Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Government silences a 9-year-old girl over bad press for telling the truth

This article about the local government of Argyll and Bute, Scotland silencing Martha Payne of the NeverSeconds  school lunch blog is exactly why I am so adamant in my opposition of governments involving themselves in food. What possible rationale can a government have for censoring a young, motivated 9-year-old public school student over a little bad press? How do we expect our children to learn that they can engage and change the system if our governments are going to silence them over a headline?

Get the government out of food and let the kids have a voice. We’ll all be better off for it.

DLH

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater site...

Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Punching calves

I think it’s funny that one of the terms for handling cattle is “punching”. It seems like a kind of inside joke among cattle people about the arduous nature of the task of physically handling cattle during those times when they have to be moved, sorted, tagged, or banded.

I punched a bunch of calves this weekend with the help of my wonderful and dedicated family, and during the hours I spent handling those animals, the reality of food production once again hit home. It’s hard, hard work, and no amount of money ever really pays for what needs to be done.

In fact, I realized that food production is kind of like a never-ending boxing match with nature. Every encounter ends with the producer at the least exhausted and, far too often, bruised and bloody. I sometimes suspect that, even if we happen to win a particular round, we really lose a little each time until we’ve finally lost enough that it does us in.

The nature of the food production task is one that is lost on most people anymore. To them, food is something harvested by big machines and purchased at a grocery. Far too few people realize how precarious our food production ecosystem really is and how desperately they rely on the producers to keep doing what they do no matter what so they don’t starve. They have no idea that all that stands between them and real hunger is a few rhetorical pugilists who don’t know when to throw in the towel.

The fact is, we won’t. For whatever reason, the will to fight is in us. We see nature as a sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, a truly worthy opponent for the investment of our time and our effort. We’ll keep punching calves and the like because we won’t have it any other way, even if no one else understands what we do.

DLH

 

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater site...

Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Web roundup

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out:

  1. Kajabi on the old wise farmer
  2. Treehugger on exploding pig barns
  3. The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer
  4. Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger
  5. Foreign Policy Magazine on commodity induced food price inflation
  6. Popular Science on how feeding antibiotics to pigs is helping to create superbugs
  7. The Guardian on Monsanto being found guilty of poisoning by a French court
  8. Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer on the need for secret crying places
  9. Wake Up World on bus roof gardens
  10. Treehugger on Seattle’s attempt to create the world’s first public food forest

You can also get these kind of links in real time by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

DLH

Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater site...

Worldview: Farming: People like us

I’ve noticed a lot of these kinds of articles recently: articles about people giving up on what most people consider the modern way of life and the American dream to embrace or return to agriculture. Most of them head down the sustainable route, finding small farms where they can embrace the ideas of multiculture and permaculture in the most effective way, though quite a few seek out specialties and niches as well.

What these articles show me is that there is a quiet revolution going on right now, one that has the potential to shake the sand upon which our society built the of the house of cards we have called modern life since the 1950s. Slowly, quietly, but with great resolve, people are walking away from everything they now know and are returning to something our ancestors have know for thousands of years: in the end, life is about caring for ourselves and those around us, about making sure they have something to eat, something to wear, and a roof over their heads, and that the best way to accomplish those tasks is to do them directly, yourself.

It’s important for all of us involved in this quiet revolution to realize we’re not alone either in its undertaking or in the reasons we undertook it. It is important for people pondering this path to realize they are not alone in walking it. We are in this together, and the more we help each other, the better off we all will be.

So, if you’re one of the people just starting down this road, or you’re someone who is years down it, stop for a moment and look around. You’re not alone, and we’re all in this together.

DLH

Read more at my Farming weblog...

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Farming: Feeding the world without reducing the problem to the absurd

I’ve been following the growing absurdity of the media fueled meme about food production since the UN declared the world officially hit 7 billion people with a mixture of frustration and amusement. The center-points of this meme are that we will have to grow as much food over the next 100 years as humanity did over the last 10,000 and that the only way we could possibly do so is by intensifying our current industrial farming methods.

