroplaning...though why I'd leave planing out is beyond me) or poling a canoe through a dam (???). Some folks at a party even thought I was referring to myself when I said that the hydro had been out ! :/

At any rate, one word seldom matters all that much, unless it's referring to something I got up to in my youth with someones daughter when her father burst into the room, and then it matters a very great deal, but that, my friends, is another story. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tennessee Travails

Before coming home to "go farming" full time the first of June of this year, I spent several years as the Tennessee state rep for an animal health company of note headquartered not too far away from here.

My primary motivation for taking the position was not financial, although I made a pretty handsome living doing what I did. Instead, what I was most interested in doing was getting to know every key person involved in agriculture in TN and the surrounding states, as well as getting to know every back road, short cut and good place to eat ! I pretty well did it, too, and in so doing I accumulated a lifetime's stories about the colourful people and places in the hills and hollers across this state.

I think one of the strangest (and potentially scariest) stories involved a trip to some of the mountain counties north and east of Knoxville early on in my career. I'm talking here about the OTHER mountain counties; the ones that might as well be on a different planet than the ticky-tacky tourist parade in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. Anyway, I got a call from a fellow who was interested in one of our products, and he asked me to come out to his farm to see whether or not I thought the product might help him out. My very first clue that all wasn't right ought to have been that none of the local agricultural sales reps wanted to ride over there with me that day, but I was new to the job at the time and didn't know any better !

I turned off the paved road about 50 miles northeast of Knoxville, and I proceeded for what seemed like forever down an ever grimmer selection of side roads; first gravel, then dirt, and finally two muddy tire tracks with grass growing in the middle and junk littering the verges. The last several miles took me up and over a mountain, and in addition to the junk the road was lined on both sides with tar paper shacks and old trailers that ought to have been abandoned but clearly weren't. Worse yet, the mostly toothless and very scary inhabitants ALL came outside to watch the stranger pass. It was a scene straight out of my worst Appalachian nightmare. I was really wondering whether or not I'd have to squeal like a pig before the day was over.

Much to my surprise and wonderment, I came down off the mountain into an open valley and onto a truly pretty farm; everything brand new and all well done. It's never wise to get out of the car in those parts without hailing the house first, and that's what I did. After awhile, the "farmer" came out and we had a nice visit about our products, although I was never invited to leave the confines of my car; again, very odd in a place still known for it's hospitality. Some while later, I asked the "farmer" about my drive over the mountain. I was assured by the "farmer" that my safety was never in question as he was related to every one of the occupants of the dwellings and that he had known my whereabouts from the time I turned off the paved road quite a few miles back. I don't know what he did to make his money, or who's safety he was concerned about...his or mine....but I know his comment made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up and I made some haste getting the hell off his mountain.

After I got back on the paved road, got something to eat, and got my nerves calmed down, I proceeded on toward my motel, located in another little mountain town some ways away. It was well on into the fall and dark by the time I left my supper, so when I saw a big set of floodlights off the highway a little ways I immediately thought "high school football game". What better way to relax and calm down after such a fretful day ? As I turned off the highway, I first realized I might be somewhat mistaken when I noticed all the razor wire and guards at the entrance...not normal precautions at most rural high school games in my limited experience. Of course, there was nowhere and no way to turn around, so I proceeded up toward the guard shacks. When I got there I tried to explain my predicament to them but they cut me off with a very curt, "Ain't no football bein' played up here tonight." For the second time that day, I made some haste in taking my leave. After all that excitement, I pretty much went straight to my motel and went to bed ! A couple of weeks later I read about the arrest of thousands of people at the state's largest outdoor cock fighting the same address where my "football game" was being played !

Moral of the story ? When one is poking around in deeply unfamiliar mountainous territory, it's often wise to have some local knowledge in the passenger seat with you, especially if your name is Jason Webb ! :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Short Picture Update, New Farm

As most of you know, I have been spending most of my spare time lately working away at finishing the interior of the barn. I got a little sidetracked with some other farm duties for the better part of a week, but things are beginning to move forward again. While the pictures might not show it, at this point all the stalls are fully functional, and most of them have been used at one time or another. The wash rack is fully ready except for hot water, which ought to be fixed before the end of the week. The storage area/ crosstie area beside the wash rack is fully ready and the feed room/office/whatever is framed in and is still waiting for an electrician to install a service so I can insulate it and be DONE with the inside of the barn ! At any rate, here are a few recent photos to show where we're at !

