Farm Week: May 5, 2014

My second week here on the farm was quite a whirlwind of adolescent arrivals. We started off the week with a visit from an exchange group of French fourth graders, who were living with host families in nearby Ripon for two weeks. They were very well-behaved, asked a mix of intelligent and adorable questions, and took pictures of everything. Also arriving this week on the farm were 14 adorable newborn piglets. Two new sows farrowed on the same beautiful day without any problems, though when I woke up to thunderstorms later that night, the newborn pigs were the first thing I thought of.

We had been planning to order some new chicks to raise up into a pasture-based laying flock, and were just finalizing our breed choices when we were presented with an opportunity that was just too good to pass up. For half of the planned price, we bought twice the planned chicks, and so now we find ourselves with 200 chicks, some layers, some meat birds, and all of indeterminate breed and sex at this stage. It was a bit of a gamble, but at the end of the day (make that the end of the summer), we’ll hopefully end up with a trailer full of laying hens in the pasture and a freezer full of chicken for sale. 

As the weather continues to warm up, we continue to slowly fill the field with seeds and seedlings. We planted our potatoes this week, four different varieties. We continued to transplant brassicas and mustards, like cabbage, kohlrabi, and pak choi. We finished ripping out the remnants of early spring spinach production, and transplanted a whole range of tomatoes and peppers to get a jump on the weather and take advantage of the demand for early tomatoes at the market.

We rounded out the week with the arrival of two packages of honeybees, which we housed in hives down by the pond, followed by a barbecue and bonfire with a few people who volunteer on the farm. We couldn’t have asked for a better night for it!

Thinking about: timing, new friends, muscle memory

Eating: homemade pizza with cow tongue sausage, yeast rolls with homemade ricotta and beet chutney, homemade mac and cheese with guanciale and spinach, fresh raw radishes with homemade butter and salt

Reading: Temple Grandin’s Humane Livestock Handling, Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, Diana Henry’s Plenty

New Farmer Summit, April 3-5, 2014

Nothing get you energized in the spring than spending three days with 150 other people who are also looking forward to getting their hands dirty as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to squeeze in another conference (read about the last one here) before the season starts again in earnest. Once again, the three days were packed with new information, though-provoking conversation, and lots of awesome people. There’s really nothing like knowing that you could walk up to any person in a room and almost instantly engage on a thoughtful and passionate level about any number of things. 

The summit was hosted by Primrose Valley Farm in Belleville, WI, whose amazing event space provided the perfect setting. A smaller group of farmers arrived a day early for a bus ride to three different farms in the area. We started out with a tour of Primrose Valley’s state of the art greenhouse and wash and pack area. A visit to Grassroots Farm provided the perfect counterpoint, with a smaller scale and a more bootstrap approach. We ended the tour at Inn Serendipity, a wind- and sun-powered bed and breakfast with a small intensive vegetable plot. 

We rounded out the day with a BYOB meet and greet in downtown New Glarus, one of the best towns in the world for B-ing your own Beer! There I met up with Dela and Tony Ends, who had generously offered to host a few of us at their farm, Scotch Hill Farm, over in Brodhead. Over the next few nights and mornings, we quickly realized that we had signed up for a supplemental ongoing workshop from two delightful and kind organic pioneers. Their CSA is going on 20 years!

Friday and Saturday were chock-full of great workshops, working lunches, panel discussions, amazing local food, and even a square dance with a live band and caller. Nobody wants me to go into detail on each and every workshop, so instead I offer you another little list of tidbits from the workshops I attended this weekend:

  • From Jackie Hoch of Hoch Orchard: a “value-added product” is hardly ever more valuable than direct-marketed fresh fruit, but are a valuable way to reduce loss from imperfect or imperfectly timed fruit.
  • Biologically active soil is the pest preventative measure for safer food, as manure gets broken down almost instantly. 
  • Special events like Christmas markets are especially good for value-added products, which have to be unique enough to stand out from the competition but not too crazy for people to want to buy.
  • “Chick-saws” are small-scale mobile coops for egg layers that can be moved by one person (like a rickshaw) instead of a tractor. 
  • Greenhouse heating is a high expense, so make sure you’re maximizing your use - you only need walkways when you need walkways, so rolling tables can be useful to use every possible square foot. 
  • The USDA’s NRCS and FSA offices have special incentives for beginning, women, and minority farmers (and a severe acronym addiction), including grants and cost-sharing, and low-interest loans. 
  • While record keeping may seem like a chore associated with organic certification, if you incorporate data logging into your workflow, you not only spend less time on paperwork, but you’ve created systems that can be helpful for you above all.
  • Most farmers’ online marketing headaches can be solved by getting listed for free on a few sites - even more important than having a fancy website or a Facebook page. 

