History

Yesterday, Mrs Yeoman Farmer was going over a history lesson with Homeschooled Farm Boy.

MYF happened to remark, “Your history book is a lot more interesting than mine was in the eighth grade.”

HFB replied, matter-of-factly: “Well, yeah. A lot more has happened since then.”

Clarification

It has come to my attention that in recent days a particular website has begun linking to this blog. That site, which I will not name and to which I will not provide a link, specializes in providing seeds and supplies for growing a particular kind of “grass” which we do not cultivate on this farm and have never cultivated elsewhere. I have asked for that site’s link to be removed, but I’m not sure how long it will take. And in the meantime, that link may still be generating traffic and readership.

So, let me clarify and emphasize an important core philosophy of The Yeoman Farmer: if you don’t like the rules in your state or your country, advocate for and work to change them — but don’t flaunt and break them unless you’re being asked to do something immoral or unconscionable. As one of William Golding’s characters put it, “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.”

This blog discusses grape cultivation and home winemaking, but will not tell you how to brew a batch of moonshine or build a backyard still. I discuss firearms and support responsible gun ownership, but would not explain (even if I had the knowledge, which I don’t) how to build a silencer for your pistol or convert your rifle to fully-automatic fire. Our family strongly opposes the NAIS, but will (reluctantly) register our livestock with it if we are eventually required by law to do so.

Longtime readers may have observed that the War on Drugs has never before been the subject of a post on this blog. The reason for that is simple: it’s not a subject that interests me much, and I don’t have strong opinions about it one way or the other. Neither Mrs Yeoman Farmer nor I have consumed marijuana (or any other illegal controlled substance) in any form, and have no desire to do so, even if we were visiting a place where it was legal. That said, I am not unsympathetic to those who would like to change some of the drug laws in this country. But if you’re looking for advice on cultivating a crop that isn’t currently legal, you won’t find it on this blog. We do hope you stick around and enjoy the commentary about everything else related to farming, family, faith, and citizenship — and work to change the law rather than break it.

Midwest Book Review

The March issue of the Midwest Book Review is out, and they are running a very positive review of my novel:

A passport is what’s needed to pass into new lands freely, and they are not always easy to get. Passport is the story of Stan Eigenbauer and his search for happiness. He thinks he finally has it, but fate has it in for him, and he soon faces a decision which could either make or ruin his life. Using the passport as a symbol, Passport is a tale of choices, love, and doing what’s best for others and oneself. Highly recommended reading.


A reminder that you can see all editorial reviews, and find links to the book’s Amazon and Barnes & Noble listings, at the publisher’s website.

The .380 Mystery

Last week, I noted the strong sales of guns — and now, particularly, ammunition. Among other things, I pointed out that no retailers around here, even the local gun shop with high prices, seem to have .380 pistol ammunition in stock.

Ruger makes an extremely popular concealed carry weapon, the LCP, chambered in .380. It’s so small, it can literally fit in the palm of an average man’s hand. And while .380 isn’t the most powerful cartridge, the LCP can hold seven rounds. Our local gun shop cannot keep them in stock, and only sells them on a wait list. No doubt this is one reason why Sturm Ruger’s stock is trading near its 52-week high. (Also, Smith & Wesson released earnings data last night: Adjusted net income for the third quarter 2008 was $9.2 million, compared to $3.7 million in the 2007 third quarter.)

Anyhow, I wondered if the popularity of the LCP, and the shortage of .380 ammunition, were unique to our area. A story today from Tulsa suggests otherwise:

The surprise sales come with .380 caliber semi- automatic pistols. A relatively small self-protection weapon, it’s not one that people typically fire in great quantity at the firing range, Prall said. Yet, the ammunition is now hard to find. “Nobody would have predicted that,” he said.

“We ran completely out here of 9 mm and .380,” said Johny Mathews, product and service manager at the U.S. Shooting Sports Academy on East 66th Street North. “We were begging, borrowing and stealing from wherever.”

Concealed-carry classes at the academy are booked through April. “We used to do 15-person classes, and now we do 24 because of the demand,” he said.

Mathews believes that politics are partly to blame, but the economy also has people worried. “It’s 50/50, I think” he said. “When people lose jobs and get desperate, good people can sometimes do bad things. People hear more about home invasions, robberies, and they think it will only get worse. Then they’re afraid they might lose their guns or ammo, so they stock up.”

Sales are so intense that Stone has limited sales of .380 ammo to one box per customer at Dong’s. He has .380-caliber handguns for sale, and likes to be able to sell ammunition to whoever buys a gun, he said.

