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Beautifying the farm

We had a gorgeous week of weather that we usually get in July. Hot, humid, and the crops we have planted really responded! The sunflowers show the biggest improvement over 2 weeks. IMG_20180603_220032_949

We were up and at it early Sunday morning and planted our jack-o-lantern pumpkins! Then we got the most beautiful 3/10″ rain around noon. Just what we needed for our market crops, and our major grain crops!

What the heat and moisture did for the crops, also did for the weeds. Between the weeds in the fields, and the weeds in the gardens around the house and farm, it can quickly get away from us, and gardening is not something I enjoy. People have asked why gardening is any different than farming, and let me tell you, there’s a BIG difference. I work in large-scale commercial agriculture, with some customers who have land cultivators 30 feet wide! Weed control is a much difference beast with equipment that size.  So to be clear, I love neat, organized gardens, but I don’t like the process to get there.

Brad and I also hold different perspectives when it comes to gardens. I love perennials and ornamental grasses that you don’t have to pay much attention to. They just grow back every year! Brad is great with the perennial flowering plants, but can’t understand the ornamental grasses. His argument, “we spend so much time trying to kills grass weeds in the fields, and you want to pay money for grass and plant it around the farm?” Yes, yes I do. We picked up a striped miscanthus for the corner of the barn where (hopefully) people will be coming onto the farm to get their fresh grown goodies! And we also split, and transplanted a shorter variety of ornamental grass I already had, and lined the front of the barn.

We stopped out to Flowerbed Greenhouses in Blenhiem for our haul of annuals, hanging basket, perennials, succulents, grass, and a few tomato plants! Here’s some pictures of what we picked up and got planted this weekend.

So that’s what happened around the homestead this weekend. We are really looking forward to tracking the progress of our pumpkins now that we have 3 varieties planted, and some of the first ones out of the ground. The countdown is on now that we’ve turned the calendar to June. We are hoping to have sweet corn available mid July! Thanks for following along!

 

Roots of the homestead

While spring moves along and we get through the first heat wave, I thought I would open up and write a “behind the logo” post.

Brad and I scribbled and sketched for a long time trying to find a logo that we liked. We knew for sure we wanted to incorporate an oak leaf. So, here’s some history.

The farm we live on, was purchased by Brad’s grandparents, John and Kay, in 1946. They farmed here and raised their family, Brad’s Dad and Aunt. Like many farmers at the time, they dabbled in a little bit of everything; cattle, pigs, chickens, vegetables, and grain crops.

When Brad’s Dad took over the farm and the boys were young, they got to spend a lot of time with Grandpa John and Grandma Kay. Brad’s Dad and Grandpa spent a lot of time planting trees in fencerows for windbreaks, and planting plenty of trees around the house and barns on the farm.

When it came time to mark the legacy of Snobelens establishing here on this farm, an oak tree was planted at the time of Grandma Kay’s passing. This oak tree, planted at the corner of our laneway, is the perfect reminder of family working together that brought us the opportunity to farm here today and create this farm-market business to share with you all!

So there you have it. We are very blessed to have roots in this farm. We can’t wait to share our passion and love for agriculture and food production with you this summer, so make sure you come see us in July!

There will be sunny days ahead

Two weeks have passed since our first planting and what a weather roller coaster we have been on! The day we planted the first round of market crops, Brad and I nearly got sunburns. Today, two weeks later, Dylan and I went to check out the progress of the planted seeds and came in the house with cold ears and noses!

We’ve had nearly 3 inches of rain in the last 10 days, and that, paired with cool, cloudy days like today, doesn’t make checking the field very interesting. BUT, we did find that some of the sunflowers, popcorn, and ornamental corn have popped up! The corn rows are too long to try and count (with the tiny human wandering around trying to eat things he shouldn’t!), but I counted about 20 sunflowers up of the 30 seeds I planted 2 weeks ago.

I can’t wait for fresh-cut, bright yellow sunflowers!

I will plant more sunflower seeds as soon as I can. Maybe sometime before the long weekend is over. We may have to replant our pumpkins. We will have to spend some time in the field digging around to see if the seeds are trying to push through the cold, wet soil.

For now on this cool Sunday afternoon, I think we’ll all grab a cozy blanket and a nap.

