Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why a CSA/Farm Share?

It is April, once again.  And, once again, we are pushing to fill up our CSA Farm Share program for the regular season.

Chumley, the truck - filled with CSA farm share goodness
Every year, we hope to get our CSA filled prior to January.  And, every year, we fail to do it.  We understand why.  People don't really want to commit to something that far in the future.  After all, so many things can (and do) happen.  Every year, wonderful people move on for any number of reasons.  But, that means we have to find new people to take their place!

And, let's also be honest about our own shortcomings on this front. We work very hard on the farm to bring good food to people.  And, once we get to December, January and February - we don't really want to dedicate every waking moment to promoting the farm.  Tammy is extremely busy with her work at Wartburg College.  And, Rob is trying to do things he doesn't get to do the other nine months of the year.  And, yes, he still has to do planning, farm purchasing, organic certification paperwork, taxes, etc etc.  The energy isn't always there to hit the pavement and yell from the rooftops that we need more subscribers.

But, then we get to April.  Seeds are being planted in trays.  Some in the ground.  And we realize that we still have over fifty slots open in our CSA.  And, so, we start pushing the promotions bandwagon!

Why does the CSA model fit our farm?
We're glad you asked.  Let me see if I can give you a quick summary so you can understand why we want this model to work.

1. We like diversity.
We like diversity in our crops.  We think it is the healthiest way to grow food for our soils, for the environment and for the farmers.  It is enjoyable for us to grow a lot of different things.  It provides us with a built in insurance program.  With the level of diversity we maintain, we're pretty well guaranteed to have something EVERY year barring an absolute catastrophe.  And believe me when I say, we've had some major issues occur on our farm - but not one of them has resulted in complete failure by us to provide some good food for our CSA members.

CSA farm shares promote the ability to be very diverse growers.  We make it even more compatible by using the 'menu style' distribution system where people pick up items from each station and add it to their box/bag.  This gives our customers some choice within the diversity provided.  We don't, by necessity, have to have 200 of a certain type of tomato on a given week.  We can mix and match with the diversity we have.

You can't do that and successfully make sales in a bulk retail market.  And, institutional buyers usually want things to be pretty uniform.  But, in a CSA like ours, the diversity is celebrated.  Some people want the small zucchini and others want the big bread makers.

2. A full CSA gives us a financial base for operations
We're sorry if this sounds bland and unexciting.  But, please believe me when I tell you that farming is exciting enough without the added tension that comes with not knowing whether the things you grow will even get sold!  Seriously, it takes plenty of energy and effort to make sure that we grow good food, get it cleaned up and prepped for delivery without having to work to sell things daily.

So, ideally, we need to get enough subscribers to provide us with a financial base to cover our expenses.  Then, we might like to be able to sell a bit more so we make a profit of some sort each season.  But, you can't start worrying about a profit until you have that coverage of your expenses.

3. We like getting to know our share holders
Having a consistent set of customers who come and pick up their food every week gives us a chance to share more than good food.  We can share some ideas about how to eat well.  We can listen to thoughts and concerns about how things are grown.  We can even respond by making changes if they seem warranted!  Some days, knowing who we are working for is the thing that keeps us going!

4. Less food goes to waste.
Now, hear me out on this one.  We DO realize that some of you have trouble getting through all of your produce each week.  In fact, we've had some people stop being members because they felt so bad about wasting food.  But, we can hazard a guess that less of the produce goes to waste this way than it would if we sold at farmers' market or through a retail outlet.  And, much of the food that does not sell when provided to these venues even have a chance to be consumed by a human. 

Yes, it is true that we do our best to donate food to various organizations.  But, it is also true that they will not or can not take some of the produce we grow.  It is also true that we can feed much of the produce to our poultry.  Again, you have to consider that we usually have enough for them already.  Why?  Because we select the best product for you and the rest is consumed on the farm by us or our poultry.  And, yes, we can also compost.   So, it isn't totally lost.

In the end, if we did the numbers, we're pretty comfortable that less food is wasted using the CSA method.  And, if our members can't eat it all now, we hope we can help them learn to freeze excess for Winter months.  Or, failing that, they can compost as well. 

5. Thank you for considering our CSA!
We may be preaching to the choir.  But, we have to use the tools we have available to us.  If you have joined - you have our thanks.  If you are considering it, please follow through and reach out to us via email.  We make it easy to sign up and we make it easy to pick up your produce.  Let's enjoy this growing season together.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's a Start

Well, as of last weekend (Easter weekend), we have some things in the ground.  Well, we have them in our raised beds.

There are three raised beds and we have spinach and radish planted in two.  The third?  We're trying some early potatoes.  Let's see what happens.  Won't hurt anything and the rewards could be good.

Now, if we can get Tammy through the current semester and Rob past the big batch of paperwork he needs to do in the next week, we'll be good to go.

Speaking of radish.....  ROOT for US! 

Have a great weekend everyone!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hawthorne and Pygmalion

Sometimes my 'former' life comes back and gets me thinking - which we ALL know is a dangerous pastime!

