"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Next Door Neighbors (Equine Variety)

My neighbor to the west breeds mules. Big mules. He is a bow hunter, and every fall, he heads out into the mountains for two or three weeks at a stretch, and he brings a couple of mules with him. They go out laden with supplies, and they come home laden with elk, if he's been lucky.

In the picture above, you see the entire family: the sire is the black Mammoth Jack on the far left. He is one big donkey - far and away the biggest donkey I've ever seen. When he puts his head over the fence to be scratched, it's a little bit frightening, even though he seems to be entirely gentle. The mare next to him is the mother. I don't know what kind of horse she is - a light draft of some kind, but she is a beautiful animal. She has the proudest, most highly arched, strongest-looking neck. She is BUILT. The boy on the right is one of their offspring, about three years old. They have three babies - all exactly alike, all big, blonde, good looking mules. The youngest was born last year and it was a true delight to see a baby mule scampering about.

This time of year, when haying is over, my neighbor puts them out on the pasture. It's funny to watch Poppy and Rosie interact with these giants. Poppy especially spends every minutes out at the fenceline with them. I think she's flirting with Mammoth Jack. What do you think?

Papa Donkey Love (below). This is the baby from last year. I could spend all day out there scratching and loving them up.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Recent Trades and a Good Idea

Recent Trades:

3 pounds assorted goat cheese for 1 large, baroque mirror (Rowan wanted it).

2 dozen eggs for a couple pounds potatoes, a few cukes, and a nice head of garlic

1 dozen eggs and a pound of chevre for all the hazelnuts I can pick.

As I think I have mentioned, the trade network never really caught fire this year - mostly because we were out of town or had houseguests for much of the summer. There wasn't time to establish and maintain my contacts. I often had to reschedule several times with people, who then didn't call again (not that I blame them). There were a few great trades here and there: farmsitting for oil changes; fresh organic raspberries for eggs; the bale o' kale that was so big I had to distribute it among three families. But I never really managed to get a regular, weekly trade going with anybody as I have in years past.

It being nearly September, the egg and milk season is drawing slowly to a close. The hens are still laying - I collected seven eggs today - and the goats are still lactating - today's milk-take was a gallon and a half - but by this time next month I will only be collecting enough goodies to feed my own family. I was thinking about how I might still be able to take advantage of my seasonal bounty before it ends.

I was in Tonasket last week (Where I've Been....), which is the home of a large and famous barter festival. That gave me an idea. I have a pretty large circle of friends and acquaintances in the area who, collectively, are possessed of an enormous array of talents, skills, and goods to trade. I know several large-scale organic gardeners; spinners and knitters; awesome bakers; and people with various valuable skills such as auto mechanics, carpenters, and electricians.

I also have a really great place here for camping. I have tons of flat, open space; really cool play equipment for kids; even RV hookups. I'm thinking I'm going to send out a whole bunch of invitations to the First Annual Grandview Camp-Out Swap Meet Jamboree.

Maybe on the next full moon (September 23) or the closest weekend, I could have ten or twelve families here, build a big bonfire, and invite everyone to bring some food, a tent, and whatever they have to trade - be it old clothes and books, a musical performance, or fruit off their fruit trees. The kids could play on the trampoline or in the pool and the adults could meet each other, eat, talk, and strike deals.

Oh I love it. I'm going to do it. I'll ask my daughter Rowan to design me a flyer and just go for it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Where I've Been....

....At the Garlic Festival in Tonasket.

I've been meaning to get out to Tonasket for some time now, which might surprise those of you who know the place. It's a fairly unremarkable little town in northeastern Washington, out past Omak somewhere. It's not on the way to anywhere, that's for certain, except possibly Canada. It had some local cache for hosting the Barter Fair, which I understand used to be a giant, free, hippie-type event where anyone could come and camp out and bring whatever they had to trade, be it goat cheese, homegrown, or banjo music. No money allowed. Some years ago, however, the powers that be (such as they are) decided to rein it in and now vendors are charged a $60 fee and I hear it isn't at all the same.

But that's not why I wanted to go. Nor was it for the garlic fair, though that was a factor in my choosing to go this weekend. No; I wanted to get out there to see my mom's place. A couple of years ago, she shocked us all by up and buying a remote, 150 acre piece of land with a pretty nice small house/large cabin on it. None of us had the slightest idea that she harbored ambitions to own such a sizable hunk of the Earth. She's lived in Bellevue for the past 25 years, is a well-respected child psychologist, and likes to wear expensive heels.

