A year ago I was looking for a place to farm. Finding and staying on good vegetable growing land has been a challenge. I had had a conversation with Lori Evesque from Tiller's International about some initiatives that they had begun looking into. I knew Lori from Farmers Market and the SW Michigan Harvest Fest. Tiller's wanted to expand their utilization of their lands to include some vegetable growing and farming businesses and move toward educating and supporting new farmers. To do this within their Mission and framework required someone compatible and willing to look at this with a patient and long term view. We began discussions last fall. I had found a new place to begin. Over the winter a working model was developed. In a cooperative manner we work toward our goals and benefit from a wonderfully supportive community.
Tillable farmland in our area of Michigan has been in use for up to 150 years. Predominately sands and sandy/loams many farm fields have lost most of their topsoil and now till subsoil. Soil depletion and continuing degradation renders most conventional farmland undesirable for intensive vegetable production. Other areas are intensively managed for fruit production and use conventional methods. Again, not desirable for organic farming. Over the years I have been fortunate to find land to work. For years at a Bed & Breakfast, and for a short spell at a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). I had spent time searching for land I could purchase, but the numbers were never favorable. Farming with a huge debt burden is not a desirable situation.
Tiller's International has been at their current location for quite some time. Though much of the land was in conventional farming for decades, the restorative powers of rotational grazing and proper management is evident. A complex mix of forages that includes plenty of perennials and sufficient organic matter in the soil is a building block for developing intensive vegetable growing. An initial segment of land for farming was readied in the spring of 2012. In keeping with Tiller's methods this was done with animal power and low carbon inputs.
The results have been encouraging. A broad spectrum of vegetables were raised. Much of the effort was to plan for and develop market farming abilities and support the development of CSA (beginning in 2013) and roadside farm stand. Growing good vegetables that are high quality and nutritious requires superior fertility and farm practices. Experience and the right tools and infrastructure are necessary for this to succeed. Combining the farmer with Tiller's organization has been a key to achieving what we have so far. A portion of the production was marketed at the nearby Vicksburg Farmers Market. Within a few months the farm model has a strong following at the market. High quality produce draws and makes for loyal customers.
Tiller's provided the land, a well, storage structures, equipment, built fences, completed initial tillage, supplied compostable animal manures and spent forages, and a network of supportive individuals. I added my tools and materials for this seasons growing and labor. The results have been beyond my expectations.
The foundation of good growing is good soil. What I have to work with is a friable sandy-loam, with high biological activity good nutrient availability and excellent drainage. The basics can be improved, but a depleted soil would never have supported what I tried this year. Right from the beginning I knew I was on good land. The life in the soil was clearly evident and early crops produced yields as good as I have ever had. Each plant has a range of potential developments. Optimal conditions will allow a plant to develop a maximum if it has all the elements needed. I felt that many crops this spring grew to maximum genetic capabilities. I was so excited to grow produce in such a setting. As the season progressed my early delight was confirmed time and again. The drought stressed the crops. Years of experience helped in keeping the plants alive. But, experience is only a part of dealing with a drought. The soil is the biggest part. It retained moisture and supplied nutrients that kept the plants thriving. Following the dry months the production and quality has been amazing. I have grown some of the best crops ever. Great soil with amazing capabilities.
Concluding this year has us planning for coming developments. Part of what we are working toward is a setting that encourages other individuals to succeed as I have begun to. Incubator farms are beginning to provide the resources for the development of a new generation of skilled farmers. Farmers capable of dealing with climate variability, high fuel costs, and input scarcities. Those who are able to build ecologically sustainable farms that are economically viable.
This is an exciting project for Tiller's International and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. We need efforts like this...we need your support!
Posted by Farmer Pete @ 11:13 AM EDT