Saturday, May 27, 2017

VAP Revisited

In July of last season, I wrote a post about our VAPs (Very Ambitious Plans) that several people found either amusing or alarming, depending on how one was feeling at the time.  By way of a short introduction, Rob has always been a list-maker, but the realities of our farm requires that we take list-making to a higher level.  Each day needs some sort of a plan to maximize results.  While Tammy is NOT a list-maker, she also agrees that we always have a more productive day when there is a clear VAP to guide us.

Example of an item that changes the VAPArrgRat
Discovered VAP Items
 In the previous post, I spent time creating some 'fictional' statistics for our VAPs.  And, no, before you start thinking I am more crazy than I really am, I have not actually run any of these statistics - nor do I intend to.  One of the categories was the Discovered VAP items.  Things that didn't go onto the plan before the day started are said to be 'discovered.'  For example, if critters (aka varmints) are getting into the peppers we have to add "put the electric fence around the peppers" ahead of most everything else.  I guess lists and the plans they represent are meant to be broken.

May we help with your VAP?
Chores, BOLS, and MEWs
I am sure there are many people out there who think I must do nothing other than think up useless acronyms or words and then share them with the hapless blog readers out there.  I assure you that this is not true.  Ok, when I'm doing a repetitive task on the farm, like picking spinach, my mind does tend to wander to such things.  After all, it is much better to be creative than to dwell on the things that aren't going right or to worry about the things you are NOT doing at the time.  Although, I will admit that many of my thoughts focus on things that are coming up and farming decisions I must make.  So, I guess I don't know where this silliness comes from.
Move those trays to the cold frames please
Every VAP has a set of chores that are common to nearly every day of the farm.  They don't usually need to be written out much more than something that looks like this:
T, H, H, N - W F
Translation: Turks, Hens, Henlets, Nuggest - Water, Food

Why even bother writing anything?  Well, if you have to ask, you aren't a list maker.  It's all about the joy of crossing things off a list.  Well, that, and it's a simple way to put yourself into a planning mode for the coming day.  Start with the routine and simple to get the brain engaged in the process.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

There are always a bunch of smaller, somewhat unrelated things that need to get done each day that do not qualify as chores.  We call this our BOLS-sublist (Bunch O' Little Stuff).  We're considering putting this on our chalk board for all the workers to see.  That way, if anyone has a few minutes in between a job, they can pick one of these to complete.  A prime example is something like moving the carts with plants in them to another location.

On the other hand, there are the multi-part or larger tasks that we now call MEWs (Major-Event Work).  Hey, we have cats on the farm.  Everything they do is major (according to them), so this makes some sense.  The process of  harvesting, cleaning, packing, loading and delivering a CSA is a MEW - though we might be tempted to call it a 'chore' since it occurs on a regular basis. 

On the WICGID list
Then there are "WICGID" (Wish I Could Get It Done) items.  Things like loading the software and setting up the download from our weather station to our computer.  Is it a really big deal?  Apparently not, since it has appeared every so often at the bottom of our VAP on and off for over a year.  Alas - another item that keeps the Carry Over Ratio on our farm high.

Oh, don't remember what a Carry Over Ratio is?  Guess you'll have to go read the original VAP story!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waddle Waddle Waddle

The Genuine Faux Farm (yep, that's us!) was recently featured in Iowa Ingredient in their episode featuring duck eggs and duck meat.  If you don't know Iowa Ingredient (an Iowa Public Television production) then you should go view the episode at this link.  All pictures in this blog post were shared by Iowa Ingredient on Facebook.

 It's amazing to think exactly how much footage was taken in an effort to have the quality snippets that were needed to make the show work.  Theresa Knight and the videographer (sorry, we have since forgotten his name) had to work very hard to get these shots with the inclement weather that made the whole thing much more difficult than it should have been for all of us.  In fact, we had to schedule and reschedule multiple times to get a second date where there would be some sun.  To make matters worse, the rain was not in the forecast for that day and it was a strange system where it came out of the Northeast.  Not only were we forced to adjust with the IPTV crew, but we had to do a great deal of adjusting with our own work crew by re-making our work plans on the fly. 

These things happen every season - just not normally on the same day that you have a 'special event' going on.  Ok, maybe they always happen when you have something different at the farm - Murphy's Law you know.

Why are these eggs so wet?
 It's always interesting to see a finished filmed project and see the snippets that are used.  We have the context that surrounds the clips that viewers do not.  The IPTV crew were taking shelter in our garage while the rain came down, so we went and got some eggs out of the fridge so they could show the difference between duck and chicken eggs.  The eggs are sitting on top of our grill and they got a bit damp due to a combination of raindrops and condensation.

ok, this one is our picture.
It's amazing how perspective can make something look like more or less than it is.

Silver Appleyards with one Muscovey in foreground
 We're glad we were able to help Iowa Ingredient with this program and it's always nice to be associated with a quality product/program.  We will happily host them again in the future if they should desire it.

And now for the difficult part.  We no longer have ducks on the farm.  We actually liked raising them and would not mind trying it again.  But, the reality is that we couldn't find enough of a market for the duck eggs and duck meat.  We realize that the cost is higher (especially for the meat), but that is a function of the higher cost of ducklings and for processing.  In fact, we just recently cooked what I think is our last duck that was in the freezer this past weekend.  (yes, yes...our duck was cooked).  We love the taste and might consider raising a few for ourselves if nothing else.

So, the question is this: do you want us to continue raising ducks? 

If you want us to, we need to hear it and we will need some commitment from you to make it work. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

It Has Been Too Long

Our blog has not been as active as it has been previous years for a whole host of reasons.  Rather than spend time listing all of them, I'll point one of them out to you.