A shipment of 10 Ruger .380 LCP handguns was sold in 24 hours this week — seven the first day, three the next. “Last week I had 28 boxes of .380, rationed to one per person, and it was gone in three days,” Stone said.

Academy Sporting Goods stores also are low on .380 ammo. “The other day we got 16 boxes of .380 and a guy came in first thing and bought all 16,” said Jon Ide, hunting and fishing sales associate at the 41st Street store. “A few people are doing all the buying, and it’s the people who are trying to just get a box or two that can’t find any.”

I’m just glad I got my LCP, and a good supply of .380, when I could. Now, if only I’d invested an equal amount of money in Sturm Ruger stock at the same time…

Stop the NAIS!

Many of you may already be familiar with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that the federal Department of Agriculture has been trying to set up. Under this system, every location which raises pretty much any species of livestock must obtain a “premises id number,” and then get a separate fifteen-character number for every individual animal. Then, every animal will be tracked every time it leaves the premises. The idea is that if a diseased animal shows up at a slaughterhouse, it can be tracked back to its farm of origin in 48 hours. The system is currently “voluntary,” but everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before before it becomes “mandatory.” It already is mandatory in some states, including Indiana. We have turned down the trade/purchase of a couple of Icelandic rams from Indiana, because we would have had to be registered with the NAIS for the seller to have transferred them to us.

As you might suppose, this is a program we strongly object to and refuse to join. Other organizations, like this one and this one, have done an excellent job compiling and documenting various problems with it, and I’d encourage you to browse these if you want to know more. What’s particularly heartening to me is that the ACLU has also gone to bat for some farmers against the NAIS — concerns about this system seem to bridge the political spectrum.

Our most fundamental objection to NAIS is the invasion of privacy. Quite simply, it isn’t any of the government’s dang business what kind of animals we have, or how many. We moved to the country precisely because we wanted to be left alone, and to raise some livestock for our family’s own consumption. We do not want to implant our animals with RFID tags, or microchips — and we certainly do not want to send reports to the federal government every time we take a goat kid to the vet.

Apart from privacy concerns, compliance cost is one of the big issues for small producers. The NAIS is being pushed by big agribusiness lobbies; most of the enormous livestock producers already have sophisticated computer systems to track their animals, already have the RFID hardware in place, and in any event have a large herd over which they can spread fixed costs. The NAIS represents a much larger relative cost for the small producers. Small ranchers, like the neighbor from whom we buy beef, are already operating on a very narrow profit margin; adding these additional costs would make his beef significantly more expensive — just as consumers are becoming more cost-conscious. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the NAIS is being pushed by large agribusiness concerns precisely because it makes it more difficult for smaller producers to compete.

Cost aside, I’m generally quite suspicious of governmental “national databases” of any kind (apart from those related to criminal offenders), because the opportunities for abuse are legion. Should a disease break out on a farm a mile down the road, the government may decide (as happened in some places with Mad Cow disease) to exterminate every piece of livestock within any radius it decrees — regardless of the health of our individual animals. A national database would only make it easier for the feds to find and kill our healthy animals.

And remember the Depression-era programs which slaughtered millions of young pigs, in an effort to increase commodity prices? And the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation which directed these “excess” agricultural commodities to the poor? Just imagine the opportunities for mischief if the federal government determined that, based on the NAIS records, our family had “too many” sheep and goats…and that a “fair share” of these needed to be “redistributed” to those who had not made adequate provisions.

What can you do? The Department of Agriculture is currently pushing for a set of new rules that will further advance the NAIS. However, there is a public comment period open until March 16th — so, by all means, please weigh in and let them know what you think. If you follow this link, it will take you to a page with all the comments that others have posted thus far; they’re currently up to over 196 pages, which translates into more than 4,900 individual comments. The very first line on the very first page says “Proposed Rules.” Click on the bubble in the far right (“Add Comments”) column of that line. That will open up a form, where you can give the Department of Agriculture your own two cents about the NAIS. It will take awhile for your comment to post to the site, but it should show up within a few hours.

You can also click on individual comments, to see what others have written. I browsed through a random selection of several of these, and every single one was negative. Generally speaking, I think the more effective comments — like good letters to the editor — are more brief, and do not try to make too many individual points.

I’m honestly not sure how much of a difference folks like us can make in slowing down this regulatory leviathan. But let’s not allow that uncertainty to stop us from trying.

