Archive for the ‘CSU CSA’ Category

Five and a half months into this years growing season and this is my first post.  That should offer some explanation as to how busy I’ve been.  This year I accepted a position as the crew leader and CSA manager for the farm I interned at last year.  I have a whole list of new responsibilities this year that have given me a healthy amount of stress about the season.  I’ve been in charge of ordering all of the seeds for the farm, setting the planting dates, determining the harvest schedules, and managing the size of the weekly CSA shares.  To be honest, it’s been pretty overwhelming.

However, all of the challenging moments aside, this season has really confirmed in me that I thought that I could farm on my own.  I’ve been involved in nearly all of the decisions that have gone on at the farm and have had to deal with some of the negative results.  I’ve miscalculated seed orders and had to reorder several times.  I’ve missed a few planting dates and as a result we have not had certain crops for the first few CSA pickups.  I’ve planted lettuce too early and because of that it bolted before we needed it for the CSA.  But in spite of these and other missteps, I still remain fairly certain that this is the type of life that I want to live.

I’ve been putting in around 60+ hours a week, (which is pretty light for farming) and yet I find myself wishing I had more time to farm.  Every decision I make reverberates in my head as I wonder, “will I do things this way if I had my own farm?”  I look forward to the weekends when I’m out on the farm by myself.  And I’ve found tremendous peace when I think about finding my own niche in the local agricultural scene.  We’ve got about three more month to be farming for this season and I know I’ve got so much more to learn, but I’ve got growing confidence that I could be doing this for myself one day soon.

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Yesterday was the CSA pick up day.  We spent the morning harvesting lettuce, extra kohlrabi, and basil then loaded the truck up and headed off to the pick up location.

full truck

The pick up was pretty smooth.  We experienced our usual rush of people right around 5.  I’m really hoping to be able to serve some sort of food next week.  I think it would be really fun to have something to offer people cooked up right from the field.  We aim for bringing just enough produce for all of the shares, but somehow we came up short on squash.  The few people who came closest to 6 were offered extra broccoli in place of the missing squash.

After 6, when the pick up is done, we were still left with a bunch of produce, so we filled our bags.  I didn’t realize how many veggies I had grabbed until I got home and started to unpack.  I had 4 heads of lettuce, 1 bag of spicy Asian greens, 3 small heads of broccoli and a bag of single broc shoots, 2 kohlrabi, 1 onion, 2 ox heart carrots, ruby red chard, rhubarb, 4 cucumbers, and 2 too-beat-up-to-give-to-members squash.  I’m really excited to make a salad tomorrow afternoon with all these veggies.

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Last week I left the farm for a few days and headed off to Seattle to attend the wedding of two good friends.  I haven’t spent much time in that part of the country, and I was excited to be able to wander around a bit the day and a half I was there before the wedding.  I knew that if I was going to only have a few hours in Seattle I needed to stop at Pike Place Market.  It was early and we were a bit jetlagged, but my wife and I wandered past stall after stall of fresh fruits, veggies, and seafood.  It was quite overwhelming.  The morning before the wedding I had the opportunity to play tourist in Port Townsend (just a bit north-west of Seattle).  When I saw a sign for the farmers market, I knew I needed to check it out.  Two blocks were sectioned off and filled with people lingering at tables, talking with farmers, cooks, ranchers, and fishermen about the food they had available at their stand.  I spent some time talking with a guy who was selling “Sea Beans” (Salicornia virginica), Chanterelle mushrooms, wild blackberries and black raspberries, and currants.  All of the things that he was selling were things that he had foraged.  He told me about the incredible bounty of wild, edible fruits, veggies, and herbs available in that part of the country.  I was all but ready to call Frank and tell him I wasn’t coming home.  I bought a pint of blackberries from him and continued to wander through the market.  With berry-stained lips and fingers I found myself in peaceful wonder; people everywhere are celebrating food.
It’s easy for me to forget that in cities and small towns all across the country people are seeking out real, healthy, sustainable foods.  I can become so enveloped in harvesting radishes and squash for our CSA that it can surprise me that there are farmers all across the country (and world) doing the same thing for the people in their local community. We can relish the uniqueness of the CSA program that we have with CSU.  We can be proud to be in a position to run variety trials and other experiments for the purpose of sharing the information with other farmers throughout Colorado.  But don’t ever think that we are alone in what we are doing.  We are a small part of a growing community of farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and— most importantly—eaters, who are making choices to find food closest to the source and sustainably grown.
I cannot tell you how encouraging it was to be able to get back out on the farm after my vacation.  I walked down the rows of kale and broccoli, onions and leeks, tomatoes and peppers, and melons and felt a growing excitement for the opportunity to be a part of this community of food-celebrators.  Thank you for being a part of this community, too.

