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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Don't Cry Over Spilt Milk




It has been one of those weeks. A week filled with inconveniences and minor upsets that add up and kind of make a person wish the week was over.

It started when somehow the key to our new car with all the fancy little buttons for different functions was dropped in the bottom of my purse (or if you are from the south "pocket book"). That's a good place for a key, right? It made sense to me. However, it turned out NOT to be the best place for the key.

When we got home from running to Lowes to pick up a few items, a share member was getting some items out of the garage. We waved, spoke, and I ran in the house to deposit my things and get the milker so that I could take care of the cows. I wasn't in the barn more than a couple of minutes when I heard Mike saying something about the garage door not opening. "That's weird", I shouted back to him. It worked fine when we first got home because so-in-so was in there and we saw the garage door shut when they left."

I ran back to see what the problem was but the door would only raise a few inches off the ground and stop. Back and forth we worked the door, up and down trying to get it to open. Finally I volunteered to crawl under the door but Mike was already on the ground looking underneath. What he said next just made me sick to my stomach. The only thing we can figure out is that the key in my purse somehow was activated causing the automatic hatch to engage and open about the same time that the garage door was closing earlier. The hatch and the garage door were scraping up against each other. The garage door would not open and with each time we tried to get it to open, we were just adding insult to injury. We used the remote to shut the hatch and then opened the door successfully only to find a very obvious and ugly perpendicular scratch on the hatch. It's not something that can be easily covered up and will have to go to the shop to be fixed. The car is less than a week old.

Already pretty bummed about that but trying to make myself feel better in light of the fact that it was just a material possession and did not involve any injury to a person or animal, I tried to put my best foot forward and go on with the week.

There were some other incidents that were inconvenient and aggravating like the fact the pigs got out (again) and this time would not be lured back to their pen with food. They were having too much fun rooting up the cow's pasture and running around like 200+ pound idiots. They would not come back through the electric wire even though it was off, because they had been shocked by it going through. So, we had to entice them all the way up the hill, through three gates, back down the hill, and into their pen. The pigs thought it was the best game they had ever played. Needless to say, we were not impressed.

Then, poor Mike was trying to help me with Butter who decided to poop. It's bad enough that she decided to poop in the stanchion, but she had been eating lots of grass and alfalfa hay and her manure was quite "liquid" at this point. I walked around the corner to find Mike with manure from head to foot and the whole milking shed covered in manure including the walls and the feed box.

I discovered later in the week that I had mis-calculated the amount of milk needed to get us through the week with the share program. I had dried one of the cows off (ButterCupp) who is due with a calf in November and had not taken into consideration how much milk I would need to get me through the rest of the week. After frantically trying to figure out a way to make things work, I finally had to contact some gracious share members who volunteered to wait until later in the week to pick up their milk.

Finally, last night I began to breathe easy as I put three gallons of milk in the freezer to bring the temp down quickly before transferring it over to the refrigerator. The weekend was on it's way and I had somehow managed to squeeze enough milk out of the cows to get us through! With thoughts of peace in my head I went to bed and slept soundly only to waken this morning in horror! The milk! I had left the milk all night in the freezer! Sure enough, the milk was frozen solid and the jars were busted.

The common phrase "There is no sense crying over spilt milk" keeps coming to my mind today. Wiktionary defines this common saying to mean "It is no use worrying about unfortunate events which have already happened and which cannot be changed."

So here I go, chin up, off to milk my cows for the evening. I refuse to cry over spilt milk, frozen milk or any of the other inconveniences of this past week!

Note: The phrase "don't cry over spilt milk" originated in America during the Great Depression because the price of milk as a commodity had fallen so low due to its overabundance relative to demand, that dairy farmers were subsidized by the state to destroy their surplus in order to bring prices back up to a profitable level.

The destruction of a commodity in order to alleviate the crisis of overproduction would be, in any system other than capitalist enterprise, utterly absurd. Hence the need for propaganda and a cute, memorable idiom like this one.

From Answers.com

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Animals Make Us Human ~ Cows


It's no secret that I am big fan of Temple Grandin's work. I own a copy of her most recent book, Animals Make Us Human. The following is my review on the first part of the chapter on cattle:

The first thing addressed in this chapter on cattle is that they are "programmed" to be alert to predators. To cattle that have not been handled, humans are predators. Cows have wide angled, panoramic vision and are especially sensitive to rapid movements. To a cow, rapid movement is synonymous with danger. Unlike horses that take flight when they sense danger, cattle will bunch together and use their horns (if not polled) to fight.
Cattle are herd animals and have a distinct hierarchy.