Unfortunately for most of the pundits spreading this meme, their argument fails on a simple apples to oranges comparison. The way humanity produced food over the past 10,000 years bears almost no resemblance to the way we’ve been producing food since the 1950s, and it is this radical shift that has produced so much of the problem we have today.

For most of mankind’s history, most humans were involved in food production. There were times and places where the number of people involved reached as high as 90 percent, and as recently as the 1910s in the United States, as much as 50 percent of the population was involved directly in food production. If you add in those whose work supported food production, the number reaches as high as 80 percent.

And the way these people farmed was completely different than the way we farm now. Historical farming was possibly one of the most green and sustainable undertakings humans have ever mastered, using crop rotation cycles involving dozens of crops lasting dozens of years, direct recycling of organic waste, and intentional use of multiculture to improve fertility and reduce waste. There are still parts of the world, especially in Asia, where these production methods are used to this day.

Now, fast forward to 2012. In 2011, as few as 1 percent of the US working population (about 1.6 million of 160 million people) work in direct food production. If you add in those whose work supports food production, the number barely climbs to 2 percent. Further, nearly all American agriculture consists of just eight crops, two of which aren’t even edible (cotton and tobacco) and three of which (corn, soybeans, and wheat) represent as much as 70 percent of acres planted. Meanwhile, most organic waste gets buried in landfills and modern farming requires massive amounts of fossil fuels to make anything grow at all.

Further, most Americans–in fact most Westerners–think it is their right to demand someone else grow their food in exchange for money. Many Americans believe food production is beneath them because they have better things to do with their time. Most people have no idea what it takes to feed them and assume that whatever it does take will continue to go on forever.

No wonder we face a food crisis of epic proportions.

The solution to this problem is not more of the same failed approach since the 1950s that got us here. We already have examples of ways things can be done better. For instance, during the height of the central planning induced famine in the Soviet Union during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed in Russia were grown on 4 percent of the available arable land by local farmers on small allotments that usually measured about a tenth of an acre. In urban Detroit, as I write this, small-scale sustainable farmers are creating farms capable of feeding entire neighborhoods without the need for grocery stores. In sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are returning to traditional farming methods that worked for millenia before European intervention and multiplying their yields by factors of hundreds.

In short, these problems have solutions and the solutions are already out there, but they all take the following form: smaller-scale agriculture involving more people using more intensive methods involving more plants and animals that take into account the entire cycle of birth to death to birth again.

In fact, these methods represent a return to something nature has been telling us all along: we’ve departed from the way it works and it’s not going to let us win. The methods that fed humanity for 10,000 years worked with nature. The methods that we’ve used since the 1950s have destroyed it.

So, consider the following: if the United States would engage in an agricultural “Apollo Program” wherein it created an environment where agricultural entrepreneurs seeking to establish sustainable operations could succeed without unnecessary government or corporate interference, agriculture by itself could reduce the unemployment rate, reduce US dependence on fossil fuels, increase biodiversity, reduce pollution, and produce unprecedented food surpluses that would help redress the food imbalance in the world. And if the US does it, everyone else will follow.

Don’t believe me? Visit a local sustainable farm or a local farmer’s market and see what they have going on. Then, go home and dig up part of your yard and grow something yourself. Humans have been doing it for 10,000 years. What makes you think you’re so special?

DLH

Read more at my Farming site...

Farming: Feeding the world without reducing the problem to the absurd

I’ve been following the growing absurdity of the media fueled meme about food production since the UN declared the world officially hit 7 billion people with a mixture of frustration and amusement. The center-points of this meme are that we will have to grow as much food over the next 100 years as humanity did over the last 10,000 and that the only way we could possibly do so is by intensifying our current industrial farming methods.

Unfortunately for most of the pundits spreading this meme, their argument fails on a simple apples to oranges comparison. The way humanity produced food over the past 10,000 years bears almost no resemblance to the way we’ve been producing food since the 1950s, and it is this radical shift that has produced so much of the problem we have today.

For most of mankind’s history, most humans were involved in food production. There were times and places where the number of people involved reached as high as 90 percent, and as recently as the 1910s in the United States, as much as 50 percent of the population was involved directly in food production. If you add in those whose work supported food production, the number reaches as high as 80 percent.