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Last week was a short week on the farm for me.  I spent Monday and Tuesday (after my O Chem class, of course) out in the field.  Wednesday I did some administrative things while putting the CSA newsletter together.  Thursday and Friday I was in the Seattle area for a wedding.  Two days on the farm is not enough for me.

As I was reflecting on the week I thought about how I was 2 months into my internship and most days are starting to look the same.  The romantic visions of planting seeds and turning the soil have been reduced to the reality of pulling weeds and patching irrigation drip tape.  This transition doesn’t cause me to question my desire to do this work, rather it encourages me.  There is a great simplicity in being able to go out to the field and spend 6 or 8 hours pulling weeds.  Pick a row, put your head down, and clear the row of anything that has the potential to choke out or steal water from your crops.  A few of the interns will often be seen with head phones in, listening to an audio book or podcast as they move down a row.

It’s difficult to find interesting things to write about when the days are so repetitive.  I think that’s OK.  Shortly there will be new first harvests to write about: celebrations of the first tomato or melons and sweet corn.  But for now these seemingly mundane tasks are the engine that is powering the mid-summer farm.

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I guess I forgot to put a post together about my time on the farm for week 6, so I guess I’ll put it together with week 7.  The majority of week 6 was filled with weeding anyways, and who wants to read about that, right?  One thing that we did do was lay out plastic mulch and paper mulch in one row to test the efficiency of either method.  In the row we laid out 3 50′ sections of the plastic mulch alternating with 3 50′ sections of the paper mulch and 3 50′ sections of bare soil.  We used a tractor to lay out the plastic first.  We used an attachment that unrolled the plastic, pulled it taught, and buried the edges.  It also unrolled drip tape into a small furrow right in the center under the plastic.  It was pretty slick.

We couldn’t use the tractor for the paper mulch because the attachment’s purpose is to pull the plastic tight, and if we put a roll of paper in there it would just tear the paper.  The time that we saved using the tractor for the plastic was used up on covering every edge of the paper mulch with soil so that it would catch some wind and blow away.  I would also like to note that the guy in the picture, bent over shoveling soil onto the end of the plastic row isn’t me…it’s my boss, Frank.  He told me to jump up into the tractor and he would work the shovel.  Good guy, huh?

This past week held a lot of anticipation because Thursday would be our first CSA pick-up day.  The start of CSA days indicates a shift in the focus of the farm.  We start to see the growing plants as the food that it will become in it’s harvestable form.  Leaves of the kale and spinach are inspected to determine if they are worthy of being offered to a member.  Radishes are pulled gently from the soil to ensure that they will retain their ideal shape.  Squash are twisted from the plant before they get too big and their flavor starts to turn bitter.  It’s wonderful to be able to watch as the plants prepare themselves for the harvest.

The past two weeks were often tedious in the weeding that needed to get done, but it was wonderful to spend three hours on Thursday meeting this season’s members.

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On Thursday I scrambled to put together a newsletter for the first CSA pick-up day.  Here’s what I wrote for one of the sections.  Enjoy.