Sometimes I manage to write a post that is a 'higher quality post.'  For example, there was a very good post titled a Choice of Litany last Fall that was well-received for a serious/philosophical offering.  In fact, I took a moment to re-read that post just to work on changing the way I am feeling about things right now.  I'll let you know if it works.  Then, there are posts like the one on VAPs that tap the more humorous side of creativity.  For those who remember the post (or those who go read it now), we do still create VAPs for most days.

So, what, exactly is the problem with good posts?  Well, I put pressure on myself to try to provide quality each time I post.  But, I am not always feeling all that creative.  The net result is that I have a bunch of started posts that have yet to see the light of day (so to speak).  So, what to do?

Create a brand new post and just report on some things going on at the farm.  Why not?  It has worked before!

Just Dandy
Sadly, the dandelion peak is over at the farm.  For those who still think of the dandelion as a noxious weed, I want you to consider exactly how nice that bright yellow is in the midst of the green.  And, when you find out about weeds that cause us more issues on the farm like Canadian thistle, crabgrass, bindweed, etc etc  - the dandelion isn't an issue at all.  In fact, we are very happy to have clover and dandelions in our lawn and pasture areas - thank you very much.

The Solar Fence Explosion

As we start to do more with poultry in pastures and plant starts in the fields, our solar powered fences start providing their service to us instead of sitting neatly rolled up on a hayrack.

We have our first batch of broiler chickens on pasture now.  Of course, once we did that, we got cooler and wetter weather almost right away.  Why not?  Let's just make things a bit more complicated.  At least we remembered to get the solar charger up on a cement block so it wouldn't be sitting in the mini-pond that has formed in that area.  And, no, the nuggets (as we call the younger broilers) are not fond of the pond either.

You're Welcome
We're still trying to fill up our CSA program - so we're still taking applications if you are interested.  Thank you to all who have signed up.  We look forward to serving you.

A couple of years ago, we periodically provided produce to Lincoln Elementary for a special 'healthy snack' program.  We were happy to do this and I ran across the nice artwork provided to us as a way of saying thank you.  Little things like this help the farmers when they are looking at very very wet fields with very few options to do the work that needs doing.

Every Year is a Struggle
We try not to complain or be a broken record about it.  But, the weather can just drive us crazy sometimes.  Yoyo temperatures have forced us to be patient with planting.  We dodged some bullets by deciding not to plant certain crops, though we were tempted.  But, now those plants are in trays and really need to get into the ground.  The problem, of course, is how wet everything is.  There isn't really much we can do about it right now.  And, as I type this, I see more rain coming.  It helps to know (sort of) that other growers in Iowa are fighting some of the same issues because that means we're just not bad at what we do.  On the other hand, I don't really want them to struggle either!

Needless to say, we make the best decisions we can and then we live with them.  The good news about all of this is that we have more experience and more tools, so we are much more able to recover from some of this than we could in years past. 

I'm ready for a huge planting session.  Here's hoping Mother Nature gives us a shot at it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Newsletter

The month of April reminded us that a freeze is not all that unlikely during the its 30 day tenure.  It also illustrated that even if you have warmer temperatures, plants will not thrive if Mr. Sun stays hidden for most of the daylight hours.  If I'd thought to keep better notes on this, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of mornings that started with some sun (after clear overnight hours) until about 8:00-8:30am, when it clouded up for the day.  Don't get me wrong, there were a few beautiful days during April at our farm as well.  But, there had to be some reason why the spinach we planted didn't fill out on the schedule it normally follows.

Kohlrabi and other brassica seedlings
May Calendar of Events
CSA dates subject to move a bit in the early going depending on crops.

  • May 2: Delivery 1 CSA in Waverly at St Andrew's 
  • May 3: Delivery 1 CSA Tripoli
  • May 6: Saturday Waverly Farmers' Market 8:30-11:30 
  • May 11: Delivery 1 CSA Cedar Falls 
  • May 13: Waverly Farmers' Market
  • May 15: Work for Your Food Event (RSVP)
  • May 16: Delivery 2 CSA Waverly
  • May 17: Delivery 2 CSA Tripoli
  • May 18: Delivery 2 CSA Cedar Falls
  • May 20: Waverly Farmers' Market 
  • May 23: Delivery 3 Waverly
  • May 24: Delivery 3 Tripoli
  • May 25: Delivery 3 Cedar Falls
  • May 27: Waverly Farmers' Market
  • May 28: Gang of Four+ at Grinnell Heritage Farm 
  • Delivery 4 ***Traditional 20 Shares Begin*** 
  • May 30: Delivery 4 Waverly 
  • May 31: Delivery 4 Tripoli
CSA Program Status:
We are currently sitting at about 50 member shares sold or reserved.  Last year we had 97 shares, so we have lots of space to fill.  We realize some of this is because we just haven't gotten a final decision from many people and we realize some is because we had many people move away last year.  The upshot is this - we have spots open and we're still trying to promote the CSA.  That means that all of our record keeping is still in flux - so things like our email list continues to require attention.

As you see above, the weather has been mildly uncooperative.  The result is that those who were expecting a CSA delivery in April per the original calendar will not be receiving one.  Normally, we have things we are anxious to give that week of the year.  Never fear, we'll reorganize the schedule slightly and all deliveries will occur.  For those with the Traditional 20 week CSA, you have no worries either since your first delivery doesn't arrive until the end of May/beginning of June!

We are composing our annual CSA fact sheet email that will be sent out early next week.  WE are hoping to solidify our membership list so we can clarify who is in which weeks for the Alternerating Delivery program among other things.  thank you for your patience and please ask questions if you have them.

Farmers Trying to Consolidate Efforts:
Every year we re-assess our lives and how the role our farm in our lives.  We have both been feeling overwhelmed on and off the past couple of years and we're working to make things more manageable so we can be better at the things we do.  The change in garden plant production was just one such move we made in an effort to make things better.

As a result, we can tell you that we managed to get field carrots, peas, turnips, beets, arugula, mustard greens, radish and spinach planted in the outside fields ALREADY this year.  In prior years, that might have been impossible given the number of plants we had to keep watered and the number of plants we would normally be feverishly potting this time of year.  So, we feel that was a good decision.

