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?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ordering Plants 2017

We have decided to limit our plant sales in 2017. For more of an explanation, go to the bottom of this post.

If you want specific heirloom plants from us, you will need to ORDER THEM in advance and we will grow them specifically for you. They will be made available to you when they are ready and they could be picked up at the Waverly Farmers' Market or during one of our CSA pick up locations (see the calendar page).

Orders will need to be received in the month of March - the earlier, the better - so we can get your plants started and ready for optimal planting times.

If you do not order plants, you will take your chances that we will happen to have extras of the varieties you want.  For more explanation, see the end of the post.

$3.00 for 3-4" pots.
Smaller pots will be priced as appropriate.

Available Plants:
Tomatoes: Italian Heirloom, German Pink, Trophy, Speckled Roman, Amish Paste, Silvery Fir Tree, Nebraska Wedding, Moonglow, Black Krim, Green Zebra, Red Zebra, Tommy Toe, Hartmann's Gooseberry, Jaune Flamme, Wapsipinicon Peach, Black Cherry, Paul Robeson, Hungarian Heart, Gold Medal, Tasty Evergreen, Wisconsin 55, Rutgers, Cosmonaut Volkov, John Baer, Opalka
Peppers: Wisconsin Lakes, Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper, Tolli Sweet, Alma Papricka, Golden Treasure, Purple Beauty, Quadrato asti Giallo, Early Jalapeno, Wenk's Yellow Hot, Joe's Long Cayenne, King of the North, Napolean Sweet, Garden Sunshine, Marconi Red, Chervena Chushka
Eggplant: Pintung Long, Rosa Bianca, Casper, Diamond, Florida Highbush
Basil: Sweet Genovese, Thai, Mrs Burns' Lemon, Dark Opal and Lime
Cucumber: Marketmore 76, Boothby's Blonde, A and C Pickling, Green Finger, Lemon

Others: ask

Why Are We Scaling Back on Plant Sales?
We feel that our supportive customers deserve some explanation - so here it is.  For the past seven years, we have entered the season starting anywhere from 750 to 1500 ADDITIONAL plants (typically tomato, pepper, eggplant) beyond what we need for production on the farm.  We have had plant sales at the Saturday Waverly Farmers' Market, at Hansen's Outlet and other places. 

Essentially, we tried to create a situation for success and growth each year and simply did not find it.  Sales have been largely static, with no growth in sales shown even last year when two growers at the Waverly Market stopped selling after the 2015 season.  It is no exaggeration to say that we regularly composted 500 plants each season.   The reality is, if we wanted to sell that many plants, we probably needed to go farther afield to find markets.  Our desire to sell direct to consumer locally did not apparently have a large enough pool of potential customers to support the endeavor.

The main reason we are no longer operating in this fashion is actually a function of labor.  The number of hours required to transplant all of these plants, sort them out, move them around, load them, unload them, etc etc put the labor cost at a point where we were not making money with the previous model.  Perhaps the most telling point was the fact that some of our Spring field work was sometimes delayed because we were too busy just trying to get a plant sale ready to go.

So, How Are We Addressing The Problem?
We will plant only as many of each variety as we need PLUS whatever orders we have for those plants.  Invariably, we will plan to seed only a few extra of each variety in case there is a problem with germination or some other issue.  That means we will likely have some extra plants, but not the numbers we've shown in prior years.

For example, we knew Italian Heirloom would be popular because we do talk them up.  We need 85 of these for our own growing operation and we would typically grow another 85 for sales.  Once transplanting occurred, we would often have about our 85 plants plus 100 more.  After all, if you have extra seedlings that look good, why would you kill them?  Now, we will target 85 Italian Heirlooms plus whatever is ordered plus maybe 5% extra to cover possible problems.  If they all do well, we would have maybe 5-8 extra plants that are not spoken for.  These will come to our Saturday Waverly Farmers' Markets.  And, once we get tired of hauling these around, we will simply stop doing so.

We will not be holding any additional plant sales beyond the Saturday markets this year.  We will, however, deliver pre-ordered plants during our CSA distributions as arranged.

What Do We Hope This Change Will Accomplish?
It's not just about money.  In fact, it isn't really as much about the money as it is about time.  Spring is packed full with activity on the farm and there is only so much of us to go around.  Most of our workers do not start on the farm until school is out, which occurs after most/all of the transplanting into pots is done.  If we do not spend so much time on plant sales, there are a number of things that can and will take the place of tasks centering around these sales.

We expect that we will have more seed starting space and transplant space so we can push more of our seed starting for the field up a couple of weeks.  As it was before, some of our plantings were pushed back until space was freed up.  This model was fine for a while, but we are increasing the numbers of things we transplant, so space is at a premium.  We are also noticing that our start dates for things like melons and squash are moving up with changing weather patterns - this allows us to make that adjustment.