Many of you might know that I do possess a PhD in Computer Science and Adult Education.  Yes, I was silly and did two topics.  If you've been paying any attention to what I write here, this piece of information should explain numerous things to you.  In fact, it might give you insight into why I often do things the way I do them.  But, that's not actually the topic of this blog post.

Now - before any of you smart people out there decide you want to pick apart my definitions - remember, this is a blog post where I'm trying to simplify things a bit to make a point or three.  Give a little slack and if you want to discuss it further, let me know and I'll gladly do so! If you want more detail, I found this web page to be dense, but accurate and very interesting.

The Hawthorne Effect
One of the concepts I was introduced to as I learned more about educational research was the idea that persons who were aware that they were being studied will potentially behave differently simply due to that awareness.  On the surface, this sure makes sense.  If you note a person with a camera walking around at a conference, you don't change what you are doing much at all.  However, if that person points that camera at you while you are having a conversation AND you notice it....

You tell me - how many people keep themselves from responding at all to that?

Will our lettuce behave differently if we study it?
In short, educational research has to consider the possibility that any difference found may be partially a result of the subject's knowledge that they were being observed.

So, what happens if, in addition to the knowledge that you are observed, you receive additional clues as to the behavior that would be desired by the observer?  If the person with the camera tries to get your attention, you might immediately turn to face the camera and smile.  Similarly, if subjects in a study think they know what the observers want, they may give it to them, which can then skew research results.  It wasn't the change in teaching that caused the change - it was the fact that the learners knew they were being watched that encouraged it!

Many of you might know that My Fair Lady was an adaptation of Pygmalion.  Or you may know of the Greek myth regarding a person who made a sculpture that came to life.  In education research, the Pygmalion Effect refers, in essence, to the 'self-fulfilling prophesy.'  If you can convince someone to expect certain results of themselves, they are more likely to get them.

As a teacher, I was convinced that a key battle to win with each learner was to convince them that they could succeed and that, with the right effort, they would succeed.  In doing this, it was important to correctly assess what was possible since setting unrealistic goals would do no good in building the confidence for continued success.

Why Think About This on the Farm?
A perfectly good question, don't you think?

Yes, it is.  And you should answer it! I, the Sandman, have spoken.
The scary thing about this post is that I had a clear idea where I wanted to go with it when I started.  Then, I was distracted by thinking about these concepts and education and it was no longer clear to me where I was going.  Happily, it came back to me.

Hawthorne on the Farm?
Well, no, this isn't the Hawthorne Effect, but there is enough relationship to make a connection.  We do perform many experiments on the farm every year.  Some of them are as simple as running two different sorts of lettuce against each other in a trial.  If, for whatever reason, the evaluators (Tammy and I) are predisposed towards one of the varieties, is it possible that we will fail to assess the varieties fairly?  Of course it is.  But, in this case, it is simply more likely that we will give a variety we have a predisposition for many more chances than one we do not already have a liking for.

On the other hand, if we hand customers at the farmers' market slices of one of our favorite tomatoes and ask them to tell us what they think, we could have an issue with a Hawthorne-ish Effect.  The tasters may be responding to non-verbal clues (or verbal clues) that we give them. 

But, if you'd like a situation on the farm that is probably closest to the original Hawthorne Effect.  What if Rob decides to observe workers weeding the squash.  He's taking notes and times to determine how efficiently the field can be weeded.  With that data, he hopes to come up with a schedule that should provide adequate time/labor to complete the job.  And, his estimate is WAY to short.  Why is that?  Could it be because the workers were aware that they were being observed and perhaps, evaluated?

Pygmalion at GFF
Pygmalion was a sculptor who put great effort into creating the most beautiful statue he could.  His dedication eventually results in Athena bringing Galatea (the statue) to life.  While this isn't a perfect analogy for our farm, it is the dedication our CSA members bring, along with our own motivations joined with our workers desires to see good things happen that result in our farm coming to life each year.  While it is only April, it is the time for us to begin focusing on making this a great year. 

If we believe it will be so, then we can make it happen.  The tools are available, the experience is in place and the goals are ambitious but reasonable.  Join us and let's make this a good season!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Harder Than It Looks

Here we are at April 10 - only a third of the way through our April blog push.  And, I find myself without a blog post for today!  It's not that I don't have several started and waiting for time/inspiration.  And, it's not as if I don't have things I can write about.  But, I have much to do and I don't have the time to spend on making some of those posts what I want them to be.  So, instead - you get this!

Outside is better, just ask them.
 Duck and Cover
The ducks went outside to their pasture last weekend, something we were about a week later than we wanted.  But, overall, it is about right.  With greenery starting to appear and nights less likely to get brutally cold, it seemed pretty safe to move them.  The ducks were starting to look a little rough in their room.  But, now, they go out to the portable shelter called the 'duck and cover.'  The electric fence is up and they have access to a bit more water (it's much easier to clean the water, etc outside than it is inside).

