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Half Hill Farm featured in Murfreesboro Magazine

Half Hill Farm - Murfreesboro Magazine

Despite the pouring rain, we had a great time showing our USDA Certified Organic farm (Half Hill Farm) in Woodbury, TN to Allison Belt and photographer Rachel Tenpenny. They were here for a May 2014 feature in Murfreesboro Magazine on organic farms in Middle Tennessee.

We currently have Shiitake, Reishi and Turkey Tail mushroom logs available for online order, or call for pick up at either our farm or the Farmers’ Market in Woodbury.

 

An open letter to AT&T’s Joelle Phillips on SB2566

February 17th, 2014 No comments

bell phillipsBelow is an open letter I have sent to Tennessee’s AT&T President Joelle Phillips regarding Sen. Mike Bell’s (R-Riceville) discriminatory legislation SB2566.

My hope is we will see an effort that was promised us in 2011 and like we are now seeing by AT&T and the Chamber of Commerce in the state of Kansas regarding a similar discriminatory bill.

In the meantime, learn more about what you can do from the Tennessee Equality Project.

——-

Joelle Phillips:

I would like to know where AT&T Tennessee stands on SB2566, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell that would protect the choice of businesses to discriminate against legally married same-sex couples.

AT&T Kansas as well as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are publicly working against a mirror of this bill in Kansas. You can read about their effort here.

In May 2011, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce expressed regret for pushing discriminatory HB600 after AT&T President Gregg F. Morton and nine other prominent job-creating members stood up and issued public statements of opposition to the Chamber’s bill. AT&T in particular made a promise:

While the timing of the announced change by the Chamber was not ideal, I believe their public statement sent a positive message to show that the business community stands against discrimination. AT&T does not support any laws, or legislative efforts, that discriminate against populations based on race, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and I know businesses across our state similarly oppose any form of discrimination.

That opposition should be clearly reflected by those who represent us in Nashville, and I am confident that this will be the case going forward. I know AT&T will work with NGLCC and other advocacy groups to oppose measures that we believe to be discriminatory against these populations, not only in the state of Tennessee, but also across the nation, and we will encourage the Chamber to adopt similar positions in the future.

You can read Gregg’s statement here. Tennessee Chamber President Deb Woolley’s contract was not renewed following what many viewed as her misuse of prominent national brands in support of discrimination. Will you issue a public statement regarding SB2566 and work against it as promised and as the President of AT&T Kansas and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are now doing against a similar bill in Kansas?

——

UPDATE 2-18-14 11:45am: AT&T Tennessee President Joelle Phillips has responded saying that AT&T will stand up for their values and join the effort to stop SB2566. AT&T is the first of several major American brands and prominent members of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce to take a stand for equality.

Dear Mr. Grantham,

Thank you for contacting me about this bill. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention, and I appreciate your recognition of AT&T’s past work to speak out on discrimination.

As you noted, AT&T opposes discrimination against people based on race, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

AT&T’s position on discrimination is simple; we oppose it, and we don’t do it. AT&T is contacting members of the general assembly to communicate our concern that the bill conflicts with that position.

Joelle Phillips President – AT&T Tennessee
333 Commerce Street, Suite 2104
Nashville, TN 37201

UPDATE 2-18-14 2:18pm: I’ve reached out to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and other prominent members (Nissan, Blue Cross Blue Shield, KPMG, Embraer, Comcast, FedEx, and Pfizer) asking them to join AT&T and other Tennessee businesses in standing up for equality and fairness and stopping SB2566.

UPDATE 2-18-14 5:46pm: The bill’s Senate Sponsor, Sen. Mike Bell, has withdrawn his bill!

Read more from 2011:

When brands promote a culture of bigotry

December 24th, 2013 No comments

cracker barrel

Recent comments by reality TV star Phil Robertson have provided yet another opportunity for Americans to learn what is and isn’t protected by the First Amendment, among other things. Here’s what he said:

On vagina and anal sex:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

On “blacks” of pre-civil-rights-era Louisiana:
They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
[What The Duck? - GQ Magazine - Jan. 2014]

Duck Dynasty’s host A&E promptly suspended Robertson who has made far worse comments. Whether you share his beliefs or not, most people reading this post understand the Constitution protects our choice of speech from government actions, not the consequences from private citizens. That fact hasn’t stopped a contrary perception from being the perennially memetic teaching moment it has become.