Looking toward the front of the barn from the rearmost stall. Please ignore the junk in the storage area/crosstie. It has to go somewhere.
Looking at the wash rack (left) and crosstie/storage area on the

Inside the feedroom...awaiting electricity and insulation !

Looking toward the rear of the barn from the front. I will be covering the plywood with upright 1x6, just like the rest of the barn. Unfortunately, 1x6's aren't nearly as airtight or insulation friendly as plywood is. The feed room door is sitting in the front end loader of the tractor, which is parked outside, awaiting my arrival tomorrow ! I don't know why the alley looks narrow in this picture; it is actually a full 12 feet wide.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Joys of Commerce....

First of all, before I tell this story I have to say that I enjoy doing business with my chiropractor. In a lot of ways, he makes it easy for me to do business with him. Most of the time when I show up at his office, even sans appointment, he is there; willing and able to crack my back. But sometimes, inexplicably, he isn't. Until yesterday, I shrugged my shoulders about this, but when I showed up during scheduled office hours and he wasn't there, and the receptionist gave me kind of a funny look, I asked about it. Turns out his actual hours are markedly different from the hours posted on either his front door or on his cards. The receptionist and I had a good laugh over his secret hours, and after crossing out his posted hours, she handed me a card with his actual hours on it. I guess everyone in the world who deals with him but me already knew this, but I sure didn't !

There is one local farm equipment and supply store I absolutely detest going in, although sometimes out of necessity I am forced to darken their door. The reason for my revulsion is that there is absolutely nobody inside who knows (or is capable of finding out) any information about anything whatsoever. Sadly, I'm told this includes the owner. I once spent the better part of an hour waiting on a clerk trying to pay for a generic oil filter for one of our tractors. It was on the shelf and priced, but the fellow at the till thought the price was incorrect and apparantly he went to look it up. What he actually did (and I still can't believe it) was go to lunch while I waited in the store for him to come back. And he took his own sweet time to eat, too, let me tell ya what ! In that instance, I'm not sure who was dumber, me for waiting on him or him for telling me where he went.

I'm hoping some of you folks will share some colourful stories of your own with me ! Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Tractor Envy

I've got a confession to make.

I'm not a normal guy.

I never had car envy. Ever. As far as I am concerned a car or truck is four (or more) wheels and a (comfortable) seat. Whether it's a 10 year old rustbucket with 300,000 on the odometer or a brand new megacomfortmobile really doesn't make much difference to me. Even as a I approach the age when a zippy little red sports car is supposed to be in my immediate future....nada...ain't happening.

I've never had tractor envy either. Until today. When one of THESE went by the farm all blinged out like a fancy lady's Christmas tree, and with a front end loader to boot.

Oh, the work I could do with one of these, especially when fully accessorized with appropriately sized implements. With all those lights, I could work all night (Sigh!).

I fear the cabless, practical, economical high hour machines I've favoured my whole life long will never be the same again.

If only I had a hundred thousand spare dollars......

Monday, October 11, 2010

What is "large scale industrial" agriculture ?

Given that some of my blog readers may not have first hand farm backgrounds, and given that some of those that do may be reading this from another country where the situation is very different, I think I need to clarify the size and scope of what quantifies large scale, industrial agriculture in 2010 here in the US. As you'll quickly see, I'm not talking here about someone milking 200 cows.

Locally, we have one hog "farmer" and three chicken "farmers".

The hog "farmer" is a mini-integrartor. His contract growers will finish upward of 600,000 market hogs for him this year. Put another way, this farm is sending 12,000 hogs a WEEK to market ! This pales in comparison when compared to the real integators in the midwest and VA/NC. They might market 100,000 hogs a week.

To put this in perspective, a good sized independent Ontario hog farm in the area I grew up might market somewhere between 50 and 200 hogs a week.

