Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Look in the Mirror

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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