Why we need more regs on raw milk!

Before I start, I want to clarify that there are two permits to sell milk. The first one is a Feed Master Permit which allows for the sale of raw milk for pet consumption only. The second is a Grade A Dairy which allows ONLY for the sale of pasteurized milk. A Grade A dairy may NOT sell raw milk! To say I am selling raw milk to save up for Grade A licensing is not even in the equation. I applaud those who do want to go that way but I do not believe in pasteurized milk. But I also do not believe we should be selling raw milk for pet consumption only in a reckless manner either.

This is not going to be a popular opinion for two reasons, people want to do something for nothing and they feel like government is invading their lives. Let me start by asking if you have a driver’s license? If so, then you recognize that a person should be competent behind the wheel of a car since there are other drivers on the road and they need protected. Do you feel the government is exploiting you with that license? Oh, but you only sell 10 gallons of milk a month, just a little bit so you don’t think you need a Feed Master Permit? Maybe I only drive 10 miles a month. Do you think the State would exempt me? I think the old analogy of slightly pregnant is appropriate here!

Many have heard my spiel on KNOW YOUR RAW MILK FARMER because they are not all alike. In fact if you go back on my Facebook page, from time to time, I grab images from Marketplace and Craigslist of people selling in used water bottles and gatorade bottles and put pictures of their bottling on the page in an attempt to educate the public of what they should avoid. It isn’t necessary for people to risk their lives to purchase milk that may not be sanitary to drink. I am a fanatic about this! Even if it is “for pet consumption only” we need to make sure it is done right. Do your pets not matter? If we ever expect it to be approved for human consumption there has to be an improvement in the standards for pets.

We must prove to the Dept of Agriculture (FDACS) that we are responsible in what we do – including respecting the permit requirement. I have been lobbying for years for changes. As it stands, a $40 license and you are good to go on selling once you have an approved label containing the required information – which I rarely see. For soap, no big deal but for people who are drinking it – if your farmer isn’t aware they are doing things wrong, from label to drug withdrawal, it could be dangerous. I am sure all the intentions are good, but things can backfire. I can count the number of SAFE raw milk suppliers on one hand and part of the other! Just sayin’!

I have been selling raw milk LEGALLY for pet consumption only since August 17, 2007. There are no regulations beyond a permit and proper labeling (and no it isn’t just the “pet consumption only” phrase – there is way more to it and the label needs to be approved by FDACS), no demonstration of competence, nothing needed but send in that money to get the permit number. I have a HUGE problem with that. Unlike that drivers license where you take a test to prove that you memorized (at least for the moment) all the information that seems needed for driving. If we ever expect to morph to a state that allows human consumption of raw milk (I believe we are one of only 10 in the US required to label as pet consumption), we must demonstrate that we are competent in sanitation, we know drug withdrawal guidelines and our animals are healthy to be using their milk. For the last four years I have been lobbying with FDACS to impose some regulations on the raw milk sales – even if it is just for pet consumption only. I have people call me all the time wanting to come see how I do it to see if they approve. For the record, our family has been consuming our raw milk for the last 20 years. I always ask the caller if they are in the dairy industry and know what to look for in a dairy. After a few hems and haws they admit they read a couple books that talk about grass fed and humane treatment and felt they were educated enough to evaluate a micro dairy. Not in a million years. They have seen the 3 Fs of Fresh, Famageddon and Food Inc and quickly become experts. Can they even tell one breed from the next? Can they pick out an inline system or can they tell me what an inflation is? Sheepishly they agree that they only know the buzz words. That is where I start my education of what they really needed to look for from feed to animal health to cooling to jugging of the milk.

There are silent diseases in goats that can transmit to humans that you do not want to drink the milk. Caseous Lymphanitis – abscesses that can be in the respiratory and mammary system that is transmittable to humans before they ever show outward signs. I am not saying people are not capable of learning about it, just most people do not invest the time or spend the money for testing. We test our goats. It isn’t cheap for 70+ goats but something we feel is necessary for good management! My lobbying includes the requirements of a veterinary exam by a livestock accredited vet at least twice a year. A clean dry enclosure for milking with hot and cold running water adjacent (doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal but it should be better than a pop-up tent in the pasture with manure underfoot). Proper cooling protocol and a new BPA free container every time milk products go out the door. This business of used Pepsi bottles isn’t acceptable to me.

One of my biggest fears is drug withdrawal. Not from my herd but someone that has no clue of the withdrawal of antibiotics or other drugs. There are dewormers which have no milk withdrawal and some with several days/weeks withdrawal. We have goats that have been milking for several years with no chemical dewormers. That is possible only through good management. Antibiotic residue can cause drastic effects in a person who may be allegic to that particular antibiotic. In this world of allergies and sensitivities, it is more important than ever to provide a clean product free of adulteration.

