Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bonus Post for Christmas

Tammy and I have both worked at a number of places in various capacities during our lives.  Between the two of us, we have experience in retail, county government, academics, insurance, distance education, manufacturing, research and development, child protection, manual labor and...of course...farming.  I suspect we could insert a few more labels that would be appropriate in an effort to make our point.  Or maybe it would simply be a sad attempt to be impressive in some odd way.  But, we'll leave it at that list.

In any event, we've worked a number of places doing a number of things.  And, we experienced something today that neither of us remembers occuring in previous places of employment - we received a Christmas bonus.

Ok, we give a pass to the tips Rob received around Christmas when he delivered papers.  That was, in fact, a bonus and should qualify.  And, there were certainly nice things that happened in other places at other times, such as extra time off around the holidays.  So, we should not discount the valuable gift of time.  But, in some ways it is hard to accept that this gift is a bonus when it is scheduled in the calendar for all to whom it applies.  It becomes more of a schedule than a bonus.

To us, a bonus is an unexpected gift of appreciation for good, honest work done well.

It wasn't until we started the farm business that we got real bonuses!  A couple of years ago "Santa" bequeathed upon us some massages.  This was truly appreciated since both of us can get very achy during the growing season.  This year, we were greatly pleased to receive gift certificates to Rudy's in Cedar Falls.  Several people know we enjoy stopping there after the Cedar Falls CSA distributions on Thursdays.  They purchase a significant amount of local food (none from us, but that's ok - we don't have the volume to do that and the CSA) so we like to support them.

It was after we opened the envelope that we came to the revelation that we have now actually received bonuses for our work.  For instance, someone else simply tacked on extra money for their eggs - which was also deeply appreciated.  I wanted to argue and decline, but something told me it was better in this case to be grateful.  And, I am and hope that I conveyed that sufficiently as well.

We've received other kindnesses at other times of the year, and we are no less grateful.  But, the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas is when we try to focus more on gratitude, friendship and kindness.  Certainly things we should focus on all the time, but there is nothing wrong with the renewal of our dedication to these things at this time of year. 

And so we remember other bonuses, such as the slingshot to be used at GF7 festivals for launching bad tomatoes to the turkeys.  We always get a boost from persons who come volunteer when we need it most.  And, you cannot underestimate kind words that remind you that you shouldn't let your troubles (or that one unkind word that was spoken) dictate how you feel for the rest of the day.

A big thank you to all of the fine people who read this blog, it is good to know that some of what is written here means something to others.  "A crate full of grateful" to all who patronize and support our farm.   You are some of the best people we've ever had cause to know, it is a privilege.  And, to all of our friends and family who are good enough to accept us for who we are and who understand that we are more than just farmers, or academics, or laborers, or...pick your label... we love you.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter(?) Work

We have successfully reached December in 2012.  I'm sure many can relate to the feeling that has you wondering exactly *how* it can be December *already*.  But, here it is nonetheless.

Not too long ago, we asked for people to give us some feedback on what you would like to see on this blog.  We received a few requests, so we thought we'd take care of one in a roundabout way first.  Quentin - you wanted to know about our 'favorite' Winter chores - this one is for you!

It was the last day of the semester for Tammy.  While that means the last day of classes, it is far from the end of the term for her efforts.  What this often means for us is that Tammy runs long days in town.  Since the hours of daylight are short, it also results in Rob coming into town to do paperwork.  Oddly enough, by the time we get to the end of the season, doing paperwork actually sounds appealing rather than appalling.

Normal AM chores always include feeding and watering all of the critters on the farm.  Since there is no snow on the ground, we let the chickens out into their pasture.  We feed them out there to encourage them to leave their room.  We also give them scraps from the kitchen, which often include eggshells.  The eggshells help them with their calcium levels for shell development.  Water chores get more difficult in the Winter.  Something about the freezing point cause us to consider alternative approaches to delivering water to the birds in the Poultry Pavilion.  We did our best to run through the chores as quickly as possible this morning.

The AM was spent in town, trying to complete promotional preparations for Saturday's Harvest Market.  We needed to proof and print CSA brochures for 2013 as well as a few new photos for our display board.  Then there is the matter of sending reminder emails and posting reminders on the web.   This is all easier in town, where the internet connection speed can be measured in moments rather than the number of cookies a person can eat during the time it takes to send one email.  The happy side-effect of this plan was that Tammy and I got to have lunch together.  Love it when a plan comes together.

The afternoon was spent (by Rob) on the farm.  Temps were reasonable, it wasn't too windy, but there was no sun.  The first task was to plant the remaining batch of bushes we purchased from K&K Gardens in Hawkeye.  We want to provide ourselves with a bit more buffer protection on the edges of our property and this is a first step.  And then, since we do have that Harvest Market coming up, I picked spinach and leeks.

In the PM we needed to locate all of our farmers' market materials, clean the leaks, clean and bag the spinach and do the chores (put birds away, etc etc).  Happily, we were done at a reasonable time.


Harvest Market!  It starts at 8:30am, so we need to leave the farm no later than 7:30.  Of course, we must do the chores *and* we need to load up the truck.  Today's loading is not nearly as complex as it can be during the regular season of the market.  We will be indoors and tables will be provided.  So, we don't need to load tables or our pop up tent.  On the other hand, we want to bring more promotional materials that won't work at an outside venue.  We managed to pack up about 120 pounds of potatoes, over a dozen pie pumpkins, 2 coolers full of spinach, 2 coolers full of eggs, some garlic and bundled leeks into the truck.  Once there, we had to unload and set up.  Of course, we had to be there through the market, clean up after, reload the truck, go home and unload the truck again.  But, most of that goes without saying....even if I did just say it.