"Cows are herd animals that need to be with their buddies and family members. They have close relationships, especially between sisters and between mothers and daughters...................Cattle stay together in groups to make their daily rounds between pasture and water trough. The walk leisurely along from place to place in single file. The cow leading the line isn't the dominant cow. That's a mistake most people make. They assume that the cow that is the boss at the water trough will also be the leader of the herd when it moves from one place to another. But the leader cow is usually a curious, bold cow whereas the dominant animal, which pushes the other cows away from the water trough, stays safe from predators by walking in the middle of the line. The leader cow really isn't a leader at all. The reason she is in the front of the line is probably just that she has high seeking emotions and low fear." (Animals Make Us Human, Page 137-138)

Dr. Grandin goes on to remind the readers that actions that might not seem frightening to humans, can be terrifying to cattle. She lists five moderate stimuli that frighten cattle:

*yelling
*sudden appearance of a human in an animals vision
*human looming over an animal
*fast movements
*sudden movements

(Personal note: I have seen folks get very upset when a calf or cow kicked at them without stopping to realize that they suddenly came upon the animal, scaring it in the process. The calf's automatic reaction was to kick out in protection as it would if a wolf or dog suddenly came up behind it.)

An interesting note about yelling at cattle (page 141):

"Cattle hate being yelled at. What is frightening isn't the noise so much as the person's anger. In one study, cattle's heart rates and restless movements were greater when the cattle were listening to a recording of people yelling versus when they were listening to an equally loud recording of metal clanging. Cows know when people are mad and it scares them."

(Personal note: This is why it is absolutely imperative that one remain calm when handling cattle. Cattle do pick up on your emotions. I know when I was going through a very difficult time right after my son passed away I went in to milk a cow that had never given me a bit of trouble before. She could feel my negative energy and began kicking at me every time I tried to put the milker on her. Needless to say, that milking session ended up with me in tears and the poor cow wondering what in the world was wrong with her human!)

Another attribute of cattle that is very important is what Dr. Grandin calls "curiously afraid". In other words, new things scare them but at the same time they are extremely curious about whatever is new. They want to explore the new thing but they are also fearful of it.

"The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don't want new things shoved into their faces and people don't either. but if you give animals and people a new thing and let them voluntarily decide how to explore it, they will." p. 147

(Personal note: I have used this concept to get calves who have never been handled use to me. I simply place myself with them in a small pen and then ignore them. To this day, I have not had a single one that did not eventually come up to sniff my hair and eventually begin licking me. I then proceed to hold out my hand and allow them to sniff my hands. Eventually, they become accustomed to my presence, and allow me to touch them. This sometimes takes a few minutes and sometimes takes days, weeks or months of work until they are comfortable depending on how much fear they initially have of humans. I prefer to work with cattle in this manner rather than tying them up and forcing them to accept me.)

To be continued next Tuesday!

For a nice review of the entire book, click here.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harvest Moon


The moon is at her full, and riding high, Floods the calm fields with light. The airs that hover in the summer sky Are all asleep to-night. ~ William Cullen Bryant

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tell Us Your Farming Story




My online friend, Selden, wrote about this documentary in her blog post today. I wanted to share it with you all. So, please jump on over to Selden's blog and read today's entry.

Selden's post got me to thinking about something. I started thinking how neat it would be to have a guest blogger each week who would tell us a little bit about themselves, their farm, their animals, their crops, their gardens, and their future farming goals. Or perhaps, a guest blogger would like to share their farming dreams and how they hope to some day make these dreams a reality. I have "met" so many wonderful online friends and would love to be able to share some of those friends and their stories with those who read this blog.

So, how about it? Who will volunteer to be my first guest blogger? This is also a chance for some of you who do not blog, to have a featured spot here to share about your life. Those who blog and/or facebook, we can put a link to your blog so that folks can begin following your posts on a regular basis. Maybe you read my blog but have never corresponded with me in the past. This would be a perfect time to share not only with me but also with those who read my blog about about who you are and what agriculture means to you.

The way this will work, is I will designate one day a week as my "Guest Blogger" Day. If interested, send me what your autobiographical article, along with up to five pictures. Also include whatever methods of communication you are comfortable with so that folks can connect with you online. (ie: facebook, blog, forums, email, etc.) Please don't be shy! Everyone's story is important and you will be surprised how your life can be an inspiration to others. There may be someone else out there who needs to hear your story.

