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COLUMN: Farm is 'an organic Mall of America' for wildlife

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Sometimes, I just want to sit outside and watch the farm. There is so much going on without me lifting a finger. Wildlife love my farm. I keep making new living places for them. When I cut tree limbs, I toss them into areas that provide plenty of cover for raising young. A walk around gives me a glimpse into life going on under my nose.

Less than 80 feet from the house I spy a bedding area for deer, just 10 feet from a garden bed. Of the 17 acres, most are left wild. Tracks and droppings provide even more evidence of life. They must think of it as an organic Mall of America.

As long as they feed outside of the fenced areas, I’m fine with it. They have plenty of food, water and cover to choose from, but it’s when my crops start to grow big that I have to worry. Think of it as opening a new and attractive store. They all want to visit.

Spanky, my 2-year-old RCA dog look-alike, is the security guard. She sniffs the trails, guards the beds, watches and chases the birds and generally has a good working relationship with all visitors.

Tiller, the Golden Retriever, takes a more laid back attitude. She prefers driving through thick brush just to see what’s inside. Why is it always the longhaired dogs that like this? Her favorite job is going with me wherever I go. I love it because I’m sure she moves the snakes away from where I’m walking. She’s very excited about the upcoming berry picking.

She actually shows me where the berries are ripe first. It won’t be long before we’re out at dawn to start picking big, black raspberries. We both continually “test” the crops for quality control. A successful trip leaves her with a purple tongue and me with a lovely shade of fingernail polish. The sweet and tart flavors always leave you wanting one more.

Eating as you pick is just one of the joys of being organic. Grocery store berries are not quite so savory. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture conduct tests and produce numerous reports on pesticides found on commercial foods.

A recent report by the Environmental Working Group scoured hundreds of these reports and found that certain fruits and vegetables found in stores contain 47 to 67 pesticides per serving. That’s after they have been washed with a high power pressure water system. Foods with a soft skin are more susceptible to pesticide absorption.

It kind of works in the same way that my hands get stained when picking berries. It takes a lot of scrubbing to get that stain off. Growing your own fruits and produce at least lets you know what has gone into those crops.

If you use chemical herbicides and pesticides, don’t use them after the plant has started fruiting or producing the crop, unless you don’t care about having those chemicals in your body. Use a high-pressure hose to knock off the insects that you find harmful to the harvest.

Yes, you may have some things that aren’t as pretty, but they’ll eat just fine. Now, get out there and enjoy the outdoors. It’s not snowing or icing and it doesn’t take 15 minutes to get dressed before you go out. Keep on planting to get as much food “in the ground” as you possibly can and then sit down and contemplate the life around you. The real Mall of America isn’t nearly as nice. Happy growing.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.