 Smarter Than Wood
We had one incident with a raccoon finding a way into the hen room this Winter.  It managed to get in, off one chicken and then it was caught in the act.  This specific raccoon is no longer with us.  We have learned that once they find a way in and get a taste of chicken, they don't give up until they can get in again (and again).  We also spent some time sealing up the West wall of the hen room and covering up a couple of things a raccoon could use for leverage to pull/chew on our walls in order to get in.  We used all kinds of scrap wood for this, including some material kindly offered to us by Chris Haymaker (thank you Chris).

It was cold when we did this work.  And, this was an 'emergency' job.  In other words, we weren't planning on spending a huge chunk of that day doing this particular project.  So, needless to say, Rob wasn't as cheery about the process as he might normally be.  But, with Tammy's help, things were going pretty well.  Tammy even tried to offer up some praise by telling me that I was "smarter than wood."


I guess she could have said I was as "dumb as a post."  But, I am smarter than a post as long as it is made of wood, I guess.

Sadly, the wood had the last laugh.  During one of the final bits of work, a piece of wood slipped and smacked my thumb and hand a pretty good one.  That's what I get for starting to feel superior, I guess.

House for Wren(t)
This year, we are ahead of the game.  Our trellis with the wren house is ready to go.  Never mind the fact that we never took it down this past fall.  Just in case a wren should need it in, oh... maybe.. January?  Ok, ok.  We just ran out of time last fall.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stress Reliever

Early April can be a stressful time of year for many reasons.  So, we thought we'd ease some of the stress by sharing some favored cartoons that we have saved over the past few years.  Our gratitude to the cartoonists who have the talents that can help us to laugh.

Greystone Inn


Rhymes With Orange


Pearls Before Swine


Mother Goose & Grimm

Dog Eat Doug

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

23 Reasons to Join This Year's CSA Farm Share with GFF!

Contrary to the word on the street, our CSA farm share program is not full for the season.  We can take more reservations.  In fact, we'd like to hear from you now so we don't have to work so hard on the billing cycle.

What do I mean by that?  Well, if I go through the billing process with the CSA 60% full, that means I have to spend extra time on each person that joins after that.  It is much more efficient for me if I wait until we're closer to full so I can make the whole process faster for me!

So... here we go!  Reasons to join our CSA farm share program in COLOR!  Technicolor if you would prefer!

If you haven't tried a Boothby's Blonde cucumber yet, then you really should.  They are quite mild and have a tender skin that removes the need to do any peeling.  And, if you like the texture of spinach, Amish Deer Tongue lettuce is one of the nine varieties of lettuce that we grow.  Deer Tongue has a sturdier texture that is reminiscent of spinach and has a very nice taste.
We realize that not all greens are for everybody, but we grow enough variety that most people can find a green or combination of greens that works for them.  Rainbow Chard is one such item we grow on the farm and provide as a choice, often with kale as the other option.  And despite all of the Upper Midwest jokes about not leaving your car window open or else you will be given zucchini, we happen to grow four to six varieties of zucchini, including Cocazelle, a lovely striped zuke.  We do our best not to overwhelm with one type of veg, but we also try to give you enough to be getting on with... so to speak.
Many people enjoy our CSA simply because they will get to pick from over thirty heirloom tomato varieties once we get into August and September.  German Pink is often a favorite for both the farmers and the members.  Then again, maybe your mouth waters for some green beans?  We know ours does!
We've worked hard to extend the season for popular vegetables, such as broccoli.  Last season we were able to harvest over 600 pounds of broccoli for our CSA share holders.  And, we grow interesting varieties of melons - such as Ha-ogen, a green fleshed melon that has an incredible, different taste that will convert you soon after you figure out what it was that just hit you.
If you didn't believe me that we grow different varieties of things, consider Ice Queen lettuce.  We target varieties that allow us to extend the season.  In the past, we've been able to have lettuce available to our members for as many as 17 of the 20 weeks in a season.  And, we also grow items that might not be as well known to people who grew up in Iowa (like Rob).  Pok Choi normally makes an early and a late appearance during the growing season.
Kohlrabi is becoming much more popular as people figure out how good this is as a snack with a dip of choice.  And, if you are wondering if we only grow 'WEIRD' stuff - here are some Marketmore cucumbers.  Why yes, they do look like normal cucumbers, don't they?
Eggplant not your thing?  Well, maybe you've never had them cut into rings and put in a grilled stir fry or shish-kabobs?  Pintung Long eggplant are perfect for this.  And, we mentioned kale, but did we mention that we grow several varieties of this as well?  For example, Red Russian in the picture above.  We also grow Blue Scotch, Vates and Lacinato.
Some of the things we grow have good years and bad years.  For example, cauliflower is one of those on again/off again types of veg on the farm.  Sometimes this is because we're trying to find varieties that work well for us.  In the case of cauliflower, the varieties we liked were discontinued and we had to work and find new ones.  Amazing is shown above and should do well for us in 2015.  Carrots, on the other hand are difficult for us to grow consistently well for many reasons.  This is why Jeff Sage works with us - he's a wizard with carrots!  As a result, our members have had plenty of carrots for the past four seasons, without fail.
Other vegetables show up every year in some quantity.  Last year the summer squash and basil were a bit less prevalent than in some years because it was a cooler growing season.  Both of these like warmth.  But, we still got a fair amount to our members.  Why?  It's because we have some experience under our belts and have identified many ways to coax a crop even during difficult conditions.
We are not afraid to do research and trials in an effort to find vegetables that grow well AND are liked by people who join our CSA farm share program.  As a rule, if the variety we try doesn't taste good to at least a significant portion of our membership, we don't grow it.  For example, we do grow acorn squash because many people tell us they like them.  We grow the standard green acorn squash, but we also grow Thelma Sanders because we think it has a better texture and taste.  Most people who can get past the idea of a tan colored acorn squash tend to agree with us!  But, we still grow the green ones in case someone is a bit phobic about color differences in their veg.  And, romanesco - talk about odd looking.  But, it sure does taste good.  It has rapidly become a favorite in our house.
We hope we can tempt you to join us in 2015 so you can try our delicious Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes.  We often have a tray of snack sized tomatoes as a part of your share from late July through September.  We like to say that the person who picks up has the right to eat these before they even get to the car.  The rest of the family is just going to have to help pick the share up if they want some!  Although, we suspect there are many very nice CSA shareholders who do bring these beauties home to the rest of the family.  And, we try to have a watermelon treat for everyone at least once per year.  Of course - you can't expect them to be one type, can you?  It's us!  Variety is the spice of life!
Please consider making us your personal farmers.  Send us an email and reserve a spot today.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Is It About Tractors?