Yes America, if it is not obvious, you have the right to be a moron. What is new is how some corporate brands have been willing to embrace and promote bad messages out of a belief they are standing up for the United States Constitution or large groups of customers. The latest example is Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel.

“You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you.”

By pledging to keep Duck Dynasty products on their shelves, Cracker Barrel has chosen to use their brand to amplify a culture of bigotry. By further issuing an apology to angry customers who support Robertson’s comments, Cracker Barrel’s actions invested their entire brand into the content of Robertson’s character.

BRAND PROBLEM: The temptation brands have to resist in deciding whether to take sides on the social issues of customers nowadays is assuming the loudness of one message or another is somehow a measure of its morality or the justness of its cause. Another temptation brands have to resist is thinking customers are a monolithic “you” who share beliefs instead of sharing values.

BRAND SOLUTION: Most every successful American brand has a mission statement and expressed values that nearly always reflects the ideas of the kind of America we all want to see. No one would fault a company for choosing to echo their more established values over the angry noise of America working out what it believes along the way.

It’s too bad some brands find themselves with a calibre of leadership that doesn’t simply adhere to the wisdom and values of their own carefully crafted mission statements, but now that corporations are starting to act more like people it’s getting easier to discover just what kind of people they want us to know they are.

A&E TV with shit on itUPDATE 12-27-13: Well, that suspension lasted all of zero episodes. Phil Robertson is back on A&E resonating with ad dollars and America’s heart. Here’s A&E explaining why they changed their minds.

“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love.”
[A&E Welcomes Phil Robertson Back to 'Duck Dynasty' - The Hollywood Reporter - 12-27-13]

A lesson in Freedom of Speech at Middle Tennessee State University

October 9th, 2013 8 comments

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a simple sentence and reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That amendment and great document affords Americans like me and members of Middle Tennessee State University’s Lambda Association the right to celebrate the group’s 25 years of service to the University’s vision to create “a vibrant hub for educating accomplished students who are civically engaged and globally responsible citizens.” The group created the display pictured above that you can now see at MTSU’s Library.

I was honored and deeply touched recently when MT Lambda President Joshua Rigsby reached out to me as an alum and asked me to be a part of this powerful display. I provided a wealth of personal papers highlighting our work in the 1990s to ensure fairness and equality on campus that is now part of the display as well as a part of campus policy.

But a former Navy Information Operations Command Officer Olimpia Herlo wasn’t about to let that happen and fired off a disgraceful letter encouraging the campus to violate the United States Constitution. She simply didn’t like the use of the American rainbow flag.

“We ‘keep the watch’ so that our fellow Americans may enjoy liberty and the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution. We sacrifice birthdays, anniversaries, being able to be with our loved ones in times of tragedy and times of joy. We stand duty when most of America is sleeping. We believe in the honorable presentation of the United States flag to families of those we lose while keeping the watch. Please remove this public disgrace from your institution at once!. Please (issue) a public apology for your blatant disrespect and lawlessness!”

Herlo has a right to chose how to use her First Amendment right, but Herlo demands a state run school violate the same Constitution she swore an oath to uphold in her service to our country. Her choice says a lot about her, and indicates she will never have the courage to come to MTSU and take the flag down herself. She is nothing like the great men and women I know currently serving our country.

One person who did go that far is MTSU student and Sigma Pi Vice President Jacob Lisemby who was charged with theft for stealing a flag from the display. Unfortunately, Lisemby chose to commit a crime instead of using his voice, violating his fraternal creed and embarrassing a great number of upstanding members of Sigma Pi and Sigma Pi International in the process. Never mind the embarrassment he has surely caused his self described “Rock-ribbed conservative” missionary family for showing not only anti-American values, but anti-Christian values (“Thou shall not steal?”).

In a passage from Christian Ministries To Israel Director Reginald Lisemby (Jacob’s father) titled “Is God For The USA?,” Lisemby concludes that “God is not on our side” despite “flags flying everywhere.” Lisemby specifically blames “homosexuals”, “free speech” and thieving leaders who “get caught and yet dismissed because of power” among other things.

These people are certainly entitled to their opinions.

While we’re on the lesson of Freedom of Speech, I got a phone call from MTSU Sigma Pi President Buddy Renner upset about me sharing this story on Twitter. He could have been upset at all the news agencies for reporting Lisemby’s crime, or even at Lisemby himself. Instead, he chose to exercise his freedom to call me and diminish the nature of his “brother’s” poor choice.

In Russia, there’s a law that puts people in prison for simply displaying in public the very rainbow flag that was stolen from our display. This ain’t Russia, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities the First Amendment provides us to compare and contrast those who like America like it is and those who want it to be just like Russia.

