Harvest wrap up and farm report

Hello Food Farmers!

It’s been a wild ride since Summer Shares ended just 12 days ago! This spring we debated whether to start the 18-week season on June 8th or wait until the 15th, which would have been more normal. Boy are we glad we started the season sooner! We are so fortunate to have made some timely investments in harvesting equipment over the past few years. This enabled us to harvest both the carrot and potato crops in just two days apiece. After a summer of harvesting crops by the cartload, it was quite a change for the crew to be bringing in bin after 1,000 pound bin to quickly fill the cellar. I personally love the rush of the final harvest but it’s not for everyone, and folks who are new to the farm get a little wide-eyed as the tone and pace of the farm cranks into high gear. This year’s crew got to experience that rush in an even more compressed version than usual, and we’re incredibly appreciative of their willingness to provide the big push that was necessary to get it all done.

After all of the drama, the only crop we won’t have enough of to supply what we normally do for the Winter Shares are parsnips. We haven’t done a final tally yet, but we know from a preliminary look that we’re way behind last year’s totals, especially on carrots and potatoes. It’s not a huge surprise–a summer of heat and drought mixed with a few extreme events in the form of rain and hail combined to make a tough year for growing plants. Taking all this into account, we consider it good fortune to have a mediocre harvest vs. a disastrous one. While there’s still a lot of work to be done around the farm–so many projects are often set aside when fall triage mode sets in–at least the food is safe and protected for a winter of good eating. We’re glad to be able to fill up the boxes with goodness for your family.

One true note of sadness on the farm this week: our old farm dog Dobby passed away on Monday. It was not unexpected–we knew he wouldn’t make it through another winter–but we’re all pretty sad to have lost a trusty companion and good friend. We adopted him as a two year old former stray, and his gentle nature quickly became an important fixture on the farm–a wag and lean from Dobby was a great way for everyone on the farm to start their day. Chester now bears the burden of sole member of the welcoming committee! Thanks for all of your support and participation through this most interesting of farm seasons.

For the farm crew,

Janaki

Storm Report

Well, I slept like a baby last night–in other words, I woke up half a dozen times screaming. After weeks of rain missing the farm, we finally got a solid two inches. Unfortunately, it came in a very short period of time and was accompanied by high winds and hail. It’s been about 20 years since we’ve had a significant hail event so I suppose we should be thankful about that, but it’s still sad to see plants that have been cared for so meticulously looking beat up and bedraggled.

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A beautiful crop of snap peas looking rather pockmarked.

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The early beet crop looking shredded.

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Sad onion field.

It remains to be seen how much of this damage will be permanent and which plants can grow out of it. Thankfully, no crop will be a total loss. I expect that early potatoes, beets, and those precious carrots will be delayed by a couple of weeks, and yield will be reduced. I think the snap peas that were not mature enough to be harvested today will turn brown or scab over as they age, but we have another planting that should come on soon. Whether the onions size up at all after that much damage is a big concern. We were just about to begin harvesting zucchini and those plants are also going to take awhile to look right.

Small seedlings of storage crops, such as fall beets and carrots, really took a beating and some percentage are actually broken off, but we’ll know better in a week if they can pick themselves back up and keep growing. We have an additional acre of fall carrots that were just seeded and soil compaction and crusting is a concern for emergence but I’m hopeful that they’ll be okay.

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The other real concern is disease. Any time plants like the potatoes above are beaten up this way it gives disease an opportunity to bypass the plant’s natural defenses and cause serious harm. Many of these diseases are soil-borne, so driving that much dirt into the plant’s pores is a recipe for bad things to come.

On a brighter note, some things are looking great, like the fall cabbage crop. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in earlier plantings also appear to be okay, although the green cabbage definitely has some holes in it. Preserving share tomatoes and 2/3 of the winter squash are in a field that was protected by the wind so they fared much better than others. Another great thing is that the crew has really been on top of the weeding and field work, so we can afford to miss a few days in the field to give plants a chance to stand up and dry out.

Also, I am incredibly relieved to have a pause in what has been a grueling nighttime irrigation schedule. We really did need a good soaking rain, but could have done with a little less drama.

Thanks for your understanding and support, and we’re looking forward to more beautiful, bountiful boxes heading to your kitchen soon.

For the farm crew,

Janaki

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2019 Season in Review

img_20200101_165540832Well Food Farmers, another year’s in the books! 2019 was a great year here at the farm, with a few big changes and a lot of steady improvement. It was the third year of production for our new land across the road, and we got deer fencing up just in time to protect a record carrot crop over there. That crop is tucked safely in the “new” root cellar which, after five years, we wish was a little bigger. Speaking of bigger, our two farm kids are growing like crazy and, while not particularly helpful yet, are tons of fun to have around. Crew leader Karin and her husband Joel had a baby in July, and Truman and Ellis are excited to have a little one around a bit this summer so they can show him the ropes.

