Monday, July 30, 2012

Next Steps

We are now taking steps to get past the aerial spraying incident of Friday.  The following includes information for our CSA members and others interested in the food we grow.

  •      We just had a state inspector come and take samples from our farm, including the shirt and hat Rob was wearing during the spraying incident.  The good news - this is done.  The bad news - it will likely take 3 months before we know anything from them.  I'm afraid the peppers will not still be alive November 1st.  So, we still have to find a private tester.  (sigh)
  •         We have contacted the state Pesticide Bureau, the state Organic Program and the state Sensitive Crops directory.  They are all on the case.  We have also contacted the FAA, who took interest when Tammy told them Rob had been hit with spray.  We have also had a return call from Harkin's office.  This last would be a policy oriented call.  We've made calls for other reasons, but this is a first return call we've had.
  •          We know who the pilot was and the company that owned the plane.  We know the agent who contracted the spraying and we know the farm that contracted for the job.  All have been contacted informally.
  •           We have the GPS records that show the plane clearly hit our property with spray.  We also have digital pictures that show the questionable routing/spraying.
  •           We know the three chemicals used (Sustane, Stratego and Lorsban) - two pesticides and one fungicide
  •           We know that Rob will be on Prednisone for a bit.  So watch out!  It can make people loopy we are told!
  •           We are looking for a lawyer to represent us.  We continue to take suggestions and have received a few up to the present.
  •           We still do not have answers regarding the poultry.  We don't know if the eggs are safe.  We don't know if the turkeys will be safe to eat.  No one seems willing to give us an answer at this point.  It is possible that we will hold eggs back this week until we get an answer.  The consensus of speculation by 'non-experts' is that this should work through the turkey's system before they are of an age to 'go to the park.'  Similarly, there is thought that the hens will also work it out of their system.  I have to believe this because I need to believe I can also work it out of MY system.
  •           We know that it may be a bit before we are sure whether we can or cannot use produce from the SW field.  We also know it may take a while before we know if the high tunnel produce can be given to you to eat.  We were hoping to get more specific information more quickly.  As a result, you will NOT be receiving anything from either of these areas until we can get more information.  You will NOT be receiving any peppers, hot peppers, okra, eggplant from us at all - though you may get some if we get an all clear at some point BEFORE the season ends.  Things in the high tunnel included green beans, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, rosemary and peppers, including most of our papricka peppers.  We're not sure when - or if we'll be able to use anything from here either.  But, because it was covered, there is more of a chance.  Unless, the simple fact that it doesn't rain in there prevents natural filters.  We simply don't know what - if anything - we will be able to use.
  •           We received a generous offer from our friends at Grinnell Heritage Farm.  If we cannot provide you with peppers and eggplant, they have offered to provide some so you get a taste.  We are considering this option, among other things.  GHF is certified organic as well and we trust them.  They don't grow the same varieties we grow, but what they grow is grown well.


 We are very sorry that you have to hear all of this.  We'd rather be writing about little tidbits regarding the farm and life in general.  However, we believe that it is VERY IMPORTANT that you hear what is going on.  If you walk away with anything on this it should be the following:
1. All of the produce we give to you (until or unless we get good news from these other fields) will be from areas that were NOT affected by the spraying incident.  We are confident that they are clean and healthy, just as they always have been.  These areas will continue to be certified organic.
2. We will not give you any produce from the affected areas until we find out that they are safe.  If we cannot ascertain this, we will destroy the crops and start something else..  We will not knowingly give you anything that might cause ANY ONE of you problems.
3. If we should be able to being harvesting from the affected areas, they will NO LONGER be certified organic.  We know the area was sprayed.  We saw it.  That area will not be certified organic again for three years.
4. You will receive all 20 weeks of your CSA on schedule as promised.  We will do everything we can to give you the best shares of produce that we can provide you. 

Thank you for reading.  If you have questions, please feel free to ask.  However, it may be best to ask us in person during the distribution.  We are receiving a high volume of email right now and may not be able to respond to everyone.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Collateral Damage

ed: The following was typed and not published on Saturday, July 28.  I opted not to publish until I had time to think on it more and edit out anything that was too much a product of passion and anger or of too little use making the point.

It is 1:20 AM and I am still awake.  The reality is that I'm letting events from this evening keep me awake.

Watch out - there is a rant coming.  My apologies in advance.  However, I actually felt that it would be instructive to publicize how it feels to do the work we do and then have to deal with an aerial spraying mishap.  I am not asking for a lot of sympathy.  I am asking that you read.  I am asking that you try to understand how this felt for us.  Then, I am asking that you begin thinking about how WE can effect change to prevent this from happening again - here or elsewhere. 

If you haven't received an email from us yet, or you haven't read the post below, we were hit by an aerial sprayer today.  The irony of this is that I mentioned in a post a little further down (On My Mind) that the dry weather had basically discouraged our neighbors from doing a lot of spraying.  Then, of course, we got that nice .9" rain that came at the price of some wind damage for us.  As soon as we got that, I told myself we might see the spraying again.  But, I thought that we would continue to have good fortune with neighbors trying to do their best to not allow drift on us.  I was, apparently, wrong about that.

I don't want to sound too negative or too unreasonable here.  People are trying to do their jobs and earn their living.  People make mistakes.  I do not dislike my neighbor, though I might have a hard time being civil if they were to catch me at the wrong moment.  It doesn't help to demonize others who have done something that has harmed you.


