Pictures below if you want to skip all the winded writing...
After two years of interning at organic farms we felt ready to create another outlet for local, organic food. We lacked the funds to buy property, amend soil deficiencies and buy everything else needed for this venture, i.e. tractors, seeds, labor costs and perhaps childcare. This is a common barrier for young people (or anyone) wanting to attempt organic farming as an occupation.
We felt fortunate to find a certified organic farm close to Katie's hometown, Goodrich, that advertised an internship with the opportunity to operate one's own CSA for income. Sold. We spent the first few months of 2009 transporting our yurt from Bangor, MI to our new location, as well as raising our hoophouse we had purchased a few years back, seeding over 500 flats for seedlings and creating a business.
In May, a few weeks before the projected start of CSA distribution, it was becoming clear that the living environment at this particular farm was not healthy for our family and business. Bringing ourselves to leave the farm mid-spring was difficult after all the work we had put into our space there. We knew the fields were already nutrient and pH balanced and ready for transplanting, and we had salad mix, radishes, beets, carrots, peas and kohl rabi all planted in the field awaiting harvest. So, it was with much anxiety in regards to the fruitfulness of the growing season and the financial costs that would incur from amending soil of unknown quality that we made the decision to temporarily abandon our yurt and hoophouse, move in with Katie's parents and lease land to fulfill our CSA agreement.
In mid-May we found and leased four acres of vacant land that had not been farmed for over 25 years a mile down the road from Katie's parent's home. We immediately began to plow, disc and transplant without any knowledge of nutrient limitations or pH. We received the results of the soil analysis a month later that confirmed what we could already see from each crop's growth. Acidity levels in all tested fields were perfect for growing vegetables. Some areas had problems with nutrient balance and some were wonderful.
We are extremely pleased with the success of the 2009 harvest. The quality and abundance of the produce was excellent, which is a direct reflection of the nutrient-dense soil. Customers from the farmer's markets and CSA members often expressed their surprise after forgetting about a bag of greens for a couple of weeks in the back of the fridge and finding them still edible and tasty in the bag - a sign of mineral-rich soil. The challenges and difficulties faced early on and the general trials that come with the learning-curve of a first-year business operation were stressful at times, but we managed to pull off a season of bountiful produce with no crop losses due to any reason beyond the unknowns of soil nutrients when we first transplanted and the insanity of our last minute farm move.
We are excited for the upcoming CSA after a year of growth and knowledge from last year's experience. We have reinvested everything from last year into this year's production and facilities. We now have two hoophouses to use for season extension, cover crops and over-wintered spinach planted and nearly a hundred thousand pounds of local compost laid down for nutrient replacement and organic matter addition.
Below are some pictures taken throughout the year. Because of the last-minute farm change, we were always racing to keep up with the field, and didn't necessarily take many photos along the way. Our goal for 2010 is to post a new photo to the website everyday from the field.
Seeding, Seeding &...More Seeding
First to go up on our farm prototype in early February was the hoophouse. Plant propagation began immediately and didn't cease for the next three months. After seeding, flats were laid on a bench Jacob whipped up using old chicken wire, beams and tubing. The black hoops over the bench are the frame for the mini-hoophouse inside the main one. At night and when the sun wasn't out, another layer of plastic was kept over the frames and a small space heater placed under the bench to create another micro-climate for heat loving plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
To the Fields
With no time to waste, Jacob began plowing the fields with the red International tractor seen below. The disc was lent to us by a neighbor until we earned enough from farmer markets to purchase one of our own. An unseasonably cold, wet April and May left most fields too wet be worked up until late in the spring. Had it not been for this delay produce from Nature's Pace Organics would have lagged significantly behind other farms.
Time to Transplant...
We began transplanting as soon as we had light and didn't stop until it completely left. It took weeks to plant everything. Jacob welded a rack to the front of the sub-compact Kabota tractor to support a 65 gallon holding tank . It delivered a water and fish emulsion mixture into the soil when transplanting (the delivery hose can be seen in the lower center picture). The top right picture is after the first day of transplanting. 2010 we will be using the transplanter for some crops and square-foot growing for others.
Wanna lose weight? Earn your CSA share as a work share for the season. Jacob is delivering these flats via wheelbarrow to the back tree line seen in the picture to the right. Easy compared to the same wheelbarrow filled with compost. Notice the top of the vehicle is equipped with a large board that is lined with flats. Since our hoophouse with all our transplants was no longer with us, we had to be creative transporting those hundreds of flats over to our new home and farm.
Our First CSA Harvest
Week one for a full share harvest contained 1 pound of mesclun salad mix, 2/3 pound of spinach, 2/3 pound of arugula and 4 bunches of spring radishes. This sells for $30 at our market stand. 2009 full share membership cost $550 - an average of $27.50 per week. As expected week two grew in vegetable diversity to include additionally collards, swiss chard, kohl rabi and "forellenschluss" romaine lettuce (lower center picture). Members never received a share that contained less produce than the average weekly price of the share. At peak harvest full share member received produce valued at $70 market price.
The Season Continues...
Perhaps our two greatest disappointments this season are the blight that destroyed the more than 2000 tomato plants we had in the field and the lack of photographs we have of the shares. Below is the only photo we have. This is a half share from week 10. The whitish bag to the right is a compostable bag with a half pound of salad mix inside. If you don't compost and want to send your compost bag back to our place filled with your leftovers, please do. We can return your leftover nutrients to our soil after composting them here.
Off the Farm
Jacob's sister, Sarah, was a huge help transplanting the first few weeks. She also painted our market canopy seen below. Jacob built the walk-in-cooler seen on the right out of scrap insulation panels, an old air-conditioning unit and a device that tricks the thermostat on the AC unit to go below 60 degrees.