When it comes down to it, I feel disrespected by those who refuse to get a permit. I jump through the hoops and try to do what is right. How do you feel about that person with the suspended license plowing into you at 50mph and no insurance because they have no license? And I don’t think anyone doing this has bad intentions. I fear that Jane Doe in Pickatown, Florida gets someone sick with their goat or cow milk or Heaven forbid, they die it won’t be them on the front page, but me because our dairy is so well known. It won’t ruin their business – people won’t remember who it is but it certainly will ruin mine. Let’s permit and educate and hold the raw micro dairies up to a high standard allowing confidence in purchasing “for our pets”. Wink wink!

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New Girls in the Pasture

Our venture into livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) started with a “ruined” Anatolian/Pyr, Saxy. A lady who raised golden retrievers had received her from a daughter that was going through a divorce and had to rehome her. She didn’t do well with the goldens and the foster knew she needed to find another home. I received the phone call one day wanting to know if I knew anyone that might need her. Being half Great Pyrenees (known to be great family dogs as well as LGSs) and the other half Anatolian (territorial but yet quite personable to the humans) we thought it would be the perfect mix. She arrived to me at almost a year old, never seeing a goat, spending her early months in a crate in a house, getting walked or in bed with her owner. Needless to say, we had a tough row to hoe ahead of us!

Oh, and to add to the misery, I had never trained a dog properly in my life and we had to put her straight in with the goats – eeks!! My salvation was a remote collar and hiding the remote where everyone on the farm could get to it quick to correct inappropriate behavior and at what level, high pitched sound, vibration or shock. The high pitched sound would stop her in her tracks so rarely did we have to go to vibration and I am not sure the shock part was used at all. We all got together and decided how we would correct and to what degree….. exact consistency from EVERYONE involved was very important since there was up to 20 volunteers involved. The voice commands had to be the same and they were followed up by the high pitched immediately.

The first day with the goats, she knew she had to do SOMETHING, but wasn’t quite sure what and kept them in their house all day – blocking them to come out. We started working on that and over the next few days the goats were less afraid (they hadn’t seen a dog, either). I went to the LGD lists and bought the book, Good Dog Bad Dog – not a clue about training LGDs in there but my other dogs improved in the spillover. We found her nipping the back of legs of the goats and had to stop that. She finally figured out her job wasn’t to herd, to nip or really interact with the goats, just guard. In about 6 months she became an awesome guard dog for the goats and shortly after that, we added a purebred Anatolian who was an experienced LGD. Watching them working in tandem is amazing and we are still considering adding a third, male.

Both of the dogs have been rescues and I am happy that we stepped out of our comfort level and added them to the farm. Both dogs LOVE everyone working at the farm but can sense a stranger and watches until introduced by one of the key farm people. The instinct came out for Saxy but did take some honing to make sure it was used properly. Maya walked in the goat pasture and never missed a beat but she is also equally as comfortable playing in the family pool with kids or providing a soft pillow for a nap for one of her goats. They lounge in the daytime in their sleepy spots but as nightfall comes, they are on guard for anyone or anything that might trespass into their kingdom.

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Time keeps on slipping…..into the future!

Like the old Steve Miller Band song, my days blend together, my weeks make months and my time keeps on slipping into the future.

There are times I reflect on what I am doing? Should I just retire and travel in the camper? How about vegetate by the pool? Go back to a love of cooking? My husband hates the farm, probably because it takes me away from him. But I know I could never be complete without what I am doing now. Might not be the same in five years or even six months but it is what makes my inner core fell all warm and fuzzy, establishes my values and makes me get up every morning with a smile on my face, well most mornings. How many people can say that about their job? To me, this isn’t a job but my destiny! Retirement seems to be the last phase before expiration and I want to put that one off as long as possible. And why is retirement mandatory? Do people really stay at jobs all their life that they hate that retirement is such a climax of relief?

When I read about elders that have surpassed 100, it seems that most do what makes them happy and that happiness, whether volunteering for a cause, daily dance sessions, or even a shot of whiskey a day, is what keeps them going and looking forward to that next day. I want to make it to 100 and beyond. Vegetating isn’t going to get me there!

Life is short. I didn’t think that way in my teens, or my thirties or even my forties, but now crossing into the second half of my 60’s soon, I realize how short it is. I regret the passage of time and maybe being in too big of a rush to stop and inhale the beauty. But I don’t regret all I have experienced. From a bit (ok, a lot) on the wild side in college and thereafter, to a settled corporate yuppie for many years, a devoted mom and wife to finding my inner love in farming.

It seems like yesterday I was just turning 21. I remember that night clearly celebrating with friends with the world ahead of me – totally invincible. Then came 30 and I was so busy starting a career I cannot even remember that milestone birthday. As 40 rounded the bend, we had just bought the property that is now the farm and were busy in home renovations. When 50 hit I was building a new career as a farmer in the escape from corporate world to my Earth Mama fantasies. No fanfare at 60 – who wants to admit that year came and went. But you can bet your sweet bippy that my 70th will be the party of all parties – if I can manage to stay up past 9pm. I have plenty of time to plan that and catch up on sleep for the next few years.

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The New Normal

What a transition time in our economy that we have come to see! I know that the last few weeks have required more creativity, stepping up our game and really just throwing as much as possible against the wall to see what will work – all in masks and gloves and 6′ apart.

