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Decades have passed since I can remember a winter that
persists as this one does. When a daytime high temperature of 35 feels balmy
and the light coat gets worn rather than the parka. We were sprinkled with
another light dressing of snow yesterday. Driving on snow covered roads has
become all too familiar.
The last few years we would be making early harvests of
perennial greens and spring onions starting about now. The kale that survived
would be growing and pushing out new leaf. The buds on the early flowering
trees would be swelling. Birds would be migrating through and their song would
be a welcome addition. However, the snow shovel is still needed, and the dog
has been confined to a smaller and smaller relief spot that will be an unusual
mess when the snow melts. The puddle ducks typically have a multitude of lakes
with open water to choose from but only the rivers are open so they all cram
into the quiet eddies and wait. The kids who love to play on December snow are
tired of the white mess and grump there is nothing to do. Where is spring?
Could it also be this longing that has me unhappy with what
I’ve been reading. I turn to books for ideas and understanding, entertainment
too. Jo Robinson’s, Eating on the Wild Side, was a disappointment. The
book was well researched and written. The books’ focus on nutritional
attributes of foods is something one would expect from a nutrition writer.
Little aspects troubled me as well. New potatoes were mentioned. Unfortunately
if it wasn’t a “new” potato it was called an “old” potato. How awkward! The
author grouped certain categories of foods together that was confusing.
Blueberries with Raspberries and Cranberries with Blackberries. What? Brambles
together and small bush fruits together! Her research had a preference for West
Coast info. Some of the writing showed an ignorance of the Great Lakes Region. The
author is from Vashon Island. Maybe that isolation has kept her from a more
inclusive vision. A final comment. Nutritional attributes of foods can vary
depending on the fertility of the soils they are grown in. Albrecht worked hard
to educate on this decades ago. His main points are overlooked in this work. It
leads me to question the validity of the book.
I finished Stephen Leslie’s, The New Horse-Powered Farm.
I was so excited when I saw this book. I finally got around to reading it this
winter. I applaud the work and encourage small farmers to pursue animal power
to provide work on their farms. At Tillers we are kindred spirits. Photos of
work being done at Tillers is included in the book! If you want to learn about
these methods and practices, no better place to learn than Tillers! I don’t
want to be critical of this splendid work but find a desire to urge farmers to
use their critical thinking skills when approaching tillage. In one
illustration, about a seasons work in a field, the farmers make over 10 passes
with tillage equipment. The preference for plowing, discing, harrowing and
cultivating seems excessive. Horses can do this work so well, but the toll on
soil life has to be questioned. We find fewer passes are better. Proving that
you can get the horses to do your work is not the point. The highest efficiency
is our goal. So sometimes grabbing a hoe and spending 20 minutes to weed the
pepper row is all you need to do. Sure the horses could do it, but it takes as
much time to harness/unharness the animals as it does to get the work done
Both of these works are highly thought of and widely
recommended. I agree with Leslie’s work. I read every line in the book and
found it very informative. Robinson’s work is best targeted to the conscious consumer.
I found myself skimming through whole chapters wondering if anything was
relevant. Sadly, I found little that was inspiring, thought provoking or
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 12:05 PM EDT
The allium’s are up and thriving under lights, early cold
tolerant lettuces stretching for light and celery to begin soon. So it feels
like late winter but to be honest it is a winter of discontent. This morning a
record low was set with a -13 degree recording. Ouch!!! We ate some parsnips as part of a roasted
vegetable dish but they were harvested in November and stored, rather than having
been freshly dug as typical when winter relents. The ground is buried under 1.5’
of snow and frozen solid. It’s not unusual to have snow and cold this time of
year, our most memorable blizzards and severe storms often occur now. We feel
the lengthening days and increasing intensity of the sun but the NOAA forecast
remains frigid through the end of March. Makes me dream of warm weather
vacations and the sight of green grass…
Yesterday the weather
closed up everything for the ninth day of the winter. Cold and blowing snow,
and another “Snow Day”. I read, tended plants, fixed food, and other busy
things during our discontent. Of course
I learned new things, amazed myself and managed to spend some time on
fitness so when the spring does come, I’m
ready to begin.
I learned about the father of modern Horticulture!! Liberty
Hyde Bailey, from South Haven, Michigan. He had a miraculous career that
spanned the end of the 19th century into the early parts of the 20th.