The afternoon was spent doing more outdoor work, which consisted mainly of trying to prepare for the coming (?) snow and cold.  We do things like moving the portable poultry shelters, bringing in waterers, rolling up drip tape etc etc.  We've seen what the Winter can do to things:

So, we try to get everything put away as well as we are able.  The difficulty comes with the expansion of tools and reduction in sheltered areas.  We usually figure it out though.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Sandman Has Spoken

We brought a picture of Sandman, the kitten to the recent Harvest Market in Waverly and encouraged people to submit ideas for a caption (or as one person said a "cat-tion") for this picture.

We encourage everyone to respond here or on Facebook with additional ideas.  You may also voice an opinion as to your favorite captions thus far.

Let's see if we can use the Sandman as a cat-alyst for some good clean fun!

  • If I were bigger than you, I would eat you.
  • Is that a fire engine or the new red truck I've heard you purchased?
  • Don't you think it is a little early?  I was planning on sleeping in!
  • More like community supported cat-iculture...
  • Brussel sprouts?  You want me to eat Brussels sprouts?!?
  • Oy! I wish I could get this Pink Panther them song out of my head!!
  • Is that tomato for me?
  • The kind of organic food I like is NOT green and does not grow in the ground!  Mousies!
And a few more we've thought of:
  • That stunt with the alarm clock was NOT appreciated.
  • Sing "It's a Small World" just one more time and you'll feel my wrath.
  • I'm never good for the day until I've had my morning catnip.
  • How may times do I have to remind you?  I am NOT your cat, you are MY human.
  • Ahem.  You tied your shoestrings again...
I, the Sandman, have spoken!

Friday, December 7, 2012

December Newsletter

Genuine Faux Farm December Newsletter
We are trying to get into the habit of providing a monthly newsletter during the first week of each month.  We send a version of this post out to those who have opted into our email lists OR who are current CSA members.  We provide short descriptions and links so you may choose what you want to read.  We will attempt to put the most important news bits at the top in their entirety.

Waverly Harvest Market
Saturday, December 8
Civic Center, 200 1st St NE, Waverly , IA
Winter farmers' market inside the Civic Center Building in Waverly, Iowa.  Come support your local growers including GFF! We will have pumpkins, potatoes, spinach and eggs - perhaps we'll find something else to bring? Sign up for 2013 CSA. Participate in a caption contest. Too much fun to ignore!

Following Our Blog
Following our blog just got easier for you.  You can opt to receive emails (no more than once per day) that will let you know when we've posted something new there.  Look at the top of the right sidebar and you will see a place where you can do this.  We have also made it easy to use an RSS feed of your choice (look on the right sidebar). 

Do you Need a Little Humor?

Well, here is a lot of humor.  We took the time to do a quick look through some of our more light-hearted posts and come up with some award winning lines for 2012.  And, while we were at it, we did the same for 2011, 2010 AND 2009.  Why?  Because we needed a laugh and we are willing to share.

2012 - The Best Medicine
  " when you ask a raccoon "Number 1 or number 2?"  It will usually say, "Both." "

2011 - The Best Medicine
"Broom Bird Rules.  We thought about making some up, but decided everything involved with it would be a fowl."

2010 - The Best Medicine
"If Humpty Dumpty wanted to sit on a wall - he should have done it in January, in the Midwest. "

2009 - The Best Medicine
"Squish - ya, that's a squash. There is a summer squish, pumpkin squish, butternut squish and rotten squish that goes 'squish' when it's squashed."

Just Veg-ging Out
The seed catalogs are arriving, so it is time to learn about our picks for 2012 Veg Varieties on the farm.
Gerry Chamberlin was kind enough to share her leek cleaning techniques with us, thank you Gerry!

Photo Shoot
Are you more interested in pictures?  They are certainly worth a thousand (or maybe 500 words).  We have two offerings for you in this newsletter.

  1. Some select pictures from 2012 in chronological order
  2. But, better yet - our BEST pictures for 2012.  Warning - the winner for the year is bound to make you smile!
  3. Or, if you want a single pictures with some writing to go with it - try some bleeding heart flowers.
  4. Or maybe you like the periodic postal history thing Rob writes?
But Seriously
There are some things on the blog that take a more serious approach.  A recent Denver Post story (Colorado) about a young lady's perspective on growing and selling local got me to thinking.  And some recent questions about why we selected the CSA/Farm Share model over farmers' market led to ruminate for a while as well.

Monday, December 3, 2012

 Winter Farmers' Market
Saturday, December 8
Civic Center, 200 1st St NE, Waverly , IA

Winter farmers' market inside the Civic Center Building in Waverly, Iowa.  Come support your local growers including GFF! We will have pumpkins, potatoes, spinach and eggs - perhaps we'll find something else to bring? Sign up for 2013 CSA. Participate in a caption contest. Too much fun to ignore!

Speaking of the CSA:

Have you considered these options as Christmas gifts?

- we will have organic cotton canvas bags with our logos at the market.
- purchase a share for someone you love!  This could be a particularly good gift for those who don't want more knick knacks or dust collectors.

We hope to see you this coming Saturday.

Rob & Tammy

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Best Medicine 2009


Again, our investigative reporting came up empty. Since the flowers we saw were mum(s), we walked past them and requested an audience with Kevin the Red (our Bourbon Red turkey):

From Going Out With A... - September 29


...what you thought was the sound of a bird chattering away was just its knees knocking together

From You Know It's Cold When - January 16

Squish - ya, that's a squash. There is a summer squish, pumpkin squish, butternut squish and rotten squish that goes 'squish' when it's squashed.

From Genuine Faux Farm Vocab - September 4

"Look, our only guarantee is that you will get what you deserve. Clearly, you are receiving sufficient recompense. Have a nice day."

