We certainly got out of the habit of the monthly farm newsletter on the blog - but that is partly because we got into the habit of posting something nearly every day since April. But, it is clearly time to give an update of what is going on at the Genuine Faux Farm.
Put on your hat and your gloves. Make sure you are dressed warmly and have proper footwear. Make sure you are clear of the tractor, keep your toes out from under the implements and don't have loose clothing dangling near the power take off. And please, please.. when I ask you to weed the beans, don't PULL the BEANS!
What is Still Available from GFF in 2020?
It is December. We did not plant a late Fall/Winter crop in our high tunnels this year (for a whole host of reasons), so our offerings will be simple. Sorry - we only have pictures of lettuce.
We will have eggs. We will have broiler chickens (frozen). And we still have garlic. There may be a smattering of golden beets and an odd item or two. The key here are the eggs. Our current laying flock is consistently providing 5 to 5 1/2 dozen eggs each day. They may slow a little in the colder weather, but they will produce -which means they need to get moved - hence our motivation to make sales!
We are also hoping to pull out our inventory of cookbooks, bags and maybe t-shirts? We have to find them first. Then we would like to offer them so they get used! Maybe making interesting and useful Christmas gifts?
Our anticipated deliveries for December are as follows:
- Dec 9 (Wed) - Waverly and Cedar Falls
- Dec 16 (Wed) - Waverly and Cedar Falls
- Dec 22 (Tues) - Waverly and Cedar Falls
Farm Retreat / Foresight 2021
We keep pushing the farm retreat back as our other duties continue to eat up available time and energy. But, that has not stopped us from doing some research and having good conversations between the two of us. Again, nothing is finalized, but we want to keep people informed of where the wind appears to be blowing - if only so you can give us feedback if you wish.
Goals for 2021
- Simplify our production and sales plans to account for many fewer labor hours.
- Increase the percentage of 'enterprises' on our farm that are successful by identifying those we are best at, those we like the most and limiting ourselves to a subset of ONLY those enterprises.
- Recommit the Genuine Faux Farm to a set of core values and do our best to make sure our farm enterprises reflect those values.
Diversity and Environmental Health
It seems a bit odd that we want to recommit to diversity by simplifying our crops and we are not saying that we did not like the diversity we worked hard to maintain in prior years. What we are saying is that there are many ways to achieve healthy diversity on the farm and we just need to pursue it differently because life at the Genuine Faux Farm is changing, like it or not.
Connect People to Nature and Where Food Comes From
Once again, there are many other ways to make this connection other than direct sales via a CSA or farmers' markets or farm credits. We are still committed to this principle, we are just likely to change how we are going to go about it.
Address Food Insecurity
While we have done what we could for this in the past, we may actually have an opportunity to do more here than we have in the past. The consistent paycheck that comes from Rob's employment actually gives us the flexibility to rely less on farm sales - we may be more able than ever to pass product on at low (or no) sales prices to address local food insecurity issues.
Maintain a Healthy Balance
We have really made adjustments over the past two years to find a balance between hard work, service to others, and our own health and well-being. So, when a call comes that help is needed - we are among those who are ready to answer that call. But, also - we want to live lives that are open to awe and willing to express gratitude.
Valhalla and Eden - the High Tunnels
The high tunnels are the most valuable growing ground we have and we intend to use them in 2021. The question, of course, is how?
If 2021 is anything like 2020, we expect that the two of us will do 95% of the work on the farm. And, yes, we both expect to be employed by someone other than our farm (Wartburg for Tammy and PAN for Rob) in 2021. We are pretty certain we can manage a fairly complex and interesting (to us) growing plan for two high tunnels and their surroundings. On the other hand, the other 5 acres of growing area we have? That has to stay simple or we will fail.
We are considering using one of our high tunnels to grow out some pepper seeds for Seed Savers. The plus side there is that we only harvest when the fruit are ripe for seed production and otherwise concentrate on growing them out healthy while looking for any off-types that we should remove. Otherwise, we will maintain variety in the high tunnels - in part because we want to feed ourselves (of course), in part because we think it is the healthiest way to raise produce in a high tunnel.
What will we grow? Well, that depends on... everything. Including how we intend on disposing of the produce. But, it is a sure bet that we will have lettuce, spinach, green beans and tomatoes in some volume.