And the way these people farmed was completely different than the way we farm now. Historical farming was possibly one of the most green and sustainable undertakings humans have ever mastered, using crop rotation cycles involving dozens of crops lasting dozens of years, direct recycling of organic waste, and intentional use of multiculture to improve fertility and reduce waste. There are still parts of the world, especially in Asia, where these production methods are used to this day.

Now, fast forward to 2012. In 2011, as few as 1 percent of the US working population (about 1.6 million of 160 million people) work in direct food production. If you add in those whose work supports food production, the number barely climbs to 2 percent. Further, nearly all American agriculture consists of just eight crops, two of which aren’t even edible (cotton and tobacco) and three of which (corn, soybeans, and wheat) represent as much as 70 percent of acres planted. Meanwhile, most organic waste gets buried in landfills and modern farming requires massive amounts of fossil fuels to make anything grow at all.

Further, most Americans–in fact most Westerners–think it is their right to demand someone else grow their food in exchange for money. Many Americans believe food production is beneath them because they have better things to do with their time. Most people have no idea what it takes to feed them and assume that whatever it does take will continue to go on forever.

No wonder we face a food crisis of epic proportions.

The solution to this problem is not more of the same failed approach since the 1950s that got us here. We already have examples of ways things can be done better. For instance, during the height of the central planning induced famine in the Soviet Union during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed in Russia were grown on 4 percent of the available arable land by local farmers on small allotments that usually measured about a tenth of an acre. In urban Detroit, as I write this, small-scale sustainable farmers are creating farms capable of feeding entire neighborhoods without the need for grocery stores. In sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are returning to traditional farming methods that worked for millenia before European intervention and multiplying their yields by factors of hundreds.

In short, these problems have solutions and the solutions are already out there, but they all take the following form: smaller-scale agriculture involving more people using more intensive methods involving more plants and animals that take into account the entire cycle of birth to death to birth again.

In fact, these methods represent a return to something nature has been telling us all along: we’ve departed from the way it works and it’s not going to let us win. The methods that fed humanity for 10,000 years worked with nature. The methods that we’ve used since the 1950s have destroyed it.

So, consider the following: if the United States would engage in an agricultural “Apollo Program” wherein it created an environment where agricultural entrepreneurs seeking to establish sustainable operations could succeed without unnecessary government or corporate interference, agriculture by itself could reduce the unemployment rate, reduce US dependence on fossil fuels, increase biodiversity, reduce pollution, and produce unprecedented food surpluses that would help redress the food imbalance in the world. And if the US does it, everyone else will follow.

Don’t believe me? Visit a local sustainable farm or a local farmer’s market and see what they have going on. Then, go home and dig up part of your yard and grow something yourself. Humans have been doing it for 10,000 years. What makes you think you’re so special?

DLH

Read more at my Farming site...

Farming: Feeding the world without reducing the problem to the absurd

I’ve been following the growing absurdity of the media fueled meme about food production since the UN declared the world officially hit 7 billion people with a mixture of frustration and amusement. The center-points of this meme are that we will have to grow as much food over the next 100 years as humanity did over the last 10,000 and that the only way we could possibly do so is by intensifying our current industrial farming methods.

Unfortunately for most of the pundits spreading this meme, their argument fails on a simple apples to oranges comparison. The way humanity produced food over the past 10,000 years bears almost no resemblance to the way we’ve been producing food since the 1950s, and it is this radical shift that has produced so much of the problem we have today.

For most of mankind’s history, most humans were involved in food production. There were times and places where the number of people involved reached as high as 90 percent, and as recently as the 1910s in the United States, as much as 50 percent of the population was involved directly in food production. If you add in those whose work supported food production, the number reaches as high as 80 percent.

And the way these people farmed was completely different than the way we farm now. Historical farming was possibly one of the most green and sustainable undertakings humans have ever mastered, using crop rotation cycles involving dozens of crops lasting dozens of years, direct recycling of organic waste, and intentional use of multiculture to improve fertility and reduce waste. There are still parts of the world, especially in Asia, where these production methods are used to this day.