In Tonasket, the footwear is 80% shitkicker cowboy boots and 20% worn out Birkenstocks.

Nonetheless, mom has taken to the place like a fish to water, and has spent the majority of summer weekends for the last two years out there, renovating the cabin and putting in fences and extra wells and whatnot. It's possible she has some survivalist leanings. She has shown me hundreds of photos and invited me out numerous times.

It's a long drive, but I finally went. I packed up Hope and Paloma, left Homero in charge of goat-milking, and drove over highway 20, the North Cascades highway. Beautiful drive, and the brand new North Cascades National Park has a very fine interpretive center/museum about halfway through, to let the kids out for a romp. Most of the way - both ways, actually - I was on roads I've never driven before, which always makes me happy.

Mom's ranch (it needs a name - Kathy's Folly?) is extremely pretty. It's about 10 miles out of town, half of which is up a dirt road up a mountain. Tonasket is in a river valley in the Okanagon Hill country, and mom's place is up in some of those hills. Rugged, semi-arid, covered with sagebrush in the open parts and with Ponderosa Pine in the forested parts, and with great cliffs of black rock thrusting up here and there, it's an amazingly scenic area. The whole region is crisscrossed with smallish rivers, and the narrow river valleys are agricultural land, growing tree fruit mostly, but also melons, tomatoes, onions, and of course garlic. The hills are range-land. Cattle wander along with white-tail and mule deer; black bear; coyotes; cougars; and dozens of smaller animals. Many of the rivers are popular for fly-fishing.

The town itself, frankly, lacks charm. It's a very typical small, dusty western town. It has not, unlike many other similar towns, adopted a theme, so there are no fake old west saloons or fake Bavarian ski lodges. I guess Tonasket at least has authenticity going for it. It is what it is, which is a small ranching and farming community with sizable populations of both Mexican farmworkers and aging hippies. It has some down-at-the-heels motels and several antique-slash-pawnshops; some fancy espresso stands and an upscale health food store; and a small but healthy arts community.

We had a good time. Mom took me to the local tavern for friday night karaoke. I was really very surprised by the level of talent, to tell the truth. I fancy myself a pretty good singer but nearly everyone was better than me, and there were at least three seriously professional level voices. Nonetheless, I let myself be persuaded to get up there and belt out "Me and Bobby McGee." I danced. The dancing, I must say, was absolutely NOT up to the same level as the singing. I saw three barefoot people (something I've never seen in a bar before) and many folks who clearly just didn't care. Mom danced all night long! So I danced too.

The next day we went to the garlic festival. The entire festival was not as big as a regular Saturday Farmer's Market here in Bellingham, but it was fun anyway. There were things you would never see here on the west side, like a booth selling locally hunted and tanned skins, including beaver, otter, mink, and wolverine. I didn't buy any animal skins (although I admit to standing there and stroking them with my cheeks for several minutes) but I did buy a pound of russian hardneck garlic to plant and a few jars of preserves. I bought pickled garlic and lavender jelly, and I spent twenty minutes or so talking to a local cheesemaker. I entered a drawing and won a free sandwich from a local shop. I saw Tonasket's local belly-dancing cadre perform.

All in all, I had a wonderful weekend with my mom and her family. I'm glad to be home, even though that means I am facing some six gallons of milk that needs to be processed ASAP. I think I'll make it all into cajeta.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Forever Fence (Is It a Myth?)

If I could go back in time, there are a lot of things I would do differently here on the farm. Well, yes, of course, seriously, there are a LOT of things I would do differently in many areas of my life, but I'm not going there (yes, I mean you, Bad Boyfriend 1994-1997)

But let's just talk about fences. First off, I might actually have paid more attention to real estate listings that listed "fenced and cross-fenced" among the assets of the property. I had no freaking idea how expensive fencing is - and you probably don't either. This property had no fences at all when we moved onto it. I wanted to make three pastures so I could rotate, which added up to about 2,500 linear feet, plus four gates.

I went to the local professional fencing place and talked about my options. Since I wanted goats, I looked at really secure fences like five foot chain link, or five foot split rail with field fencing tacked on. As soon as I discovered that those options would run me somewhere between 9 and 14 dollars per linear foot, I coughed spasmodically and exited the building, pretending to have something caught in my throat.

Even cheap welded field fencing costs about $1/linear foot, and the six foot t-posts cost six bucks apiece. Then you have to buy wooden posts and set them in cement on every corner and everywhere there is a break in the fenceline, like at gates. This is just materials cost, you understand. So of course, that's what we decided to go with.