You can contact me in the comments section here on my blog if you are interested, or you can email me directly at tcuppminiatures@yahoo.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That's "NO BULL"



I can remember watching clips of Disney's Ferdinand the Bull as a child when I as growing up. This Oscar-winning short tells of a bull who preferred to sit under trees and smell flowers to clashing horns with his fellow animals. While Disney's version of a bull might lead us to believe that bulls can be sweet and love able, common sense dictates that bulls are dangerous creatures that have the potential to seriously injure and even kill. Every bull has this potential. There are ways, however, to increase the odds of raising a bull to be respectful. Temple Grandin, an expert in animal behavior and an advocate for animal welfare, has written an excellent article on raising and handling bulls in such a manner that will give these magnificent animals a chance to live as they were born to do and thus increase the chances that they will remain non-aggressive.


Preventing Bull Accidents
(Updated June 2006)
by Temple Grandin, Colorado State University

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The most dangerous dairy bull is a bull that has not been properly socialized to his own kind. When a young bull calf becomes mature at age two, he needs to challenge the top bull in the herd. If the bull calf has been raised alone and has not had the opportunity to interact with other cattle, he thinks he is a person and he wants to exert his dominance over the "herd". This can result in dangerous attacks on people.

Ed Price at the University of California found that bull calves raised in groups were much less likely to attack people than bull calves raised in individual pens. Bull calves raised on a cow were the least likely to attack. When they are raised with their own kind, they know who they are and they are less likely to think that people are part of the herd.

There is no such thing as a totally safe bull, but the risk of an attack can be reduced with proper management. When dairy calves are six to eight weeks old, they should be put in group pens. If there are no bull calves available for pen mates, a young bull should be raised with steer calves that are older and heavier. Any mature bull that charges a person, should be removed from a commercial dairy because he is too great a safety risk to the dairy personnel. To further reduce the danger, dairies that use bulls should consider raising bull calves on a nurse cow. Raising bull calves on a nurse cow will imprint them more strongly to their own kind and further reduce the tendency to attack.

Never play butting games with calves. It is cute when they are young but very dangerous when they grow up. Never allow a bull calf to push his head up against you. Tell him to get back. If you want to pet the calf, stroke him under the chin, on the rear, or on the withers (shoulder). Stroke him anywhere except the forehead. Pressure on this area will encourage butting.

The major causes of bull attacks are mistaken identity or improper behavior that has been learned. A bull will perform a broadside threat prior to attack. He will stand sideways so the person or other bull can see how big and powerful he is. Sometimes a person can make a bull back off by responding with the human variation of a broadside threat which for people is a frontal stance. Alternatively, the person may just back slowly away from the bull. NEVER RUN away and do not turn your back on him.

In dairies where bulls run loose in the cow pens, managers should be trained to notice aggressive postures. The bull should just move away along with other cows when the milkers approach. A bull that does a broadside threat to milkers should be culled. Even if a bull calf is reared properly with other cattle, an adult bull is usually safer if he spends most of his adult life penned with other animals. Bulls that are penned alone for long periods of time may be more likely to attack people. However, steers and heifers can be safely penned alone.

Understanding cow and bull behavior will help to reduce accidents. There is no way that cattle can be made perfectly safe, but the use of behavioral principles will reduce the risk. Attacks by bulls are the number one cause of fatalities which occur while handling livestock. Dairy bulls are often more dangerous than beef breeds. Castration of bull calves at an early age will greatly reduce aggressive behavior.


Over the past five years that I have raised Miniature Jerseys, I have been "blessed" with the opportunity to raise many bull calves (as we have been statistically challenged with bulls far exceeding heifer births on our farm). Having put Dr. Grandin's methods to practice, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to raise non-aggressive bulls. However, let me also say, that in order to raise and/or own bulls one must always have a "NO BULL" mentality when it comes to dealing with these magnificent creatures.



Photo and movie courtesy of Disney.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Going for the Gold






.......the Ginger Gold that is.

Today's agenda included processing two bushels of Ginger Gold apples into apple sauce.

According to this web site, the Ginger Gold is Virginia's own apple.

"If the name Ginger Gold is unfamiliar, that's because it is a recent addition to the list of apple varieties. It was discovered growing among the twisted uprooted trees in a Virginia orchard in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its ancestors are the Golden Delicious and Albermarle Pippin apples."

While I do prefer the Golden Delicious for making applesauce, the Ginger Gold makes a very tasty and beautiful sauce as well.

Although time consuming, my method for making apple sauce is very simple and uses only the most simple tools. However, a friend of our facebook page introduced me to this handy kitchen tool that I am now coveting!

