Farm Week: August 11, 2014

Well, I survived my five days in charge of the farm. The animals were fed, watered, moved, and milked as necessary, the veg was weeded, watered, harvested, delivered, and sold, and I came out the other end relatively unscathed, if with a bit of a summer cold. I can’t blame the farm for that, but I have two small suspects in the hunt for patient zero. It was actually quite nice to be on the farm all day - I’m up early no matter how hard I try to sleep past 6, and I’m usually asleep by 10, but that leaves a quite a bit of time outside my usual “business hours.” I went out early to start the morning chores, attempting to finish them by the time the vegetable helpers arrived at 8:30 or 9. Most days, I was mostly successful. It was also nice to be able to work in the evenings, when the sun wasn’t so strong. I picked tomatoes in the greenhouse, weeded the celeriac and the carrots, added another super to the beehives, all under a much gentler sun. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I kept remembering that while I could keep the farm running, it was on a very basic level, pared down, well-prepared, and well-assisted. I didn’t have to keep track of two young boys or do any caretaking work for the landlord. As smoothly as it went, it actually deepened my respect for how hard and how long Mat and Danielle work on a daily basis. I certainly hope they actually relaxed on their trip, though I doubt they are capable of complete relaxation.

In other news, August continues racing by at a record-breaking clip. I can’t really tell whether we’re still in the throes of summer or whether fall has come early. Our field tomatoes are stalwartly green, and we’re hoping that the weather cooperates enough to give us a pretty good yield. After last year’s near crop failure, I’m looking forward to stocking up on tomato sauces for the winter. We have a few varieties of paste tomato out in the field, and I’m looking forward to canning as much as possible when they finally start ripening (knock on wood). Though I have no basis for this hunch, I have a feeling we’re in for a bit of an Indian Summer. It’s been a bit of an odd year, weather-wise, and I’m just hoping it cooperates long enough for at least a good portion of the ton of green fruit to turn red (and yellow and orange and stripedy). I’m trying not to think about how busy the next two weeks are going to be, and spent a good portion of the morning (dis)engaged in some classic nothing-doing while I have the chance. The next two weeks bring a big event on the farm, a parental visit, a going away party, helping friends move, moving myself, starting a second job, and a trip to the twin cities for a wedding. Oh yeah, and I’m really hoping for some ripening tomatoes, as if I needed something else to fill my time!

Thinking about: coordination, cooperation, condensation

Eating: broccoli-based stir-fries, tomatoes and basil, garlicky eggs, locally (in)famous spaghetti and meatball pizza

Reading: Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story, Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States

Farm Week: August 4, 2014

August just seems to be speeding by, and this week was also a blur of activity and decisions. We had the usual amount of harvest, CSA delivery, and farmers market activity. Adding to the flurry were the preparations for the Boersons to leave for their annual family camping trip up to Superior, leaving me in charge of the farm for a couple days. So this weekend and the beginning of next week finds me feeding, watering, harvesting, and delegating. We'll be harvesting for and delivering our CSA boxes as usual, so I'll have our usual stream of weekly helpers, plus a few extra hands on deck to help with the steady stream of chores. So far, so good (knock on wood for me, would you?).

Also lots of life decisions happening this week. One of my good friends here just got a really awesome job that will take her to Seattle before the end of the month. It's an awesome opportunity, and I think she'll love living in Seattle, but I'll certainly miss having her around here. At the same time, I applied for and then quickly accepted a job that will keep me here for another year. The local high school hosts about half a dozen international students from all over the world who come for the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. They're usually coming as a stepping stone to attending college in the States, so they're a very responsible, driven bunch. Anyways, the school is renting a house in downtown Green Lake for the school year, and they needed an RA/house mother. Luckily for them, there happens to be a well-traveled, multi-lingual, over-educated itinerant living just down the street. So I'll also be moving by the end of the month, to a cute little house in town. Though they're working with me to make sure I'll be able to fulfill my obligations at the farm through September, after that I'll be free to come to the farm during the school day, when I don't have any obligations to the program. Next summer, school will end just when the market and CSA season starts to ramp up, and I'll work another season here at the farm. Over the school year, I'll have one weekend off every month, and in the summer I'm going to make it a priority to go out to the Future Farm at least once a month. I'm planning on moving out there full time next fall, so right now I'm about 14 months from Startup. Lots of things just fell into place this month, and I'm excited to see what the next year will bring. Watch this space!

Thinking about: transitions, timelines, tinkerers

Eating: salads, tomatoes, broccoli, variations on zucchini and eggs, another pulled pork crop mob lunch, celebratory crispy pork belly and fondue

Reading: Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story

Farm Week: July 14, 2014

Another busy, productive week on the farm. Summer had a bit of a mood swing, and I wore a sweatshirt and jeans for a whole day, which was a bit disconcerting. The cool weather doesn’t seem to have hampered our greenhouse tomatoes too much, and we picked enough cherry tomatoes and little striped tigerellas to sell a few pints at the markets this weekend. We have also been able to start our much-anticipated BLT Wednesdays, which we’ve been talking about for weeks, if not months. We happen to get fresh artisan bread delivered every Wednesday, have a chest freezer full of bacon, a field full of lettuce, and a greenhouse (and eventually a field) full of tomatoes. If I ever get tired of a homegrown BLT, someone slap me. 

I’ve been going to the market in Princeton on Wednesday afternoons for the last few weeks, and that’s been an interesting experience so far. It’s a new market, and so has very few vendors right now, but I’m pleasantly surprised that by the third week, I already have what seem to be regular customers, some of whom actually remember my name. I’m hoping to keep increasing my sales and getting more and more people to come out on a regular basis. 

