Monday, December 17, 2007

Ask the Reader: What is Your Favorite Plant?


photo by DavidK-Oregon

We're going to change Tuesday's topic here at Mule Shoe Farm. We've had enough of writing about invasives and weeds gone wild. How many time can you say, "cut it off, dig it up, attack it in the late spring and it doesn't belong here"?

The new Tuesday topic will be Plants We Love to See More Of.

So I am asking you, dear readers, Please tell me what plants you would like to see more of. What are your favorite flowers, vegetables, shrubs, low-maintenance houseplants, etc.

Send an email to to make a suggestion.Your suggestions will be posted here with a suitable photo. If you have any photos that you would like to see on the web, send those in the email and we'll post them. One per week. On Tuesdays.

If you have any growing tips, cuttings or anything else that you want to make sure I mention, include that too. You can also post a comment below. Anonymously if you wish.

No, you don't have to write the article, just post your ideas.

Special Note

Since January is almost upon us, many gardeners are thinking of what they would like to start inside in January/February. I will have an assortment of plastic pots and starter flats in many different sizes with me this Saturday. If you post an idea in the comments below or send me an email about your favorite plant, you may choose your free flats or pots on Saturday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Federal Farming

. Duchess - the no-Show goat

Last week I received an email regarding my sources for Monday's article: Does the USDA Know What Your Dog is Doing? I think the person who sent the email brings up a good idea. I should have shared some sources with all you, dear readers. I would also like to point out that I prefer comments as opposed to direct personal emails. You can even comment as Anonymous. I don't mind. I will share sources and some additonal thoughts on NAIS with you today.

Actually, I have several sources in mind for various points in my post last Monday. The trigger for writing about the NAIS program was an editorial in Backyard Poultry Volume 2, Number 6 Dec2007/January2008 issue on page 6 Is NAIS Still a Threat? You Decide by Elaine Belanger, the editor. It was in the From the Editor column which is not available in the on-line version. There are several other interestng articles that have nothing to do with NAIS.

You can find out more at the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) at the Deliberate blog in a post dating from April of this year. This blog has some interesting information. There is apparently $500 grant available to help you implement this system. A company called Global Animal Management which will provide you with a turnkey package in this arena is also apparently linked part and parcel of the pharmaceuticals industry. Hmmmm. I am leary of the connection. Additionally, the existence of a grant implies that there will some cost to implementation. Probably one I really wouldn't want to bear.

For information about feedlots and the agro-industrial methods, I refer to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and a book called The Hundred Year Lie. I cannot recall the author at the moment. Both books are available from Amazon or at your local library. I also recommend reading through Joel Salatin's website for a description of sustainable pasture management.

Also check out This website contains articles about a host of applications of a Radio Frequency Identification, called RFID, including human implantation, etc. It is hosted by another small farmer in Vermont. Today's post notes that the 2007 Farm Bill has passed the Senate. On the right-hand side of this site there is an extensive list of links related to this issue.

The final word is, of course, from the USDA at which states that the purpose of the NAIS as follows:

To protect the health of U.S. livestock and poultry and the economic well-being of those industries, we must be able to quickly and effectively trace an animal disease to its source. When a disease outbreak occurs, animal health officials need to know:

  • Which animals are involved in a disease outbreak
  • Where the infected animals are currently located
  • What other animals might have been exposed to the disease

By choosing to participate in NAIS, you will join a national disease response network built to protect your animals, your neighbors, and your economic livelihood against the devastation of a foreign animal disease outbreak.

The main issue I have with this whole setup is that it is reactive. It does nothing to actually address the problems of which disease outbreaks are a symptom. NAIS will not reward good disease-preventive agricultural management practices which are counter to an agrindustrial approach to food production. All NAIS does is help the industrial food system figure out who is responsible and far the quarantine needs to go. This is not a sustainable approach because it does not prevent disease. It seeks to limit the spread of disease. Do they intend to imply that disease is inevitable and unpreventable?

Reading a bit more at on who must participate and who doesn't have to, I learned that the following criteria means you do not have to participate.