A vigorous researcher and writer. There is a museum in South Haven about L.H.
Bailey that is on our “intend to visit someday” list. Some cool quotes from Wendell Berry about the
writings and importance of this man. Google Books and the Gutenberg Project has
some works from Bailey that you can read on an e-reader or online.
Online I read about a farm I’ve admired, Trillium Haven
Farm, and the challenges they have endured. All the best to Michael and Anja as
they take a sabbatical for the 2014 season. We who grow food know the
incredible commitments that are required to begin and carry through with our
plans. The difficulties of the last many years have been felt by many. The
policy makers say we need more farmers, more organic produce and more markets.
We who produce, know that the massive oversupply that has come to market is a
real problem. The only way to stay in this market is to raise outstanding
produce and satisfy our customers. Both are a real challenge!!!
I began a CSA farm for a Kalamazoo NGO in 2011. The NGO and
I weren’t a good fit so another farmer took over after less than a year. He was
soon succeeded by another farmer. Now in year number four they are on their
forth farm manager. When I moved on to Tillers International I felt that the
NGO would probably continue to move through farm managers. I’m thinking that
the group of us that have had short stints as Farm Managers should get together
and have a bash the NGO bash…Ha Ha Ha!!! Maybe on another occasion I’ll get
into the damage this NGO has and is perpetuating.
All for the end of Discontent!! Farmer Pete
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 05:52 PM EST
Whoa, this winter is persistent. Whenever I bump into
friends they ask the inevitable question, “How’s the weather going to affect
the garden?” I kind of shrug and let them know that winter weather that is
typical for winter won’t hurt things, rather if we have winter when we are
expecting spring or summer things will be negatively impacted! Like most
people, should spring arrive near its typical time, I’ll be ready for a celebration
and to put time in the field. Should winter dally, and extend its stay, we’ll
have to make the best of whatever scenario and adapt.
Each season I do a select set of Demo’s on new varieties or
crops. This year it is largely inspired by the increased involvement of an
Intern at Tillers. Nelson brought a love of cooking and for this season has set
up an expanded food preparation scheme that will utilize produce from our
production. His wish list includes Asian vegetables that I’m excited to
experiment with. Many are already standards for CSA and Market but having a
dedicated and experienced cook have input and interest in additional varieties
is nice. So the list of Demo’s includes daikon, senposai, Chinese broccoli,
additional turnip varieties and more.
In the past a lot of the demos were inspired by something I
saw at market, read about online, in catalogs, or curiosity. I remember demoing
agretti. The seed went in the ground, the herb was harvested and cooked as
suggested and the family was quick to comment that it was like eating a pine
tree. The flavor was not part of our historical food flavors so it wasn’t at
all satisfying. That demo was not repeated. Collards on the other hand were a
huge success. We eat a lot of greens to begin with and the texture and flavor
was a welcome one. I still haven’t found much of a market for collards, they
have a soul food/poor south image issue, but they sure are a favorite at our
table. Maybe we could get a celebrity chef to inspire some curiosity about
I also like to demo heirloom crops. The last few years I
tried a few corn varieties. The dent corn, Earth Tones, is a favorite, and last
season I began with a bit of popcorn. Both of these are successful. They will
become a regular planting. The proliferation of tomato varieties is amazing.
For several years I would demo a few each season. This past season saw the
second year of the Bobcat hybrid tomato demo. For the second year in a row this
was the first tomato to succumb to disease, and produce the fruit with the
blandest flavor. No more! The pineapple heirloom will also not be continued. With
our soil and conditions it was a big gorgeous fruit but intensely unappealing
in texture and flavor. Others report decent success. By the middle of September
the fruit was left on the vine. No one wanted anything to do with the
pineapple. So when the season turns to spring or maybe suddenly to summer, I’m
excited to have some new crops to grow and have some fun with.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:57 AM EST
The 2014 season for Harmony Acres Community Supported
Agriculture (CSA) begins in a few months. Regardless of the snow and below
average temperatures the growing season will arrive. The work for a productive
start is already underway. Questions about what type of season we’ll have will
be answered in due time. With exceptionally fertile soil, the support of
Tillers International and great shareholders I look forward to the coming
We have allowed plenty of time for renewing shareholders, so
now we welcome open enrollment. Our season runs for 23 weeks (Late May through
Late October), shareholders are permitted 21 pick-ups during the season. Pick-up
locations are Mon.-Sturgis Drop, Thurs.-On Farm, and Friday at the Vicksburg
Farmers Market. Shareholders love our Market Style pick-up. Each week’s harvest
is prepped and displayed for shareholder selection. The shareholder has a wide
variety of choice in selecting each weeks share. No one gets stuck with items
they don’t like or won’t use. You take what your household will utilize.