Rained-out

This morning we woke up to more water laying in the fields than we have seen in many, many years.

The pumpkins, sunflowers, sweet corn, popcorn, and ornamental corn that we planted 9 days ago on May 6th have not emerged yet, and it makes us awfully nervous about what may or may not come up now that the ground is completely saturated and even flooded with 3-4″ of water on-top this morning. Plants need oxygen to breathe just like humans do! So being underwater for any length of time, really affects the health of the developing plant.

The weekend rain brought us a chance to visit with family for Mother’s Day which was very nice. With the farming calendar, it very rarely allows for us to be involved in things like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving. So when the weather makes a turn and we see an opportunity to get some visiting in, we usually go for it because we don’t know when the next opportunity will be!

My second Mother’s day was awesome, and Brad and Dylan spoiled me with flowers from a local florist, Red Barn Florals, and a picture frame for my desk at work!

For the next few days, we will enjoy eating dinner together before the fields dry and we all work late into the evening to get the crops planted.

Spring on the homestead

After what seemed like 3rd or 4th winter here in Chatham-Kent, spring finally arrived! We have been busy getting to the field, but also busy with new routines, as I returned to my full-time job. Dylan has been enjoying daycare since the beginning of April, and Brad and I are so glad we started that portion of our new routine early. It is a huge relief when your baby loves the people who look after him and teach him all day. Lots of love from the Snobelen house flowing over to the Thamesville & Area Early Learning Centre!

I started back to work promptly on May 1st, and it has been great to get back to agronomy consulting, and connect with customers after a full year off. We took advantage of one of those dinner-in-a-box delivery services (Hello Fresh, use code JESSNOB to get $40 off your first order), and that was a big help in getting dinner on the table in about 30 minutes when I got home with Dylan after 5pm.

Around the homestead we have also been busy organizing, and planting, our market crops. We planted the first round of sweet corn, two varieties of pumpkins, and one variety of sunflower! We used the Super A to cut a trench so we could hand plant these goodies.IMG_20180506_115436.jpg

We have more to plant this weekend, but the weather forecast might have other plans. That won’t be all bad by any means, because Mother’s Day is on Sunday! We are hoping to take Dylan to Brantford to visit with my parents and brother, and my grandmothers, his great-grandmothers! Dylan is a pretty lucky boy to have 2 great grandmas! So when we get back, there might be some ‘after-Dylan-goes-to-bed’ planting the next round of crops.

This week the magnolia tree also bloomed! Brad always says its about a 4 or 5 year pattern where you get beautiful full blooms, and then one out of five years we get a late frost and lose all the flowers. The tree continues to thrive all season, but all the pretty pink petals freeze, turn brown, and fall off early. So we are always happy when we get a beautiful bloom. Dylan liked it too!

We wish all the mom’s out there a wonderful Mother’s day this weekend! Stay tuned for more updates around the homestead, and make sure you follow our Facebook, Instagram (@snobelenhomestead), and Twitter (@SnobelenHmstead) pages to see more pictures and quick stories.

An on-farm agriculture and food experience

Lots of changes in the Snobelen house again since I last posted! We welcomed a son in April of 2017 and he is the most happy, energetic, and playful little boy! What a joy it is to be his Mama, and we are a happy family of 3. Hard to believe he will be a year old very soon!View More: http://newtownimages.pass.us/babydylan

This summer, my husband and I are planning to dip our toes into a farm market business. We have vegetable and ornamental seeds in-hand, and plan to provide a variety of farm market offerings through the summer and into the fall!

To dig into my crafty side we will also be offering hand made home decor items!

We are very excited to start this new endeavour together, and to teach our son about agriculture and food! We hope to reach out to the Chatham-Kent community to provide an agriculture and food experience. I will be posting photos and updates on this blog and other social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) so check back often, especially as we approach spring weather!

So many choices – a first world problem

An interesting concept was presented to me this week while at a conference put on by the Ontario Processing Vegetable Grower’s Association. Marty Seymour (@MartySeymour1), an Industry and Stakeholder Relations Director at Farm Credit Canada, presented this week on Public Trust and Social Licensing in Agriculture. Marty outlined why we have such a strong conversation in social media when it comes to food and agriculture. Very simply put, this is a first world problem driven by the number of choices we have at the grocery store.