The thing that makes this farm the best it can be is the crew, and they were simply amazing. Everyone was a little nervous going into the season knowing that Karin was going to be gone for a few months, but we all stepped up our communication a bit and managed to be pretty efficient even without her keeping us on the same page.

Of course without you, our eaters, we wouldn’t be able to do this work we are so passionate about. It was so wonderful to read your comments when we went over the Summer Share survey a few weeks ago. Your feedback is really valuable to us as we plan the future. We’re honored to be your farmers, and appreciate your help as we continue to support and improve this beautiful place we call the Food Farm.

I’ll leave you with a little slideshow with some images of the year past.

For the farm crew,

Janaki

 

2018 Season in Review

The farm is hunkered down under a layer of ice but activity still continues in the root cellar and in the farm office as we continue packing and delivering last year’s bounty and planning for next year. Share signup will begin soon, but here’s a look back at the season that was. First, a few photos:

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This season was the usual whirlwind, and it started off with a bang as we hustled to complete two unfinished projects from 2017. We finished the new greenhouse in mid-May but had to wait until the frost was out of the ground (at the end of May!) to put in the remaining drain tile in. By then we were off to the races. Bracketing ’round the clock irrigating in July and August were two serious rain events (4.5″ in mid-June and 3.5″ in mid-October) that kept us on our toes and up at night. Fortunately, our investments in drain tile and soil health continue to reap dividends and that combined with some good luck meant we had a good harvest on most crops. Potatoes were one of those that did not fare so well, but a poor crop there gave us a little extra time to get a great carrot harvest in before freeze-up. The farm crew held up well through it all, and we were able to muster smiling faces and positive attitudes even at the end of the year.

As always, thanks to all of you who support us with your interest, involvement and your kitchen table. Your support and care for the farm over the years reminds me that I’m a part of something great and long-lasting through life’s changes, and gets me excited to jump into a new year of farming.

It’s Share Renewal Time!

Hi Food Farmers,
Welcome to the Food Farm’s 25th growing season! We’re finally set to go with our new online ordering system. To reserve your shares either follow the link above or click on the CSA Shares tab of this website. The ordering process has changed, but in the long run I think the new system will make things easier for us and for members. You can now signup quicker, get access to more information about your membership, and it should reduce our burden of data entry and the chance for mistakes, and make it easier for us to run reports and get an accurate count for each share type.
Please call or email if you run into any problems!

Overall, things are going well on the farm this winter. A poor carrot harvest last fall means that the winter wholesale orders can be put together quickly by Teri and Karin, and regular farm chores are fairly quick to complete. Truman turned the corner on potty training over Christmas, and Ellis just had his first birthday and is happy and healthy after getting over early winter colds. Annie is working three jobs but hasn’t gone completely insane yet, so we’re considering ourselves fortunate! I just returned from a four day trip at two conferences in New York giving workshops on cover cropping with some researchers at Cornell that I met a few years ago. I’m planning this season’s crop rotation, starting the organic certification paperwork and preparing for a presentation at the organic farming conference in LaCrosse at the end of the month.

Seed orders have all been made and are beginning to arrive. It’s hard to believe that we’ll be opening up the greenhouse in three short weeks to begin planting onions for next season!
We’re looking forward to seeing many of you at the annual Food Farm social hour at Zeitgeist Arts on Wednesday, February 21st from 5-7 pm.

Season Wrap-up 
2017 felt like we were constantly on the edge of disaster. With the exception of early June there was excess wetness pretty much the entire season. However, the year turned out to be pretty darn good. Summer Shares in particular were a high point, and we were really proud of the boxes we sent every week. It’s been nice that we’ve been able to keep adding a little bit of diversity to keep the boxes interesting. We did lose about 20,000 pounds of carrots due to the wetness—there are plenty for the Winter Shares, but our wholesale deliveries for early 2018 are significantly less than usual.

We had a really great crew last year, and they did a great job staying on top of the weeds—a particularly difficult job on a wet year. The new cultivation equipment I put together also really helped reduce some of the hand work that we needed to do. The crew pushed hard all the way to the end of the season even after getting an unexpected 10” of snow on the 27th of October.
See the next blog post back for the nice season review and slideshow that Karin put together a few weeks ago.

