17 June 2018

Wildflower Garden

By: Jon Katz

Wildflower Garden

Last year, we dug out a bug chunk of weeds behind our old stone fence and planted a wildflower garden with hundreds of  seeds. We covered the weeded area with a plastic tarp to make sure nothing grew there over the winter and we dug it up early in the Spring and planted more seeds.

So we now have a wildflower garden and some of the simplest and most graceful and beautiful flowers are cropping up there. I will enjoy trying to capture their special beauty over the summer, and as usual, I have no idea what these flowers are called.

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Lulu, Guard Donkey

By: Jon Katz

Lulu, The Guard Donkey

Many people don't know that donkeys are vigilant and protective guard animals. Lulu is our primary guard donkey, I got her and Fanny in the first place to guard our flock of sheep from stray dogs and coyotes, both of which roamed the woods near the first Bedlam Farm.

Lulu is always vigilant, spotting animals in the woods that we can't see, she will lock in on the intruders, ears up, and if they get too close to the fence, she and Fanny will move ahead, ears back and head down. In the evening, coyotes often come up onto the hills near the farm or in the woods near the fences, and watch the sheep, hoping for a stray ewe or lamb. Lulu stands in front or the sheep, and they crowd behind her, and if the animals come too close, and and Fanny will charge them, heads  down.

Donkeys use their teeth and front hooves to fight, and can also fire off powerful kicks with their rear legs. Tonight, Lulu saw something she didn't like and moved into position. We have never lost a sheep to a coyote or other predator.

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Father’s Day At The Gulley’s: Farmlands Struggling

By: Jon Katz

Farms In Decline

Every Father's Day, the Gulleys set up a  tent and the family gatherers to celebrate Ed's role as a father. There is a great sense of family, the sons and daughters and their sons and daughters come, you get the sense the kids have all grown up around one another and are close.

Their love and respect for Ed is striking, and stirring.

The Gulley children are quiet, they don't do much small talk, they don't talk politics, they come alive when there is farm  talk – intense talk about farms, crops, tractors, weather, milk prices, yields and cows. Ed tells  stories of his farm and other farms, and the kids join in with some of their stories.

There is a lot of talk about feed and seed. The farm family is unique, so unlike my own family and most families in its closeness and the degree to which the families and children all know one another and are really one large family, not several. Maria and I are outsiders, the kids are shy and rarely ask any questions.

We are accepted and comfortable among them, but not of them, that is always clear.

Ed was in a good mood today, full of stories and memories. He was talkative and visibly tired. So is Carol.

Nobody speaks of it, but this Father's Day has a special feel and edge to it, we are wondering if it might be the last one.  Ed has inoperable brain cancer. We don't really know what will happen next.

Nobody talked about it, but we could all feel it in the very air of the farm.

When the farm chatter heats up, we say goodbye.

We can't really join in that, and we don't want to interrupt it. It makes this family comfortable and at  ease. These people deserve all the time they can get with Ed, they love him so much. The day had a warm feeling, everyone who leaves hugs and kisses Ed, there is much love in the tent.

There is, around these gatherings, another sadness, another elephant in the room, that is the decline of the family farm itself.

There is a gloom among  farmers these days, a cloud, a sense of fatalism.

Farmers are eternal optimists, banking on a ride in milk prices, or some sane help from the government, or just one politician in all the world keeping their promises to them. But they are also realists, they are losing hope.

This month, as milk prices plunged to their lowest level since 1970, milk producers are mailing out suicide prevention pamphlets with milk checks. More than  dozen dairy farmers have killed themselves so that their families can collect the insurance and keep their farms alive.

The farmers seem resigned now, and increasingly hopeless, those that can diversifying, getting day jobs, selling cows and land. The farm is no longer something that can be left to a child you love in most cases, just too dicey. There is the deepening sense that the farm as we know is over, there is no longer much real  hope.

Farming is now an agribusiness, lots of cows, lots of land, lots of debt, lots of big machines, no one really caretaking or understanding the land. When you listen to Ed and his children, you sense a great passion for and understanding of the land, the soil.

The farm is not a business, but a calling.