Turns out, there was still a lot we didn't know about fencing. Like, for example, you really really need to have some way of pulling the field fencing very very tight between t-posts. Something with superhuman strength, like a tractor. If you just have a couple of guys, one pulling and the other clipping the fence onto the post, in a few months what you have is droopy wobbly fences. And if you further try to skimp on manpower and money by just using t-posts at your corners instead of posts set in cement, what you get is this:

A fence that looks like it was constructed by a couple of dumb monkeys. Which, in fact, it was. Clearly, as anyone who knows goats can see, this fence is not much of an obstacle. What you can't see in this picture is that our young orchard is right on the other side of this fence. So far, we have lost five trees to the goats, and several others are hanging on by the skin of their teeth (so to speak).

If I could go back in time, I would have spent more money on the fence in the first place. But I didn't and I can't so now I have to re-do. After going back to the professional fencing store to price the cost of fencing in just the one pasture closest to the fruit trees, and again being blown right back out the door by the sheer audacity of asking ten thousand dollars to fence in one 100 x 100 foot pasture, I decided on cattle panels.

Cattle panels are stiff welded fence panels that come in a variety of heights and gauges and lengths. The ones I bought are 4.5 feet high and sixteen feet long. The advantage of them is that they will (probably) contain both the goats and the horses; that we can use the existing t-posts to fasten them to; that they do not need to be professionally installed; and that the cost is about one sixth that of chain link. That is, they are still expensive - just to fence in that one pasture will be about $1,800 - but not absolutely prohibitively so.

As for the other 1,900 linear feet of fences - I haven't the vaguest notion. I'm hoping that if I have one really really secure pasture, I can keep the goats in it most of the time, and then when I put them in the other pastures - which are quite a bit larger - they will be so happy they won't try to escape. Hey, it might work.

And before you suggest electric fences, I have to admit that we have tried. We have tried and tried. We have not been able to keep an electric fence functional for more than a couple of weeks. Initially, it is intensely gratifying to watch a troublesome goat get the shit shocked out of him, but the charge gets progressively weaker until you can grasp the wire in your bare hand and feel only a semi-unpleasant thrumming.

We are a couple of dumb monkeys, remember?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Question for People Who Kill Their Own Meat

I've posted before about butchering our animals. We butchered quite recently. I've posted about my feelings on meat eating in general, and also about eating our own animals (Too Many Roos, and Musings on Meat (WARNING - GRAPHIC PICS)). The question has come up (to put it mildly) as to how we should treat this issue as regards the kids?

My husband is from Mexico, and his family raised chickens, ducks, and pigs for meat. Homero cannot remember a time when he wasn't aware that the family animals were killed and eaten. But he does remember a specific occasion, when he was about eight years old, that his mother was preparing for a fairly large party, a party that required the demise of more than a few chickens. Up until that point, his job had been to catch chickens and bring them to his mother, who would stretch their necks. This time, when he brought her a chicken, she already had one in her own hands and said "Andale, hijo! Matalo!" Which means, "buck up, kiddo, and kill it already!" That was his introduction to killing chickens with his own hands. He doesn't remember this incident as traumatic, but the fact that he does remember it clearly shows it made a serious impression.

Homero also told me the story of his younger brother's "pet" duck. Now, Mexicans don't have farm animals as pets. In fact, they barely have pets at all. Seriously. I know there are a few here and there, but I feel totally confident in saying that in general, dogs are guard animals; cats are rat-catchers; burros are pack animals; and everything else is food. Little brother's duck was never ever going to live out it's life as a pet. Little brother was aware of that. But on the awful day that the duck appeared on the table, little brother said he wasn't going to eat any and went and sat in his room. Now understand, in my husband's family when they were children, meat was a treat eaten once a week or less. Little brother sat up in his room fuming for several minutes before his stomach won over his conscience, and then came down and ate the duck with tears streaming down his face.

When this story was told to me, everyone laughed uproariously, including little brother (now thirty-some years old.). I don't doubt for a second that little brother had strong negative emotions at the time. But in that world, the death of animals for food, including those who had been known by name, was simply a given fact of life, not something in the least open to debate. All children had to confront the facts of life; it was understood to be unpleasant, but not traumatic in any lasting way. Children, like little brother, who had trouble were teased and cajoled until they got used to it.