We are hoping to get more of our annual flowering plants going in trays so they can begin producing flowers sooner in our fields.  The better we are at providing food for our pollinators for a longer season, the more effective their labor will be for us.  This change will free up seed starting space and seed starting time to do this.

Valhalla is scheduled to be moved in late April to early May.  That did not happen last year in large part because we were trying to keep plant sales going.  We would like to hit the schedule on that this season  and in future seasons.  This is only once example of farm growing tasks for April/May that we hope we can pay attention to instead of plant sales.

Will You Change Your Mind and Reintroduce Plant Sales?
Never say never.

However, there will need to be some major changes for us to accomplish this.  First, we would need to change our facilities so that we have a dedicated space for starting plants for sales.  We need to improve efficiency of the processes that lead to growing these plants.  Second, we would need to evaluate when and where the market is and then we would have to aggressively market the product so we could have sufficient sales.  In short, it will take a serious bit of work before we go back to what we were doing in previous years.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

It is NOT This Day

Tammy and I have been regular attendees of the Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators Meeting for the past several years.  The two-day meeting features discussion and presentations on how research and projects fared during the previous year and then on designing new projects for the upcoming season.

Tammy was asked to give the closing remarks for the 2016 Cooperator's Meeting and she was a bit uncertain as to whether she should agree to do so or not.  I strongly encouraged her to do this and I think she came up with a winner.  In fact, it was liked well enough that PFI put it out on YouTube.  That's a compliment.  And I will continue with the compliment by including the video here and the text she based her closing remarks on.

While this was all presented in a light-hearted fashion, there is a great deal of meat to what is being said here.  Take a moment and enjoy.

JRR Tolkein wrote a good story.  Is that an understatement, or what?!  For those of you who are not familiar with his work, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, is an author and linguistic scholar, best known for his high-fantasy novels The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is also known for his intense attention to detail. I have long loved Tolkein’s stories and grown to appreciate the importance he placed on detail and accuracy.  “Close enough” was just not good enough.  

I see a lot of Tolkein’s dedication to detail and knowledge in PFI farmers and our dedication to detailed research.  Rob has convinced me, despite my admitted preference for “I think” to move to “I know” on the farm.  Count it, measure it, record it, then plan it.  And, repeat - Count it, measure it, record it, then plan it.  

Tolkein’s writings offer so much timeless wisdom including this exchange early in the “Rings” journey:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

There are many things farmers struggle with including increasingly extreme weather and uncertain economics and changing policies.  What we CAN do is decide what WE want to do with what we have – not just “Go along”.

At one point, one of the HEROES in the Ring Trilogy, Aragon, inspires his troops before a seemingly hopeless battle:
"Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

I hope our farming does not seem “hopeless”, though we certainly face challenges.  So, with thanks to Tolkein and assistance from Dick Thompson:
Hold your ground,  Protect your ground!  Farmers of Iowa, Row Crop, Grazer and Hort.  I see in your eyes that same passion for farm and soil that inspires me.  A day may come when the courage of farmers fails, when we forsake our passion for sustainable, well managed farms and break all bonds with our history of smart farming, but that is not this day.  An hour of weeds, pests and disease, a day of intense pressure to conform, to “go along”, when the age of “thinking farmers” on diverse farms come crashing down.  But, it is NOT this day!  This day we research!  By all the you hold dear for the good of this earth, I bid you, RESEARCH and LEARN, Farmers of the Land!

Friday, March 3, 2017

GFF March Newsletter

The month of March is here - and so is our monthly newsletter on the blog.  Without further ado - let's just get right to it!

March Calendar of Events

March 6: New Hampton Seed Starting Workshop (cancelled)
March 7: Practical Farmers of Iowa Farminar - Variety Selection
March 8: Seminar at Wartburg College
March 9: Cedar Falls Egg Delivery 5:00-5:30 Hansen's Outlet
March 14: Waverly Egg Delivery and CSA Signup 4:30-6:00
March 23: Cedar Falls Egg Delivery and CSA Signup 5:00-6:00
March 28: Waverly Egg Delivery

CSA Signup 2017

We are in the midst of our 2017 CSA sign up.  We have several CSA options this year.

Traditional 20produce> June-October (20 deliveries) $400
Traveler 20 produce> May-early Jun,late Aug-Dec (20 deliveries) $500
Whole Enchilada produce> May-December (28 deliveries) $600
Alternating Delivery produce> May - December (14 deliveries) $350
My Garden is Dead produce> October-December (8 deliveries) $250
Group Share produce> June-October (16 deliveries) $800
Moving On produce> Start or End of Season variable inquire
Poultry Share Small Bird meat> March - December (20 deliveries) $325
Poultry Share Large Bird meat> March - December (20 deliveries) $400

As of this post, we have plenty of spaces available in our programs.  Contact us if you have interest and we'll get you started.