Sound ecological-biological farming methods (exceeding certification
requirements) are used to maintain the excellent soil we are stewards of. Most
of our cultivated land was cover cropped and had prep work done to ready for
spring. When the season permits, the land will again produce a bounty shareholders
will be the beneficiaries of.
Harmony Acres CSA has requested that shareholders contribute
a bit of volunteer time to the farm. Last year we had excellent contributions
from many shareholders and are happy to continue this casual request for volunteers.
We have no requirements for work. In the future as the CSA grows we may add a
work share for a few at a discounted rate. Pricing remains the same: Full Share
$400.00, half share $200.00. Enrollment closes when we reach our planned goal
of 25 shares, or May 1st. Pre-Payment of the share is requested for
the farmer to make needed purchases for the farm, meet financial obligations
and continue the development of the farm.
A sustainable and vibrant CSA is the goal of our farm. It
continues as our primary focus. Other venues of distribution will be continued
till the CSA has grown to a sustaining size. Our shareholders are our most
important customers. You will always receive the best, and have top choice in
direction and support of the farm.
Please renew or join today!
Farmer Pete Robertson
agropraxisfarm at gmail dot com, 269 659-7481
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 10:21 AM EST
Another Mike is what I was thinking. This smooth and
charming CEO has a bio that is a testament to the career track held as the path to success. Interesting
that his undergrad came from esteemed local institution, Kalamazoo College!
Back to the “Mike” club…at one time I was seemingly befriended by a multitude
of Mike’s and a few Bob’s. My wife was always asking, “Which Mike are you
talking about?” Almost as many “Mike’s” as there are Vern Yoder’s or Harley
Miller’s in the Amish directory…. Could
it be something about the name “Mike” and charisma or charm that appeals to us?
Watch the following from the World Economic Forum to get a
feeling of what I’m on to:
What a nice guy! We learn he has a wife and a couple of
teenage daughters. Was fortunate to spend time over the Christmas Holiday bicycling
in Cambodia observing local culture and agrarian practices. Enjoys time in “nature”
as a way to recharge in his adopted home of Basel, Switzerland. He is excited about his corporations
initiatives like, Syngenta Good Growth; http://www.syngenta.com/global/corporate/en/goodgrowthplan/home/Pages/homepage.aspx
Way to go Mike! What a company man!
I feel a bit like a sock that is still wet and thoroughly dizzy
following the spin cycle…. I replayed the mystifying comments to several
of the questions. My favorite, “Most of the worlds’ poor are farmers, ironically.”
Really Mike? Could it be the poor are
trying to achieve a level of subsistence with small hold farming. If they had gotten big, or out as suggested in
the 60’s during our Green Revolution, they’d be doing fine, right Mike! They’d be able to afford the advanced
production seeds and chemicals provided by your company, benefitting the
shareholders! Also good to hear that you’re on the bandwagon of “Feeding the
World”. Repeating the irritating talking points of corporate ag only supports
the base of similarly misinformed sycophants. Helping the world feed its self,
building a resilient agro-ecological base capable of mitigating climate issues,
and reducing “Aid” disruptions that have destroyed countless local production systems
is a commendable endeavor. Your efforts to enrich shareholders and deceive the
gullible public with talking points makes this Mike not one I want in my circle.
Listen and read for yourself… not our friends no matter how smooth and nice
they come across!
One last point... Ol’ Mike is now a hero to all the country café
farmers in this part of the corn belt. The farmers gather in the cafes and
share their bond of toil and burden daily. Work, family and risk avoidance along
with disdain for change in life molds a deeply narrow view and conservative
framework. Ol’ Mike was speaking to them not you or me. Those born and bred to
industrial farming are championing Ol’ Mike and his ability to stick it to the
critics of “The Farmers who feed the world”. Mike leapt into the ring with the
liberal press and told them how it is. Told them GMO’s are an important tool in
our toolbox to feeding the world! How they are safe and have caused not so much
as a tummy ache yet. And how very little about farming is natural… seems to me
that corporate profits are like the nose on Geppetto’s puppet, both grow when lies are told.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 12:02 PM EST
We know industrial agriculture occurs as a manipulated process.