In my own family, there is a famous incident that all three of us kids remember vividly - the day Dad killed the rooster. We normally didn't eat any of our animals for food. I think mom put the kibosh on that idea. But we had a rooster who was vicious and attacked us kids, so Dad decided to kill it. He further decided that all three of us children had to line up and watch as he laid it on the chopping block and chopped off its head.

I remember the bright blood fountaining out of the stump. I remember the headless body flopping about. I remember being terribly excited and also kind of scared. I don't remember much after the body stopped flopping. Did he cook it? Did we eat it? Can't remember. As an adult, I don't think Dad made the right decision, but I understand why he did what he did. I do not feel traumatized, though I was the oldest child (maybe seven?) and it's possible my younger siblings received a more severe and lasting shock than I did.

Among the people I know who raise their own animals for food, there is a wide range of opinion on when and how to introduce children to the reality. Should they be totally shielded even from the knowledge that meat comes from dead animals? Should they know the generalities but be shielded from the process of killing and butchering? Should they be fully included in the whole process, from raising the animal to eating it? And what ages are appropriate for different levels of involvement?

I think our position is probably clear to anyone who reads this blog - we hide nothing from our children, but neither do we force their participation. Our children are currently five and a half, almost seven, and sixteen. The sixteen year old is a vegetarian. She has tried many different ways of eating ethically, including killing a chicken herself with her own hands. After much thought and serious consideration, she has decided not to eat meat. That's absolutely fine with me and I respect her immensely for doing the necessary work to arrive at her decision. Our smaller children know that we eat our own animals, and they were peripherally present when we butchered - that is, they were running around doing their own thing and not paying a whole lot of attention but if they had wanted to stop and watch they would have been allowed to. C., our friend who did most of the work, has a seven year old son who physically assisted him with the actual killing of the animal. Homero was impressed and proud of the boy, and said something to the effect that someday his children would be helping him.

So far, our smaller children don't have the mental or moral maturity to evaluate killing and eating the way they will one day have to. When that day comes, we will try to help them through it compassionately and factually, and explain why we eat the way we do, according to their ability to understand. Until that day, we want their default position to be that raising, killing, and eating animals in a natural, healthy way is absolutely normal, and that there is nothing frightening or repugnant about it.

Obviously, there are many ways to approach these issues. I'm curious as to how your family does it. If you raise and butcher your own meat, would you please take a moment and let me know how you do/did handle introducing your children to it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Goat Feast

Yesterday we butchered a couple of goats. There's a sentence that, five years ago, I never thought I would say.

My sister and her husband keep Angora goats, which are fiber goats like the one above (that's not her goat, that's an internet image.). They had one particular goat who they were ready to convert into a nice rug, but they didn't want to eat him. My sister is a vegetarian. Her husband eats meat, but they just weren't ready to deal with eating one of their own animals and explain it to the kids and everything. Also, they don't have the skill to skin it perfectly so that the hide is usable. They offered the goat to us to butcher and keep all the meat; just return the hide intact.

Well we don't have that kind of skill either (it's harder than you think) but we know someone who does. Our friend C. bought and butchered three goats last year for a party he was throwing ( Goat Butchering Party) and told us he'd help us out whenever we needed him. So we gave C. a call and offered him half the meat to come up and do the job - with Homero's help of course. He drove right up with his cousin and his three children (7, 4, and 8 months old, all as cute as buttons).

Then, since the men were here anyway, we decided we might as well butcher our one kid as well. While the men slowly worked their way through the goats and through a case of beer, I got to work in the kitchen and watched the children.

I made frijoles de olla (pinto beans), Mexican red rice, sauteed zucchini, and two kinds of pie - sweet potato and blackberry. As soon as it was ready, Homero brought me in a leg of goat and I seared it in olive oil, rubbed it with garlic and rosemary, squeezed a couple of lemons over it, and popped it in the oven at 325 to braise. The leg was rather stringy and tough looking, especially the shank, so I was worried it might not get tender in the time we had, so I asked the guys to bring me a loin. That I sliced into thin steaks and pan fried with onions and chiles.

As you might imagine, all that cooking took some time - about the same amount of time as it took to break down two goats. Somewhere in the vicinity of five hours. The men arrived at 2:00 and we sat down to eat around nine. The meat was very flavorful, but I don't doubt it would have benefitted from a couple of three days hanging in a cooler. Alas, we don't have access to a cooler. So we gnawed on the bones and chewed the meat like bubble gum. Tasted great, and a little exercise never hurt anyone's jaw muscles, right?