Think about it. When you go to the grocery store, and read the items on your list, how many choices do you have? For example, let’s talk about bacon. Its Super Bowl weekend, everyone loves a little bacon in their party snacks. So when you go to your local grocer and move to scratch bacon off the list, how do you make the decision? Options range from not only different flavours of bacon, but different fat and salt ratings, and different ‘production’ types of bacon. Free from antibiotics bacon, 23% less salt bacon, ½ the fat bacon, maple bacon, thick cut bacon…the options are endless. So what’s driving your decision? I do not want to open the nutritional recommendation platform, because that’s not my background. BUT, I will say that when I approach the bacon chest at the grocery store, I start with a nutritional influence. Bacon is not exactly a ‘nutritional’ product, but if the recipe I’m following doesn’t dictate a specific bacon, I am more likely to buy the reduced salt variety.

Let’s transport ourselves to a different country for our grocery shopping. For example, a good friend of mine spent 3 years in Bangladesh. Given it is a muslim country, bacon isn’t exactly widely available. But you can find it. When you find the one and only option for bacon, do you question it? Or has it been long enough hunting for this treat that you are just happy you can fill your apartment with the aroma of it cooking?

The same phenomenon exists for almost any food item in a grocery store in Southern Ontario. Grapes, tomatoes, cheese, bread, all marketed with everything from my previously mentioned Non-GMO verified label, to certified organic, to country of origin labels. I personally try my best to find products that are produced in Canada. I picked up a package of greenhouse tomatoes at Costco this week that had a beautiful picture of the tomato plant, and some sliced tomatoes with mozzarella cheese which made me think I could eat exactly that at home! Then I noticed it was a product of a South American country. Having just toured one of Chatham-Kent’s Tomato greenhouses, Truly Green, the last week of January, I put the product down and reserved my purchase for something that was produced here ‘at home’.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, think about the end goal of the products you are buying. I think we are all working towards the same goal; feeding our families food we feel good about buying. Think about the way the marketing on the package makes an impact on your decision making process. Don’t let something like celery with a ‘gluten free’ label fool you into buying it, and quite possibly paying more for it instead of celery grown in the Holland Marsh here in Ontario. Of course celery is gluten free! Cheeky marketing that plays on buzzwords and plays on our emotions about the food we feed our families are just that – cheeky ways to sell more off the shelf.

As always, please leave me questions about the food you see at the grocery store. Send pictures of a label that you find shocking/ interesting/ outrageous, and I’ll address them all!

Just for fun, here’s a recipe using bacon from Ontario Pork.

Non-GMO Project Verified

I found this label on a box of cereal. IMG_1009It is strategically placed beside the notable nutritional nuggets that one might be looking for on a product. The placement of the non-GMO project verified logo plays into perceived ‘healthy facts’ of this cereal.

A quick Internet search will take you to the home page of this non-profit organization, where the stated goal reads, “Working together to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO food and products”. This organization started in California, and operates a headquarters in Washington State.

The discussion on GMO’s is so widespread, so enormous, that this humble blog will not be able to touch on the entirety of the topic. However, the goal is to help consumers wade through the mis-leading marketing when buying food. I will draw your attention to the page The “Non GMO Project Verified” seal, and the explanation under the heading “Are products bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal GMO free?” The explanation, in my opinion, makes the entire organization’s project collapse on itself,

“GMO free and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology.”

Don’t get this comment on testing methodology confused with testing how safe products are for human consumption. The testing mentioned here, relates to testing products for the presence of GMO’s. The section continues to say,

“In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is GMO-free.”

What should be more important on this box is the nutritional value. It really is excellent marketing that places need-to-know nutritional information right beside a label for an organization that has no scientific foundation. That’s why we buy and eat food in the first place! For nutrition, fuel for our bodies, snacks for kids, not to support an organization’s dead-end attempt to claim products are GMO-free.

