Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Next to Love

Work on a small farm primarily consists of manual labor and is a grueling proposition.  James Carville stated, “Next to Love, the greatest gift someone can give is their labor”.  Never has such a statement hit closer to home then what we experienced during strawberry season. 

We were close to getting into a major retailer, but we had to have our “Good Agricultural Practice,” GAP certificate.  We did not get it in time so the berries destined for the store sent us hustling to find buyers.  Before that, we had to harvest the strawberries.  I was on Agrication last week and was picking strawberries everyday.  I can tell you, first hand that harvesting strawberries six hours a day is back breaking work, eight to ten is down right unfair.  Yet there are migrant workers that do just that.

By Tuesday evening, I was whining like a tired two year old.  My wife being the sympathetic person she is, told me to suck it up and get back out there.  Okay, maybe she did not say it like that, but I know what she meant.  By the end of the day, my feet, ankles and lower back were killing me.  Sleeping did not bring much relief, every time I moved some part of body reminded me of the days work.  I would get up the next morning gingerly putting on my clothes and work my muscles loose.

Then unexpectedly we get a call from a local woman that home schools her kids.  She wanted to know if she and her kids could volunteer to pick strawberries for us.  She is big into the local movement and had seen other organic strawberry growers go under.  She wanted to make sure to help in order to keep us afloat.  Then the Carville statement came to my mind.  Thanks, Kate, the intrinsic rewards we felt and gratitude was overwhelming.  

I have said this before growing and raising food is a humbling experience I just did not know in how many ways it could happen.  The mom and her four kinds came out on two separate days and helped pick over fifty pounds each time.  It was incredible to meet her and talk to her kids.  I cannot help myself I am a natural born teacher, so I took the opportunity to ask them questions.  Like “What is a good bug versus a bad bug?” and others questions about nature.  I have to show them the new layers that were on grass and the meat birds we are raising.

As the week progressed, it was not looking good for sales.  We had about one hundred and twenty pounds in the refrigerator and my wife was contacting every restaurant in town and any other potential bulk buyers.  Being a small farm, you are all things and when there are just three of you, things fall behind quickly.  However, we managed to get them into the Orchard in Frederick City and sales increased on the farm.

Then a group of three adults and four kids came up to pick.  They were repeat customers but I did not recognize them and I asked, “How did you find us,” of course the reply was “We were here last year,” so I made a joke about my mental capacity and took them out to the berries.  They came back with fifty-six pounds of strawberries.  We made a game out of weighing all the different baskets and flats with people guessing the weights before the total displayed.  One family picked 6.66 pounds of strawberries, the display was facing away from me and when I heard them say that I quickly picked up one of their berries and ate.  “Thanks," was their response.  Strawberry season is over for us, but there is still work to do with them.  They produce fruit for about three weeks, then you must renovate, weed, feed, keep them healthy, cover for winter, uncover in the spring.  Then whine like a baby in June of the next year.

It is people like Kate and everyone else that came out to pick that give us hope, finding kindred spirits and people willing to help knowing you are trying to make a difference in an indifferent world and they see that an get to be part of that.

 

Buy Local: Find a grower by you and give it a try.  Now is the best time.

 

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Farm Safety

Our operation is small and we have never had an instance or a concern about food safety.  Being germ-phobic has not hurt us either.  However, we recently received our GAP certification.  GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices.  It is all about food safety and cross contamination.  Being certified organic I shunned being certified GAP I felt we already exceeded the regulations.  I ask people when was the last time you heard of a small farm or local butcher having to recall their products.

Having taken the course I now see the value the information has to all farms, not just small but especially large.  I was in the process of writing our GAP plan.  One of the documents in the plan is a Hazard Mitigation matrix.  The matrix contained all potential hazards, how to identify them, and the mitigation of the hazard once discovered.  I am a contingency planner, so I listed all the possible hazards we face from growing, harvesting, shipping and delivery.  I was running out of ideas so I put "A human defecates in the field,” Then I addressed the mitigation and actions to be taken if there was an occurrence.

Having exhausted every hazard, I could think of, I felt proud and wanted my wife to review my marvelous work.  Upon reading the human defecation hazard, I was chided and I think the comment was "Oh come one, it’s a little overboard, don't ya think?”  I admitted it might be but in the realm of possibility, it was possible.  No matter it was taken out.

Not long after we got our GAP packet from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, there were forms and signs inside and low and behold one sign shows a person squatting in a field, pants around their knees and the international NO sign covers him.  It still brings a smile and little chuckle when I think about it, however, it is real and it is a problem.  We are too small but I can imagine on larger operations it happens. 

There are regulations about how far away a bathroom is from the fieldwork, what a proper hand-washing station is and how long you need to wash your hands and safely disinfect them.  There are regulations about hand washing and packaging area's, break rooms, refrigerator temperatures, co-mingling and many others.  Five logs require data on a daily basis, from cleaning bathrooms to cleaning the delivery truck all in an effort to make the food supply safe.  I cannot find fault with that, no one should die from ingesting spinach, tomatoes or cantaloupes.  I am glad we took that extra step to get GAP certified. .

Each season brings a Farm Safety talk and walk through of the medical kits and fire extinguishers.  Last year one of the folks pointed out that one of our medical kits was Tim Allen’s’ “Tool Time Safety Kit”.  The TV show Tool Time started in 1991.  Given that some of the folks we had working for us were not even born at the time, it was decided we needed to purchase a new medical kit.  Who knew medical kits expire. Farm safety is the number one priority on our farm and everyone is trained on how to properly and safely operate tools, vehicles and equipment.  You must pass my test before you get to use a potentially dangerous object.

We have an extensive medical supply kit in the house.  Given my propensity to cut, scrape, bang, twist, burn, jab, stick, and generally wound myself while working that we have accumulated enough medical supplies to handle most types of small injuries. 

Now along with farm safety reviews, we have incorporated GAP training with the same emphasis.

Buy Local:  You have to search but the journey is worth the destination when you find the right one.

 

 
 
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