  • Animals that never leave their premises of birth, even if they move from pasture to pasture within that premises
  • Animals that never leave their premises other than when they "get out"
  • Animals that are only moved directly from their birth premises to custom slaughter

That is good news for the backyard hobby farmer for now. All small family farms must keep up their best management practices without fail. The minute a disease outbreak is traced to a small farm, NAIS will become mandatory for everyone. NAIS does, however, affect small farmers who like to show their animals because the USDA recommends animal identification in the following situation(s)

  • Animals that are moved from their premises to locations where they "commingle", or come into contact with, animals from multiple/other premises (Examples include - livestock auctions, feedlots, or fairs)

I think may also include swapping animals to improve herd genetics. Just a thought.

So there you have it. Right now, animal identification is voluntary.

Now onto the Senate Farm Bill which passed recently. It includes the controversial Crop Insurance component which allows farmers to grow crops which are not sustainable or financially viable. For more information, I refer you to the Senate Agriculture Committee website. When I finsh digesting the main points of the Bill, I will be sure to have something to say about it here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dr. Weil and Cabbage

In his article, 11 Things You Don't Have to Buy Organic, Dr. Weil stresses the importance of getting the health benefits of organic produce whenever possible. Then he observes that some people have budget contraints and gives a list of produce that contains the least amount of pesticides. Read more . . .

I have found cabbage to be one of the cheapest fresh vegetables around. It is also very versatile for light fare and winter comfort food. You can use in salads, soups, stir fry, as a side vegetable and so on. Here is a recipe for New England Boiled Dinner that will warm you up on those cold winter days. Cabbage goes uptown in this Simmered Cabbage recipe. And here is a Polish Borscht Soup recipe with cabbage that belongs in the First, You Eat category. I am not a fan of stuffed cabbage, but there are plenty of versions of it around and many people also consider it comfort.

Here's how the nutrients stack up:
Cabbage has a good amount of vitamin C which can help ward off those winter colds. One cup of shredded boiled cabbage contains nearly an entire day's supply of vitamin K. That same cup contains 13% of your daily fiber intake. Mineral-wise it contains large amounts of potassium.

So sit down and enjoy your non-organic cabbage guilt-free.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Barking Dog

Star is ready to hunt.

We currently have seven dogs: Yellow Boy, Daisy, Sarah, Star, Salt, Pepper & Shakers. Yep, seven. Some of them bark more than others. In fact, if we lived in the city, I'm pretty sure some people would find the barking level to be obnoxious at times.

We didn't want our dogs just barking all the time for no apparent reason. We had a challenge with Star because she was from a breeding operation where she was not really socialized. period. When we first got her, she was people shy, terribly aggressive toward other dogs and quite the barker.

She barked if you looked in her direction. She barked when you came out of the house. She barked when someone came up the driveway. She barked at new people, same old people, other dogs, other animals, and at things we didn't see. And sometimes she just barked. As I write this down, I realize that we assumed she was barking for a reason, not just barking. We just didn't always know what the reason was and sometimes she really didn't need to bark. We figured she was not properly socialized.

Once she became pregnant with her first litter, she had less energy for defense. She even let us pet her and rub her belly. And she didn't bark quite as much. We slowly realized that her barking was defensive. She had six puppies in that first litter and we certainly didn't want them to pick up Star's bad barking habits. We began to browse books stores, book racks, the library and to search the Internet for tips on breaking the barking habit. We even watched an Oprah episode on training dogs to behave.

Here is what we came away with. When your dog starts to bark you have about 30 seconds to correct her/him. Go to the dog and tell it No in a firm voice. When she/he stops barking, reward the dog with some loving attention and praise. The trick is to not yell No or say so often that you are "barking."

When we started going out to Star to tell her to stop barking, she would almost immediately calm down and at least look at us. That is all without us saying anything like No. Sometimes we would say, "What is it? Show me." The point is, she immediately relaxed when one of us came to her while she was barking. We also discovered that she barked a whole lot more when she was on a run or loose on the porch than if she were confined to a pen with a doghouse.