Having overloaded you with information about this particular label, I urge you to check out the Health Canada website that covers biotechnology and genetically modified foods, particularly the safety assessment of genetically modified foods. I trust Health Canada; I think we should as Canadians. I think we should rest assured that our Canadian standards for food safety are among the top in the world. A company producing a genetically modified corn or soybean cannot just produce it one day, and sell it to consumers the next. There are extremely stringent protocols of testing that are completed over many years before Health Canada considers any product safe. Health Canada’s safety assessments consider everything from the molecular biological data of the genetic change, the nutritional composition compared to its non-modified counterparts, and the potential for causing allergic reactions.

I hope this has increased understanding of the genetically modified food registration process. Bottom line, borrowed from Health Canada, is that food derived from biotechnology, or genetic engineering, is as safe and nutritious as foods already in the Canadian marketplace.

A new year, a new direction

This humble blog has been in the back of my mind for the better part of 7 years now. I have been struggling over the past few years finding the right topics to write about that will keep my hunger for communications fed.

There have been a few influences and experiences that have given me new direction and motivation to write. That motivation comes from wanting to better connect the city and the country. I was raised in the city and didn’t step foot on a farm for 20 years. Now I live on a farm and advise Ontario producers on their business decisions every day. Many people raised in the city like myself, don’t get the opportunity to learn how the food on their table arrives there. Meat just doesn’t appear on grocery store shelves. Fruits and vegetables don’t box or bag themselves. So how do those products arrive in the local grocery store? The goal here going forward is to help bridge the gap in understanding of what Ontario producers do to make the best food we have ever had access to.

And while we’re on the topic of grocery stores, how do you decide which product to buy? At any given store you have the opportunity to purchase 3 or 4 different options of the same product. Buzzwords and marketing magic have made it increasingly difficult for consumers to decide what they should be buying, or feeding their kids. This phenomenon has widened far beyond the conversation of organic vs. non-organic. Food trends carried by social media have also impacted the labels we see on our products. I want to dispel some myths and clear away the smoke and mirrors that marketing companies have incorporated into everyday items.

So that’s what I will do. I will find an item in my pantry, or at the grocery store, that has a very compelling label, picture, or buzzword, and get down to the bare bones of what the product actually is, and how it got there.

I look forward to any constructive comments or questions about the upcoming topics, and hope that you forward my posts onto anyone who would find interest. Reality is, we all make those trips to the grocery store; wouldn’t it be an easier trip if we could see through the marketing and just buy the products we like to eat?

Trust in precision agriculture

yieldmap
Photo1. Graphic showing the yield data created by a combine yield monitor.

Precision agriculture and big data are a couple of today’s buzzwords in the ag industry. Companies are offering precision agriculture services in the way of anything from grid or zone soil sampling (see photo 2 for zone map example), variable rate fertilizer and lime applications, drone imagery, to precision planting prescriptions. The term ‘big data’ refers to all the information required or created when completing precision ag services.

Photo 2. Example of a zone map derived from drone imagery or combination of drone imagery and yield map overlay.
Photo 2. Example of a zone map derived from drone imagery or combination of drone imagery and yield map overlay.

Services such as variable rate fertilizer or lime applications are not new to many. What is new is the constant questions about yield monitors and planters. What kind of guidance system does it run on? What kind of software do you need to download and read the maps? If you’re a farmer and these questions puzzle you, you are not alone.

How does someone who’s new to the precision side of agriculture learn about the technology? Do they ask their equipment dealer? Do they ask their ag-retailer? Do they have to hire someone to process the data that these machines produce? What do I do with all this data? Send it to the cloud? What is the cloud? Can you trust the cloud with your farm-business data?

The question I get at home is, “how do I supply my customers with yield data on the fields that I combined?” I’m frustrated to say, that I’m not sure how to answer that! Numerous phone calls with the equipment dealers led to more phone calls to a precision ag specialist, but ultimately, we still have not produced a map from the recent wheat harvest.  Is it reasonable to take the card into the ag-retailer you deal with to get them to produce the map, even though it might be for a non-customer? Are today’s crop specialists the same as precision ag specialists?

The goal of all this data and precision work is to make farm management more profitable and more efficient. More efficient use of fertilizer, and better seed choices and seeding rates for certain farms and soil types. It all sounds like we’re heading in the right direction, but the start of this road is bumpy and has a few potholes. I welcome you to share this, and please comment with your experiences, frustrations, or pointers!