For applesauce, I don't even bother taking the time to peel my apples. I core them, cook them, run them through my antique sieve, and either freeze or can the sauce. This year I found these handy freezer jars made by ball that have lids that screw on. I love them. (I found mine at Walmart for a little less.) I put twelve jars of applesauce in the freezer and the additional twelve quarts are being processed and and canned!

I don't add anything to my applesauce to sweeten it or to spice it up. Some folks do and if you are so inclined, this looks like a good recipe to try. If you have folks in your house, like I do, who don't like Cinnamon, you can always add a little cinnamon right before you eat it and then everyone is happy!

And the icing on the cake, so to speak? Nothing is wasted because the pigs will enjoy the cores and peelings!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Apple Pie Filling

***NOTE:  IT IS NOW CONSIDERED UNSAFE TO USE CORNSTARCH WHEN CANNING APPLE PIE FILLING.  I HAVE KEPT THIS RECIPE FOR MY OWN PERSONAL USE.***



4 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
10 cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Approximately 20 pounds apples (Enough to fill seven quarts)

1.in a large pan, mix sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add salt and water and mix well. Bring to a boil and cook until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
2.Sterilize canning jars, lids and rings by boiling them in a large pot of water.
3.Peel, core, and slice apples. Pack the sliced apples into hot canning jars, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.
4.Fill jars with hot syrup, and gently remove air bubbles with a knife.
5.Put lids on and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Pileated Woodpecker



I lived just eight miles from the Canadian border in North West Montana the first time I saw a Pileated Woodpecker. He was gorgeous. Several times I saw him sitting on the deck railing. I was able to easily observe his brightly colored head and marvel at his size. Of course, I was familiar with the smaller species of woodpeckers having observed them throughout my life, but I had previously never seen a woodpecker as big as the Pileated.

Imagine how excited I was when I began to see Pileated Woodpeckers here on our farm! They have a distinctive call and I often hear them before I see them. Their sound always makes me smile as I look to the sky searching for them.

In the fall and winter, for the last several years, a pair have flown overhead every evening as I am milking. They announce their presence by calling back and forth to each other. They fly over the open fields and pastures to the edge of the woods where, I am sure, their nest must be.

In the summer, I don't see them as much. I am not sure if it is because I am too busy to notice, or if it's because, like farmers, they make seasonal changes in their schedules, allowing our paths to cross on those fall and winter evenings.

(Photo courtesy of Wikepedia)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Twist on the Ketchup Recipe from a Reader


An online friend tried out the ketchup recipe I posted and instead of using sweet peppers, used hot peppers. She intends to use the canned sauce to make chili and BBQ sauce. What a great idea. Just thought I would share!

(Pictured: Some of our late harvest)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pigs Update







I sorely neglected my blog over the summer. Now that it is fall, I have made a resolution to get back on a somewhat normal blogging schedule. What that means, is my regular readers are going to be forced to put up with my attempts at finding relevant daily information. I don't promise to get a post written every day, but I am going to try to do better.

I thought I would use this entry to update everyone on the pigs. In case you don't remember, we bought two different groups of pigs. One group of pigs we got in Georgia and they were a mixture of three different breeds. (York, Hamp and Duroc, if I remember correctly.) We brought four of those pigs home and then stopped in Bedford to pick up six Red Wattle and Red Wattle cross pigs giving us a total ten. Some friend's of ours wanted some non-commercial pigs as well, so they came and picked out four of the pigs leaving us with six to raise........two of the males from Georgia (York,Hamp, Duroc cross), and four females from Bedford. (Two of those being Red Wattle cross and two of them being pure bred Red Wattles.)

We had a time with those pigs getting out in the beginning, but finally found a set up that works pretty well for us. Although they do still get out from time to time and for various reasons. (We ended up using cattle panels and putting electric wire around the bottom of the panels so that they could not root under them.)

Then, we had an leg injury to the runt pig, a Red Wattle cross. We actually thought that we were going to have to have a pig roast and eat her because she seemed to be in such pitiful shape. We ended up moving her temporarily into the area that has been used for everything from dogs to goats, until she was able to walk on her leg again. During that time, she became very spoiled. She loves for the humans to scratch her back and she demands (in a very loud voice) that she have clabber rather than any other type of feed. We started calling her Miss Piggy. And dance.......boy can that pig dance. She loves to be sprayed with the water hose and when you spray her she shakes her head and shakes her butt and dances all over the pen. Her Majesty continues to have her own domain because the other pigs are a lot bigger than her and want to pick on her. She lives right next door to the other pigs, sees them, communicates through the fence, but has her own private living quarters.

