Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Senator Mark Warner comes to Cville to talk about Gig Economy

All smiles when the Senator arrives at Moonlighting HQ.
Today Virginia Senator Mark Warner met with over 30 entrepreneurs to discuss the rapidly changing definition of business ownership known today as the Gig Economy or Shared Economy. Business sectors represented included Airbnb, Etsy, and Uber. Several Etsy shop owners were in attendance and I was included among them. Several local startups were present; Moonlighting, HourWise, Class Pass, and Mom Valet.

The meeting was held at Moonlighting located on the downtown Mall. Business owners were called together to brainstorm about the best way to approach our ever changing economy. More and more people are turning to self employment and there is a movement to decouple social programs such as unemployment, disability, insurance, and workers comp from the employer. Lashing programs to the employee or small business operator that often runs several businesses, making benefits portable.

A few business owners in attendance.
The discussion led to keeping politics out of the process and developing a third party to handle the care of benefits, siting that the individual is often much more interested in providing such benefits. Some employers have circumvented paying benefits by labeling workers as independent contractors, sub-contracting employees, or hiring only part-time workers, leaving employees without benefits.

Concerns were made about self-employment taxes and the lack of new entrepreneurs not even being aware of these additional expenses until tax time. Value added taxing such as Patent Box / Innovation Box has been used successfully in other countries and is being explored by Senator Warner. It was also suggested that a program model could be created in Virginia and expanded to other States.

Senator Warner engaged in the conversation.
Mark Warner was a very popular Governor of Virginia being liked by Republicans and Democrats. He is so personable and is interested in current trends and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.

I was able to plug our Etsy Shop Facebook page and hope that shop owners will join us to better our shops, advertise our wares, and spread the word that we're open for business globally and locally!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

North American Butterfly Count

The Crozet Team on the hunt
Yesterday thirty nature lovers broke into 3 teams to participate in the annual North American Butterfly Count for Albemarle County. Taking 4 hours in temps reaching 90 degrees each team covered a different area of the county to record each species of butterfly spotted. I was on the Crozet area team with 12 others.

This spider web was hanging over a creek.
Most of those participating are Virginia Master Naturalists (I sadly am not one) so going out into nature with such a broad knowledge base is quite fun. Plants, birds, and insects can readily be identified. You can't help but encounter other interesting things along the way.

Orange Sulphur Butterfly in purple Knapweed.
Several weeks ago the Ivy Creek Nature Center Education Room was packed with enthused nature lovers to be trained in butterfly identification. The program was prepared by Nancy Weiss and Terri Keffert of the Rivanna Master Naturalists. This was the first part of preparation to participate in today's count.

A Viceroy, sadly not a Monarch, but still exciting to see
The final numbers have yet to be tallied but hundreds of butterflies were spotted. It sounds like an easy task to identify a particular butterfly but many butterflies mimic each other to resemble bad tasting species. It takes a trained eye often looking through a good set of binoculars in order to accurately id. The topside and underside of one butterfly can be very different which also makes things complicated. Sometimes it comes down to just how the butterfly flies or what is referred to the flight pattern. There are around 20,000 butterfly species on our planet but luckily in Albemarle County Virginia there are "only" about 70.

Spicebush Swallowtail
You may wonder why the count is necessary, other than it's just plain interesting and fun to do... it can be a barometer of the health of the area. There is a lot of talk of the decline of bees but we need to remember that many other insects pollinate such as butterflies and moths. Butterflies are also a major part of the food chain being a main food for birds when in the caterpillar stage. Habitat loss, pesticide usage, and climate change can impact butterfly numbers killing off species. Twenty are on the current endangered list.

Deep in the wildflowers in Old Trail
The count was great fun and I was so fortunate to be able to participate. Several area residents came over to ask what in the world we were doing poking around in the brush as if we were trying to find something elusive. Fortunately this year there was plenty of action but sadly, we never saw a Monarch.

