Thursday, February 28, 2013

2007---Our Fourth CSA Season

In 2007 we reached our 5-year goal of 100 members. It was an accomplishment we were proud of, and it established a good economic base for the future. The next step...was figuring out the next step.
A rare chance to skate on the old pond in February
Exterior work on the farmhouse before the season starts
Pre-season Core Goup meeting at Kelly and Rick's
We decided to approach the season as if we were starting fresh. We pretended that all the work in the previous years had been done by a different couple we called Rachel (a common misnomer for Rebecca) and Joseph (my middle name). For all the good things we saw on the farm we thanked them, and for all the things that broke or had to be redone we sighed and assigned them the blame.

St. Patricks Day was spent working on the barn, fixing the east loafing shed roof and walls with the help of fellow farmer Tom Parker and members Jim Markley and Victoria Wert. Working on a barn with the farm community is always fun.

Jim Markley, Tom Parker and Rebecca
Weather again played a unique role in the season, as it was the year of the "Easter freeze." After the third warmest March on record with literally everything blooming, the buds of Spring were killed off by two overnights of record low temperatures in the upper teens.

We fulfilled our contractual obligation to the CSA, doing everything in our power to protect the many beds of plants we had out in the fields by covering them with up to 3 layers of row cover. All the while we were battling high winds and the urge to take a shortcut or two. Our efforts paid off, as by June much of the broccoli we had protected headed up beautifully.

Row cover mid-April

Spring broccoli
The combination of high winds and temperatures in the teens made keeping the row cover on a never-ending chore for us and Libby Negus, who started her apprenticeship with us that week.  Working hard at the farm, moonlighting at Green Acres Market, and going to school to become a Montessori teacher kept her busy that year.

Picking peas with Libby (photo by Lorne Carroll)
April was also when we planted the strawberry patch. Members had voiced their opinion in our yearly survey that they wanted us to add berries to the shares. We felt that strawberries were the best choice, as they are sturdier than bramble fruit and, based on earlier trials, seemed to grow well here.

Strawberry patch humble beginnings 4/19/07
In general, 2007 was a good year for the crops. The tomato harvest topped 5,000 lbs and we picked over 5,000 individual summer squash. We planted some of the potatoes where we had run the chickens the year before and had our best yields to date. Beans, carrots, and the Fall brassicas were standouts.

Happy lettuce harvest led by 2013 apprentice-to-be Lorne Carroll and long-time member Betty Marcus
Picking summer squash
Members with the harvest
Thanks to the scarcity of wild fruit after the Easter freeze, the raccoons and opossums feasted on our successes in the field. We used a live trap to catch more than 30 racoons that summer, sometimes catching two at a time. They seem cute, but I will tell you that picking up a metal cage with a snarling wild animal in it at sunrise wakes you up for the day, and gets you thinking of alternative methods of predator control.
One of many
In June my Mother passed away. She was a grand lady, the source of my German blood, and a role model like no other. I'm glad Rebecca had a chance to make her aquaintance.
Mom would have been thrilled that August, as we were honored as the Clay County Farm Family of the Year. We have the local University of Missouri Extension Council to thank for nominating us for the award, and recogznizing a sustainable farming operation for the honor. They won us a free trip to the State Fair to pick up the award, where the orators noted that "farmers are the backbone of democracy." That's us! Love that quote.
We had a great Fall harvest with little to no frost until late in November. 

Fall cauliflower
The year ended with more home remodeling before heading to Italy in December.  We visited Rome, then took the train to the southern tip of the continent, Calabria, the ancestral home of the Ruggieri's.
Working on the back porch
In Calabria...the land of Persephone
Next up...electrifying the G, strawberry bonanza, Rocky, solar irrigation, adding mulch, and toooooo wettttt!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snow on the Farm, February 2013

Let it snow is what we are saying at the farm right now. We think we have the animals, structures, machinery and rations in hand for a day or two of staying at home. We are hoping for some nice runoff into the pond, so we can start the Spring with the meximum water supply.