From Getting What You Deserve - January 4


If she offers to share again, I think I'll still decline.

From Brown Bagging It - March 28

There is no way you can be wetter - even if you submerged yourself in a pool. You could wring a few gallons out of your underpants if you had to.

From Why'd You Call Me A Drip - August 19

2:20 AM - blinking is fading into distance. quick check - no presents under tree. drat.

From  Not Rudolph - December 17

How can I be a macho farmer if I protect my arms? This is a very important point and should not be ignored.

From  Road Map to Zucchini - July 29

Friday, November 30, 2012

Best Medicine 2010


During one of our rain storms we had some branches come down out of the oak trees. One hit the ground a bit like a lawn dart. We called it our "stick in the mud." Maybe a bit less amusing - especially to all of you.

From  Additional Odd Observations on the Farm - July 31

If Humpty Dumpty wanted to sit on a wall - he should have done it in January, in the Midwest.

From A Tough Egg to Crack - January 7

... a picture promoting a cross country team makes you wonder if you could convince them to train on the farm by either fetching the needed tools, taking the harvested produce back to the packing area or (worse yet) you consider hitching them up to plows or cultivators.

From You Know You've Worked on the Farm Too Long... - November 18
The scramble: binor

Our answer: "orbin"

From  Lhelo Orbin!- April 16

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Where are my keys? I just had them. Are they on the key hook? No. In one of the pairs of jeans I had to change out of because of a pair of stage 4 events? No. In the car? No. Garage? No. Kitchen table? No. Desk? No. um.... How about ignition of the truck. oh.

From Wait A Minute - September 1

5:59 AM - sing about the tasty six-legged thing

From Mr Wren's Day - May 5

Rob wears a black coat.  The end walls of the high tunnel have metal.  The walls are much cooler than the air in the high tunnel.

From  Stuck on You - December 9

We can plant if we want to
We can leave clean hands behind
'Cause the seeds must grow and if they don't grow
We're in the unemployment line

From  The Safety Plantz  - May 8

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Best Medicine 2011

We received positive input from our 2012 version of this.  So, we took the time to work up 2011 as well.


Broom Bird Rules.  We thought about making some up, but decided everything involved with it would be a fowl.

From Bird Brains II - July 5


I keep telling myself - "Self, get the digital camera out.  People want to see pictures."  Unfortunately, my self replies with, "YOU go get the camera, I'm busy."   I'm not sure if this is a good sign when one's own self is indignant with a request...  I'll have a word with him later.

From Mad Dash - May 20

We have noticed that one of the few plants that suppress Canadian Thistle is Crab Grass.....  As Anden said so well, "The enemy of our enemy is.....uh... still our enemy."

From All We Are Saying - June 29
So, maybe they could either:
a. open a box and send us a crank or
b. pick up three boxes and leave us alone with only one working hose reel and refund our money for one of the two reels.
They choose option c - pick up two boxes and send us another full box with the whole assembly.
From It Really Shouldn't Be this Hard - December 8

Yeah you, got that something
I think you'll understand
When I say there's something
You’d better wash your hands
You’d better wash your hands
Please go and wash your hands
From New Lyrics By A Man With A Hat - May 24

How to get attention in a crowded room?: Walk into the room with a heavy duty chopping hoe in your hands.  Works every time.

From Traveling for the Amused - March 1

No actual farmers were hurt in the writing of this post - just the faux ones.

From  Black and Blue Division - May 8

Look.. It's a metaphorical scream.  Just a symbol of the unhappiness felt by this discovery.  Ok?  No one actually screamed.  yeeesh.

From Bugga-boo! - October 23

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Photo Shoot

In the vein of humorous posts for the year - here are our photos of the year.



















Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Best Medicine

Some days a little bit of humor is in order.  Since I'm not feeling particularly creative today, I thought everyone might enjoy a little bit of a "year in review" type of post where I link some of the more amusing things that appeared in the blog this year.

Tammy makes excellent lemonade using lemon juice, sugar and water.  I now find it odd that I used to drink the powder mix lemonade.  On the other hand, the brand name of the lemon juice is.... Squeeze Eez.  I'm sorry, but if this doesn't encourage a fit of the giggles, I don't know what will.

From So Much Fun to Have Fun - July 7

So, you know all of those spots that look like they've gotten REALLY wet in the ceiling?  Yep, the spots that actually have holes starting and the insulation falling through?  That isn't from a leaky roof.  It's from a raccoon leaking....  And remember, when you ask a raccoon "Number 1 or number 2?"  It will usually say, "Both."

From Poo d'Etat - April 25

We flipped a chicken to see who got the first shower.  Heads, Tammy got to shower first, tails, I got to shower first.  While Tammy was trying to catch the chicken, I ran inside and took a shower.

From Slivers and Onions - May 3
My first thought was - "All right!  Dad's lucky day!"
My second thought was - "Is Dad's lucky day, my lucky day?"

From Friday the Thir-oof! - April 13

But, it begs the question - should I retire from improving my attire or should I tirelessly work to improve it?

From Different Kinds of Tires - September 4

Have you looked in the mirror lately?  Wishing your complexion showed a bit more of that healthy, outdoorsy glow?  Or maybe you are just jealous of someone else at work or school who has killer highlights in their hair.

From Insta-Tan - May 17

Recent field clean up revealed that the worker had survived the mild winter, eating frozen tomatoes and field mice.

From It's Late, But So What? - April 2

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Some of 2012 in Pictures









Wisdom comes in many forms.  In this case, the wisdom is being dispensed by a 13 year old in Colorado.