It was clear she felt threatened and that she needed to defend her/our territory. On the porch her territory became anything she could see, smell or hear. On a run, her territory was somewhat smaller and there was still a lot of nighttime barking. My husband took her squirrel hunting a few times and determined that she responded more to visual stimuli than scent or sound. It made sense that she barked more at night. She was less likely to clearly see what she smelt or heard.

By changing her territory to something that was more secure and probably more familiar, we enabled Star to feel less threatened by her environemnt. She also had less territory to defend and thus less reason to bark. By establishing a pattern of responding to her barks, we trained her to bark when she saw something out of the ordinary, not all the time.

It seems counter-intuitive to go to your dog when they start barking. But by saying no and responding to the barking, you establish that barking has a purpose and when it should be used. It does take time and patience, but even an improperly trained dog, like Star, can learn new tricks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Selling at The Market

Last week I wrote about how the economics of conventional agricultural industrial production impact the bottom line of a small farm. This week I am going to discuss how the traditional methods fare when selling direct to retail, i.e. the local farmer's market. Actual cost data for seed, fertilizer and pre-emergent pesticide usage are from the local Co-op price list. Pesticide licensing is done by the local Extension office.

Let's assume equipment costs are the same as in last week's example: $735 per month for the equipment loan.

You need between 6 and 8 lbs of seed per acre at $8 per pound for sweet corn. Let's say you buy 18 lbs of seed for $144. All you plant is corn to sell at the local farmer's market directly to the person who eats it.

You follow the recommended conventional spraying schedules for pre-emergent and fertilizer. Atrazine is a pre-emergent, sprayed after planting costing about $25 but you also have to get licensed to use it. The license cost $20 and is available to you from the local Extension office. To obtain the license, you are required to screen a four hour video and take a short test. The fertilizer will be formulated especially for the corn, having twice the nitrogen as a balanced 15-15-15 fertilizer. The local Co-op salesman told me that it didn't matter if you were planting corn for the first year in a new field or the third year in the same field, you would still need the same amount of fertilizer. You pay $290.87 for the special formula. You will find out that 15-15-15- fertilizer would have cost you $390. So you save about $100 there. The co-op recommendation is to get the corn in as early as possible to avoid having to spray pesticide. So you plant right after tax day for an early July harvest of bicolored sweet corn. You'll still have to watch for bugs and worms towards harvest time. Customers tend to not buy wormy corn.

Now you will need to pay attention to water requirements. 1-1.5 inches per week is needed to produce high quality sweet corn. Using Tennessee average rainfall data, you should only need 355,582 gallons of water for irrigation from April through the end of June. On average the cost per gallon of water is $.013, so you can expect to pay $4622.56 for irrigation.

You start harvesting the corn in July and continue to sell it at the market for about four weeks. Using this year's local prices, you should be able to average $2.50 per dozen ears. Your land yielded 12,500 ears/acre or 37,500 total ears. The total gross amount you receive from selling your corn is about $7812.50.

Your expense for the year include equipment payments: $8820; seed: $144; atrizine plus license: $45; fertilizer: $270.87; and water: $4622.56. Total expense is $13902.43

Subtract your expenses from your costs and you net nothing and still owe $6089.93

Is it worth it? Do you feel supported in the market place? Do you have a job to support your expensive hobby?

No, no & I'll have to get one.

Let's say you manage to wheel and deal your way through the equipment and you bought no equipment with a loan. So you have no monthly equipment payment to make. Your total expense would then come to $5082.43. You would net $2730.07.

Here is a key concept for sustainability. Do not take out loans for new and expensive equipment. Buy only what you can pay for immediately. For a small farmer this means making deals with neighbors to borrow attachments and buying a much older tractor. That $2730 could get you an older tractor with attachments and you would break even, the first year.

Next week I'll discuss in detail how a sustainable organic scenario might play out.

You Tell Me ...

photo by gak

What do You Want?

We're going to change Tuesday's topic here at Mule Shoe Farm. We've had enough of writing about invasives and weeds gone wild. How many time can you say, cut it off, dig it up, attack it in the late spring and it doesn't belong here?