When people visit the farm, there are just certain things that seem to attract them more than others.  Things such as... kittens.

Well, ok, we don't always have kittens on the farm and people seem to be attracted to kittens anywhere.  So, never mind.

But, seriously, people love to see baby chicks, they like to see the turkeys, they'd love it if our cats didn't run away from them and...  they love to see Durnik the tractor.

Tractor lover at the wheel
We suspect that Rosie (our newer tractor) might be interesting as well.  But, there is something about older tractors that we all love. 
Not quite a hay ride, but they liked it.
I suppose part of the attraction is that it is something different than most people who live in town will see.  And, the other part is that when you go to a farm - you're supposed to see a tractor.  What's a farm without one?

Those of you who have a bit longer history with us will realize that we have been on the farm since the summer of 2004 and started GFF in 2005.  It wasn't until 2010 that we added anything bigger than a lawn tractor to our farm tool list.  And, it wasn't until the following year that we got any tools to go with the tractor.  Since that time, we have added a number of tools and a second, newer tractor.

We know exactly what we had to do without these tools and we are grateful that we now have tools that fit the scale of our farm much better. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Can't Beet This

Over the past few years, we have not done much with beets on the farm.  The primary reason would have to be a guy named Jeff Sage.  Jeff partners with us by growing carrots, beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes that go into our CSA farm shares.  And, has gotten particularly good at growing these crops consistently well, much to our members' happiness!

Chioggia, Touchstone Gold and Bull's Blood beets
I suppose an explanation is in order.  Why don't we grow these on our farm? 

The short answer is that we DO grow these on our farm.  But, our soils and conditions, along with our other growing responsibilities make it a bit more difficult for us to grow things like carrots and beets on our farm.  Therefore, since Jeff has better soils and conditions for it AND because he likes to specialize in these items, it makes sense for him to focus on the growing.

What this does for us is it allows us to concentrate on other crops that suit us better and it gives us more time to figure out ways that these crops will grow on our farm.  That process includes identifying timing and varieties that work well for us.  All in all, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement for all concerned.  Jeff grows using organic practices that we would stack right up with our own.  We learn some things from him and he learns some things from us.  And, our members get beets and carrots.  What's not to like?

This post is supposed to focus on beets - so I'd better get to that.  Jeff grows the Detroit Dark Red or Red Ace varieties that are so well known for the rich red color that is common for a beet.  Since we trust him to get these things going for early to mid-season distributions, that allows us to concentrate on a late season crop and on varieties that are NOT the common red color.

Our favorite over the years has been the Chioggia beet.  We had several successful years for Chioggia until 2012.  Then, we hit some cool, wet Springs that caused us some fits with our normal planting schedules.  Sadly, that resulted in some aborted crops and poor germination levels.  This year, we are going to try a batch of Chioggia in the high tunnel for a an early crop.  We have called Chioggia the 'gateway' beet.  People who have had beets and not liked them all that much should try a Chioggia roasted in the oven.  They've got a taste that is a little less earthy and the red and white concentric rings make them an attractive item to put on your plate.

Chioggia beet picture courtesy of Seed Savers
We have grown Touchstone Gold beets once prior to this season.  We found them to have consistent germination and size.  The taste is mild and the beautiful golden color of the flesh is very pleasing.  Like Chioggia, we suspect people who taste these will be surprised that they are a beet.

Our goal for our early crops this year will be to combine some Gold and Chioggia beets with Jeff's red beets.  Later on, we hope to be able to provide choices to allow people to select that which fits their tastes and preparation choices best.