Daily I see videos of tractor trailers of squash and zucchini being dumped in a pasture and milk being poured into drains. I am sorry but I have no tolerance for this. In this time, it is the business’ obligation to step out of their comfort zone, think out of the box and turn some of their drivers into salespeople, going from market to market selling a few boxes each time until that truck is empty and going back for a refill.  It beats not having a job.  The dairies are obligated to sell to their co-ops or face a canceled contract. Why in the world are we seeing limits on gallons of milk at the grocery store or none at all? Sure schools and restaurants are closed but don’t the kids still drink milk and eat cheese? That distributor isn’t doing their job or their would be milk in the stores and if they can’t sell it, they would donate it to the food banks. And don’t give me the reasoning they don’t want to put more money into jugging it. If that dairy did that and donated it, I would have no problem of the government giving them a subsidy or grant to cover their distribution costs. At least a local dairy a couple counties away are asking consumers to take pictures of empty milk shelves and send to them so they can send their reps to the stores to sell them milk. BJ’s has milk – their own cooperative supplying them and their milk is still under $2.50 a gallon. Aldi, the same. The stores that got smart are the ones that have the direct line. We are crippled by middlemen!!

This isn’t about a lack of supplies. This is about the middlemen that don’t want to step outside their box but retain a stranglehold on products. They want to buy as cheap as possible, even if it means buying out of the country products, while we are dumping our products. If they can’t get a piece of the pie, no one gets pie! While I am sure the middleman (i.e. co-ops) contracts are written tighter than a tick, it is the big dairies that get the subsidies to begin with and now they are going to be crying that they need bailouts and grants while the head honchos are out bass fishing while the social distancing rules apply. For anyone that doesn’t know, milk is a great fertilizer for pastures. That dairy farmer may not be permitted to sell milk for drinking, but if it was my dairy, I would be out there at the hay farms offering to fill up their fertilizer tankers so they can spread it on the fields or finding an attachment for my truck that would spew it out as I drove the field. Maybe at a discount rate, maybe a barter for hay, but again….a little piece of pie is better than none at all.

For the last week we tried to sign up for the various programs that are out there but having no full time employees, taking not a penny out of the farm for 13 years and being so small, we qualify for NOTHING!!! That means we have to work harder to stay afloat during all of this and still feed our animals!

I just signed up on the County and State list that is supposed to get the name out of farmers that had products for sale and my first text came in last night. One wanted to buy any excess products (we really don’t have many) at 75% off our retail price. This morning the calls started and all were people asking me to donate – so they could sell them and not have to lay off their employees. A couple food banks called after that will I admire for being resourceful. Thinking this was a way to get the word out about being a local farmer I found it was nothing more than the cheapie/freebie list. I will be removing my name if the next few calls are the same. And if the produce people are dumping produce, why are they not donating their produce to the food banks? Oh, they couldn’t cry, “Woe is me!”.

The last week or so, Restaurant Depot, who primarily supplies the restaurant industry, morphed with the times and opened up their stores to the public. Smart move! If the restaurants are only doing take out and their purchasing is down, you have to be creative. People still need to eat either at home or out. A local restaurant distributor of primarily meats has also open their sales to the public. Centerpoint will even break down their larger portions to family sized purchases. An employee of that company lives in our neighborhood and has posted his offerings on our neighborhood social media site and offered neighborhood delivery.  That is the thought process I respect for people to secure their jobs.  These are the companies that will survive the times. Those who think out of the box, roll with the punches and accept that there is a new normal! Perhaps this is shades of Darwinism.

I know many businesses are struggling that are not deemed essential businesses. And I feel for them! I have two restaurant workers now at the farm to help them through these days. Our economy is going to be reeling for years to come from this Pandemic. Call it a manufactured virus, a natural occurring virus, tag it with any conspiracy theory you want but it is here and something we need to deal with in a level headed manner. This isn’t the time to be cemented in our old ways. It is time to become superstars in capitalism and make survival the new norm.

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To Ballerina Stardom….or not!

The famous Mr. Rose was my dance teacher until I left Beckley. He was the idol of hundreds, probably thousands of young ladies and gentlemen over the years. I can remember the first seeing him, he couldn’t have been much older than late teens and was teaching for Mrs. Beard’s School of Dance on the stage at what was later the YMCA – bet you don’t remember me during those days, Mr. Rose. I don’t think I was much more than 5 or 6 years old. I can remember my parents signed me up for tap and boy, did I HATE tap dancing. Those shuffle ball changes just didn’t come easy for a tubby girl that had three left feet.

I quit soon after but a couple years later Mrs. Beard retired and Mr. Rose opened his own studio. Not quite sure if it was always Beckley Dance Theatre but it was uptown just two doors down from Smith’s Grocery and the hangout of most pre and teen girls.