“Eating is an agricultural act.” – Wendell Berry

This quote is one of my all-time favorites.  In this simple sentence Berry reminds us that with each bite of food we take, we connect ourselves to those who grow our food.  Sometimes it’s easy to separate the two.  I mean, what sort of farming does a bite of a Twinkie connect us to?  Eating foods that are not directly found in nature, like the potato chips I’m currently eating, make it difficult for us to feel connected to the farmers who grew the potatoes.  However, when we choose to eat real, whole foods it is much easier to feel the connection to the farm and farmers.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way to encourage the connection between the farm and the table.  All of the work that we have put into the farm is to strengthen this connection.  Each seed that we place in the ground is done so in anticipation of being able to harvest something and hand it over to you, so that you can take it to your table.  As the season moves on, the anticipation grows and today we experience a celebration of sorts. We come together, growers and eaters, to share in the celebration of the harvest.  We celebrate with handshakes and introductions, smiles and laughter, and lingering in conversation with one another.
Thank you for choosing to be connected with us this season.  If this is your first experience with a CSA, welcome!  Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.  We love what we do and are happy to share what we know.  If you are a CSA veteran, thank you for continuing to support local farmers and local foods!  Share with us some of your experiences!  Whether this is your first or twentieth season, feel free to stick around and talk with us and the other members.  Meet some new people.  Learn the children’s names.  Swap kale recipes.  And celebrate the fact that eating is an agricultural act.

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Last week flew by.  In fact, time has still been flying by.  I think this is largely due to the fact that I started taking an Organic Chemistry class last week.  My time is now split between the farm and this class.  I know that it will be good to get this class out of the way, but I’ll sure miss being out at the farm all day.  Since I’ll be on campus for a few hours in every morning I’ll be working on a greenhouse project on campus.

I spent most of last week cleaning and setting up one of the greenhouses to grow Asian greens for the CSA shares.  I needed to make sure that the water-wall was operational.  The water-wall (at least that’s what we call it) is a cooling system that drips water down through cardboard and uses fans on the opposite end of the house to draw air through the greenhouse.  There are opened vents behind the water-wall, so that as air is being drawn through the cardboard it pulls cool air/moisture through the house.

After I made sure the water-wall was set up and working properly I set up a few wooden racks that will serve as tables for us to put soil on and grow the greens in.  We could put the soil right on the ground, but then we would have to bend all the day down to harvest.  The tables allow us to be a little lazy. I like that.

After the tables were set up I set up 16 bags of certified orgaic potting soil on top of the tables, cut a few drainage holes in the bottom, then opened up the top to sew seeds directly into the bags.  Greens don’t need a whole lot of soil to grow in, so we could either dump out the bags of soil out on the tables 5 inches deep, or leave it in the bags which was already 5 inches deep.  I’ll be setting up a few more tables in the next week, and will plant a second round next week.  This should allow us to have a continual plant/harvest schedule throughout the season.

The disappointing part of last week was that I wasn’t able to spend much time out at the farm.  I missed having my hands in the dirt and the growing camaraderie that is developing out at the farm.  Only one and a half week until the first CSA pick-up!

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The field continue to be too wet to do much work in.  We were able to do some hand weeding through the Brassicas, onions, and herbs, but we sure did a lot of sliding around in the mud.  The big project that we accomplished this week was putting the strawberry house together.  Last year we grew strawberries in hay bales for a few reasons.  First was the convenience of not having to crawl on the ground to pick strawberries.  And secondly, it gives you a bit more time to weed before the strawberries are overtaken by them.  The challenges to growing berries this way is that the bales, being so porous, must maintain relatively high moisture, since the roots are growing in the hay and not in a moisture retaining soil.

We are hoping to improve on our methods from last year by using polycarbonate panels to create a trough for the bales.  Using polycarbonate panels for this purpose would normally be an expensive choice, but the panels we are using came off of the University Greenhouses that are being renovated.  The panels have served their purpose on the greenhouse and now we are re-purposing them so they don’t go to waste.  Here’s some pictures of the process:

They are ready to be planted in.  We’ll make a small hole in the bale and put some compost in the bae and plant the strawberry in the compost.  The compost helps the plant establish itself in the bale and provide nutrients, too.