Grilled Veggies (YUM!) - Works for beets, turnips, summer squash, zucchini, potatoes, kohlrabi, etc - anything with some substance
Wash veg. Slice into rounds or half rounds, about 1/2 inch thick. Toss lightly with olive oil (putting slices in a bowl, sprinkling olive oil over and tossing the veg around works well) and add any desired spicing (sea salt, chopped marjoram or basil, pepper, garlic all work well).  If you like mushrooms, you can add those as well.

 Grill for about 5 or more minutes, depending on how soft you want the vegetables and the types of veg you are cooking.  Turn them once or twice - or three times if you feel that is a charm.  Just remember that the more times you open the grill, the longer it will take to cook. They are done when you can easily stick a fork in them.

Remember that some vegetables are harder than others and will take longer to cook.  So, you may choose to start things like beets and turnips before you add something that has more water content, such as zucchini.
Recommended by Rob and Tammy.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

How A Blog Keeps GFF Healthy

Rob has been asked more than once why he maintains a blog for the farm.

Ok, ok.  Rob has asked himself more than once why he maintains a blog for the farm.  As far as we can remember, no one else has asked why we do this.  But, if you are looking at it from a business perspective, you probably can't ignore the amount of time and effort that goes into the components that make up a decent blog.  At least, we hope this is a decent blog.  I guess that's for you to say.

So, if everything is about returns on investment, then let's think about it for a bit.  What does this blog do for us?

1. It encourages us to look at our farm in ways others might see it.
Look at the picture below and tell us what you see?  What stands out for you?

What I see when I look at this is a great deal of effort to try and make an old building work for us.  Please note the metal box at the bottom right of the building.  We added an improved electrical service just prior to this picture.  If you look closely at the side that is facing to the picture's right, you might notice the new siding as well.  You might even notice the home made cold frame at the lower left.  Surely there are some plants in there when the picture was taken. 

But, what really stands out in the picture?  The ugly door with the loose siding.

Well, that's true - it does stand out.  And I bet most of you discounted the metal box and its significance and you probably didn't give the new siding and attention either.

2. It provides us a forum to explain to others how WE see the farm.
In short, our blog gives us a chance to share what we see AND it encourages us to view it as others might see it without some guidance.  We appreciate the opportunity to show you what we see and what we hope to do.  This blog gives us a tool to do just that.

3. It's a reminder to us that we are progressing.
I think we are safe in saying that very few people want to keep reading a farm blog that is all gloom and doom.  And yet, our human tendency is to remember the single negative event in a day and dismiss ten positive things - leaving them floundering in the wake of that one negative thing.

We can barely believe that this roof went up in 2011.

While we do use the blog to share issues and problems we are having at the farm, we also use it to share successes and progress.  Sometimes, when we are very tired and feeling like we aren't getting anywhere, it does us great good to consider the positive aspects and share them with others. It's amazing how reframing events can improve our point of view.  And, an improved point of view makes it easier to deal with the problems.  And, if you that isn't enough return on investment for you, consider this:

Would you rather pick up your veggies, eggs and poultry from someone who appears to be content with who they are and what they are doing or from someone who is full of angst?  If you answered that you would prefer the angsty guy, I am sure I can find a way to help you if you want.  But, seriously, when we patronize a business, we want a positive experience.  And a positive experience is easier to get when the people providing the service are happy with who they are and with what they are doing.

4. It's all about the chance to teach and learn.
We both love to help others to learn.  And, one of our farm missions is to help others to learn how food is raised.  We want people to think harder about where their food comes from.  We want you to consider how our food decisions affect our environment, how it impacts or society and our economy.  We want people to see that growing food the way we do has numerous trade offs and that the decisions we make are not taken lightly.

And, while we are at it - we believe that the best way to learn is to set yourself in a position where you are responsible for helping others to learn.  There is a great deal of learning that comes from taking the time to maintain this blog.  And, if you've read our blog for sometime, you have seen some blog posts that are more technical than others.  These represent attempts on our part to learn with an audience.  Some of those blogs have actually helped us to reach a decision or two as it pertains to our farm.

5.  Reflection and remembrance help us to remember our focus.
I'm not entirely sure I need to say much more about this one.  But, maybe I should.  Work on the farm during the growing season can be all-consuming for us.  There are challenges every day and the to do list only grows, it does not shrink.  One of the first things to go would be taking moments in time to reflect and think about what is going on and how things are going with a balanced view.  After all, those darned carrots still aren't weeded!

But, that's the point.  If we aren't inclined to take the moment to reflect, then the personal value of each day is diminished.  And, if the value of each day we live is diminished by our unwillingness to process what has happened and seek out the good and the bad, then the value of our entire life is diminished.  Ok, so I've taken a turn to the philosophical here.  But, it is true.  The blog is a tool that allows us to re-balance and refocus.  Just as it is a tool to simply record what has happened on our farm so that we can reflect and refocus once again.

Hopefully, the result is that we build up our strength for the season so that we can pursue things that are important, such as growing good food for others and being as friendly to the environment as we can in the process. 

And, before you discount the value of using this blog to reflect and re-frame how we feel about things.. please consider the picture below.