  1. If I walked up to someone I didn't know with an unmarked aerosol can and began spraying it in his or her face and then quickly run away, isn't it likely I'd be charged with assault.
  2. How do you quantify how you feel when you begin reading safety labels for the chemicals you've been sprayed with and one says you should wash/scrub thoroughly in running water....for 20-25 minutes.
  3. How should I feel as I read that some of these chemicals are VERY explicit in stating that "Workers should not enter sprayed areas for 24 hours (2 chemicals that hit us) or 48 hours (1 chemical that hit us)?"   If I am not the applicator's worker, was it okay that I had to LIVE in it for the following 48 hours?
  4. There is a sensitive crops directory.  We are on it - three times.  Cert Organic, bees and orchard.  Frankly, I am amazed there isn't one for FOOD CROPS.  They waited until after 6pm because REGULATIONS state that they cannot spray soy beans until then if there are bees being kept within 2 miles.  They waited - so they were aware - or were at least somewhat aware that we had something to watch out for. But, how does spraying as close to the hives as you can get prevent damage to the bees? 
  5. What would happen to me if I took a brush hog and took out a similar cash value of crop in my neighbors field?  I'd be taken in for criminal trespass, wouldn't I?  Would I have a valid excuse if I just told them I was tired and didn't notice I'd run through a fence and started chopping their soybeans?  Or that I found a map that made it look like it was the area I was supposed to mow?
  6. Those who apply chemicals are trained in how to handle them.  They are trained to wear gloves, masks, etc when they are filling or cleaning out tanks or applicators.  They are doing a job with these and they prepare to do that work.  We weren't given the opportunity to have the same protection, nor were we given a choice.  There is a reason applicators are trained and wear protective clothing - these chemicals can be dangerous.  If that is the case, then why are we all so blase' about chemical drift onto farmhouses near these fields?  Why do the edges of towns mean little?
  7. If you were here and saw the turkeys and hens running around madly when the plane was buzzing us, you would not say there was no real impact on their well-being.  If we were growing cornish cross meat birds, you can bet your boots half of them would be down with heart attacks after that. 
  8. If we can prove this situation effectively, I suppose it is possible we can get some monetary compensation for lost crops, etc.  But, it doesn't cover what I'm feeling right now.  It won't cover the hours of time this evening that we lost when we were going to do something else.  Tammy was going to do a little green bean picking.  Never mind.  Rob was going to get some containers, etc put away.  Nope.  It doesn't cover the possibility that we will not go on our planned 1 night away - something we have not done since March.  It does not cover the fact that we are going to have to re-wash all of the towels that were on the line.  It doesn't cover that I have to re-clean all of the containers that were drying outside.  It doesn't cover that we have to research what we have to clean them WITH or HOW MUCH to get them clean enough to use on food again.  And it won't cover all of the time and energy we will now use over the next however many days or weeks or months to figure out what we have to do about this.
  9. Another thing this does not cover.  One of the hardest things we deal with is replacing CSA memberships that are not renewed the next season.  And, no matter how nice we are, how hard we work and how much people say they support us - if our product does not give value, people will not return.  This event hampers our ability to give that value, at least in our eyes.  We have a very complex plan for making sure we have good value each week, the things that got hit were an important part of the next phase of CSA Farm Shares.  Sure - we'll still do fine, but....  
  10. We appreciate the support people are giving to us.  Thank you.  Some have even suggested that they will eat our peppers with confidence because they feel they will only have been sprayed 'once' vs commercial peppers.  But, here's why this is more serious.  The chemicals being sprayed here are generally not rated for FOOD CROPS.   And, if they are, the rating is ridiculous.  40 days BEFORE HARVEST of green peppers.  So, what do we do about all the peppers that were ready to pick this week, next week and every week until September 9?  How do we fill the CSA boxes as much as we planned and hoped without the eggplant and peppers?  It is 60 days prior to cucumber harvest.  NOTE:  most cucumbers mature between 40-60 days of transplant.  So, you'd have to apply pre-emergent or transplant...
  11. In short, we cannot draw an equivalence between pesticides and fungicides used on commodity crops and food crops.  So - we wait until testing is done and the Pesticide Bureaus gives us an official position.
  12. I was mostly recovered from a cold.  I've now had two nights in a row where I've had trouble breathing/sleeping.  While there are other factors, I can tell you, as an asthmatic, that triggers such as chemicals, dusts and anxiety can all make it worse.  I'll be visiting a doctor on Monday to see what we can do.
  13. Now that we've had this event, we find that we have to add a substantial list of "things to do" for the coming week.  many of you have suggested that you would love to help.  But, how do you help with some of these things?  You can't answer the questions the Pesticide Bureau, Sensitive Crops Directory and Organic Certification people will need answers to, so you can't handle that for us.  Thank you for offers.  We will let people know as we learn what can be helpful to us.
  14. We've received some email, posts, etc regarding possible legal action.  We will explore what must be done.  Most of you have been kind, indignant on our behalves, supportive and have given some reasonably specific action ideas and we thank you.  There have been kind phone calls.  However - we've gotten a couple of things that sound way too happy about the possibility that NOW we can really take it to "THEM" because the Genuine Faux Farm will be loaded for bear and won't it be great to teach "THEM" a lesson.  Hey.  We never asked to be your poster children on this.  We're hurting and we're painfully aware that there are real people on all sides of the problem.  If you want to gloat about how we can make them pay - do it on your own time to someone else.  If you have real support to help us do what should be done, bring it on - but be respectful about it.  In the end, it will be successful if some changes are made to make working in the country, as we do, safe again.
  15.  Perhaps the worst collateral damage from this event?   We actually DID take our night off.  We drove to the Twin Cities and saw a game.  The Twins beat on the Indians - so with our 'fan hats' on, we were happy.  We spent a night in a hotel up there too.  Never mind that Rob was a bit short of breath on and off and did not sleep for much of the night.  That would have happened on the farm too.  The worse damage is that I (and I will not speak for Tammy on this one) did NOT want to come back to the farm.  At this moment, I do NOT want to do this anymore.  I do NOT want to deal with legal proceedings, pesticide tests and confrontations with neighbors with big equipment full of poisons.  I do NOT want to weed, irrigate, plant or pick. 