Variables in production are managed or minimized and sustainable measures are
too costly to undertake in a production maximization model. This leads to time
and money spent on “methods” to control aspects of farming that organic farmers
don’t really bother with. Those of us
that work with nature rather than manipulate nature, call the items we don’t
bother with,” Non-Methods”.
As a soil builder and cultivator of biological diversity, my
favorite non-method deals with irrigation. The mega-production farms in our
part of Michigan are reliant on ground water to push for maximum production on
our sandy soils. The field hands will cover hundreds of miles on our county
roads to keep irrigation pivots moving and water pumping. A few warm days with
no rain and the irrigation systems come to life. Weather forecasts dictate time
and energy spent to keep the soil wet. On our land at Tillers International we
mulch, add compost and maintain a fertile soil. The healthy soil and plants
thrive when the rains abate for a few weeks. Ground water sprayed on the field
would add little while increasing the possibility of plant diseases. Capillary
action continues to pull moisture from sub-soil and the plants root systems, with
healthy fungal symbiosis, provides bountiful conditions for plants to thrive.
In most conditions, not irrigating is a favorite non-method.
“Ohhhh, you’re organic!” the farmer with a Pioneer cap says
while perusing my produce at Market.
Next thing they
usually ask, “Whadya do bout bugs?”
And, my much repeated response, “The good ones or the bad
Most times the curt reply is, “They’re all bad!!!”
So begins a discussion about another non-method. Diverse
plant and animal populations tend to find stasis and pressure from pests are
minimal for healthy plants. I bought a
pound of an OMRI approved cabbage bug pesticide several years back. A few times while field checking I had reason
to use the spray-able powder. I think I made to 2 passes last year during a
wet-warm spell when everything was growing gangbusters and the loopers got
ahead of the predators. About 2 tablespoons of natural pest control. Nothing
like the industrial farm that uses broad spectrum pesticides like chlorpyrifos
to kill pests and beneficial bugs in a mega-application. Over the years
scouting the fields I’ve learned to anticipate natures response to a pest. In
late July we witness the grasshoppers mature and begin to pressure some crops.
Nature usually responds to the feast. The sparrows and other insect hunters notice
and forage in the field. The grasshopper population is diminished to a
tolerable level. ‘ No need to kill anything with toxins. I just observe and use a time tested
I could continue with many more non-methods. I’d like
readers to understand that working with nature is such a time and energy saver. Non-methods make farming so much easier than
the industrial group would have you believe. The imminent demise of the whole
farming system and starvation is just myth.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 11:36 AM EST
Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference
(go to: smallfarmconference.com)
Date: Feb. 1st, 2014
Place: Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City MI
I look forward to this conference. Put together by farmers
for farmers. It is newly located to a
great convention facility in one of the best parts of Michigan. I will have some responsibilities this
conference. I’ll help staff the Tillers International table in the trade show
and present an informational session about Reducing Fossil Fuel Use in farming.
My family makes a weekend out of it. A chance to enjoy a
great small city and northern winter
location. Snow, recreation and relaxation. Join US!!!
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 11:00 AM EST
The temperature bottomed out at -17 overnight. Whoa, it’s
cold. I spent a couple of hours outside yesterday clearing snow and doing
little chores like filling bird feeders. The cold really drained the energy out
of me. Given time I’m sure I’d adapt. The weather forecaster said this is the
coldest weather in nearly 2 decades. We have plenty of winter in Michigan, but
with the big Lake nearby to moderate extremes we rarely get below zero. The
storm that preceded the cold dumped a bit over 14” of snow for us to enjoy.
Kids are home, everything is closed, and I have plenty of food and books. So we
are in winter-joy mode…
The cold presents few problems for the farm at this time.
The snow that blanketed everything before the frigid temperatures arrived, is insulating
the perennials and ground. Last year we had bare ground for much of the winter,
or only light snow covering. When the deer roamed through the fields they
snacked on the strawberry foliage. It’s a bit protected now. Old farmers always
commented that the snow was a form of fertilizer reducing what had to be added…I’m
sure the minor ash and mineral content of snow can contribute a bit. I would
speculate that the insulating effect of the snow on the soil, with increased
microbial activity and the higher relative temperatures would have more impact
than the snow’s contribution. A gain regardless!