This beautiful picture was taken in July of 2010.  We had rains for most of June and early July.  Our fields were under water.  Plants were dead and dying.  Some of our CSA customers were very disappointed and unhappy with the amount and types of produce they were receiving from us.  We had just sunk a huge chunk of money into a new high tunnel building and a tractor but the poor growing season was putting the whole farm health picture into question.  We were tired, overwhelmed and depressed.  We wondered if we were just too stupid to figure out how to handle things.  We were one more bad day away from deciding to call 2010 our final season.  In short, this was possibly the lowest point in our career as farmers at GFF.

And we get a picture like that.

We might have just viewed it once if it was just for ourselves.  But, we shared it and others like it on our blog.  Our attitudes improved.  And so did the season.

Of course, part of it was the break in the weather pattern that allowed things to dry up.  But, if our attitudes didn't get this adjustment, we would not have been ready or able to take advantage of the change in the weather.

And now you know!  Have a good Easter everyone!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Matters of Perspective

We've lived on our farm now since the Summer of 2004.  And, anytime you become familiar with a place there is a tendency to miss certain perspectives that might be seen by those who visit.  Or, in this case, sometimes a camera can encourage you to see things in a different way.  We are blessed to have the opportunity to use a decent digital camera on our farm and we now have a pretty good bank of pictures to view when we wish.  We are also graced with the presence of others on our farm throughout the year.  And, we do listen to what you all say to us about our farm.  We learn from your perspectives and what you are seeing.  Sometimes, it opens our eyes to something new.  Other times, it re opens our eyes to see things again as we once did, before we let ourselves become jaded.  Or, if it is not a case of being jaded, it might be as much a case of being lazy.  If you live in a place, you don't always stop and really look.
Looking out from the old barn
Our old barn didn't start out as a favorite place on our farm.  In fact, it was a bit intimidating.  Part of the intimidation factor was the sheer size of the place.   The other part was the amount of repair that was going to be necessary if we wanted to continue to have it as a part of our farm.  It was a place of raccoons, rotting hay and unmarked jars with unknown liquids.  But, over time, we began seeing other views of this building.  For example, it was remarkably cool on a hot summer day.  No wonder many of the chickens would choose to come in here in July.

If you were in a part of the barn that we had cleaned out the old hay/straw then it wasn't as oppressive as other parts of the barn.  In fact, you could begin to understand why the barn was a place where children might play. 

But, this is where the perspective of the owner versus the perspective of a visitor often parts.  People would come to the farm and instantly be attracted by the old barn.  It was interesting.  It is rustic.  A joy to walk around and take in the natural beauty of aged wood and old white oak beams put together by wooden pegs.  Oh look!  There is an old hay fork!  That rope is as thick as my twelve year old's arm!  Neat.

But, what did I often see when I walked into the building?  Another broken glass pane from the windows we just can't seem to find time to fix or take out.  We'd better clean that up.  That corner over there has shifted some more, I'm not sure we can keep using this building much longer.  We'd better patch that hole or the raccoons will get to the chickens.

The good news?  When reminded, I could (and still do) stop and view the building from the perspective of a person who just sees it as a neat thing worthy of being.  And, I'm sure that if I really needed to, I could share some of the daily thoughts I have with others - just as I am doing now.  In my opinion, it's healthy as long as I let myself see both perspectives and don't let one completely obscure the other.

If you frame a picture just right, you can make it look like our farm is much more isolated than it really is.  In fact, the picture above makes it seem as if our house and the surrounding trees just sprang out of the prairie, with nothing else around for miles.  You can't really see the road if you don't know it is there.  It is too early to see the corn field in the background and it feels like you are much further from the house than you actually are for some reason.

It is a reminder to me that our farm is both bigger and smaller than you think.  There is plenty of room for us to do all kinds of good things at our farm.  There are places where, believe it or not, Tammy and I rarely go, though there aren't many of those.  And, there are many places where we walk frequently, but we often do not take note of a different viewpoint as we walk them.  So, every once in a while, I drag the camera along and try to take note of places on the farm where I can look in a different direction than I usually do, just to see what things look like from that perspective.

On a recent sunny day, I actually walked around our farm.  And, I mean I literally walked AROUND it.  I started on the road and walked to our Southwest border, then I walked the West line.  It was actually an odd experience.  We normally only see our farm from the outside perspective when we are on the road.  It is not often that we will view it from the North (for example).  It's simply amazing some of the ideas that can be jump started by a different viewpoint.

Friday, April 3, 2015

High Tunnel Take Two

Here we are in the lovely month of April.  At least it has been pretty nice thus far.  And, today, Rob harvested spinach from the high tunnel and a number of lucky people were able to purchase bags of our super tasty spinach.  Tammy and I are looking forward to diving into our own 'custom picked' bag of spinach as well.  There just isn't anything quite like our over-Wintered spinach for flavor and texture - we'll stack it up against any other spinach you can find.

But, that's not exactly what the subject of this post is about.  Many of you might recall our high tunnel build that occurred in 2010.  And, if you don't recall that event - or you are newer to our farm and our blog - here is a picture.