Plant Sales 2017
We have decided to limit our plant sales in 2017. We are finding that we are losing money with our previous model. So, here is how it will be this season. If you want specific heirloom plants from us, you will need to ORDER THEM in advance and we will grow them specifically for you. They will be made available to you when they are ready and they could be picked up at the Waverly Farmers' Market or during one of our CSA pick up locations.
As always, there will be SOME extra plants, but it will not be the hundreds of plants we have brought to market in the past. We'll bring what we have and there will be no guarantee how much we will have or what varieties UNLESS you pre-order. Thank you for your understanding as we make this adjustment.
$3.00 for 3 1/2" pots.

Website Updated
Our website has been updated and everything should be current at this time.  Please feel free to visit.  If you see a problem, we appreciate notes that point such things out to us.  If you want to learn more about our CSA programs, our farm and how we do things there, this is a good resource.

Song of the Month
It's our (Tammy's and Rob's) anniversary month.  We can get a little sappy if we want to - so there.

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. 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.

Planting Report
We have a couple of beds planted in Valhalla (the newer/larger high tunnel) with komatsuna, kale, tatsoi, lettuce and spinach.  Otherwise, things are really just getting started right now.  Soon we'll have a large number of trays to keep watered.

Picture of the Month
Look closely - do you see what I see?
Farm News Shorts
  • GFF will be involved in a few Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators projects this year.  One involves continued work with pollinators on the farm.
  • We will also be working with the Xerces Society to attempt to increase habitat on our farm with annual and perennial plantings.
  • We expect to have two returning workers this Summer (Caleb and Emma) and one new worker (Jocelyn).  We hope you will join us in welcoming them as their schedules on the farm begin in May/June.
Time to Have Pun
If a thesaurus were a dinosaur, it would have to eat.  And, if a thesaurus were to eat anything, I suspect it would be a synonym roll.

Monday, February 27, 2017

GFF CSA Farm Share Options 2017

We have offered vegetable farm shares (CSA) since 2005 and we will be offering meat poultry shares for the first time in 2017.  The sign up season for 2017 is open now!  We would be honored to be your personal farmers for the growing season.

Why should Rob and Tammy Faux of the Genuine Faux Farm be your personal farmers?

  • Experienced - our farm and CSA has been in operation since 2005 and we actively seek to improve how our farm performs each and every year.
    Sign up! I, the Sandman, have spoken.
  • Responsive - you will see at least one of your farmers at every delivery and we are happy to converse with you about things you would like to see happen with your share and on the farm.
  • Reliable - we grow a wide range of crops and varieties to provide our own version of crop insurance on your behalf.
  • Responsible - we work to keep all three legs of our sustainable farm strong.  We strive to work with nature and we are active in the community - all while maintaining a reasonable bottom line.
  • Accountable - we have maintained organic certification for our vegetable production since 2007 and we are pleased to answer any questions you might have about how we grow.
  • Traceable - 95% of the produce you will receive is grown on our farm Northwest of Tripoli, Iowa.  The remaining 5% is clearly labeled so you know who grows your food.  Jeff Sage grows beets, carrots and heirloom sweet potatoes for our program.
  • Flexible - there are now many ways you can participate.  Take a look and see what fits you best.
  • A Good Buy - in all years except 2012, we have provided our share holders with produce value that exceeds the share price by 20 to 40 percent.
Veggie CSA Options for 2017

Traditional 20 Share
Comfortable with how things have been?  Well, this is the schedule we've maintained since the our CSA program's inception in 2005.  Twenty deliveries of delicious goodies from June through October.  If you see no reason to change what has been a good thing so far - here it is!
Deliveries 4 through 23 on the calendar
Price: $400

Traveler 20 Share
So, you are traveling this Summer and you think that means you can't get our veggies?  Think again!  We will have 20 deliveries of veggies split between the early and late season, but no deliveries for this share from mid June to mid-August.  Not only can you be some of the first people in the area with fresh veggies, you can partake of the bounty at the end of the season.  Who wouldn't want fresh produce for Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Deliveries 1 - 6 and 15-28 on the calendar
Price: $500

Whole Enchilada Share
You get a nice price and you get ALL the CSA Veggie deliveries we will offer from April to December.  You won't have to worry about signing up for an extended season - you just come and get the delicious veggies for all 28 deliveries.  Your best value is here.
Deliveries 1 through 28 on the calendar
Price: $600