Another decision was for Rob to get out of a leadership role in the Waverly Farmers' Market.  It wasn't a position he sought out last year, but someone had to pick up the reins.  Happily, Amanda Mitchell was willing to be assistant last year and is now willing to be the manager.  The down side?  Well, there's all of the transition stuff that we're trying to get through - it's getting in the way of our own farm's workings.  But, we anticipate an end point to this fairly soon!

Plant Status:
For those that ordered plants, we anticipate they will be ready for pickup starting May 10 (approximately).  We will provide those who ordered plants with more details.  There will be additional plants beyond those that were ordered - we're guessing about 50?  We'll know better once they are all potted.

CSA Signup 2017
We still need people in the CSA as we are only about 50% full.  If you need convincing - please consider the value you get with our programs.

Contact us if you have interest and we'll get you started.

Song of the Month
A long time favorite of ours that helps keep us moving in the field.

Recipe of the Month

Spinach Frittata
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy skillet.
Saute 1 clove minced garlic and a few chopped scallions/green onions.
Add 1 pound washed spinach and cook until wilted.
Remove veggies from pan; lightly beat 6 eggs and add to pan along with spinach mixture,
3/4 c parmesan or feta cheese, and some parsley.
Stir all together and cook over low heat until frittata is set.
Allow to cool slightly and cut into wedges to serve.

Field Report
As we mentioned earlier in the newsletter, we have managed to get field carrots into the ground (St Valery's and Dragon), but we might not have mentioned that we got St Valery's carrots into Eden (one of our high tunnels) even earlier.  Here's hoping!  The peas went in to the field last week.  A 200 foot row each of four varieties (Mammoth Melting, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Blizzard and Golden Sweet) also went into the Eastfarthing (field 2).  With the cold weather that followed we expect them to be slow to germinate.  The Southwest had rows of turnips, beets, spinach, arugula, mustard greens and radishes put in before the cold and rain as well.  Sadly, we couldn't quite get to the potatoes, but we're confident we'll get them in next week once the fields dry out a little.  

Our high tunnels are named Eden and Valhalla.  Valahalla is currently home to tatsoi and komatsuna that are ready for some harvest.  The spinach in Valhalla should allow us to harvest some next week, but the kale is a little slower.  Eden has rows of green beans, onions, melons, cucumbers, carrots and beets seeded.  We anticipate putting in tomato and pepper plants next week!

Asparagus started trickling in mid-April and has, of course, stopped when things got cooler.  The rhubarb was already trying to send up flower stalks - which we really don't want.  The fruit trees were largely in full bloom when we got the freeze a couple of nights ago, so we'll see what happens with fruit set this year.

Picture of the Month

The season has begun!
Farm News Shorts

  • The Iowa Ingredient Episode featuring the Genuine Faux Farm (yes, that's us) will be airing this month on Iowa Public Television.  The first showing will be May 18 at 6:30pm (Thursday) and the second is on Saturday, May 20 at 11:30 am.  You can keep an eye on all things duck on IPTV's Facebook page starting May 15.
  • Mrs. Borglum's Waverly-Shell Rock high school science class has been looking at various aspects of sustainability this semester and they will be coming out to the Genuine Faux Farm to see some of the ways we try to use sustainable methods to raise food.  We are looking forward to seeing them on the farm May 3!
  • Some of you who have been CSA members for several years and/or those who have read the blog for some time might recall seeing pictures or references to Denis Drolet (you can see him being an expert mulcher in this blog post from 2014).  Denis worked on the farm for several summers and he can probably tell you stories about our farm from a completely different perspective from the one we provide here!  He might mention Tammy the Warrior Queen or Rob the Plant Philosopher or... he might just sneeze in memory of the dusty straw mulch we used that first year he helped on the farm.  Denis has been honored with the presence of a wonderful person (Julie) in his life and we are most pleased for the two of them.  We wish them the best as they pursue new adventures together.
Time to Have Pun
Rather than a long, silly pun today - how about some shorter things that might make someone laugh.  If it's not you, then maybe it's me.  If it's neither of us, then it's that guy in the back of the room that tries to make his laughter sound like a sneeze, but fails...

A few "sort of proverbs" for everyone:
- After all is said and done, usually more is said.
- Consider what *might* be fertilizing the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
- Experience is what you get when you were expecting something else.
and finally
- Gather 'round like cattle and ye shall be herd!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Words to Live By

I admit to being a bit of an introvert.  Ok, I am very much an introvert.  Someone sent me a series of sayings that many introverts could relate to and I found one in particular that stood out with me:
"When you are an introvert and try to say anything in a group of extroverts - 'Please be quiet, I'm really very interesting.'"

I find that one a bit humorous and a bit sad at the same time.  But, another thing that rang true was a recurring theme that many persons who exhibit introversion tendencies will contemplate things that were said far longer than many who are extroverted in nature.  Maybe it is a function of the nature of many introverts to say less and listen more, all I know is that I have a number of things running through my head that have become 'words to live by.'

A "Happy Little Tree"
I know I am not the only person who still thinks fondly of Bob Ross and his Joy of Painting episodes that appeared (and still appear) frequently on Iowa Public Television.

Bob would talk about 'happy little trees,' 'happy little clouds' and he would encourage people to be creative ('this is your world').  The most important part for me was the tone of these shows.  I always started to relax, no matter what was going on, as soon as Mr. Ross loaded up his brush and started painting.  I am not sure I ever fully realized how much the serenity this man exhibited in his shows affected me until recently.  A pretty nasty cold/flu bug was making it impossible for me to sleep, so I flipped through some of our limited TV channels and found Joy of Painting on IPTV.  I fell asleep for the first time in a couple of days almost as soon as the words 'happy little tree' left his lips.
Our new-ish horse chestnut in the front yard appears to be happy
Why did I finally fall asleep?  It isn't that I think his painting is boring.  In fact, I usually can't help but be riveted by the process.  But, I needed some serenity.  Some sense that things could and would be ok.  And, how can you be without hope when the trees are happy?

