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Steph Larsen's Posts

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It’s raining apples

These apples might look green, but they’re perfectly ripe -- and begging to be picked.(Steph Larsen photos) I have my work cut out for me.When nature calls on the farm, we listen. Meaning, when a fruit with a short shelf life becomes suddenly ripe, there's no choice but to drop everything else. Did you know there are 7,500 cultivated varieties of apple? Tart or sweet, red, green, and yellow. Some are good for pies, others for sauce, still others store well right through the winter and give you a crisp mouthful in the middle of January. I usually think of …

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Battling the bugs — and the temptation to use chemical WMDs

Going off to war against the weed-lurking worms. (Steph Larsen) I'm at war with the common stalk borer. As much as I believe in sustainability and chemical-free agriculture in theory, I've never been more tempted to use insecticides as I am right now. For years, the signature for my email has been a quote from the agtivist-scientist Vandana Shiva, "Sustainability begins with peace with the Earth." Contrary to current U.S. foreign policy, one cannot be forever at war. Balance is the basis of sustainability in the environment, and anyone who says differently is selling something.  I believe this fully, and …

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Mapping the farm with my ears

(Steph Larsen photos)Ever since taking a cartography class in graduate school, I've had a penchant for maps. Full of information, they elegantly highlight places and ideas that we may have missed otherwise. As a visual person, I can appreciate the splashes of color and clean designs. But not all maps are visual. We can create sound maps by closing our eyes, listening to the sounds we hear, and mapping them in relation to ourselves. Doing so can be another way to experience our environment and draw out sounds we may not have noticed. The sounds I hear in the country …

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Getting into a jam in Nebraska

(Steph Larsen photos) "You live in the middle of nowhere!" This was the exclamation, repeated at regular intervals, we heard when an old high-school friend of mine came to visit. For folks from the city -- even Nebraskans -- visiting our house can feel like entering another world. There's no traffic to speak of, and you can see the stars at night. You need directions from a local because Google Maps or GPS become unreliable and there aren't always street signs ... or paved roads, for that matter. After my friend and I caught up a bit, the conversation shifted …

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Should I have accepted a government farm hand-out?

These granaries once stored this farm's corn. No more. (Steph Larsen)Experience is the best teacher, but there's been a big gap in my experience I couldn't fill. I've worked in food and agriculture policy for a good number of years now, yet I had never once tried to apply for any of the programs for which I advocate. Until now. I stopped by the Farm Service Agency office (also known as the FSA) to apply for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but I didn't leave with anything I anticipated. EQIP is a Department of Agriculture program that helps pay …

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Being prepared — to grow your own meat

(Steph Larsen photos)Everyone knows the Boy Scouts' motto: Be Prepared. While my immediate inclination is to ask "For what?", it's as good a command as any to live by.  One at which I failed miserably last week. I came home from work and went out to the sheep paddocks to make sure they looked healthy and had enough water and grass. When I got there, I was confronted by a complete surprise: a tiny newborn lamb, unsteady and bleating. We bought our sheep from a gentleman whose sheep had accidentally been bred too early, so they came to us as …

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I eat weeds

Flowers or weeds? Depends on what you're in the mood for.(Steph Larsen photos) The first edible plant to poke its head out of the ground at my farm early this spring wasn't lettuce, arugula, broccoli, or any other hardy plant widely seen at early farmers markets. It was stinging nettles. As a child, I nicknamed Urtica dioica "itch weed" because of the blistering rash that appears if you brush against it. It wasn't until graduate school that I found out nettles are edible once dried or sautéed, which neutralizes the tiny stinging hairs they have. After this past long Nebraska …

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Feeling sheepish: An exercise in small-town networking

Sheep ready to be unloaded into their new pen from the borrowed livestock rack.(Steph Larsen photos)My first experience working directly with cows on a daily basis was not a particularly good one. It was 7 years ago on an organic dairy farm in England, and while most of the 99 Ayrshires were docile, the well-placed kicks I got from the mean ones were enough to convince me of two things -- that I'd rather not milk animals, period, and that cows are not my first choice for livestock. After the dairy experience, I worked on a different farm with sheep. …

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Farmers don’t get vacation

The old granary on our Nebraska property (Steph Larsen)Farmers know that their chosen profession is not an occupation, but a lifestyle. If you believe the Hollywood version, farming is all about waking up at sunrise, frolicking with cute lambs and chicks, and driving a tractor through a field of waving golden grain. And when the credits roll on that movie, you go back to your day job with its sick days and paid vacations. But real farming doesn't have those kinds of perks. For real farmers, there are certain times of year where you best not plan to be away, …

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A farm by any other name

Our new farmhouse and outbuildings.Photos: Steph Larsen In Green Acreage, Steph Larsen chronicles the sprouting of a small but sustainable Nebraska property. --------------------------------- Last December, I bought the farm. Clearly I mean this in the literal, not euphemistic, sense. (Although I've spent some time pondering why the phrase "bought the farm" means "to die," but I digress.) The back of the farmhouse According to the legal survey, my farm is "12 acres, more or less," meaning the surveyor measured off 12.006 acres and called it good. It has a cute farmhouse, six strong outbuildings, a grove of trees on the north …

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