Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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The journey they have chosen

We are two-thirds into our growing season.  The spring salad and greens did well.  The organic strawberry pick-your-own was an overwhelming success, the corn came in for the first time in two years and potato harvests have been good.  String beans are coming in at about eighty pounds a week and we finally got our first “word of mouth” sale on the organic chickens.  Just to even out all the good things. I found out I have to start a five-year inoculation protocol because I am dangerously allergic to bee and wasp stings.  I guess being stung as many times as I have (at least 50 since moving here) has not helped.

We started at a new farmers market, located in the city, that is truly a producer’s only market.  I know you are thinking, “aren’t all farmers' markets producers only” and no, they are not.  Always be weary of the huckster, ask your farmer questions about his or her sustainable practices, the names of their vegetables (is it a Diva cucumber? an heirloom tomato?) and where their farm is located. 

Caveat Emptor is the way you should approach farmers markets.  There are more posers trying to make a fast buck by not growing but buying in bulk and re-selling.  Do not be afraid to ask questions, they will only serve to help you.  Your farmer is there because he or she is proud of what they have to offer.  To do what they do is truly amazing.  Think about that, before they even plant a seed great care has been taken to make sure the soil is ready and at its optimum.  It takes time and energy to keep weeds and insects down and virul and bacterial outbreaks minimized. 

The latter issue is important and makes soil and crop rotation so vital to the operational health of the soil.  Not only does resting soils and planting nitrogen fixing grasses and other biomass greens help to maintain soil health it reduces the potential for major infestations.  Your farmer will know about this, they will know about integrated pest management and management intensive grazing, if they have animals.  Most will speak to the trials and failures that they face and how hard it is to get fresh, safe produce to you.  Farmers are not perfect they are human but the ones that take great care of the environment and their animals are the ones that truly deserve to succeed. 

Your farmer will know intimate details about the products they sell, be it animal, vegetable or mineral.  I always thought farmers talked so much because of the solitude of the job.  Now, I think, it is just shear knowledge gained from the struggle of providing food for their community.  There is a plethora of experience and knowledge obtained each growing season.  No one season is ever the same, I go back through years of our daily notes and the only constant is problems.

Problems in the form of insects, drought, disease, and predator attacks, infrastructure breakdowns, equipment failure, bee stings and so the list goes.  I have nothing but admiration for anyone that chooses to grow.  When asked to help educate, I give of my time and knowledge willingly in hopes that these people have an easier time then we have.  Yes, I joke about the sanity of making the choice to grow but, food never tasted so good.  Small family farms struggle, the life is difficult.  However hard, they should be respected because it is the journey they have chosen. 

Buy Local: Why support the IFC when they are the ones placing the environment in peril?

 
 

Why doesn't everyone else know?

We have been at this farmer's market for about six weeks.  There is a mix of vegetable growers and other stands that make up the total market.  Foot traffic is good, not great but good.  There is a grower a couple of stalls down that is young and sells mainly corn, tomatoes and melons.  I don't pay much attention to the other vendors because I read my insect book or am taking care of customers.

The day was beautiful, sunshine, light breeze, low humidity and we were seeing more and more repeat customers.  One told us that the jam she purchased last week was the best she had ever tasted.  At the same time another repeat customer was buying two more jars of jam based on his last purchase.  We said thank you and I slowly patted my wife on her back.  It was her idea. labor and her mom's recipe.  It was turning out to be a good day. 

We were selling organic eggs, our carrots had started to come in, the string beans bounced back and our raspberry plants started producing.  So our offerings were diversified and plentiful.  At one point in time I spotted a customer coming back to us with a box of our eggs.  My stomach dropped because the look on her face was not pleasant.  I was dealing with a customer so I got my wife’s attention and motioned for her to check out and see what the customer wanted.  She had gone home, went to put the eggs away and realized she had only received nine.  Of all the mistakes we make and have made, this one was the most embarrassing.  Once I realized what had happened I excused myself from the other customer and immediately started asking her what she liked that we had.  At the same time my wife was getting her more eggs.  I asked about a couple vegetables and got to the potatoes.  She said she didn't have potatoes so I gave her a pound of the German Butter Ball and apologized profusely.  She left, hopefully satisfied and maybe to return.

Then at closing the young farmer from a couple stalls down came up to look at what we had.  He asked about the German Queen tomatoes, we were selling.  These things are huge weighing between 1.25-1.75 lbs each.  They are by far the biggest we've grown.  The skin is thin, seed pod small and flesh is sweet.  As I'm telling him this I'm looking into his eyes and seeing sadness.  We all look tired and worn down, that is part of the job.  It is physically and mentally challenging.  Your mind is always ready to give up before your body is but you know this and go on to the next chore.

I use the term heart-wrenching a lot when describing things on the farm because those words invoke a visceral reaction.  We all know what heart break is in all its forms.  But to use those words makes one understand the physical and emotional toll taking place within the person.  What I was seeing and hearing from this young man was heart-wrenching.

He is at his cross roads.  He works full time on a dairy farm; he grows five acres of vegetables in his spare time.  He is having trouble making ends meet.  He doesn't know if he'll be able to pay off all his bills by the end of the growing season.  As he was standing there telling me his young wife came up and put her arm around him.  I asked, "How’d it go today?" He started to grouse but his wife pulled his arm and he shifted some and kicked the dirt and said "not that bad".  A customer came up to their stand and his wife went to take care of them.