The new Tuesday topic will be Plants We Love to See More Of.

So I am asking you, dear readers, Please tell me what plants you would like to see more of.

Send an email to to make a suggestion.

Your suggestions will be posted here with a suitable photo. If you have any, we'll put them up, too. One per week.

Oh yeah, if you have any growing tips, cuttings or anything else like that, include that too. Send an email to to make a suggestion.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Does the USDA Know What Your Dog is Doing?

photo by klynslis

If you own a pet, you are impacted, too. The National Animal Identification System or NAIS is being implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Currently, participation is voluntary. The plan is to make it mandatory.

What is it? - USDA regulation that requires every animal owner to register as a farm site and tag each and every animal with an ID tag. Every animal owner has 48 hours to report an "event" to the USDA. An event includes coming into contact with animals on another farm site or taking you animal off your "farm" site. Want your lap dog to go shopping with you? Better get ready to file paperwork or login online and self-report.

Exception - Large animal producers can get one ID tag for a "lot" of animals as opposed to one for every animal.

Why I think it's a bad idea - This regulation is entirely reactive. The main purpose is to be able to track disease outbreaks back to individual farmers or producers. This focuses blame at the source instead of focusing on ways to solve the problem throughout the agricultural supply chain. It is the large producers, the corn-fed beef lots and commercial poultry farmers whose management practices are most likely to lead to disease outbreaks. Small farmers and homesteaders with a few animals on plenty of pasture in plenty of space are less likely to be subjecting their animals to disease likely environments. Why is the USDA not encouraging sustainable agricultural management? Small farms, homesteaders and people with one or two chickens will bear the burden of cost for tagging each and every animal on the "farm" while big producers get a break.

You can read a lot more about this issue at There are also contacts on the right hand side of this website which will allow you to voice your opinion on this important issue.
Before anyone gets ready to send an email objecting to my one-sided presentation of this topic, you need to know that anything published here on this blog is strictly my opinion. You are, of course, entitled to your own.
Any thoughts you have on this issue? Post a comment below. And contact your Congressional representatives and Senators. Let them know what you think.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Onions and Cheese and Soup

It is officially soup time here at Mule Shoe Farm. This year, we kicked off soup season with one of our favorites: French Onion Soup. For such a simple soup, it sticks to your ribs and just completely warms you up on this cold days.

The ingredients are deceptively simple: onions, beef stock, butter, old bread and cheese.

Slice 1 or 2 large onions into rings and saute over low heat in a stick of butter.

Then add your beef stock. I use a 3 gallon stockpot and add enough water to make it about two-thirds full of soup.

You can make stock using bouillon and water which is somewhat salty or you can spend an extra dollar and buy a jar of reduced beef stock. The reduced stock makes a huge difference in the more delicious direction.

Bring the soup to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for however long you want or don't simmer at all. Turn your oven to Broil and let it heat up. This is when you can simmer the soup.

Ladle soup into oven safe bowls. place a large slice of brown bread and a slice of cheese. Any cheese from cheddar to provolone to Swiss will do. But you want the stuff that will melt. Not the commodity cheese for this meal.

Place the bowls on a large cookie sheet and carefully slide them into the oven. Check on the bowls every so often to see the status of the melted cheese. If you just want it melted then it's only a minute or so. I like mine with a little brownness on the cheese. Some days that takes 5-7 minutes.

GET THE POTHOLDERS. I have to remind myself. The cookie sheet will be HOT!!!!

Carefully slide the cookie sheet out of the oven and place it on the counter to cool.

Allow the bowls to cool to a temperature you can handle and then serve the soup. It should be very warm but not scalding hot.

This is a soup that you will end up eating with a fork and spoon. And you will be astonished at how filling it really is. Make sure you have plenty of cold water available to drink with this soup.

And now we will have a Martha Stewart moment...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Watering House Plants

Find out what to do about the chlorine in your tap water when you need to water your houseplants -->

What a Mug!

I had a close encounter with Sevin Dust.