The weekend has been pretty dry considering the past weeks of rain.  Hopefully things will dry out and we can get back to our regularly scheduled work.  Our first CSA pick up is July 2, just a short two and a half weeks away.  Exciting time for the farm.

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The rhythm of the season is starting to kick in. Transplanted crops are stretching their roots in to deeper soil and overcoming the stress of transitioning from a controlled environment to the wild and unpredictable climate of the farm. Crops that were direct seeded are showing themselves for the first time. With one month left before our first CSA pickup, things feel like they are shaping up for a great season. These good feelings do not get rid of all the other work that still needs to be done. We have a row in which we will be doing some no-till research on. Last year rye and a vetch crop were sown in the row as a green manure, and soon we will knock down the rye and vetch and use a no-till drill to plant peppers, tomatoes, lettuces, melons, cucumbers, and a few other crops. The potential for no-till methods has yet to reach it’s peak, so we are really interested in the results we get. I would love to see large farms exclusively use no-till methods one day, but I feel like that is still a bit down the road.

Last week was split between being rained out of working in the fields and pulling weeds.  We are at that time of the season when everything in the fields is growing like crazy, including the weeds.  Oh, the weeds!  The pigweed and the mallow and spurge and nap weed and thistle and bind-weed.  Weeds are an expected chore when working on an organic farm, and for the folks I’m working with we’ve tried to make some games out of it.  We have a “longest root” challenge, where we see who can pull the longest weed’s root out of the ground.  At this point in the season we have pulled an 8 inch bind-weed root, a 7.5 inch thistle root, and 6.5 inch pigweed root.  It’s a silly game we play, but it helps us not get too bogged down with the work we are actually doing.  There are really two main methods of weeding that are used on small organic farms: hand weeding and tool weeding.  Using a stirrup hoe or wheel hoe works great if the soil is dry, but as soon as the soil gets significant moisture on it using a tool to weed with doesn’t do much good.  One method of weeding that doesn’t seem to be used too often is that of flame weeding.  The process is pretty self-explanatory in that you are weeding with a flame.  At the farm we use a propane tank (like the one hooked up to your BBQ grill) with a hose hooked up to it.  Open the valve, put a flame near the gas, and start burning weeds down.  For smaller, annual weeds you don’t need much heat…just enough to the cell walls of the plant to burst, but for more established, perennial weeds you might need to leave the flame on them enough to actually torch them.  The nice thing about flame weeding is that you can do it when the soil is too wet to use a hoe or other cultivator.

I spent almost two days last week flame weeding.  It became a relatively mindless task, provided I was watching what I was aiming the flame at, and so I spent a good part of the two days questioning the use of a propane torch as a form of weed control.  Using a small tank like we were using is not very economical.  Part of the reason is that we are purchasing propane in small quantities, which cause the per unit price to be considerably higher.  There are some flame weeding systems that are pulled behind a tractor, but we don’t have one of those.  I spent a good deal of time thinking about whether or not flame weeding could have a place on a farm that was striving to be “sustainable.”  Our farm might be organic, but by it’s very nature of being a research based farm we aren’t sustainable.  For research purposes we might choose to use methods, like black plastic mulch or flame weeding, to offer data to local small farms.  There’s a farm just down the road a bit from my house that has chosen to rely very little on gas.  They choose to drive as little as possible, forgo a washing machine and clothes dryer, and use a tractor for as little as work as possible.  They are wonderful consistent in their convictions of being a sustainable farm.  I thought about them as I was flame weeding and wondered what they might say about it.  I guess I’ll have to ask them.

I guess that’s about it for week 3.  It’s hard to believe how quickly the season is moving along.  Soon it will be August and I will be ready to pass out from all the harvesting.  I suppose I should enjoy the meditative nature of weeding while it’s still cool outside.

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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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