Abbe Hills Farm CSA

  (Mt. Vernon, Iowa)
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Long newsletter, a lot on my mind this week!

Greetings shareholders and friends of Abbe Hills Farm,
This week's market is tomorrow, December 15, 11:00 until 1:00 at the Community Center in Mt. Vernon.  Charlotte and I will be there with bread, eggs, cabbages of various sorts, and garlic.  There will be lots of vendors with crafts and treats that would be good Christmas gifts. 
If you get new tires for Christmas, and your old set is in pretty good shape (good enough to run around a farm, not good enough to drive to Des Moines in the winter) and will fit 15" rims, I would be happy to have them.  Seems like I keep running out of 15" tires.  Too many wheels around here, I guess.
Matt Steigerwald, chef and owner of the Lincoln Cafe and Lincoln Wine Bar in Mt Vernon, and I started an exciting project last week.  We are both interested in making the world a better place, keeping stuff out of the landfill, and saving money.  After being mutually inspired by a series on food waste on NPR a couple of weeks ago, his people have started collecting all the kitchen and plate waste from the two restaurants, and I have started bringing it home for the chickens / compost pile.  So far, so good, and very exciting that we are making it work. 
But, it's complicated.  His people have to negotiate one more thing in their very small kitchens, and I have to make a trip to town every morning.  I can't help Matt's space problems, but if I'm going to persist, I'll need a delivery assistant.  I'm looking for somebody who drives by here most days, probably on the way to work, who would be willing to stop at the back door of the restaurant between 9:00 and 10:00 every morning and pick up a couple of heavy bags of food, then dump them in/near the compost pile here.  I can pay them with a CSA share and/or eggs.  There will be complications when the snow finally gets here and the road gets bad, but we can figure out how to make it work when the obstacles present themselves.  I don't want anybody to make a special trip to do this job, however.  The idea is to reduce our collective carbon footprint, and making one more trip in the car will cancel our good works.  So, if you know somebody reliable, strong, brave on icy gravel roads, and already going in this direction, please have them call me.
If you are a weather geek like me, you'll like reading the latest from Dr. Elwyn Taylor, THE weather and climate guy for Iowa.  He's not optimistic about the drought ending any time soon.  Bummer.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act became the primary federal law on water pollution.  Since then, water quality has improved in lots of places, especially where the pollution came from a point source like a pipe from a factory or sewage treatment plant.  But it hasn't worked so well in Iowa.  We still have appallingly poor water quality, with 80-90% of our pollution problems coming from non-point sources like farm fields and lawns.  Our biggest pollutant is soil, and the two nutrients that run into our surface waters along with the soil are nitrogen and phosphorus.  Soil and nutrients in the water are bad for those of us who use water here, and of course, become a problem in the Gulf of Mexico eventually. 
Here's a newly released study from the Environmental Working Group that describes the nature of our water quality problem and offers policy suggestions to start to solve it.  EWG is willing to suggest that the voluntary approach that we've used for the last 40 years to get farmers to practice conservation that will reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff hasn't worked all that well, and needs to be juiced up with some kinds of regulations.  These, or course, are fighting words to most farmers.
Because of our lack of progress in meeting the goals of the Clean Water Act and the continued growth of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, in 2008, Iowa was ordered by EPA to come up with a plan to tell what we are going to do to reduce the size, severity, and duration of the dead zone.  Iowa's plan, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, was released last week.  It recommends that we continue to use the voluntary approach to solve our non-point problems.  Most farmers and farm groups support this plan of attack and the document is on its way to becoming our state policy.  The report's not exactly an easy read, but the executive summary is manageable.  It will make you a better citizen.
Whatever approach we end up with, it's going to have a big impact on all of us, both farmers and taxpayers, primarily because the improvements we need to make to reduce our contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus (soil loss will decrease at the same time) are BIG and EXPENSIVE.   Either way, the Legislature is going to have to deal with it this session, and we're going to have to help them get us moving on this big challenge.
I believe that we need to do something about natural resource conservation RIGHT NOW.  Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot of confidence that farmers are going to step up as much as they need to in this time of very high crop prices, based on our history and what I see.  I HATE being regulated, but I also HATE standing by and watching our irreplaceable soil and water resources being degraded.  I know from my experience here on my own farm that we can improve soil and water quality with some easy and not-so-easy changes in farming practices, that we can still grow lots of food, and that we can make enough money to support ourselves and our communities.  I'm happy that we're finally going to address the issues.  I hope you will get involved.  Informed and thoughtful eaters and taxpayers need to be participants in the discussions. 
I think our next market is Saturday, January 5, in Mt. Vernon.  The chickens are going to lay a lot of eggs between now and then.  Please stop by whenever you need more.  I plan to be home most of the time.
Hope to see you at the market,