I can remember how my world opened up when I took ballet. I was so sure I was going to be the prima ballerina …. somewhere … that the extension would come, the handwork would develop and I could gracefully glide across the floor to the oohs and aahs of audiences everywhere. Not to be! We danced in front of huge mirrors – a girl’s delight! Mr. Rose brought in guest instructors who were famous dancers – I remember him bringing Nico Charisse (husband of Syd Charisse). I didn’t know exactly who it was, but it was a big deal!

I really was never very good. I got by but was never as agile as most around me. I can remember some who could basically wrap their legs around the neck – backwards. I never bent that way – oh I tried but was so long and gangly that it wasn’t going to happen. Nor were the splits on the grand jetes, more like a petite jete loudly landing with a thud instead of the lithe of a ballerina. I made it though a rousing rendition of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th positions and a few plies. The barre work was some of the most fun of the class – it was me and the barre, not the other students – of which so many surpassed me in any dancing ability.

I think I did take tap for a while, to try again, but my favorite was jazz. I just don’t think I was born with rhythm and had it not been for jazz, I am sure I would have never made it through the sock hops and school dances.

Of course the recitals each year gave us a reason to glitz all out and think we were hot stuff because we were performing in front of people (read that parents that all thought their kids were the best). There were some extremely talented dancers that came from Mr. Rose’s classes that went on to the big time and there were mostly those like me that reveled in wearing the black leotards and pink tights and shuffling around uptown before and after classes like superstars waiting to be discovered.

As the years past and I realized I was too tall for most of the male counterparts and no where close to the abilities of many of my class mates, I hung up my toe shoes (which I still have with the lambswool toe stuffing and try on every few years for an en point down memory lane – and pay dearly in days to come) and concentrated on a baton, or two or three.

When I was in high school and I can imagine that most around me recognized that my ballet stardom was in my head, Mr. Rose gave me the opportunity to be his baton teacher and at least once a week I would haul a gaggle of baton twirlers that couldn’t stand still without the baton in motion to the safety of the basement to learn the 8 basics and a short routine. I don’t think we were ever part of the recitals but I know many of those young girls went on to twirl their hearts out, just like me, at the football games and parades down main street.

I am sure I am not describing only me – well evidenced by the Facebook page, “I am one of Jerry Rose’s Kids”. The thousands of kids that filed through Beckley Dance Theatre (where I first learned theatre could be spelled differently) were all there just like me. We loved the feeling we got through dance. While I remember Mr. Rose was the choreographer for Honey in the Rock and many of the amphitheater shows, I moved on to college and beyond and only snippets of his fame was sent to me in newspaper clippings from my Mom.  Thank goodness for the technology we have today where we can enjoy seeing his accomplishments.

It was so good to see you today, Mr. Rose. Keep on putting stars in the eyes of all the young dancers everywhere!

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The Land of Happy – My trip to Cuba

I have fallen in love with a country and its’ people. I am not a fan of cities (downtown Tampa intimidates me), Havana was beautiful but not where I would like to settle – if I was going to settle in Cuba. I still yet want to see the interior of the east side near Santa Clara and down SE to Trinidad, Cienfuegos and even Santiago de Cuba to find my favorite spot. Real estate prices are extremely affordable outside of Havana and even if Americans cannot own property there at this time, I hope the day will come that we can enjoy property ownership in this beautiful and happy country. I would be first in line! I am hearing of nice ocean front homes in the neighborhood of $8-25K on the southern coast.

Owning real estate in Cuba for an American would be an act of treason – trading with the enemy. There are a couple loopholes for a non Cuban citizen (but never an American) to own property from marrying a Cuban National (remember, if you divorce, the Cuban wins the property) to purchasing one of the condo properties that were built in the 80’s in Havana area and sold to the Europeans/South Americans and other investors/retirees to Cuba. These condos are very expensive by Cuban pricing (however comparable to Florida waterfront condo pricings) as they were marketed to the wealthy foreign investors. If you own property, you can obtain a year visa which is renewable for another year. I can only guess that after two years, you must leave the country for 30 days and then return on a new visa. Cuban citizens may purchase and sell property freely but you just don’t see much for sale. As an island of traditions and fierce loyalty, this also includes their residences to be passed through the family for generations. Many Cuban Americans are returning to the island as entrepreneurs, buying property and opening businesses in the name of their relatives on the island. Three of the biggest and most expensive restaurants near/in the beautiful Cohiba Hotel are owned by Cuban citizens but funded and managed by their Miami residing relatives.

While I have not seen the other interior region on the east side of the island, I could be perfectly happy living in Viñales. It is a small town – probably 15-20K in 5 mile radius population that is a simple life in the interior region on the west end of the island that is known as the agricultural center. You can see the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the northern coast as you travel west from Havana to Viñales. There you will find the highest point in Cuba – 6k+ feet. Just south of the mountains is the region called Pinar del Rio. It is a fertile valley that for centuries has been the working agricultural region. Known for it’s limestone mogotes (carved from centuries of rivers running in the valley) the beauty is intoxicating from the cattle driven carts to real cowboys on horseback and cornfields that go for miles. Many tobacco plantations as well as coffee is grown there, commercial bananas, pineapples and vegetables. They are also known for the Guayabita del Pinar – a rum/guava mixture that is a delicious sipping rum. You will find dirt streets of red clay dirt off the main drag but the homes are spotless clean (Havana was the same way in cleanliness without the dirt streets). I truly have no idea how they keep things so clean but you could eat off of most floors! This would suit me very well to live in the Pinar del Rio region and even a little farther north at the foot of the mountains. I could easily be a hermit living off the grid on a couple solar panels – which I saw in the middle of nowhere and was so surprised and traveling on horseback.