Why is this so disturbing to me?  Because even though I often work hard and there have been stressful events every season we have done this, I have genuinely felt that I was doing something positive, useful and of value.  I was doing this work for good, supportive people.  The work is good, honest work.  It is diverse.  It runs the gamut from highly skilled to mundane.  I can solve puzzles and test hypotheses.  Despite it all, I was actually feeling pretty upbeat about the way this season was setting up.  I felt like we were making good decisions and that there were some positive results from our efforts.

And, after one fairly short event on a Friday evening, I want to mow it all down, sell the place and move away.

Now that I've typed this, I can move on.  I'll begin the process of setting myself up to face the problem and do what we can to make things better.  I may not want to, but I'm going to.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aerial Spray Incident

This is not one of our regularly scheduled CSA emails.

We are a certified organic farm and we are proud to grow certified organic produce for you.

However, at approximately 6:50pm on Friday, July 27 a plane applying Lorsban, Sniper and Stratego tried to apply to the field to our north and west. The wind at the time was low, but still there. It was out of the NNW. Not only was the application bound to drift some because of this wind, the applicator did not turn off the spray when they flew over the farm.

The short story is this. The pasture with our turkeys and laying hens were hit with spray. It was still daylight, so the birds were outside. The plane took a path over the poultry building and continued to spray. The bee hives were directly in this path. The high tunnel was also in the path, as is our field with the peppers, eggplant, some green beans, some dry beans and all of the okra. We still smell the spray around our house 3+ hours later. Rob was also outside and felt droplets of the chemicals land on him as well.

We are doing all that we can to pursue this issue. Of course, this occurred on a Friday evening - so no one is readily available to help us.

What does this mean for you and for the farm?

1. We will have testing done to see what is affected and how much. We have questions out to try to deal with it.
2. It is likely that we will lose organic certification for our SW field.
3. It is likely we will lose organic certification for the high tunnel's east field. It is possible we closed up the high tunnel soon enough to save the crops in the tunnel now.
4. We have questions out to determine what we can still harvest out of the SW field and high tunnel. Best case is we spend alot of time cleaning the fruit with whatever is necessary. Worst case is we cannot give you anything from those fields. Please, no jokes about whether you like or dislike any of the particular crops that were hit, we are not in the mood for that right now.
5. We also have questions out to determine how we need to clean up things that were outside during the spray. We will do all we can to insure that you will not get any residue from the spray in anything we distribute to you.
6. We have questions out regarding what we need to do with the hens, turkeys and ducks.

We are, understandably, very upset by this. We're upset on your behalf and we're upset for ourselves.

We will keep you informed as we learn more. We're not sure what recourse we have at this time, but it is possible that we will ask for some future support in this issue.

Rob and Tammy

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quick Farm Report

Very quick farm report.

We got 9 tenths of an inch of rain last night (7/25).  It was welcomed, even if it brought some fairly heavy wind.  Came down pretty quick, but the soil was ready for it.  Even had a few puddles on the drive until about 7:30 am. 

The wind rolled our portable duck shelter (apparently too portable?) until it rolled over the electric fence and rammed the gate on a permanent fence.  Only minor injury to one duck.  Irritated humans up very late trying to arrange things for critters.  Not sure if fixing the shelter or building new is best right now.  We had some crop damage and have a big limb down in front of the house (got to see that come down during the day, prior to the storm).  Even the stainless steel sink/counter was blown over - that...and the porta-pot.  Happily no one was resident at the time.