You Meant Well
Sometimes a little backstory is necessary - so I will give a bit of one here.  I was very frightened of talking in front of people (introvert - remember?) and was absolutely appalled by the choice I would have to make for 9th grade... Speech or Debate.  There was no getting around it, you had to take one or the other.  So, I opted for Debate.  Why?  Because I knew it wasn't very popular and there would be fewer people in the class.  Then, a strange thing happened.  I showed an aptitude for public speaking - and took Debate all four years of high school.... as an elective!

For three of those years, Mr. Kruse was our debate coach and one of his pet sayings was "you meant well."  Initially, I don't think those of us in his class fully understood all of the nuances this phrase could hold and I suspect most of us thought he used the phrase to console us when things didn't go as planned.  But, as we gained some experience, we started to understand that the context of the conversation and the situation had as much or more to do with the meaning of "you meant well."
Helicopter spraying a field a half mile west of our farm - I'm sure they meant well.
Of course, Mr. Kruse was not the sort of teacher who would spell everything out in the simplest terms.  He took joy in challenging us to consider meaning and variations in meaning.  "You meant well" could imply that you did your best with the resources you had and there wasn't much more that could have been done in your situation.  It could also imply that someone else did not "mean well" by exclusion from the comment.  And, of course, it could imply that you were operating on false assumptions and the harm that had occurred as a result wasn't what you were working towards.

In the end, the biggest lesson I took from Mr. Kruse and this saying was that good intentions do NOT always carry the day.  You may have "meant well," but your failure to do your work properly or your unwillingness to think through your actions and consider the fallout can result in a bad situation regardless of the results you envisioned.   

Do or Die!
That's a "do or die" weeding job if I ever saw one!
I learned a year ago that Coach Rowry had passed away and it reminded me of the single year he served as baseball coach on the JV Newton High School baseball team.  Playing on that particular team with that particular person as coach was one of my more positive experiences in baseball.  I may not have appreciated all of the 'pole to pole' running he made us do at the time, but I always appreciated his fair and balanced approach to handling the diverse personalities and talents on the team.

Baseball practice often consisted of 'situational drills' where the players trained to respond to given scenarios.  One of Coach Rowry's favorite was the "Do or Die!" drill, which was focused primarily on the outfielders (yes, I was one of them).  With the bases loaded and less than 2 out, the outfielders were trained to charge a ground ball that gets through the infield as hard as they could.  They must pick up the ball cleanly and get the ball to home plate as quickly and accurately as possible.

If you could get there quickly, pick it up, throw it accurately (and low enough so it could be 'cut off'), you were able to "Do" and if you didn't... well... you get the point.  I guess I was particularly good at this drill since he would say "watch Faux do or die!" during practice and then make me do three in a row.

But, the moment I remember most is when the scenario actually occurred in a game.  I charged the ball, picked it up and...
Threw a strike to the catcher standing on home plate.  We very nearly caught the guy coming home from third.  Coach Rowry jumped out of the dugout and yelled "THAT's the way to DO or DIE!!!"

While I don't walk around telling myself or others to "do or die" this memory reminds me that preparation to succeed is part of success itself.  And, I learned from Coach Rowry that sometimes success isn't flashy like a home run, a diving catch or a pitcher striking out the side.  Success is doing the right things in the right way and doing it even when the situation is difficult and maybe even in situations where it didn't seem to make a difference at the time.

I Like You Just the Way You Are
This last one may also ring true with a number of people who read this blog.  Are you feeling a little beat-up?  Maybe a little depressed by things that are going on?  Maybe you feel like you've messed up or you aren't what you're supposed to be?

Listen to Mr. Rogers for a second or two:

A simple show teaching important concepts - among them is self-acceptance and acceptance of others.  I watched this video and instantly felt better about myself and the world I live in.  And, I was reminded that if a person I've never met and only seen on Iowa Public Television (or Youtube) can make me feel this way by saying "I like you just the way you are," just imagine how much power this statement might have if you tell someone you know the very same thing.

A picture of two Dr's in one GFF field - cool!
And, I like them both - just the way they are.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Busy Week

How do you know you've had a busy week?  Well, if you finally write the blog for it a week or so later, you can guess you've had a busy week.  And, perhaps, you are still busy?  That means it must be April on the farm!

The first order of business is to wish the Inspector a happy birthday.  And, since he is a cat and he can't stop me from doing it, I'm going to show off a baby picture from last year.  Inspector's brother, Sparrow, was injured while he was a kitten and was later adopted by a family who could care for him.  Inspector, on the other hand, has taken Cubbie's spot as the 'friendliest feline on the farm' - that's FFF at GFF to you and me.

Inspector and Sparrow
"The ladies," on the other hand, are enjoying Spring very much right now.  As a result, we have lots and LOTS of eggs.  If you want them, we have them.  And every once in a while...
...we get a pterodactyl egg
Getting back on topic - April is the time of year where things can change on the farm very rapidly.  At the beginning of April, we only had the laying hens.  Now, we have a batch of hen chicks (arrived Apr 5) and a batch of broiler chicks (arrived Apr 13).  There are chicks here and chicks there.  As long as there aren't chicks EVERYWHERE we should be fine.  If they are everywhere, we should probably make sure the doors are closed and latched next time.

Chicks get extra shelter and heat until they grow in some feathers.
The arrival of chicks means we have to consider what we have for food on the farm.  We were running low, so we took a trip with the trusty feed bin to Earl Canfield by Dunkerton.  The grains and soybeans in the feed mix come from Earl's farm, so we are happy to give this a trial run. 