Looking Ahead 
The big change for this coming season will be that we are no longer raising meat chickens or turkeys. Egg share folks shouldn’t worry–we are keeping the laying hens. We’ve been considering the change for a couple of years, but decided this year was the time. There were a number of things that figured into the decision, but the most immediate was that our insurance company no longer covers on-farm processing which meant that we’d either need to bring them somewhere else to be processed or else get a much more expensive policy from a different company. The birds have been a big part of our farm, and it’ll be sad not to have them around.

When we moved to this farm 30 years ago, most of the land was badly depleted from years of cutting hay with no added fertility. The way we raise chickens and turkeys on pasture played a vital role in bringing it back into vibrant productivity without a lot of tillage and added soil amendments. The good news is that our friend and neighbor Maggie Schulstrom of Spectrum Farm will increase her production of birds to accommodate our members. We became good friends with the Schulstrom/Vavrosky family during our pipeline fight a few years ago, and we know they do a nice job in caring for their animals. They’re also the family that is taking over strawberry production at our beloved Finke’s Berry Farm as Diane and Doug are retiring. You can contact Maggie by email or phone at (218) 380-258 seven.

That’s the big change for this year, though of course we have a lot of ongoing projects to catch up on. Among them are finishing the new high tunnel greenhouse that we started last fall, completing last fall’s drainage project, putting up new deer fence across the road, and working to rehab some of the older buildings on the farm. We are intent upon making this farm as resilient as possible in the face of increasing climate extremes, and many of these projects are designed to do just that.
We hope members are proud not only of the farm they have helped build, but the networks and support for local agriculture in general that has come out of your support of us. Never forget that eating is a powerful act!

For the farm crew,
Janaki

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May Farm Updates

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There have been big things happening on the farm this spring–some good, some not so good. My mom Jane had a stroke about 3 ½ weeks ago. She just returned home last weekend after a stay in the hospital and a week of rehab at Miller-Dwan. The stroke has mainly affected her vision and spatial awareness, and we’re grateful that there wasn’t an impact on speech or any paralysis. The doctors still don’t know the cause, and think that she’s likely to recover most of her functionality with continued therapy. It’s a frustrating situation, but her spirits are high and she’s happy to be home again. My dad John was just beginning his recovery from rotator cuff surgery, so the last month has been a big adjustment for two normally active and capable people. My parents have been reducing their role slowly over the years, but it looks like we might be going cold turkey this summer which will be a big change for all of us.
On a happier note, we have a great farm crew on board this summer! We’re just waiting for one more person to show up in early June, but the other two new crew members are working out great so far. Look for more info on the crew in a few weeks. We’re excited to announce that Glen Avon Presbyterian has agreed to be our new Woodland pickup site! Other than that, we’re not planning on any significant delivery changes for this season.
We’ve definitely been on a weather roller coaster so far this year, with big swings from wet and cold followed by beautiful warmth. We got almost 3” of rain this week, so things are quite wet in the fields. Plantings are generally on schedule for a start to deliveries the week of June 12th, but we’re hoping that things dry out enough next week to get our third planting of broccoli in the ground. Meanwhile, the greenhouses are filling up and we’re getting a lot of miscellaneous projects done.

Finally, I was honored to be on the Farmer to Farmer podcast about a month ago with host Chris Blanchard, a former CSA farmer in Decorah. The episode I was on provides a good overview of the history of the Food Farm and where we’re at now. Here’s a link to the episode, or subscribe to Farmer to Farmer in iTunes if you’re interested hearing all about market vegetable farming!

Upcoming Events (and a few cute photos)

We’re hosting an awesome art and music event at the farm this Saturday, the 19th, from 2-5pm called høle in the skY with Kathy McTavish and Zeitgeist New Music. The full press release and more information is available here, and here’s a brief summary:
“Saint Paul-based music group Zeitgeist and Duluth composer/cellist/environmentalist Kathy McTavish join forces March 19 for a special presentation of McTavish’s chamber work  at the Food Farm in Wrenshall, Minn. Featuring electronic and acoustic music, video, and an interactive exhibition,høle in the skY will transform the Food Farm’s expansive root cellar into a pre-apocalyptic world where extinction is imminent and our ecosystem is on the verge of collapse.”

When’s the last time you saw something like that in a root cellar?

Also, we’ll be at the Local CSA Open House this Sunday the 20th from 2-5pm at Clyde Iron. Stop by and say hello if you’re in the neighborhood, drop off your renewal form if you haven’t sent it in yet, or send friends and neighbors down if they’d like to meet their future farmers before signing up.

And for those of you who keep asking, I’ve included a few Truman photos as well…

That’s all for now, time to get back to the greenhouse!
For the farm crew,
Janaki

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