If you want the unabridged story, here is the link: Denver Post story

Take Away Number One
"If you want sustainable, wholesome, pasture-raised organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free food, you have to support it. You can not get these things by talking about it and not paying for it." (direct quote from the article)

As human-beings, we are fond of giving lip service to things we think are "right."  We also have a tendency to fail in our follow through.  I'm not just talking about failure to buy local this month.  I'm talking about your dedication to the concept you give verbal support to.  

We are lucky enough to be in a situation where one of us works off the farm.  So, our income does not rely solely on farm income.  But, there are others who do rely on that income.  Guess what?  Buying from these people at one farmers market may make you feel better about yourself and your stance that we should support local foods (or organic foods, or....), but it doesn't result in much support for them to earn a living and continue providing good food to others.  

People who support local, sustainable, organic, etc etc food make a habit of purchasing it.  They recognize that these people work to provide them this food AND they recognize that they need to make some income every week to keep doing it.  Not only that - they recognize that they need to charge what they do so that they get paid a fair wage. 

Take Away Number Two
" People talk a lot, but it does not mean much. I have people who want lots of eggs tell me to deliver a certain amount every week. I have to save up the eggs to do this, and then they change their minds and don't want them." (direct quote)

You have a right to change your mind.  But, when you do, remember that the consequences are greater than your potential discomfort in declining the offered item once they have it.  Am I saying you HAVE TO take the product if you really don't need it?  No. Maybe you can't afford to take it now as your circumstances have changed.  What we all need to do is to be sure that the order is something we will follow through on when we make it.  Then, if circumstances change and it is no longer something you can do, we all handle it.  But, if you're just too lazy or unconcerned, that excuse isn't sufficient.

Perhaps the real takeaway is this.  If you want to support local businesses and small businesses, you consider how your actions (or inaction) might impact the people that make up the business.  And perhaps this is why so many people can't be bothered to seek out the small, local businesses in their area.  Is it too frightening to deal with people with whom you might have a personal connection?
Take Away Number Four
"I do not plan on farming in the future." (direct quote)

This is the saddest quote in the whole article.  We need young people like this young woman in the farming community.  She does not state exactly why she will not be farming in the future.  But, would it be far off to conclude that some of this stems from the points she makes in this article?  Personally, I hope it is because she has a passion for something else.  I hope that she pursues it and sees success.  And, as she sees this success, in whatever field it may be in, she also grows a big garden and has a few chickens of her own...or maybe a couple of cows. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Farm Share CSA - The Farmer's Perspective

We are encouraging sign ups for our 2013 Farm Share CSA as of this moment.  If you are interested, send us an email.  The web presence will reflect this when we have time to update (and an internet connection to upload).  That said - we realize that we should probably refresh everyone as to why we opt to sell most of our produce via a Farm Share CSA program.  We are hopeful that this will convince some of you to join or rejoin us for 2013.

Please bear with me for a while and I'll try to make it interesting *and* informative.  The overall goal is to share with you why we've elected to do things the way we do them.  It is then up to you to decide if this is an effort you wish to support - just as it always is.  Farm share CSA programs do not fit everyone, but perhaps they fit better than you think.

Growing Veg - what if GFF only sold at farmers markets?
We do sell some via the Waverly Farmers' Market.  But, we opted a few years ago to reduce our farmers' market presence and increase the farm share program.  Why?

What would it take for GFF to be a farmers' market presence?
In other words - what if our model was farmers' market sales FIRST, then other venues?

For the time being, we set aside all of the learning, labor and effort that goes into growing things, harvesting, cleaning, etc. These things are not identical for each selling venue, but close enough for a high level discussion.  For this discussion, you should assume smaller farmers' markets, because that is what is most readily available to GFF. 

In many ways, farmers' market is the lowest stress option - especially in the first couple of years.  No one expects anything in particular from you.   If you don't have it, the solution is simple - you don't bring it.  When you do have it, you bring it.  It is comparatively easy to exit selling at market, so the commitment level is low.  On the other hand, the competition is much greater.  And, it usually takes customers at smaller markets a while to check you out before they buy.  Then there are the issues of bad weather (no one shows up, even though you have a full truck), low traffic markets when your normal customer base gets busy with other things (this often happens in September - when we have a lot to sell) and the issue of having crops peak the same time as everyone else at the market.

Consider costs.  If two people handle the market (clean, pack, load, set up, staff the tables, tear down, load up, unload) you must expect somewhere on the order of 12-14 hours of person hours spent for ONE market(assuming 1 hour drive time total).  This does not include picking, weeding and everything else needed to get the crop in the first place.  Assume your labor is worth maybe $10 an hour?  You have to sell $120 to $140 worth of produce to break even on labor.  We haven't even considered gas, the cost of bags and other supplies and tools needed for the market.  And, yes, we have to pay a fee to be there.  And, remember, just growing produce costs us something.  So, if we're trying to run a business, we would need at least a $250 market, every market.  And, if you really want to make the business go, it has to be better than that.

Consider labor.  Let's make it simple and assume only two markets per week. This will not likely be enough to sell everything we grow, but that's fine.  So, we spend about 24-28 hours per week of person hours on market work ONLY.  If we want to have excellent product for a longer window of market season, we also need to spend many hours in the field.  Markets in our area typically run from May through the beginning of October.  And, if farmers' market is your primary sales outlet, you can't miss a market.  So, to stay on top of it all, you have to hire help.

Boil it down to the bottom line.  You likely don't want to read many more details.  But, let's do the bottom line.  Tammy has a job off the farm.  Rob works full time on the farm.  Our goal is for Rob to earn a 'salary' of approximately $15,000 each year.  Essentially, that is our profit goal.  And, frankly, I don't think this is a 'greedy' number for the work given.  We're happy with it, so it works.  If farmers' markets were our primary sales venue, we would need market sales of approximately $2500-$3000 per week.  Let's put this in perspective.  Our largest market sales total at market is in the neighborhood of $500-$600.  This number had little to do with our product volume and everything to do with the demand brought to the market.  In short, we would have to double the amount sold at our BEST markets EVERY WEEK in order to make this happen.