My friend, who will always remain nameless, may possibly been using the stuff off-label which I know is a huge OSHA no-no. "If it works, use it" is a small farm mantra. No, I'm not turning over a chemical leaf. My friend is not particularly chemical oriented either. She prefers the natural approach. So here's what happened.

She received, in barter, three pygmie goats with livestock lice. The lice were included free of charge. I'm not totally sure if there's a difference between livestock lice and human lice. Not sure I want to find out through unplanned experimentation, either.
The Sevin Dust treatment is meant to eradicate the lice problem. My job was to catch and contain the small goats. While my friend dusted them. Needless to say, I knew I was going to get Sevin dust on me and on my clothes. Not only was it windy, but I was holding goats.
The appropriate pesticide management practices if I remember correctly from my Master Gardener classes is to remove those clothes and wash them by themselves and to take a shower as soon as the job was finished. Which is what I did ASAP because that Sevin dust smell was in my nostrils and the taste was in my mouth. Friendship . . .

Anyway, the Sevin dust treatment sparked a conversation about animal management practices. When my friend's children, asked about how the goats came to have livestock lice, the discussion began. These goats had been raised on a larger farm where livestock was kept close together. Lice will flourish in unclean environments and multiply in close quarters. Worms came up, also. I mentioned that my goats and chickens don't have those problems and my friend observed that hers really didn't either. We decided it came down to animal management practices.

Here's where pasture rotation and pasture size to animal population ratios are important. By rotating grazing animals through your pastures - larger to smaller and ending up with poultry, like chickens, ducks or geese, you control your insect populations. Chickens love to eat ticks, lice, grubs, whatever: grass, fly larvae and other things left in the manure of the larger animals. By rotating pastures between grazing animals, you also strengthen the roots of the grass and make it healthier. Take care to avoid overgrazing and overuse.

Overgrazing occurs when too many animals stay in too small a pasture area for too long. There are three factors at play: number of animals, size of pasture, length of stay. These factors are tied to each other. A larger number of animals means a larger size pasture for the same length of stay. A longer stay can be managed by less animals with more space for each animal. Lower animal density means several things: lower rates of disease and less feed costs. If you do not have enough space for your grazing animals to get enough forage by themselves, then you are supplementing their feed. Period. Buying feed costs money and brings in nutrients from elsewhere. It also uses more energy in the form of transportation gasoline, production and manufacture.

Animal/pasture management can apply to pets, like dogs, too. Dogs generally need quite a bit more space then we allow them. While we probably always buy dog food, we can pay attentiont ot their outdoor spaces. If your dog pen or fenced in dog run becomes muddy quickly, then you know that the space is not big enough for your dog. Enlarge and move the space to allow your lawn to regenerate. This is why invisible fence is important. An invisible fence will give your dog fairly free roaming capabilities without the stagnant views of a fence. Dogs also tend to pace less when they are not fenced in with a visible barrier. That mean less wear and tear on the lawn.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Balancing Act

photo by jasonawhite

A little while ago, I posted a bit about trying to figure out whether a farm purchase was sustainable in Money Matters. I promised to continue writing about money needed to run a farm and how it's related to sustainability. So here is the another installment on this topic.

The basic idea behind sustainability is to do things so that you do not have to go outside of the farm to support the farm. For example, you don't have to buy extra feed for the animals because you have a enough forage for them. You don't use chemicals because that would be an outside product coming into your system.

Finances need to be sustainable, too. This concept of financial sustainability is especially crucial for small farms. Let's say you have 3 acres in which to grow corn. You grow your corn conventionally which is to say, you pay for hybridized seed, to up your production, you apply your pre-emergent herbicides, your fertilizer and spray pesticide on your crops according to the prescribed schedule. You harvest your crop at the appointed time in the normal way with a small tractor and harvester. You sell your corn to a warehouse because you do not have enough to sell direct to the manufacturer that uses it. You have sunk money into equipment, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, plus gas.