Farm(s) Week: October 21-25, 2013

Bit of a mysterious post this week. This was a bit of an odd week for me - I only spent two days on the farm before taking off, and one of those days was a delivery day! But thanks to Dan and crew, I was able to come up to Essex, NY for a weeklong try-out on Essex Farm. Essex a tiny town on the coast of Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks, notable for a ferry service over to Vermont and a very ambitious farm. Essex Farm is a full-diet, year-round CSA, which means that they provide veggies, dairy, meat, and some grain/flour for over 80 households in the area. It's a big farm, comparatively, and there's lots going on. On Friday, they celebrated their ten year anniversary on the farm with a member potluck at the local grange hall. I'm up here for another few days, and it's been a very interesting (and chilly) experience. Even if I don't end up working here, I've certainly learned from the week, and had a bit of an off-season hard-working vacation in the North Country.

Thinking about: cold winters, future plans, even smaller town life

Reading: T.C. Boyle's Without a Hero, Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture

Eating: hearty farm lunches with the crew - venison ribs, roasted chickens, slaws galore, potatoes, eggs, delicata squash biscuits

Farm Week (Plus): September 9-15, 2013

This week was an abbreviated farm week and a mini-vacation. Apprentices here get five vacation days each, and since it was nearing the end of the season and I had yet to take any, I decided to treat myself to a long weekend in and around Burlington, VT. I took a day and a half of vacation, leaving after the morning harvest on Thursday and narrowly (mostly) beating the heavy rains coming in from the southeast.

First, however, I had most of a farm week. As the busiest part of the season has passed for the most part, the CRAFT visits have resumed in earnest. This past Monday we visited a family-run orchard down in Roxbury, CT, Maple Bank Farm. Although they're not an organic operation, they were one of the first farms in the area to be growing food locally to sell at their very popular farmstand. Besides vegetables, sweet corn, and apples, they also have a pick-your-own blueberry patch and some sheep from which they sell lambs and fiber. While two hours isn't long enough to go into all of the knowledge necessary to run a successful small orchard, we went over the basics of pruning, grafting, variety selection, and marketing. The tour and talk was followed by a lovely (as usual) potluck. As the potluck was winding down, there was a hay delivery, and everyone jumped up to help stack the hay in the barn's hayloft. Dusty work, but it was many of the young farmers' first time even touching a fresh bale of hay and it was done in a fraction of the time it would have taken if we weren't there.

The rest of the week passed mostly like a normal week, and after Thursday morning's harvest was completed with some very far-off but menacing rumbles of thunder I jumped in the car for the five hour drive up to Burlington. The weather wasn't any better two hundred miles north, but it was good enough to walk from the hostel to a beer bar with a book! I spent Friday wandering around, browsing thrift stores, and generally people-watching. Saturday, I took a ferry across Lake Champlain to Essex, where I went on a farmers-only tour of Essex Farm (more on that in another post, I think). In the late afternoon, I drove up to Keeseville, where I had been a few months before at the Greenhorns solstice event in June. I met with some people I'm thinking about living with over the winter, then made it up to another ferry across the Lake and back down to Burlington just in time to fall into bed well past my bedtime. Sunday morning I went on a twenty-mile bike ride along the lakeshore and up to a land bridge/causeway in to the lake. Normally, there's a bike ferry that connects the causeway to an peninsula to the north, but the lake was too choppy to complete the fifty-foot crossing. The wind that I'd not even noticed pedaling north was quite a battle on the return trip. After one quick last shower in the hostel, I hit the road for a beautiful drive southward. On the way back, I stopped to scope out a forest farm where I was considering applying to for next season, which was worth the detour to cross it off my list. Overall, it was a great week and an even greater weekend!

Thinking about: winter possibilities, continuing education, intensity

Reading: Margery Fish's We Made a Garden, Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs

Eating: potlucks galore! farmers officially have the best potlucks! vermont cheese and beer!


Fun With Farmers: The Greenhorns Solstice Mixer

This past weekend, I took the back roads up to Keeseville, NY, about 120 miles up the Hudson River right next to Lake Champlain in the beautiful Adirondacks. The occasion was a Solstice Mixer hosted by the Greenhorns, an awesome organization of and for young farmers. I had a great time, met a ton of awesome young farmers, toured three great new farms cooperating in really inspiring ways, and learned some great stuff. For once, I made myself take pictures so I would have something to show for the weekend. Click through the slideshow below for a blow-by-blow of the weekend!