In my time there I learned many things including how it is common knowledge there were no missiles pointed at the US during the Cold War. Castro was afraid the US would blow him off the map and while the missiles were headed to Cuba from Russia, he turned them around and did not allow them to set up.  Wish I had known that as a kid during bomb drills where I was putting my head between my knees and hiding under the school desk in the ’60’s!  As if that would protect me from nuclear radiation.  While you are not supposed to ask the political questions, I couldn’t help myself. The story was the same from several people…during the reign of Batista who was a friend of the US (and sending big $$ to the US from the Mafia gambling in Havana thus solidifying that friendship – I did go to the Riviera Hotel and walk the same halls as Jimmy Hoffa and some of the big Mafia bosses that frequented the island before the Bay of Pigs) less than 20% of the people were literate. The ‘revolution’ may have been quite drastic when it came to ousting Batista (and everyone I spoke with verified his corruption and that of one of his predecessors, Miguel Gomez), it was not an island wide military event. It was contained to a few politicals and their supporters. Look up the Isla de la Juvendad’s history. This was the exile area for that overthrow (as well as a point of execution). Castro’s overthrow of Batista was to change the way Cuba was headed and thought the move to a Communist/Socialist government would better the people.

It has definitely morphed to Socialist government with “Social Security”, private ownership of real estate and free medical/dental care. As a casual observer listening to a consensus of opinions, it seems to have made a huge positive difference from the former conditions. Now over 80% of the population is literate and most speaking two and three languages. Schools teach several subjects in English to increase their fluency. All school age kids MUST take a third language – German is very popular and there were many German tourists (they can be tourist, US citizens have to have a reason for going). Rarely did I run into anyone that did not speak at least a conversational English. Many with a barely a hint of an accent. One guy who was translating at the tobacco plantation for the elderly tobacco farmer spoke absolute perfect English. When questioned where he learned it, he swore it was in the Cuban schools. I was sure he was American educated from his proper English. Who knows?

I had always read about Block Captains who were there to report anyone that spoke out against Castro and the offenders were hauled away in the middle of the night to meet their maker. I am sure that was a time when political subversives were dealt with very swiftly and harshly but from what the people say, they are not unhappy about the turnaround under the Castro government. Many of the Cuban born Americans are now returning and opening businesses. Some can never return due to their “crimes against the government”.  Cuba is a goldmine of opportunity for entrepreneurs. The Paladares for example were small family restaurants that started opening years ago as not much more than inviting paying guests to the home dining room. The Cuban women (and men) are incredible cooks! At first they could only have a couple tables, only immediate family working there and limited hours. Now that has relaxed to where they hire non-family workers to compliment their business and expanded their dining rooms for accommodation of larger crowds and now full blown restaurants under the Paladares (private ownership) theme. The standard of living is set to increase exponentially over the next few years and the change has started. Everywhere you turn, Havana is under renovation due to the influx of American dollars the last couple years but they have been a favorite place to vacation by the Europeans for a long time.

AirBNB is alive and well in Cuba and both of our accommodations were booked on line. While few have WiFi at home, it is available at communal locations. It is amazing how these homes that could be 100 years old had private baths for each bedroom. Way ahead of our standards even if you cannot flush anything down the toilet that doesn’t come from the body because of the incredible narrow pipes that service the Havana (and most city) sewer systems. The private homes that rent out rooms are called Casa Particulares. In order to be a licensed Casa Particulares, you must offer hot and cold shower and a private bath. The costs run from $25 a night to $75 for most and location will dictate your price, as well as amenities. You can also rent an Independent Apartment with kitchen and all the amenities for similar prices but you will be shortchanging yourself with mingling with the hosts.  Our Viñales room was a spotless clean room with two beds and a private bath.  Also a fridge in the room well stocked with beer, water and wine on the honor system.  It ran $24 per night including the AirBNB fees (and my traveling companion and I split that $24). The Havana room ($45 per night – again, two beds and a private bath/stocked fridge) was in a 4th story Penthouse that was frozen in the 1950’s. The 76 yr old lady running it (with her daughter and son-in-law who lived there also) had moved there when she was 9 and had lived there all her life. It was spacious, terraces all around and again, spotless! Located in Vedado – a bedroom community on the west side of Havana that is peppered with little restaurants every few blocks. Almost all accommodations offer at least breakfast for around $5-6 and the lobster dinner we had at our Casa Particular in Viñales was about $10 and scrumptious. There is no reason NOT to eat breakfast at this price and the ample meals served filled us until evening dinner.