UPDATE 10-10-13 Responses: Some of Jacob’s fraternal brothers and sorority friends aren’t happy with this post at all and took to Twitter last night encouraging others to harass me. Kelci Biggs tweeted threats that she was calling the police for “harassment” but has since deleted the comment when she realized just how stupid she made her sorority look. Some encouraged arson. Others cheered on Jacob. Here are some of the ways people have chosen to use their freedom of speech:

  • Kelly Oberg (@kohhhberg) – Alpha Chi Omega: I support Jacob 100% and I have his back no matter what. (5:48pm Oct. 9)
  • Kelci Biggs (@kelcibiggs) – Alpha Delta Pi: I completely stand behind @kohhhberg and Jacob in this. (5:06pm Oct 9)
  • Weslea Miniat (@wesleasnipes) – Alpha Chi Omega: Love you Jacob! Eff those haters! These colors don’t run! (4:07pm Oct. 9)
  • Mikie Adams (@FRATAMS) – that’s cute. I hope that flag gets burned asap. (5:53pm Oct 9)
  • Luke Hayes (@LukeHayes_ATH) – former MTSU Football bench warmer: Jacob is a hero in my book. (4:31pm Oct 9)
  • Brooklyn Chunn ‏(@BrooklynChunn) – Alpha Chi Omega: All I know is that flag in the library should be taken down (1:59pm Oct. 9)

The revolutionary act of love

marriage license
… can change the world. When President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, I was a year from graduating from Middle Tennessee State University. In my last year I decided to dedicate myself to undoing it, faced death threats, campus protests, lots of local news coverage and soon found myself working with close friends at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the White House in Washington.

Like many of my colleagues, I put my life on hold and worked through many challenging defeats knowing in my heart that love will win and knowing in my mind that the United States Constitution could weather even the worst kind of enemy: hatred.

We worked in small offices on 14th Street, N.W., eventually moving to bigger offices. Shortly after I left for the White House, HRC’s talented and dedicated staff was raising millions of dollars and moved into a permanent presence that I’m sure will help defend forever the America I know and love.

Somewhere in this story, I met Vince, a Marine serving our country at Quantico under another policy since reversed: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. When he wanted to re-enlist on September 11, 2001, it took everything I had to stop him. His mind was on America while mine was on saving the only family I felt I had. We held a ceremony in 2002 attended only by friends. We got married legally in 2010 in the streets of Washington in front of a sandwich shop across from the court house. While we settled into jobs and the suburbs, our friends fought on.

We still live through challenges. We are one of just a few thousand married American couples living our lives in a revolutionary act and are so proud to know the promise of America is affirmed today by the United States Supreme Court for those who can now work less to prove themselves worthy and more on building a family and living the American dream we all rightfully deserve.

Farm hour: Journey with apples that rock

February 9th, 2013 No comments

apple orchard
Freshly mulched apple trees in the orchard.

The apple compost pile was loaded with fat earthworms, so Vince had us use the rake instead of the shovel to bin it up and move it to the apple trees.

apple rockWe had just enough for the ten trees. The compost looks good, but I’m sure our next batch will be even better now that we’re able to process the carbon inputs with the chipper.

Speaking of inputs, I treated the orchard to Journey’s “Anytime” from their Infinity album through this wireless speaker Vince picked up.

Journey is not on the OMRI list of approved organic inputs for apples, but the official entry to the USDA reads: “This is how we make them rock.”

Farm hour: Purple Martins are nature’s bug zappers

February 3rd, 2013 No comments

purple martin housePart of our organic farm’s integrated pest management plan calls for the use of hosted beneficial birds as natural predators. Earlier this week I asked a couple of friends and folks at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for some advice and was reminded about the amazing Purple Martin.

Growing up in the South, I remember Purple Martin houses on several farms. I never really thought there was a functional reason for hosting them, and later was convinced all they ate were mosquitoes.

I was wrong. State Zoologist David Withers sent me this great one pager from the Purple Martin Conservation Association that basically tells me the Purple Martin is one of nature’s best bug zappers. Check out TWRA’s wonderful online resource on common birds and how to host them.

Even if you are not an organic farmer, hosting Purple Martins can dramatically help reduce any flying insect pest on your property while reducing the use of chemical sprays and inviting a little of nature’s perfect aesthetic back to your home life.