Alternating Week Share
Proof that the farmers do listen!  Some of our members reported difficulty getting through all of the goodies before the next week's delivery.  The alternating week share is a viable option if you are worried about having too much, but you really do want some delicious, certified organic produce.
Deliveries 14 deliveries (you will be assigned odd or even delivery numbers)
Price: $350

My Garden is Dead! Share
So, you garden.  Fantastic!  But, do you feel its loss once you get to October?  Let us get that Fall produce to you for 8 deliveries this Fall into the Winter!  You can get some fresh greens, root crops and much more after your garden has decided it has finished for the year.  You might even get a few peppers and tomatoes if you talk to us nicely!  If you're missing produce in the Spring as well, see if the Traveler 20 fits you.
Deliveries 21 - 28 on the calendar
Price: $250

Group Share
This is intended for an office/group that might like to dip their toes into the CSA idea.  There will be 16 deliveries that will match up with our highest production weeks.  Each share will have less vegetable variety and more duplication in anticipation that there will be multiple family units receiving the share.
Deliveries 16 dates TBA
Price: $800

Poultry CSA Options for 2017
We have raised broiler chickens and turkeys on our farm since 2006 and we are finding that people would like the convenience of purchasing a single bird at a time rather than buying several at one time.  We hope you find this to be a reasonable response to that request.

Give Me the Smaller Birds Share
Twenty deliveries that will occur roughly every other week (you will receive a schedule once you sign up).  Each delivery, for 19 deliveries, each share holder will receive a broiler chicken that falls on the smaller side (typically 4 to 5 pounds).  For the 20th delivery, each share receives two stewing hens, perfect for pressure cooking, crock-potting and making broth.  In addition, each share holder receives a $25 credit towards a turkey!  That's 21 deliveries of quality poultry from our farm.
Deliveries 20 + the Great Turkey Pickup
Price: $325
Available Slots: 8

Give Me the Bigger Birds Share
Ok, you have a bigger family and you want more meat on your chickens?  Here they are.  You will get the biggest broiler chickens we have from our day-range flocks.  Sizes average 5.5 pounds, though you'll land some over 6 pounds and some just over 5. We will provide you 20 deliveries of broilers roughly every other week AND you receive $25 credit towards a turkey - tell us you want a big turkey and we'll reserve it for you.
Deliveries 20 + the Great Turkey Pickup
Price $400
Available Slots:

I Want Poultry, but Not A Poultry Share
We've got you covered there as well!  We will continue to have broiler chickens and turkeys available beyond those offered here in share packages.  Broilers are processed in early July, September and early November most years.  Turkeys are processed at the end of October.  Some years, we have also had Muscovey ducks available.

Pick Up Locations
Waverly:  Waverly Farmers' Market during market season on Tuesdays, 3:30-6:00 pm.  St Andrew's Church parking lot during market off-season. 
Cedar Falls: Hansen's Outlet, outside the East side of the building on Thursdays, 4:00-6:00pm.
Tripoli: at the farm on Wednesdays.

How Do I Sign Up?
Send us an email at and tell us which share type you want and which delivery location you would prefer.

Want to Know More?
If you want to learn more about what a Genuine Faux Farm CSA Farm Share is, please visit our website!  Of course, we welcome any questions you may have, please send them to our email address shown above.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Broader Horizons

I have to admit that one of the things I have difficulty understanding in this world is how we seem incapable of stopping for a second and considering about how other people might think or feel about something.  Then, I wonder what it was that got me to start thinking about things like this. 

I can attribute some these tendencies to my stamp and postal history hobby.  I have to thank my Mom for giving me the colorful bits of paper to put in a little notebook with (shudder) Elmer's glue starting when I was three years old.  Philately has given me an opportunity over the years to view other cultures and viewpoints through the windows provided by their stamps and how their mail was carried.  While I did not always understand what I was seeing and I typically was more attracted to the things I understood from my own country or those that used the English language, I can still recall numerous facts, thoughts and ideas that came from viewing and handling something from any number of locations on this earth.

Over time, I have made an effort to pick up items from parts of the world for which I had less appreciation and/or understanding.  So, when I found a few Persian postal history items that were inexpensive, but interesting looking, I picked them up.  This past Winter, I took the time to research these items and put them on pages of my own design.

I was struck by the pressures brought to bear on Persia by England and Russia as each country worked to gain influence.  England, in particular, was keen to get a continuous rail line to connect interests in India with rapid transportation.  Even more interesting to me was the fact that Persia 'fought back' by providing its own funds to develop the Trans-Iranian Railway in the 1920's and 1930's.  Given the pressures by foreign powers and the sheer amount of capital being thrown around by foreign businesses, this was quite an accomplishment.