I don't know how many chickens the chicken integrators have locally, beyond saying a hell of a lot. I do know that each complex has a feed mill and a good feed mill at a working complex will put out upward of 10,000 ton of feed a week, solely for their own birds. I think it'd be a reasonable extrapolation to say that our three local integrators are putting 30,000 ton of feed a week through their own birds. Put another way, 30,000 ton is 60 million pounds of feed. A week.

A good sized family dairy in this part of the world might milk somewhere between 200 and 400 cows. In Ontario, thanks to quota, the average dairy farm might be milking nearer to 50 cows. Here in TN, neither our topography nor climate are suited to industrial dairies, but in parts of the southern midwest not too far away from here, dairies in excess of 5000 milk cows are becoming routine, with the largest approaching 30,000 cows at this writing.

Agriculture practiced on this scale requires legions of employees, strict protocols, etc. It truly is industrial in it's mindset and outlook. When I talk about industrial agriculture and compare it to what Melissa and I do, this is the scale to which I am comparing it. There are lots of smaller farms that share the industrial mindset, but this is where it comes from. I'm not condemning it, but I'm not interested in farming this way, either.

Can you imagine the owner of any of the aforementioned entities passing his workday all day by himself in a pair of cutoff shorts building himself an office ? If you CAN picture an agribusiness CEO out hammering nails while attired in "business casual" in 90 degree heat, do you picture someone who is happy about what he's doing ? :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Way of Life

In other posts, I have talked about some of the precipitating factors that led me to want to make my living farming, but I don't know that I have spent very much time addressing why this is important to me. We all do what we do and live how we live for a whole variety of reasons, some of which we may not have much of an actual handle on. Or maybe ya'll do, and I'm the only one that doesn't ! :)

Anyway, I find farming attractive because if it's set up right, it's something that a husband and wife (and kids, too, should we be blessed that way) can work at together. There are lots and lots of reasons why this sort of thing may not work out as you had planned. I'll be the first one to tell you that this sort of dream can turn into a nightmare pretty quickly if one's spouse is not 100 % behind it, or if you and your spouse just flat out can't work together. There are legions of pitfalls, some of which I have described in other posts. But....if you *can* work with your spouse, and if you *desire* to work and live closely with your immediate family, if it's set up right, farming can offer a very attractive lifestyle and a good living, too. I hasten to add that so, too, can a lot of other businesses, but farming is that with which I am familiar, so that's the path I chose.

Although the type of farming we do is a business like any other, it is also very much a lifestyle; so much so that if you removed the elements I find enjoyable about the lifestyle I can't think of one good reason why farming the way we do for a living would be attractive. Our patrons and clients know (and are reassured by the fact) that I have no desire to become the Wal-Mart of retired horses or freezer beef. At some point, I think it's very possible to grow too big, although I don't exactly know where that is for our operation. I know for sure that I'm just not interested in hiring (and managing) a group of managers to direct employees toward tasks that I'd really rather complete myself !

In many respects, farming the way we do it is a 24 hour a day job, and since we live in the middle of our work space, it's difficult to differentiate between work and leisure a lot of the time. This drives a lot of folks nuts. I wrote a post about what we do for down time and I can't stress enough that engineering some down time is extremely necessary if one is to maintain one's sanity. Down time in this occupation has to be planned for; often well ahead of time. Our sort of farming would be a bad job for someone who enjoyed spending a lot of time away from home or for someone who really likes spontaneous travel and outings, as did my ex-wife.

Most of the time, Melissa and I are pretty content to be here, working at separate tasks but within earshot of one another every day. I love what I do and I am blessed in my choice of partner to help me. Ours truly is a great life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family in Canada !

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Immigration Debate Continued

As an immigrant American myself, I tend to follow news about the border, and indeed about immigration generally, pretty closely. I've been paying particular attention of late because since just before the Iowa egg fiasco, USCIS has been conducting pretty frequent raids on many large scale industrial agribusinesses, and (surprise, surprise) finding hordes of illegal immigrants doing the work, often in conditions and at wages bordering on inhumane. Given the generally poor care that animals receive in such facilities, it probably should come as no surprise that the human employees who work with the animals every day aren't treated well either.