Now, fast forward to 2012. In 2011, as few as 1 percent of the US working population (about 1.6 million of 160 million people) work in direct food production. If you add in those whose work supports food production, the number barely climbs to 2 percent. Further, nearly all American agriculture consists of just eight crops, two of which aren’t even edible (cotton and tobacco) and three of which (corn, soybeans, and wheat) represent as much as 70 percent of acres planted. Meanwhile, most organic waste gets buried in landfills and modern farming requires massive amounts of fossil fuels to make anything grow at all.

Further, most Americans–in fact most Westerners–think it is their right to demand someone else grow their food in exchange for money. Many Americans believe food production is beneath them because they have better things to do with their time. Most people have no idea what it takes to feed them and assume that whatever it does take will continue to go on forever.

No wonder we face a food crisis of epic proportions.

The solution to this problem is not more of the same failed approach since the 1950s that got us here. We already have examples of ways things can be done better. For instance, during the height of the central planning induced famine in the Soviet Union during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed in Russia were grown on 4 percent of the available arable land by local farmers on small allotments that usually measured about a tenth of an acre. In urban Detroit, as I write this, small-scale sustainable farmers are creating farms capable of feeding entire neighborhoods without the need for grocery stores. In sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are returning to traditional farming methods that worked for millenia before European intervention and multiplying their yields by factors of hundreds.

In short, these problems have solutions and the solutions are already out there, but they all take the following form: smaller-scale agriculture involving more people using more intensive methods involving more plants and animals that take into account the entire cycle of birth to death to birth again.

In fact, these methods represent a return to something nature has been telling us all along: we’ve departed from the way it works and it’s not going to let us win. The methods that fed humanity for 10,000 years worked with nature. The methods that we’ve used since the 1950s have destroyed it.

So, consider the following: if the United States would engage in an agricultural “Apollo Program” wherein it created an environment where agricultural entrepreneurs seeking to establish sustainable operations could succeed without unnecessary government or corporate interference, agriculture by itself could reduce the unemployment rate, reduce US dependence on fossil fuels, increase biodiversity, reduce pollution, and produce unprecedented food surpluses that would help redress the food imbalance in the world. And if the US does it, everyone else will follow.

Don’t believe me? Visit a local sustainable farm or a local farmer’s market and see what they have going on. Then, go home and dig up part of your yard and grow something yourself. Humans have been doing it for 10,000 years. What makes you think you’re so special?

DLH

Read more at my Farming site...

Writing: NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 1: Pulling teeth

[1442 words]

One of my goals in this year’s NaNoWriMo is to explore how I create. It sounds like a lofty goal, but what I want to do is technically analyze how I create a story, and in this case I am doing so under the gun of having to develop the entire story over the next 30 days.

Why do that? Because writing is more about hard work and determination than it is about inspiration when it comes to getting things finished and published. Understanding the guts of how that process works cannot help but make the hard work and determination easier.

On the other hand, it looks like this story is going to be like pulling teeth because I wasn’t prepared ahead of time. Over the next weeks, I hope to document that process for all of us. I hope you’ll follow along.

DLH

PS: If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post my story December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.

Read more at my Writing site...

Worldview: Writing: NaNoWriMoPreVu 2011 #1 “And then there were two”

Here’s my first vignette in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011. Also, to assuage any fears of cheating, this is not part of the story I will be writing for the actual event, although to prove that fact I offer you a challenge: I have decided to fund raise for NaNoWriMo this year, so if you head over to StayClassy and donate and I reach my goal of $250, I will post my NaNoWriMo effort on my website on 1 December. Help me double my goal, and I will post the NaNoWriMo story plus a completed version of the story of which my preview vignettes will become a part sometime in January. If we go beyond even that, I will find something else cool to do.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Preview 1

And then there were two

By Dennis L Hitzeman

 

Kevin didn’t start to panic until Nelson went offline. The sudden disappearance of the other seven had been disconcerting, but he had been in the middle of working with Nelson to figure out what was happening to the rest of the cell when he suddenly vanished.