You have beginner's luck and nothing goes wrong. The crop produced is the best you can expect for the year. Let's assume also there is high demand for your corn. Not only do you sell the ears, but you are able to sell the entire plant and the entire amount at a really good price. So let's do a balance sheet on this endeavor using average or standard prices from this past year.

You can expect that your planting efforts yielded about $64 per acre net profit after counting the seed and chemicals. You have 3 acres of corn, so 3x64=$192 for three acres of corn. Since your price per bushel fell under the USDA price floor for corn, you receive an additional payment of $150 when you file the appropriate paperwork. Now you have purchased a small tractor with the necessary attachments totaling $20,000 at the beginning of the year. You have exactly $342 to apply to your tractor payment FOR THE YEAR which actually costs you $735 per month to operate.

Who would do business like this? You're always in the hole. This is not sustainable.

A small farmer would certainly want to do better than that and the prices are better if you sell stuff directly to the person who plans to use it - the consumer. So instead of selling wholesale, you plan to sell retail at the local farmer's market. That's what I will talk about next time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

When Good Plants Go Bad

There is a little, well sometimes little, plant that most homeowners love to hate. And it started out as a garden plant which escaped and naturalized. Every part of this plant is edible. It is used to make salad, wine, coffee and as a salve. Its root can even be dried, powered and used for medicine or chopped and eaten. The flowers can be fried and eaten, too. Here are some more clues. It first came to North America with European settlers, as an early spring green.

Its prolific seed capability, its fast maturation and its amazingly long tap root make it hard to get rid of. It can be virtually indestructible. If you get rid of it on your lawn, your neighbor's lawn or a lawn a couple miles away will happily re-seed your weed-free lawn.

I think you have an idea of what I'm talking about now, so I'll tell you. It is the dandelion. Yes. the dandelion. Originally brought as a salad plant. Thanks a lot folks - couldn't we have just stuck with lettuce? The dandelion is a very good cautionary tale of why exotics or plants from other places can be such a not good idea. The intentions were arguably good. North America really didn't have lettuce or edible greens. So Europeans brought them. And they're fairly healthy for us, so what's the beef?

photo by williac

The problem is that dandelions adapted too well to their "new" home. There are not the same
environmental factors here that control their growth over there in Europe. I can say, I
didn't see one dandelion over there. Even in the so called "wild" spaces. Really they were
more "untended" but that's a different story.

So back to how to get rid of them. That's what you came for, isn't it? Well, this is one
plant I've never actually tried to get rid of. Not the answer you expected, is it?
Dandelions have so completely naturalized, that to me they are like dock, mullein or
violets. They're expected in the landscape. I'll warrant though that I don't like them
actually in my garden, even though I don't mind them in my so-called lawn.

When you have dandelions in places you don't want, the trick is to dig them up completely.
You have to get the whole taproot. And you better do it BEFORE they go to seed. Otherwise,
just forget it. Of course, if you're having folks over to tour your garden, you'll want them
out anyway. There is a perfect tool for digging them up. I think it looks like a flattened
forked tongue, but you probably have your own ideas. It's called a dandelion weeder and you can get them just about anywhere. If you don't feel like spending money, a fork works pretty well, too.

If you can't dig them up, then you can slice off the top portion of the dandelion and as much of the taproot as possible up two inches. That'll at least give it a pause before it comes back.
Some people swear by regular severe lawn cutting, but this is not good for the grass and the
dandelion adapts by flowering sooner when the plant is below the cut level. Smart little
weed isn't it?

Of course, you want to take off the flower heads before they go to seed. A bonus there is that you can take them in, wash them off and pan fry them in butter with some diced onion, maybe a little salt and pepper. Yum. You may not care then that you have dandelions. I warn you, though, if you start eating them, they'll be harder to find in your yard.

For further reading on this subject check out these links:

Monday, December 3, 2007

Smile and Wave

photo by GlennFleishman

When the Open Air Market opened this April, the first Saturday was not great. In fact, I was the only one there and it was drizzling. It was also a bit airish. I set up and stayed, so that people would know I was planning to be there on a regular basis. I think I even sold something. That day began my unofficial smile and wave campaign here in Ashland City. I felt the compulsion to smile and wave at every car passing my small stand.