Except for Miss Piggy who is considerably smaller than the others, the five remaining pigs are very close in size and we estimate them to also be close in weight. We are guessing their weight to be around 200 pounds. There is a marked difference though between the Red Wattle/Red Wattle cross pigs and the pigs we brought from Georgia. The difference is that the Red Wattles are a longer and leaner looking pig.

Most of the pigs have been spoken for and will provide pork for several different families, and we plan to butcher one for ourselves. The pigs that are going to the processor will go the first of December and we will probably butcher ours around that time as well. I have to say that pigs are the first animal that I have raised that I won't have a hard time eating. I did get attached to Miss Piggy in a way, but not so much that I don't dream of pork chops, bacon, ham and lard!

We do plan on keeping one of the pure bred, Red Wattle females so that we can use her as a breeder.

(The first picture is of Miss Piggy when she was still hurt. The second picture shows her just a few weeks ago. The other photos are of the remaining Red Wattle and Red Wattle Cross hogs.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tweaking the Mozz




I have been making Mozzarella for five years now! Boy does time fly! I started thinking about the little things that I have learned over the years that have helped improve my Mozzarella and thought maybe I should share that with my readers.

First, I learned that milk straight from the cow makes the best tasting Mozzarella. Something about that milk that has never been refrigerated just brings out the best flavor in the Mozz. However, I found that the temp of the milk being around 100 degrees when it comes out of the cow, just did not lend itself to adequate absorption of the citric acid that makes the Mozzarella stretch. I make my Mozz in four gallon batches. (I have been told it can't be done that way, but no one told me that until I had been doing it for years that way. ;-)

So, the first thing I do is pour three gallons of milk into my big, sterilized, stainless steel pot and then I add the secret ingredient. What is the secret ingredient? Don't tell anyone, but it's yogurt. How much yogurt? That's a good question since I am one of those cooks who just "dumps" in what looks good. I would say I probably use about a quart to a four gallon batch. I then let the warm milk and yogurt incubate for a while. How long you ask? That's a good question! It depends on what I am doing, how many times I get distracted, and what kind of mood I am in! I would say to let it set for at least an hour.

Right before I get ready to make the Mozzarella, I take a gallon of cold milk from the refrigerator that has had the cream skimmed off and pour that into the pot with the warm milk. This seems to bring the temp of the milk down enough that the citric acid disolves better. (Or maybe it's all my imagination, but as long as it works, I am going to keep doing it this way!)

I then proceed with the recipe and directions that are given in my previous post about making Mozzarella.

One other tip, for tweaking the Mozz: Put your Mozzarella in the freezer for about 30 minutes and then transfer to the frig. Cooling it down quickly helps give it a smooth, creamy texture.

And here is a side note: Did you know that what the cows are eating will affect the taste of the cheese? The best cheese comes from cows that are on green grass. I can tell a big difference between the cheese I make in the summer when we have a good stand of grass and in the winter when we are feeding hay. I can also tell a difference when we feed more Alfala vs. Timothy or Orchard Grass Hay. Some Artisan cheese makers only make their cheese during the specific time of the year when the cows are eating a specific type of feed. (ie: grass)


Enjoy your Mozzarella and let me know if you try any of these tips and if it makes a difference in your cheese!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Simple Good Life Network


You know how the internet is.

An online friend posts something which leads you to click on a link. That link leads you to click on another link. Before you know it you are "surfing" the web. That is exactly what happened to me the day I came across the Facebook page for The Simple Good Life Network. I remember thinking, "This looks nice, I will have to return to it when I get a chance."

Later, I went back to the Facebook page and linked from there to The Simple Good Life Network's web page where I learned more about the founders, Barry and Lynne and their goals for this online community.

In their own words:

Our purpose is to be a source of encouragement, practical knowledge and resources for the growing community of small farmers and new rural pioneers.

This of course peaked my interest and as I dug a little deeper on their site I found that Barry and Lynne were reaching out to small farmers, homesteaders and those who dream of living the life through podcasts. Curious, I started at the beginning and clicked on the first episode. I listened for about five minutes. Wanting to find out more and not having the time to just sit and listen, I set the computer up so that I could listen while I was canning apple pie filling in the kitchen. I listened as Barry and Lynne introduced themselves. They explained how they were retired, and had felt a calling to begin a journey to find their very own homestead where they could begin farming and enjoying the simple, good life. When the first podcast ended, I clicked on the second, then the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh episodes. I followed along as they searched for their homestead, sometimes meeting roadblocks and disappointments but pressing forward towards their dream.

