Monday, 24 May 2010


Cherry blossom
 Well this week we officially became partners in a Latvian company called SIA Jiksi (SIA is a bit like limited in the UK and the name is pronounced Yik- si). We have plans to sell fruit, vegetables, meat (maybe rabbit and chickens), snails, mushrooms, processed foods like jams and juices (only that might have to wait until next year as our new fruit bushes won't be ready till next year at least and only fully operational the year after that) and craft items. Much of it is still in the planning stage but we wanted to get the company up and running and work on it bit by bit and build up slowly. Unfortunately we will have to wait another week before we work on it again as our friends have just moved house and they have a lot to do on it and we also have a lot to do getting seeds in. The weather has been really warm this last week, so perfect for sowing seeds and now we have some wet weather to water them in, so hopefully as long as we don't have a repeat of last year's rain then our gardens will race away as will the weeds no doubt.

Sweetcorn beginning to grow
We are still looking at the best way forward to market our produce and I heard about a CSA or community supported agriculture here in Latvia. Normally a CSA works by people paying up front for produce at the beginning of the year and then each week they get a vegetable box in return but I wondered how it would work here with the economic situation so we joined the one and only CSA for a meeting at the farm. As I suspected the practice is rather different here as the vegetable boxes are only paid for a week to a month in advance and so does not work in the same way as elsewhere but the farmer does at least benefit from a regular income. The boxes do not require the same pre-packaging that the supermarkets require and so this makes the farmers work much simpler. The consumers help out the farmer from time to time too just like in other CSAs, so somethings are the same. I also wondered what happened over winter as there is not much fresh veg available mainly potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbages but the farmer explained that she supplements the veg boxes with jams or pickles that she herself has produced, which at least keeps people coming back for the boxes. It was interesting to see how the mix of ecologically minded city folks and the two farmers got along at the meeting and how much the farmer appreciated the regular veg box orders, so it is obviously working although it is still only in its first year. The CSA members were originally intending to work on the farm but the farmer said it was too wet - turns out it was her birthday and she wanted a day off but didn't tell anyone, instead we had a pleasant day out sitting around chatting about farming.

Neighbours regimented gardens - very neat and tidy
While we were chatting we discovered some of the problems with the term "organic" for Latvia. Certified seed is hard to get hold of, or at least Latvian grown organic seed is. This means they are allowed to use seed that is not certified as long as it hasn't been treated. Now that might seem wrong to the purists but to be honest a lot of Latvian agriculture is organic by default, they don't put a lot of artificial fertilisers and such on their fields, so I am happy with that. They then grow the crops on their untreated fields and then maybe get the certification that it is organically grown - fine so far, but what about cereals? Cereals need milling and the farmers we met take theirs along to the local mill to be ground and the flour produced from their bags was labelled organic until recently - now okay there could be a minor amount of contamination from a previous milling but nothing that I would jump up and down about. This all changed when one mega-mill was certified to grind organic flour, in practice it only grinds organic flour once a week after cleaning all the equipment first - fine for a large mill but not fine for the local mills. In order to comply the old local mills must now comply with the new regulations that came into being with the large mega-mill. The major problem is that to get the organic certification the little mills have to comply with the same rules as mega-mill which is too expensive and the little farmers cannot take their flour to mega-mill because they are too small - minimum 10 tonnes only. Result the little farmers cannot now get their organically grown grains ground to make certified organic flour, not what the organic movement is all about. The farmers and small local mills didn't change anything but the rules did. This means that it now makes much more sense to make sure you know where your flour, or any produce is coming from and not solely rely on organic certification - it is too expensive and does not necessarily benefit the smaller operations that are actually better for the environment certainly better than the mega-farrms.

Nearly as neat, our garden with the fleece for the colder
nights this week
News from our land is that we have a rather natty newcomer to our pond, this dark little fellow has fluorescent stripes down his back, so why does he have to have such a boring name - a pond frog! No pictures though, sorry, well not yet anyway. I do hope he gets busy eating the mosquito larvae as they are dreadful this year, which is not good for me as anything that bites thinks I am tasty and I react badly to all of them. Good news though is that we think our greenhouse is finished, we have not had any contact from the boss of the company so not entirely sure but at least it is now usable and we already have it planted up with tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers and chillies. Ian had to shovel a whole load of soil in it with his tractor to level it off and then rotavate it all so that he could get the stuff planted. It is not perfect but at least we can sort it out at the end of the year. I guess we could have organised our greenhouse a little better but it is looking pretty full already, maybe we do need another one - only I don't think I could go through the hassle again of trying to get it organised. Not yet anyway and I would want someone who can do it in less than 6 months.

We nearly dropped off our seats in surprise as we have actually got the plans for our new barn, only a week late perhaps; we even have some guys organised to get it done. Now we just have to pray that the weather is not as bad as Ian fears it is going to be so that it can be put up quickly (he has been reading last years blog and is worried that the bit of rain we have had just lately is the prelude to a waterlogged summer like last year).  We also have to pray that these guys are organised and will get it done on time and properly, which we have been assured of, but heard that one before too, but then again ever the optimist I think we may have found some good workers.

Horse Chestnut flower
As Ian also pointed out I have written less and less about what I feel God is saying, part of that is because some of what God is saying is not really something I can share in a public space but some of it is because I don't have a lot of new things to share. We are still learning the art of gardening and how that relates to faith, how weeds can sometimes get in and spoil a place, how sometimes they take a lot of skill to get rid of, and that is a lot like our walk with God, it is also like our spiritual environment. How preparing ground is important to get the finished result you want, it looks messy sometimes, like it does around our polytunnel right now but eventually the scar will heal and it will look less of a mess - at least I hope so. I am still amazed at the sheer creativity of God's handiwork, for instance I never realised how many colours there are in a horse chestnut tree flower, they just look white from a distance. Sometimes you have to get up close to see the detail of what God is doing!


  1. WWow! What a busy week you've had. I am always amazed how, after the winter, suddenly life appears as if from nowhere.

    Thanks for your comments on organically grown food. It's true that things aren't always what they appear or say they are.

    God teaches us so much when we relate to the land and His creation and we observe His power and presence at work. Thanks for all the interesting updates every week and bless you as you live out God's plans for your lives there in Latvia.

  2. It has been a very busy and tiring week indeed but I know it is for a season and not ongoing and unrelenting.

    Thank you so much for your encouragement over the year, it has been such a blessing

  3. Sounds like things are coming together and really happening.
    Very hard work about the organic, though. We have a farm near us that cannot get organic certification because of one or two small things but word has got round that it is as good as so people do buy from it so hopefully the same can happen with Lativia. Laws can be silly things.

    And I think that maybe what you keep getting from God is just what we all need to keep hearing. Sometimes I think He just keeps slogging us with the same old message till we get it

  4. I do hope things are coming together, that would be lovely.

    I think you are right Diane that sometimes God does have to slog away so we get the message. I am to some extent quite happy to work with the message that God is saying as I know that gardening takes time, preparation takes time, time when nothing much seems to happen and then Spring comes along and it all seems to happen at once.


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