We got two 16 family houses, both made in America, at our local Tractor Supply Company (photo: Vince snaps a Purple Martin house together). We’re using cut cedar posts from the property and will open the houses March 31 or as close to the time we begin seeing younger Purple Martins.

Here are a few points we’ve learned through some voracious reading over the past couple of snow days:

  • Purple Martins overwinter in Brazil and return year after year to the same nesting location.
  • They live exclusively in human made housing (East of the Rocky Mountains)
  • Houses must be over 10 feet off the ground, a minimum of 30 feet from a human dwelling (120 feet maximum), about 45 feet from any tree or bush and have nothing touching the pole, including support wires. Nothing around the housing can be taller.
  • Entry holes must be a specific dimension or competing birds become a problem (3 inches wide and 1 3/16 tall).
  • Purple Martins prefer white colored housing.
  • To attract a colony you must open the house when last year’s young return – 3 weeks after the first adults arrive. In Tennessee, adults arrive March 1-15. Adults will also colonize, but you must be persistent to scare off competing birds.
  • Purple Martins diet includes “dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, bees, wasps, flying ants, and ballooning spiders.”
  • Once hatched, Purple martins develop in about 30 days.
  • You can handle the chicks to manage the nests – parents do not mind human handling or scent.

Farm hour: preventing herbicidal drift from utility right of ways

January 28th, 2013 2 comments

zona organicaI didn’t know what to expect working with local utilities to prevent drift from chemical management of right of ways onto our organic farm.

Each of our local utilities who need access to the front of the farm had never dealt with a request like this, but each one totally understood my goals and appreciated my willingness to help them manage right of ways without chemicals.

The key phrase there is “my willingness to help them.” That’s a commitment to some work on my part. Luckily the right of ways are down hill a good distance from the fields we are certifying as organic, but we’ll have to dedicate some weekend farm hours to clearing brush.

Some practical advice I got from Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative was to make sure bilingual signs were posted. I can send them 50 letters, but a sign is all the contracted crews managing vegetation will see.

We got this embossed aluminum 12×18 “Do Not Spray” sign online. If you are going through the process of becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm, your certifying agent can help you with draft letters to neighbors and local utilities.

Farm hour: becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm

January 9th, 2013 No comments

soil tests
soil samples from four sections of the farm

It’s Winter. There isn’t enough light in the day when we get home from work to do much on the farm, so we’re taking a 15 hour online course from the Rodale Institute to apply to become a USDA Certified Organic Farm. Every night’s a school night until the days get longer.

We’re learning a lot. Even if you don’t plan to become certified the program is a wealth of information to suppliment and reinforce your interest in sustainable farm practices. One of the most important things I’m learning about is building soil fertility and conservation. It’s also required by the federal government for certified producers to have plans in place to achieve that, such as amending the soil with composts and both animal and green manures as well as using cover and rotational crops.

Hour by hour – we’re hoping to have a decent Organic System Plan hammered out this month for our farm’s application. One of the first steps was to get a baseline measurement of our soil, so I took samples from four sections of field (each section with a few sample points) and sent it off for testing through the local Farmer’s CO-OP. I can’t say for sure, but the soil looks amazing. We’ll see what the test says.

Farm hour: climbing the hill

November 21st, 2012 1 comment

4 wheeler
Grandpa’s old 4 wheeler

Farming is hard work, and it’s harder to imagine doing it without help. Hours make days like help makes it done, and it took a lot of both to plant the orchard last week.

I squeezed a month of farm hours into a week with some vacation time and figured out how farmers can go through so many chicken eggs every day. You get real hungry! After shoveling 3-4 tons of material (wood chip mulch, manure and dirt), tilling, moving rocks, water and planting 25 trees and bushes, breakfast looks good any time of the day.

4 wheelerNoah let me borrow his truck. We may have enough mulch to last 2 years now! Tim gave us the pine needles we needed to keep the blueberries happy. Len let me hop the fence for the cow manure our compost piles needed to come to life. Benny did the same, letting me drive all over his farm shoveling up horse manure. It all adds up to tons of help, literally.

But the one thing that came just in time to really bring the help together was a gift from my step dad: Grandpa’s old 4 wheeler. It’s got its problems, but it was the week’s work horse hauling everything up and down the hill: water, trees, machines.

New things can make you feel good, but old things can really make you feel loved. Grandpa used that 4 wheeler for about 10 years all over our farm in Smith County. They were his legs for a soul no where near done climbing that hill. Every time I open the barn and see it there I feel a little bit of him, and that has its own way of making every farm hour that much more special.