So, if farmers' market were our niche - what would we have to do?
The options would be as follows:
 1. Take ourselves to bigger markets in places like Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Cedar Falls/Waterloo.  This would add to transportation costs and market fee costs - as well as travel time.  It would probably also require the addition of a bigger truck, possibly with refrigeration.  We would also find ourselves in a situation with much more competition.
2. Hire more people and attend more markets - some on the same day.  This model is not unlike those who sell sweet corn on corners.  But, we add the cost of vehicles, personnel and travel time.
3. Expend great amounts of our own resources attempting to grow the smaller farmers' markets that we are involved with.  This is something we have tried to do over the years.  But, now we are working with another entity (the farmers' market).  Typically our business takes most of our time, how do we split ourselves in two in order to do this?  And, the market is not just OUR market, so we have to be careful how we go about the promotion.  The promotion would have to be continuous to keep people coming and to continue to entice newcomers.  It would be a never ending battle, with the probability that the demand would still not reach levels that would support sales we would need to reach our bottom line goals.

In all cases, we have to go where the farmers' market demand is or create more demand, but we still have to fight weather and time issues.

Why don't we consider a bulk/contract sales model?
Without going into great detail, bulk sales to groceries, institutions, etc are not entirely out of the question.  However, if we were to consider making this our primary outlet for produce we would have to change major parts of our farming philosophy that are important to us.  We believe in local sales and we believe in diversity in our fields.  We have no doubt that we could make this work if we had to, but maintaining these principles are more difficult if we give up direct marketing. 

Perhaps the most difficult part of a bulk sales model is the amount of product that will be unsalable due to criteria placed by the buyer on the produce.  Some of these criteria are sensible and other criteria are a matter that needs re-education.  Too put it simply (and to make this section shorter), most of those absolutely tasty heirloom tomatoes we grow that have some cracks in them would not meet the grade for these contracts.  If you've been a Farm Share member, you know which ones I'm talking about.  You've eaten them and you've enjoyed them immensely.  If we went all bulk sales, we'd likely drop many of these varieties and we now know what we'd be missing!

Our model - integrating Farm Share CSA program with the farmers' market and other outlets.
We have attached ourselves to the Waverly Farmers' Market.  It is a smaller market, but we have good relationships with the other vendors and we have been working to help it grow.  We hold one of our distributions on Tuesday during the Waverly Farmers' Market's hours.  We sell excess plants in the Spring and excess produce when we have it on either Tuesdays or Saturdays. The bulk of our produce goes to the Farm Share CSA program.  Some goes to Waverly Child Care, Hansen's Outlet or other direct sales.

In the past, we tried to do four markets per week.  None of the markets had fabulous attendance levels, but they were all within an hour drive.  During three of these markets we also delivered farm shares.  Simply put, if we had continued with that model, we would have burned out.  Our bottom line was just on the positive side of break-even.  We were spending 55-60 person hours per week on market and we could only afford to hire 1 to 2 "very part time" people to help us.  The model was not working and we were not making a reasonable profit.

Once we moved to the Farm Share CSA as our primary outlet, we found ourselves able to hire more help and invest in equipment to help us to become a profitable small farm.  This model requires a bit more from our customers - but we give them the benefit of providing produce above and beyond the cost they pay.  Typically, farm share members will receive $450 worth of produce for the $330 they pay for a standard share.  And, Rob manages to earn a profit around the goal of $15,000 per year as a result of this model and the support of farm share members.  We call that success.

To our Farm Share CSA members, past, present and future.  Your investment in our farm is worthwhile.
Thank you for choosing us to be your personal farmers.  We are pleased to grow the best produce we can for you.  We recognize that it requires that you come pick up your product during designated time slots that may not always be convenient with your busy lives.  We realize that you are don't always get the amounts of certain veg that you would prefer for your situation.  We understand that the dynamics of your family sometimes make it difficult to get everyone 'on board' to eat some of these vegetables.  These are things that participation in our Farm Share CSA may require of you.

On the other hand, you will get a quality product from people you with whom you may converse.  You can make your feelings known about what is being provided and make suggestions.  There are opportunities to try new things.  There are chances to store the excess for use later in the year.  You support a local business that does its best to spend its dollars locally.  You support a few summer jobs for college and high school students.  You support sustainable farming methods.  Your support provides your personal farmers with the ability to continue to strive towards doing things in a way that seems to be the best for them, for you, for their workers, for the community and for the environment. 

You are doing something for you and your family to encourage healthier eating.  Didn't you say you wanted to improve your health?  Well, eating more of these vegetables are a big part of that process.   Did we say figuring out how to integrate more vegetables into your diet would be easy?  No, we did not.  Picking up your veg from us is EASY.  And, you did not HAVE to weed any of it (though you are invited to do so)!

In the end
Regardless of your decision to be involved in our program or not, we ask you to THINK about what you eat, where it came from and how it was produced.  We ask you to support locally and sustainably grown/raised foods.  And, perhaps most importantly, we request that your actions mirror your words.  If you actually believe that local foods, sustainably raised foods, organically grown foods, etc... are a good thing, then you need to take action and support these products.  You support them by buying.  You support them by actively giving feedback to help them improve their product.  You support them by participating in farmers markets or local events.  You support them by actively promoting them to your friends.  You support them by being honest and by giving second (and maybe third) chances when they are earned.  And, of course, you support them by working hard at adapting to eating healthier food. 