Quick Crop Reports
About 1/4 of the peppers were down, but it looks like we only lost 2 plants entirely to the wind.  There are a few that may still end on us, but that happens.  Eggplant are getting going, but still the plants are awfully small to be thinking about giving us much.
The sweet corn is all down.  We don't grow it specifically for the CSA and it gets low priority.  But, this year it was looking really good.  When we don't get sweet corn (most years) we buy from local sources and freeze a bunch.  We were hopeful to get our own this time.  In fact, they were looking so good that Rob made the mistake of thinking there would be enough to share with others... not likely now.
Pie pumpkins loved the rain and were protected by the corn and sunflowers.  Summer squash and zucchini needed the real rain badly.  If the plants rejuvenate, cooler temps should encourage them to pollinate properly.  Cucumbers love a good rain.  The problem is the wind/heavier rain buried many of the ripe fruit halfway into the mud.  Peas are surprising us with a late crop.  Green beans may hit a lull after this first batch.  Generally plants are fine.  Potatoes were flattened by the wind.  Other than showing us the weeds better, I don't think this will hurt them much.  Makes it harder to navigate the field.  Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels, cabbage, etc were blown around a bit by the wind, with many plants laying down.  Again, the plants will grow through it, but it makes walking the field, weeding, picking, etc that much harder.  These will not take to being stood back up.  Onions loved the rain.  Though some were a bit mashed under broccoli.  Tomatoes have slowed a bit.  It looks like we need to get more water on them than we've been doing at this point - but the key is likely the night time temps.  Needs to be a bit cooler to set fruit more regularly.  Many tomatoes need to be tamed again after the wind.  Melons and watermelon think life is good, but want weeds removed soon.  Lettuce has been fighting hot and dry and had the indignity of sunflowers falling on them.  We'll see.  Chard and kale both need the break in the heat.  Rain is good too.  A fair amount of leaf damage that they'll grow out of.  It was the rain and the reduction in heat that they really needed so we'll take that hit gladly.  Turnip and beet crops are overtaken by weeds.  Probably not saving this batch.  Rain makes it possible to seed new.  Carrots never germinated, so we have to try again.  Basil is still waiting to go in the ground.  It's been so dry it is easier to keep them in the cold frames to keep them alive, but the clock is ticking on them.  Tiger Eye beans are our 'butterbeans' this year.  They are looking pretty good.  Not sure what the yield will be.  In general, the dry beans look fine, if a little beaten up by wind.  Winter squash need weeding badly and needed water badly.  We'll try to save at least the butternuts.  Death by cucumber beetle and squash bug reduced the priority on this field.  Sometimes you have to make choices you don't like.  But, we'll still try to get something out of it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not Claiming to Know A Thing

The Genuine Faux Farm has existed since 2005, when we put together our first CSA season.  We worked about 1 acre of ground and succeeded in probably using half of that.  To our credit we had several years of serious gardening background and a desire to make local food work and we managed to sign up 20 families to take a share from us that season.  Of that group, there are five who are still with us this year!

Fast forward and you find us with 114 CSA farm share members.  We've been certified organic since 2007 and we now have approximately 5 acres of land worked for vegetables or cover crops to prepare for later vegetable crops.  There is no way we could have foreseen this when we started.  Our original business plan called for us to be at a maximum 40 members in 2008 and hold at that number.   There were no formulated plans for turkeys, ducks or meat chickens, just a few hens.

Here's the strange thing about all of this.  We seem to have this fuzzy recollection of fairly normal growing years in 2005 and 2006.  There were some warm days, cool days, frosts, dry weather and wet weather - but all in their good measure.  The next year, 2007, was actually a wonderful growing year UNTIL....late August/early September.  We got a whole bunch of rain in a very short period of time.  And the roller coaster ride began.

Mother Nature apparently felt a lesson needed to be taught.  Ok.  She felt a whole BUNCH of lessons needed to be presented.  Or maybe hammered into our heads.

It was in 2007 that we learned we have land where the water table is high.  Excessive rain can sit on our fields.  We learned that it only takes 10 days of sitting water to rot out all of your potato crop that was ready to come out of the ground.  We also watched while our green beans, full of fruit turned to brown mush.  Rob also learned that he can mistake a ball of mud for a boot on his foot.  It took a while to find that boot.  We also started to learn how to tell people that a crop we had counted on giving them in their shares was gone.  Frankly, we weren't very good at it - and maybe we still aren't - but we've learned to be more straightforward about it.

You would think we would try to do something to address this problem in 2008.  But, we were still relatively new to the scene and still dealing with the pains of growing to a small farm from a large garden.  There is a very real and distinct difference between the two - and part of the difference has to do with the investment in tools and supplies.  That, and we had a tendency to believe that each year was a new season and that the Fall event of 2007 was an isolated event.  The lesson we took from the prior year was that we'd go ahead and pull potatoes if it seemed that a string of heavy rain events were headed our way later in the Summer or early Fall.

Here's the crazy part of all of this.  We'd never had a potato crop failure prior to 2007 in any of our gardening or early farming exploits.  And, since then, we've had more failures due to wetness in the last several years than we've had success.  Although, we did have a season where we pulled in 3000 pounds of yummy taters.

So, finally in 2012, we are able to acquire the equipment necessary to help create row hills or semi-raised beds.   The idea is to bring the potatoes up over the water table so they do not rot away on us.  The down side, of course, is that if you have drought conditions, they will get dry and need water faster than if they were in a flat ground situation.

Implement it - and the rain goes away.  So, we continue to run drip irrigation water on the potatoes in hopes that they will bulk up anyway.  We won't know until we dig them.  But, most of the plants look fine - if a little drier than we want them to at this point. 

We're beginning to think we should take the "Sgt Schultz" approach from now on.  "I know nothing. Nooooothing!"   Perhaps Mother Nature will make the tests a little less difficult in hopes that we'll show some aptitude?

Now, before you all get overly worried.  We are still looking at a potato crop coming in this year.  We'll let you know if that changes.  But, if we get a bunch of rain, they'll be up higher than were a few years ago.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Joy of Good Food!

Mom: We have the really yellow eggs today from Rob and Tammy!
Child: The dark lellow oke?
M: Yup, so if you want an oatcake for breakfast it will be nice and yellow.
C: Yeah!!
M: Which egg should we use today? Brown, white, or green?
C: The green one!!
M: Remember the chickens on Rob and Tammy's farm that lay the green eggs?

Obviously, we were honored that this conversation was shared with us (some time ago this Summer).  But, this means more to us than a compliment to our hens for producing good tasting (and good for you) eggs.

We are hopeful that more parents converse with their children about the food they eat, where it comes from, who grew/raised it, how it was grown/raised, what processing went into it between the producer and the consumer and what is good or not so good about it.