In the days leading up to the storm I took time to move some
stored food and seed potatoes to better locations. I generally store in our unheated
garage over the winter months. Experience taught me that sustained cold under 8
degrees would result in sub-freezing temperatures in the garage. All of the
seed potatoes were moved to an insulated enclosure. Carrots, leeks, onions, parsnips,
potatoes, celeriac, celery and other stored foods needed place to survive so
they were moved to market coolers and similar protective enclosures.
Ever find something misplaced when doing another chore. As I
was moving the stored items around I came across a bag of garlic that had been
missing. I had been wondering why we were running low. The worst feeling of
having to buy garlic had come over me. I found the garlic in a box of stored
potatoes. Now we have what is needed to get to early June when the scapes will
be harvested. I guess the bag was dumped in after market one week….
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 11:04 AM EST
It is the time of year to reflect and resolve. Reflecting I
do as a matter of habit. Resolutions are rarely made since they are rarely
successful. Regardless, this year I have in mind a principle of continuous farm
improvement. I think making the effort to consciously work to offer better
product for shareholders and customers and improve the farms soil, resources
and resiliency will benefit us in the future. Good work for the new year…
Decades ago I learned the basic mechanics of prepping,
planting, fostering and harvesting the produce of garden plants. With time a
broader knowledge supported the development of CSA and Market farming. I am astounded by the amount learned, but also
humbled by all I still don’t know. The continued practice and learning about
growing food plants is what I resolve to spend energy on this year. The more I
learn the more I realize how much I don’t know.
Happy New Year!
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 12:38 PM EST
We recently returned from a much needed vacation cruise in
the eastern Caribbean. Stepping out of the airport upon return I received an
embrace of icy cold that arrived during our time away. I reluctantly returned
to the responsibilities and cold weather. The end of the first vacation in a
couple of years, a reward for my wife’s hard work in her business, was hard to
Our trip included time spent at farmers markets, talking to farmers
and eating local foods throughout our travels. We spent time in Old San Juan
Puerto Rico before becoming a time captive on the boat. A meal at respected
restaurant, El Fondo El Jibarrito introduced us to Puerto Rican food. More savory
and rich rather than fiery we enjoyed the complex flavors. Dinners came with
hot sauce and condiments to add, similar to southern fare.We ate Arroz con
Gandules, pork, seafood, yucca and plantains all prepared to local tastes. Add
rum and enjoy…rum seems to go with everything. A pleasant surprise was the
Puerto Rican coffee. Locals make a habit of enjoying their coffee and the
coffee shops are always jammed. The locally grown, hand-picked and roasted coffee
is flavorful and rich with complex flavors and a fruity characteristic. It reminded me of similar care that went into
a favorite Kona coffee. A great introduction
to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
We visited a fabulous Farmers Market: http://www.mercadoagricolanatural.com/
market was a bit of a challenge. Three public servants gave bad directions
(HaHaHa!!! Same as at home!) but we located the market when a shopper with a
produce bag loaded with market goodies pointed us in the right direction. The
market was impacted by three days of stormy weather. The farmers had trouble
bringing to market all that they may have wanted. Produce, crafts and food was
all exceptional. We had lunch and talked with kindred spirits before leaving to
board the boat.
The boat cruised at night and dumped those who wanted to
visit islands at ports in the morning. We stopped at St. Croix, St. Kitts,
Dominica, Grenada, and St. Thomas. Each port had a veneer for when the boats
docked. Getting a fair view of life on the islands was a bit complicated. We
found the “winter climate” fabulous. The whole region was humid, and the
temperatures only drifted between lows and highs of 75-85 degrees. It did rain
and we were told it can rain anytime. The rain was intermittent and warm so it
never stopped us from enjoying our time on the islands. We had time away from
the port towns on several stops. Hiking, snorkeling and kayaking made for
Purchased meals were in local restaurants. You can eat at chains
like KFC or Chinese restaurants in the ports. Recent immigrants like the
chinese have impacted local economies and food markets. They now have asian vegetables
that adds to the traditional produce. Produce markets are open most weekdays,
and people shop frequently. Refrigeration is less prevalent so foods are
purchased, fixed and consumed a bit differently than we are accustomed to. The
grocery stores have cheese and milk products in cans or aseptic boxes in the
middle of the aisles. Cold pop was $2.00. We enjoyed the local grapefruit soda,
Ting. Not like anything at home, it was less sweet and very refreshing.