Like most else about industrial agriculture, the arguments they present AGAINST changing our current policies on illegal immigration are old and tired. Even if there is a grain of truth in their arguments, believe me when I say it's the kind of truth that's polished until it shines. Also keep in mind that these self same companies often portray themselves in terms of how "all American" they are. They also like to talk about their "down home" values !

Let's start with the biggie:

1. There are no Americans willing to do the work. In my mind, this is kind of like saying there ain't no money in farming. If there are no Americans willing to do the work, I'm guessing there is a reason why this is so. It is irrefutably true that illegals will work harder at nasty tasks for far less money than will most American workers. Personally, I think it's a shame that instead of cleaning these places up so that they are fit places for anyone to work, it's easier and cheaper to simply hire illegals and carry on. I really don't think I like what this has to say about our society today. On this farm we never ask our employees to do any task we won't do ourselves, and most usually we are right there working with them. Everyone has the right (and indeed is encouraged) to refuse any task which they don't feel comfortable (or safe) completing. We pay wages on a scale well above the local average (and have expectations to match the pay scale) and we make our pay scale (and expectations) public knowledge. Guess what....we don't ever seem to have problems getting folks (Americans...every one of 'em !) to come out here and work !

2. There is no way to keep illegals out of the workforce. It may not be politically correct, but random audits and an enforced $ 10,000 penalty to the employer for every worker with false or incorrect paperwork would go a long way to fixing the problem in my book. It might also help restore a living wage to labourers and most trades in this country and I think that would be a good thing for everyone. Punishing illegals for trying to better themselves economically is probably not going to work unless it's combined with a strong, enforceable disincentive for employers not to hire them in the first place.

3. If we lose illegal workers, your grocery bill will go up ! I'm not even going to waste time commenting on this argument. They're here illegally. If our grocery bill goes up because we are replacing illegal workers with legal ones, tough tittie I say.

4. Our immigration procedures are so difficult, they are an impediment to legal immigration. We need to make it easier for folks to come here legally. This argument is one that I hear all the time, and it's the reason I wrote my last post. It's ALREADY relatively straight forward for most people to immigrate legally. As I understand it, there are already guest worker programs that would allow those without professional degrees to come here and work. Once they are here, there are clear pathways for them to work toward legally gaining a green card and/or citizenship if they choose to do so. Because I married an American, and indeed because I was a Canadian eligible for a TN Visa, my entrance into the US was easier than most. I recognize the immigration process may take considerably longer than it did for me depending on the nuances of one's individual case. Immigrating CAN be difficult/impossible for some people. Not having good English comprehension skills would make the process more difficult. A few things (like serious criminal convictions) will stop the process outright, as it probably should. But for most folks who want to come here, there is probably a pathway by which they can do so. Sussing out the correct path is the hard part.

Illegal immigration is a huge problem in the US. While I don't pretend to have any answers necessary to eliminate it, my hope is that this post may stir some thought and debate about this contentious issue.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Emigrating to the US

I want to talk today a little about the details of the process of emigrating from Canada to the United States in preparation for another blog post I am going to do at a later date.

As anyone who is a regular on this blog already knows, I and my family have a long history of emigrating to the US either temporarily, or in some cases, permanently. We vacationed here as a family every year and we spent considerable time with my grandparents at their home in Elmira, NY. Before I emigrated, I had already spent an aggregate of three years of my life in the US, so I was already much more familiar with the nuances of the country (and the nuances of crossing the border) than are 99 percent of those who immigrate (including others from Canada).

Crossing into the US as a temporary visitor from Canada is easy to do. Unknown to most travellers, Canadians are issued a "paperless" B1 (tourist) or B2 (business tourist) visa good for up to 180 days based on the answers one gives to the border patrol guards. I never had any hassle whatsoever entering the US temporarily as a Canadian citizen and I have crossed the US border in this capacity a whole bunch of times.