After they left, at about 11:00, I still had to trim and wrap all the meat for the freezer. Even though C. took more than half a goat, there was still a lot of wrapping. I had never tried to wrap meat before, and it isn't easy. Try taking a whole slab of ribs or a whole hind leg and producing a neat, flat package. Huh-uh. Homero and I spent an hour or so trimming and wrapping and taping and twining, and by the time we were done the table looked like it belonged to one of the more notorious serial killers, somebody who might be called "the butcher."

But now, this morning, there is about thirty or forty pounds of wrapped meat in the freezer. I'm glad butchering only happens once a year. I am worn out.

Monday, August 9, 2010

We Are All Going to Starve to Death (Hypothetically)

Once again, my garden is a dismal failure.

I don't know why I keep trying, really I don't. I had a short run of good years back in the mid-nineties, and ever since each year has been worse than the last. I had high hopes when I moved up here - all the space one could want! Unlimited supplies of homegrown animal poop for compost! All day sun!

I didn't know about compacted soil, tons of buried trash, ninety-nine kinds of really bad weeds, or the incredible persistence and amazing vertical abilities of goats. Every year, I have put increasing amounts of work into the garden for decreasing returns. However, hope springs eternal in the human breast, especially in the spring, and this year the early sunshine inspired me to new heights of optimism ( see The Tippler's Garden, What Lies Beneath....., Garden Update, March 11/2010).

Well, spring is a long gone memory, and late summer dog-days are here. My garden has failed again, in new and inexplicable ways. I am posting some pictures in case of any of you GOOD gardeners (Not you, Idiot -Bonjour? I'll bloody give you Bonjour!) might have a clue as to what is going wrong.

I am the only person I know who manages to harvest one tenth the number of potatoes they planted in the first place. I killed all the potatoes I planted in the ground, because I hilled them too high and smothered them to death. These are the ones I planted in the bathtub. The plants looked good and healthy until a couple of weeks ago when they suddenly began to shrivel without ever having flowered. I figured I'd better dig them up, and this is what I got. The biggest one is about the size of my five year old's fist.

These look like nice, healthy scarlet runner beans, right? The vines are about twelve feet long and covered with flowers. And the flowers are covered with bees. The beans, however, look like this:
I don't know what could be causing this. I'd say it was lack of pollinators but I have two bloody beehives not ten yards away. Somebody told me it might be too much nitrogen, and if that's not nonsense it might make sense because the beans are planted in almost pure compost.

My cucumber vines. I planted six seeds, and grew four healthy looking vines, which, however, simply stopped growing at about two feet in length. They flowered like mad - are still flowering like mad - but have set only - get ready - two cucumbers. Between four vines. And one of them is a gherkin. Now the vines are beginning to wither.

Same exact problem with my winter squash. It seems like no pollination, right? But I see bees everywhere. What's the deal? Are they retarded bees? Do they simply prefer the clover and the thistles to my nice squash and bean blossoms?

What the heck are we going to eat come the Zombipocalypse? Blackberries?

Oh yes, there's always zucchini. Nothing can daunt the zucchini.

And mint. That's about it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Roadtrip Roundup (World's Best Farmsitter)

We were out of town for the last few days - we drove to McCall, Idaho for my cousin's wedding. Dad is still with us, and there's nothing he likes better than a roadtrip, especially one that takes him over both roads he knows from his youth and over brand new roads he's never travelled before. He gets to reminisce and also see new things. He's as happy in the car as a dog is.

A lot of Eastern Washington is pretty dull - unless you really really like wheat - but once we were a couple of hours into Idaho it got very pretty. Especially 95 south from Grangeville down through Riggins on the Salmon river is just amazingly gorgeous. We came through Grangeville in the late afternoon, and there was a thunderstorm with lightening and hail. We stopped to take a picture of the sunset on the stormclouds, and when I opened the car door, the smell of the earth after the storm hit me full in the face. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever smelled. It was as if all the pores of the Earth opened up to drink in the moisture and then were sighing with relief. It was a sweet, warm smell, of sage and herbs and dirt. I could have stood there forever.

The wedding was lovely; the lake was beautiful and clear and cool with great sandy beaches. We enjoyed ourselves very much, had no car trouble, and got home late last night.