Fields in 2021
Well, we do have about 1800 garlic planted and we have our asparagus patches (including a new one started this year). So, we have to maintain those. Otherwise, the most likely field crops for 2021 are green beans for seed to sell to Seed Savers and... well, we're not sure.
The most likely candidates include winter squash, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and potatoes. We may grow out some cucumbers or melons for seed crops (Seed Savers again).
And, of course, there will be intercropped flowers and herbs. As you know, we do that to support pollinators and other beneficial critters.
And, where will it go?
This is the hardest part for us. But, we are fairly certain that we are moving completely away from the weekly individual sales models. There simply are not enough hours in the day for us to do our jobs, grow the produce, care for the animals AND handle sales promotion, tracking, packing and delivery. It is hard to admit that we have limits and even harder to step away from something we have done since 2004 in some fashion or another.
At present our plan for disposition of the veggie crops are as follows:
- certain crops for seed production
- key crops for bulk sales
- donation of crops to the food bank
- trade for volunteer labor with willing individuals
- minimum order amounts of key crops to individuals who wish to can/freeze - for example 20-30 lbs of tomatoes.
We liked how our 2020 poultry plan worked out for the most part. Yes, there were issues at times - but that will be true for every year and every plan. Our plan for 2021? Do that again, with minor modifications... depending...
What does that mean?
Well, we have a laying flock that we are actually really enjoying. This has got to be the nicest tempered and easiest to deal with flock of hens we have EVER had. And, they are producing pretty well. At the very least we will see them through to next Fall. At the most, we will order a similar number of chicks to be delivered in the Spring (assuming the postal service still delivers).
Time to be brutally honest here. If we rely only on sales direct to the consumer, we drop the broiler chickens except for a small batch for our own use. Why? Well, of the 450-500 birds we processed this year, 350-400 will go to one place - Jorgensen Plaza. So, as long as Jorgensen Plaza can weather the pandemic and continue with their orders in 2021, we can consider raising broilers. If not them, some other larger contract would be necessary for us to continue.
If we get the larger contract, then we're also willing to have additional birds available for direct to consumer sales. If we don't, maybe it is time to move on.
We like our turkeys - most of the time. If there is an order of preference, it would be hens, turkeys and then broilers. But, again, turkeys are a sizable investment on our part that can really be troublesome if we can't get them sold. Of the seventy turkeys raised in 2020, forty-five were sold to two purchasers.
Once again, if we can secure those two larger sales, it makes sense to do what we did this past year. If not? Well, we'll see. But, I could see us just running a 25 turkey flock and going from there if that's what must be done. It would be easier in some ways, but probably inefficient given the scale of what we do.
Modifications to the Process
Let's assume we will raise poultry as we did this past season. If that is the case, there will be some projects to improve our efficiency. First, we will look to build or acquire a trailer that will make transport of our poultry to the processor easier on us. Hopefully resulting in fewer trips and less lifting of heavy cages (100+ lbs) up to shoulder level. We don't mind exercise, but we do mind potential injury. We are also looking at a permanent fence for the turkey pasture, a water trailer and a back up feed bin. Frankly, if we get one of those, it had better be that transportation trailer with the fence running a close second.
And, where will the poultry go?
Again, this is all in the planning phases. If you read the above, you know that the larger purchases we have had in place for the past couple of years are critical. We are likely to make individual sales of broilers or turkeys because we can limit the number of sale and delivery points for each of those to keep the labor in that area down.
It's the eggs we're trying to get a handle on. One option on the table is to continue with direct sales on an every other week basis as we typically do in the winter months. Another option is to get the egg handler's license and sell most of our eggs at one time to one location. The latter is made difficult because the state has really put a hold on that process because of the pandemic. Either way, the reality is that we must keep the labor requirement for sales low if we are to be successful.
And - Everything Else?
If you have read our blogs and/or if you have paid any attention to the Genuine Faux Farm over the years, you know we set high goals for ourselves. And - there is always too much - or so it seems. Even so, we seem to be able report a fair amount of progress every single season. That is great.
But, we recognize that we need to address the high rate of failure that comes with a hyper-diverse operation such as ours. Our spirits have worn down a bit and we need to manage failure differently than we once did - at least for a little while.
Our plan to handle this is to simplify the farming operation (which is in progress based on what we show above) and to address some long term projects that need to move forward to help us address our new method of failure management.
And that, as they say, is something for another day -and another blog!
Be well everyone!