I had stopped tearing down and was just talking to him.  I could tell he was in despair and was looking for some sort of guidance or a kind word or words of encouragement.  He told me that other people he talked to told him to stay in it that things would change.  I didn't tell him they were right or wrong.  I just said that this is an incredibly hard thing to do and not many people really understand the sacrifice and toll it takes on us.  That he wasn't alone in his doubt and his struggles.  The last time I stopped breaking down and talked to someone my wife got livid, at least at that time we had help.  This time it was just her and I was torn.  Should I cut him off and help her or should I do what many have done for me in the past and that was to lend a sympathetic ear and maybe some advice and encouragement.

She could hear the conversation and knew the plight of the young vegetable farmer.  I empathized with him and told him about the MD Small Farm Co-op.  I told him by joining he would meet people like us who pull our resources and are able to buy in bulk thus cutting down on overall costs.  I gave him my name and number and told him if he had any questions to call.  This all seemed woefully inadequate but it was the best I could do.  For my wife's part she continued breaking down and when he left I helped finish up.  She didn't say a word.  We packed up and headed home.  What should have been a pleasant trip after a good day selling was just silent.  It seemed both of us were thinking about the young man and his wife.  

It was a good day for us but when you see the pain, self-doubt and struggle that someone like you is going through you can't help but question why is this so hard and why doesn't everyone else know?

PLEASE-buy local, find a farmer around you, go visit them, try what they have for sale.  If you don't like what you got tell them that and tell them why. Vegetable farmers live on feedback.   If there is something you'd like them to grow, tell them.  It can only help with their future plans.  The more sustainable farmers we keep in business the healthier the environment and all of us will be in the long run.

 

 
 

Corn Battles pt 1

Corn Battles part 1 of 3 

 

I love eating sweet corn.  A dinner of fried red tomatoes and corn on the cob is what I dream about during the winter months when snow is on the ground or I’m out chopping wood.  So too do our raccoons, in February they sit in their dens with listening devices waiting for us to discuss corn placement during our planning sessions.  I know once we finalize our plans they start on theirs.  We are brighter than the raccoons but they win more times then they loose.

The first time we ever grew sweet corn was in a little plot in our kitchen garden at our old house.  We lived on four acres with 3.9 of it being woods.   It was four rows by six plants; it didn't get enough sun and wasn't pollinated very well. We got one ear of corn out of the entire crop.  But that one ear changed my view of fresh sweet corn for ever.  We did harvest it and I cut it in half for my wife and me to share.  Off the stalk and in the water it was our introduction to really fresh corn.  From that point on it was puppy love.

By 2007 we were getting better at growing corn but we had more to learn about keeping critters out of it long enough for us to harvest.  One thought I had was to plant as much as we could, the rational being the wildlife would eat some and we'd get the rest.  At least at the time it seemed like a reasonable plan.  We planted eighty rows by sixty feet. As it grew we strung over ten thousand feet of electric fencing around it.  I babied it, it was fertilized with 9-0-0, watered, weeded, mounded, I did everything but sleep with it.  

We plant corn in stages, every two weeks we plant another equal size plot of corn.  That way you get corn through out the season instead of all at one time.  It was a hot summer and the corn wasn't coming in strong but it was coming in.  Pollination was a problem in the first batch so we went through shaking the stalks to help with the other plantings.  We watered every seven days but we quickly found we were running out of our rain water barrels.  We have two; each one holds 3,000 gallons of rain water collected off of the barn roof. Even though we were watering it wasn't enough.  Because there wasn't sufficient water the corn growth was stagnant.  When we got water all the corn started to sprout together.  Succession planting went out the window and all the corn started coming in at once. 

It was a Monday; I went out to look at the corn to see if it was close to picking.  I picked a dozen that we ate at dinner that night.  It was good, sweet and tender not all the kernels were full but the taste was good.  We would harvest the rest in four days for Saturday’s market.

The corn was planted in an area that we could not see from the house.  Hence, the 10,000 feet of electric wire around the perimeter. One strand was six inches off the ground; the second was fourteen inches off the ground.  We did this because of a conversation we had with a full-time farmer.

Friday night the same week we took big tubs out to harvest the corn.  There wasn't any.  I mean there wasn't any, none.  Our jaws dropped as we went from row to row and saw clean cobs on the ground.  It was one of the lowest points we've had since we started growing professionally.  We were stunned and dismayed, which then led to depression.  I don't say this lightly.  It was one of the few times we ever contemplated throwing in the towel.  It was a low point.  Not only did we lose a lot of money, we lost confidence in our selves and our ability. 

After a couple of days we regrouped and set about finding out where we failed.  We learned that it was raccoons and groundhogs that did the most severe damage not the deer that I had suspected.  We learned this because of the way the cobs looked, picked clean.  A deer will eat the corn from the top.  These cobs were pulled from the stalk and eaten clean, much like you or I would eat.  That meant it was raccoons and groundhogs.  I called Dave at Nicks Organic and asked him about it.

He asked if I had strung electric fencing like he suggested.  I had and he asked if there was a high spot.  "What's a high spot?" I asked.  He went on to tell me that the wire has to be no higher than six inches off the ground.  A high spot would be anything higher than that.  "No," I replied but I wasn't completely sure.  I inspected the perimeter all 4,800 feet.  To my dismay I found a spot where I had brought the lowest strand of wire up to meet the solar battery.  The gap was less than twelve inches but enough to let them in.

Believe it or not that made me feel better.  At least I could explain and identify were the problem was, had I not been able to do that we probably would have given up on growing corn.  Having identified the problem it renewed my spirit to at least continue next year to fight the corn battles.

Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain store advertising "local"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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