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Archive for the ‘Common Roots’ Category

I’ve always had a pretty high standard for the produce that comes off of our farm. My boss at my previous farm was meticulous in his expectations of the farm’s produce that we delivered to our CSA members. I expected clean and fresh produce when I was working and cooking in restaurant kitchens. So now that I have my own operation, my standard remains pretty high. We triple wash our greens. We soak our roots. We cool everything as soon as possible. I assumed that other farms had the same goals. But this morning as I was scanning my twitter feed I found this post about making a DIY produce wash. I encourage our members to wash their produce before they use it not because I don’t think our produce is clean, but because I think that it’s an important practice to do consistently when preparing produce.

But what caught my attention was AJ’s opening paragrah: “My CSA share is getting bigger and bigger by the week, which means lots and lots of produce washing. It’s funny, you’d think that straight from the farm would mean less cleaning, since everything’s local, organic, blah blah blah. But that’s really not the case. I find more dirt and critters in my CSA fruits and vegetables than I’ve ever seen in any produce at the grocery store. You don’t even want to know what I found in one of my peaches this past week… seriously.”

So I’m left wondering, do people associate “straight-from-the-farm produce to be covered in dirt and insects?” What do you think?

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I am learning that winter is a strange season for me as a farmer. Rather than my days filled with the sun beating down on my and dirt underneath my fingernails, I am trying to familiarize myself with the muted glow of a computer screen and paper cuts. The winter season (for a zone 5 farmer) allows me to catch up on some needed rest and affords me some time to start planning for the next years farm. The seasonal transition reveals it’s effects on my body as the sun-kissed  color fades from my skin and as weight adds itself to my frame.

The physical demands of the winter season are far less than the demands from the spring, summer, and fall, yet the season has needs that are unique to itself. Winter is the season for dreaming, planning, and preparing for the up coming year. It is a time to reflect on the previous seasons and evaluate the vegetables that grew well sold quickly. It is a time to check the quality of your equipment and the supply of your seeds. The toll of the winter season is on the mind rather than the body.

A while back I picked up a book entitled, “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook” by Richard Wiswall. The book has been a great resource for challenging me to think of the farm in terms of a business– to think beyond the production aspect of farming and to think about core business decisions that can make the farm profitable. Many young farmers that I know have been drawn to farming for philosophical or ethical reasons. These aren’t “bad” reasons to pursue farming, but there must be some element of profitability involved in the farm or it can’t be sustainable. Wiswall’s book has helped me understand that. So I started to create spreadsheets of average plant yields and farm maps and planting dates. I started to calculate how much produce I could expect to grow on our little 1/2 acre. Then, I tweeked the types of vegetables to maximize my yield to profit ratio. For example, in the space that it requires to grow 2 ears of corn (about 1 sq. foot) I could also grow 12 beets, three times throughout the season. If I bunched the beets into groups of 6 and accounted for a little loss, then in the same space I could either yield 2 ears of corn or 5 bunches of beets. The market value of an ear of corn might be $.50 and the market value of a bunch of beets is around $3.00. So when I compare the two crops I quickly find that it makes more sense to grow beets rather than sweet corn.

The detail-oriented-ness that this type of planning takes does not come natural to me, but I know that this is as much of a priority as weeding is for the farmer. I am slowly learning to embrace spreadsheets as a tool as valuable as the hoe.

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I’m excited to be able to announce some more info about the new farm.  Earlier this week we were able to get the trade name I wanted for the farm: Common Roots.  The process of naming a business can be a challenge.  I wanted a name that had a descriptive element to it, as well as being concise to avoid confusion.  Common Roots was one of the names that popped into my head early on, and it stuck with me as I thought about other names.  The bonus was that it wasn’t a registered trade name in Colorado, so it was available for us to use.

So why “Common Roots” as a name?  The unique thing about Common Roots as an urban farm is that we will be employing developmentally disabled adults to work at the farm.  My business partners are the owners of Steamers Coffee House and Jack’s wine bar. They currently have over 30 developmentally disabled adults working at the coffee shop and restaurant.  I worked with them for a short time before I went back to school, and I fell in love with what they were doing.  I hadn’t had much contact with folks with disabilities before this job so initially I was tentative about working there, but once I started working I felt at home.  That job was the most fun I have ever had at work.  While I was working there I started talking about how much fun it would be to have a market garden or farm as a way to employ more disabled adults.  We started looking into the possibility, but the timing wasn’t right.

Fast forward to this past fall.  I called one of the owners of Steamers and asked her if she wanted talk about the farm idea again.  She was excited about the possibility, and once we started talking things started to fall into place.  Shortly after we started talking we found a piece of property to farm.  The property is just under 1 acre and has an old farmhouse that was built in 1912.  We’ll be able to have 1/2 acre in cultivation, which will be a great amount of space to grow on while we explore what it will be like to farm with developmentally disabled adults.

I’m planning on having a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and also selling a Farmers Market and a Farm Stand.  Our disabled farmers will be planting, harvesting, washing, and selling the vegetables.  There’s a lot of planning that needs to happen before the first seeds go into the ground.  There’s equipment and supplies to order, a planting schedule to create, job descriptions to write for the employees, and seed catalogs to drool over.  There’s also a mess of business details that we need to get squared away.  And if any of you fine people want to donate a little time to help me with a logo, I’d be eternally grateful.

We’ll that’s it for this update.  You can find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/CommonRootsFarm. “Like” us and you can stay updated as we move forward.

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