Mushrooms growing near a creek
You can help by not using toxic chemicals and by growing native plants which often provide food for caterpillars and attract adult butterflies. Each year I add more and more native plants (in part thanks to the Native Plant Society annual plant sale) and my yard has been a butterfly bonanza this year!

Lovely wildflowers and pond in Crozet
Often we do not understand the relationship between one species and another until we study it. We see a plant that has chewed leaves and think our plant is doomed when often it's just part of the normal course of things. The worm eats the leaves but turns into a beautiful butterfly that turns around and pollinates the plant it chewed.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Keeping Chickens Entertained

Big Red and Iris enjoying a drink together
Chickens are constantly on a treasure hunt trying to find the best snack or perch. How do you keep chickens entertained and happy. I can't imagine caging up chickens without access to GRASS. Predators are always a concern but chickens are curious by nature and will thrive if allowed some roam time digging and running.

The following tips will keep chickens occupied. 

Kids playhouse on top of Subaru heading for chickens.
Haul in something for them to climb on. We found a kids playhouse on freecycle and strapped it to the top of our Subaru. They love perching on it after a rain to preen their feathers high off the wet ground. From time to time I bring in some shovels of dirt and toss in the floor of the house - all sorts of near invisible little snacks for them to dine on inside dirt!
Janie our biggest chicken and the leader.

Daily snacks. Each morning I juice oranges and share one half with seven chickens. Too much citrus can give them runny poo so don't overdo it. Also, it's been said crushed seeds and rind are not good for them, fortunately, when you juice, the seeds come out and they only want the interior fiber so all is good. I spear it so it doesn't turn upside down. Little ants and critters crawl in the cup, a chicken delight.

Forage for goodies on your property. Bring 'em some garden worms, cutworms, lettuce, dandelion leaves, raspberries, mulberries, blueberries, or strawberries (if they ignore berries, it's because they are too hard, so squish them and they will come running). They don't always have access to fresh greens in their run so I go and collect a little of this and that for them.

Leave some tall grass around the fence perimeter.
Tall grass & old roof panel, perfect for movable SHADE
One of our best predator defenses is the tall grass that has grown into the base of our fence. It is near 
impenetrable. We've spotted black Ratsnakes taking care of a mouse in the tall perimeter grass. Chickens love to jump up and eat the grass seed that has been allowed to mature. They also love to scratch and claw in the tall grass. We don't weed eat around our fence and trying to get the fence out is near impossible. We've never had anything more than a mouse tunnel its way in.

Make sure you have a soft dirt area in the shade where they can take dust baths. They like loose soil, leaves, or even wood chips. This is a chickens FAVORITE daily activity! Something as simple as digging a hole and mixing in wood chips or leaves will create a bath area that will be fought over!

Movable expansion pen, predator proof we hope.
Enclose a grassy area with a movable pen safe for them to patrol and hang out without fear of predators. My husband lets the chickens out of their coop at 7 am when he goes to work. I wanted them to safely have access to grass before I wake up several hours later. Coyote prowl until 9 am and Hawks are always out and about. I no longer sleep with one eye open from 7 - 9 am.

Old shutters provide light but tons of SHADE & dust bathing.
Section off fence areas and open them as the day progresses. My chickens are enclosed in their "safe zone" most of the day and when I am not home. Around 3 pm they are let out into the broader fenced area until they go up to roost. They love getting out where they can run and flap their wings, flying all about and enjoying breezes. Chickens tend to rest in the shade midday under the coop from 11 - 3 so there is no need for them to have free roam access as a predator could get them.

Provide them with shade zones. We hinged together two old shutters to create a place where they can dust bathe and hide out during the hot summers and even when it snows.

Pool noodles are not just for pools!
Perches, perches and more perches. I was looking for a low perch for my young chickens and decided a soft log might be the ticket. I stuck a bamboo rod through the center of a pool noodle. They LOVE it.
Your chickens will be safer, happier and you too will enjoy watching them have fun!

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