A part of Kevin’s mind told him there was no reason to panic. People went offline all the time. Maybe there were connectivity issues. Maybe they had some pressing local physical need to attend to. He would have thought Nelson might have mentioned that, and the thought unleashed a new torrent of unease.

Then there was the fact that the other eight’s vanishing act was so complete. Normally, even when someone physically disconnected from the network, there was still a residual trace of their presence. Besides, most people had wireless interfaces anyway, and while they were less capable than a physical connection, they were still there, even in some limited form.

Whatever it was that was going on with his cell, it was like the other eight had never existed. Sure, the evidence of their activities was there, but their presence was completely gone. Kevin hadn’t felt that alone on the net since he’d been a kid, since before he’d been augmented.

He was also unsure about approaching the last member of his cell who was still online. He knew most of the others personally, and the rest he knew by name, but the last he knew only as Ten. Kevin had been a latecomer to that cell, joining after another member had been busted for booster possession, but he noticed almost immediately how no one else in the cell really chatted with Ten. He was just always there, watching the rest of the cell and doing his part. Kevin was sure Ten was the driving force behind the cell, but his silence was creepy.

He nearly jumped out of his chair when he felt the familiar tickle of a private channel request on Ten’s data link, and for a moment, the cool, serene world of the net tilted and fuzed to reveal a background of his filthy apartment, strewn about with clothes and rapid serve boxes and his broken domesticbot he’d been meaning to repair for months.

His mouth was dry, a sensation that troubled him because he had long ago trained himself to take care of such things autonomically. All he had nearby was a cup of cold coffee, which he downed like a shot of whiskey. Then he keyed the rapid serve and heard himself say, “Coke and pizza.”

Meanwhile, to Ten’s query, he replied, “Ten? To what to I owe the honor?”

“Cut the crap, script kiddie,” came the terse reply. “As you can see, we’re in major trouble. How are you still online?”

Kevin was confused. He had no idea what was happening, but nothing had happened to him since it started.

“I have no idea,” he said. “What’s going on?”

It took Ten so long to reply that Kevin was almost certain he’d gone offline.

“Look, that’d take a long time to explain right now,” Ten said. “What I need you to do is hard channel to me right now. Cut everything else off.”

The thought of being cut off from the rest of the net gave Kevin a twinge of fear. “Everything?”

Ten’s reply almost cut him off. “Do it now, or there you won’t have to worry about the rest of the net ever again.”

Kevin wasn’t sure if that was a threat or an observation, but it scared him sufficiently that he cut over to the hard channel. He was completely unprepared for what he saw next.

 

Ryan sat back in his seat and sighed as he pulled off the halo. He needed a break and now as as good a time as any. The bots could take care of the rest while he took twenty.

For some reason, disconnecting from the net that way always filled him with a rush of euphoria, and he indulged himself in a chuckle, then a full out laugh at the absurdity of it all.

The room around him represented some of the most sophisticated technology mankind had ever produced, allowing its user full access to the net without the incredibly intrusive wetwork most people used to get there. Very few people understood why anyone would want to connect to the net any other way but wet, so very few people were even looking for something like Ryan’s setup.

Very few people, Ryan reminded himself, but there were still a few, and today they’d taken three of his cells down in one of the most sophisticated attacks he had ever seen. He was still up and running, but he was wounded. Virtually anyway.

What he needed then was a walk and some groceries from the local tienda. He’d hardened things as well as he could and there was really nothing else he could do but wait for the effort he’d expended over the past months to bear fruit. It was a race between those efforts and his adversaries, and it almost didn’t matter anymore whether or not he was watching. It was really in the bots hands now anway.

So, he left the austere and climate controlled confines of his conex hidden inside a storage unit in the grubby failed suburban sprawl of Dayton, Ohio and wandered down the sidewalk to the Mexican grocery that occupied a half dozen mismatched strip mall stores and an adjacent house that had seen better days. He was sure the place violated a dozen laws, but it fed the neighborhood full of mech mechanics and communications techs that everyone else sealed up in their high-rise archologies downtown depended on to keep the trash at bay, the food flowing, and the network running.

