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Archive for May, 2009

As I spend more and more time on the farm, I am reminded that my farm experience is a bit unique to the “normal small farm” experience.  Because of our direct connection to the university we operate in a different way than if the farm was farmed by a single person. Here’s a few examples:

So far our working hours have been 7am-3/4pm on Monday through Friday.  We don’t work weekends!  What farmer takes the weekend off?  My boss comes to the farm over the weekends to check up on things and do any needed work, but we are exempt from that.  I find myself conflicted about this, though.  When I move on to work with another farm or even have my own land I wont have the luxury of taking every weekend throughout the growing season off.  And I certainly wont stop work for the night because I’m not allowed to work overtime.  Yet, I really appreciate the opportunity to have nights and weekends off to be able to spend time with my wife and to put toward homework once I start my summer Organic Chemistry class in a few weeks.

Another difference in my experience on the farm is that we’re going to be taking field trips throughout the season to visit other area farmers.  Friday we visited a small greenhouse tomato producer near Longmont, CO.  He sells to Whole Foods in Boulder, farmers markets, and other direct markets in the area.  It was pretty cool to see how he was growing his tomatoes in soil rather than using hydroponics, which many greenhouse growers do.  I had never really seen greenhouse production used as anything more than season extension or seed starting, so it was cool to see how it all worked.

greenhouse tomatoesLater in the day a few of us talked about our visit to the greenhouse.  Of the four of us talking only one person said that they would consider running a single crop greenhouse.  The rest of us recognized that that type of vegetable production is an important piece of the food spectrum, but it’s not particularly for us.

I gave you two thoughts as to why my experience on the farm has been a bit atypical, so now let me give you one example of a typical experience:  Every farm will be limited to the weather.  Tuesday was a warm, partly cloudy day, but because of a couple days of rain the soil was too wet to work on.  We are at the mercy of the weather.  I don’t know that statistics yet, but it has felt like a more-than-normally wet spring/early summer.  This is certainly a welcome thing for farmers in dry states like Colorado, but it does affect when we can work.  This weeks forecast has rain everyday this week.  Hopefully we can get everything in the ground before we get rained out of the field again.

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When I see black plastic mulch and wide open fields, I have to wonder about the possibilities involved in removing both of those from the farming landscape.  Short rows, shady fruit trees, living mulch.  We are on to something, but we just might be alone…  –Trace Tamsey, Cricket Bread

I stumbled onto this quote from another blog.  I’m glad I did.  If you haven’t read anything at Cricket Bread, then you change that right now.  The more I read about and talk to new or young farmers, I am seeing that the movement (if you want to call it that) to get back to the land and grow food for people contains great diversity.  Individuals in this movement might organize themselves under certain labels or groups such as, DIY, Queer, Activists, Anarchists, Hippie, etc, but the voice of the collective group seem to be saying, “Something needs to change, and I want to be a part of it!”

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Early morning weeding using the wheel hoe.

Wheel hoe

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I had two thoughts that really stood out to me from last week on the farm.  They might not be complete or fully formed thoughts, but I think you’ll get the gist.  It was a great first, full week on the farm.  We’ve got a great crew of people out there that will make the long, hot summer a real joy to work with.