I had been just a little bit worried about the farm while we were gone. The day before we left, two things happened: Iris had a little nodule in her milk, and we found surprise baby chicks. Iris has never had any issues with her udder before, and the nodule, by itself, doesn't mean much - every once in a while, anyone can get a plugged duct and then have to spit out the resulting "milk clot." However, often, such things are the prelude to mastitis, and that IS a big deal which can be rapidly fatal. I didn't know what to do except inform T., our farmsitter - who had come over to go over the duties beforehand - and ask her if she was comfortable giving penicillin injections if necessary and giving Iris an extra milking every day. She said that would be no big deal and that she was used to giving horses injections and a goat couldn't possibly be harder.

Then, as we were walking back from the barn, we suddenly saw a mama hen strut out of the bushes with a whole bunch of obviously newborn baby chicks. Holy Cow! I had had no idea there was a hen brooding anywhere - I don't even know how many hens I have, although it is somewhere between fifteen and twenty. They are hard to count, they move so fast and so many of them look just alike.

"Oh no!" I cried. "Help me get them!"

We scrambled around in the tall grass and soon captured nine baby chicks and the angry, squawking mama hen. I bundled them all into the rabbit hutch (which is where I like to put newborn baby chickens to protect them from the thousand and one dangers of farm life) and gathered straw, a waterer, and chick feed.

"Do you mind? I guess there will be a bit more work than I thought..." I trailed off.

"No! Oh my goodness, they are so adorable." She didn't mind. However, she did look relieved when I told her than I am well aware that baby chicks have a sickeningly high mortality rate and I would not hold her accountable should some of them be dead when I return.

But in fact, everything is great. No chicks have died; Iris is healthy as a horse, and we had a nice, soaking rain while I was gone, which is something we desperately needed. The state of the farm is a perfect 10 - for the moment.

And, no, you may not have my farmsitter's number.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Monday, August 2, 2010

State of the Trade Network 2010 (What's Your Perspective?)

Most farmers I know engage in barter, whether they are professionals who just do a little trading on the side with friends or whether they are hobbyists or homesteaders, like I am. Nobody produces everything they need for themselves, and chances are your neighbor or friend down the way makes/can do something that you don't/can't. Since I discovered the wonders of Craigslist and began actively developing my trade network, we have traded our own

mechanic services
goat stud service
beef and pork


baked goods
vegetables and fruit
plumbing services
electrician's services

Aside from the obvious practicality of bartering, it is also just plain fun. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't enjoy bartering. Why, there's even a famous annual Barter Fair in my state (think I missed it this year) which is known far and wide as a really good time. Everybody likes to offer (show off) their goods and services and to find out what his neighbor has to offer in exchange. Bartering is a great way to get to know people, build communities, meet your needs affordably, and find out what goods and services are available or unavailable locally. Bartering is a blast.

It's also illegal - unless you report it to the IRS and pay taxes on every transaction. Let me be totally upfront: I am a complete outlaw. I don't have the vaguest idea how to even go about reporting bartering transactions, and I am such a poor record-keeper that even if I tried really hard there's no way I could ever be in 100% compliance. I haven't any intention of trying to bring my bartering activity within the scope of the formal economy. So there. If I am soon contacted by the IRS, I will know somebody squealed. And I'm looking at you, bro.

Apparently for this reason, bartering is controversial. There was recently a long and vigorous debate on the subject at one of my favorite blogs, fast grow the weeds. Alas, I couldn't create a direct link to the right post, so you'll have to page back a couple of posts if you want to read it, but I assure you that the journey will be enjoyable. The author is a very serious gardener chock full o' knowledge and also a thoughtful and talented writer.

So, while I have no intention of stopping my illegal activities, the trade network has kind of broken down this year. Partly, this is because I've been out of town for some of the summer; partly it has to do with the lamentable departure of the Kale Fairy, the best trade partner I ever had. I've noticed that trade partnerships are seldom long-lasting. I especially miss the Baker/Biker. Man, he made some go-o-o-o-o-d fruitcake. People move away, they get their own chickens, they lose your phone number or e-mail.

I still have some good contacts: Kale Fairy II is meeting me later today to bring me carrots in exchange for a dozen eggs. Veggie/Oil Man continues to provide a great weekly trade at the farmer's market. Later on in the fall I will no doubt meet more apple people and brewers. Hopefully when mushroom season arrives I will be able to create some contacts with foragers.

So there you have it: I am an unrepentant barterer and a scofflaw. I just call it neighborliness. I mean really, where is the line between sharing some of your overabundant zucchini harvest with your next door neighbor and then a week later accepting a gift of a couple dozen eggs on the one hand and cheating the Government on the other? What is your take? Where do you stand on the issue?

Inquiring minds want to know.