The restaurants fix a plate of rice and peas; chicken, fish
or pork; a choice of 2 sides that can be anything from Mac N Cheese to yucca,
plantains or sweet potatoes, with a chopped salad for about $7.00. One place in
Grenada had breadfruit as a side. It was great. Different than what was
expected for sure. It was more like a potato than a fruit. All great food! Several times a side choice
was blood sausage. The sausages are almost black and quite popular. They wouldn’t
go over very well at home! If you finished the food you’d be set for 5-6 hours
before you were hungry again.
Those that had land cultivated fruits and selected items for
the table. We saw bananas, citrus, coconuts, avocados, and many unknowns.
Drivers told us about how easy it was to forage and cultivate favorites. One
driver shared his favorite was coconut water and rum. The collapse of the sugar industry led to
poverty and subsistence living on many of the islands. Without the influx of
boat/tourist money many would have economic problems. Keeping chickens and
goats was common as is small scale farming. Many small farms showed evidence of
poor stewardship of the land with erosion and water handling issues at the top
of the list. Local governments had billboards promoting local food production.
We noticed them in St. Kitts, Dominica and Grenada. For decades food was
shipped around the Caribbean. Local food was undervalued. Now they are trying
to reduce trade for food and create local production capabilities. We were told
that some places are desperate for food farmers. Makes we wonder what obstacles
farmers on the islands have to overcome to create a living from the land?
Probably not much different than what we must contend with…
We had great experiences and met some wonderful people. The
islands are a great place to visit and offer a warm and inviting party life for
the boat people. Reality is a bit different from the image. The history of
colonialism and resource exploitation is an icy slap to the party life.
Awaiting the trip from Atlanta to the islands we observed a group of agronomists
from Dekalb (Monsanto), Pioneer (Dupont) and Syngneta. They were deep in
conversation about the seasons’ seed corn production on the islands, chemicals,
genetics and worker issues. They were “laboring” in the tropics during the
winter so they’d have seed for the 2014 season. So happy to be a food farmer
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 09:08 AM EST
Popcorn is popped on the stove top at our house. Some oil in
a hot pan, add a few test kernels, when they pop, pour in the rest, cover and
give a good shake. We’ve purchased our popcorn from the Amish bulk food stores
that serve our area. With such a readily available and cheap snack we never
felt compelled to grow our own. This season we broke our habits and grew Dutch
Butter Flavored Popcorn. We will have new habits for years to come from this
Last winter we attended a presentation by William Woys Weaver.
His talk inspired us to raise a broader range of Heirlooms. A packet of Dutch
Butter Flavored Popcorn was added to our Fedco seed order. The packet planted
80’ of a 42” bed, double row with individual seeds set at 8”-10” apart,
alternate. The bed had been butternut squash the year before with debris removed,
lime (10lbs.) and 1 year old horse manure compost (400lbs) top dressed. The bed
was lightly worked to check unwanted plant growth and hand seeded early June
(bed prep, seeding and care 30 min. max!). Excellent germination and plant
establishment had the corn several feet high by early July. No irrigation (we
had timely rain) and two hoeing passes were made during the season.
The popcorn plants were slight and a pale green. Not like
the big robust appearance of the synthetic boosted dent corns typically grown.
Tassels emerged in early August and flowering was mid-Aug. Small ears developed
slowly and weren’t ready till late September. The late development had me
wonder if a crop would develop. Plants produced two ears. Most were 4-5” long
with 12+ rows of small popcorn kernels. A few had poor fertilization and some were
nubbins. Maturation was at about 100 days with a fairly high moisture content.
Cool temperatures and above average rain in September resulted in plants that needed
all the late season time we could give them to finish in the field. A harvest
was made at the end of September, the ears were spread to dry in the barn and
were distributed at our last CSA pick-up.
We popped the first batch shortly after harvest and had 50%
unpopped. At a couple of weeks drying we popped more and had 95% pop. Wow, was it good! CSA customers asked
for more. My family came running when they heard popping. A popcorn that needed
no salt or butter added. It has a delicious flavor that is very satisfying.
Tender and light, it is the best we’ve ever enjoyed.
Dutch Butter Flavored Popcorn is an OP (open pollinated)
variety so some variation is naturally occurring. The yield is modest, but soooo
good that this demo has become a new favorite. I can’t imagine not growing it
every year now. Compared to what used to satisfy our popcorn desire, this
popcorn is worth the bit of time it takes to grow and handle.