He was happy to see it was the same cute girl behind the register that had been there the last time he came. She greeted him with a shy, “Hola,” and a toothy grin that showed off her dimples. He smiled back and gave a little wave as he headed back through the door marked “Employees Only” to the underground farm market that ran in the back. The smell of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats took him back to another time, before the net, before wetware, before everything that made the world wrong.

Ryan shook himself from his descent into self-flagellation before everything went black. What was done was done, and all that remained was to try to do what he could. For the moment, that meant buying the fixings for a huge salad, potatoes, and some steaks just cut that day by a master butcher. And , he bought a rose for the cashier, who smiled prettily and blushed. If he was twenty years younger, he thought, and the last of the darkness was banished for the moment.

 

Back inside the conex well fed and well rested, Ryan surveyed the collection of screens he called his command center. His compatriots laughed that he still bothered to read, but when he had sworn off wetwear, he had sworn off every last bit of it, even the innocuous upload interfaces and data storage.

The screens revealed things were going as well as could be expected given how badly they had started out the day before. He’d lost three cells, most of a fourth and had to disband a fifth because it was probably compromised, but even with the counter-punch he’d received, the hole he’d drilled in his adversary’s defenses was still wide open, and his army of bots was still happily mining away inside. If all went well, it would be days before they discovered the real breach, and by then the cells would be unnecessary.

Of course, none of those questions dealt with the most pressing question: if he succeeded, then what. He shrugged himself into a beat up oversized recliner and sighed. He just hoped the rest of his ragtag band managed to pull off their ends of the bargain.

 

It always amused Dean that someone could flagrantly break the law everyday in plain sight, yet the world had degenerated to the point where the powers that were could not and would not do anything to punish the lawbreaker because doing so would bring them all to their knees.

It amused him as much that he always had those kinds of high minded thoughts as he guided a team of oxen pulling a planter along the next pass of planting a dozen acres of late season sweet corn into a field just recently harvested of clover hay for the winter. It was beyond absurd that growing food for sale on the local market was a worse offense than possessing weapons of mass destruction, but such were the times in which he lived.

And so it was that he found himself pulling up his team and ground tying them as a delegation including the county sheriff, the local agriculture enforcement officer, and someone whom he was sure was a federal agent of some sort made their way down the driveway to him. A trio of government officials was never a good visit, and for a moment, he wondered if the gig was finally up. Then he laughed as the oxen gave him their wary stare. Let them do their worst, because it would be far worse for them anyway.

The trio must have heard the laugh because they stopped twenty yards short and looked around in confusion, expecting to see someone else. That fact made Dean laugh more as he made his way to them.

“Andy, Chuck, to what do I owe the singular pleasure of your company,” he asked when he was close enough.

Chuck, the agriculture officer, was never one to mince words, “Dean, this is Special Agent Lucas Cantril of the Domestic Intelligence Service.”

Dean put on a wry smile and extended a dirty hand. This couldn’t be good. “Dean Whiteman, pleased to meet you.”

Cantril didn’t flinch and returned the handshake with a firm grip. “This is a nice place you have here, Mr. Whiteman. Or, should I say Colonel Whiteman?”

Andy and Chuck gave each other sidelong glances, but Dean shrugged. “Mr. will do just fine, Agent Cantril. I haven’t been a Colonel for a very long time.”

Cantril nodded. “Is there someplace we can talk?”

“Do we have to?” Dean said.

Cantril nodded.

“Well, then, let’s head up to the house,” Dean said. “I’ll have the boys finish up out here.”

 

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Farming: 10-10 Challenge 2011 Update

If you’ve been watching farmers over the past few weeks, you may have noticed that the fall harvest has just started. What that means is that they’re going to plant their fall wheat later than normal. You may have discovered the same thing about your own planting, and that’s ok.

I haven’t planted my fall plantings yet either, and probably won’t until next week. But don’t give up, because it’s still worth doing. One of the secrets to growing ones own food is learning to live with the weather, whatever it might turn out to be.

DLH

Read more at my Farming site...