I suppose a trip to get feed doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but it's not like we can drive super fast with that thing behind the truck.  And, the first major feed purchase of the year is a sort of signpost for the season.  By the time we get to August it will all be just part of the blur.

We had a service trip group from Wartburg College come out to the farm on Saturday (the 8th) and lend a hand with some projects that would have been mighty tedious if it were just Rob and Tammy.  There were eleven people in attendance and they came with positive attitudes and a willingness to do what was needed.  They helped clean up several fields by rolling up drip tape, pulling down fencing used for pole beans last year, yanking old corn stalks and visiting baby chicks.  Ok, I think that last item was just because it sounded like fun to most of them.
If any of the participants in this group read this blog post, let the others know that we have already done additional work to prepare the fields you worked in.  As a result, we are on target to get potatoes, peas and carrots in on schedule - and maybe a bit ahead of schedule?  Wow.  Thanks for the help.

We also had another group come out to the farm for a tour and a little bit of farm work so they could get out of the classroom.  Dr. McCullough's group were pleasant to be around and we managed to get some good things done - some of which was actually out of the cool wind that was blowing that day.

Mixed into the week was a trip to Webster City for the IOA board meeting, a GFF CSA meeting with the Bandsaw Man (Jeff Sage) and lots of seedling tray dancing (as we move trays from one step of development to the next).

On top of that, farm unpacking has been going on in earnest.

What is 'farm unpacking?'  I'm glad you asked!  Every Winter we go through the process of putting things away after their last use for that year's growing season.  We try to get as much of our tools and supplies under cover as we are able to with the knowledge that some things are going to be placed in a back corner and be hard to access until we unpack.  March and April see us removing things from our buildings so that we can begin to use them all.  Sure, it might be nice to have a nice big building that wouldn't necessitate some the 'packing' we have to do now.  But, the reality is that we have to work within the constraints of our current building configurations.  Hence, we unpack every Spring.

And, whether we are ready or not - Spring is here.

Friday, April 7, 2017

GFF April Newsletter

Ok, so our prior April newsletter was a little bit um...  Well look, it was April Fools, we HAD to do something.  Didn't we?  Maybe I should seriously start that Kickstopper campaign.  I am getting the feeling there might be some real money to be had there.

April Calendar of Events
  • April 5: Hen Chicks arrive at the farm
  • April 6: Wartburg ID Class at GFF
  • April 6: Cedar Falls Egg Delivery 
  • April 8: Wartburg Service Trip at GFF
  • April 11: Waverly Egg Delivery
  • April 13: Broiler Chicks (Flock 1) Arrive
  • April 22: Health Fair at the W (Wartburg College)
  • April 27: Anticipated Delivery 1 Cedar Falls 
Babies at the Genuine Faux Farm
It has begun.

Wednesday saw the arrival of 85 hen chicks at the farm.  These little ladies will form the backbone of our flock for the next two years, joining last year's new additions after they've grown up a bit.  Typically, we do not integrate the flock until October, when we feel the new hens are big enough to hold their own with the older birds.  We picked up Americauna (blue/green eggs), Barred Rock (brown egg), California White (white egg) and Isa Brown (brown eggs) this time around.  

Best Laid Plans
It has begun.

Hey, I started the last feature with that same statement.  What could I possibly getting at here?

Every season, things happen - and they happen in ways we didn't plan for them to go.  Some who have worked with us in the past are very aware of how many adjustments we end up making on the farm every day of the growing season.  Case in point, those cute little baby birds arrived on Wednesday, but we had anticipated a Thursday arrival.  What's the issue?  Well, when baby birds arrive, you have to deal with baby birds - period.  Never mind what you had planned for Wednesday, Thursday is upon you - even if it is really Wednesday.

Maybe that was the jolt we needed to remind us to be prepared to have our plans changed. 

CSA Signup 2017

It has begun - and it continues.  We are in the midst of our 2017 CSA sign up.  We have several CSA options this year.  There are STILL plenty of spots open!  If you need convincing - please consider the value you get with our programs.

Contact us if you have interest and we'll get you started.

Plant Starting 2017
It has begun.

The seedling tray dance is beginning to take on some steam.  The tomato seedlings are beginning to look a bit like tomatoes - they certainly have added the fragrance that tomato plants have!  The pepper plants are showing signs of wanting to grow up some day and we've got onions popping up in the trays everywhere.  And, the next HUGE seeding session is coming up in the next few days.

For those who are interested in plants - things will be different this year.  For details, please view this prior blog post.

Volunteer Groups and Tours at GFF
It has begun.

It is Spring, which means groups from schools are beginning to show interest in coming out to the farm and seeing what we do here.  We are very happy to host this sort of event and have often had these groups lend a hand with a task for two.  It's all part of trying to be a positive part of the community and fulfilling our desire to make a connection between people and the systems that grow the food they eat.

There are some issues with this, of course.  First, it is April.  There isn't a whole lot to see in the fields at this time.  Second, it is April.  It can be a bit chilly and windy out here!  But, for the most part, people seem to enjoy their time out here.

Song of the Month
A song titled Spring.  In April.  By our favorite band.  Life is good.

Recipe of the Month
kale quiche

 kale, spinach or collard greens
spices of your choice
 pastry shell
 shredded cheese
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
Chop kale or other greens and saute with onion and spices. into pastry shell layer shredded cheese, then vegetable matter. whip sour cream with eggs and pour over vegetables. Bake at 350 f 'til set.

Field Report
We are very much looking forward to a big planting push in the high tunnel buildings right now.  The time is right.  The early spinach planting FINALLY set it's first true leaves and the komatsuna and tatsoi are beginning to look like real plants.  The start was extremely slow with the high percentage of cloud cover for the past six weeks.  If there's no sun, they won't grow.  We have a batch of nice kale seedlings we need to spread out as well.  Instead of starting these plants in trays, we decided to try direct seeding in the high tunnel.  The idea is that we would dig up seedlings and spread them out to proper distances once they got big enough.  It looks like they are very nearly ready.