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 09:50 AM EST
All through the growing season I fall behind on my reading.
I’ve had a chance to catch up with the change in seasons. I’m dismayed by some
of what I read. An example is a report on a conference called, “Food for
Billions” hosted by Ohio State University(OSU). It was on food policy and attended
by invitees from the food industry and think tanks. Praise is usually what
comes from such efforts to address global issues. However, this conference
appears to have been convened to support the Big Ag and Business interests
while avoiding opposition views.
The conference had a keynote address by a journalist from “New
Yorker” magazine, Michael Specter. Specter is quoted to have said, “[The] organic
movement is an exposition of freedom of expression, but unscientific, with no
proof of better quality or nutritional value, or any definition of what natural
production means.” (Counrty Folks Grower, 11/13, pg 7). Specters
reiteration of Big Ag’s talking points does not make them true even if he believes
them. His cheerleading for GM crops and calls for investment in technological solutions
for the “food crisis” casts him as an industry shill. OSUcould have advanced
discussion on the topics but choose to champion the “money” side (re: Research
Funding). FYI: Follow this link to see
the counterpoint to the “Food Crisis” schemeer, http://www.independentsciencenews.org/un-sustainable-farming/the-founding-fables-of-industrialised-agriculture/
Elsewhere in the Ag publication pile I read about a meeting
of the Council of American Phytopathogical Society (APS), an organization of
plant health scientists. APS has 5000 members committed to “plant health”. At the meeting they affirmed an organizational position that is opposed to
regulating food, feed, and fiber products solely on the basis of the particular
technology used to create these products. They are stated to have a long
history of opposing such regulation. APS President, George Abawi said, “Biotechnology
will continue to be extremely important part of the toolbox for managing plant
health. Labeling GM could be very confusing to consumers and could reduce the
availability and use of this technology for the management of plant diseases.”
(The Farmers Exchange, 10/25, pg. 3).
Wow! I didn’t know GM was so important to “plant health”. I’ll pass on making a comment on that point.
What I find worth comment is this “plant health” scientist saying that we don’t
want to confuse consumers.
I meet consumers at Farmers Markets. They are of all sorts
with different reasons to shop and points of view. When it comes to the food I
market I play the role of “informer”. This allows the consumer to make a
determination on how to best spend their money. A frequent question shoppers
ask are what growing methods we use. I inform them, “organic methods, which
means no synthetic fertilizers or sprays, we use minimal carbon based fuels
since we farm with animals and our fertile soils promote the growth of nutrient
dense foods.” I inform because I believe the consumer has the right and ability
to determine how best to make their purchases. Mr. Abawi and APS feel that
labeling would confuse rather than inform. Completely unlike my experiences.
Our government seems to maintain a passive role in allowing
GM foods in the consumer marketplace. They are a big promoter of GM around the
world. We are the subject of a mass public test of GM. Efforts to require
labeling have been met with aggressive and well funded campaigns to maintain
the status quo. Talking points repeated by shills like Specter and organizations
like APS continue to misinform!
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 09:30 AM EST
More than a couple of decades have passed since I first
planted a seed. I was searching for a food experience that had slipped out of
my life when as a young adult I started life on my own. That seed began a
journey of learning and experimenting that continues. The natural world that we
grow food in has complexity and simplicity that challenges our intellect. We
study and draw conclusions that are valid
for a certain set of conditions. Change the conditions and we may find
ourselves again trying to fathom the scope of factors that impact our practice
of growing food.
The learning turns to books and trying to incorporate what
other food growers have done during the shorter days. I was able to check out
of the local Library, Sustainable Market Farming, by Pam Dawling. I’ve
checked out many different books and had inter-Library loan get some titles to
study. Most have a few things to help in learning. Sometimes a book has little
value and I’m grateful that the Library could get it and I didn’t have to buy
it. This recent read is a gem. Pam Dawling is an incredibly experienced farmer
of organic vegetables and writes about her craft and understanding in a manner
that helped me learn quite a bit. The book references many useful sources that
allow for future learning. With decades of experience I consider her mastery of
growing one to value.
So wouldn’t you figure that a thought crossed my mind the
other day when I was in a school. The thought was about these kids and their
I-Pads. They have them to incorporate the new technology into the learning curriculum.