One thought that came to mind as I read more about this?  Persia/Iran is the home to a proud and self-sufficient people - characteristics many Americans would be happy to claim.

The Sudan is another area that holds some fascination for me as well.  Prior to looking at some of the stamps and postal history of the area, I could only give someone a very VERY brief accounting of knowledge regarding that area.  Now, it is still brief, but it at least shows a little effort on my part.

If you want to pick on me a little bit here, you will note that both postal history items are addressed to English speaking destinations and each clearly has some level of Western cultural influence.  To be fair, I need some sort of bridge to get even a little bit of foothold in these areas.  An item written entirely in Arabic with no markings that help me get even a start in research would have done little except frustrate me.

While I don't expect others to do what I do with postal history, I would like to encourage any parents that read this blog to consider encouraging children who have a propensity to collect things to try stamp collecting.  I learned about American history, world history, foreign languages, foreign cultures, geography and numerous other topics simply by viewing and researching the topics depicted on postage stamps.  Let me know if you have a child that might like to give it a try and I'll do what I can to help.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

GFF Photo of the Year Winners

We are announcing the winners just a little later than we planned, but as we noted in the prior blog post, the farmer (and writer of the blog) was under the weather for a time there.  But, a quick look at some great pictures can always help.

The second round of voting completed and we had a clear winner this time around. 

2016 GFF Photo of the Year

Title is "If Only Every Evening Were Like This." We can almost feel the soft night time air as we look at this one. This is probably one of favorite angles for photo ops on the farm because we get all kinds of nice sunsets with this foreground. There's a reason we put in the flower planting there.

Other Category Winners

"And All That Chive" It's so much different than all of the other flower pictures we tend to take. Almost feel like I could pluck one and chew on the stem.

"Tree Trunk Art by Mother Nature" This old oak was hit by lightning several years ago The split provides a dividing line for the types of moss on the trunk, except for that little splash of yellow on the left. 

Title is "Got Your Goat." Now, can you find the goats? NO, this is NOT on the farm. Can you imagine how hard it would be to park Durnik the 1940's Ford tractor on that incline. He does not have a parking brake.

And this is how we do a "Farmer Selfie." For all of the introverts out there or those who are 'camera phobic' this is the solution if you have people asking you to take a picture to show you were somewhere. Primary requirement? Sunshine at the correct angle and a surface to show off the shadow.

A big thank you to all who participated in the voting.  It makes it a bit more fun for us when we get some interaction.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Sandman - looking a bit like the farmer's been feeling lately.
There are many reasons why posts might not show up on a blog.  Perhaps those that write for it just don't have anything to say.  It's been known to happen.  Maybe those who write the blog are too busy to get to it.  This too, has occurred on this blog.

But, what happens when the farmer catches a nasty virus and is unable to collect needed zzz's?  Well, one thing is that the blog gets neglected.

Well, here's to getting over whatever has ailed me.


The really difficult part about all of this is that Rob has been unable to do the work he wanted to do to recruit CSA members.  So, we've got to push now.  Please note the page link at the top right or click on this link right here!  That page includes descriptions of all of our 2017 share options.  We have plenty of openings right now.  Please join us for a new season of quality produce.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Sun in Sunflowers

One of the things we aren't always so good at doing is getting sunflowers into the ground on our farm.  I would say that we manage to put them in on average of 2 out of every 3 seasons.  That's still pretty good, but I really feel their absence on those years when we don't put them in.

Lemon Queen

Sunflowers can be a challenge since they do take up a fair amount of space by nature of their height.  If you want to crop anything nearby, you have to consider the shading that's going to happen as these plants grow.  Not only that, but these can (and do) get knocked over by the wind.  If you've never had to fight your way through downed or leaning sunflowers to get to another crop, then you don't understand.  If you have, then you know why you have to choose the location wisely.  You also need to consider the allelopathic qualities of most sunflowers.  These plants tend to suppress seed germination in a radius around the stem's base. 

On the other hand, there's this.
Sunflowers do establish pretty easily from seed.  They do provide a windbreak and they can provide late afternoon shade for crops that would like to have a little less sun during the hottest months (such as lettuce).

Autumn Beauty
We've found that sunflowers work well with sweet corn.  But, since we're not doing much with sweet corn anymore, that natural fit isn't there for us anymore.  Winter squash and pumpkins don't mind vining up to sunflowers and may even try to climb them.  If you want to try and keep squash 'walled in' you can do a heavy planting of sunflowers on the edge of the field and most of the vines will run up to the sunflowers and either try to climb them or run parallel to the row.  There's always a few that will sneak out, of course.