The rhubarb is coming up and looking very strong.  We managed to get the last of our plants moved to their permanent location (most were moved last Fall) and we are hopeful this will work out well for us.  One of our three asparagus plantings have been cleaned up in anticipation of harvest starting late April.   The other two are on the docket if weather allows.

We have our seed taters and we plan to put them in at the end of the month.  Late April and early May is also when we typically seed out field carrots, peas and beets.  Onions will go in the ground as soon as the field conditions allow AND the onions are big enough to put in.  Now that they are up, it shouldn't take too long.

Picture of the Month
Sometimes, the chicken decides it wants to lay an egg NOT built for an egg carton.

Farm News Shorts
  • We are trying a new feed supplier for our hens.  Earl Canfield of Canfield Farms in the Dunkerton area uses his own field crops to create various field mixes.  He is closer to us than our other options and we like the model he and his family use for their farm.
  • It's amazing how much happens in one week.  We usually tell people things start to really get rolling in April.  The truest test we know for this is when Tammy and I look at each other and say, "that was only yesterday."  It's a testament to the number of things going on that time seems to both stretch AND compress all at the same time. 
Time to Have Pun
Rob is considering whether or not he should continue to shower on a regular basis.  We figure the combination of his penchant for wordplay added to an increased likelihood of body odor would make him a....

Ya, ya.  I had to stretch a bit for it.  Maybe I'll go take a shower now.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Better Late than Never

We made a goal to come up with a decent blog post on the first of each month as a sort of news letter to all who have interest.  So, here is the installment for the first of this month! 

Pre-Wilting Technique for Greens
Your farmers spend some time reading up on the newest techniques for production and harvest during the cold months of the year.  One of the hot topics recently has been finding the best ways to deal with post-harvest handling of greens.  Our farm has used hydro-cooling since 2007 in an effort to make it possible for lettuce and other similar veggies to last longer in your refrigerator and we feel we've been very successful with this process.

Note the successful wilting in the row to the right.
Apparently, one of the newer techniques is to stop watering the target plants long enough for the leaves to wilt.  Once wilt is achieved, they are re-hydrated with a heavy irrigation pass prior to harvest. 
The logic here is that those leaves that return to their prior picture of health were the ones most likely to last longer after cutting.  In short, this removes any of the weaker leaves from harvest, resulting in the customer getting the best quality leaves from the plant.

This process may be akin to the recent trends towards removing irrigation from tomato plants for a period of time prior to harvest to encourage more sugar set in the fruit. However, the articles we have read thus far do not discuss the taste quality of the produce in question.

Given the picture above, we can manage the wilting part.  We're not sure if we've got the timing down for the rest.

Music to Tame the Wild... um... Vegetation
The Genuine Faux Farm is in the process of finalizing the trials (and maybe some of the tribulations) that will be held during this year's growing season.  Among those trials will be an experiment testing the best ways to expose vegetable plants to music.
Portable music machines work well to target specific crops

Our experience has shown that plants in fields where music has been playing for the farmers over longer periods of time seem to have higher yields than those that are exposed to less music.  We will admit that we have done no controlled experiments up to this point nor have we collected anything more than anecdotal evidence.  But, we are curious souls and are certainly up to the challenge of designing research to test the hypothesis.

The difficulty with the experiment will be placing ear muffs over the control plants so we can determine what difference, if any, exposure to music might have.  While we are not entirely sure what to expect for results from our studies, we do know for certain that Pachelbel's Canon in D will NOT be on the playlist.  After all, there are TWO CELLISTS who own and operate this farm and the reactions THEY might exhibit to repeated exposure to that piece may result in no yields whatsoever from the farm.

The Sandman Speaks Out Against Wild Weather Swings
 Recent weather events have been enough to get the Genuine Faux Farm Spokescat, the Sandman, to issue the following statement: "I am not in favor of climate change.  I, the Sandman, have spoken."
The Sandman surveys his domain.
While the Sandman refused to comment further, it was clear to us what prompted him to come to this conclusion.  We refer you to events in November where there were wild swings in weather conditions, with lows in the upper 20's and highs in upper 140's.   The high for the following day was only 43, but the prediction for warmer temperatures the next day had everyone, including the Sandman, just a bit nervous.
No, really, look at the bottom left for "yesterday's high and low" (click on the image for a bigger picture)
Cucumber Frog Re-applies for Clemency
The Genuine Faux Farm Cucumber Frog applied for and apparently received approval from someone other than Farmer Rob to move indoors during the cold Winter months.  This latest comes on the heels of Mr. Frog's prior application for clemency with regard to prior 'wrongdoing' on his part.

Mr. Frog is known for his tendency to find ways to startle Farmer Rob during cucumber harvest times.  The timing of his 'surprise appearances' can be good enough to cause the farmer to drop freshly picked produce and/or jump backwards quickly while saying something that sounds like "Gaaaah!"  The farmer is quoted as saying "that frog is a menace and hazard in the field. I am just glad I don't have to deal with him at other times of the year." 

Apparently, the Cucumber Frog has been given access to warmer places on the farm this Winter.  And, what could be warmer than the farmhouse itself? Now, with Mr. Frog enjoying these warmer environs during some of those "other times of the year," the farmer has dropped the laundry basket, a pile of books, a stitch and a line or two.   

"Look," said the farmer, "I appreciate all Mr. Frog does to keep down some of the pests in our cucumber field and I don't want him to leave the farm.  I can tolerate his shenanigans during cucumber harvest.  But, I just don't feel I should have to worry about him jumping out from behind the shower curtain when I'm trying to use the loo."

In later news: Yes, the Farmer Did Say "Use the Loo."