It's tough, but someone has to eat the better tasting stuff!

Thank you for allowing us the soapbox time.  And, thank you for all of the support you have given us.

Rob & Tammy

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Favorite Faux Phauxtos #7

The joy of digital cameras is the freedom they give to try shots that you might not otherwise have tried if you had to develop film.  The picture above is a close up of one stem from a traditional bleeding heart plant.  Sadly, this plant did not make it through the last winter, so we have none at this time.  But, I have always had a soft spot for this perennial flowering plant.

The bleeding heart is an early season, bushy perennial that tends to die back in the heat of summer.  It is one of the earlier flowers and does well in shade.  I remember growing up with one of these in our back yard.  It sat in the corner of the yard where our back porch met the house.  That area received no direct sunlight and there wasn't much chance that there would be grass growing there.  I used to enjoy sitting and just looking at this plant when it was in bloom.  I couldn't help but to reach out and touch the flowers.  They look so fragile, and yet are quite resilient.

What I remembered most was that they revealed more detail the closer you observed them.  They are the sort of plant that might lull you into thinking that the flowers are simple and not worthy of inspection.  If you don't believe me, just look at this photo.  Then, I encourage you to sit down next to one of these plants next Spring and admire their beauty close up.

Friday, November 16, 2012

When Things Don't Go As Planned

For those who may be joining us - the explanation for things like this showing up on our blog is that Rob is a postal historian - in addition to a veg farmer.  When the weather gets colder, he has the opportunity to shift gears and enjoy his hobby once in a while.

Below is an example of what he likes to collect and research.

If you get used to the markings on envelopes for a given period of history, you can get clues that there might be a story to tell.  The envelope below was sent in 1867 from Galesburg, Illinois, with a destination in Scotland.  The price to send mail that far was 24 cents.

How did I know there was a story here?  June 10 in Galesburg and July 10 in Glasgow.  This was much longer than a normal transit between the two places in 1867.  A little research revealed that this item was on a ship that ran aground in the St Lawrence Seaway.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cleaning Leeks

The following useful information was sent to us by Farm Share member Gerry Chamberlin.  Thank you Gerry!
As I was cleaning the leeks it occurred to me that maybe some in the CSA aren't familiar with how to easily wash them.  When I took a French cooking class some years ago, we were told how to make the cleaning easy (I don't know that this a "French method", just that this was how we were instructed on easy cleaning).
Cut off the dark green because most recipes use the white/light green portion.  Cut off most of the roots but not so far back that the leaves come apart.
Make two vertical cuts from the dark end to 1/2" or so above the root end. 
In other words, make one vertical cut and then, perpendicular to it (90 degrees) make another vertical cut so the leek remains held together at the root end.
Rinse by fanning out the 'leaves'; tap a little to shake off extra water. 
Hold the leek sections back together on the cutting board and, starting at the dark end, cut your desired pieces crosswise working toward the root end.
The advantage of doing it this way is that the root end holds it together when cutting down the length of the leek.
Here is a 2.5 minute video by Gourmet Magazine that gives two cleaning options.  (I noted this chef only does one vertical cut in the second version shown.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Veg Varieties 2012

Here it is!  The much awaited veg variety award winners for the Genuine Faux Farm in 2012.

Every year we attempt to identify the top 10 varieties that were grown on the farm during the year.  Criteria include production, quality of fruit, taste and plant health.  Additional factors that may increase the rating for a variety might be performance as compared other varieties of the same type or one that surprised us by doing far better than anticipated.  You might also note that we will give a tie break to a variety that has not been awarded a top 10 slot over one that has.

For those who want to see what has gone before:

One more note before we begin.  The spraying incident of late July removed a number of varieties from contention that most certainly would have been featured here this year.  But, alas, you will see no eggplant, no okra and no peppers.  Certain bean varieties were instantly removed from contention after being sprayed with Lorsban, Stratego and Sniper.  Otherwise, this would have been far harder than it already is to select only 10 varieties.

The 2012 WINNERS!

Honorable Mention:
Snow Crown Cauliflower, True Lemon Cucumber, Rio Grande Potato, Hearts of Gold Melon, Provider Bean, Redfield Beauty Tomato, Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage, Orangeglo Watermelon

10. German Pink tomato

German Pink tomatoes are the heirloom tomato that taught Rob to eat uncooked tomatoes.  Fruit are meaty and average a pound in size.  Plants are vigorous with good leaf cover.  This year's plants were quite happy with the warm weather.  The only thing that would have been better would have been a later freeze so we could have enjoyed nearly twice the production of these beauties.  Taste is always good for these, but were more so this year.  Given a full year of excellent production, this might have climbed into the top three for the season.

9. Long Island Cheese pumpkin

If we went with production, plant health and fruit quality, you would think this would be our best pumpkin for the year - but you'll just have to read on to find out more.  Taste is excellent, and the flesh has good consistency for use in baking or cooking.  We've always appreciated Long Island Cheese because it actually makes a valiant attempt to succeed every season, despite the weather and what we might have done (or failed to do).  It was extremely satisfying to finally hit a year where we did what we needed to do to give these winter squash the chance to show us what they can do. 

8. Success summer squash

For some reason, we don't have a picture of this one.  Summer squash is one of those crops that you see a lot of for several weeks and you figure you'll get numerous chances to take pictures.  Then, suddenly, the season is ending and the fruit at the end of the season always seem to pale in comparison to the peak!