In the last 20 or so years, the people are allowed to own their own homes – most never moved out of their homes even if they didn’t own them after the revolution but eventually acquired them.  And as far as the land being taken away, etc. it was generally  farms greater than 1000 acres which were taken by the government. Not sure I agree with it but it was part of their plan. Now large privately owned farms are being permitted again – and especially cattle farms which are being assisted by US cattle companies who are bringing in semen to improve the gene pool of a country that has much of their livestock inbred. I will be attempting to assist in the same with goats now that I am associated with El Olivo organic farm and dairy outside of Viñales.

Back to the Block Captains….the lady we stayed with in Havana was one of those Block Captains and I am sure she would not admit to reporting the political subversives, she said the purpose of the Block Captain job was to make sure the children went to school, were properly vaccinated and the seniors were cared for if they needed anything.  It was more of a Social Service position.  Education was a priority and now Cuba can boast of having some of the best doctors in the world.  While I don’t believe a highly educated doctor and a factory worker would be equal in pay scale, it isn’t as much of a spread as there is in the US.  The country has free medical care and the doctors are paid a modest salary.  Currently, Cuba is receiving petroleum in exchange for the loan of 30K doctors being sent to Venezuela. Private medical care is available (and mostly used by foreigners coming for the cancer protocols) but all medical care is considered good care. From what I was reading and learning, they have been curing cancer for 20 years at Cira Garcia Hospital in Havana – no big Pharma in Cuba wanting to rape the patients.  They also produce some of the best cancer drugs and only recently with the changes in 2014 are they setting up to start sending those to the US. They also have some of the best dental care in the world from private dentists and very inexpensive. It was suggested if I wanted to make use of that, bring my own novacaine and syringes as it is in short supply but the talent was there. I need an implant and those are very inexpensive (hundreds instead of thousands) as well and I will eventually have it done there on one of my subsequent trips.

If you recall in June, we were told the embargo would not be lifted until several things happened. I really am not a political type of person, don’t engage in debating over my favorite candidate but went more through the recent elections touting Alfred E. Newman of MAD Magazine fame as my pick! Just saying that so there is no Obama/Clinton/Trump debates here. One of the demands of our government was for Cuba to have elections. We are not hearing in our media but Raul is stepping down in October and free elections have been scheduled for October (for almost a year) when it will most likely go to a parliamentary form of government. That is well known in Cuba!

Our embargo is causing a terrible injustice to our world environment. One example is the toilet paper being shipped all the way from Vietnam! YES VIETNAM!!! That is a freakin’ long way to ship butt wipes!!! Cuba does not have the forest reserves to produce their own (a country about as big as Florida from end to end) nor would they have access to the machinery to start/fix/run a paper mill. Any ship that docks in Cuba may not touch US ports for at least 6 months so supplies are so limited. Many ships do not service Cuba due to this regulation. The only ship I witnessed entering the port in Havana was EUKOR which is headquartered in Seoul, Korea but from my google searching has Scandinavian ownership. While Cuba is known for having all the old cars, one big thing I noticed about those cars is that they are only a shell of the car and once the engine quits, they drop in a diesel. Rumors abound that all the molds for the cars were sent to Cuba but I see no evidence that they are producing new 1950’s knock offs of American cars. Pink, purple and aqua seem to be the favorite colors! There were many old Russian and French cars puttering along on the roads but ones I saw the most that were new on the roads was a Greely (Chinese made), Hyundais and Toyotas. The Greely was an attractive car that reminded me of Hyundai. I wish I had inquired more about costs of these cars. Gas stations were not as plentiful as here but it seemed that whereever I saw one, the line was no more than our large stations. One observation for my time there was I did not see the first airplane outside of those landing and taking off at Havana International. No vapor trails from jets, no small aircraft and no drones. My traveling companion mentioned later that the son of our Viñales host pointed out “avion” in the sky, I never personally saw any aircraft of any kind. It was understandable with the lack of repair parts. Who would want to ride in a plane that had been patched together like they patch together the cars?

Getting back to housing, I saw many wonderful old buildings in Havana that appeared to be what we would know as a duplex. Half would be well painted, kept up with even small lawns, and something any of us would be happy to call home. The other half would almost be in crumbles (see my cover pic last week looking down the hallway that divided the building). The host in Havana explained that many of those buildings that were deteriorating so drastically were people who did not have the money to keep them up and they did live in them but the government would move them out to public housing if it became a condemned structure. But also, the influx of US dollars to the Casa Particulars has made a huge difference in the quality of the structures with renovations being one of the thriving businesses in Cuba – and no, it is obvious OSHA is not part of their standards. Our Havana host converted her apartment for BNB use after she sold her car. An old Russian car, it continued to have many small problems that seemed to be more hindrance than help.