  • There are 8 new farmers working at the farm this year.  We’re all paid through CSA subscriptions.  This is a great reminder to us because it would be easy to think of our work on the farm as being funded as research by the university (which some of it is), and separate ourselves from the people who are receiving the food we are growing.  So with this in mind, I’ve been thinking about the criticisms of healthy, organic food being expensive.  One day last week the group of us went to weed a row of raspberries and blackberries.  It took all 8 of us about an hour to weed that row.  While we were weeding the thistle and bind weed, someone joked that this would be much easier if we just sprayed some 2,4,D over the weeds.  We laughed, knowing that that wasn’t an option or desire, but it started me thinking about the costs attached to that row of berries for the day.  If you compare $70 worth of labor for weeding that row for one hour compared to $10 worth of chemicals to spray, it seems like the ten bucks for chemicals is the cheapest option.  The problem with the $10 “cheap” options is that there are hidden costs that are hard to put a price on.  For instance, when a farmer is thinking of costs associated with spraying or not spraying, the bottom line often doesn’t include the loss of clean water due to run-off.  Because of conventional farms surrounding our 8 acres, there is only one clean source of water on the farm.  This is the type of hidden cost that becomes visible with organic food.  I’m starting to personally understand the $2.00 difference between conventional vs. organic produce.  Paying the $2 extra goes to ensuring that the farmer can drink the same water that she/he is giving to his crops.
  • The other big reminder that came up this week relates to how many things that are indirectly related to growing crops.  Farmers need to know how to do carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work.  We needed the skills in all of these areas last week.  I’ve done a fair amount of all those things before, but there were a few people who did some electrical work for the first time.  It was pretty exciting to see the sense of accomplishment for being able to run wiring for the irrigation to the high tunnels.  Perhaps, if your farm is big enough, you would hire people specialized to do these specific tasks, but on a small farm, you do it all.  I like that.  And I think this is another reason that farmers, particularly on small farms need to be recognized as people who do more than just sit in a tractor.

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As our fresh produce becomes more processed and we encounter fewer whole raw foods, future generations may fail to connect the cubes, sticks, and rounded cylinders in their soup or stir-fry with roots in the soil and fruits hanging from the vines.
tina peterson from Bringing up Baby (Carrots) published in Gastronomica Fall 2008

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Intro:

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting another blog for a few weeks now, and have decided to give it a go.  After all, it’s free.  I’m not a very consistent blogger, so the idea of starting another blog is a little humorous, but I’m hoping that having this blog will renew some of my interest in writing.  Let me offer some insights into me and this blog and how I hope to use it.

The name “Field and Table” is intended to reflect my primary interests.  I’ve returned back to school in my late twenties to study Horticulture, focusing on food production.  Over the past few years I grown increasingly interested in the role of food in American culture.  As the years have passed I have become more evangelistic in encouraging people to grow some of their own food.  Most recently I’ve been thinking about urban farming and its relation to “food deserts.”  I love to cook, too.  More than simply cooking for myself, I love to cook for other people.  There is e completely satisfying about combining ingredients to create something wonderful.  One of my favorite sights is people sitting around a table eating together.  Cooking is quite simple if you are willing to take a little time to learn the basics, and I want to help people understand the simplicity of cooking because I believe that cooking at home is a cheaper and healthier alternative to the dominant food system.

There’s two reasons why I’m starting this blog, rather than posting on my other one.  First, this season I’m working as a farm intern for Colorado State University with their Specialty Crop Program.  We have 8 acres of certified organic land, which we use for a 75 member CSA as well as various trial and research projects.  A part of my internship will be to give an end of the season presentation.  I thought that if I post my thoughts throughout the season it will make putting the presentation together pretty easy.  Also, I wanted to be able to write about my experience working for the university without sounding like I’m speaking for the university, so I put a little disclaimer at the top of the page.  I don’t know if that’s necessary;  I’m just trying to cover myself.  Secondly, starting this blog because I’ve been slowly finding my voice when it comes to issues of food production and food security, and I wanted a place to be able to engage with other people.  For the past two weeks I’ve participated in the #sustagchat on Sunday nights through Twitter.  I think that Twitter really limits the conversation, being limited to 140 characters, but I really like the idea of having a weekly discussion on sustainable agriculture.  It’ll be interesting to see if it turns into a “preaching to the choir” situation, or if there will continue to be good dialogue.

Feel free to comment and get involved.  Ideally I’d like to post twice a week about the work we’re doing on the farm.  I’ll probably post links to other food related articles and posts I find.  And if I’m not feeling creative, I’ll post some quotes that are meaningful to me.  So there you have it, that’s why I’m here.

Cheers.

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