The podcasts themselves are high quality and very easy to follow and Barry and Lynne have soothing "radio" voices. It is obvious that they present the pocasts in a manner that only a couple who has intimately known each other for 43 years would be able to do. I find myself anxiously waiting for the next podcast and have likened it to reading a book, getting to the next chapter and being forced to wait for the next installment!

The first of these podcasts are designed to be an introduction to Barry and Lynn and their adventure of finding their new farm. However, they do pause from time to time to introduce farmers they have met along the way. A very interesting and inspiring podcast about a local Florida farm (that takes a slight twist at the end when you find out a little bit more about the farmers), I highly recommend. You can hear it here.

I highly recommend you start at podcast number one and work your way through them. You can find a listing of the podcasts with most recent podcats listed first at this link.

If you are able, join Lynne and Barry on their Facebook Page as well! Hope to see you there!

(Image courtesy of The Simple Good Life Network)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Case of the Missing Agricultural Middle

The Case of the Missing Agricultural Middle

The recent debate among food writers on the New York Times op ed page and Grist magazine highlighted a glaring problem, one that concerns not only our food system but also our advocacy for a better one: The middle is going missing, and no one's speaking up for it.

The two "sides" of the debate (which, as I've stated, I don't believe are really opposing sides at all) seem to be speaking up for the benefits of the extremes. Stephen Budiansky writes in the New York Times that industrial operations might have their place in a workable food system in instances where the efficiency they offer is tantamount. The writers on Grist, on the other hand, emphasize that there are myriad values to small and local agricultural enterprises, including vibrancy of community, improvement in food safety, and health of local economies, to name a few.

What is conspicuously missing from this conversation is a voice speaking up for the types of enterprises most eligible to form the basis of a sustainable food system for our big country: mid-sized, regionally focused farms and businesses. The middle, unfortunately, is not a sexy pick. The players in this arena don't have the level of mechanized muscle that characterizes the big guys, but they also don't have the quaint, homespun feel that endears the little guys to so many. What they do have, however, is the ability to be relatively efficient, responsible to the environment, and responsive to their communities, all at the same time.

Isn't that what we all want, after all?

Some who study the issue of sustainable food production have long ago come to the conclusion that we need to focus our food system on a regional scale where middle-sized enterprises do the bulk of the heavy lifting. In the most notable example of those who are speaking up for this priority, an inter-institutional committee headed by Fred Kirschenmann of Iowa State's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture have put together a program on the Agriculture of the Middle. The researchers point out that 80 percent of U.S. farmland is managed by mid-scale farms that are finding it difficult to succeed in a food system increasingly geared toward only the large-scale bulk and the small-scale niche markets. "If present trends continue," the project's Web site states, "these farms, together with the social and environmental benefits they provide, will likely disappear in the next decade or two."

I recently went to the Leopold Center offices on Iowa State's lovely campus to ask someone about the middle's role in a sustainable food system. Associate Director Rich Pirog, the leader of the Marketing and Food Systems Initiative, told me that there is a general lack of support for helping farmers create and maintain businesses at this scale. "Part of it is the market infrastructure isn't there," he said. "Part of it is the incentives aren't there. There's a number of policy changes that would need to be put in place to make those opportunities grow."

He'd like to see the development of regional hubs for cooling centers and distribution. Needed also is greater availability of information about how to scale-up a food-related business or how big farms can diversify and tap into regional markets.

And then there's the matter of incentives: Right now, many systems seem to be set up to dissuade those who might be interested in working in middle-scale farming or diversifying to hit a regional market instead of the commodity market."It would be easier here in Iowa for a farmer to go and get a recreation loan to buy a boat than it would be for a farmer to get a loan to buy a string bean picker because of the risk associated with the picker," Pirog told me. "If there's no one else that has one, then if I loan it and he defaults, what am I going to do with a string bean picker?"

The farmers who want to work on bulk commodity crops don't have the same problem, however. "If it's a conventional farmer and it's a combine, everybody has those and are using them," he said. The upshot? "We have to be able to provide more incentives."

Once we figure out how to do that, it's got to happen fast. Otherwise, America's going to be left with a food system composed entirely of the big and the small, the national/international and the hyper-local, the super cheap and the very costly. Unless we want to live in a world with nothing between these extremes, we better start speaking up for the middle.

A version of this post originally appeared on Change.org