Egg Filming In Progress
Iowa Public Television was once again at the Genuine Faux Farm to record supplemental footage for an upcoming Iowa Ingredient show.  GFF will already appear on a show that features the use of duck for this season and next season they will use footage for a show focusing on the use of eggs.
Awaiting the hatch with baited breath
IPTV staff contacted us in hopes that we might have some fertilized eggs that could eventually hatch.  Of course, we do have roosters in our flock, so we responded in the positive.  After all, the operative word in their request was "could."  Or, maybe they could have if they hadn't already been put in the refrigerator - but they don't need to know that - so don't tell them.

The filming crew has been at the farm for the past four weeks, taking turns keeping the camera running just in case the eggs should begin to show signs of hatching.  We suppose we should tell them at some point that these eggs needed to be in a warm environment for them to hatch, but when they aren't filming they've been pretty useful around the farm and we hate to lose the extra help.

Special Organization Technique (Don't try this at home)
Past meets the present
Many of you may remember that Farmer Rob was a Computer Scientist in a former life.  Yes, he did things like work on algorithms to solve things like the "Bin Packing" problem.  Just type "bin packing problem" into Google or your favorite search engine and you'll find out what it is.

What?  You didn't go look it up?  Trying to avoid learning are you?   Well, you can't get off that easy, I'll just tell you about it myself.

The basic idea is to find a way to put a batch of objects of varying sizes into the absolute fewest possible number of bins.  What better place to attempt to find a practical application than a farm that has a finite number of bins and lots of different sized objects to put in them?

So, what's the problem with that you ask?  Well, the bin packing problem is one that is an NP-Hard problem.  In other words, you cannot hope to find an optimal solution in a reasonable amount of time.  And by reasonable, I mean in my lifetime...

We may want to pack it up so it's "good enough" and not worry about the "optimal" solution, what do you think?

One Phobia Beats Another
The Bandsaw Man is not too fond of heights.  But...

All I said was, "Look! A snake!"
New Pepper Variety
Our farm has continued to work on breeding some of its own vegetable varieties.  Some breeders work to improve taste, others work on storage qualities or uniformity in size and shape.  Us?  Well, we like vegetables that have faces.

We were able to develop this variety by pollinating a pepper plant that had been listening to music by Kiss and watching video of Michael Jordan's best dunks with another variety that we had tried the "Pre-wilting technique" during the week prior.  I'm pretty sure that peppers with varying shapes such as this will only make bin packing on the farm harder and they may introduce the Bandsaw Man to a new phobia.

Fear of peppers with faces - what would that be?  We know that the fear of vegetables is lachanophobia.  Maybe lachcapsicumophobia or something like that?

Prior successes would be Carrotman, Mr Aubergine and Bullwinkle the Tater.  We look forward to another successful year of growing with the possibility of many more veggies with faces.  Until then, we'd like you to consider supporting GFF in a new way.

Genuine Faux Farm Kickstarter Campaign
If you haven't noticed or figured it out yet, today's date is April 2, which is only one day away from April 1.  And, if you've seen some of our prior attempts at April Fool's posts, you would realize any date between April 1 and 5 is FAIR GAME.  This brings us to the new Kickstarter Campaign!

Are you tired of Rob being unable to maintain a timely post schedule for things like the April Fool's post?  Well, prepare to sign up for a Kickstarter campaign to fund timely posting by Rob on this blog!  After all - what would you give to see posts like this on the day they were intended for?

Wait? What was that?

Ok, let's amend the above.  What would you give to get Rob to STOP writing these silly blog posts.  Perhaps we need a KickStopper campaign?

If you'd like to see prior year installments, here they are!
2016 April Fool Post
2015 April Fool Post
2014 April Fool Post
2013 April Fool Post
2012 April Fool Post

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The GFF CSA is a Good Value

I recently had a couple of people mention to me that they felt like they were saving money by purchasing one of our shares for the coming season.  All I can say is that I was immensely pleased to hear this.  After all, we want to provide a good product for a fair price.  Every year, I check on the value our CSA members are receiving in their shares.  But, one of the things I often neglect to do is point out how we are doing for others to see.  These comments have encouraged me to finish a post I started some time ago.

Most years, we acquit our selves quite well.  (notice how I got to use two "Q's" in that sentence - neat, eh?)  In fact, a typical season sees us providing much more value for a share than was paid to us.  We feel that additional value is a fair compensation for the investment provided by our members.

Experience Leads to Strong Shares Throughout the Season
The last three years have been slightly different from our earlier history in that we've added much stronger starts to our season, making it less critical to have super strong second halves to make up the difference.  That doesn't mean we don't still provide strong second half shares, but it does mean we've been able to give a more consistent value throughout the season.  An example of some of the things we have done to make our farm more consistently productive is our second high tunnel structure.  Every year we strive to do better than the one before and we keep building towards better.
Seeded trays ready to go to cold frames or high tunnels

We Think Hard About Fair Pricing
We take pricing very seriously.  We need to earn enough to pay us fairly while still keeping share prices reasonable for the many participants we know are working on a budget.  Each season, we spend significant planning hours reassessing our costs and determining what we should do to meet both of those goals.  A standard share cost $400 in 2016 (and the same share type will cost that same amount in 2017).  For a 20 week delivery season, that comes to $20 per delivery.  While this post is not about how our share costs compare to other Iowa CSA's, I think you will find that over time, we've kept our costs and prices under control.  It is not uncommon to find similar programs that cost between $400 and $600 in the state. 