Clearly, we have a vested interest in it.  We focus on growing food for local consumption and we do care what you think about it.  We hope you are satisfied with what we do and how we do it.  In fact, we are honored that so many of you actually care about what we do to raise good, healthy and safe food.  But, that's not the only reason we find the above conversation (and others like it) to be so important.

A conversation with a child about something as pervasive as food is a good way to teach them that it is important to think about things we often take for granted.  It encourages curiosity and a willingness to learn.   It establishes a positive habit that knowing a bit more about the things you buy is a good thing.

Have a good remainder of the weekend everyone!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No More Chickens 2012

This one falls under the "announcements and explanations" category.

For the last several years, we have raised two flocks of approximately 200 broilers (meat chickens).  One typically starts in the Spring and the other in the Summer (right  We have been honored by the good customers and the positive comments these birds have brought our way.

Unfortunately, we will not be raising the second batch of birds this year.  We have informed the hatchery and canceled our order.  What this means for you is that there are no more chickens available from us for the season.  We *WILL* have ducks and turkeys.  They are already on the farm and we will do what we can to raise them well.  We will also continue to have egg laying chickens.  Assuming that people want us to continue with chickens, we anticipate that we will start them again next Spring and we will plan on a second batch next year as well.

And now for the fun part - Why are we doing this?

We have been informed by our supplier of organic feed (Frantzen Farms near New Hampton) that he is looking at what could be a complete crop failure for his corn due to the dry weather.  Unfortunately, the last dose of rain in NE Iowa skipped him completely.  Corn is a significant part of the base for the feed he mixes for us.  Thus, he will have to locate other corn sources at prices that are potentially very high in order to mix our feed if this prediction for his yields hold true.  Tom tells us that he has never seen this - he even had a reasonable yield in 1988 - which makes all this even more extraordinary.

We will continue to buy feed from the Frantzens for the ducks and turkeys until they are 'taken to the park.'  And, of course, we'll also buy feed for the layers.  We're already 'on the hook' for these birds and need to see the process through.  But, it makes no sense to go out and add another 200 hungry beaks for the next 2.5 months.  This is especially true when you consider how much water they need, how much more carefully we need to consider shelter needs with all of the heat and sun and the fact that our pastures have very little forage remaining in them.  Putting more birds out there now could reduce our long term success for a short term um... break even at best.

A positive spin on this is that we will be able to accomplish some other things now that the time that would normally be sunk into these birds will be freed up.  We never fully appreciate exactly how much energy and time are required by these birds until after they are all sold and delivered.

And finally - what can you do - if anything?

Please remember us next season when we raise chickens again - we'd like you back as customers.  As a matter of fact, we'd like to provide you with duck and turkey this Fall.  If you wish to reserve ducks or turkeys, feel free to send us an email to that effect.  Make sure you have duck or turkey in the subject line so it can easily be sorted and filed for quick reference.

Thank you for your understanding - and we apologize that we will be unable to provide you with more chicken this year.

Rob & Tammy

Friday, July 20, 2012

On My Mind

ME: You know everyone, I've been thinking.

YOU: A dangerous pastime.

ME: I know.

Here are some things that are on my mind at the moment.

 With what we do, we cannot escape the weather.  Many farmers now attempt to escape the weather with high tunnels, covers, irrigation, plastic mulch, etc etc.  And, I certainly understand why we would work so hard to mitigate what the weather does to our crops.  But, I still ask myself (frequently) what steps we *could* take versus those we *should* take.  What are the long-term ramifications for the short term success (or avoidance of complete failure)?

You can take this discussion philosophically or practically and get into deep discussion with yourself (what do you think I do when I'm weeding?). 

Philosophically, I wonder how to balance the needs of my current crops, this farm and those who eat the food we grow with what is best for the health of the environment, etc.  We refuse to fall into the trap that leaves us thinking that we can't possibly be big enough to really have an impact, so we'll do whatever we have to in order to succeed.  When everyone does that, we have problems.  And so, we try to balance what we do as best we can with what we know and what we can learn during the time we have to learn it. 

Practically, we have to consider that extreme weather events have an impact on our farm and what we do during the event and for some time *after* the event.  For example, our extremely wet seasons from Fall 2007 into Summer of 2010 caused problems during that time.  But, we were still fighting issues last year that were a direct result of those extremes.  Grasses loved the wet weather, so we fought grassy weeds (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) in 2011.  We found that our soil health had changed some with the excessive water and we had to consider what actions were needed, while balancing what negative effects those actions might have.

And so, we are now trying to figure out what this drought will do to us for the next couple of years (even after it ends - assuming it does).  We are also trying to figure out how our actions can help us through this situation without causing too many negative consequences.  We'll see how we do.

An Ill Wind
It's an ill wind that doesn't blow anyone any good.
Even nasty stuff like a drought has some silver linings.  If we can call them that.  Remember, the old saying indicates that someone is going to benefit despite many suffering from the situation.  It doesn't necessarily imply that we glory in the suffering of others.

Remember all that grass we had trouble with because of excessive moisture?  Well, the easiest weeds to control right now are grasses.  If we work on the broadleaf weeds and keep them from going to seed, we may make a good dent in our weed seedbank this year.  At least we can dream.