When I applied for and got my position with Blue Seal Feeds in Vermont, I entered the US nearly hassle free to work with a professional agricultural degree on a Trade NAFTA visa; by far the easiest way for a Canuck to move south more permanently. I literally showed up at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo one afternoon with no appointment and all my paperwork in order and was processed in less than an hour. This is NOT what you hear in any media report talking about illegal immigration.

When Melissa and I were married the following year, we decided I would emigrate to the US permanently with the goal of becoming a US citizen. As such, we applied for an adjustment of status while I was still living and working in the US on my TN visa. About six months later, after much paperwork, background checks, and fingerprinting, I became a temporary green card holder. After a year, I applied to become a permanent green card holder, and after another two years, I applied for American citizenship and was sworn in as a US Citizen at the Davidson County Courthouse in Nashville in March of 2009.

Although the paperwork, fingerprinting and background checks were repetitive (and very thorough in nature), as long as one took care to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's", there was nothing difficult about gaining US citizenship except that it took fair amount of time and cost a little bit of money in fees. From the time I decided to adjust my status while still in the US until I became a US citizen, there were periods that it was more difficult and more of a hassle (from a processing standpoint) to cross the border and there were a few short periods when it was just easier not to even try. Again, the paperwork spells all of this out very clearly and it's easy to comply if one is thorough about going over the paperwork.

If this entire endeavour sounds kind of complicated, it is, but the entire point of the post is that it is often not HARD to immigrate to the US legally, provided one does one's homework first.

Some of you may find this background info kind of interesting, but I think ALL of you will find the follow up post I am going to do interesting !! :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fall in the South

After a long summer that started early and finished late, we are enjoying the beginning of an extended period of pleasant sleeping weather and bright, warm days that, with only a few exceptions, will last till Christmas or beyond. In this climate, autumn is my favourite time of year. The heat of summer is mostly a fading, if recent memory, and we have months of cooler but still pleasant weather ahead of us.

It's hard to believe it, but I never liked autumn when I lived in Ontario, probably because it was followed by winter; by far the hardest, longest season when one works out of doors in the north. Fall usually came in a rush in Ontario. Except for the harbinger species which started to show colour in August, most things retained their green through September, until one day toward the end of the month when everything seemingly changed colour at once. This lasted a week or two and often the colour would be exceptionally pretty until the next good front came through and then whammo everything was winter bare.

Autumn in the south is more subtle and progresses much more slowly than I remember it in Ontario. Our harbinger species down here are the nut trees (pecan, hickory, walnut and butternut) which lose their leaves and begin dropping nuts in early September, followed by the bois d'arc (bodark or osage orange) trees which begin shedding large, inedible fruit in mid September. Unless it's dry (like it is right now), most of the rest of the trees remain fully green through mid October and then slowly begin changing. "Peak" colour (which is kind of a misnomer because usually we change colour one species at a time rather than all at once), ususally happens the first week in November. The Bradford Pears are the last trees in the landscape to turn colour down here. Usually they put on a bright red show from Thanksgiving into early December.

Dry years mean poor to non-existant colour; many trees lose their leaves early with no colour change at all. Despite a wet start, this will be such a year. We haven't had a drop of rain since mid August.

Bermuda grass, big and little bluestem, johnsongrass, dallisgrass, and zoysiagrass all slowly senesce and give way to fescues, clovers, and bluegrasses as nightime temperatures begin to get under 50 degrees with some regularity. We've had two or three cool nights lately and we're in the middle of this process right now. Often the pastures look deader here on an 80 degree October afternoon than they do in January; definitely not like that where I come from ! I'm waiting a few more days for the warm season grasses to fully senesce before I give the pastures their final mowing of the season. Depending on the rain situation we may still get considerable cool season grass growth, but probably not more than the horses will be able to keep up with from now until next March.

Along toward the end of the month or early in November, we can expect to wake to a white frost on the ground although a serious freeze (mid 20's or below) usually has the decency to wait until after Thanksgiving. The horses are beginning to thicken their coats for cooler weather and Canadian man has stopped sweating like a horse at the slightest exertion.

Hope everyone else is enjoying fall right now too !