Chicken coop in the snow
Working in the high tunnel on Monday
The main impact of the snow out here is the drifts. Winds swirl around the buildings and vehicles depositing thigh high dunes. This weather is not favored by the chickens or cats, but is loved by the dog. Rocky is built for days like this and it is a pleasure to see an animal so at home.

Work is progressing on more infrastructure work, as we are in the midst of expanding the packing room and wash area. Part of this is the construction of a new cooler, double the size of the old one. We are also trying to use up every scrap piece of wood, doors, siding, insulation and caulk to empty out the barn through repurposing.

Drifts to your thighs
Up at the pond

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2006---Our Third CSA Season

By 2006 Fair Share Farm and its CSA were here to stay. We continued to work on making our farming operation viable well into the future. Certain things we could control, like how and what we fed our soil, what we planted and when, and how we integrated the farm into the lives and health of our membership.
The fields at rest

What we can never seem to control is the weather.  January 2006 was the warmest on record, February the driest, and April the third warmest.  A good reminder that our job is to be ready for whatever weather comes our way. Wet, dry, hot, or cold, we cannot act like we are suprised by anything. The conditions in 2006 required us to start irrigating in April, something we had never had to do before.  What ever happened to April showers bring May flowers?

By 2006 it was becoming clear that the climate was (and still is) changing. For me, 20 years of work in industry and environmental engineering, coupled with over 10 years as an farmer, and the on-line availability of raw data showing such things as higher than ever-recorded atmospheric CO2 levels and a polar ice cap that is losing both area and volume every year, is enough to cause concern.

From Fox 4 WDAF (click to enlarge)
While these conditions caused some problems, they were also quite beneficial to certain crops. Warm, dry weather is what tomato, pepper and eggplant thrive in, as fungal diseases don't get established. We also had one of our best harvests of winter squash. 

Carnival winter squash
In scrolling through these old photographs we are reminded of how far we had to come.  The infrastructure still left much to be desired, especially when it came to good ergonomics in washing and packing.  CSA members from this time period will remember squatting in the grass hosing off vegetables.

Cleaning beets on a CSA morning
Rattlesnake beans
Distribution at the new 39th Street Market
2006 was also the year of the pond. In February, Graff Properties hired local expert Howerton Ditching to turn a gully into an irrigation pond. The pond drains a rather large area (10+ acres) and even with limited rainfall it filled up by April. We hope this tendency repeats itself this Spring, as the pond is down by about 50% right now.

Pond outlet structure

Finished pond---February 27, 2006

Filling pond---April 30
Among the visitors to the farm that Spring were Mary Meyer and Richard Cartwright from Michaela Farm. We worked with the two of them when we apprenticed, and learned much about biodiversity and sustainability. I always remember Richard noting that everyday he touchs the earth with his bare feet. Even in shoes, it is a good habit to get into.

Rebecca, Mary and Richard
Once again, we were fortunate to have lots of help through our full-time and volunteer apprentice program. The full-time apprentice position was split between Brenda Raygor and Lindsay Medoff (the latter of Fair Share Farm tote bag fame). 2007 apprentice Libby Negus, Peas on Earth farmer Julie Coon, neighbor Jen Basuel and farm-girl Kathy Plant filled out the crew. Bad Seed mistress Brooke Salvaggio also helped out on her way to loads of her own fun.

Brenda, Jen, Libby, Julie and Kathy, a great crew
Planting garlic with Farmer Brooke, before Bad Seed, Dan, Percy or Urbavore
Lindsay's wonderful tote bags
This was also to be the first year that we integrated animals into our farm operation. Previously unknown Liz Elmore moved back to KC from Pennsylvania and gave us a call inquiring about raising broiler chickens on our land. The plan was for it to be Liz's business operation and we would provide the land and some labor. In return we got a few chickens, the fun of farm animals and lots of chicken poop.
Chicks in the brooder
Chickens in their movable pen
Long story short, the soil made out the best in this venture. As this was before Rocky, the racoons were a major problem, and the 95 to 100+ F degree summer was not conducive to fattening up chickens. The next animal operation at the farm would have to wait until 2009.