With the dry weather, our surrounding farmers are doing less aerial spraying.  If you want us to list some of our biggest stress causers on the farm - one will be the "aerial terrorism" that goes on every year.  With crop failures looking fairly likely in many fields, it makes no sense for them to throw money at spraying.  That doesn't mean some fields are not being sprayed - of course.  But, at the cost of my neighbors struggling to get a crop, I don't have to incessantly worry about plan after plane in the area.  Now - if we could somehow find a way for them to get their crops without our having to deal with the aerial spraying part....

Relative Values
We received a promotional item with respect to phone, internet and TV services.  At present we do have cell phones (Rob's currently does not work well) and we have cell-modem access to the internet.  We do not have TV.  Cost to us is about $80/month.  This promotion touted service for all three at *ONLY* $120 (or so) a month.   I don't care about the relative value of different providers of these services.  But, I *DO* care about the relative value of good food versus internet, phone and internet. 

I am not trying to make a huge case for our CSA, but I'll use our numbers because I know them well enough.  Please understand that I'm trying to use it as a case in order to make a point.

Our standard share costs $350 for 20 weeks during the regular season.  Let's call that about 4.5 months.  That comes to $77.78 per month.  We realize this only covers some vegetables and it does not cover all of the food a family consumes in one month.  But, this isn't exactly the point.  The point is this - when did access to texting services, phone services, internet and television become 'necessities' that cause people to happily shell out $100+ a month while some of these same people complain about the price of food? 

Figuring Farm Expense - Where Does the Money Go?
I don't know why I haven't thought of it this way more often, but I'm thinking more often of expenditures for the farm in terms of the number of CSA shares required to pay for them. 

For example, the irrigation supplies that were new this year cost us 1+ CSA share.  Labor costs are likely going to require 25-30 shares (this does not include Rob & Tammy as laborers).  The paper mulch and mulch layer attempt to deal with weeds and moisture was about a 3 share effort.  The nearly continuous use of our well pump for irrigation is going to cost us - and we'll really begin to see how much with the coming bill for electricity.  We have acquired about 400 bales of straw for mulching - that came to about 4 shares.

We try to put information like this out for perusal every so often so you know where your investment in the farm is being put to use.  Because CSA members are willing to purchase the product with payment at the beginning (or towards the beginning) of the season, we have the capital to work with and make purchases in an effort to counter things like heat and no rain as much as we possibly can. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chocolate Beet Cake

The following is from Pat Coffie.  Pat was kind enough to make a beet cake following this recipe and share it with our CSA members in Waverly this Tuesday.  After you try this beet cake, you will not leave the beets from your share with us ever again...


Chocolate Beet Cake Recipe
from Home Cooking by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone.
Pat Coffie’s comments in green.

Don’t be turned off by the beets.  You won’t taste them at all, and they make the cake very moist.  This easy cake is rich, chocolate decadence at its finest.  It is surprisingly light and not overly sweet so the chocolate flavor shines.  You must try it to believe it.

Prep time:  15
Cook Time:  30

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 can (15 oz.) whole or quartered beets, drained (reserve ½ cup liquid)
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup juice from beets
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For icing:
1 cup white chocolate chips.  Optional.

White chips soak up some of the color and become dirty-looking.  Use chocolate chips or skip altogether.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Arrange rack in center.  Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with non-stick foil.
Don’t waste foil.  Use oil or grease and flour for the pan.
Use small loaf pans to have size for freezing or gifts and to keep from eating the whole thing at once!  Buy them at the end of summer for real savings next year.

In a medium bowl, measure flour, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Set aside.

For fresh beets:  Cut off tops and bottoms of beets, wash them very well as you’ll be using some of that cooking water in the recipe.  Boil till soft.  Peel after boiling.  Cut into pieces and place pieces in blender.  Instead of reserving ½ cup of juice, put that in blender with beets. Liquify.

You can combine fresh and canned in case you do not have enough to make the 15 oz with one or the other.  Scorched beets smell terrible—watch that boiling pot.

Puree drained beets in a food processor or heavy-duty blender.  Scrape into a large bowl.  Add sugar, vegetable oil and the beet juice.  Mix on medium speed until combined.  Add eggs and vanilla, blending until completely incorporated.

Add flour mixture to the beet mixture.  Using medium speed, mix until combined, at least two minutes, scraping down sides often.  Add melted unsweetened chocolate and mix till combined.

Pour into baking pan.  Distribute chocolate chips evenly over the top of the batter.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out lean.  Let cool to room temperature.

If using smaller pans, allow a few minutes less time and check with toothpick often.


Melt white chocolate chips in a double-boiler or microwave, being very careful not to scorch it.  Cool until just warm, but still liquid.  Scrape into a ziptop bag, squeeze out the air, and seal the bag.  Cut a small piece from the corner of the bag and drizzle white chocolate in a zig-zag pattern evenly over the top of the cake.  Let sit to harden.

Optional icing:
Simply sift powdered sugar over the top of the cake.

Forget icing altogether.  The chocolate chips sprinkled on top before baking will be plenty as a topping.  Use whipped cream or some such rather than icing.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Farm Report - July 16, 2012

It's been nearly a month since the last GFF "official" farm report.  So, let's put another one out there for your enjoyment, edification and entertainment.

It's making headlines now, so I'm sure most of you are aware of the weather situation.  The farm is very dry and the heat has not been helping us much either.  Rather than dwell on the weather - we felt we should give you a brief explanation on what it can mean for us and what we are trying to do about it.