We were in a bit of a quandary at seed order time.  The hybrids we've grown each of the last several years were all discontinued.  We had been unable to find any reasonable open pollinated options, with the only ones we've found being susceptible to disease and unable to produce at levels we needed.  Then, we looked more closely at High Mowings' catalog and took note of Success.  The plants fought valiantly through the hot weather and drought, giving us enough fruit during that period to keep our farm share happy.  Then, after a little rain and some cooler weather, they really showed us what they could do.  These exhibited hardiness, an extended production period, quality fruit and a good taste.  Since it is open pollinated, we feel that we've found something we can grow for some time to come without falling victim to the whims of seed companies.

7. Silver Queen sweet corn

This one is another surprise for us.  We usually only grow sweet corn because we like it and we want to freeze some for the winter.  The problem is, we usually put this lowest on our priority list because we don't grow it for the farm share.  This year, for various reasons, was different and we got the seed in the ground at the right time.  We even managed to irrigate it once - just when it was needed.  The result was an opportunity to freeze our own corn AND have enough to give some to our farm share and sell more at the farmers' market.  Wow.  Silver Queen has an excellent sweet corn taste that leans towards the more traditional taste as opposed to the super sweet varieties everyone thinks they have to grow right now.  After this season, we may not consider this a low priority in future years.  But, space and time restrictions are still a reality, so don't count on seeing sweet corn very often in the CSA.

6. Musquee de Provence pumpkin

Here's the reason Long Island Cheese was only number 2 for pumpkins!  This is *the* best tasting pumpkin in the world.  Ok.  It is, in our opinion, the best pumpkin we have tasted.  Long Island Cheese is excellent for taste - and this one exceeds that!  Fruit tend to be larger, with the smallest landing at about 10-12 pounds.  The largest fruit this year was approximately 34 pounds.  Pumpkins tend to be green with some brown-orange at picking, but they will turn more orange/brown if they are in a warmer environment after picking.  The pumpkin show above has been a centerpiece in our kitchen since early October.  It is now completely orange/brown.  Seed cavities are small, given the size of the pumpkin.  The only down side to these for us is the relatively low number of fruit.  They may produce as many pounds of fruit as Long Island Cheese.  But, if we need certain numbers for the farm share, it is difficult to rely on this.  And, the size is large enough that it is difficult to transport enough for the CSA program.

5. Purple Majesty potato
Purple Majesty is shown at the right.  These potatoes have purple/black skins and have blue/purple interiors.  Production was consistent in both of our SARE intercropping spacing trials and we managed a 7:1 ratio of production:seed potato.  Our minimum goal is 5:1.  Since we had a bit of an issue with dry weather this season, we think 7:1 is excellent.  This is not Purple Majesty's first appearance, landing here in 2011 at number 10.  The taste and texture are excellent.  Frequently, we have people requesting these over the other varieties we grow.

4. Black Krim tomato

Frankly, we are surprised this one is making its first appearance in the top 10.  We sing the praises of this tomato to our customers every year.  They echo that tune when it gets raves during tomato tastings.  The issue has been trying to get enough of the fruit!  Well, the jury is in, and the drier/warmer seasons are favored by Black Krim.  It is possible Black Krim might have won this year if the high tunnel production hadn't been sprayed.  We are convinced that these will do well there.  Just looking at this tomato makes me want just one more BLT for the year!

3. Gypsy broccoli

Gypsy is an exception for our lists that happens only occasionally.  We favor open pollinated seed, but Gypsy is a F1 hybrid.  However, since the discontinuation of Early Dividend several years ago, we've been casting about for a broccoli that provides moderate sized primary heads and excellent sized side shoots.  We are also picky about taste and a reduced tendency for the broccoli to 'talk back' after it is eaten.  Gypsy hit all of the requirements right on.  To say we are pleased is not entirely accurate.  We are pleased, relieved and happy to be eating more broccoli.  Farm share members were very pleased with the taste of the broccoli this year.  Much of it was Gypsy, but we have to be honest and state that there were a couple of other varieties that were good this year as well.  But, Gypsy won the prize.

2. Jade green beans

If you didn't think there would be a green bean at the top of the list after this season, you were not paying attention.  We managed to pick a half ton of green beans on the farm this year.  We did this even after losing the beans in the high tunnel and the southwest field to the spraying.  Over half of these beans were Jade.  Jade are better when they are slightly bigger (as opposed to Provider, where you want them slightly smaller).  These are top quality for taste and fruit quality.  They make us happy because they keep producing consistently once they start.  They also favor warmer weather, which would explain their happiness this year.

1. Boothby's Blonde cucumber

Picture above is courtesy of Seed Savers.  

It took a little bit of talking to convince our Farm Share CSA members that these small, white/yellow cucumbers were ripe and tasty.  But, once we got people to taste them, we heard superlatives we haven't heard before with respect to cucumbers.  We realize many were also raving about True Lemon cucumbers as well, but both received high marks for taste and sweetness.  No bitterness to be had here!  Boothby's wins partly on the strength of the accolades from our customers.  But, they also win because they produced consistently in both cucumber plantings for a long period during a tough year.  We've known for a few years that these were a good cucumber, but we have had a difficult time keeping them picked.  This year, we stayed on top of it and were richly rewarded. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Work for Food Event

When?  November 10 - Saturday  1pm to 5pm
Food Served: 5pm  (you need to come work for awhile to get the food!)
What will we be doing?  Planting garlic and mulching the garlic.  This could include separating garlic heads into cloves for planting (if we have not accomplished this prior).  Maybe other things if response is strong.
RSVP - if you intend to attend only.  
Weather Contingency - we will contact those who RSVP if weather forces us to change our plans.  At present, the forecast calls for mid 60's with wind. 

SARE Grant Pre-Report

Our farm receive a SARE grant in order to pursue research with respect to the spacing of dissimilar cash crops in the same planting.  We have some preliminary results which we shared at the Small Farm Conference in Missouri a few days ago.  We thought it might be enjoyable to give a summary here so everyone can see a little of what we are doing.

