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Steph Larsen's Posts

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Paying the farm bills

For once, developments in Washington could make things better on the farm

The outlook for small farms could be getting a bit sunnier.Photo: andyrobeI write on Grist about my small farm, but my day job is different. I'm an organizer for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). One of the things we do at CFRA is try to tweak federal farm policies in ways that help rural farm communities thrive. And this past week, I've been thinking a lot about developments in Washington that affect both new farmers and rural communities in general. Recently, White House phone lines have been ringing off the hook as thousands of consumers responded to a …

Read more: Farm Bill, Food, Politics

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Cold comfort farm

Keeping farm animals alive in a freezing Nebraska winter

Don't let the Arctic look fool you -- Thistle Root Farm is a beehive of activity. Photo: Steph LarsenSparkling snow blankets a dormant pasture, and a red barn stands out starkly against a sea of white. Winter is a beautiful season on the prairie. Everything looks quiet and peaceful, but there's still a lot of activity at Thistle Root Farm -- most of it indoors. Winter is planning time on our rural Nebraska farm, and we've already ordered our seeds and trees, mapped out the 2011 garden rotation, ordered a new tiller, and started preparing for the animal babies that …

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Buy-over country

Welcome to the food deserts of rural America

An abandoned Dixie Home Supermarket.Photo: Pete Zarria Driving down a two-lane highway in rural Nebraska last spring, I passed a Native American man riding an old bicycle toward the nearby Omaha Indian Reservation. We were at least seven miles from the nearest town, and he had four grocery bags bulging with food slung over his handlebars as he worked to climb a hill. I'll bet a week's worth of groceries that he wasn't biking for the exercise. This is what a food desert looks like in rural America. The term "food desert" has gained a lot of attention in the …

Read more: Food

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Green acreage

Reflections on my farm’s first year

Our farmhouse and outbuildings.Photo: Steph Larsen A year ago, we signed the deed for our 12-acre farm, and I prepared for a crash course in country living. I feel like I've lived a decade in the last 12 months here on Thistle Root Farm. I never thought owning a small farm would be easy. I expected manual work, and there sure is a lot of that, but it's so much more. It's also about the ability to strategize while not knowing some essential information, such as what the temperature will be or how much it will rain. Working hard to …

Read more: Food

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Light my fire

Feeding our wood stove in winter

I hearth my stove.  Photos: Steph LarsenA lot of my energy this year has been dedicated to pursuits of food, and while normally I dread winter, this year I welcomed cold weather because it meant taking a rest from tending the garden. Our farm provides more than nutrition, though. We also have the land to thank for the toasty living room I now enjoy. Our decision to install an efficient wood stove was probably sealed last winter when an ice storm knocked out our electricity for four days and with it, our heat. Although our furnace burns propane, the fan …

Read more: Food, Living

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Embracing your inner housewife

Today’s DIY women: Post-'domestic’?

Mad women: The quintessential 1950s domestic goddess.Advertisement: James Vaughn/Flickr When my parents came to visit the farm this fall, I cooked a few simple yet (hopefully) tasty meals using some of the squash, apples, kale, and tomatoes we'd harvested. As my mom watched me pop open jars of things I canned and cut, crack, and carve my way towards a meal, she exclaimed, "Wow, you've become so domestic!" My inner feminist bristled, and the comment has nagged me ever since. The author in her mosquito-slaying attire.It's not that she said anything wrong -- my mom grew up in the 1950s, …

Read more: Food, Living

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Dam Yankees

Herding sheep is like herding people: Desire works better than fear

Are ewe hungry? Sheep waiting to eat.Photo: Steph Larsen Fall has turned quite chilly in Nebraska, and with temperatures dropping into the 20s at night, our lovely green pasture has turned largely brown. While our lambs are still eating grass, it's time for the ram and his ladies to come into the barn for the winter. Moving sheep has been a lesson in motivation, and sheep basically have two: desire (usually for food, sometimes for sex) and fear. These two motivations interplay in a funny way when they're in close proximity to people. On the whole, they're afraid of people …

Read more: Food

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Culling things over

Time to kill the rooster

Cock blocking: This mean rooster must be stopped before he hurts someone. Photo: Steph LarsenThere's a chore I've been putting off for some time, that I know will be one of the more unpleasant things I've encountered so far on our little farm. It's time to cull some chickens. I have only killed a chicken once in my life. I'd just graduated from college and was visiting my cousins in the Peace Corp in Guatemala. In honor of our visit, some very nice Mayan women decided to have chicken for dinner, and I was the one left holding the machete. …

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Taking stalk

Waiting for a hard frost

Combine nation: Soybean harvest near Lexington, Ill.Photo: tlindenbaum A busy summer has given way to a busy fall, and while I'd love to celebrate my farm's successes and ponder what I should do differently next year, it's not quite time yet. Though the days are getting shorter and the nights are downright chilly, we have yet to have a hard, killing frost. The temperature has been dancing around the magic number 32 for weeks now, dropping dangerously close, only to have overnight lows pop back up into the 40s for another week. While my basil is looking worse for wear, …

Read more: Food