All over the country, writes author and farmer Wendell Berry, the farmland is in general decline. " Fields and whole farms abandoned, given up with their scars unmended, washing away under the weeds and bushes ; fine land put to row crops year after year, without rest or rotation; buildings and fences going down; good houses standing empty, unpainted, their windows broken.

And it is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land. Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing  useless like our "marginal" land because we have less and less use for them. 

As for our spirits, they seem more and more to comfort themselves by buying things. No longer in need of the exalted drama of grief and joy, they feed now on little shocks of greed, scandal, and violence. For many of the churchly, the life of the spirit is reduced to a dull preoccupation with getting to Heaven."

While politicians fatten up on lobbyists and billionaires, our farms are fading into history, the  economists and politicians approve, they have long argued that family farms are too inefficient to be allowed to survive in the new global economy. Berry believes this decline is closely tied to the death of the family farm, and the values and community they spawned.

From where I sat today in Ed's tent, I wholeheartedly agree with him.

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This Artist Will Help Re-Design A Banner For My Blog

By: Jon Katz

This Artist Will Help Re-Design My Blog. Sketch by Abrah Griggs

Maria and I have each signed a contract with Mannix Marketing to re-design our blogs and make both of them more graphically exciting and also more mobile-friendly. My blog will also be made simpler and more function, I'm getting rid of a lot of the features that aren't being used or accessed much.

Maria will re-design much of hers herself incorporating Etsy and her Instagram page more directly onto her blog.

And I want a new logo and a new banner at the top of the Farm Journal Page, among other things.

I've asked Abrah Griggs, the Vermont artist and designer who drew this sketch of the dancing sheep of Bedlam Farm after she came to our Open House and saw Maria's Belly Dancing Group perform (they will be back this October at the next Open House).

This was a rough sketch, just made for friends, but a wonderfully creative one.

I remember it, and thanks to our friend Susan Popper for reminding me of it and suggesting Abrah do the banner.

I loved the dancing sheep, and I've asked Abrah, a brilliant designer and graphic artist to come up with a new  banner that will appear above the new Farm Journal Logo we are also creating.

My blog is more than a decade old, a long time in Internet years, and needs some internal re-structuring and updating. On the new Internet, you do not want to be left behind, I've worked too hard and love the blog too much for that.

We have more than four million unique visitors a year now to bedlamfarm.com.

I work on the blog every day, it is my great work, my living memoir, for better or worse.

Many of you know I embrace change and creative challenge, keeps me and the blog fresh and relevant.

Consider it an expensive tune-up.

Abrah is the perfect person to help me with a new banner that captures the spirit and soul of the blog and our farm. I can't wait to see her designs.  He sketches are wise, poignant, funny and unique. Her notecards too.

Maybe there'll be a dog or a donkey in them, but I sure love the dancing sheep. Mannix Marketing of Glens Falls has been my partner in building this blog from the beginning, and I am excited to be doing this work with them. They get me and my blog better than anyone, they built every inch of it.

I trust them completely. The basic format will stay the same it will just be easier to receive and  read.

I want to graphically emphasize the essays I am writing on the blog, they are important to me, and I hope to others. I will always focus much on my writing on animals and dogs, but I will also continue to carefully expand my subject matter.

More and more, I think the blog will follow the inspiration of the great writer E.B. White who wrote so beautifully about his life on his Maine farm and his animals. Simple and thoughtful, not angry or bombastic. My role model.

And don't forget the new puppy coming this summer. Riotous times here.

Last year, they moved me to a big new server because the traffic to bedlamfarm.com was crashing the server if it was on.  We have the heaviest traffic of any blog they handle, and they handle a lot.

Thanks for  joining me in this great adventure, I will keep you posted on every move we make to rethink bedlamfarm.co. It's time.

I am thrilled to be working with Abrah. She is the real deal.

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Phase Four: Done

By: Jon Katz


Finished! We spread the mulch over the mound, watered it with a soft mist, put up puts and wire to keep the chickens away. We have an  herb mound. I'll keep it moist, we'll see what happens. It was harder work than we thought, but not too hard to do.

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