Monday, March 25, 2013

Fair Share Farm 2013 Signup Meeting

We held our 10th annual Spring Signup meeting on Saturday and it was a rousing success. An excited crowd of new and returning members joined us at St. Peters Legacy Center in Brookside (our newest distribution site) to sign contracts, get oriented, meet and greet, and otherwise try to bring on the Spring.

Signing contracts and mingling
It was, and always is a unique event. The first two words of CSA were clearly visible. Our Core Group did their usual wonderful job of helping members fill out and sign their contract, schedule their farm work days, and entertain the many childern who came.

Signing up
We were also joined by Parker Farms. Members were able to talk with Tom and Paula and sign up for their wonderful shares of meat and eggs.

We were glad to be able to give the members a bag of spinach in appreciation for their support. The income from the signup is a tremendous help to us, allowing financal concerns to take a back seat, and allowing us to concentrate on the upcoming season. It is an aspect of the CSA model that has a significant positive effect. The enthusiasm of the event is yet another one, and  helps propel us into the season.
View out the window on Saturday night
And if you have looked outside lately you know that this support is needed and appreciated. Despite the snow we are sticking to our gameplan of planting in the greenhouse and high tunnel, prepping our equipment to hit the fields as soon as we can, expanding the packing room and wash area, and otherwise working on the many tasks that CSA farming requires.

We are hoping that the forecast for this week holds true, so that by the end of the week or weekend we can start planting in the fields. This is the coldest and latest Spring we have seen. In looking at our photos it is not uncommon to have snow at the farm in late March, but the grass has always green underneath.

Growing and anxious to be planted
Luckily, mankind has yet to impact the Earth to such an extent that the sun won't rise higher each day during the Spring. So we look forward to the warming effect of Old Sol and are itching to dig in.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

2012---Our Ninth CSA Season

And so we reach 2012 ... and the reminiscing is about to end. It has been instructional and cathartic for Rebecca and me to review what the farm has been through over the last ten years. Every year has been a new set of challenges and unpredicable weather. As an example, the contrast between Spring 2012 and our present weather conditions is striking.

Red bud blooming March 24, 2012
2012 broke all sorts of records, including the hottest January-June on record and third driest year on record. The drought and mind-numbing heat of Summer (the average daily high in July was 98.2 deg F) made work difficult and came close to drying up our irrigation pond.

It was a very strange, if not somewhat bizarre year for the crops, with the early Spring and hot, dry Summer causing many plants to mature up to a month early. Strawberries were ripening on May 1 instead on Jule 1. Garlic was ready by June 5, a month ahead as well. And most of the potatoes quite literally cooked (and rotted) in the ground as the soil temperatures topped 90 degrees.

There were some major successes though. In the Spring the sugar snap peas were dripping off the vines with a new record of 550+ lbs. As mentioned, the tomatoes thrived...9,397 pounds of virtually blemish-free beauties thanks to the dry weather. The sweet potatoes were the most beautiful specimens we had ever grown. We also had good success with carrots, the Fall crops and many other vegetables.

Ryan picking peas (photo by Bill McKelvey)
tons of tomatoes

A good sweet potato plant
Sweet pea very full for the CSA delivery to the Bad Seed
Despite the crazy weather, the farm crew was up to the task. Dani Hurst returned for a second season as an apprentice and even squeezed a May wedding to Derek Brown into the year. Apprentice Ryan Stubby graced us with his hard work, good nature and awesome kale chips. Harvest extras allowed Ryan to hone his skills at food dehydrating, a talent he hopes to use in future ventures.

Ryan and Dani tending to the tomatoes in June
CSA member, Mark Flynn, had some free time that Summer and was a big help during the big tomato harvest and Fall planting push. The lack of rain and extreme heat created the need to put out mulch for the cabbage, broccoli and other July plantings earlier than normal. It was a big effort to complete, as the Summer harvest was also in full swing. Thanks again Mark.

Ryan, Mark, Dani and Rebecca planting cabbages in July
In June we traveled to Richmond, MO for the KC CSA Coalition tour of Parker Farms. As vegetable farmers and meat eaters we appreciate the effort that goes into raising free-range, pasture-fed livestock. Since we started collaborating with the Parker's in 2006, they have fed us most all of the meat we have eaten in the last 7 years. Tom, Paula and their four daughters hosted a delicious pot-luck and stroll of the farm. They are doing it right.