You know, give them an edge in learning and job skill development. What I see
is a connected group with incredible gaming skills. They are all experts on
their I-pads and games. Instant experts you could say. And the thought was that
we also are creating instant experts on farming as well. With the wealth of
internet information we have a new group of farmers that are suddenly expert at
growing and learning about farming. I admit I’ve used the internet to expand my
understanding. But, true learning and understanding comes from the practice of
the principles of organic and biological farming. Pam Dawling has decades of
experience at multiple places to draw on. I feel that the journey of
understanding is a truly long one that can be aided by the internet but true
learning is in the practice of growing and mistakes we make to learn from. The
young farmers are lucky to access so much from the internet, and many are great
at debating the points they have learned. I still think time and mistakes are
important in educating farmers. And the sage advice of those who mastered their
craft and continue to learn. With a few decades I too may have mastery in
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 08:47 AM EDT
Southwest Michigan has a fantastic opportunity with the
recent development of an integrative teaching initiative from a group of local
educators and hospital administrators:
A few months ago an invite to be part of a food producers
focus group relating to Campus development came my way. I made time, changed
plans and made the effort to attend. I wondered how such a broad ranging
program would impact farmers and local food. I really hoped to learn more….
Meetings are hard for me. I always sit there, actively
listening and following the presentations. The difficulty lies in the amount of
time involved and crucial farm work that ends up waiting till I’m done. Sadly
this meeting was no different and a brief consensus among other farmers that
attended; it took time away from much more productive work on the farm.
Farmers at meetings like this wear their work clothes. It
was clear to see that the meeting was as much for the suits as getting input
from farmers. The invite was sent to a host of farmers in our area, and the
sign in sheet included their names. Of the list of invites a small fraction did
as I did and made time to attend. Those who stayed on the farm were the smart
ones. The suits ruled and introduced themselves with titles and descriptions
that were important to them only. Technology dominated the presentation and
questions were often answered with, “We’ll get to that at a later point of our
presentation.” Since the invite included “Food Producers” the group included corporate
VP’s, CEO’s and the like that talked, wasting our time, but never saying a thing.
As a result the meeting provided information that was no different than what
you could learn from reading the newspaper. I really should have stayed in the field.
I looked at the clock as the meeting was concluding and
realized that my CSA pick-up was going to be rushed and had to dash….
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 07:23 AM EDT
Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader
As a home cook and farmer of quality vegetables, I find
inspiration and purpose in exchanging ideas, helping other cooks to feed their
households, and overcoming obstacles that keep some from enjoying food. I
receive positive responses to CSA weekly newsletters, questions at market and from
friends and neighbors about vegetables. I
suppose some would find a way to make a buck off the help or simple advice, I
find the satisfaction of helping others more than enough.
I was inspired to think about this as the seasons last
farmers market concluded in Vicksburg Friday. Our wonderful Market leader, Sue
Moore, passed along kind words and thanks for helping out the market and making
so many people’s experiences positive. All I could think was how much I enjoyed
the interaction. I’ve learned so much from the market customers, I’m glad they
feel the same way.
Some friends that come weekly to market and book the Kalamazoo
Folklife Singers that entertain the crowd, were disappointed that we were out
of beets. They weren’t beet fans till we shared some suggestions about roasted
beet salads. They became beet-niks and enjoyed the broad varieties that we
raise and offer at market. They learned to cook the greens and when greens
weren’t available they gained a new love for swiss chard. They tried fresh
carrots and groan about having to eat the poor tasting ones from the grocery
when the season ends.
A market regular signed up for CSA this year and has become
profuse in his praise for the CSA and how it has dramatically improved their
enjoyment of their vegetables. Another family has already begun to ask about
next season and shared their plans to bump up from their half share to a full.
They get their basics covered with the half share but really want to try some
other things and have a chance to maybe set a few things aside for later.
When someone asks how to fix a vegetable I always tell them
how we enjoy them. Which methods we have tried and what became our favorites.
This season was a great one for the Delicata squash. I would offer the
suggestion to cut in half length wise, scoop out seeds and pith and place on a
baking sheet cut side down. Put in the oven at 325 till fork tender. Let cool
slightly and scoop out the flesh to enjoy. Soon the regulars were buying me out
of squash. They’re all gone now but wait till next year…
Posted by Farmer Pete
@ 11:55 AM EDT