Young Farmers Conference 2013

Last week found me in Tarrytown, NY for the Young Farmers Conference, an annual event for young and beginning farmers held at the Stone Barns Center, home of the famed Blue Hill restaurant. Because of the limitations of the facility, they have to restrict how many people come, so unlike MOSES last year with 3,000 participants, Stone Barns was at capacity with about 300. That means every year people get turned away from their lottery-based sign-ups and those who make it are super excited to be there. Instead of doing a full play-by-play of the whole event, I'm just going make a few lists here before posting some pictures. The whole 3 days was filled with new ideas, both from the workshops and presenters and from conversations with other participants. No doubt I'll be referring back to things that I encountered at YFC in future blog posts!

Workshops I Attended:

  • Sustainable Hog Production (full day seminar)
  • Why Every Farm Should Have a Sugaring Operation
  • Agroforestry
  • Beekeeping for Beginners
  • Electric Fencing
  • Welding
  • Whole Animal Butchery

With the exception of the full-day seminar, these workshops were each an hour and a half, which was time enough for an introduction to the topic, some specifics and Q&As, and a nudge in the right direction for more resources and information.

Speakers and Full-Conference Events:

  • Staged reading of the verbatim play "Farmscape" and Q&A with playwright
  • Krysta Harden, USDA Deputy Secretary
  • Wendell Berry in conversation with daughter Mary Berry
  • Chellie Pingree, congresswoman and farmer from Maine
  • Kathleen Merrigan, former USDA Deputy Secretary and person behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative
  • Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill
  • Cheryl Rogowski, amazing, socially-conscious farmer and MacArthur genius
  • Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens, groundbreaking NY farmers
  • Social hour, barn dance, and lots of meal-time conversation over really good food

Fun facts, tidbits, things to think about from the conference:

  • From Tom Frantzen: while we may not agree with the methods used by industrial agriculture, we need to recognize that when it comes to efficiency and profitability, they do everything for a reason. When we prioritize humane treatment, quality of life and sustainability, we inherently make compromises in other areas. This is one of the "brutal facts" that we need to confront.
  • Pigs can be used to eradicate invasive species like multiflora rose!
  • The Practical Farmers of Iowa are doing amazing things and I need to spend a few days poking around that website.
  • You need to boil 40 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of maple syrup, which means that syrups is one of those crops that really needs a certain scale to be efficient. Small-scale aggregators who drive around buying raw sap from farmers and boiling it down using super-energy efficient burners is a solution to this problem.
  • Lacking this infrastructure, plain maple sap can also be a marketable commodity! Think of the popularity of coconut water and of local food - these combine perfectly in maple sap, which can be guzzled outright or used to brew coffee, make soda, cook, etc. Think of the possibilities!
  • To be considered Agroforestry, there need to be three levels of production. For example - canopy (trees/lumber/fruit), forages (grasses and legumes), animals (pigs, cows, bees, etc.)
  • A 1% increase in organic matter in topsoil sequesters an additional 10 tons of carbon per acre.
  • You can use a close-planted stand of evergreens like an overgrown/abandoned Christmas tree farm for an "outdoor living barn" to shelter cold-hardy cattle like Scottish Highlands during the winter.
  • Nurse bees, who take care of the eggs and larvae in the hive, are the youngest of worker bees and don't yet have stingers.
  • On each flight, a bee will keep collecting pollen from the same species as the first flower it encounters.
  • The pesticides that are thought to be a possible cause of colony collapse are fat soluble and may be stored in the wax (fat) in beehives, so using a method where the bees rebuild their wax from scratch every year, like top bar hives, might be effective in slowing the demise of the honeybee.
  • An electric fence is only as strong as its ground, which should be much bigger than you would think. The point is to be enough conductive metal in the ground to attract the current going through an animals nose and to the ground through its hooves to complete a circuit, which is what actually makes the shock.
  • You should always recharge deep-cycle batteries before they drop below 40% of their charge for maximum utility.
  • Never buy a used welder from a welding shop - they use them all day every day! Buy from a place where it gets more gentle/occasional use.
  • Having even a small welder means easy on-farm repairs and fabrication for tractors, greenhouses, etc!
  • Coppa is an alternative to prosciutto that still has beautiful marbling but due to its size only take a few months as opposed to over a year for a whole ham.
  • Finally, according to Wendell Berry, our generation will always be living on the "margins of a bad economy," which means that we're going to have to "learn to use the things that other people have given up on - including maybe land."

I'm off to the airport for a holiday visit to family in Argentina! More in the new year!