White onions harvested and being taken in to be made ready for CSA members
Shareholders Get 30-40% More Value Than They Pay For
In 2015, we had only two weeks where the share value dipped below the $20 mark.  Weeks 1 and 2 had $15 values with asparagus and spinach providing the most value.  Since that point, every week met or exceeded the $20 value for a standard share.  Week 9, for example, exceeded $30 in value and week 3 was $25 in value (just to show you we could provide value early in the season too!).  So, by the end of August, we are sitting at a 25% value increase over the amount 'paid' through that point of the season.  With some high value crops at the tail end of the season, we provided 35% more value than was paid by our subscribers!
Young Australian Yellow Leaf lettuce plant
We Don't Ride on Only One Veggie
By the August checkpoint, we provided 28 different vegetable types to our subscribers.  While we realize we could get into an argument about how we split things up to get the count, we tried to stay conservative.  For example, we aren't counting snack/cherry tomatoes and slicing tomatoes separately.  Nor are we separating out sweet peppers and bell peppers, even though we usually give them separate trays at a distribution.  But, we are counting cabbage and napa cabbage separately, because they really are different things!  By the end of the season, we had provided 35 different vegetable types to our shareholders.
trays of lettuce ready for transplant

Why Does This Matter?
We get the feeling that the price tag of a CSA share scares many people away.  We certainly understand that a three-digit check can strain many budgets.  That's why we offer the option of setting a payment plan with us that fits you best.  But, the reality is that this is a very good buy for healthy veggies for your family.

Tomato harvest at dusk

How Many Meals Does $20 Buy in a Week?
Take your family to a 'cheap' fast food restaurant for dinner.  If you get meal packages in order to save money, your family of four will typically spend $25 for a SINGLE meal.  No leftovers.  Nothing to help build another meal.  Very little nutritional value.  And, you've already spent more than the $20 for a WEEK of CSA veggies from the Genuine Faux Farm.

We are not trying to tell you that our veggies fill each meal out entirely.  But, what you get from us will be a part of many meals during a week.  From a pure monetary perspective, the CSA is a better deal than many things you will find out there.

So, there must be other reasons why you feel it is too expensive.  Perhaps it is because...
Pepper transplants lined up to be put in

It's Okay If You Don't Eat it All
Certainly, we'll accept that as a reasonable premise.  After all, Rob grew up as one of the PICKIEST eaters in the world and is continuing to work on eating a wider variety of things.  We certainly get this issue - perhaps better than you know.

But, when you get over 30 types of veggies, you have a great number of chances to get things you will like.  And, when you receive nearly a third more produce than you pay for with a share, that essentially means you can FAIL TO EAT 1/3 of your share during a season and still have a good deal. And, don't forget, there are people who like some of the veggies you don't like.  Some of those people might be in the house right across the street from you!  Hmmmmm.
Why is this farmer smiling?
The Genuine Faux Farm CSA will work for you IF you want to make it work for you!
I think we have made a reasonable case that our farm has the experience, ability and drive to provide a good product.  But, the biggest variable here is YOU! 

Are you motivated to make this deal work for you?  If you are, please contact us and we'll get you set up with a share this season!

Friday, March 24, 2017

More of This

The problem with having a blog is... you have to write blog posts to actually have a blog.  As you can see, it has been a few days since our last post - and really, we need to be posting to promote our CSA program!  We still have openings!  (there it is, the obligatory promotional plug - you can now get to your blog reading)

As I've been doing work, I've been thinking about the things I want to see more of during the 2017 growing season on our farm.  Farmer Delusional Syndrome is still in force - though it is dwindling rapidly as the reality of the work we have to do begins to set in. 

One thing I really believe we can have more of is THIS:

Does he mean the flowers, the tomatoes or the butterfly?
The answer to the question that is the caption of the picture above is an emphatic YES.  We are very much committed to growing even more flower strips in 2017 than we did in 2016.  In fact, we are getting better each year at doing this.  The rewards have been several.  First, we enjoy the flowers - as do those who work with us and those who visit us.  Second, our pollinator workers seem to agree that the flowers are a good thing.  While we still think our beneficial insect and animal numbers are lower than they should be, they are better than they have been.  And finally, we are convinced that any of our crops that need pollination services will be improved if we plant more flowers.  How cool is that?

More flowers seems to lead to more of this!
A fresh melon out of the fields - YUM
We have shown over the past two years that we can increase our production by improving pollinator habitat.  In fact, we reduced the number of melon plants we put in the ground to make room for the flowers.  As a result, you might think our overall melon production would decrease.  Nope, it actually went up.  I like it.

Even though he startles the farmer, we'd also like more of THIS:
Ah Cucumber Frog, the bane of my cucumber picking existence.
If we continue to work on the habitat, we expect to see more frogs and toads in our fields.  More frogs and toads means fewer of the pests that cause our crops problems.  It also means the farmer may be less likely to be started when they jump into his leg because it will be a common occurrence (or so we hope).

Maybe even more of THIS (or not):
Carrotman just can't get out of the kitchen, even if it is hot.
Ok, we do not purposely want to grow LOTS of odd shaped veggies.  But, we do enjoy seeing a few strange fruit once in a while.  We are actually hoping to feel (and maybe even be) a bit more creative this year.  The great thing about creativity is that I don't have to plan it all out.  A little creativity can help balance all of the planning I have to work with during the year.

Did we mention more of THIS?
Borage... we LOVE borage.
Yes, I think I mentioned the flower thing.  Notice the row of zinnias in the background?

And, we would really like more of THESE:
Nebraska Wedding
And, we don't mean we want just Nebraska Wedding tomatoes - though we do like them very much.  We felt like our production of tomatoes was pretty poor last season and we are taking steps to rectify the situation.  Some of the issues were weather related and some were of other origins.  There is only so much we can do about such things, but we sure are going to give it our best shot to build this crop back up to its former glory.

And, we've got the space in the field this year so we can have more of THIS:
Watermelons are hard to deliver with the CSA, but we sure will try anyway
We've had a couple of down years for watermelon because we were working on the melon field production in general.  Watermelons vine like crazy and take up a lot of space.  That made them a less than idea product to grow as we were working on our field design in the smaller plots of our farm.  This year, the melons move to one of the larger plots.  Here's hoping!

Here's to Peas and Prosperity!
Yes, yes.  those are peas. 
And, perhaps, we'll have more puns in the blog too this year?