The excessive heat - but more specifically - nights where the temps do not get below 75 degrees Fahrenheit - can reduce productivity of fruiting crops.  Each type of plant reacts differently and even varieties of the same type of plant can handle weather extremes in different ways.  In some cases, the pollination window gets shorter and does not overlap the pollinator's time frame.  In other cases, flowers are dropped by the plant without allowing pollination.  Whatever the case, the heat can reduce our crop productivity.

The lack of water can result in plant death.  We'll just keep it that simple.  In some cases, irrigation only keeps the plant alive, but it isn't always enough to give a good crop.  This is especially true if we don't get water to them before the stress level gets too high.  We're doing our best, but we only have one well and only 2 source points for the water.


Peppers - we are focusing on the sweet peppers and bell peppers.  I am afraid the hot peppers are not getting the same attention at this time.  It is harder to get them water.  And, frankly, fewer CSA members would cry if we had a crop failure with them.  Choices have to be made.  We'll try to get to them, but...

Tomatoes - these are looking pretty good right now, but we have a bad case of Canada Thistle in that plot.  We could use a crew to come out with leather gloves and give them a loving pull....

Potatoes - the shorter season potatoes look pretty good.  The longer season potatoes (such as German Butterball) do not look like they'll do their thing.  They are all weeded - yes, they could be weeded again, I suppose - but weeds are not the issue here.  Looking particularly good are the Purple Majesty potatoes.

Eggplant - they like the heat.  Many are in the irrigation path with the bell and sweet peppers, so they look pretty good.  the eggplant that reside with the hot peppers - not so much.

Green Beans - They are weeded and they are now beginning to produce.  The taste is excellent.  The trick will be trying to keep them producing.  We love green beans and we know CSA members tend to rate green beans as one of their favorites.  The problem is this - green beans are much tougher to produce for a CSA than other crops because picking is very labor intensive.

Peas are similarly situated to green beans - lots of labor cost.  But, they also produce less per row foot - and they grow less well for us on our farm.  We have some, we don't know if we'll get to doing anything much with them.  there just isn't enough to go around or to justify the time spent.  So, we will likely work the green beans and optimize their production for you.

Melons and watermelons are.... looking very good.  Especially the rows on the paper mulch we put down in some test rows this season.  Target is late August to mid September for these.

Pie pumpkins also look good, but need water.  To do that ,they need weeding.  Then we can run the drip line.

Cucumbers are water hogs.  We've got the drip line running on them right now.  But, it is difficult to work them into the rotation as often as they want to be in the rotation.  Succession I looks good and is starting to produce.  Succession II looks terrible as the cucumber beetles took about 70% of the plants out early in their life.  We're going to plant a third succession to replace those plants.

Broccoli - we have some nice looking plants.  The DeCicco are starting, but irregularly.  they are the early variety and only produce heads that are about 4" diameter.  We grow them more for the prolific side shoot production later.  We have them on the docket for water tomorrow.  They really liked their last shot of water, so here's hoping.

Onions are variable, but everything we have planted is either weeded OR removed because we couldn't get them weeded.  Such is life.

Kale and chard - Both are looking a little worse for wear and we're trying to keep them happy with water.  We're considering some straw mulch to help with this.

Lettuce - we just put in our latest transplants.  Yes, the timing is bad.  We're doing what can be done for them.  If they survive tomorrow, they should be ok.  But, tomorrow is in doubt.  We'll start another batch in trays.  But, if we have to wait for those to get going, we might be without lettuce for 4-5 weeks of the CSA.  We really don't want that.

Winter squash - needs weeding and drip line.  If we get it by the end of the week, they may do something.  If we do not, they are gone.

Summer squash and zucchini - second succession is joining the first in producing and look like they are really going to get going IF we can get them water.  We've weeded both successions and have to lay the drip line and run the water to them.  Succession III needs weeding still.

Fall beets, carrots, turnips - we're awaiting the window to put them in.  It makes little sense to put seed into this dry ground right now.  Soil temps are too warm for most of these.

Kohlrabi - currently harvesting from our 1st and 2nd successions.  It looks like we'll need to harvest all that will be harvested from these this week.  If they get much older, they will likely be woody.  The longer season kohlrabi is looking ok.  We'll start another batch for early Sept harvest.

Cauliflower, Romanesco and Brussels Sprouts - we had high transplant loss for various reasons on these.  Primarily pest related.  The plants that lived look great.  So, it is likely we'll have to put these in a 'choice box' when we get them.  Not enough to give some to every person.

Poultry - the hens have slowed their egg laying and are waiting for a break in the heat to bring it back up again (we hope).  The new hens are too young yet.  The ducks are growing well enough but have taken to picking on each other's tails and wings where their new feathers are coming in.  The turkeys are curious and generally happy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

So Much Fun to Have Fun

Chick Inn to Duck N Cover to Istanbul?

We have a (semi) portable building that has been used for ducks and for broilers.  And will be the home for turkeys.  Failing to come up with a better temporary name, we decided Istanbul would work.  Why not?

Lemon Juice

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.

They'll Eat Anything

The cucumber beetle.  Little yellow beetles that either have black stripes or black spots.  They'll bother any vine crop, beans, corn, peas and flowers on most any other plant.  Then there's the one that landed on my computer just now.  A vegetable farmer wouldn't get scared watching most horror movies.  But, make one starring a cucumber beetle...

Air at 4AM?

Yep, there is.  At least there was when we packed up the broilers.  We also learned that our roosters do start crowing (sporadically) at that time in late June.