Pasture-fed and free-range beef ala Parker Farms
The other big task in 2012 was the construction of our new high tunnel. Grading of the site began in January. Two volunteer work days and many other hours of piecing it together were successful in getting things in order by mid-September. The high tunnel crops flourished that fall and allowed us to extend the season for 4 weeks.

Volunteers helping put up the main structure March 10th
Finished high tunnel on November 11th

Our last days of the season were out of the norm that year too. On October 20 the Outstanding in the Field crew and Justus Drugstore again set up at the farm for another fantastic dinner. It was a tough day though, as it was announced by OITF founder Jim Denavan that we were hosting the coldest event they ever held. Crazy for that to happen after the Summer heat wave.

We entered the Winter of 2012 already planning for an expansion of the CSA to 150 members in 2013. But first we are able to take a train ride to the Southwest and relax in New Mexico hot springs for a week. Such a break is always good.

The oft-photographed St. Francis Chuch near Taos, New Mexico
If you have been following this recollection all the way through we thank you, and hope you enjoyed it. We would appreciate your comments and look forward to hearing from our blog readers.

Next up...the 2013 season.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2011---Our Eighth Season

Impression of Rocky
By 2011 we had experienced eight years of farming in the same spot and seen how the land responds to just about every weather condition.  We continued to work on systems that could keep our farm resilient and sustainable for the future.

We were helped along by a principle promoted by Dr. W. Edwards Deming to "improve constantly and forever"... something I had learned in engineering and Rebecca knew inherently. It is an axiom that is in concert with the idea of sustainablility. We felt that we had a firm foundation to now build for the long-term future of Fair Share Farm.

The first couple months of the year were as busy as ever. We had one last area of the house to gut, insulate, re-wire, re-wall, re-window and re-door. We got it mostly done before things got too hectic and are enjoying the fruits of this labor to this day.

Only a memory now
The previous November, Lucas Knutter joined the farm team, house-sitting the apprentice house for the winter and joining us as a full-time apprentice in March. He had just finished a 27-month stint in the Peace Corp working with farmers in Senegal, and returned ready to start a farm of his own.  He went straight to work in January, joining us to repair some problem spots on the greenhouse.

It was a great year for the soil. Our Spring plantings went as smooth as ever after a quick cultivating pass with the G.

The Summer cover crop of sudan grass and cow peas grew 7 feet tall and was our best yet. Between the top growth and an extensive root system, the soil was given a feast.
Mowing down the cover crops before turning them under
Weather played its usual good guy/bad guy role, threatening tornados in the Spring, baking us silly in the Summer, and providing for a robust harvest in the Fall.  Kim Conrads joined us for the summer right after high school graduation and spent one of her first hours at the farm in our root cellar with the farm crew of CSA members, workers, farmers, a dog and two cats. Luckily no funnel stopped by.

Safe in the root cellar
August 2, a record high.
Among the standouts that year were our record snap pea (400+ lb), tomato (5,600+ lbs) and sweet potato (2,100+ lb) harvests . Other crops did excellent too, as the almost 2.7 lb head of broccoli pictured below can attest.

The tomato share during Week 11
CSA morning in the packing room

Colorful carrots
Head-sized broccoli
Fall share
July 25 was a unique day for us as we hosted Justus Drugstore and Outstanding in the Field for an al fresco dinner on the farm. It is tough to describe in one paragraph what a wonderful event it was. The food was unique and satisfying, the crowd happy and boisterous, and the presentation professional and artful. The whole story is in our July 26 blog.

The long table on a hot Missouri day
By August, Kim had headed to college and we had a new apprentice in Dani Hurst. She was ready to put the homesteading and farming skills she had learned about as a writer for Natural Home magazine into practice.  Her energy and good nature was appreciated for the next 1-1/2 years she spent with us.

Dani mulching leeks

Another group that has helped out over the years is my family. The road Rebecca and I took to where we are right now was not a normal one. While no doubt skeptical at first, their love and support for us over the years has been true and real. My brother and five sisters have all done a stint or two at the farm, visited during unique events like OITF, and otherwise used their talents to help us out. It has been a fun family affair.