What we like most about them?  Well, we like the way they look - adding color that you can see from a distance.  But, we also like the natural food for habitat the flowers provide.  Birds get a nice treat through the late Fall and Winter from these.  And, yes, humans like the seed too.

So, here's to a year where we find the niches on our farm for the sunflower!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nota Conference - Seriously

The Nota Conference is on the horizon and the participating farms are gearing up for this important event.  Experts from these farms are feverishly preparing for highly detailed and precise discussions related to technique and practices that will be used in the coming year to make our farms more efficient and profitable.

Things like:
The relative launch angle needed to get a bad watermelon over the fence and into the goat pasture.
A demonstration of how termites cause problems for wood structures.
There will be serious discussion and debate over the relative merits of various approaches each farm favors.

I will wear chacos on December 3rd and there is NOTHING you can do about it!
And some of these events may be participatory in nature.
Now, when the music starts... you're the "Sharks" and we're the "Jets."

We are aware of the need for physical exercise and facilities are provided for those who desire a work-out.
Nine thousand, six hundred and thirty-seven.....
Participation is voluntary, there are no mandatory drills.
That drill is completely voluntary - so there!
Children are welcome and age appropriate activities are provided.
The saw is plugged in, right?
Accommodations are cozy.
And safe from coyotes.
There will be good food.
We'll even sit down to eat it.  But, probably not outside.
Nota Conference 2017.  Serious farmers being serious.
Unless they aren't.
This post brought to you by the Gang of Four + Farms.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Look in the Mirror

It's January and we're actually going to get to our 2016 in review BEFORE the month is over.  For us, that's an accomplishment!  Ok, we've actually done well in the past, as you can see in this 2014 Top Events that was posted in early January of 2015.  It was really our 2015 Year in Review that waited until this past September to see your screens.

Since a "Top 10" list is no longer a "thing," we're going to do a an actual year in review from a calendar perspective.  Now, you should say something like, "Oh, how original!"

Yes, yes, I know.  No one EVER uses the months of the year to write a retrospective for the prior year.  I'm so creative.....


Last year's January was particularly full.  Tammy was working on her portfolio for promotion and finishing work on a book project.  And, of course, Tammy had plenty to do at the college.  Rob was busy with his work with the Iowa Organic Association board, the Pesticide Drift Coalition, Labor 4 Learning with Practical Farmers of Iowa.  He also gave a couple of guest presentations for classes at Wartburg.  Otherwise, it was a normal January.  There were cold days, we fought Winter colds, and we wondered where all the natural light had gone.

The early part of the month was dominated by preparations so Rob could help lead a Beginning CSA Workshop in Montour for Practical Farmers of Iowa.  The Gang of Four held its annual Nota Conference at Blue Gate Farm and it seemed like more things were rescheduled for any number of reasons than there was a right to be scheduled in the first place.  We became curious what the deal was with February 8th?  Why did everyone schedule something that we should be involved in for that date?  We also worked on some farm-related planks that we encouraged people to bring to their caucus.  These made it through one convention in Bremer County and a couple of other counties that we know of.  But the real highlight for us was the end of February.
Waimea Canyon
The month started out right with the farmers continuing to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Hawaii.  Sadly, they were forced to return and you all had to deal with us for the rest of the year.  One of our first tasks on return was to broadfork the ground in Valhalla and start onions in trays.

And, we had to do a farmer selfie in Valhalla as well.
Apparently early 2016 was the time for people to ask Rob to speak since there were three more events in March.  And, on a non-farm related note, Rob won the individual title for the Swiss Map Championship for Ticket to Ride, beating Sylvain from France in the final 5 games to 3.  And, Tammy was granted a promotion after review of her portfolio that she worked so hard to complete at the beginning of the year!

The month when it all really heats up on the farm!  We're busy enough January - March with farm things, but clearly we can spend time on other things, since the highlights are much more diverse.  Hen chicks arrived early in the month and broiler chicks later in the month.  That's a quick way to double your morning and evening chores.  We had a great service trip group come out for an afternoon of farm cleanup and the Gang of Four had the Great Tater Pickup (where we all go get our seed taters for the year from Grinnell Heritage Farm).  We even got 60% of our taters in before the month was out.  And, Soup had her kittens.
Inspector Mewso arrives
Last year, the month of May beat on your farmers a little bit.  Of course, May tends to be rough for us anyway, so maybe this isn't news.  Other than the normal stuff - farmers markets starting, lots of planting, field work, critter management and other farm things - we attended our first Gang of Four work/food day at Blue Gate and we had a group from Wartburg take a tour at the farm earlier in the month.
Lettuce seedlings (Gold Rush)
Things just started to get really interesting in June.  We added turklets and a second batch of broiler chicks mid-month.  This put us at six flocks to manage.  Workers started on the farm as their school commitments ended and the Gang of Four visited our farm.  We had a successful organic certification inspection later in the month and our twelfth CSA season began in Waverly, Tripoli and Cedar Falls.
Who are you?  And, what is that flashy thing you have?
The hardest thing about doing a year in retrospective this way is that you start to realize that it is impossible to give everyone a feel for what happened for the year when so much of it was just doing what you need to do.  You can get a good idea if you read our post about VAPs.  July's bigger highlights were the Iowa Organic Association's field day at Grinnell Heritage Farm followed by the IOA Annual Celebration.  And, despite the rain, we had Iowa Public Television at the farm while they filmed for Taste of Iowa.