Meow (said in a most pitiful tone)

Bree, our black and white (indoor) cat, found herself in a bit of a predicament.  She pushed her way through the backing on a shelf and was stuck behind the shower for a while.  She was fine, but there has never been a more pitiful sound than the meow that came from behind that shower.

Three T-Shirt Days

Yep, we're having a few of those as of late.  But, it becomes a bit more disturbing when you realize your jeans are soaking wet too.  And it has nothing to do with a leak in the irrigation line.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Working on a Balance

The heat wave gifted me with a rare afternoon of computer time, during which I tried to do some data entry and analysis.  I always find this useful if I can manage to do a little of it during the season.  First of all, these things are fresher in my mind, so I can combine my impressions of what happened with what the numbers tell me.  Second, I might be able to make some changes to improve on our work for the rest of the season.  And, third, I felt that listing a third thing would be impressive.  So, I provide you with this lame attempt at humor!

Assigning a Crop Value
   The value of our high tunnel harvested crops through the beginning of May this year was about $1200.  Now, before you draw conclusions about this number, let me inform you that a "crop value" is not the same thing as actual income.  We use a price per unit as our value marker which allows us think about what we can get on average if we are able to sell all of the crop harvested.   We do it this way so we are certain to assign value for any crops we eat ourselves, gift or donate.  We do not assign value to the things we harvest that are culls, which are usually given to our birds or composted.

   I also realize that we may calculate our values very differently than other operations.  This works for us right now and we adjust our calculations as our situation changes or we learn new things.  The basic idea is this - for any given crop you can look at your historical sales breakdown.  How much went to our Farm Share CSA?  How much was sold direct to consumer at a market, etc, or sold to a retail outlet such as Hansen's Dairy?  We have prices that we've set for these (another story) and they are used to figure out the average value of a crop by unit.

So What About the High Tunnel's Spring Crop Value?
   Frankly, the value of crops coming out of the tunnel this Spring was low.  Remember, that building represents a fairly significant capital outlay and a good bit of labor.  So, we want to pay some attention to our return.  In 2011, we were closer to $1800 in crop value for the Spring.  Why was that?


2011, we harvested 90+ lbs of Spinach out of the high tunnel.  This year, it was 12 lbs.  $540 in crop value vs $72.  And why did we have this drop in production?


They're soooo cute.  Not when they get into the high tunnel and destroy all the spinach in February. 

Aside from Excluding Rabbits, what else did we learn?
  The amount of spinach we planted in the Fall for Spring production in the tunnel is probably on target for what we can reasonably pick and sell, so we'll stick with that until we get another data point.  However, we also learned that late Fall seeding into the fields could be a good way to implement a backup plan for spinach.  We pulled in 30 lbs of spinach from that sort of planting this Spring - and that was almost by accident.

We also learned we should drop the row feet of lettuce down a little and increase the row feet for kale in the high tunnel.  Some fall planted onions or even garlic for early harvest isn't a bad idea since we can interplant these with some of the other crops.  We won't try to overwinter arugula or mustard again.  We'll till them in rather than let them even try to return.  It also gives us ideas on our row ordering that will make moving to the next succession easier.

And there you have at - another glimpse into the planning and thinking that goes into running the Genuine Faux Farm.  Here's hoping those silly farmers can actually implement half the crazy ideas they come up with!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July Farm Report and Announcements, Etc.

It is time to update everyone on GFF doings.  And, since it is the end of a long, warm day, you can expect either a meandering post or a terse, point-by-point post.  Which would you like this evening?  Ok, I can do that.  And, if it wasn't the answer you gave me, I'll just claim I had some wax in my ears.

 Our next Tom Sawyer Days are :
   July 8 (Sunday)  2pm to 6pm
   July 9 (Monday) 1pm to 5pm

If you are looking for a way to do the electronics 'detox' people are talking about (using less electronics, social media, etc) - then come out to the farm.  turn off your phone.  Hey - you may not even need to turn it off, our service out here is erratic anyway.  We can certainly use some help.  And, the weather if forecast to be cooler.

Beating the Heat
No doubt, it has been warm and it has been dry.  We're doing our best to stay healthy while still getting work done.  Thus far, there have been no incidents with heat exhaustion or dehydration on the farm that we are aware of.  But, being unaware could be a symptom...uh oh.

Rain Dance Wanted
If you can bust a few moves on our behalf, it would be appreciated.  Now, don't pull out the 'flooding rains' dance.  But, an inch of rain would do wonders right now.

Drip Drip Drip
We're doing much more with irrigation (and thus, drip tape) out of necessity.  We just put in an order for another 6000+ feet of the stuff.  That might do us for the year.  Now, to find the time to lay it all down.

Here's the problem.  You cannot easily lay drip tape if there are weeds in the way.  However, if you wait until everything is weeded, you can't water things.  If you don't water things, it gets difficult to pull the weeds in the first place.  We'll figure it out as best as we can. 

Bye Bye
Looks like we're going to till in a few crops.  We were not able to get to some of the onions and half the leeks in time and they are no longer worth our effort to save them.  That's the breaks. 

A different sort of 'bye bye' - all the garlic has been pulled in and is curing now.  The size was much more variable than in the past and we had a lot more culls (garlic that had problems than we usually do).  This doesn't make us happy, but it's a product of the weather this year.  We'll have enough garlic for 5 or so heads per CSA member - at a guess.  But, we'll have to buy a good sized batch of seed garlic for the next season.

That's all my brain can handle right now.  We'll try to post more this weekend.