• Summary

  • Turkana Farms, LLC, is a small scale producer of heritage breed livestock and a wide array of vegetables and berries on just over 39 acres in Germantown, New York. Under the stewardship of Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer, the farm is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and eschews the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, growth enhancers, and antibiotics.
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Episodes
  • Feb 27 2022

    The farm feels like the world in microcosm. The world has Vladimir Putin. The barn has a half-castrated ram (the result of poor testicle-banding on my part) who I've now named Vlad. In general it is inadvisable to name animals you're going to have slaughtered, lest you develop affection for them, but in this case I don't think I'll have any qualms when he goes to market.

    Vladimir and Vlad share several characteristics. Both are instinctively aggressive. Both look for their chances and seize their opportunities.

    Both of these namesakes also hog resources. For Vladimir, it's the commodity wealth produced by the Russian nation. He is thought to have amassed personal holdings, held through surrogates, in excess of $200 billion, while much of Russia's middle and lower classes struggle. For Vlad the ram, it's hay. Always first at the manger, and brooking no competition for it.

    And like Vladimir, Vlad preens. He knows in his heart that he's beautiful. The only difference here is, in the ram's case it's no delusion.

    But as revealed in Russia's invasion of Ukraine this week, what Vladimir is really most focused on is asserting dominance. And Vlad is no different. While all rams have such a trait to some degree, many manage to behave in a perfectly civilized way. It is hard to know what in nature or nurture makes the occasional creature distort a natural trait to a sociopathic extreme. Is it an effort to overcome feelings of inadequacy (Vlad's half-testicled state, Vladimir's short stature)? Or in Putin's case, is it having so isolated himself during the COVID pandemic that he had nothing to keep him from stewing in his own grievances?

    However the pathology develops, it was clear to me three or four months ago that Vlad the ram was growing into something of a danger. Having been down this road before, I could tell from the way he eyed me, and looked ready to challenge me, that he was going to be trouble. And having learned lessons from past rams, I made a decided effort to counteract that development.

    I've always been the sort to think that reasonable, friendly persuasion works best, and therefore when I started farming my instinct was to treat all the animals as pets. Be sweet, pet them, give them extra grain and they'll like you and defer to you. I soon learned that in the case of aggressive rams, such behavior on my part was read as submissiveness, and seemed to encourage them making moves to confirm my lower status. They would not be kept in line by positive rewards of the sort I offered, since the positive reward they were most after was being king of the heap. They assert dominance through charging, and I have no desire to test my mettle against an animal that weighs nearly as much as I do, with incredibly hard skull and horns.

    I learned, therefore, to train such animals to fear me. This year, I started by clapping my hands loudly and yelling "out" upon entering the barn, to move them where I could fence them away from myself. I aimed the loud clapping particularly at Vlad. If he hesitated, I would charge him, grabbing him by the horns and turning him around to kick him out into the vestibule. For the most part, it has worked. He sometimes hesitates and I have to resort to charging him, but usually upon my entry he's out of the gate at the first clap. I ignore him if he begs for extra grain. By and large, we warily eye each other and pretend to ignore each other.

    To be effective, such a strategy must start early and be unvarying. Maybe that is the problem with Putin. Perhaps yielding him minor victories in Georgia and Crimea, treating him as a rational, calculating actor who would take small advantage but never upend the world order, encouraged him. This could be the lesson the world should have learned indelibly from appeasing Hitler in Czechoslovakia. Or maybe the trigger was Donald Trump playing Putin's lapdog in Helsinki. If you play the "sub

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    7 mins
  • May 16 2022

    Having gotten inquiring messages from my cousin Albie and my friend Steve, I think I need to report that if I skip writing the weekly bulletin, as I did last week, it does not mean I am hospitalized with COVID. I am simply overwhelmed with other tasks. As I explained to Steve, "I have to finish 24 hours of continuing legal education by May 24 in order to renew my law license, of which I've done 3.5 hours. Of the 140 boxes of stuff I moved into the house, I've unpacked only about 25. I have planting and weeding and sowing and mowing (it's spring!), sheep hooves to clip, storm windows to take down and screens to put up, and tons of office work I'm catching up on. To top it all off, I have a garage full of office related furnishings and equipment (from chairs to bookshelves, desks to printers/scanners and monitors) I must prepare for sale at next Saturday's (May 21) town wide Germantown yard sale."

    While I realize that our major western religions all have decreed days of rest to allow for contemplation and regeneration, a function the bulletin has served in my life, I therefore have had to defer for yet another week. In place of current reflections, I thought I'd repeat an homage I've done in years past, to the merits of rhubarb, which I hope will inspire you to buy some.

    Enjoying spring rhubarb is a taste of bygone days. As I recall, older people like our former nonogenarian neighbor in Sag Harbor, Mrs. Thayer, always greeted our gifts of rhubarb with enthusiasm, seeing it as a spring tonic. Unfortunately, for present generations used to that illusory land-of-plenty that knows no season, the supermarket, rhubarb may seem too old-fashioned. Rhubarb faces an additional hurdle: Unlike almost everything else we pick in the vegetable garden, it really does need to be processed in order to be enjoyed. Biting into the tart stalks in their raw state involves a little more sourness than most folks can take.