I remembered how in Cordele, GA, where I lived in my 'tweens, that everyone was always friendly whether they actually knew your name or not. "Hey, Howya doin'?" was the most common greeting. It was delivered with the air of utmost familiarity and friendship everywhere in that small town. I also remember how different that felt than how it felt where I was born, a big metropolitan area. I became friendlier and in the process relaxed. The relaxation led to an unintentional kindness. I certainly wasn't taught at earlier age to be nice to strangers.

This act became so reflexive that when I went to college in a different large metro area, I was astounded to be approached by the "spices of life" everywhere I went. It wasn't until I realized it was the friendliness I brought with me from Georgia that was attractive, that I stopped. I did not want to be the target of unwelcome attention, so I reacquainted myself with the rules of big city life - don't smile, don't make eye contact, stay in your bubble. The kindness that I habitually exhibited began to disappear. I became bitter, cynical, unfriendly. To my Southern self, I became rude. I was anonymous in the crowd. I considered it necessary survival tactics. What exasperated the situation was that I actually enjoy being friendly. It's easier for one thing and it's less stressful.

I moved to a neighborhood that was close-knit and began to meet my neighbors. Soon I could walk down the street and greet nearly everyone I passed. And we were kind to one another. We collected cans for the man who made his living from them. We looked out for each other's houses and vehicles. We fed each other's animals and we checked on the sick and elderly regularly. One day, I was at Mrs. R's taking coffee with her and Marie, when the subject of tenants came up. Nearly all of us were tenants, but the comment was made that the tenants who were not from the neighborhood did not take care of the property they were renting. I asked if the tenants were known. Had anyone ever visited them? No. They're not from this country. We wouldn't talk to them. Then very logically and naively, I asked (I had to - it's in my nature) Well, then how do you know the place was a mess? It was explained to me that people like that always lived in filth. It was clear to me that the unkindness and prejudice in this situation arose from the relative anonymity of the newcomers. Nobody got to know anyone else and certainly there was no greeting going on between relative strangers.

This story brings me up to Ashland City, another smallish tight knit community. One thing I like about Ashland City is that it is a small town and I could get to know everyone if I wanted to. But something puzzled me about this place in Tennessee. I rather expected it would be somewhat like Georgia where everyone would say Hello to each other and give a friendly nod. Nope. Not really. I used to joke that this was a little bit of New England plopped into the South. Keep to yourself. Really. Please.

This allows all kinds of gossip. I have witnessed first hand, how word spreads around town about this, that and the other. How people bear 20 and 30 year old grudges over high school gossip. What we need is a little more kindness and a little more community. One of the roles of local farmer is to bolster community. It may be unintentional but nonetheless, people meet each other at the market and they begin to talk. More folks will stop in and check out your vegetables if you smile and say, Hello. More than that, I learn what food the community needs and what difficulties some people might be having. All the various kindnesses that were paid to me over the years, can be paid forward to others.

Paying kindness forward is not a new concept to me and it doesn't appear to be exclusive to my upbringing, although that is certainly where I learned it. Check out this Zen Habits post on paying kindness forward. This idea drives the food giveaways and various neighborhood assistances that go between us in a small town. It is the old way of farming. We all help each other, without a ledger to keep track, because we are paying forward. We are not lending a hand, we are giving a hand. And there is a difference. A loan becomes a debt which must be returned to the lender. A gift becomes the property of the recipient who can re-gift it to someone else. And it all starts with a smile and wave. A friendly hello. If we don't know each other, it is hard to be kind. We don't know. We have no information. In the absence of information, the mind fills in the blanks. And the gossip spreads without basis.

The first step is to smile and wave. Ask how the person is doing, and listen to their answer. Take the kindnesses given to you and pay them forward. Mule Shoe Farm will be at the Open Air Market this Saturday (unless there are sick children) and I will be smiling and waving at the passing cars, just like always. Stop in and say Hi. We'll talk and build up our community through mutual kindnesses.

Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link above. I want to see what you have to say.