After last weekend’s visit to see my aunt and uncle and parents at my future farm, I’ve spent the week showing people pictures of the site and trying to articulate my plans. It has been a useful exercise to organize my thoughts a bit, and I’ve been doing lots of thinking about what my startup year is going to look like. I’m still at the pen and paper stage these days, but at over a year out, I’m starting to think about ways to prepare in advance and from a  distance. If I can swing it, I might try to start breaking sod on an acre or two this fall and plant some cover crops. Newly broken sod is not hospitable to most plants, so the more in advance I can get the process underway the better the first season will look. Some days I want to jump right in, and some days I want to keep my farm at the hypothetical level for a little longer. I often marvel at how long and hard Mat and Danielle work, and Danielle has said that when it’s your farm, that’s all you want to do. It’s not that I feel like this is “just another job,” but there is a limit to my investment, emotionally, personally, financially. It’s an odd thing to be looking forward to working the hardest I’ve ever worked, but that’s the strange part about wanting to run your own farm.

Thinking about: income streams, person scale, harvest frequency

Eating: aforementioned BLT, green beans, new potatoes, zucchini, fancy goat cheese

Reading: Roberto Bolano’s 2666, Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard, Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier’s Edible Forest Gardens, Ron L Engeland’s Growing Great Garlic

Farm Week: May 26, 2014

This week was an intense week on the farm, in a few different ways. On the one hand, we got quite a bit done. Our greenhouse tomatoes are pruned and trellised! Our fields keep filling up with transplants! We are (so far) keeping up with the cultivation! The sun came on strong and hot this week—we are apparently skipping spring for the most part this year. Our first CSA boxes went out this week, which included over-wintered leeks, pea shoots, asparagus, rhubarb, and mint. The relative scarcity this early in the season will be compensated for with some very heavy, full boxes later in the season. For now, though, we have a few spring delicacies to offer. 

The other thing that made this week intense was that we lost the family milk cow, Frida, very suddenly to bloat. Bloat usually occurs in the spring when cows return to the pasture after eating hay all winter. You can mitigate the risk of bloat by not putting cows out onto wet grass and by limiting access to very rich or high-nitrogen pasture until they become slowly accustomed to fresh pasture again. We did both of these things, and we still weren’t able to prevent it. It happened the same day that we had to deliver CSA boxes and drive feeder pigs to another farmer a few hours away, so we were all pretty busy. We brought the cows in after less than two hours on pasture, and there were no warning signs. Hours later, when we went to do the evening barn chores, we was gone. Once a cow is bloated there are a few last-ditch things farmers can try to save them. A risky approach is to use a needle or a thin knife to puncture between the ribs and let the air out. This comes with quite a risk of infection. Another option is to lubricate a length of garden hose and force it down the cow’s throat until it hits the rumen and expels the gas. Not a pleasant task, but you’d be willing to try it if it might save the family cow. But it’s a moot point, as we missed any window for action. It’s a sad thing to lose any animal, but a family milk cow is closer to a pet than any other livestock on the farm. Looking for that silver lining, we did just gain a milk cow in Redtop, so we won’t be without milk. Also, Frida’s calf from last year is a young heifer, almost ready to be bred. By this time next year, she’ll have a calf of her own, and Frida’s legacy will continue on the farm.

Thinking about: constant vigilance, setbacks, progress

Eating: asparagus, ramp, and morel omelets; homemade oatmeal and flax seed cookies

Reading: Steven Apfelbaum’s Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Farm Week: July 1-5, 2013

My hands are bloodied this week. They are consistently, undramatically bloodied with every slapped mosquito. It is a constant battle that I am losing on every front, the secondary attack of those many weeks of nonstop rain and standing water. There are the constant daytime outdoor attacks, but then there are the night-time sneak attacks, the cumulative damage that two mosquitoes can inflict on a body over the course of a good night's sleep. On the upside, I haven't been seeing as many ticks recently, which isn't a comfort to Dan, who's now a week into his Lyme antibiotics.  

My hands were also dramatically and momentarily bloodied during our first large-scale chicken harvest. We had done a practice-run last weekend of the four biggest birds, so I could relay to Dan the procedure that I learned a few weeks ago from former Chubby Bunny apprentices. So on Saturday we had 22 birds left to dispatch and a heat index in the very high nineties. If I thought flies and mosquitoes were bad when we're in the fields, that doesn't compare to flies when you have buckets filling up with first-rate fly food. We got through it, and now we know that three people is not enough for a fast and efficient chicken processing day. Lesson learned! Boy did that cold stream feel good, even if it is slowly drying up. But as I told my fellow fieldworkers and stream-dippers, I'd rather have to lay down in the stream to cool off than have another week of rain.

My hands were only slightly bloodied in the tomato greenhouse this week, where a mix of tomato sap, pollen, and dirt turned them ghastly colors. We also ate our first greenhouse tomato! There are a handful of slowly ripening fruits, but plenty of big green tomatoes, so hopefully we'll have enough in a few weeks to start sharing the bounty with our members. I definitely didn't mind biting into that blood-red fruit this week!

Thinking about: essential oils, lifestyle choices, the art of storage

Reading: The Greenhorns' 2013 New Farmers Almanac, Selected Letters of Willa Cather

Eating: our own chicken (pieced, BBQed, and shared with two girls hiking the Appalachian Trail), fresh-caught brook trout with mixed-veg risotto, summer squash in eggs and in pasta, so many snap peas