    Wikipedia tells us that rhubarb is indigenous to Asia (it takes its name from Rha, the former name of the Volga River, on whose shores it appears to have originated), and that traditional Chinese medicine uses the rhubarb roots for its strong laxative qualities. It is known that the English began eating the stalks in the 17th-century when, significantly, large quantities of sugar became commercially available. Rhubarb was brought to America in the 1820’s through Maine and Massachusetts. Rhubarb enjoys our climate, requiring at least two months of cold, and another season of cool wet weather. Spring is considered its prime season. It has never been at home in the Deep South or Southwest.

    As we have discovered, come summer, rhubarb should be left with its remaining stalks (no more than half should be harvested) to regenerate for the next spring. Once established, the roots seem to regenerate indefinitely. Meanwhile, I'm selling between 15 and 25 pounds a week.

    Why should we eat rhubarb? Possibly Mrs. Thayer was right, and it does serve as a tonic. What is more certain is that the fresh intensity of the flavor screams spring. Rhubarb goes well with creamy and sweet things, like strawberries, cream, and custard (a fabulous rhubarb custard pie recipe is easily found on line). It freezes beautifully. It is high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and Vitamin C. It can serve as a digestive. And, according to Dr. Wikipedia, regular consumption of fresh rhubarb helps lower blood pressure.

    My principle bed of rhubarb takes a decorative place of honor at the center of the vegetable garden. I use it for compote that can be added to my morning yoghurt, as well as pies and crisps and chutney. I have made rhubarb simple syrup, using 1½ cups rhubarb, roughly chopped, combined with 1 cup of sugar and 1½ cups water. Bring them to a boil in a saucepan, then simmer for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is bright pink. Then remove from the heat, strain the liquid into a large jar, and use for such

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    6 mins
  • Apr 24 2022

    I like to think of myself as an individual, but then I must acknowledge that like all individuals I am a product of a particular culture, place and time. The life choices I make now would, I suspect, seem inconceivable to someone of a different time and place, yet would be seen as entirely predictable by an astute sociologist familiar with the circumstances I confront.

    Seen from that perspective, the new business soon starting at the farm would surprise nobody. I understand some of you, long-term readers or listeners, upon hearing about a new venture being undertaken here, already have little cogwheels of suspicion spinning doubts in your mind. In past years, we’ve announced such ventures as experimental pineapple cultivation supervised by a Bard student from Hawaii, a new line of chocolate flavored eggs achieved by feeding the chickens waste almond dust from the Hershey Bar factory, and the transformation of the farm into a foundation to improve animal etiquette (in order to achieve a total tax exemption), only to get resentful blowback when tickets to the celebratory harvest luau and cartons of chocolate flavored eggs proved to be chimerical.

    But each of those new farm ventures was announced on April 1. The change I’m announcing today will happen on May 1, and I assure you it is very real. The Mark Scherzer Law Office is coming to the farm. I’ve been preoccupied with moving it here from New York City for the last several weeks.

    Such a move would have been inconceivable for me even five years ago. My image of a law office included a formal reception area with a receptionist, an impressive array of law books lining the shelves of a library/conference room, and an imposing desk. My place was behind the desk in a big office chair, my clients across from me in less imposing chairs, confirming that they were supplicants for my superior knowledge and counsel. And that office had to be in Manhattan, because in my view you couldn’t be a person of stature unless you were based in a major metropolitan center, preeminently Manhattan.

    The result of my devotion to that ideal was that for nearly forty years I led a dual existence, my real spiritual home and the center of my social life taking place weekends in the country, and weekdays spent devoted to work in Manhattan.

    The underpinnings of my divided life have been subtly eroding over the years, largely through the internet and other technology. I found myself meeting fewer and fewer clients in person, as emailed pdfs replaced physical examination of carefully preserved original paper documents. Libraries became obsolete as legal research transformed to searches of electronic databases. To prospective clients, my stature was better demonstrated by an informative website than a well furnished office in Manhattan. And because clients themselves were able to better educate themselves online, the dynamic of omniscient lawyer / dependent client transformed to a more egalitarian relationship.

    I might never have responded to those changes, being a creature of habit, if not for the COVID pandemic. As I, like so many white-collar workers, started working remotely from home, it became clear that for my type of work a physical office was only marginally useful. We turned out to be even more productive, in my view, working from networked computers in our homes.

    For me, the realization of that productivity dovetailed with my own life changes – my partner, Peter’s, death and the consequent lack of a resident manager of the farm; my unsuccessful attempts to have others take over the farm operation; and my attaining an age when, if not retiring, I needed to find a less exhausting way of continuing to both practice law and run the farm myself.

    Thus, after much internal debate, I decided not to renew the office lease that expires this month, to move the main office computer and other technology to my home office, and to go

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    7 mins

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