The month of August was full of transitions.  School schedules started to take our workers away, Bryan started work on putting in the new walk-in cooler and we still had to keep harvesting, weeding and planting.  GFF hosted a pollinator field day with Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Xerces Society and Steve Schmidt.  Then, we followed that up with our annual Summer Festival the following weekend.

This was also the month that we started a serious effort to remove tools/items on the farm that were no longer working for us (or had never worked for us and were just taking up valuable space).  For example, both of our JD lawn tractors were broken more often than running, so we started to address that issue.  And, we continued to work on the completion of the brooder room in the Poultry Pavilion.  Hosting events are an excellent way to motivate yourself to clean up the farm - that's for certain!

Accomplishments in September did a great deal to alleviate some accumulated stresses on the farm.  We'd been trying to find a good time to put new plastic on Eden and finally got that done with the help of many fine people in the middle of the month.  The walk-in cooler was progressing and we were able to head down to Blue Gate and help with the construction of their new high tunnel.  IOA was also a co-sponsor to bring Emily Marquez to UNI to speak about the new Pesticide Action Network Report.  We still encourage you to learn about this as this is a problem that isn't just going to go away.

October is a month that went by so fast, I can barely remember what happened.  Tammy was certainly focused on school.  Caleb worked to help get CSA deliveries ready on Tuesday and Thursdays.  Bryan worked to finish the walk-in cooler.  Otherwise, farm work was pretty much Rob's territory - and there was certainly plenty of it.  Our regular season CSA came to a close and we held our Annual Great Turkey Pickup after the birds had been taken to "the Park."  We had a different service trip group at the farm for a few hours again this Fall and we were able to help a bit more with the Blue Gate high tunnel.  And, we performed magic by turning two older  lawn tractors, various attachments for said mowers and two trailers for those mowers that we no longer use into a single lawn tractor.  Let's just say we're amazed by how much space we now have.

The early part of the month began with a Work for Food event at the farm, followed by a trip to help more with the Blue Gate high tunnel and then a Game Day gathering at Grinnell Heritage Farm.  After that, Rob and Tammy had to dash back to the farm and take broiler batch number 3 to "the Park" and then "Freezer Camp."  We harvested tomatoes from our high tunnels until November 12 and we proved that we can move Eden with one person, a tractor and lots of patience.
There be beans under that cover!
We had a longer than usual Fall, but Winter does eventually take over.  Rob was able to give a talk at the Phil and Lit Society in early December that was well received (and fun to do), which brings us full-circle from January's speaking efforts.  Then, Andy and Carlos (from Grinnell Heritage Farm) came up for a day helped Rob do a number of tasks that would NOT have gone so well if he was by himself.  The 'skirt' of plastic at the base of Valhalla being a case-in-point.  And, we shouldn't ignore the mulch on the garlic.  We were able to leave our produce in the walk-in cooler (to keep it warm) until December 8 and did not have to move nearly so much to our basement as we have in prior years.  We completed our Fall CSA December 15, which brought our season to a close (for the most part).  This gave Rob enough time to participate in what turned out to be his U.S. team's second consecutive win for the Ticket to Ride Nation's Cup.  This year, two teams from the United States made it to the final.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Real Medicine 2016

We have done our Best Medicine posts for several years, but we have not really given a nod to some of the posts that are more serious in nature (unless they happen to have a great funny line hidden in there somewhere).  In fact, one person mentioned that it was a shame we couldn't award 'Post of the Year' to a couple of these posts in this year's Best Medicine 'award' posting in our blog.

Well, is this our blog or isn't it?  We can do another post that highlights our best SERIOUS (ahem ahem) posts for the year.  Enjoy the excerpts - and if they motivate you to read the rest of some of these posts, please follow the links.

Help those around you to become the best version of themselves that they can be.  Help them to raise their standards.  Help them to remember their essential purposes in life.  Positively challenge them to do and be their best.  And, in so doing, you will have achieved.  And perhaps, so will they.
It Must Be All About Me - October 2
One person exclaimed, "What a beautiful place you have here!"