We put up the high tunnel in a just a few days as part of an extended field day.  Adam Montri, Mike Bollinger and Greg Garbos were all in attendance and gave presentations on the topic of using a high tunnel for season extension.  All in all, it was a positive experience.  But, let's be honest... we were the field day hosts.  I'm not sure how much of it we remember since we were run pretty ragged by the end.

But, on the plus side, this building has helped us provide good produce to people now every since 2010.  It is often our 'happy place' to go if there are issues with some of the field crops.  It was well worth the investment for our farm at the time we made it, even if it required some stretching and discomfort in the process.

High Tunnel Number Two on its way in 2015!

So, here we are in 2015.  And, we have written a check for a second high tunnel to be put up on the farm this Spring.

The new building will go up in a different location on the farm.  We've learned our lesson from prior events and will not put all of our eggs in one basket by clustering our high tunnel buildings in one place.  But, the building itself will come from Four Seasons Tools and will also be a movable (2 position) high tunnel like the first.  The other difference?  The new building will be 96 feet long as opposed to 72 feet.  I suspect we'll be surprised by what a few extra feet inside the building will do for us.

Four Seasons has learned a few things and so have we, so we anticipate an easier build and a simpler integration into our farm operation this time around.  Once we know when the high tunnel will be delivered, we will make more announcements regarding the build.  But, if you have interest in helping at some point in the process, please let us know.

No Spring Extended Season CSA in 2015
Other than the fact that we'll need to take the time to get the building put up, we are making one major change to the 2015 season.  We will not be offering a Spring extension this season.  We will have some produce for sale, including asparagus, lettuce and spinach.  But, we wanted to allow ourselves to focus on getting a strong start to the regular season CSA and we didn't want to have the added pressure of putting up this building AND maintaining a Spring CSA at the same time.

What's the logic of adding a second high tunnel?
Removing the Spring CSA allows us to begin setting up the rotation that a two high tunnel system will provide for us.  Our intent is to have one building (the older one) move in the Fall and the newer one will move in the Spring.  One tunnel can focus on the early side of Spring, Summer and Fall while the other focuses on extending growing in the other direction (to the late side).  One building left us with tension between starting a new crop and wanting to let the current crop keep producing.  Two building should alleviate the problem.

A simplified version of the plan is as follows:

The current high tunnel will be used to get an early start on Summer crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, carrots, beets, etc.  It will also be used heavily for the Fall extended season by planting the Fall crops in August in the uncovered location and then we will move the building over those crops in mid to late October.  Since the Summer crops were started early, they should be well past peak and we won't cry if we move the high tunnel off of them.

The new high tunnel will allow us to start Spring crops early under cover.  As April heats up, we will move the building off of these plants so they don't bolt and we can continue to harvest the colder season crops well into June.  The Summer crops in this building will be started later and will therefore be used to extend our Fall harvest of these sorts of veggies.  We can also focus more on some late started crops intended for overwintering in place (such as spinach or lettuce).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Things Worth Observing

The month of April will see us kicking off our 2015 CSA membership drive.  As part of that drive, we have a goal of putting out a blog post each day of the month.  We hope you enjoy them! 

Please feel free to comment.  And, if the comment box fails to work, feel free to share with us via email.  

If you haven't noticed by now, I like to write blog posts that work in tandem with some of the pictures we have taken on the farm (or pictures others have taken and shared with us).  Sometimes, the picture inspires the writing.  Other times, I have something I want to write and I find pictures that go with it.  Today, I noticed this picture as I was previewing a batch of photos we have on file.

I do not know if the two young ladies in this picture remember when this picture was taken, but it was at one of the several events that are held each year at our farm.  But, they are doing something I, myself, love to do when I have a chance.  Taking a moment and watching a butterfly up close and personal.

If you are able to do so at some point this summer, give yourself the time to patiently wait for one of these creatures to land where you can see it.  Then watch while they fold and unfold their wings for you.  Consider how delicate they look and how tough they have to be to navigate a windy day successfully.

And maybe, just maybe, one will do you the honor of landing on you.

The farm can be a very busy place and there is a never ending list of things to do.  We do not sit down much from April to November and it can get pretty easy to be overwhelmed by the work.  Surely, we cannot spend time watching butterflies!  It isn't an efficient use of time and resources.

Or is it?

Take one minute now.  Just look at your watch or some clock for ONE MINUTE.  Don't do anything else.
OK! Time's up!  Yes, I know, it's pretty difficult to simulate time in a blog post.  But, if you have ever done this exercise, you can appreciate exactly how long one minute can feel.  And, maybe, you can also appreciate how rewarding that single minute of time can be if you spend it observing something that has value.

One minute watching a butterfly on a flower, or your hand.  One minute looking at the leopard frog under the cucumber leaf.  One minute taking in the aroma, texture and colors of a favorite iris flower.  One minute marveling at how the garter snake moves as it moves away from you in the garlic row.  One minute being amazed by the fine veins in a maple leaf or one minute of amusement noticing the miniature rainbow created by the spray from a leak in your drip irrigation.