My brother Bill juicing pears with our great-grandfather's press
Autumn 2011 was warm and the crops thrived into early winter.  The fields were plentiful past the end of our CSA season and for our annual night at the Bad Seed pre-Thanksgiving Market.


A rarity for us, the hustle and bustle of running a market table on a busy night is a lot of fun. So is catching up and bartering with all the other vendors, seeing our big city friends and enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Fall bounty
Next year ago and a new high tunnel, more record harvests, the drought, OITF II, and back to the present.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2010---Our Seventh CSA Season

Hawk wing impressions, and one less rabbit on the farm.
In 2010 the focus was better ergonomics.  The farm had grown for the past six years and we were realizing that we needed to find more efficient ways of farming so that our bodies would hold out for many years to come. Organic vegetable farming entails a lot of stoop labor.  Farming smarter involves improving the ergonomics of the work. Sometimes that means that you let a machine help you do the job, as in the case of tractor-mounted transplanters and cultivators.

With that goal in mind, I made the 300-mile round-trip to Morgan County Seeds near Barnett, Missouri and ferried back a transplanter on John's 16-foot trailer. No task causes me more anxiety than over-the-road hauling. I've hauled 50 greenhouse barrels strapped 3 high, our Allis Chalmers G, 100 square bales of straw, and entire kit for the high tunnel.  Each trip has given me more respect for the power and control necessary for such activities.

 the new Water Wheel transplanter
Farm apprentices Emily Lecuyer and Matt Maes joined us in late March. Emily had returned from a Peace Corp stint in the Phillipines and was ready to learn about CSA and biological farming. Matt was to get married that July, buy land nearby, and start a farm and a family - what a busy year! Emily and Matt pitched in during what would turn out to be a cold Spring and hot Summer.

Emily and Matt in the Spring greenhouse
We had our new Water Wheel transplanter, but no tractor to pull it. The Graff family tractor (aka Grandpa) was having some problems after 45 years of farming. Valve cracks, a rotted out radiator, and numerous other issues meant an overhaul was in order. Luckily FSF beekeeper, CSA member and all-around helpful soul, Keith Stubblefield, volunteered to share his mechanical knowledge and saved the day. He walked us through all of the repairs and gave the muscle of the farm a new life.

Keith adjusting the engine
Once Grandpa was back in service, we found that we could plant rows and rows of broccoli, cabbage, squash and sweet potatoes with the transplanter and made good use of it. Some plantings still required the tedious tasks of mulching and row covering, but such efforts have a payoff in improving the chance of a good harvest.

A quick planting of broccoli and cabbage

Mulched and covered to survive the cold Spring
Transplanting sweet potato slips
2010 was the year of a terrible outbreak of tomato blight on the east coast. It wasn't much better here, as our early planting was stunted by the cold, wet Spring. The later plantings of tomatoes that missed the bad conditions grew much better and saved the tomato crop from being a total bust.
Tomato plants with wet feet on a cold day
2010 success stories included 1,000+ quarts of strawberries (the record so far), 1,000+ lbs of beans, excellent onions, and our best winter squash harvest yet.  Efforts for the squash crop included cutting vine borer worms out of the stems of the plants. It saved a lot of plants and helped increase the harvest.

Garlic harvest
Lots of cukes
CSA bean picking morning
Winter squash in the barn
Our Allis Chalmers G had been with us for several years now and were were starting to realize it's full potential.  Along with seeding and cultivating, we increasingly used it to "gutter", using discs to make a raised bed. Guttering the beds has become one of the most important tasks we perform to improve drainage.

Emily cultivating and guttering
2010 was also the year of the Federal Stimulus.  Through University Extension, we learned that funds were available for remote solar irrigation systems on farms. In the end, we received 75% cost-share on purchasing over 2,000 feet of below ground irrigation pipe and four more solar panels. Trenching, laying and covering the pipe and appertunances took some doing, but was well worth the effort. Having a permanent supply line from the pond to our fields saves us countless hours previously spent rolling out and rolling up hose each year---yeah!  The additional solar panels improved our ability to reach the highest points in our fields with life-giving water.