Dec 8 market in Springville

Greetings shareholders and friends of Abbe Hills Farm,
Market tomorrow, Saturday, December 8, is in Springville, 9:00 until 11:00, at the Community Center in the middle of downtown.  I'll be bringing eggs, plus napa cabbage, regular cabbage, turnips, and squash.  Charlotte will be bringing bread.  The other vendors will have nuts, bakery, mushrooms, and lots of different kinds of crafts that would make very nice, local Christmas gifts.
Good news!   Charlotte moved to Mt. Vernon.  Now you can get your hands on that delicious bread even in the middle of the week!
Here's an interesting little study in biodiversity that will make you think.  One of the things that gives me the greatest enjoyment is pointing out to my student workers all the zillions of different creatures that make themselves at home in our fields and gardens.  A very, very small portion of them are problematic; the rest are helping us grow good soil and good food.  As I write this, there is a Cornell biology class out in the prairie and around the pond collecting goldenrod stems with insect galls for some project they are doing.  There aren't many farms around here where that would be possible.  I'm very happy that this is one of them.
Hope to see you tomorrow,


Sat, Dec 1 market in MV

Greetings shareholders and friends of Abbe Hills Farm,
The market this Saturday, December 1, is at the Mt. Vernon Community Center, east end of downtown, from 11:00 until 1:00.  I'll be bringing eggs, carrots, eggs, turnips, eggs, kale, eggs, brussels sprouts, eggs, regular and napa cabbage, eggs, garlic, eggs, squash, and eggs.  Charlotte will be there with bread, too.
The napa cabbage is as nice as it can be.  Here is a recipe people have enjoyed, and another one that looks good.  You can chop it up for salad, or saute it, or roast it, all equally delicious.  It's the cabbage you use when you make the salad with the ramen noodles.  We've got lots.
Still needing egg cartons.
A good thing happened this week.  I have been accumulating the black plastic drip tape that we used to irrigate this summer because it just hurts me to take it to the landfill, so I was putting it off.  Luckily, I called City Carton to see if they would take it for recycling, and they did!!!   YIPPEE!!  I took a huge pickup load in to them and they were happy to receive it.  Makes the irrigating a little less unpleasant for me.
Next week's market will be in Springville, 9:00 until 11:00 (earlier than MV).  I image we'll have eggs and bread, produce that is still nice.
See you tomorrow,

beef Thursday, another nice rain just in time, tomato trouble

Greetings shareholders,
This week, we have tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, eggplant, potatoes, onions, garlic, summer squash, a few cucumbers, kale and collards, some combination of red and green peppers, and parsley, basil, and dill.  The cilantro, unfortunately, is quickly becoming its older self, coriander, but we'll harvest a little of it anyway for those who have to have their cilantro fix.  We've got more cilantro in the garden that will be ready in two or three weeks.  Prize wining savoy (wrinkled) and regular cabbage, lovely beans, never-ending eggplant, and a new squash row in production.  All good.
The tomatoes and peppers, however, really have me discouraged.  I had hoped to have piles of them by now, but they are just soooooo slowwwwwww.  The peppers are small and misshapen, I guess a consequence of heat.  They are getting nicer, but it will be a few weeks before there are enough to make me feel good about what we are harvesting for you.  There are literally millions of tomatoes in the field, green.  I don't have any idea why they are taking so long to mature.  Maybe it's good, because the ones we picked yesterday after the rain are seriously cracked.  Cracking happens when tomatoes ripen in conditions of uneven moisture, which describes the past weekend.  Pretty dry, then marvelous rain, then cracked tomatoes.  I picked six - 6 - tomatoes yesterday that weren't cracked!!!  Treat your tomatoes this week, no matter what shape or color, very gently so they don't get mashed on the way home, then lay them out on the counter with the cracks facing down to keep them as long as possible.  But Monday people, you might want to plan on tomato sandwiches when you get home.  They seem to be especially juicy and easy to squish.
The rain Sunday was wonderful and just in time.  Ongoing pump trouble has kept me from irrigating as much as I needed to for the last couple weeks (fixed Saturday, finally), so I was very glad to get 1.4" yesterday morning.  Plus, I spent Saturday planting fall cover crops in many of the fields that earlier grew potatoes, sweet corn, onions, and peas.  Cover crops are crops that are grown not to harvest for food, but rather to add nitrogen from the air to the soil, to compete with weeds, to confuse pests, to feed the soil food web, to grab any plant nutrients the previous crop might have left behind, and to prevent soil erosion over the winter.  This weekend, I planted oats with sweet and crimson clover, winter rye with hairy vetch, and oats with turnips and radishes.  The rain was perfect to get everybody off to a good start.
Meat eaters - Dan Specht will be bringing beef again on Thursday.  He has an excellent product.  Here is his note. 
Things are green in my neighborhood, it rained overnight, and keeps the pastures growing.  I feel like I won the lottery. I'm going to be at Laura's Thurs. delivery to bring pre-ordered 20 lb. boxes. These are the same as the other boxes, they are about 1/4 of a 1/4, with a mix of steaks, roasts, stew meat (no bones), boiling beef (some bones), minute steaks, and hamburger. A bargain  at only  $5/lb., or $100/ box. Please e-mail your orders before noon on Thurs. I will again bring hamburger for also $5/lb., limit 5 lbs./customer, no pre-order necessary, first come first served. I also have a limited quantity of meaty soup bones that can be pre ordered for $3/ lb. If anyone is interested, please e-mail a request.
See you Thurs. and we can talk about ordering beef by halves and quarters this fall.  
Dan Specht
563-516-1007 cell
Thank you for your continued kind words, compliments, and gifts.  My confidence in my competence at farming has been rattled frequently this season, and your encouragement has been hugely helpful in keeping me going back out to the gardens.
See you this week,
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