While wifi is not accessible in the normal home, tv is available and it isn’t unusual to see American movies being shown. Most access wifi through their cellphones, something that I saw many people carrying. I had to laugh when I saw our guide on the horseback ride, in his rain boots with spurs, talking on a cell phone while riding down the path. When we were inquiring about menus, restaurants, etc in Havana, the host’s daughter pulled the information up on her phone. But google isn’t an option, I am told. A unique service that started in the last couple years is the (for lack of a better word) Cuban “ebay” service. Not really Ebay, but a way to buy foreign products in an Ebay type environment. Our host was very proud of a vinyl storm door she had purchased from the site. No one quite knows how the products come in the country, but they are happy they arrived.

The trip was a bucket list item (yes, I have reached that age) but little did I know I would love the country so much. No matter how little the people had, they smiled and seemed happy with their life. The food was delicious and affordable. I never saw the first homeless person, nor one beggar – far cry from the career “will work for food, God bless” at our intersections. While in Havana there were taxi drivers and tour guides approaching us and offering their services but a polite “no thank you” was sufficient that they passed on with no harassment or grumbling and continued to their next potential fare. My female friend and I walked the Havana streets close to midnight – and dark back streets at that – and never felt threatened in any way. In Viñales there were no taxi drivers or those offering tours. I did see a couple offices in the central part of the village that specialized in those services. My advice to you is to go to Cuba. Go before it changes. Enjoy a nation of happy, content and very resourceful people. It should be a prerequisite to our teenagers to spend a couple summers just learning how to play kickball again, ride horses, tend to chores and learn the simple pleasures of life.

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Entering Decade #6

I am thankful to wake up this morning.  At least a third of those I graduated high school with didn’t do the same.

I am thankful for my head full of white hair as it shows I am experienced and wise – and a Mom!

I am thankful to have entered my 6th decade as to me it seems like my parents were so old when they were 60 but I don’t feel a day over 37…well maybe 38!

I am thankful for my very diverse group of friends and cherish every last little quirky thing we do.

I am thankful to have seen other places, other countries, other lifestyles and not living in a sheltered bubble!

I am thankful to have my husband of 25 years still trying to spoil me.

I am thankful to see my kids reach a point in their lives where they are standing on their own two feet (well most of the time) as I know I fostered independence.

So as I splurged on double the whipped cream in my coffee this morning and feasted on chocolate flan for breakfast, I entered a new decade of life and vow 60 will be my new 40!

Now, pass the Geritol, please.

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Eulogy for Coach Gray

IMG_20140915_083119_821I don’t think I have ever written an eulogy for a chicken before – I know I haven’t. But sometimes, there are those special two legged feathered critters with a beak on their face that crawl into your heart who deserve to be memorialized.

It all started about 4 years ago when I made a chicken trade for a couple Bantam Cochins which were supposed to be pullets (adolescent hens that were not quite of laying age yet). It was quite obvious at about 4 months, Blanche was not an appropriate name, nor was Grace. Grace became Coach Gray for his pretty fluffy gray coat of feathers and Blanche became Blackie. When they found their “doo” (cockle doodle doo) they let that secret out of the bag that they were not going to be producing eggs and used for reproduction. At the worst, I was anticipating that I might have a pair from the trade – one male and one female – so you can imagine the horror that I had two more roosters and no hen of the same breed! Almost a year ago we lost Blackie to an unknown illness and set Coach Gray free to roam the barnyard. He was one happy-go-lucky roo that greeted everyone with a cock of his head and a comical gait accented with his feathered feet. I swear that beak turned up on the corners giving him a silly smirk.

In the summer he started limping. Thinking it was just a bruise or cut that would heal, we were not too concerned. After a while a friend, knowledgeable in chickens took a look and determined he had bumble foot – where a cut or puncture on the bottom of his foot got infected and was causing the lameness. In mid-summer, we removed the infection and the necrotic tissue and put him on antibiotics and lots of TLC. “Uncle Phil”, our Chicken Whisperer, patiently gave him meds once a day and was Coach Gray’s “Mother Hen”, so to speak. Coach got better. He was back to the feathered fellow that toddled around the barnyard. The surgery was a success in removing the infection on the foot but we had other complications. The lower leg atrophied and was removed. So Coach Gray became the token one legged chicken of the farm. While living mostly in a cage for his protection, Phil would come each morning and make sure Coach got a couple hours of free ranging exercise.

A few weeks ago Coach Gray looked pretty lethargic. He began more sitting in the cage than fantasizing his daily freedom runs. His stump had become inflamed and he seemed not to want to hobble around and chase the ladies. He was watching the world go by instead of being a participant. Again, he was put on meds and received extra special care. He and Phil shared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each morning but Coach had lost his gusto. The bravado was missing. The day had come and we both knew it was going to be Coach’s last day on the farm. Both Phil and I said our goodbyes. Phil left for the day and as the day passed, I constantly checked on our little buddy. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were at half-mast. I really don’t think he wanted to go, but had lost the energy to fight to stay. I would go check on him and call his name and his head would slowly rise. He was still with us, barely. At midnight I checked on him one last time and his eyes had lost the sparkle. I knew he would be gone by morning.