New panels on left
On November 6th, 2010 Rebecca and I made it official and got married.  It was a great day!  With some help from the Graff family, we traveled to Hawaii in December and soaked up the sun and gorged ourselves on tropical fruit.

Star fruit tree on Kauai
Next up---putting it all together, Outstanding in the Field, barn facelift, and a long, hot Summer.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2009---Our Sixth Season

The years were flying by 2009. Entering our sixth season of the CSA, we were starting to feel comfortable with growing vegetables for over 100 families. Our original business plan was based on supporting the farm with a CSA membership of 100 shares, but we realized that a more realistic goal was a bit more than that in order to be economically sustainable.  To continue to grow we would need not only more members, but also more full-time farm workers.

January at the pond
We were able to grow enough crops in 2009 to sell 115 CSA shares.  The Fair Share Farm CSA Core Group continued their stellar work of running the organization as it grew: the Spring sign-up meeting, coordinating the farm work schedule, surveying the membership and expanding distribution.

Gary Glauberman and Kelly Parker helping with contracts at the Spring Sign-up
By the start of the season we hired two full-time apprentices. Lori Watley was a friend of the farm who had helped us often during 2005. Kara Jennings was so enthusiastic to apprentice with us that she drove in from Gladstone every day to learn the trade. Kara and Lori made the season what we called our best year yet.

Kara and Lori at the wash sink
Jeff and his son helping in the Spring 2008
A regular volunteer in 2008 and 2009, Jeff Hunter also was a big help in those years. He and his wife Stacey started a large garden at their local church, helped create a learning garden for kids, and now farm their own land.

In 2009 we made a big shift in our greenhouse production.  We had been experimenting over the previous couple seasons with the use of soil blocks for starting our transplants. We had found they created plants that were more robust, greener, held longer in the greenhouse, and experienced less transplant shock than plugs.

Soil blocks in the greenhouse

A flat of nice cabbage plants
When the harvest came in we couldn't complain.  Shares were full, filled by the harvest of 835 quarts of strawberries, 1,000+ lbs of beans, melons for all, great brassicas, and a stellar fall carrot and beet crop.

All this with the same annual rainfall (44+ inches) as the previous year. While the rain fell in less of a downpour pattern than 2008, our adjustments to how we prepared the ground also helped keep the crops out of the muck.

This was also to be the year that our cover cropping program came to life. We had initated an annual system whereby we plant oats and vetch in April, turn the crop under in June/July, and plant the bed in fall vegetables in August. We had a very good cover crop that year and the carrots and beets in those beds grew like none we had seen previously.

Strawberry harvest at its best
The Rouyer Family picking peas

Bean picking crew returning with their harvest
Sweet peppers
Watermelons for all
That year, we experimented with raising livestock.  We borrowed six of Parker Farms' sheep to reduce our mowing needs, apply some fertility to areas of ground yet to be broken, and learn about caring for livestock. It was fun and a success.

Katahdin sheep borrowed from Parker Farms
Bees proved to be a harder project. We had everything in place; an experienced beekeeper in member Keith Stubblefield, new hive boxes put together with the members' help, organic fields, and thousands of bees bought in their packages. But alas, for the next 3 seasons we could not develop a strong hive, and very little honey was drawn while most of the hives disappeared. The experts call the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder, a generic term that describes a problem with no known cause.

Ann Flynn, Fran Gillespe, Keith and Nancy Stubblefield
building the hive boxes
Bees but little honey
Rocky continued to grow and make friends, among them Nora Gibbons. Her parents, Heather and Scott, have been CSA members since our second season in 2005. As Heather was pregnant then, Nora has the distinction of being the oldest person to have been in the CSA her whole life!

Nora and Rocky
That Winter we drove down to Texas as part of an annual trip for Rebecca and her snow-bird, Grandmother Kathleen. It was a chance for me to meet her many cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews in the Lone Star State. When back at the farm we planned and studied. One such science project included looking at our compost through our microscope and realizing I could film it. Those critters are called springtails.

Rocky in December
Next up...2010 and lots of heat, learning to gutter, best winter squash, solar stimulus and a wedding day.