My first reaction to this?
"What?  Can't you see the weeds in that field?  And, those bushes over there aren't doing well.  I really don't know what to do about that.  That fence needs to be mended.  Ooops.  I forgot to clean that pile up before you all got here.  I told myself we wouldn't have another festival where the back door entrance wasn't in such poor repair.  I wish I had time to finish painting that building... etc"

And... I wish that tree hadn't been struck by lightning.

Yet, you look at it closely and you find that it's actually quite beautiful just the way it is.  Huh.
The Whole Picture - August 31

The National Organic Program guidelines support long-term soil health and pushes growers to consider long term consequences to short term actions. If there is no other reason for someone like me to go through the certification process than to improve our ability to be the best stewards we can be - then it should be enough.
Long Term Hopes - May 10

When I walk by our Northeast asparagus patch, I remember help received to plant the crowns out there several years ago.  Each time I enter the new walk-in cooler, I think of the persons who worked hard to make that construction project happen.  I see the new plastic on our smaller high tunnel building and I am reminded of all of the great folks who came early in the morning to help.  I remember the time our old truck was crushed under a building and someone immediately loaned us a truck so we could make deliveries.  We cannot repay, we can only give thanks.
Trials, Tribulations, and Thanks - November 25

Our favorite for 2016 is below. Enjoy. Rob & Tammy

This melody wins for a moment in time.  It pushes the others down until they are quiet harmonies and counterpoints.  And it reminds me that I can choose which litanies I will give voice to.  And it reminds me that the whole song just might require that I acknowledge each one of them as the music unfolds.
A Choice of Litany - December 10

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Best Medicine 2016

A "year in review" of humor in the blog was started a couple of years ago, so we thought we'd treat you to the same for this season.  There are two categories.  Line of the Year may appear in any type of post.  Needless to say, it may actually encompass more than one sentence/line.  Hey, it's our blog, we can use whatever rules we want!  Post of the year was selected for the perceived entertainment value.  Of course, entertainment value is subjective.  And, since the farmer and his lovely bride were the only two judges, you can feel free to comment and correct our flawed insight!  

If you wish to read any of the posts that have been highlighted here, feel free to take the links provided.

Previous Best Medicine posts are linked here: 2015201420132012, 2011, 2010, 2009
Well, it certainly is better than me trying to make puns about the Okra Winfrey show or the shootout at the Okra Corral with the Urp brothers and Dock Holliday.From 101 Uses for Okra : October 10

Look Jill, I don't think bent knees should count against me.  I clearly got further off the ground.
From High Tunnels R Us: October 4

2013 - Wow, we have walk-in cooler panels, we should put them up.
2014 - No, really.  A walk-in cooler would be a very useful thing, we really should put them up.
2015 - Look.  We need this walk-in cooler thing to be a go.  It's going to happen this year. Seriously.
2016 - We're too embarrassed to put this on the list.  We both KNOW it's on the MUST DO list anyway.

From Cooler Than You : December 14

I know, we've shown this before.  Give us a break, our teams stink.
From Just a Few Observations : June 4

It was dawn and we were selling eggs and asparagus, eggs and asparagus, aaaaaaaaaaaspaaaaaaaraaaaaaaaaaagussssssssssssssssssss!
From Refusing to Punt : May 17


 From So, It's Not Monday : December 27

"Short Fortuneteller Escapes Prison: Small Medium At-Large!"
From Keep On Keeping On - November 14

GFF's Response to Keith:'re not supposed to be accurate, just creative.
Everyone ignore Keith! Keep being creative.

From Tater Digger : September 18

...if you stand up from a typical harvest position, you will discover your remaining dry spots on your person.
From Why'd You Call Me A Drip? (Revisited) : July 2

High Speed Internet - Oh, wait. That one belongs in our myth list on the farm. Put it between "weed-free" and "on-schedule".
From GFF Dictionary Part I :August 21

If the number of items with high VAPCONs is ridiculous and your VAPWWYTRat is high enough to warrant a farm-wide Red Flag Warning, then you are probably not actually dealing with VAPs.  Instead, you have succumbed to the temptation of creating OAPs (Overly Ambitious Plans).  And, we all know what that leads to...

A NAP (No Ambition Plan).

From VAP : July 8

Some of them graduate and then go on to further schooling or to a 'real job,'  leaving us behind with ne'er a backward glance.  Others, for some reason, find themselves taking things called 'internships' in their field of study.  Still others do things like 'get married' or take 'full-time employment' or whatever sad little reasons they come up with.

From New Month, New Blog Post : April 1