A minute is not an unreasonable amount of time for a break, especially when that break restores a sense of wonder or well-being.  Join me in taking one minute every so often to enjoy things that are worth observing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Traditions Don't Die, They Just Look Different Each Year

Well, it seems like we might actually get a normal (ish) Spring this year.  Therefore, we will do something that is apparently normal for us.  We'll put a blog post out for you.

Anonymous Farmer Project Includes GFF in 2015

We have NO idea who that is.
The Genuine Faux Farm has been selected to be a participant in a new project called the Anonymous Farmer Project.  Since many people do not seem to place much importance on learning about where their food comes from, this project was created to reflect this common approach to food acquisition and consumption.  Photos were selected from those provided by participating farms and were placed on a calendar that can be found in the produce, fruit and meats section of many grocery stores throughout the nation.  In every case, the farmer's identity is obscured - providing the consumer with an excellent excuse for not knowing who grew the food they have purchased or how it was raised.

Romanesco Grows to Maturity Over Winter Months
In recent events on the farm, Rob and Tammy were treated to a fresh romanesco head from a forgotten plant in the basement of their farm.  As many of you might know, we start many of our plants in trays before transplanting them into the fields or the high tunnel.  Apparently, one of these trays was missed last fall and remained in the basement all Winter long.  As you might expect, most of the little plants simply died due to lack of water, sunlight and nutrients.  One plant was made of sterner stuff and managed to survive and even produced a head of romanesco.  We often joke that we should tell our production plants they are weeds, since weeds always seem to do so well on our farm.  Amazing what a little neglect can do.

We've got some swampland to sell you too!
Wild Turkey Infiltrates GFF Chicken Yard
Recent egg collection duties have resulted in finding some extremely large eggs in the hen area during the past couple of weeks.  The picture below shows a carton with mainly Xtra Large to Jumbo rated eggs.  The two eggs on the left go off the scale.
Now, those are some eggs!
Initially, we were under the impression that there should be a couple of bow legged birds wandering around the yard.  We've had big eggs in the past for short bursts of time and we just figured these hens started laying smaller eggs or went on strike after a while.  However, a recent early morning excursion may have provided us with a better explanation as we saw wild turkeys very near the hen pasture.  They were clearly looking quite guilty and were attempting to leave unnoticed.  Wild turkeys are smart birds and may have figured out how to get into the hen room and lay an egg or two.  However, we're still not sure how they re-latch the door on the way out.
Inadvertent Success Leads to New GFF Project
The 2014 season was an excellent clover year at the Genuine Faux Farm and throughout Iowa.  There were many reports of clover patches simply appearing where none had been before.  Clover is great for bees and native pollinators and, if you are Irish, can result in an increase in luck - or maybe just an increase in the time spent picking four leaf clovers.

Maybe clover in the yard isn't really that hard?
In any event, the random clover patch phenomenon has encouraged us to take on a new research project tracking random clover patch migration.  Current research is limited due to the increased use of herbicides that control leguminous plants, such as clover.  It is our contention that the migration patterns of the common, random clover patch may have something to do with the reduced Winter habitat for Monarchs in Mexico.  But, we're having trouble finding appropriate tranquilizer darts for clover so we can tag them properly.

Glowstick Art Ban Ignored on the Farm
Bremer County has recently had a number of incidents where persons wielding glow sticks have entered agricultural fields.  After talking to county officials, we learned that this activity has been banned.  Apparently, there were numerous reports of crop circles from local farmers that were traced back to these "Glowstick Events."

After noticing just such an event in a field less than a mile away from our farm, we decided to investigate and found out that participants were mostly starving artists looking for things to eat. One person, who wished to remain anonymous, bemoaned the fact that they had yet to find a field that contained anything that resembled food.  However, she did state that there were some really beautiful glow stick events that had been performed in a soybean field by Janesville.

Since GFF is about raising good, edible food, we arranged to have these starving artists visit our farm.  In return for some good food, they allowed us to take a photo or two of their performance.

Florist Invasion

If you have visited the farm, you might recall that there is a wooded area about three quarters of a mile from our property.  There is also an access road that goes around our property, then straight back to the woods in the North.  We often see people go back that way to hunt, but we have been seeing alot of traffic recently.  And, we don't believe there is an active hunting season at the moment.

Our curiosity was peaked when we noticed that the people driving the vehicles were wearing cowled robes.  Of course, we had to find out what a bunch of monks were doing, so we snuck back there and found that they have a small greenhouse and are growing flowers, cutting them and packaging them for sale.  This would explain the delivery vans going back and forth on the access road.

We do not own that land, but we know who does.  We didn't think they would like someone using the land without permission.  So, we contacted the owners.  Apparently, they tried to talk to the monks, but got no satisfaction.  The traffic to the woods continued.  Finally, our neighbors called Hugh, our local sheriff.  He's a very nice guy, but he can get people's attention when he needs to.  All it took was one visit from Hugh and the monks packed up and left.

Of course, you know what this means.  (wait for it)

Hugh and ONLY Hugh, can prevent florist friars.
Oooooooh.  You just HAD to, didn't you?

Wow!  Imagine that. 
If you'd like to see prior year installments, here they are!

2014 April Fool Post
2013 April Fool Post
2012 April Fool Post