Rest peacefully Coach Gray. Your bright personality and silly walk will be sorely missed!IMG_20140515_093006_049

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Fugitive Roo Comes to the Farm

fugitiveroosterA few weeks ago I was contacted to take in a wayward backyard trespassing rooster from a certain  local Tampa Bay Community.  Just what I need, another mouth to feed that doesn’t produce anything but the morning alarm.  I put it off thinking he would find some good samaritan that would be kind (read that gullible) enough to feel the need for the daily wake up call. Apparently Bada Boom (name changed to protect the outlaw) decided to be a bit less than friendly with a neighborhood lady and was forced on the run a couple Sundays ago.  The cops were called, an APB was issued and Bada Boom had to be rushed to a safe house before he was hauled in for assault and battery before the local magistrate begging for something less than being Sunday Dinner.

The call of panic came in late that ill fated Sunday.  Boom’s partner in mischief, also with two feet but no beak, offered his services to be a volunteer at the farm on a regular basis.  I  reluctantly agreed (in a moment of weakness) that Bada Boom could join our farm.  What comes over me?  I had been assured by the escapee accomplice that Bada Boom and he would be eternally grateful.

Bada Boom was smuggled out of his garage abode and onto my farm under cover of blanket in a crate and arrived early Monday afternoon.  His outlaw compadre opened the cage and out popped one stunningly beautiful Polish Rooster.  His top crest stood high and his proudly shoved out that chest like a teenager that just developed boobs.  He blinked his eyes and looked around probably seeing more chickens that he ever imagined lived in the world.  Bada Boom’s had a place to roost in exchange for Mr P’s (name changed to protect his covert activities) time.

As they said their good byes and took many pictures, you would have never known his get away driver had scheduled to arrive at 7am to start his work for rent for his little buddy, less than 24 hours later.  As I turned and started to walk away, Bada Boom turned from joyful new farm guest to evil vindictive voodoo roo.  I really wonder if I want my face plastered in America’s Most Wanted as the felonious feathered roo springer when this bad hair day monster shows no thanks for his luxurious relocation to a world to which he now belongs.  We shall see.  Stay tuned…..

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Facebook Farmers and Armchair Quarterbacks

Three seconds left in the fourth quarter and the kicker is in place.  The excited announcer bellows  “he drops, he punts, and it is outside the goal posts”.  The opposing team starts their celebration and the home team sulks into the locker room.  My husband starts the normal routine of how stupid that coach was not running the ball, he should have never picked that kicker in the first draft, I hear the words idiot, stupid and incompetent before I tune him out.  I remind him the high six figure salary demonstrated that someone, other than my armchair quarterback with his Fantasy Football Team, had confidence in the coach’s abilities! 

We know it is the beer and peanuts talking when the husbands start the raving.  Their only experience is putting together plays for the yearly turkey bowl.  A comedy of errors when a couple dozen balding beer-bellied wannabe football stars take over the vacant lot at the end of the street, trash talking like they spend every day in the locker room and turned down offers for the major leagues in favor of the daily grind!  The day usually ends with a trip to the ER for at least one out-of-shape player that got a bit too zealous and stoked a finger, pulled the hamstring or the occasional broken wrist.  They are weekend warriors gathering stories to tell over the water cooler on Monday.  

Armchair Quarterbacks rival the Facebook Farmers.  They read all the books – Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal Vegetable Miracle and renew their subscription every year to Mother Earth News. Throw in the three “f’s of Fresh, Farmageddon and Food Inc for good measure.  Few understand the huge difference between the small family farm and a factory farm.  From the feed to the care, the comparisons are slim.  Our goats live a luxurious retirement life once they have hit their geriatric years – which certainly is an epic fail in the efficient business category.  We avoid the use of chemicals and we care for our animals as if they were our children.  After 14 years, we have used antibiotics three times for our goats, all life threatening situations.   And most of all, we use our products and have the same goals they have – healthy food raised humanely.           

Like the Armchair Quarterback, the Facebook Farmer talks good farming, is a whiz in Farmville, but when were they last hands-on at a farm?  At one time we took on the occasional volunteer.  They invariably showed up in flip flops, the obligatory straw hay, sometimes a pair of overalls and looking like they were ready for a cover shoot for Hobby Farmer magazine.  Occasionally  a visitor shows up and sees my dirty t-shirt pulling double duty for gathering eggs and I get a look of disdain.  The buck in rut is slobbering over the fence in a hormonal frenzy and they want to know what is wrong with him?  Nothing at all, he is just being a man – a goat man!     

I always recommend to the Facebook Farmers.  Want to know how a farm is run? Get immersed – and not from reading books or watching movies or the latest farmers’ status updates.  Get chickens for your back yard.  Become a 6 month intern for your local farmer – and no, they don’t pay $10 an hour or give you free products – you work and the education you earn is one you can’t buy.  Urban farming involves business savvy, coupled with some tough love, add a huge dose of animal husbandry, a smattering of amateur geneticist and most of all, the day laborer.  The farmer can’t boast that same high salary of the football coach, nor the subsidies of the factory farmer, but they get paid in something better than money – a sense of accomplishment no Facebook Farmer will ever feel in Farmville!

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