One Dollar

Nearly twenty years ago, I made a big investment in a one piece of cycling equipment: a Silca floor pump. What’s so big about buying a tire pump? Well, at the time I was a starving undergraduate, whose primary income came from working at McDonald’s on school vacations. And Silca pumps have never been cheap; depending on the model and the retailer, one can easily pay in the neighborhood of $100 these days. I seem to recall getting mine for about $35 or so — a big chunk of change, given my income. But I made the investment because I was getting increasingly serious about cycling, and there were/are no better pumps than Silcas. Just borrowing other people’s Silca pumps a few times convinced me of that.

My Silca outlasted the bike I owned at the time, and traveled back and forth across the country so many times I lost count. It flew with my bike in its case, and rode around in the trunks of cars that long ago went to the junkyard. It sat in sheds and basements and garages and barns in Illinois, Michigan, California, Washington, and Virginia.

And, eventually, it began to wear out. I hardly ever used it, or even rode a bike, between 2000 and 2007; only since then have I slowly begun to get back into the sport. This past year, as I’ve been getting increasingly serious about riding (both my own bike and the tandem with our kids), I found that the Silca pump wasn’t holding a good seal with the tire valve stems. Air leaked like crazy as I pumped, and the pump head would easily disconnect from the stem at even moderate pressure.

My first thought was that I’d gotten a good run from my investment in the Silca pump, and that it was time to buy a new one. One look at current retail prices quickly disabused me of that plan. My next thought was to buy a new brass pump head. A little searching revealed that to be a better course of action, but it still felt odd to be paying $20 to replace a part on a pump that had originally cost me only $35.

I continued searching, and discovered something important: Silca pumps are designed to be entirely rebuildable. And even inside that brass head, the rubber washer can be replaced. I opened up my pump’s head, inspected the washer, and realized that was probably my problem: it was hard and dry and didn’t seem able to provide a good seal. Back to Google, I found any number of online retailers listing that rubber washer for just a few dollars. But, just as quickly, I also discovered the limitations of online retailing: every one of those sites was going to charge at least $7 or $8 to ship that tiny rubber washer. They could’ve put it in a letter-sized envelope and mailed it to me for less than a dollar, but every site was set up with automated UPS or FedEx shipping calculators. Simply on principle, it seemed wrong to buy something and pay three or four times as much for shipping as for the product. But I wondered how else I could get something as seeming-obscure as a Silca rubber washer.

The next afternoon, I made a point of stopping at the local bicycle shop (“local” being relative…the closest bike shop is 15 miles from our house). It’s a fairly well-stocked place, and they’ve done an excellent job getting my bike out of mothballs, but the shop itself doesn’t compare to what you’d find in Seattle or a college town. I didn’t expect them to have the washer, but figured they could special-order it for me. Even if my total cost ended up being similar to buying it online, it was the principle of the thing. Especially in these economic times, I wanted to support a local retailer.

The first clerk I spoke with was significantly younger than I am. As I explained what I was looking for, he got a puzzled expression on his face. I quickly added that they’d probably have to special-order it, and perhaps we could look at some catalogs. He agreed, and led me to a stack of books in the repair area, but still didn’t seem to know quite what I was talking about. As he began opening a parts book, a middle-aged (female) employee happened to go past us. (Fortunately, this woman was the very person I’d originally hoped to speak with; when I’d brought my old Bianchi in for servicing, she’d expressed great appreciation for its vintage Campagnolo components, so I knew she knew about old Italian bike stuff.) Young Clerk turned to her and tried to ask which book he should look in, but he didn’t even know how to describe what he was looking for. “Rubber washer for the head of a Silca pump,” I told her.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I think we may even have those,” and walked briskly to a wall of parts bins in the service area. A moment later, she returned with a small plastic wrapper containing not one but two of these rubber washers, marked 95 cents each. “Perfect!” I exclaimed.

As the female employee hurried off to assist the customer she’d been working with, I turned back to the younger clerk. “Is that all you need?” he asked, still looking slightly bewildered.

“Yep,” I smiled, removing one of the washers and producing a dollar bill from my wallet.

Later that night, I showed Homeschooled Farm Boy how to change the rubber washer. Earlier, he’d had to help me me inflate the bike tires by holding the pump head tightly to the rim — but even then, we’d lost a lot of air to leakage. Now, with the new rubber washer, everything worked perfectly.

I’m hoping I get another twenty years of service from this pump. And maybe Homeschooled Farm Boy will someday show his own son how to rebuild it for just one dollar.