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ambivalent Thoughts on Hunting

As we head toward autumn in the mid-South, cooler weather is bringing lots of thoughts about deer hunting and as bow hunting season opened in Tennessee yesterday I thought this might be an appropriate time to share some of my personal thoughts and feelings about hunting.

I grew up in a place rural enough that nearly everyone in it took deer hunting very, very seriously, as they do in parts of rural Middle Tennessee. In my youth it wasn't uncommon for the classroom to be half empty on opening day and I assume it is still that way. It wouldn't be to strong a statement to say that deer hunting is a part of the culture where I grew up.

I know there are a variety of valid reasons that people choose to hunt. For low wage earners, deer season represents perhaps the best chance at putting a surplus of meat in the freezer. A lot of hard working folks rely on deer to supplement their larder and lower their grocery bill and it's hard to argue with that.

I don't row crop farm any more but when I did it was easy to ascertain by the level of crop damage in my fields how the local resident deer population was faring. Some years damage was sparse but most of the time crop damage was extensive and in those years it was hard to argue with anyone that there weren't too many deer. In Ontario, some of my large extended family used to partake of deer hunting on my land with my permission, and I enjoyed being a part of the camaraderie that ensued before and after the day's hunt. As a part of the unspoken "fee" for hunting my land, my cousins would bring me a part of their harvest and I enjoyed having a meal with them too.

In spite of all that, I'm not much of a deer hunter myself and I never have been. There are a variety of reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for hunting and these include reasons like not really having time to not really enjoying spending my leisure time freezing my butt off in a stand on a cold Ontario November morning. But the real reason...the one that I mostly leave unspoken, is that I don't personally find much fun or sport in shooting to death an animal that really hasn't done me any personal harm and that I really don't need for food. I always feel kind of sad even when necessity calls for me to put to death a member of a verminous species, and I'm just not very interested in taking a life and calling it fun.

I'll be interested to read the comments on this post !

Friday, October 1, 2010

Us vs. Them

There very much exists in rural North America today a culture of us versus them, with farmers standing alone on one side (along with all the "pro-ag" agribusiness professionals and integrators, most of whom haven't had a dirty shoe since Nixon left office) and everyone else on the other. It wouldn't be an oversimplification to say that farmers (often not unjustifiably) think everyone is out to get them and wants to change their way of life (with change being the operant word in this sentence). Because I am a full time farmer who very much looks and acts the part, I am more or less immediately welcome on the "farmer" side of the fence wherever I may be. This can lead to some interesting situations, especially when I think out loud about what I really believe, which is often very much at odds with the generally accepted "rural reactive" mentality of 2010. Here are a few examples, followed briefly by my thoughts in italics.

1. "One of these days, folks in this country are going to be hungry again if we're forced to abandon "x" way of doing things. And maybe if that happens prices in commodity agriculture will finally go up enough that for the first time in your life you might be able to make a decent living farming, but I'm sure if you work at it you'll come up with a way to screw it up and then complain about it. Or more likely we'll find a better and more sustainable way of doing things that will lead to even bigger surpluses and lower prices than we're already dealing with.

2. America has the cleanest, safest and most abundant food supply on earth. Okay, I'll bite. But at what cost to farmers, animals and the environment ? I also think a lot of folks in Canada, Europe and Australia would raise their eyebrow at that statement, especially regarding food safety. And if you ever entered a grocery store with the intent to purchase in any of these places, the price and quality of the food on offer in those "foreign" places would almost certainly surprise you.

3 There ain't no money in farming.....And if you continue to do what you're doing right now there ain't never gonna be, except nobody ever says that part out loud for some reason.

4. I don't understand all these damn people that spend money on animals when there are people suffering. It's seldom that simple. Often those who have compassion for animals put their money where their mouth is and help a lot of people too.

I find the older I get the less patience I have for stupid, reactive people who are stuck in thought processes like those listed above. Maybe eventually we'll collectively stop talking this sort of nonsense and hunt a different way out of the mess these speakers find themselves in today.

What would you think if someone started spouting these sorts of thoughts in your presence ?

Hope everyone has a great weekend.