Farm Week: September 30 - October 4, 2013

Walking down the street to work this week, I can't help making that age-old detour: shuffling through the crunchiest leaves I can find! Besides the satisfying crunching and crackling, there's a certain smell that newly-fallen leaves give off when rustled around that I can never experience without smiling. It's well-known that the olfactory system is closely linked to emotions in the brain, but I'm still always surprised at how evocative aromas can be. Apart from food smells, fallen leaves is right up there with the beginning of a hot summer rainstorm and the first blossoming trees of spring: smells that can't be bottled, and all the better! If I could summon the crunchy leaves smell at will, the effect would be dulled every time. I'll just have to be content soaking it in while I can.

We had a bit of an indian summer this week, with daytime temps getting up to the mid-eighties, and this weekend we're getting a bit of appreciated rain. The fields were getting a bit dusty! Besides our normal harvest schedule, we spent some time chipping away at a big task (weeding the strawberry patch), cultivating our fall greens, and pulling up the outdoor tomato stakes and tilling the plants under. We're still harvesting peppers and eggplant, but the tomatoes are pretty much gone. We have a great fall crop of carrots and beets that we're working our way through, and I'm preparing to make a big batch of beet chutney this afternoon. There never seemed to be enough tomatoes to can any sauces this summer, and cucumbers and zucchini were scarce, so I haven't canned much this summer. Last night also brought a serendipitous good time - I was about to go see a movie when I saw on Twitter that a friend's band was playing in Great Barrington in a few hours. So I cashed in my movie ticket and headed back home to round up the gang. The band was amazing, and anyone on the east coast should look at their tour dates and see when they'll be playing a bar near you. The band is Saint Anyway, from Duluth, but featuring proud New Englander Ben Cosgrove.

Thinking about: ever-filling calendars, visitors, leaf-peeper traffic

Reading: Three more silly detective novels, William A. Owens' This Stubborn Soil, Herman Koch's The Dinner, Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangements, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything

Eating: venison and pork chili, local Macoun apples, lots of tea with local honey, tortellini with green olives and Sam and Lisa's first harvest of winecap mushrooms, ham egg and cheese on English muffins

Big Weekend: Fire & a Fair!

This past Saturday, we had a great bonfire and party with friends and other farmers from the area. For the occasion, we cooked up a picnic shoulder from one of the pigs that we slaughtered two weeks ago. I decided I wanted to try a twist on an underground cooking method used in Hawaii and the Yucatan with the Chubby Bunny twist. After 7+ hours underground, the results were amazingly delicious. Possibly the best bbq-ed pork I've had in my life.  

On Sunday, sufficiently recovered from Saturday night's festivities, we managed to sneak in an afternoon at the Goshen Fair in between thunderstorms. We perused the livestock and veggie tents, ate the fair food (hand-dipped corn dog! sour dill pickle!), and I even made a spur-of-the-moment decision to compete in the skillet toss!

Farm Week: August 26-30, 2013

Barring one unexpected development, this week chugged along as normal. Besides our normal harvests, we seeded still more salad mix, arugula, and spinach. We transplanted a last round of chard, and we have just one last round of flats awaiting transplanting this fall. We finally harvested some outdoor tomatoes and a ton of zucchini, so it felt for awhile that July arrived in late August. That month of rain really set us back, and we still haven't left the repercussions behind. Our late-planted eggplant don't look like they're going to produce much - we've only harvested about one fruit per plant. We only were able to save about 20% of our sweet potato crop from the weeds, and I grudgingly tilled under the weed-choked beds this week.

The big news this week was that Farmer Dan has thrown out his arm from an old recurring injury, and he was in a sling all week. The good news is that it's not his strong arm, but he will be a bit incapacitated for the near future. Not one to take illness or disability lying down, we spent much of the week tssk-ing his insistence on continuing to use his arm against all protestations.

This week also brought a midweek birthday celebration for Ham (apprentice Dan) - highlights included a delicious peach pie from Tracy and a very rousing two-stringed uke performance from Baxter. We marked the holiday weekend last night with a great bonfire, which I'm going to devote a whole post to later this week. First, I have to recover from said bonfire in time to go to the fair! The tilt-a-whirl is out of the question, but I think I might be able to muster the strength for the mandatory corn dog!

Thinking about: impending cold, later sunrises, tradition

Reading: Therese Anne Fowler's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Michael Pollan's Second Nature, David Rakoff's Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish A Novel

Eating: tacos with homemade refried black beans and grassfed local beef, homegrown ground pork with carmelized fennel and wilted greens, freshest ripest peaches

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!