Some assumptions on which we based the research:
  • Intercropping (also known as companion planting) can be beneficial for the health of both crops in that it can help control pests and diseases.
  • If a small vegetable farm wants to 'scale up' their operation, they must find ways to become more efficient in handling their labor/farm tasks.
  • Monocropping (growing one crop exclusively in a field) has gained acceptance because it is difficult to figure out how to intercrop AND increase farm efficiency.
 Our research question:
Can we identify intercropping spacings that will allow us to automate some of the operations that have been very hand labor intensive up to this point on our farm?  One could consider these efforts an attempt to provide a 'proof of concept' for the idea.

There were, of course, sub-questions.  And, you can make arguments about how research should be conducted - but that only derails us here.  The point of the matter is that we have to identify proof of concept in order to open the way for increasingly focused study.

Potatoes and Beans

One of the fields that received our attention for this study was our potato/bean field.  We have long been convinced that bush beans (in particular green beans) have a masking effect that prevents Colorado potato beetles from finding potatoes.  We want to maintain the benefit of this pairing, but add some mechanized cultivation to reduce labor time and cost.

 Treatment (new tractor spacing)
The photo shown above was taken in July of this year.  You can see each "bed" has wheel tracks that match the width of our Ford 8n tractor.  The area between the wheels is approximately 40 inches.  In each row, you will see the broader and lighter colored bean plants on the left.  The potatoes are on the right.

The wheel tracks are very clean, as are the beds.  The plants formed a solid canopy and coexisted well.

Control (old spacing)
Our old spacing was implemented using a walk behind tiller.  The space between potato rows is approximately 6 feet, with a double bean row in between each.  The double bean row consists of two seeded rows that are about 8 inches apart.  If you look carefully, you can see there is a path between each row.


Weeding between rows - New Spacing Wins
Clearly, the reduced number of paths to maintain for weeds in the tractor spacing is a win.  It is also a win when you realize you can use a cultivator behind the tractor to get those paths weeded. 

In Row Weeding - Inconclusive
If you consider 'sides' of each row you have to weed, you actually have 'less' with the tractor spacing.  But, we also found that the last weeds caught up with us in row for the tractor side.  This would be, in part, because the potatoes started to die off.  But, it was largely because it was slightly more difficult to weed by hand in the tractor spacing.  The net result was that we seemed to do better early in the season with the tractor spacing and better later in the season with the old method.  But, with all of that said, there were some mitigating factors that we can attribute to our drought year that may have something to do with it as well.  So, we're unwilling to make a conclusion on this one.

Mulching - Edge to New Spacing
This one is a bit difficult to state since we simply didn't have the grass/straw mulch available to us this past season.  But, we did have some in the first year of the study.  The new spacing should use less of the mulch.  The only issue being the effort getting mulch between the beans and potatoes in the tractor spacing.  But, since we have done double bean rows, this wasn't much of a new problem.  Typically, we just let the canopy handle that area.

Irrigation - Edge to New Spacing
A single line of drip tape for a row of potatoes combined with beans.  In the old spacing, we needed a line of drip tape for every row.  This would reduce our use of drip tape by about 1200 feet in this plot alone.  On the other hand, you have to realize that the irrigation spread may not be perfect for both the beans and potatoes.  And, in a dry year, they may try to move into the 'wet zone' and compete for the water and nutrients.  But, we didn't see much problem in those areas.

Pest Control - Tie
First - we did note Colorado potato beetle presence this year on our farm.  They appeared both in potatoes and eggplant in very small numbers.  But, the great news is that we only noted them on the edges of the field, where the proximity to beans would be lessened.  We also grow bush beans near our eggplant and noted similar results.  What this tells us is that either spacing technique appears to be sufficient in providing pest control.

Yield Potatoes - Tie
We noted that the yield of Purple Majesty potatoes in both were nearly exactly the same in terms of pounds per foot harvested.  Rio Grande (russet) was a bit lower in the tractor spacing than in the traditional spacing.  However, we noted some anomalies in East end of the tractor spacing that likely account for the difference.  Even so, the reduction was not statistically significant.

Yield Beans - Tie (sort of)
We grew two varieties of green beans that were tested.  Provider is an earlier, 'peak crop' variety.  Jade is a later, 'long season crop' variety.  Essentially, Provider is known to give a large harvest over a short window and Jade, once it starts, gives lighter crops per pick, but over a longer period of time.

We found that Provider actually produced a similar amount in both sections in terms of total weight.  This is also true in terms of row feet.  However, you must remember that the old spacing ran Provider in a double row.  That means we dropped twice the amount of seed into the old spacing in order to get the same harvest levels.  In other words, our production per SEED foot was halved.

On the other hand, Jade produced nearly double the total weight per row foot in the old spacing than it did in the new spacing.  In other words, it produced the same amount per SEED foot in each spacing.  It did not seem to care about the relative proximity of its neighboring row of plants.  Nor did it seem to care if it was a potato or a bean.

It would seem then, that we can declare a possible win for the old spacing here, until you consider how many rows we can plant for beans in each spacing.  We can run 14 rows of beans in the tractor spacing and only 10 with the old spacing.  Of course, that would mean 10 double rows of Jade versus 14 single rows.  But, if you can't keep these rows weeded, the point is moot.  And, of course, this assumes you only wish to grow Jade as your only green bean.  If you want an earlier crop, you might prefer Provider, making the tractor spacing superior in terms of seed use.

Brassica and Allium

We also ran spacing trials on this field.  The top picture shows our tractor spacing and the bottom shows our traditional spacing.  Perhaps we'll discuss this one later.