2006 was also the year of The 100-Mile Diet. A term you may be familiar with, it became especially popular in 2006 as people across the country began focusing on eating meals with ingredients grown and raise in their immediate locale. In KC we helped spearhead a group of 8 to 10 folks who wrote a series of article on the experience in Present Magazine. This on-line publication was the brainchild of friend Pete Dulin. His 2005 article on the farm is still our favorite look at what we do. Our fun culminated in a CD with copies of the articles, our favorite recipes, and resources for buying local.

The year ended with what has become our favorite mode of transportation---Amtrak. It had been 5 years since Rebecca and I met, and I left Rochester after 20 years of living there. It was nice to get caught up with friends and with the farmers at Peacework. We then hopped the train downstate to stay with my brother and his family in Brooklyn.

Rebecca NYC
When we returned, we found our 1947 Allis Chalmers G tractor.  While it looks like a feather-weight, it is best tractor on the planet for smaller, organic vegetable farms like ours.

Arrival of the G
And next year...growing for 100, Easter freeze, starting the strawberry patch, and steady as she goes.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

2005---Our Second Season

In the beginning, our goal for Fair Share Farm was to have a 100 member CSA. It was our belief that a CSA of that size would sustain us economically as well as nourish us (we now know that number was a little low).
Ice storm---first week of January
Our second season was planned as another incremental step towards that 100 member goal. We were able to grow our CSA membership to 50, and were planting enough in the fields for 75. This approach allowed us a cushion to make sure we could provide for our members, and would leave us a surplus that we could sell at the Crossroads Farmers Market (our city distribution point).

CSA distribution table

Market table
The season was a good one. It started out slow, but we did have some excellent crops that year, including tomatoes, potatoes, beans and broccoli. We think that we may have been showing people that we at least knew something about vegetable production, and when we were on, things were as good as you could get.

Spring broccoli
Heirloom tomatoes
A wonderful crudite of June vegetables
Part of the reason for our success was the extra hands we had to help us. In 2004 Bill McKelvey earned the right to be called our first apprentice (once a week volunteer). While we were doing more learning than teaching back then, it was nonetheless instructive and proved to be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

Another friend-to-be, Lori Watley began volunteering with us too. She helped us begin the orchard, and later returned as a full-time apprentice in 2009. The title of first FSF full-time apprentice goes to Amy Bousman. Currently a Kansas farmer and dairy maiden, we are happy to have been a help during her earlier years.

Bill helping sort potatoes for the Fall root cellar

Rebecca and Lori planting a fruit tree
Amy washing Chinese cabbage
Then there was the farm infrastructure. Afterall, what's a farm without fences and a barn with a good roof. We had neither at the start of the year. Our landlord, Graff Properties, hired out a re-roofing of the barn and the work was completed in time for the season.

Roof work in the Spring
Packing room ready to go for the year
The fencing that I was referring to was the 3,750 linear feet of deer fence. After two years of electric fencing, hair bags, bobcat urine and Irish Spring soap, it was apparent that an 8 foot high physical barrier was the only thing that would keep the deer out of our fields.

The planning began in January, and in March we were cutting the black locust trees that would become the fence posts. Throughout the year we picked away at the project---laying out the fence, digging post holes every 25 feet, setting the posts with the members' help, building gates, and finally hanging the fence. We could not farm without it.

Member Mark Flynn and brother-in-law Jeff Wilson working on posts---
Thanks for the help

Setting the posts with the members' help
John and his deer fence spool
Among the other highlights of the year were the arrival of our two cats Momma and Sunny. The kitten Sunny arrived on Amy's doorstep (RV step actually) and his constant meowing was soon met by that of his mom. We offered them some food, and they never left. They were a welcome addition to the farm, as Rebecca's cat Luna had been laid to rest in February, and we were happy to have another mouser or two on the farm.

Sunny and Momma
We were able to take a real vacation that year, traveling to one of Rebecca's favorite haunts---Mexico. Oaxaca City, Puerto Escondido, and Mexico City were our stops...the land of local coffee, chocolate and bananas. The people, countryside, food and culture were a wonderful retreat after three solid years of work.

Saturday wedding at Santo Domingo, Oaxaca City

Farm-raised Xmas gifts
Next up...abnormal weather, a growing CSA, a year of chickens and a new pond.